10. Chapter Nine: Falling into Shadow
Despite the necessity of Fred and Tory’s departure, the breaking of their company had something of a dampening effect upon them all, especially Bryan. Even though he had promised Tory and Fred that he would be return to them in one piece, inwardly, he no longer felt as optimistic about his chances of surviving their confrontation with David Saeran. What troubled him even though he told no one of it, were the disturbing dreams that plagued his sleep whenever he had paused long enough to rest.
From the very beginning, the hardest thing to accept despite being confronted with elves, wizards, wraithlike creatures with crimson eyes who could not be killed, was the fact that he had lived a life a hundred thousand years in the past. Even though Legolas, Haldir and Gandalf claimed to have met Boromir of Gondor personally, Bryan was unable to accept the claim with little more than a grain of salt.
Unfortunately, the specter of Boromir, son of Denethor would not be denied and when Bryan closed his eyes to sleep, the fallen warrior of Gondor reminded his present incarnation of their deep connection to each other. In his dreams, Bryan would find him staring into a mirror, seeing not himself but someone older and far more worn than he ever thought he could be. There was so much sadness in the face of the stranger staring back at him; a world of sorrow was reflected in eyes Bryan knew all too well. He saw a man whose life been one of constant struggle and ultimately defeat.
Boromir never had the chance to be anything more than the one who had failed, the one who was forever marked by a ring and forgotten in time except by those who remembered his death.
There were other times when he dreamed he was on a boat, sailing into nothingness, casting a longing gaze at a nearby shore the craft simply would not turn to meet. Sometimes he even saw Frank, staring across the water, as if it were a deep chasm that neither could ever cross. Frank, who was staring at him with he same sadness, dressed in the clothes of a medieval warrior, a sword hanging at his hip with tears in his eyes. Bryan had awakened in a cold sweat, feeling Boromir’s presence against his skin like the damp shirt clinging to his body. He could deny it all he liked but the truth was apparent, even to someone as obstinate as he.
He was Boromir and like Boromir, he had this sense that he was going to die.
Until Tory had pressed her lips against his in that surprising yet passionate kiss, he had more or less accepted that death was his lot. He had lived a life with many near misses, more than the scars Aaron had noted could even begin to tell. He had fought in wars, some declared, some known only to the men who had died fighting them, he had been trapped behind enemy lines, tortured at one time by foreign agents and had come so close to dying that it was a fact of life for him. The investigation into David Saeran’s affairs had been the least dangerous assignment he had been given in years, so he thought at the time. Dying did not frighten him. If anything he had been waiting for it. Accepting he was once Boromir of Gondor simply explained why.
However, Tory’s kiss had unsettled him not because she had deigned to bestow her affections upon him but because for the first time in his life, dying was not all that acceptable. He found himself thinking that perhaps, he would like to survive, to have the things that Boromir never had that Frank so often told him he needed despite his ambivalence to the subject. Bryan started to think that perhaps it would be nice to live the quiet life with a woman who loved him, with a child who needed him. Seeing so far ahead, beyond the moment was the most terrifying thing he had ever experienced in his life and now it left him uneasy with the edge that kept him one step of his enemies, suddenly feeling as if it was diminished.
Jesus, she was going to get him killed.
They had set out to find David Saeran’s bastion in Romania in the late afternoon when supplies and some exploration into the company’s presence in the area had been made. After the fall of Ceausescu’s corrupt regime, Malcolm Industries had bought land in the southern region of Translyvania and the local communities had hoped the conglomerate was prepared to create factories and revitalize the coal industry in the region. Freedom from communist rule had done little to improve the lives of modern Romanians and it was still one of the poorest nations in Europe. Unfortunately, those hopes had never eventuated and upon the ruins of an old Magyar castle, a facility of some sort had been built though what exactly it was, Bryan had never found out for certain.
As they drove through the meandering roads through the lower range of the mountains, its snowcapped peaks and thickening forests of tall conifer trees seemed to blot out the sun as it flanked them on either side. The day took on a pallor of gray that was more than just the low-lying mist that covered their route into Translyvania. Shadows began to grow longer as the sun set over the horizon, with all trace of stars disappearing from the night sky. Even though the trip was meant to take a matter of hours, it felt longer as if they were travelling to the edge of the world. Surrounded by nothing but woods with only a path of black tar to remind them of civilization, it felt as if they had driven out of their world into some place that had been was as forgotten in time as Valinor.
"It feels like we’ve been driving forever," Eve commented as she gazed past the steering wheel at the quickly descended twilight.
"This place is eternal, much like Sauron. His evil has lingered even in his absence," Legolas replied, staring out the window, sensing nothing good in what he saw beyond the road. A heavy fog was rolling in from the woods, enclosing them on either side as if it were a trap made for them. It was difficult to see anything even with elf eyes and Legolas sensed that despite the years, the memory of Mordor was strong in this region, "I can feel its taint upon the land."
"Well it is creepy," Aaron agreed, unable to deny that the scenery outside was beginning resemble an old horror movie with its thick fog and shadowy trees encroaching upon the road. "I suppose Bram Stoker picked the Carpathians as a setting for Dracula for good reason."
"Dracula?" Haldir asked, not recognizing the word.
"It’s just a story," Aaron explained as he looked over his shoulder to the backseat of the van. "Dracula was a vampire. He was a creature that could only emerge at night and drank his victim’s blood. He could change into a bat and could be killed by a wooden stake or sunlight."
"Oh, a creature like Thuringwethil," Legolas declared.
"Excuse me?" Eve turned to him sharply. "Who?"
"She was a creature such as you have described," Gandalf answered with a smile, noting the human’s interest or rather concern, "she was one of Melkor’s chief messengers. I believe she was slain in the First Age."
"Anyone but me suddenly develop the urge to find some garlic and crucifixes?" Eve shuddered, not liking the fact that from the very safe fictionalized vampire of Bram Stoker’s book, they had progressed to a creature that had actually lived.
Aaron was about to answer when suddenly, the van swerved abruptly across the road, the wheels screeching violently against the tar as Eve turned the wheel sharply to avoid the shape she had seen running in front of the vehicle. The headlights offered her no more than a glimpse of what she had almost hit before the van crossed the bitumen and ended in the ditch at the side of the road.
"Can none of you operate these vehicles without making me ill!" Legolas snapped as he unclenched his fists from around the seat leather.
"What the bloody hell was that?" Bryan demanded after he had picked himself off the floor of the van. The Englishman had been dozing lightly when the sudden stop sent him sprawling. "Do you women know how to drive?"
"Hey!" Eve bit back angrily. "There was something in the road! I barely missed hitting it!"
"What?" Aaron snapped with just as much annoyance while rubbing his neck because the sudden stop had given him a very mild case of whiplash. He glanced at the road and saw nothing but fog floating over the road.
"I saw something," Eve insisted before turning to her travelling companions. "Is everyone okay?"
"A little disheveled but none the worse for wear," Gandalf rumbled without much annoyance.
"What did you see?" Haldir asked as Eve started to open the driver side door.
"Something," she replied, unfastening her seat belt so that she could emerge into the night.
"Eve, wait up," Aaron called out, not liking the fact that she was going out into the darkness by herself. He did not care how well she could protect herself.
However, she was already outside and was walking briskly towards the tar road once more. Aaron climbed out of the van, refusing to let her get too far ahead. With the fog so thick, she needed only to be a few metres ahead for him to lose sight of her. Behind him, he heard the van door sliding open and knew that the others were following suit. He heard her footsteps against the hard surface of the road and felt suddenly anxious that she was little more than a vague shape.
"Eve," he repeated himself, "get off the road. I can hardly see you in this soup."
"Don’t worry," she replied and he took the opportunity to close in on her voice a she spoke, "I don’t think this is a high traffic area."
"Aaron!" This time it was Legolas was crying out and there was an unmistakable urgency in his voice. "There is something here."
"What?" Aaron straightened up immediately
"I sense it too," Haldir added with as much tension in his voice. "It is close."
"How close?" Bryan asked, reaching for the gun he was rarely without.
"Close enough," Gandalf declared raising his walking stick a little and producing a strong strobe of light from the crystal orb perched upon its end.
The light provided them with some visibility of the surrounding area but not enough to detect what it was that Eve had seen. At the moment, Aaron could only see Eve’s vague shape against the blanket of thickening fog. He was grateful that elves had better sight because it would ensure that they were not completely blind.
"I don’t like this," Bryan retorted, "we can’t see well enough to defend ourselves. We ought to get back to the van."
"I think Bryan is right," Gandalf agreed.
"Eve," Aaron was still walking, conscious of the tar beneath his feet. "Did you hear that? We need to go."
"I heard," Eve answered, standing in the approximate spot where she thought she had seen the mysterious figure she had tried to avoid, wondering perhaps she had been mistaken, that it was merely the tricks played by swirling fog. In either case, Bryan was right, it was time they left. She turned towards the sounds of Aaron’s anxious calls when suddenly; she saw two points of red through the gray mist. Eve was barely able register this when the mist parted and with a loud snarl, something big and dark launched itself at her. She tried to step back but it landed hard upon her with clawing paws that caused her to topple over.
"EVE!" Aaron heard her scream and sprinted forward. He had no more than a few steps when something slammed hard into his body, sending him sprawling. Snarls filled his ears as the first slashes were felt across his chest. The pain served to focus his thoughts, with Aaron having presence of mind to sink his fingers into the pelt of the creature and flinging it away with all the strength he could muster. The animal was strong and recovered swiftly when it hit the ground. Aaron rolled onto his hands and knees to see it running through the mist and as it closed in again, saw himself facing a large wolf with scarlet eyes and bared fangs.
It was going to pounce he realized and immediately rolled onto his back, pulling his legs in as it leaped at him. Aaron kicked hard with both legs, hearing a yelp of pain when the balls of his heels struck at the creature’s underside, digging into soft flesh as it was thrown over his head. He got to his feet and resumed his efforts to reach Eve when he heard the animal’s menacing growl once more. Aaron braced himself to deal with it when an arrow flew through the air, the point slicing through the creature’s neck with grisly finality. The beast dropped immediately to tar road and through the fog, Aaron saw Legolas’ familiar shape moving towards him.
"Thanks," Aaron said breathlessly, "we have to find Eve!"
Legolas nodded and they hurried forward, attracted by the sounds of growling around them. The fog seemed thicker, despite the illumination by Gandalf’s walking stick and by the van. Aaron wondered if Saeran had somehow conjured this. If the man was a sorcerer, it certainly was not beyond the realm of possibility.
"Eve! Where are you!" Aaron called as he continued forward.
Eve’s hands were locked around the wolf’s neck, trying to keep its dripping fangs from tearing out her throat. The animal was incredibly strong and determined with its paws clawing wildly at her to make every moment of resistance an agony. She could feel its claws tearing through the clothes and felt the fire of pain as skin broke. It was struggling hard to break her grip as Eve held her hands firmly beneath its windpipe, using all the strength she could muster to choke the life out of it. The smell of its fetid breath made her stomach heave in disgust.
"Aaron!" Eve finally cried out in desperation when her strength started to wane and blood began to fill the inside of her jacket. "
"Get off her!" Bryan shouted as he appeared through the fog, announcing his arrival by delivering a swift kick into the animal’s side. It flew off Eve with a yelp of indignation and pain, corresponding with the ribs Bryan would surely have broken when he drove the creature of the policewoman. The beast rolled onto its fours almost as soon as it landed, its eyes gleaming with rage as it took a running leap towards Bryan. Without even batting an eye, Bryan raised his gun and pulled the trigger. The quick succession of exploding gases released one bullet after another into the creature’s body and with a sharp howl of pain, it felt down dead.
Meanwhile, Gandalf was standing in the midst, chanting ancient words that was driving away the fog around them. There was scent of malice in the thickening fog around them as he raised his walking stick in his hand, imagining that it was his staff, the crystal orb glowed even brighter, forcing away the swirling mists. The fog rolled away like the receding waters of a flood. It retreated far enough to give them clear field of the car and the road. Haldir looked up at the wizard from the beast he had felled with his bow. It twitched spasmodically in its death throes as the elf rose to his feet strode towards him.
"Aaron!" Bryan called from Eve’s side. "She’s hurt."
"Eve," Aaron crossed the remaining distance between his fiancée in a few long strides. "Let me look," he said dropping to his knees.
"Its not too bad," Eve said wincing in pain, "I think its just some lacerations. Damn thing clawed at me pretty good."
Aaron did not answer as he pulled back the bloodied material of her jacket and shirt and saw the deep claw marks on her body. It was not life threatening but animal claws could be poisonous and the lacerations were deep enough to cause concern. They needed treatment immediately. "I’m getting you into the van," Aaron said sweeping her into his arms and lifting her up.
"I don’t need to be carried," she protested without much effect.
"Just shut and the let him help you," Bryan retorted, similarly concerned by the wounds himself.
"I didn’t thank you for your help," she replied, not about to be flippant with what was good advice and he did save her life. "That thing almost tore out my throat."
"Wolves are common in these parts," Bryan shrugged, never one who knew how to accept thanks very well.
"Not many have red eyes," Aaron pointed out.
"Yes," Legolas nodded, "he sent them."
"He sent them?" Bryan’s eyes widened. "He sent wolves?"
"He has many allies," Gandalf replied, "not all are men or wraiths. Some are beasts and fowl. I fear our attempt to reach him is no longer a surprise."
"If it ever was," Legolas added. "Sauron must have known that it was only a matter of time before we sought him out."
"Then we should not linger," Haldir suggested. "We need to go before he unleashes more of his beasts."
Aaron grumbled as he carried Eve to the van ahead of them all. His own wounds stung but they could wait until she was tended to. ""I suddenly miss John Malcolm very much," he grumbled, "at least he didn’t try and kill us with a fucking menagerie."
Bryan surveyed the grisly scene of dead animal carcasses and decided that this was merely a small sample of what Saeran had up his sleeve. This was just to delay them. Bryan did not like the implications of this. Saeran’s sudden departure from England and this paltry effort meant that something bigger was coming into play. He was beginning to understand what Gandalf meant by saying that time was becoming short.
It was as well that Tory and Fred were far away from here.
At the instant that Bryan Miller was filled with that particular thought, Tory Harding was shivering in darkness, lying on her side within the confines of a car boot. Fighting feelings of claustrophobia as her senses was limited to what she could hear and smell, she felt her heart pounding with fear as she felt the drone of the vehicle as it made its way to parts unknown. The interior of her self-imposed confinement was cold, mirroring the temperature outside the car and Tory was somewhat grateful that she was dressed warmly, though she was fighting to keep her teeth from chattering.
She wondered what on earth she was thinking. If she had any sense, she would have kept going and not looked back, no one would have begrudged her for wishing to save her life. However, she had made a promise and if she could not keep it, if she failed to protect Fred as he asked, then how could she expect Bryan to keep his oath to stay alive? She hugged her knees closer against her body, trying to get warmer and knew that she had no choice, she had to follow this course to its end even though it had not begun the way they had expected.
Tory was feeling more emotional than she would have liked when she and Fred boarded the train that would take them to away from Craiova. Although she had put up a brave face when she and Bryan had said goodbye, she felt somewhat overwhelmed by this feeling that she would see none of her friends again, not simply Bryan. She thought of better days when she, Stuart and Aaron had been a trio of adventurous kids trekking across Europe like it was some great adventure. She hated to think that if anything were to happen to him, Tory would be all that was left of that happy youth.
However, her feelings for Bryan were more complex.
Bryan felt like someone who should have been in her life but was not. Perhaps it was all this business of reincarnation that had engendered such thought but when Tory had demanded of him the promise to stay alive, it was made with the instinct that he should have been in her life though it was not always meant to be. She had hoped to ask Gandalf about this when things were a little less frantic because he seemed to know a great deal about everyone. Had she been someone in Middle earth once? Was she someone in the past meant for Boromir if he had not died? The whole thing sounded improbable but since meeting him and learning about this ancient past that was recorded nowhere in human history, she could not help believing in it a little.
"Are you okay Tory?" Fred had asked as they were waiting in the private compartment that Bryan had booked them.
Tory looked down at the little girl brushing down the golden hair of the Barbie in her hands. In the past two days, Tory had learnt it was something that she did whenever she was anxious, as if the stroking motion was soothing somehow.
"What’s her name?" Tory asked in an effort to avoid asking the question.
"Geraldine," Fred said softly, her eyes displaying the same sorrow as when they were forced to bid Bryan and Aaron goodbye
"That’s a lovely name," Tory replied with a smile, slipping her hand behind the child’s shoulder and pulling her a little closer.
"It was mummy’s name," she whispered, lips quivering slightly.
Sorry that she had brought up that particular memory, Tory quickly added, "he’ll be alright, Fred. If there’s one thing he knows how to do, its stay alive."
"Not if he thinks he’s dying to keep someone else safe," Fred pointed out with a remarkable stroke of insight.
"He promised me," Tory declared defiantly, marveling at her understanding but refusing to believe that she could be right.
"You like Bryan?" Fred stared at her inquiringly.
"A little," Tory answered with just as much sadness, once again assailed with the instinct that she was forever doomed to wait for this man who would die before they could have anything together..
"He bought Geraldine," she replied looking down at the doll once more.
The notion of Bryan going through the Barbie aisle of a department store brought a smile to Tory’s face and she felt the sudden need to excuse herself to regain her composure. Fred was frightened enough without having to see her pining over the man like some teenager. Protecting her meant not simply keeping her safe from Saeran’s men but also to ensure that the child’s mental well being was similarly nurtured.
Good lord, she was starting to sound like Aaron.
"I’m just going to the rest room for a moment, do you think you will be alright on your own for a few minutes?" Tory asked as she picked up her handbag.
"Uh huh," the child nodded, not looking up.
Tory left the compartment, glancing out the window and seeing more and more people boarding the train, signaling its eminent departure. It was mid afternoon and she wondered briefly where Bryan and the others were at this moment. As she made her way to the restrooms, the narrow passageway was filled with passengers finding their compartments. The young almost always carried backpacks while the older passengers were contented with more traditional pieces of luggage. Tory was grateful to find the rest room so that she could step out of their way in the narrow aisle.
Tory used the bathroom and stepped before the sink to wash her face with some cold water. The feeling of cool moisture against her skin was very revitalizing. She thought of her companions, wondering what darkness they were facing in their battle with David Saeran and prayed that Gandalf’s gods kept them safe. Drying her face, she made herself look appropriate, suddenly feeling the need to return to Fred because the little girl should not be left alone for too long. Fred was a very capable child but Tory had this sense that there was only so much she could take before her resilience gave way.
Tory stepped out into the aisle and made her way back to the compartment when suddenly she saw something that froze the blood in her veins. A tall man in a black suit, whose face was partially obscured by his hat and whose skin was almost pasty white was stepping into the compartment occupied by Fred. Tory almost ran forward when she heard Fred’s cry of horror that was suddenly silenced. However, Tory forced herself to remain where she was. The man whom Tory was certain were one of the Nine, had not seen her but he was not alone. Thinking quickly, she slipped into an unattended compartment and waited as she heard his footsteps coming down the passageway.
Pressing herself into a corner, she waited with the door at her side, hoping that when the enemy looked into the compartment from the aisle, he would see an empty cabin because she was just beyond his line of vision. She heard his footsteps pause at the door and her breath stilled silently in her throat. From her hiding place, she looked out the window and saw the parking lot clearly. There were two black cars, very much like the ones in England waiting for its masters to return. They would have Fred have by now and felt her heart aching at the fear the child must be enduring in the hands of these creatures.
She could not think of that right now, Tory told herself as she waited for the footsteps to resume again. A second or two had passed with Tory daring not to move or breathe as her pursuer scanned the room with his undoubtedly crimson eyes hidden beneath sunglasses. She wondered how many there were and prayed that it was not their full number. The footsteps resumed at that moment and Tory could hear it growing distant as the Nazgul continued his search at the next compartment. Once free to move, she let out a sigh of relief and considered what she ought to do.
She could not let them have her, Tory concluded first and foremost. She had promised Bryan that she would keep Fred safe and that was what she would do, no matter how seemingly beyond her it was. Taking a deep breath, a vague plan formed in her head. Tory surveyed the belongings of the absent occupant of the compartment who had yet to return. The only thing of use to her was an umbrella and she was pleased to note that it was an old fashioned one with a protruding steel tip. Stealing it, Tory opened the window and climbed through quickly. She garnered a few odd looks as upon doing so but ignored them because she had larger concerns on her mind at than their scrutiny.
Landing on the hard granite platform, she hurried through the crowd of bodies as she saw the Nazgul beginning emerging from the train. They had yet to see her and as she broke into a run through the train station, Tory intended to keep it that way. She simply had to reach their unattended vehicles first. Suddenly a burst of sound rang through the air, accompanied by screaming. Tory came to an abrupt halt and glanced over her shoulder to discover that the Nazgul had brutally shot a train guard. The man had attempted to intercede when he saw the dark suited men leaving with a child who was struggling fiercely in their grip. The Nazgul who were not about to be parted from their prey now that they had finally acquired her, were reacting with deadly force.
Tory forced herself to leave this scene of pandemonium behind and became one of many people who was running out of the station in fear of the madmen who were armed and firing. By the time she reached the parking lot, there was sufficient confusion to ensure her advance upon the Nazgul’s vehicle was relatively unnoticed. To make certain of it, Tory crouched low as she sneaked past the tinted windows to the rear of the vehicle. Keeping low to the ground, she stuck the steel tip of the umbrella beneath the lock of the boot and began to pry it open. It took a few seconds and at least two or three strong efforts before she heard the sharp click of metal giving way.
Forcing away her fear, Tory slipped quietly into the compartment and pulled the boot close, her covert entry gaining a good deal of assistance from the terrified people who were running out of the station in the midst of more gunshots. The urgency of the situation robbed Tory of the time to truly consider what she was doing as she was forced to ignore the commotion and climb into the vehicle. Pressing her head down against the carpet of the boot, she ignored the smell of oil and diesel and told herself again that she was not insane, that this was the only way to help Fred.
Minutes passed before she heard the sound of a door opening and scuffling noises of a struggle.
"Let me alone!" Tory’s heart clenched hearing Fred’s terrified wail.
"Secure....her...." a voice said with a prolonged his. His voice sent chills through Tory’s spine.
"Don’t touch me!" Fred squealed.
"Be...silent...Baggins....," the enemy warned.
"What of the other?" Another voice asked but it was no different that the first.
"She is nothing. In days it will not matter that we let her go, she will die like all the others. The master’s influence upon the humans are strong, the rings are bending them to his will even now. In days, they will launch the missiles."
It did not matter that she was freezing inside the car as it made its way to an unknown destination, Tory thought as she felt her body ache from its cramped confinement. She had promised Bryan to protect Fred and she would do that, no matter what happened because her life was in jeopardy either way. Whether it was heading safely out of Romania or freezing in the boot of this car, she was going to die if Saeran was not stopped. The vision of nuclear Armageddon that Aaron had brought with him from the Undying Lands was real. It was real because Saeran had agents with access to nuclear warheads and in under a week, they would launch.
God help them all.
The town of Motru was most notable as a coal mining town. It was not at all a place that drew tourists. There was little in the community that was not affected by the coal, it seeped into the buildings and into the raspy breathing of every miner who dug for the ore. As the van arrived in the principality of Motru the company was greeted with the worst of Romania’s terrible poverty. The nation had recovered slowly in the wake of the Ceausescu regime but in Motru, its effects was seen plainly in the abandoned factories and the old, run down buildings that made up much of its commercial sector. Everything looked old and in bad need of replacement. The elves who had had seen the world of men in one extreme were rather disturbed by the other.
"This place reeks of despair," Legolas commented and even in the darkness, Aaron could not deny that there was no need of elven senses to tell him that. "What has happened here?"
"Everything," Bryan remarked from behind the wheel, having taken the wheel in light of Eve’s injury. "This country has been bleeding for a long time. So many regimes have come and gone, all wanting prosperity, abandoning traditional agricultural pursuits for industrialization, not to mention the corruption of the men in charge. It will take years before Romania is truly on its feet and towns like this have a bit of life in them."
"Industry is too often mistaken for progress," Gandalf said with visible distaste. "I do not think we should remain in this township. If Saeran has agents who could intercept us from a hundred miles away then I assume he will have them closer to home. We should acquire what supplies we need discreetly and continue onwards."
"He’s right," Aaron agreed. "We need to take a good look at Saeran’s place to figure out a way in. I prefer we try it during the day instead of night. Christ only knows what he’s got hidden there."
"I suspect he knows we’re coming anyway," Eve retorted flinching a little because the fresh bandages Aaron had applied to her wounds were itching a little. "I don’t think those wolves just ran out in front of anyone’s van."
"Sauron always employed beasts as his eyes and ears," Legolas explained as he stared out the window at the city, which more than any others he had seen since arriving in the world of men, resembled Minas Morgul. "The crebain of Dunland, trolls, orcs, watchers and spiders."
"Spiders?" Eve gulped visibly. "What was that about spiders?"
"You’re not afraid of a little spider are you?" Bryan looked over his shoulder with a mischievous smile, the kind sported by little boys who enjoyed terrorizing little girls. "I mean what’s to be afraid of? They’re only little things with hairy legs, crawling all over the place when you can least expect them."
"Oh the spiders I speak of are not small but large, some were bigger than men. My father’s kingdom in the Woodland Realm was home to a nest of great spiders and I spent many a day hunting them," Legolas continued to speak, unaware that Eve was turning a shade paler.
"Will you two knock it off?" Aaron barked, unable to believe their ignorance because he could see real fear in Eve’s eyes. He had not been aware of her bout of arachnophobia but supposed that there was no reason for him to know since the subject had never come up before this. "You’re frightening the woman."
"I do not think that they could survive into this day and age without your people being aware of it," Haldir added helpfully. "Indeed, we had driven them out of the Woodland Realm after the War of the Ring."
"That’s good too know," Eve said gratefully. "I don’t relish having to deal with big spiders."
"You and me both," Aaron replied encouragingly, "but I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t have something as equally frightening to send at us. The wolves were just the first act."
Unfortunately, no one could disagree.
Tory’s eyes flew open in the darkness when the engines finally died.
She had fallen asleep somewhere during the journey and it disturbed her that she could not account for how long she had unconscious. The urge to escape her prison now that it was stationary was overwhelming but Tory sensed this would not be wise. Instead she remained where she was, listening closely to the sounds of a door opening and closing in quick succession. She heard scuffling and voices growing distant as they left the vehicle behind. Tory felt her palms become moist with fear, despite the fact that it was still very cold.
She did not know how long she waited there, too terrified to move because in the darkness, she had remained anonymous. However, the reality of the situation soon dawned itself upon her. She had to know where they had taken Fred. While she had stayed confined in this darkness, she was of no help to the little girl. Taking a deep breath, she reached for the umbrella and pried open the boot once more. It opened with a minimum of sound but Tory did not make a move to emerge from the boot for some minutes, in case it had drawn anyone’s attention enough to investigate.
Pushing the door open, Tory peered over the edge and found that she was inside a darkened room with many other vehicles. It did not take her long to discern that she was in a garage although this one was larger than most and the stone slabs that made up the walls appeared more like the walls of an old castle rather than any kind of structure she was familiar with. Tory looked around and was grateful to find that no one else was in sight. There were two means out of the garage, one through the passageway the cars had used to enter the building and another was through a door at the far end of the room. Assuming that the Nine would have taken Fred deeper into the structure, Tory decided that too would be her path.
Reaching it, she twisted the door open and slipped into the narrow passageway within. Tactically, it was dangerous to begin down this corridor because if anyone else were to come, there was no way she could hide. Unfortunately, she had little choice and followed the stone corridor to its end. Once there, Tory had to choose between two winding stairways, one that led through the floor to the depths of the building while the other swept upwards. After a moment of consideration, she took the steps upwards. The staircase was wound like a corkscrew and making her way up it impressed upon her how close the walls were.
She heard no sound and supposed the silence could be explained by the darkness. It had to be night because the place was almost pitch black and she was grateful when she had finally reached the top and saw this confirmed through window of the room she had emerged. To her relief, it appeared that the place was not the stygian and gothic castle belonging to some dark lord but rather the luxurious home of a corporate giant. As she stepped into the foyer, she saw that it was a place of marble floors and expensive draperies. A great staircase swept into the upper levels of the mansion, covered in red carpet and made Tory think of Buckingham for some odd reason.
Chandeliers of differing shapes and sizes hung across the ceiling and appeared to be adjusted to exude a dim illumination for the nocturnal hours. The mansion was decorated in the fashion of the great manor homes of Europe and though she was not deluded into thinking that this place was anything but dangerous, she felt herself on firmer footing in an environment that seemed to adhere to a modicum of sanity. Scanning the foyer’s length, Tory saw that there were other rooms with the nearest being one with tall doors and ornate engravings. Light emanated through the crack of the door indicating that the presence of someone inside the room.
At that instant, she heard the soft tune of a whistle accompanied by the sound footsteps growing louder from above. It did not take Tory long to discern that the those footsteps belonged to someone who was descending the sweeping staircase and she immediately withdrew into passageway leading back to the garage, allowing just enough leeway to observe the new arrival. When he moved into sight, Tory recognized him immediately. He was attired casually in the manner one would expect from the tycoon of a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate with a countenance of privileged relaxation. Stepping onto the marble floor, he strode casually towards the room with the tall doors. When he passed beneath the ambient light of the chandelier, Tory was given her first real view of David Saeran.
He was more handsome in person but there was a coldness to his features that hinted at his true nature despite his pleasing outward appearance. He seemed oblivious to her presence and Tory was never more grateful for her own ability to go unnoticed because something about him terrified her. Perhaps it was all the stories that Gandalf and the elves had told her about this man or more accurately, this dark lord that frightened her so but her instincts were compelling her to flee while she still could. Unfortunately, she could do nothing while Fred was imprisoned here.
Saeran reached the doors and pulled it open, a flood of light filling the dimly lit foyer. Tory craned her neck as far as she could without giving herself away to see what was inside. It did not take her long to be confronted with the sight of the Nine waiting for their master's audience, proudly presenting them with a prize he had awaited a hundred thousand years to receive.
It was not quite dawn when the eyes of Legolas Greenleaf flew open with alertness.
He sat up immediately in the back of the van where he had taken a few hours sleep, after allowing Aaron to take over the watch when they had paused in their journey to rest. Indeed as he sat up, he could see the doctor seated before the fire, warming his hands as the rest of the company slept. The atmosphere was one of peaceful serenity and with the darkness of the wilderness surrounding them, there was little danger that easily discernible to the human eye.
Fortunately, Legolas was not human and as he saw Haldir and Gandalf began to stir, he knew that he was not the only one who was gripped with this sense of impending peril. The danger was coming at them and it was approaching fast.
"Everyone get up!" Legolas shouted tautly, his voice sounding odd when raised because the others had seldom heard him use in that manner.
Aaron jumped startled from where he was seating and turned to the elf that was wearing a grave expression on his face. "What is it?"
"There is danger," Legolas said as the others around him stirred. "It is coming upon us quickly! We must leave here now!"
"He is right," Haldir added, his voice still groggy from being so abruptly roused from his restless sleep. "My dreams were clouded with a growing threat. It is drawing nearer with each second."
"The enemy has found us," Gandalf replied. "We must leave immediately."
"Get in the car!" Bryan ordered Aaron who was still debating the situation with the elves and Gandalf. Thanks to his years in the service, he was more than accustomed to sleeping with one eye open and when Legolas had raised the alarm of danger, Bryan had no difficulty in rising to the occasion. He was already armed and sliding into the driver's seat of the van. If danger was coming, then he preferred to be on the move when it arrived.
"We're leaving," he stated as he brought the engines to life.
"Leaving?" Aaron declared as he climbed into the vehicle. "Exactly where are we going? If they're know we're here then they must know where we're going."
"It matters little if they know we are coming or not," Gandalf interjected, "the fact remains, we must maintain our course towards Sauron," Gandalf replied smoothly as the doctor pulled the door close when he was inside the van.
"How?" Eve grumbled as her eyes darted about anxiously, trying to discern from which direction the attack would come. So far she could see nothing ominous but too many trees and the thick fog that was a way of life in the Carpathian Mountains.
"We'll think of something," Aaron retorted as he buckled himself into his seat. "Right now, let's just get moving."
The drone of engines became a healthy roar when Bryan put his foot down on the accelerator and caused the van to surge forward in a burst of speed. The sudden acceleration of the vehicle proved to be fortuitous because no sooner than they were speeding away from their campsite, beams of light pierced through the fog, seeking them through the swirling clouds. The rumble of engines belonging to several cars soon followed the appearance of the strobes as the van made its way towards the road with only a few seconds elapsing before they became visible to the eye.
"There are three of them behind us!" Aaron called out as he saw their headlights closing the distance between them. The glare of lights bearing down upon them flooded the inside of the van and Aaron was forced to turn away as he saw the three sets of headlights giving chase to their flight
"Bryan, step on it!" Aaron barked as he saw the gap between the vehicles narrowing.
"What the bloody hell do you think I am doing?" Bryan snapped as he pushed harder against the accelerator. "This is a van not a Ferrari!"
The elves were holding onto their seats tightly and even the poor illumination could not hide their anxiety at the speeds they were traveling. Aaron was certain that after this he was never going to be able to coax Legolas into a car again. Everyone was bracing themselves for a bumpy ride as the van sped up just a little bit more. Unfortunately, the added velocity did not improve their chances of escape. The vehicles following them were catching up quickly with one of the stretched, dark cars pulled along side of them.
"Keep down!" Aaron shouted in warning just as he saw window being wound down on the other car and the barrel of a gun appearing through the gap. The bullets tore through the windows as everyone dropped to the floor. Overhead, glass shattered spectacularly, raining shards all over their prone forms.
Bryan veered the vehicle sharply away from the black Mercedes and succeeded in slamming hard against the car flanking the other side of the van. The sound of metal crunching like paper filled their ears as Bryan tried to escape the deadly gunfire. He looked through the side mirror and saw the third car speeding on the outside of the road, gaining rapid distance as it began to pass all of them.
They're trying to cut us off, Bryan thought to himself and shouted quickly. "Everyone, make sure your seatbelts are on!"
"Oh hell," Eve swore understandably "I don't like the sound of this!"
Aaron could not blame her and made sure that Legolas and Haldir were fastened into their seats securely. The elves had a severe distaste for the belts and preferred to endure their ordeal in the vehicle without them. Unfortunately, Aaron suspected that Bryan had something in mind that was going to make seatbelts the difference between life and death.
"We're secure!" He called out and no sooner than he had spoken, Bryan made another sharp pull on the steering wheel, slamming the vehicle into the side of the pursuing car on the left, tyres screeching across the tar along with the sound of metal smashing against metal. The full weight of the van ploughing into the Mercedes succeeded in overturning the car completely. Aaron saw the Mercedes flipped over several times across the road before coming to rest at an embankment, decidedly worse for wear.
The enemy began firing again and more bullets tore into the side of the vehicle, shattering windows that were not already destroyed by the earlier barrage. Eve immediately reached for her gun and proceeded to return fire, forcing the dark car away from the van to escape the hail of bullets coming at them. However, the chase was by no means ended. Another set of headlights behind them revealed another car had joined the chase and was closing the gap rapidly.
"We have to get off the road!" Bryan declared.
"Do what you have to!" Aaron shouted and went to the back of the van and produced his weapon. "Everyone else stay down, some of those bullets are getting through!"
It was true, even as he smashed the back window in order to lay down some fire of his own, he could see the bullet riddle door of the van. It was a minor miracle that no one had been mortally wounded. Fortunately, Eve was covering the side of the vehicle, giving Aaron one less thing to worry about as he pulled the trigger of his gun and struck the windscreen of the car behind them. The vehicle swerved sharply and Aaron thought he might have hit the driver but before it could be forced off the road, the Mercedes resumed its pursuit with even more speed.
The shuddering of the wheels against the uncertain terrain signaled the van's departure from the tar road. The vehicle heaved in protest as it attempted to navigate the uncertain terrain and Bryan struggled to see through the fog as he drove across the open countryside. He could see the others cars closing in on them and lurched forward in his seat when he felt the impact of the Mercedes against the back bumper of the van. He heard Aaron swearing as the doctor was thrown backwards by the collision.
It was difficult to see through the fog but vague outlines began to appear as they neared closer and closer to the mountains. The enemy was remaining close to them, ensuring that they were unable to make a break for the road. Both cars were flanking the van, plying them with bullets and sharp jolts that gave Bryan no choice but to keep going ahead. Unfortunately, they were very quickly running out of places to continue their escape. The mountains were looming overhead and the fog was withering away as they neared it.
"They're herding us!" Eve shouted as she recognized the tactic.
"I know that!" Bryan snapped angrily when his latest effort to escape this course they were being forced to travel, ended with the Mercedes slamming so hard against the driver’s door, he could feel the metal buckle against his body.
"They're going to drive us into the mountain!" Aaron declared.
"I do not think they plan to kill us just yet," Gandalf said knowingly.
"They're doing a good job trying to convince us," Eve replied as she reloaded her gun and continued shooting.
Bryan did not add to the discussion because he was too busy seeking out a hiding place. He had gained some measure of distance, though not very much and hoped to use that gap to lose their pursuers. It was difficult to see through the fog but fortunately, it had thinned out enough to give him some idea of what lay ahead. Suddenly his eyes caught sight of something that captured his attention immediately; a small opening at the base of the mountain range that could have been a mine at one point. The region was famous for its coal and what he saw before him appeared to be a mine that appeared abandoned for sometime. It was not much of a sanctuary, but if they remained locked in this high-speed struggle someone was going to be killed.
Bryan forced his foot against the accelerator until the metal plate was touching the floor. The engines had revved with so much power that its loud roar had drowned out all other sound. Within seconds, the confines of the cavern was rushing up to meet them. The cars behind the van had fallen back and Bryan let out a sigh of relief at the knowledge that he and his companions had eluded capture temporarily. As the darkness of the abandoned coalmine swallowed them whole, Aaron crawled to the front of the van.
"Where are we?" Aaron asked as he peered out through the windscreen at the darkness surrounding them.
"Coal mine I think," Bryan remarked as he brought the van to a gradual halt.
Bryan’s answer seemed to fit because Aaron could see disused mining equipment in the path of the headlights. He looked over his shoulder and saw that Saeran’s men had not followed them into the cave and felt a sliver of hope at the possibility that their pursuers might have lost them.
"It’s a good thing you found this place," Aaron commented, "I don't think we could have taken much more."
Bryan was about to answer when suddenly, his eyes shifted to the rear vision mirror and as his brow furrowed in concern, both men heard Eve calling out urgently.
"Aaron, Bryan, get over here!" Eve shouted.
She was climbing out of the van, staring at the opening of the cave. Through the fog, she could see the headlights of the pursuing cars but they were not moving. They had come to a halt at the mouth of the cave.
"What are they doing?" Haldir asked baffled by this behavior. If the enemy knew they were hiding here, why were they waiting to make their move?
"I believe they have something else planned," Gandalf said ominously as Legolas took a step closer forward. With the exception of Haldir, he was the only one of them with the strength of vision to get a clear view of what the enemy was doing.
"They have emerged from their vehicles," Legolas remarked upon seeing one of Saeran's men stepping forward ahead of the others when they disembarked from their vehicles. He was holding an odd device in his hand. "One of them is carrying something."
Bryan was amazed at the elf's ability to see through the distance not to mention darkness but he could not comment upon it because Legolas' statement had surfaced a very unpleasant possibility. "What does it look like?" He asked fearing the worst.
"It is almost as long as a sword," Legolas answered, "he is propping it upon his shoulder. It is made of steel and is round in its shape, like a small log. I do not think it is a gun."
"He is directing it at us I believe," Haldir observed as well..
"Oh bugger!" Bryan swore. "Everyone get to the back of the cave now!"
"What?" Aaron stared at him with wide-eyed insistence.
"DO IT!" Bryan shouted and grabbed both Aaron and Eve by the arm and started running.
The fear in his voice prompted the elves and the wizard to do so without question and no sooner than they had started running, a loud bang erupted, like the popping gasses of a thick marsh bog. The shockwave hit a split second later as the blast of stone and dust swept them off the ground like leaves blown away by a strong wind. All were thrown violently to into the dirt. The explosion was followed by another tremendous roar as the ground shook and cavern became filled with choking dust. For a few seconds, they could only lie there, covered in debris, gasping for breath as the darkness enveloped them with even greater intensity.
It was Haldir who first rose to his feet and thus it was left to him to make the discovery of their predicament.
"The entrance is sealed," he said staring at his companions gravely, "we are trapped."
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.