14. Chapter Twelve: Shifting Pawns
The night was cold but when Major Andrei Nikolaevich woke up in the middle of it, his sheets were clinging to his body. Beyond the walls of his assigned quarters, the wind was blowing a gale and he remembered vaguely hearing a weather reported that cited the temperature being somewhere in the vicinity of –25 degrees Celsius. He hardly noticed it as he sat there on his mattress, trying to grasp at the dream diminishing quickly in his memory. Turning his gaze at the old clock his father had given him years before, Andrei could hear every stroke of time that passed through the old mechanism.
It was little after three o'clock and he could not sleep. Unfortunately, this was not an unusual state of affairs for him of late. His sleep for the past week had been uncomfortable to say the least and every morning when he awoke, he felt as if he had not slept at all. He moved through the days restlessly, his body drained and his skin feeling sallow. Even the officers under his command had been unable to ignore the dark circles under his eyes or the irritability he never had difficulty concealing until now. Andrei knew that part of it had to do with his growing dissatisfaction with the posting and his exile here because those fools in Moscow thought taking a hard line against the West was the same as being a communist.
He had been a member of the party during its existence. He was career military, what else could he be? It was expected of any officer seeking a high-ranking position in the military. Having the party's backing meant being able to excel without being in the eye of the political office who kept watch over everyone. Despite his political affiliations, he had always considered himself a soldier first, a party member second. It was not easy to walk the line between both, to remain poise upon a knife’s edge to ensure that he would never be perceived as a threat to either side.
When the communist regime came to an end, he thought that he could at last breathe a sigh of relief, thinking he was free of this burden. Unfortunately, the new order it seemed had deemed him a communist nonetheless because he did not think that bowing to western excesses was the best thing for the fledgling nation. What did they know anyway? He asked himself as he sat motionless on his bed, allowing these dark thoughts to race freely through his mind, allowing them to gain momentum with the speed of a locomotive. Why should he rein in his troubled thoughts when no one could hear them or know of their existence?
He had every right to think that Russia had lost her way because he was living proof of its deconstruction. He remembered how it was when the country was run by ruthless men with great ambition and how that had made the country great - not the pale shadow of itself it had become since the new regime came into being. They thought they could shunt him aside in this wilderness, deluding themselves with the belief that he was powerless to affect their decadence from this forgotten edge of the world. They were fools. He had power, a great deal of it as a matter of fact, and it was they who had put it in his hands.
With what he had access to, he could show them all what real power was. Power. Ambition. Patriotism. In one bold stroke, he could show them how great Russia could truly be. All the motherland needed was someone strong enough to make the sacrifice. Someone who would not be afraid to spill blood, the way Stalin had spilled blood to make Russia great. Oh the people now called him a mass-murderer and even his contemporaries walked in fear of being the next to step under the falling blade. However, they could not deny feeling a begrudging respect for the man because he had been unafraid to stain his hands and taken Russia from the wooden yoke to the atom bomb in a space of twenty-five years.
It swept over him like a Muse’s whisper, the sudden realization that he was a man strong and brave enough to take the final step, the step so many others like him had viewed with such foreboding. Once, even he was filled with doubts but when the music of understanding filled his ears, they evaporated because he knew something they did not. To save the land, one had to make her people weep for it, to lament for all it had and could have been. Tears had to come from seeing it in utter ruin to love it as they had never loved before. A man once said that one had to be cruel to be kind and he knew how to be very cruel indeed.
Andrei stared at his shaking hands, all hint of doubt gone forever from his thoughts. His epiphany left him trembling like a leaf but he noticed nothing.
Not even the ring burning on his finger.
In the catacombs beneath David Saeran’s castle, Gandalf could feel the ominous clouds of darkness beginning to taint the air. Something shifted, like an object nudged unexpectedly in the dark. For a blind man, it threw everything into chaos for the lay of the room so carefully memorized. For a man could see, it changed the view of things entirely. Great storms often announced themselves with the coming of a gentle breeze and in this windless darkness that he and his companions were presently traversing, Gandalf could feel it in the wind.
The time he thought they had was no more. Sauron’s human personality had changed the shape of the game and now it was not merely about reaching, it was reaching him before he destroyed the walls. Days had become hours and Gandalf could feel the impending doom fray the edges of his consciousness. In Valinor, his masters’ could feel it as well. They had wanted the humans to deal with this situation but were now starting to question whether or not they were not partially culpable for what was happening.
When he had set out here from Valinor with Aaron and Eve in tow, Gandalf had known that he was crossing the sea to save more than just men from utter annihilation. For more than a hundred thousand years, the Valar had remained on their island in their dimensional pocket away from the rest of Ea, nurturing their elven charges. Man had always been Illuvutar’s project and so it was perfectly acceptable that they interfered not in the lives of men. Where man went upon his death had been a mystery the Valar did not understand until Aaron Stone returned with Legolas Greenleaf and answered the age-old question that men did have a sort of immortality even if he lived relatively short lives.
However, Melkor’s return to the world and the necessity of the Valar’s direct involvement in dealing with him had awakened a disturbing thought in the hearts of all the deities, in particular Manwe. For years, the lord of the Valar had listened to Olorin about the tales of men, about their great spirit and courage, all of which was compressed into a lifespan no longer than the flicker of a candle. He wondered that perhaps the Valar had been remiss in their dealings with man. Man had survived and thrived in his environment but there was inherent loneliness in them that made their great achievements hollow. Manwe began to wonder whether it was possible to keep a protective eye upon man without actually interfering in Iluvutar’s plans.
Aaron’s arrival in Valinor had proved that man had a place in the Undying Lands even if it was not to lead an immortal life. The Valar enjoyed watching the humans, though Gandalf had never told Aaron any of this and they began to realize that the race of man had also evolved and was constantly evolving while the elves remained the same, like statues that never change.
The elves themselves had begun to suspect that they were growing stagnant, though most were too proud to admit it. There was such a thing as a living death and the elves were beginning to feel as if they were trapped in amber, frozen forever at one place in time while enviously, they saw through Aaron’s eyes, man evolving and daring to reach for the heavens even if he knew he would never reach it before the end of his lifetime but it was the trying that made it so worthwhile.
The elves no longer strove to accomplish anything and that concerned Manwe as much as man’s need for starlight.
Change was coming that neither the humans or the elves in Gandalf’s company but none of that would ever come to pass if Sauron succeeded in wiping men from the face of the Earth. The isolation that Manwe was reconsidering for the elves of Valinor would be forever if Sauron breathed the world of men in flame and drove to extinction those who did not die in the burning. It appeared that for this new ‘Fellowship’ time had run out.
The company had met each other and had taken a respite in one of the many caverns in the place. It was decided that it was sensible to take an alternate route from their main path to avoid, momentarily, the awakening Uruks until some injuries were tended to. They had been traveling for hours and needed to rest if they were to face the enemy. Gandalf had exerted some of his power to keep their presence from their pursuers a secret for some hours so that his companions could rest and have their wounds redressed. Nevertheless, Legolas and Haldir kept watch because they could sense the danger looming, even if the veil of Gandalf’s powers separated it.
After a few hours of sleep, the company prepared to resume their journey once more because time was of the essence. Unfortunately until this moment, they were not aware of just how little of it they truly had.
"We have a matter of hours," Gandalf announced.
The declaration captured the attention of everyone present, even Aaron who was busily applying fresh bandages to the wound left by the Uruk’s upon Tory’s shoulder.
"What do you mean?" Bryan looked up from where he was surreptitiously glancing in Tory’s direction whilst pretending to pay an inordinate amount of attention to his gun. Despite himself, his self-image was still too proud to admit that he wanted to stay by her side like a concerned boyfriend. Even the sound of the word inside his mind made him wince with indignity.
"Saeran has brought forward his plan," Gandalf answered automatically in the same calm tone, even though all eyes were fixed firmly on him now. "He does not intend to risk us endangering it so he is moving his pawns into place."
"How long?" Aaron demanded ask.
"Hours," Gandalf repeated himself, "I cannot be more certain than that."
"Oh, God," Tory suddenly exclaimed, her lips turning into an ‘o’ of horror. With everything that had happened since she rescued Fred from that terrible cell, it had completely slipped her mind. "How could I have forgotten? With everything that was going on, I forgot! How could I do that?"
"Hey, take it easy," Aaron said quickly, wishing her to hold still while he was trying to apply dressing to her wound. "What is it you forgot?"
"When I was in the car," Tory said thinking of those terrible hours trapped inside the boot of the Nine’s vehicle, waiting for them to arrive at their destination, listening to them speak of what Saeran had intended. "I heard them talking, the Nine."
"You heard the Nine speak in secret?" Legolas said with a small measure of admiration for this woman who had somehow managed to sneak past the Nine with her skin still intact.
"What did they say, luv?" Bryan asked, starting to get a very bad feeling if the anxiety in her eyes was any indication.
"I couldn’t understand a great deal of it," Tory explained, shuddering a little as she remembered the chilling sound of their voices, "but what I did hear frightened me silly."
"You should have been here with the spiders," Eve muttered under her breath, understanding extreme fear very well lately.
"Spiders?" Tory stared at Eve, cringing visibly, "what kind of spiders?"
"Really big spiders," Eve returned, widening her arms to show Tory the scale. "I mean big as in the size of a cow…"
"Eve!" Aaron interrupted. "Honey, you think we could have this conversation a little later?"
Eve looked at Aaron sheepishly and apologized, "Sorry."
"Now, you were saying?" Gandalf asked Tory now that Aaron had subtly brought them back to the subject on hand.
"The wraith talked about the humans and rings they were wearing," Tory continued, brushing thoughts of large arachnids to the back of her mind for now. "He says that they were in three corners of the globe, all with access to nuclear missiles and that, through the rings, his master was influencing them to launch."
"Jesus," Aaron muttered softly.
"Missiles?" Haldir looked at the humans with question. "What are missiles?"
"They’re explosive devices," Bryan tried to explain but he honestly did not have the words to make a complete novice understand what a nuclear missile was.
"Are they speaking of what was used to breach the walls at Helm’s Deep?" Legolas asked Gandalf, remembering how the black powder of Saruman had breached the impenetrable fortress Hornburg. It was the most destructive power they had ever witnessed and yet Legolas suspected it paled in comparison to what these humans had devised.
"Yes," Gandalf nodded somberly. "Now imagine that explosion being able to encompass an entire city in single instant."
"You made such a weapon?" Haldir’s disgust was unconcealed.
The humans looked decidedly uncomfortable and Haldir guessed immediately why. "You have made more than one."
"We have hundreds of them," Bryan said guiltily, never more ashamed at being human than at that moment when he was required to justify their reasons for having weapons of mass destruction. "It was used twice and that was enough to frighten us into never using it since. It is a weapon of last resort and these days, there are safer weapons with less damning results but there is no easy way to dispose of it so the weapons remain where they are, unused in silos, collecting dust."
"Until one day a dark lord comes along who knows the right buttons to push and there you have it, instant thermonuclear Armageddon, no waiting required," Eve said sourly.
"Three corners of the globe," Aaron mused out loud. "You don’t think he means the superpowers do you?" He stared at Bryan.
Bryan stiffened at the thought mostly because it was a very astute observation indeed. In fact, the more it mulled around in his head, the more it seemed to make sense. After all, if Saeran wanted to initiate complete nuclear annihilation, who would have the most nuclear missiles to facilitate such a plan? Between the three of them, the superpowers had enough warheads to destroy the world a dozen times over.
"It would have to be," he nodded, "China, Russia and America have silos everywhere, he’d only have to be influence the right man in any of these installations and he’d have his war."
"Can’t we warn them?" Tory asked. "I mean surely they would want to know if three of their personnel have gone rogue."
"With the only proof we have being the fact that we know Saeran is an ancient dark lord who can influence the mind with magic rings, it’s not bloody likely," Bryan retorted. "The men who are given access to these weapons have come under the tightest scrutiny. Half yearly psychological evaluations, period banking audits, personal affiliations, nothing gets missed. If we accuse these men of being suspect, we have to provide incontrovertible proof."
"Unfortunately, it will be too late by then," Eve frowned.
"We have no choice but to reach him," Gandalf stated. "That is our only course."
"But we cannot kill him," Haldir reminded. "Destroy the body and he will still exist. Disembodied perhaps but still retaining enough power to ensure that his plans are carried out."
"And he would do so," Legolas said bitterly, "out of sheer spite."
"We can’t kill him," Aaron mused and left the others to their discussion while he considered the problem in his head. They could not kill Saeran. The body was inconsequential but the mind, the mind was powerful indeed. Despite Gandalf’s desire to make haste to reach Saeran, Aaron could sense some hesitation in the Istar’s manner. He had not spoken of it but Aaron knew his patients well, even ones who were Maiar. There was doubt in Gandalf’s heart, a tiny kernel of it amidst an almost awe inspiring courage but it was there nonetheless.
Gandalf was not certain he could match Saeran if it came down to a fight between them.
And in such a fight, Gandalf could not afford to lose or they would all pay the price for his failure. They could not afford to gamble on Gandalf coming through this as the victor, not when the stakes were so high. They had to think of another way. Aaron wondered if there was any point to this when the situation was so untenable? They could not kill the demon without unleashing him upon the world and they could not let him live for the very same reason, all because his mind would still remain intact if they did either. If it were only possible to contain it somehow…
The thought drifted away from its random beginnings and left deeper threads in Aaron’s mind with each second it gained momentum. Suddenly, what seemed like musings began to take shape and Aaron was rather startled to realize that he had something of a plan. He turned around and saw the others discussing the situation when he caught Bryan’s gaze. Wanting to speak to the MI6 agent alone, Aaron gestured at him wordlessly to join him in a private conversation. Bryan stepped away from the others inconspicuously and joined the doctor who had drifted to the other side of the cavern, under the guise of looking over their supplies.
"Something on your mind?" Bryan asked quietly when he reached Aaron.
"I think I know how to stop Saeran," Aaron stated.
Bryan stared at him in surprise and wondered at the need for secrecy from the others. The elves would probably hear them anyway but Bryan suspected what Aaron needed to discuss with him would make little sense to them unless he explained it.
"Go on," he urged the doctor to continue.
Aaron revealed his plan to Bryan who took the idea with some measure shock, mostly because he did not think Aaron was capable of such ruthlessness but could not deny that it was a good plan, albeit a rather risky one particularly to himself. The execution of it would fall almost entirely on Bryan’s shoulders and while Bryan was not afraid to make the attempt, he hoped Aaron was absolutely certain that this would work.
"What do you think?" Aaron asked after it was all said and done. "Can you do it?"
"I can do it," Bryan replied without hesitation. If nothing else, he knew that much for certain.
"The timing has to be exact," Aaron insisted. "Any more than eight to ten minutes and the threshold will be crossed. If that happens, it will all hit the fan."
"It’s already hit the fan," Bryan retorted. "But I can manage the timing. It will like catching a tiger by the tail but I can pull it off."
"We’ll keep him busy as much as we can," Aaron added, "and if it becomes too much for you…"
"I’ll still hang on because we don’t stop him, it won’t matter anyway whether it’s too much for me because we’ll all be dead."
"Are you always so cheerfully optimistic?" Aaron looked at him.
"It’s sodding better than walking around expecting you’re going to live when you’re up to your neck in shi…."
"Okay," Aaron cut him off before he could finish that statement, "I get the point. You know I finally understand it when Tory says that you can take the boy out of Yorkshire but not the Yorkshire out of the boy."
"Bugger off," Bryan retorted.
Aaron’s plan once revealed to the others engendered a mixed reaction. Haldir did not quite understand the full extent of it but was satisfied that its execution would render Saeran harmless. Legolas who had seen the effects before, knew that what Aaron intended could conceivably work. Gandalf regarded the whole thing with reluctance, mostly because what Bryan needed to do was extremely dangerous and it was not something the Istar would have the human attempt. Unfortunately, Aaron was right. This was the only way. Eve knew Bryan was capable of accomplishing it while Tory and Fred were worried for his life. Still, it was the only means of ending the dark lord’s reign in the modern world as well as disconnecting him to the men who were his instruments of destruction.
They resumed their journey towards the heart of Saeran’s mansion which they now knew was within reach because of Tory and Fred’s experiences. Gandalf was confident he could lead them to the mansion without having to traverse the cavern where Tory and Fred had encountered the emerging Uruks. Bryan grateful because he had no wish to have Fred traverse such lethal ground again. In truth, he wished the child could be sent away but he had done that once before and it had almost resulted in getting both her and Tory killed. As much as he hated conceding the point, Bryan knew that the safest place she could be right now, was next to him.
The network of tunnels beneath Saeran’s mansion were not all natural formations, some appeared excavated with drilling and mining equipment. When Gandalf lead them down a tunnel that bore all the marks of a man made construct, Aaron was certain that they would be lead to the Saeran’s domain. He suspected that this maze was not merely to hide whatever creatures he had lurking in the darkness here but also as a means of confusing an enemy should they attempt what breach Saeran’s fortress.
Legolas and Haldir detected it first as only elves could when something terrible was approaching them.
Their heightened awareness sensed it like a cloud bringing the shade after a bright and sunny day. Its arrival was silent but impossible to ignore. The Nine produced their own kind of aura, unlike any other being, dead or alive in the world. As creatures that existed with one foot in the realm of shadow, they had the distinction of exuding a presence that could not be mimicked or hidden. Legolas had sensed them for quite some time now but the search through the labyrinthine caverns and Gandalf’s own powers had kept them at bay. Now that they were on the move, there was no stopping the confrontation.
The Nine were coming.
Ironically enough, it made sense that they should be intercepted here. The cavern or rather the chamber, since Legolas was certain that it was not a natural formation, was wide. Evidence of the mining that must have undertaken in order to clear the space was apparent in the boulders and piles of dirt scattered about. A distinct smell of ash hung in the air and Legolas suspected the coal ore that was once mined here was the source of it. The cavern tapered at the other end, emptying into a darkness he could not see past. It disturbed him because it seemed protected by something he could not discern, like a wall he could not see past.
"Gandalf," Legolas called to the wizard quietly, "what lies beyond that?"
Gandalf’s expression hardened, "I am uncertain," the wizard confessed. "When I first took the road here, I sensed no danger from it but now as we approach, it feels as if there is a veil before my eyes, not unlike the veil I descended over the Nine when we sought rest."
"We cannot tell if the way is safe," Haldir got to the point immediately.
"We cannot go back the way we came," Gandalf pointed out. He had led them here because there was nowhere else to go. It was this way into Saeran’s domain or not all.
"What’s going on?" Aaron asked.
"I cannot sense what is at the end of this passage," Legolas explained, "neither can Gandalf."
"Why not?" Bryan interjected quickly disliking this pause because they had no time for it. "You’ve been able to lead us this far. What’s changed?"
"I think it is Sauron’s sorcery at work," Gandalf explains. "He is hiding what lies beyond this cavern. In fact I think this chamber we are in was fashioned to lead us into the next."
"It could be a way out," Eve suggested, remembering how being in John Malcolm’s Monolith had unnerved her and wondered if Gandalf and the elves were experiencing a similar version of it.
"It could be," Aaron agreed, "but it might not either."
Suddenly, Legolas stiffened and Aaron saw a shadow fall over the elf’s blue eyes. Haldir reacted in almost the same way while Gandalf’s expression suddenly became stone.
"We need to prepare ourselves," he announced, "I feel their approach."
"The Nine?" Aaron looked at him for confirmation.
The elf nodded somberly.
Fred shuddered visibly, shrinking somewhat against Tory as the announcement was made. The barrister slid her arm protectively around the little girl as everyone around them prepared for a fight. Bryan came to them, wanting to ensure their safety before the fighting began. There was every reason to believe that the Nine would not be alone since the creatures had help when they were ambushed at Tory’s house.
"Give me a gun," Tory demanded as Bryan ushered her to a collection of large stones, no doubt a relic of the blasting that must have been undertaken when Saeran was expanding the network of tunnels beneath his domicile.
Bryan handed her Eve’s police issue 38’ which was in the canvas bag he had been carrying for most of their trek in the darkness without question. The lady herself preferred her semi-automatic Beretta, which was a great deal more serviceable than the revolver with its six bullets.
"Do you know how to use a gun?" He asked her uncertainly as she took the thing in her hand and examined it.
"No," she shook her head, "just make it work so that I can shoot those bastards if they come anywhere near us," she said tautly.
Bryan did not like the idea of Tory handling any kind of weapon without knowing how to use it and tried to give her a quick lesson, particularly in what a ‘safety’ was. However, time was short and the hope that she would not have to use the weapon was a futile one because the Nine were coming and unless they took the path that was Gandalf and Legolas viewed with such caution. Their present location was hardly the place for a firefight and a confrontation with the Nine here would only mean further delay to their mission to reach Saeran. With what they were facing if Saeran was not stopped, the choice became remarkably easy.
"We should take our chances that way," Bryan suggested gazing at the darkness that put the elves and the wizard so ill at ease.
"Are you sure?" Aaron met his gaze; having in the last few minutes wrestled with the same question and had come more or less to the same conclusion. He was glad he was not the only one.
"Yeah,’ Bryan nodded. "The Nine weren’t alone when they came after us in London and I doubt they’ll be alone now. If we stay, we could be outnumbered and whether or not our weapons are elven blessed, I prefer better odds."
"He’s right," Eve agreed meeting Gandalf’s eyes, "Saeran’s best bet right now is to delay us as long as he can. He probably knows that we’re heading straight for him. It’s the only reason I can see why he’s suddenly brought forward his plans. He’s not taking the chance we might get to him. So I say let’s not play into his hands by keeping us here. Maybe there’s something worse down that way but something worse may be exactly what he’s using to guard the entrance into his mansion."
"Worse is exactly what I fear," Gandalf remarked. "There are many nameless things in this world, some who are more terrible than anything you can possibly imagine. Unfortunately, as much as I loathe having any of you confront such evil, our time grows short and we must indeed keep moving. I sensed a way out of this darkness before we arrived here, I still believe I am right but if we are to escape, we must first face whatever it is that Sauron has lying in wait for us."
"Alright," Bryan looked at his companions now that the decision was made, "let’s get to it then."
How could she do this to him?
He sat in his car after leaving Elizabeth’s, tears running down his face as he remembered in terrible detail everything that he had heard when he stood outside her bedroom door, after arriving unexpectedly with roses and wine, hoping to give her a romantic surprise. He was the only one who was surprised unfortunately because it appeared Elizabeth had company. Elizabeth had furnished him with keys to her apartment some months ago and Walter had been coming and going at his own discretion. In truth, it was as if they were already married because their routine together had become so comfortable. It had pleased him to no end thinking that they would not have to suffer all the awkwardness of cohabitation once the wedding was over.
Today he had entered the apartment and found her in the bedroom, in deep conversation with someone who remained anonymous through the telephone. He had opened his mouth to announce himself when suddenly, this English teacher from North Dakota, began to speak in Chinese. Walter, who had spent some years in overseas assignments in the Orient, was fluent enough in the language, which in this case was perfect Mandarin, to understand everything she was saying. He listened with growing horror and despair, as the words impacted upon his psyche like blows from a hammer.
"Yes, it is safe to talk."
"No, I still haven’t got access to the information at the base."
"He will trust me after the wedding."
"I am no more happier by this than the People’s Army. I don’t care how much I’m being paid, you don’t have to sleep with him."
He listened in stunned silence and drifted out of the apartment without giving away his presence. He reached the car across the street without being aware of anything but this growing black pit of pain that was widening inside his heart. As a man in his position, he was aware that enemy agents could attempt to infiltrate his live. It was the nature of the arm’s race, even if its prominence had slipped from notice in recent years and most of the general public believed that there was no longer any competition between the superpowers. However, Green had thought himself able of spot an imposter or at the very least, be expert enough to notice a plant in his life.
How could she do this to him? Didn’t she know he loved her? Was everything she had said to him, about the lives they would share together, the children they would have, was it all a lie? He knew the answer to that even as his ravaged heart brayed the question. Of course it was, his inner voice said cynically. She a Chinese agent, bought and paid for to be whore to you so that you would give her access to everything at the base. Think of it, a few months more and she would have been his wife, she could come and go as she pleased, especially since she had convinced him that base housing was the best way to go. He had thought her sensible, in truth she was playing him.
The Chinese, he snorted disgustingly. They haven’t changed since Nam`. Always lurking in the background, giving aid and support to the Cong even though they had no claim to the country. Providing the enemy with arms, trying to keep their names out of it, lacking the decency to come out and voice their opposition, unlike the Russians. He hated them. He hated them and their ways. He hated them for using him and for making him love Elizabeth and most of all he hated the disgust in her voice when she said she was the one who was sleeping with him.
He wished them dead. All of them. They shouldn’t be able to do this to people. Shouldn’t be able to tear out a man’s heart for the sake of information. They had no right. People like that had no right to anything, no right to breathe the air as everyone else. He wanted to hurt them, wanted to make them know this pain and this shame. He wanted Elizabeth to burn in agony for what she did to him even though killing was too good for her.
Killing was too good for her.
She needed to know that she could not play with people’s emotions, that there were consequences for her actions, no matter who her masters were. Suddenly it hit him that he had the perfect way to show Elizabeth what she had done to him, a way to show the world, not just the fucking Chinese but everyone.
He stared at the gold ring on his finger, the one she had given to him as an engagement present, feeling it burn into his skin, a mockery to all that she had professed to feel for him and knew exactly how he would make her pay. Those Chinese wanted to know about American missiles? He would give them a closer look than they possible imagined.
With love, from Elizabeth
The nameless thing that Gandalf spoke of stirred languidly in the dark.
It awoke to feed occasionally, when it sensed life’s heart beating within its hearing. Its blood stilled by hibernation would sense the pulsing beat of another and used it as the impetus to emerge from its slumber. It did not know how much time had passed. It would not have cared even if it was capable of measuring it in any way it could find comprehensible. All it knew of time was that it had always been and would continue to be. Its passing was marked by the feeding and for the space of its life, it had fed upon many. There had been a time when the feeding was good, when the dark was everywhere. In those days, it became dizzy with the taste of fresh kill.
Then the sun had shone for the first time and it was driven to escape the burning rays of light that sizzled the skin and sent it deep into the earth. There it had remained, shrouding itself on a cloak of darkness no force could penetrate, feeding on those who had stumbled in to its web of darkness,. Scrounging a meager existence and always cursed with this intense hunger because the new world belonged to the children of the sun and they had no desire for the shadows. It remained confined to the underworld, seeking sustenance where it could find it, until desperation had driven it to the evil in this place. In these caverns, it had found good feeding because someone above knew of its existence.
Someone who ensured that there would always be food waiting.
The cavern was pitch black with a darkness so overwhelming it appeared that they were walking in painting where the canvas was black. Only Gandalf’s staff and the electric torches provided any light and the illumination it cast looked as it were cutting through something thick and impenetrable. Ahead of them, they could see little beyond the radiation of light and the boundaries of this cavern remained elusive. They knew it was vast because their voices echoed throughout the chamber as if they were speaking from the bottom of a well.
"There is a fell stench about this place," Legolas remarked.
"No kidding," Eve agreed without needing elven senses. The deep sense of foreboding that the elves were surely feeling was impacting upon her as well.
"I can see nothing," Haldir replied as they moved through the darkness, their eyes clinging to the light that illuminated their path. The darkness felt almost tangible, like a physical presence as potent as air or water against the skin. It was not simply that the light was not bright enough but rather that it seemed to swallow the light. The torches were barely able to keep the black at bay and even the glow from Gandalf’s staff was having difficult radiating beyond the immediate vicinity.
"None of us can," Aaron remarked, trying not to get spooked but the truth was, he was feeling his fear escalate. Something about this felt very, very bad and he was starting to wonder whether or not they ought to have taken their chances with the Nine.
"Everyone stay close together," Bryan warned. "Tory, Fred, stay close to Gandalf."
"You be mad if you think either of us would go wandering about in this," Tory retorted, instinctively clutching Fred’s hand a little tighter.
"Speak in whispers," Gandalf ordered suddenly. "We are not alone and I pray we can leave this place before we awaken what lives here."
"What lives here?" Bryan’s hissed back.
Gandalf did not answer. The Istar was feeling the same tightness across the chest that he felt when facing the Balrog of Moria. True, the beast was dangerous indeed but Gandalf was sensing that whatever lived here was ancient. It was ancient when the first Balrog emerged from Angband. This was a denizen of the past before the awakening of the elves at the Mere of Cuivienen. No doubt, in its time it would have fed upon many of the Eldar and like Ungoliant was capable of eating the light in order to snare its prey.
Legolas’ eyes were wide open, forcing his superior elven eyesight to penetrate the darkness to know with what manner of life they were sharing the same air. Unfortunately, his eyes could not pierce the black before him. Suddenly, he felt something like a small breeze blow across his face, a hint of cool against the skin followed by the hot breath of something fetid and rotten, something very big. His heart clenched in his chest and he raised his bow to shoot but there was nothing to attack.
"Something exhaled it breath upon me," Legolas announced with a taut voice.
"What do you mean?" Eve demanded, "where?" The anxiety in her voice was growing.
A sound was heard in the darkness, something scraping against the ground, its bulk pulling across the dirt with a low, rumble that sent a shiver of fear through everyone. Aaron remembered the watcher beneath John Malcolm’s building and wondered if this was the same kind of creature.
"It is a watcher?" Aaron asked.
"What’s a watcher?" Bryan immediately returned.
"Big, tentacles, lots and lots of teeth," Aaron gave him the more concise description possible.
"Bloody marvelous," came Bryan’s muttered response.
The sound repeated itself, until eight sets of eyes were searching through the darkness for it. Their weapons were drawn but there was nothing to shoot at, nothing they could see in the black wall of night surrounding them.
A great swoosh of air was heard and there was a cry of pain. Legolas’ voice sailed into the air as if he were being borne up by a great force.
"Legolas!" Aaron shouted as he heard Legolas’ cry for help become distant.
Legolas could not see what had caught him but he felt its teeth around his waist and knew that the beast was merely in the process of picking him up despite the breaking of skin. It had not even gotten to business of masticating its meal but when it did, Legolas knew he was dead. Keeping a cool head despite the situation he found himself in and feeling large sharp teeth pressing into his body with enough pressure to draw blood, Legolas forced himself to remain calm. Breathing hard as someone in his situation could be forgiven for doing so, his fingers trembled slightly as he took aim at the flesh he could feel. He crushed ruthlessly his terror, because he needed to be focussed to release an arrow accurately.
He had no idea where it struck but the arrow unleashed had the desired effect of forcing the creature to roar in pain, opening its jaws wide enough for Legolas to escape its grip. He fell from a considerable height and landed hard a few second later, feeling ribs crack at the impact. A soft groan of pain escaped the elven archer as he doubled up in agony. However, he could allow himself no more than a moment before he was forced to gather his wits about him to make his escape. The creature’s roar of pain had become one of anger and as Legolas scrambled to his feet to run, he could hear its approach.
"Legolas, stay down!" Eve shouted in warning as Bryan opened fire.
They could not see the creature very well even with torches but its movement had given them somewhere to aim the light. Standing over Legolas, they could the tree trunk thickness of a long neck culminating into an eyeless head that resembled a Venus flytrap with serrated teeth of massive size. Its body was half emerged from a gaping fissure in the ground and yet its size still required that it had to lower its head to keep from bumping the roof of the cavern.
With the scant illumination that they were able to produce, Bryan, Eve and Haldir were able to see enough of the creature to attack. A murderous hail composing of bullets and arrows were soon tearing through the beast’s neck, forcing another roar of both pain and rage throughout the cavern as all three focused their attack in a focussed effort. The noise was so loud that it could be felt in the ground and cavern.
Meanwhile Aaron scrambled under the deadly barrage to pull Legolas to safety. The elf was on his knees, trying to move but the compression to his ribcage necessary to crouch low was nothing short of agonizing and his movements were slow. Legolas could also feel the blood saturating his clothes from the creature’s teeth marks upon his skin and knew he would experience far worse if he did not move out of its way.
"How you doing?" Aaron asked as the human slid Legolas’ arm around his shoulder in order to help him move.
"Why is it you humans ask the most inappropriate questions?" Legolas grunted as Aaron began dragging him away. "I have almost become the meal of some nameless horror and been dropped from its mouth like uneaten leavings and why might I ask must they be always be nameless? I know the first thought in my mind after seeing such a beast would be to put a name what it was I was running from…"
"You must be hurt," Aaron looked at him, "you’re rambling."
"Elves do not ramble," Legolas retorted. "We soliloquize."
Aaron started to respond was suddenly Legolas went still again. Through gunfire and the bellowing noise of the creature as it battled the humans and elves with their projectile weapons, Legolas could feel something coming towards them.
"GET DOWN!" He shouted and pulled Aaron to the dirt just as another sudden gust of wind blew over them.
Gandalf saw the thick trunk of the beast in the fringes of the light from his staff and knew that he had to act. Removing Glamdring from its sheath, the ancient sword glowed in the darkness less brightly than it should. Gandalf stepped forward into the battle after ensuring that Tory and Fred were safely out of harm’s way before going to the aid of his companions. The beast that they were fighting was unknown even in the time of Middle earth. It had been born during the chaos before the Valar’s arrival into Ea because Melkor had gone first to spread evil across Arda in its infacncy.
Legolas and Aaron saw the long neck for the barest fraction of a second after it had made its attempt to take one of them. It moved like a whiplash, impossibly fast for something that size and left behind the stench of fetid breath.
"Jesus Christ!" Aaron shouted. "What the hell was that?"
"I think it has two heads," Legolas replied.
"It has more," Gandalf retorted and walked past them, striding boldly towards the beast, a column of glowing steel in his hand as Glamdring lit the way almost as brightly as his staff.
The wizard came to a pause in between Bryan and Eve who had not ceased their deadly barrage and had been spending the last few minutes avoiding the beast’s efforts to cease their attack with its snapping jaws.
"Glad to see you join the party," Bryan remarked anxiously as he reloaded his weapon. The long neck of unbroken skin was now bleeding in several places, wounded by bullets and arrows collectively.
Gandalf said nothing and saw the creature heave in protest at the light from his staff and understood something about their opponent in that moment. The light frightened it. As much as it could consume the light, it was also afraid of it. The creature seemed to sense him as well because the pause in gunfire allowed Gandalf to hear its retreat, as if it was aware that what it faced was no longer potential food but rather a threat to its survival.
*"Ego deleb dagnir od Morgoth! Drega nan iaur nûr en ardhon ad egor matha ir naeg ned calad!’
The creature seemed to understand the words spoken in elvish and bellowed so loudly that it was near deafening. The warning however went unheeded and one of its heads lunged at Bryan. The MI6 agent jumped out of the way, barely escaping those terrible jaws clamping around his torso and rolled onto his knee to blast away when the creature made another attempt. The shotgun pellets sprayed across the beast’s formidable skull, extracting a howl of pain from that shook the cavern with its rage. He saw another long shape approaching Eve and was on his feet before he knew what was happening.
"Watch out Eve!" Bryan shouted and tackled the young woman to the ground just as the jaws of the creature’s snapped close. It lingered over their heads for a second, its foul breath washing over them with heat. Covering her body with his own, Bryan raised his weapon to fire when an arrow struck the thing in the mouth and forced the creature to rear its head up in pain. Another followed in rapid succession, until it had pulled away into the darkness.
"Are you both alright?" Haldir asked in concern upon hurrying forward, his eyes watching the beast instead it came at them again.
"We’re fine," Bryan answered with a nod.
"That’s nice to hear," Eve declared before adding tersely, "now get off me."
Bryan response was cut off by a sudden burst of bright light flooding the cavern with such blinding intensity that for a moment, no one could see anything. It spread out like flare of white, shunting aside the darkness like the rising of the sun after a long and arduous night. Every corner of the cavern was filled with its powerful radiance, until they could see the cavern in its entirety and the exit that they had sought was now in plain view. They also caught their first glimpse of the monster they were battling in all its awesome power.
It was very big, so much bigger than they had imagined. The darkness had hidden its bulk well but it was easily bigger than the watcher that had plagued Aaron for so many nights since the doctor’s encounter with it. The creature before them had three heads with necks as long as an ancient saurian with mouthfuls of large, sharp teeth. It had no eyes that could be seen but in darkness such as these, receptors needing light to function seemed to be a useless characteristic. Gandalf’s staff was shinning so brightly that they could not look at the wizard for more than a second when he faced the creature.
The light was making it writhe in agony, it attempted to retreat into the cool of darkness but Gandalf’s spell was powerful indeed and the refuge of darkness was nowhere to be found in the cave. The wizard ran forward, bringing the strobe of burning light closer to the beast though it was already recoiling from the illumination throughout the cavern. The proximity drove it further into the ground, driven there by the light as well as arrows and bullets. Bryan, Eve, Haldir and Aaron had concentrated their efforts as Gandalf approached the thing. Shooting at its flaying heads to ensure that the way was clear for the Istar to act.
It was already starting to retreat into the fissure but Gandalf was not about to let this thing disappear into the depths where it would remain for another eon before emerging to plague the world again. When he was close enough, Gandalf swung the blade borne by Turgon, the elven King of Gondolin, wielded in the battles of Nirnaeth Arnoediad and of Gondolin before its ultimate fall. The blade was older than history and had spilled much blood in its time. It was more than capable of slicing through the thick neck of the retreating creature, tearing through flesh and bone without pause as a howl of agony shook the air. Black blood sprayed in all directions as the severed neck slammed into the dirt.
The creature was bleeding profusely, spraying dark blood as it attempted to escape into the depths once more. Gandalf was not about to let it do so and quickly swung the blade again as two of its remaining necks began to descend. Another agonized screech was heard amidst the gunfire and arrows as the second head impacted against the ground, sending cloud of dust in the air as well as splatters of blood. A crimson pool began to expand across the dirt as Gandalf moved quickly to deliver another blow, appearing not as a frail old man but someone immensely powerful that left his companions in awe. Glamdring swung once more and in a final bellow of rage and pain, the creature was at last felled, it remaining head joining the others in a grisly pile.
For a few seconds after its death, no one could speak.
The air was filled with the stench of blood and dust in the wake of the carnage. The creature’s blood flowed across the dirt in thick, viscous pools. The darkness that had been so overwhelming had thinned somewhat and the light emanating from Gandalf’s staff had receded to manageable levels. Seconds tumbled by and no one could form words as they stared at the creature’s dismembered remains, grateful that they had survived though none save Legolas had ever seen Gandalf wield his power so potently. Haldir had known of Olorin’s strength but like the humans had never seen it employed so effectively.
"Well now I’ve seen everything," Bryan broke the silence first. "Giant spiders, elves, wizards, dark lords and whatever this bloody thing is. My memoirs are going to be worth a fortune."
"I had no idea you were such a bad ass Gandalf," Eve cracked a smile and Gandalf was well aware that humans sometimes diffused their extreme fear with humor, "remind me never to make you mad."
"Creatures formed before the rising of the sun have an aversion to light," Gandalf replied, his attention fixed on Legolas who Aaron was tending to. "They may be bigger but they are no different than orcs."
"I’m glad you are on our side," Aaron said offering the old man a little smile.
"How are you old friend?" Gandalf asked Legolas with concern.
"I’ll live," Legolas replied with a smile. "I have had worse."
"Can you walk?" Aaron asked. "I’d rather be out of here with some decent light before I try to fix you up."
"I have come this far," Legolas replied as he gestured for Aaron to help him to his feet, "I will not let injury hinder me now."
"Spoken like an elf with more courage than sense," Haldir replied good naturedly, secretly grateful that Legolas had not been hurt any worse than he had.
"That would be me," the elf grinned though it was not long before he was flinching in pain again.
"Well let’s keep moving," Bryan spoke up after he brought Tory and Fred out of their hiding place. Both had taken cover at Gandalf’s instruction, with Tory protecting Fred while the rest of the company fought the creature. "It won’t take the Nine very long to work out their beastie didn’t get us."
"Yes," Gandalf nodded. "We must forge onward. The enemy’s pawns are being shifted into place…"
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.