16. Chapter Thirteen: Domain
I don’t know whether the names of the Wraiths are Tolkien’s creations or not. I happened to find a site that outlined a history of them and used the names because it allowed me to distinguish them a little.
They were inside Saeran’s domain. After everything they had endured to reach this point, Aaron was not certain what he was expecting.
John Malcolm’s Monolith, with the exception of the watcher in the basement, was more or less a stock standard office building. It was a place of business for most part with only a few sections dedicated to the machinations of the former Valar outcast. With the exception of the watcher, the sentinels of his kingdom were men armed with guns and were conventional dangers that Aaron had been able to grasp easily. All Aaron had truly cared about when dealing with Malcolm was the fact that he had abducted Eve and Gandalf. Thanks to his humanity, he had sensed little of the danger beyond those mitigating facts. Only the elves had been truly aware of the innate evil that thrived in the glass tower of Malcolm’s kingdom while he remained blissfully oblivious.
Unfortunately this time, he was spared nothing.
From the moment they left the dark tunnels that led to Saeran’s domain and found the uneven walls of caverns being replaced by dungeon like corridors, Aaron could feel the evil in the place. John Malcolm may have been David Saeran’s master but it was clear that the dark lord once known as Sauron was far more dangerous than Morgoth could have ever been. Morgoth was a god and anticipated that everything would fall into place, using intimidation and power to bend others to his will because such was the way with deities. Sauron on the other hand used cunning and manipulation to achieve the same end. In Aaron’s opinion, he was far more dangerous than any god because he was the worst kind of enemy
Sauron was the kind who learnt from his mistakes.
As soon as they reached a juncture of corridor where there was sufficient light to see what he was doing, Aaron forced the company to stop. Legolas, despite his stubborn elven bravado was seriously hurt. The lacerations on his skin were incidental but the cracked ribs were not. Aaron could tell by his laboured breathing that his injuries was more than just a matter of broken bones. Although elves and humans were two different species, physiologically, they bore remarkably similar characteristics. He was certain that genetic comparisons would explain why elves lived immortal lives when humans did not however, for most part, their organs, pulmonary and reproductive systems were more or less the same. It had to be or else elves and human would not be capable of breeding.
"I am able to continue," Legolas protested when Aaron was unable to tolerate seeing the elf attempting to push on as if nothing was wrong. "I am an elf and in better stead than you humans to endure pain."
"Oh give me a break," Aaron snapped when he grabbed the elf’s arm to keep him from moving. "I don’t have to have super elf hearing to know what a punctured lung sounds like, so sit your ass down so I can deal with it before you drop dead!"
"One hundred thousand years past and you still cluck like a hen!" Legolas hissed as he unwillingly acquiesced to Aaron’s demands. In truth, he had not the strength to stop the human. "In Caradhras - the hobbits were going to die of frostbite. In Moria, we were going to die of suffocation. In Lothlorien it was allergies! There is always something threatening life and limb with you!"
"I’m still having a look at your wounds," Aaron said sweetly, undaunted by the tirade.
"We do not have time for my injuries to delay us," Legolas insisted.
"Belt up and let him have a look at you," Bryan retorted, similarly annoyed by the elf’s attempt to be brave. There was nothing he hated more than a member of his team who refused to be helped.
Legolas looked at Haldir and spoke in elvish, "I could use your words of support. Tell them that they are worrying needlessly, we elves do not need such care,"
Haldir gave him a look and replied, "no, because I agree with the Elfstone."
"Hey I speak elvish too you know," Aaron said sarcastically.
"And I thank Morgoth for that everyday," Legolas returned just as acerbically.
"Look, we could all use a breather after what’s happened," Bryan replied, gazing not only at Legolas but also at Tory and Fred. "The rest of your stay here a minute, Eve and I are going to scout up ahead, see if anyone’s about. Saeran’s people will be looking for us once they know we’ve killed his little pet."
"Little?" Eve stared at him.
"Well think of it this way, it wasn’t a spider," he winked at her with a roguish smirk.
"Bite me, you limey bastard," Eve scowled.
"That’s Yorkshire bastard," Tory corrected her and smiled sweetly at Bryan.
"We will do as you ask Bryan," Gandalf spoke in an effort to send them along. "However, we cannot wait too long."
"I know," Bryan nodded in understanding, "but we’re almost to him. I don’t want us to fail jus short of reaching Saeran."
"Agreed," the old man replied, thinking the same thing.
"How are we going to play this?" Eve asked as they reached the first corridor.
"Straight down the middle and kill anything before it gets a look at us," Bryan stated firmly, not meeting her gaze as he strode up the middle of the corridor.
"I can do that," Eve remarked with a little smile, falling into step next to him. Both of them were simultaneously checking their guns, a instinctual habit rather than of need since neither of them were novices and were armed and ready the moment they left the others.
"We won’t get too far ahead," Bryan continued speaking, grateful that Eve was deferring to his lead in this situation. "Don’t want us to get cut off from the others if we get into trouble."
Eve tended to agree even though she did not voice it. In truth, Bryan reminded her a great deal of the partner she had been assigned when she had first made detective. He was a fifteen-year veteran by the time she was forced to share a squad car with him and had cared less that she was a woman. Sex, race or color mattered little to him, the ability to learn and watch his back was more or less all he required of her and for the next four years, she had learnt well at his side. He knew everything there was to know about the street and what she thought she knew she had learnt at the Academy was worth jack shit when she was out on the street. Being his partner had taught her how to stay alive and Bryan’s no nonsense attitude reminded her a lot of Rick who had died in the line of duty.
Tory had not been exaggerating when she claimed the corridors were like a maze. It appeared that Saeran had added to the original construction of the castle, extending the dungeon like passageways with modern looking corridors that looked as if they belonged in an office building rather than an ancient Romanian castle. He and Eve prepared to investigate the rooms contained in this section because Tory was right, they did have the look of a research facility of some kind. After seeing what Saeran had been conjuring in terms of giant spiders and strange creatures called Uruk Hai, Bryan wanted no more surprises.
Seated quietly by Tory’s side, Fred had drifted off to sleep against the woman’s lap as Aaron tended to Legolas’ injuries. Gandalf appeared to be in meditation, as if he were trying to tap into the thoughts of dark lord within this fortress, trying to discern what other machinations Saeran had set into motion in his efforts to destroy the world. Considering what the child had been through the past few hours, Tory did not see any reason to wake her as their situation reached a momentary interlude. Tory stroked her hair gently, trying not to smile as she heard Legolas arguing with Aaron regarding the quality of care he was receiving while Haldir had chosen sensibly to keep watch and stay beyond the range of their verbal sparing.
Suddenly, Fred opened her eyes and sat up straight. The child met Tory’s gaze and once more, the English barrister was rather taken by the mesmerizing beauty of the child’s brilliant blue eyes. However, this fascination lasted briefly because the expression on Fred’s face in the wake of her sudden rising was one of panic.
"What’s wrong darling?" Tory asked her gently, "did you have a bad dream?"
"Bryan," Fred stammered. "Bryan is in trouble."
"Bryan’s fine," Tory said, her chest tightening and noting that Gandalf had opened his eyes and was staring directly at them both while Aaron and Legolas’ argument was suddenly cut short. "He’ll be back soon."
"He’s in trouble," the child insisted, growing more fearful by the second. "They both are!"
"How do you know?" Tory found herself asking, having no experience with the child’s foresight the way Bryan had.
"I know," she looked at the adults around her enigmatically. "I always know when they are coming."
"They?" Aaron asked, "you mean Bryan and Eve?"
"No," Fred shook her head, her dark hair bouncing, "The bad men with the red eyes," she swallowed. "They’ve come. They’re here."
They came out of nowhere, almost as if they stepped out of the dark.
Considering what they were, it was not such a far-fetched idea. Bryan and Eve were ready to rejoin the others when they noticing the dimming of the lights in the corridor they were presently in. For an instant, it appeared as if the lights would vanish completely but then the illumination paused midway between darkness and light, casting tall shadows throughout the corridors. The casting of light and shadows obscured corners and junctures in the hallways, hiding what they were able to see clearly a moment ago.
Both remained still for a moment, assessing the situation in silence even as the shadows around them grew taller. Bryan cocked the shotgun in his hand and saw Eve doing the same. He met her gaze in wordless communication and indicated that they ought to retrace their steps down the hallway slowly but steadily. With equal silence, Eve agreed with this and they began to lay a stealthy retreat though both were poised to move faster if the situation changed, which they fully anticipated it would in a matter of seconds.
They had reached no further than the next corridor when the shadows began to take shape and out of the darkness, Bryan and Eve found themselves facing the Nine. If Tory were present, she would have been able to tell them that the wraiths had emerged from the very doorway that had inadvertently led her and Fred to the Uruk Hai gestation chamber. Their appearance were like the shadows given life and though they were still sunglasses despite the dim light, Bryan fancied he could see the crimson points of their eyes. The Nine spread out immediately upon seeing their human quarry, dispersing in some unspoken pattern of attack that Bryan supposed he and Eve would find out soon enough.
A powerful wall of bullets exploded out of the efficient Mini Uzi SMG sub machine guns they were carrying. The velocity of the projectiles chased Eve and Bryan out of the hallway as bullets dug into the concrete walls. Bryan could feel the shards of rock exploding across his back as he and Eve sprinted forward trying to escape the murderous hail. Upon reaching the safety of a corner wall, he swung around and returned fire but the shotgun was a short-range weapon.
After two shots that blew a good portion of the concrete from the wall near the wraith called Akhorahil, he switched immediately to something more effective. The handgun did not have the power of the shotgun but it was certainly more effective and he was an excellent shot. Gandalf was supposed to have blessed his weapons with some elvish spell that had sounded rather far-fetched to Bryan at the time. However, at this moment, he really needed to believe that this spell worked.
The bullet escaping the barrel of the Walter PPK slammed into the knee of the wraith in the lead. The creature hissed in pain as his leg buckled under him and clutched his knee. Bryan could see no evidence of blood but the fact that the Akhorahil had been hurt gave him incentive to continue. He immediately targeted the wraith once more, this time sending a more precise shot through the pasty mask on the creature’s face. The sunglasses perched on his face, fairly shattered as the projectile tore through it and Akhorahil fell backwards. Bryan had a sense that this was not enough to kill but hurting the wraith satisfied the MI6 agent immensely.
The others were advancing ahead as the air became charged with their rage. Bryan could see them staring at him in hatred, firing with more intensity until the barrage assaulting the wall he had taken refuge behind started to crumble. The edge of the cornerstone was being eroded away and the floor became littered with plaster and mortar. They were pushing forward with relentlessly, determined to overwhelm Bryan and Eve with ammunition. They were trying to close the distance and Bryan who had been well versed by Gandalf regarding what these creatures were capable of, knew that neither he nor Eve wanted to be there when they finally did.
"Come on!" Bryan turned to Eve as she lay down cover fire, ensuring that while he was cutting one of the wraiths to pieces, the creature’s companions did not do the same to him. She had been firing blindly at them, creating a shield of bullets around Bryan so he would not get himself killed. The spell that Gandalf had cast upon their weapons was certainly doing the trick. For once, the Nine were unable to shake off the bullets being fired at them even though Eve doubted that they were little more than a stopgap measure. Sauron had built his servants to withstand much and none of his creatures epitomized this more than the dreaded Nazgul. They shrank back from the path of bullets once they were aware that it could hurt them, giving Eve and Bryan some room to breathe and for that matter escape.
"Where are we going?" Eve asked, running after him as they left the sound of exploding gunfire behind them.
"I don’t know!" Bryan retorted and skidded to a halt when he turned the corner and saw two of the Nazgul advancing towards them. He retreated as they opened fire, barely escaping the path of the Uzi’s lethal spray. The adjacent wall caught the brunt of the gunfire, tearing through the mortar in an expansive pattern. Bryan almost stumbled into Eve who immediately pressed herself against the protection of the corridor wall. She dragged Bryan back to safety before firing at the Nazgul who were attempting to close them in on both sides.
"Thanks," Bryan said as he hurried back the way he came and saw that Nazgul were advancing in the other direction as well. It did not take him long to decide that they were being hemmed in on both sides.
"Bryan!" Eve called out to him as he was making this discovery. "I’m running out of ammo!"
"Me too," he replied, trying to be heard over the sound of gunfire. "They’re closing in on us, we have to get out of here."
"We’re going to have to go through them," Eve met his gaze.
"Yeah we do," he nodded, "you up for it?"
"I am if you are," she gave him a little smile.
"Okay," Bryan returned her smile with one of his own and took a deep breath, trying to think of what strategy if any they could employ. "Head shots both of them. It won’t kill them but it will give them a bloody headache to remember and it could distract them long enough for us to get past."
"Alright," Eve agreed since his plan was a good one despite the hint of desperation attached to it. "On the count of three?"
"I don’t think we have time," he admitted. "Just follow me and start shooting when I do," he said pulling away to the corner.
Bryan stepped out just as the two Nazgul who were known as Adunaphel and Hoarmurath paused to reload their Uzis with new magazines. With the amount of shells they had been firing, it was probably a sensible course during the lull in the shooting. This time, Bryan used the shotgun, firing one shot from the weapon that sent a spray of pellets into the body of the nearest Nazgul within reach. The wraith staggered backwards but remained on his feet. The blast would have killed a normal human being where he stood but the Nazgul merely reeled in pain. Taking advantage of his momentary distraction, Bryan took careful aim with the gun in his other hand and pulled the trigger. The projectile tore through the Nazgul’s forehead and while Bryan could see no blood, he could see the fissure in the mask as the bullet penetrated.
The other Nazgul prepared to return fire when suddenly; he too reacted to similar pain when Eve delivered her assault upon him. Her marksmanship was as exact as Bryan’s and both wraiths were adequately incapacitated by the time Bryan and Eve were hurrying past them. It was just as well because the other Nazgul had rounded the corner and was firing at them to halt their flight. The bullets tore after them as they rounded the corridor, with barely seconds to spare. Eve and Bryan found themselves at the head of another hallway. This one however, had a door was situated in the middle of it, secured by what appeared to be a card activated lock.
"This way," Bryan declared, confident that he would be able to breach it with the aid of his 45-caliber lock pick.
"Hurry!" Eve declared as he reached the door. She had her gun aimed and ready to shoot the first thing that rounded the corridor.
Bryan did not bother attempting to tackle the card panel and turned his shotgun against the lock. The blast from the weapon destroyed effectively the locking mechanism as well as a good portion of the wood surrounding the handle. With a forceful kick, the door swung open beneath Bryan’s boot just as Eve released a barrage of gunfire at the Nazgul turning the corner in pursuit. Two shots slammed into the torso of the wraith as Bryan paused at the doorway to cover her retreat.
"Get in there!" He ordered.
Eve nodded briefly and hurried past Bryan as he laid down cover of suppressing fire. Eve noted as she darted into the room that he was deploying single shots from his gun instead of rapid-fire discharges to cover her back. Unfortunately, this would not escape the notice of the Nazgul either. If they had any sense at all, they would realize that Bryan was shooting this way in an effort to conserve ammunition. Once inside the room, Bryan followed suit and shut the door behind him upon entry. The nature of his bypassing the locking mechanism made it impossible to keep anyone else out and even as he was entering, Eve was already clearing a nearby table of its contents so that she could use it to barricade the door.
"Help me!" She ordered as she pushed the heavy metal bench against the door. It was not much of an obstruction but it would help until they figured out what they were going to do next. Within seconds, they had pushed it up against the door, metal screeching against the tiled floor as they dragged it along.
"That won’t hold them for long," she met his gaze.
"If at all," Bryan remarked as the gunfire ceased for a moment. No doubt, the Nazgul had determined where they had gone and so no reason to continue shooting until they caught sight of their prey once more.
"Where are we anyway?" Eve asked off handedly as she turned her attention to the room she was in.
"Its some kind of laboratory," Bryan deduced quickly. Tory was right. There was some form of research being done here. He stared at the wide room with its white walls, tiled floors, its autoclaves, microwave equipment, centrifuges, steel benches and cryogenic storage refrigerators, Bryan came to the conclusion that it was in laboratories like this one that Saeran had created his new Uruk Hai army.
Eve walked to one of the refrigerators and opened the door to peer inside. A gust of cold vapor escaped the cabinet before clearing to reveal a number of test tubes sitting neatly in racks. The fluid inside them did not appear to be blood and she reached for the clipboard hanging in front of it. Bryan in the mean time was reinforcing their barricade with other pieces of heavy furniture. Unfortunately, the heavier equipment inside the room was bolted to the floor so he had to make do with benches and tables.
"Where’s Aaron when you need him," Eve grumbled as she studied the page which had some notes about UV sensitivity but she could not understand the rest of the jargon that was scrawled across it. Eve had never really paid attention to Aaron’s handwriting before but was grateful that he did not possess the illegibility suffered by most physicians. "This is important I’m sure of it but I can’t understand it."
"Let me take a look," Bryan offered, approaching her.
Staring at the clipboard after she handed it to him, he had to confess to the same confusion himself. "It says sample has been treated for UV sensitivity."
"I think we should let Aaron see this," Eve remarked tearing the page off the clipboard and storing it in her jacket.
"We can get out through there," Bryan pointed to an air vent that was large enough for them to crawl through.
His declaration coincided with a loud thud against the door. The tables and objects stacked against it shuddered at the impact. It was followed quickly by another, more insistent assault with both Bryan and Eve coming to the conclusion that the barricade would not hold for long under this bombardment.
"You get going!" He ordered her, gesturing towards the vent.
"What about you?" She looked at him, her jaw setting with the determination that she was not going anywhere without him.
"I’m leaving them a little surprise," Bryan offered her a devious smirk, "now go!"
Eve’s protest was cut short by another insistent thud against the door. She swore under her breath and obeyed as he went off in the opposite direction. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Bryan collecting cans of cleaning solvent she had cleared off one of the benches when she had used it to barricade the door. The MI6 agent was picking up as many as he could, until his arms were so filled with them he could barely hold his gun. Eve thought of asking him what he was doing but decided against it, since pausing to answer her would only cost them more time.
Turning back to the air vent, it took little more than a slight exertion of strength to pull the grate free of the opening. The recoil sent her stumbling a few steps but she recovered her balance almost instantly before throwing it aside. Inspecting the narrow tunnel that she and Bryan would have to traverse, Eve’s nose wrinkled in disgust at the stench that was emanating from it. Unfortunately, at the moment, it did not appear as if they had much of a choice in their means of escape. It was this way or not at all. The barricade of tables, chairs, and equipment that was holding the door close was shaking loose with each impact and would very soon collapse all together.
"Bryan!" Eve looked at him. "We need to go NOW!"
"I said get going!" He barked at her as he opened the door to the laboratory microwaves seated at the far corner of the room. No doubt these were used for the rapid heating of various solutions in the laboratory environment however on this occasion, Bryan had an altogether different purpose in mind. There were at least three microwaves in the place and Bryan intended to put each to good use, repeating the same process with each one as he moved along the bench where they were stored. The pounding behind him was coupled with more and more of the barricade giving way and he knew he had only a few seconds left to act. It was not long before he finished his plan of escape by activating the appliances after presetting the timer.
Eve was already crawling down the shaft when Bryan reached the vent. As he clambered through the opening, which his shoulders were barely able to clear, he could hear the sparks within the ovens cackling with threat. The aerosol cans of solvent he had left in ample quantities in each of the appliances were beginning to superheat already and would soon reach critical mass. With the kind of equipment that was contained in the room, autoclaves that utilized some form of gas for its pressurized sterilization systems not to mention the cryogenic refrigeration units would not react well to the explosion he was about to cause.
"Move faster!" Bryan shouted at Eve as she crawled down the grimy shaft.
"I’m moving as fast as I can!" She snapped back and hastened her pace, which was no easy thing in such cramped confines. Her arms and legs were aching but she forced herself to crawl faster because if this tunnel was hard on her, she could not imagine what it would be like for Bryan who was considerably bigger than she.
Bryan looked over his shoulder; not an easy proposition considering the space he had to work with. His head bumped against the steel conduit and he cursed under his breath. The opening of the vent was growing distant and the thudding had reached climax as the door burst open beyond his sight. The clatter of objects and furniture reached down the narrow chute, followed by gunfire as the Nazgul cleared their entry into the room with a barrage of bullets.
The shaft was now beyond the reach of the bright white lights within the room and as she moved ahead, Eve was gripped with this feeling of anxiety because she could not see ahead and there was very little room to maneuver if something went wrong. However, the urgency in Bryan’s voice forced her to keep moving and as the air became more dank, Eve prayed that he knew what he was doing.
The Nazgul lord entered the laboratory and scanned the room for their quarry. It did not take him long to find them gone. The room was in disarray but he found what he was seeking almost instantly. The open air vent stared at him like a gaping mouth and told him almost as succinctly as a spoken voice where the enemy had gone. He took a step towards it; intending to pursue them down that dark passage if needed in order to acquire them. The man Bryan had earned his especial hatred, interfering with their business with the Ringbearer one time too many. The Nazgul lord shivered inwardly at the kind of death he would deliver to the troublesome reincarnation of Gondor’s favorite son.
"They have gone down there," he told the others who were filling into the room, with a loud hiss.
"Something is happening," Akhorahil responded urgently. The former lord of Numenor, who had been just as ensnared by the Nine Rings of Power as the rest of his comrades, approached the oven that was sparking with growing intensity within the room.
"What do you mean?" The witch king looked at him with concern.
"Look," he gestured to the oven.
"The others are doing the same," Indur formerly of Mumakan, observed.
The witch king had but a moment to process this information before a shrill sound emanated in succession from the appliances…
The explosion was so loud that it rocked the foundations of the castle. The trio of microwaves erupted simultaneously, expending heat and energy that quickly consumed the autoclaves and the refrigeration unit. The mixture of gases ignited spectacularly, blowing out walls and causing a rumble throughout the entire structure that could be felt from its loftiest heights to the very bowels of its construction. The heat blew apart doors and sent jets of flame down corridors and through vents. For a moment, it felt as if the earth was heaving in protest at the ground rumbled.
The sound of gunfire had echoed down the hallways as soon as the weapons were discharged and though Aaron’s first instinct was to charge to Eve and Bryan’s aid, a situation was developing with Legolas that could not wait. The elf was trying to hide it but his breathing was becoming more labored and Aaron knew he would not survive the next few hours unless Aaron did something now. Time was not only crucial for the continued existence of the world but also for his best friend.
"Legolas," Aaron met his gaze as he tried to ignore the sound of gunfire that was raging in the distance. "You are going to die unless you I treat you now."
"Obviously your training as a physician did not include a lesson in beside manner," Legolas grunted through a strained breath.
Aaron cracked a faint smile but there was no humor in it, "I have to lay it out for you because I need your permission to continue. This is something that should be done in a hospital with a chest tap but that’s impossible right now. All I can do is to remove the fluid from your lungs for the moment and keep doing it until I can get you into a hospital. You need surgery."
"What do you have to do?" Tory asked, joining her old friend because she could see the anxiety in his face.
"I have to perform a procedure called a thoracentesis," Aaron explained. "There’s fluid accumulating in his lungs because of the puncture. The procedure will stop him from drowning in it until we can get him to surgery. I can do with what anaesthetic I have but it has to be done now, before the bleeding gets worse."
"How long will you need?" Gandalf asked gravely.
"Half hour at the most," Aaron answered. "We can’t be interrupted."
"You will not be," Haldir said firmly. "Mithrandir and I will see to that."
"Good," Aaron nodded. "I think however, you ought to go find Bryan and Eve. Make sure they don’t lead Saeran’s entire Uruk army back here."
His motivation was not merely because of the procedure. The sound of gunfire and knowing that Eve was out there, on the receiving end of it frightened Aaron to no end, especially when he was unable to help her. Gandalf met his gaze knowingly and Aaron knew that he was hiding nothing from the astute old wizard. Fortunately, the Maia was too much of a friend to make mention of it.
"That is good precaution," he agreed turning to Haldir.
"Are you certain that it is wise for you to be alone while attempting this treatment?" Haldir asked reluctant to leave Legolas when the elf was in such a vulnerable condition.
"Its never wise to attempt this anywhere but in a hospital but that’s how its got to be," Aaron replied shortly. "The sooner I get started the better, now get going."
His demand coincided with a violent explosion of sound with intensity that was powerful enough to make the walls around them shudder and quake. The mortar holding the bricks together had shaken loose as trails of particles drifted from the roof above. The shockwave subsided a moment with everyone needing to hold onto something in order to ride out the blast. A gust of heat washed over them for a few seconds followed by the unmistakable stench of smoke.
"What on earth was that?" Tory exclaimed after the walls had stopped shuddering in protest over whatever cataclysm that had rocked the castle to its very foundations.
"It felt like an explosion," Aaron deduced quickly, perfectly aware of what a detonation sounded like after his adventures in the Malcolm Building. "I think Bryan and Eve have been busy," he remarked raising his eyes to Gandalf’s. "I think you better go find them."
Gandalf seemed to agree. "We will not be long," he stated before gesturing at Haldir for them to leave. "Take care old friend," he said to Legolas. "I do not wish to be last remaining member of the Fellowship on this earth."
"I survived a sea voyage with Haldir," Legolas offered a weak smile, "I will survive this."
Haldir rolled his eyes as Gandalf chuckled but the warmth between them was unmistakable and lingered even after the wizard and the elf departed to find their companions. Aaron watched them go and took a deep breath as he reached for his medical bag. It disturbed him to no end that his gun was also within easy reach. He prayed he did not have to use it because Legolas needed his undivided attention.
If the procedure did not work, it would not matter whether or not they stopped Saeran; Legolas would not live to see the dawn.
Bryan and Eve emerged from the air vent at another part of the complex and discovered that the little ‘surprise’ he had left for the Nazgul had caused significant damage to Saeran’s research complex. The corridors were quickly filling up with smoke and suddenly; the quiet and empty hallways were filled with Saeran’s researchers trying to make their escape. Most of them appeared to be exactly what they were, research staff with no idea or no compunction that what they were creating down here for their master was the blueprints for the extinction of the human species. However, as far as Bryan was concerned, scientists were often more concerned with the creation of a thing rather than the moral implications or the possible applications of their genius.
"We need to get back to the others," Bryan replied, confident that they had created sufficient chaos to ensure that their movements through the place could go about unnoticed.
"Yeah since we’ve completely trashed the place," Eve retorted and let Bryan led the way as he ran down the hallways, hurrying towards the older sections of the complex.
"I made a distraction didn’t I?" He gave her a look of wounded pride.
"Distraction and disaster are not the same thing," she returned as they hastened their pace and left behind Saeran’s fleeing human servants.
Suddenly out of the smoke, something grabbed Eve by the waist and picked her up with a powerful grip. She had barely enough time to react when she saw what look like a man running towards her holding a sword. Reacting instantly, she kicked out her foot, ensuring that it would plant itself in mid sternum when he was close enough and used the collision to propel herself backwards, taking her assailant with her. Both of them slammed into the opposite wall hard, with Eve’s attacker taking the brunt of the impact. As he was crushed between her and the wall, Eve slammed an elbow in his body and turned around to throw a road house punch against his jaw.
He uttered a low growl as Eve stepped forward, kneeing him in the groin and forcing him to double over in pain. Seeing where she had dropped her gun, Eve skidded to the floor in an effort to retrieve it. She turned around just as the other Uruk Hai had recovered and was closing in. Eve fired one shot and blew out the back of his head when the bullet tore through his forehead. Unlike the wraiths, the Uruks were not invulnerable and he dropped to the ground where he stood, blood and gray matter creating a pool of splatter behind him. His companion glared at Eve and bared his fangs in rage before coming at her again.
Eve raised her gun to fire, pulling the trigger as he closed the distance between them. However, the gun clicked impotently in her hand, the magazine having exhausted itself with the previous shot. The creature gloated at her and swipe the weapon out of her hand, certain that she would be incapable of defending herself without it. Eve saw the gun fly out of her grasp and turned to the Uruk Hai fearlessly. She ducked when he swung at her, moving lithely beyond the reach of his punch and pushing herself upright, inches away from him. Without giving him chance to attack, she threw her fist into his neck. Uruk Hai or not, the creature’s howl of pain was cut short as he dropped to his knees, clutching his throat in agony.
Eve threw a forward kick, her boot breaking a jaw as it connected with his face. A spurt of blood escaped his mouth and she smashed the ball of her heel into his face and heard something else shatter under her foot. When the Uruk landed on the ground, he was completely unconscious. She turned around and saw Bryan contending with the Uruks in the same manner. It was her first opportunity to view his fighting technique and realized at that moment that she had been very lucky indeed that he had not intended to hurt her during their first encounter. In a hand to hand fight, Eve doubted she would have escaped with her life.
His training as one of the SAS was markedly clear as he slammed an elbow into the throat of the Uruk Hai advancing behind him, dropping the creature to his knees as quickly as she had done earlier. However, Bryan was more extreme with putting down his opponent. As the Uruk clutched his throat gasping for air, Bryan grabbed his head and twisted hard in one sharp movement. Bone squelched like elastic snapping as the Uruk’s neck broke cleanly. The Uruk had barely hit the ground before Bryan turned around and delivered am equally deadly blow to the other advancing creature with a single strike of his palm. The Uruk felt down dead without further resistance as Bryan shattered the bridge of his nose, sending bone fragments though his brain in a barrage as deadly as any produced by a bullet.
"You alright?" Bryan looked at her with concern when he saw Eve staring at him.
"Yeah," she nodded thoughtfully before adding, "you really could have kicked my ass back in London couldn't you?"
Bryan thought for a moment before answering, "yes," he said with complete innocence.
"Bastard," Eve frowned turning around.
"Oh don’t say that luv," he grinned, slipping an arm around her shoulder. "After all we’ve been through together? You love me, all women do."
"God you’re full of it," Eve rolled her eyes but could not deny that the smile on his face was infectious. "I feel sorry for Tory because she does love you I think."
"Really?" He looked at her, all smugness and bluster evaporating into hopeful uncertainty; "you think so."
"Yeah," Eve grinned evilly, liking to see him off balanced a little, "and if you’re really good, I’ll pass her a note after class."
"Bugger off," he retorted and regarded the handgun he had tucked in the back of his pants. Unfortunately, he had been forced to relinquish the shotgun during their journey through the vents and felt somewhat vulnerable without it. "How much ammo have you got left?"
"I’m out," she replied getting back to business. "What about you?"
"Three shells and that’s it," he replied.
"We better get back to Aaron and the others. They got the rest of the ammunition," Eve declared before she realized that Bryan had suddenly fallen silent.
"Hey, you listening to me?" She looked up and saw that he was quiet for good reason.
Making their way down the corridor through the smoke and shadows were at least a dozen, armed Uruks heading straight for them.
Once his course was set, Green was surprised how easily a plan fell into place.
With the town behind him, thoughts of Elizabeth grew more distant even though the pain she had caused him had taken on a life of its own. For the first time in his life, he felt as if morality, strict army discipline or the twisted priority of politics, which often had little to do with soldiering, was not restraining him. He thought of some of the things he had been forced to swallow as a soldier through the years. Most had been motivated by the foolish belief that pacifism was man’s way of dealing with conflict in a civilized manner, when in truth it was the breeding ground of subjugation.
Even before he had become a soldier, he had watched Cuba fall to the communists and because the one effort that America had made to stop it had failed, Cuba was left to languish under the control of Castro. Allowing Castro to retain power had given the Russians leave to place their missiles ninety kilometers of the coast of the continental United States. Had they reacted then? Of course not, because peaceful solutions were found to deal with the situation when outright force was what was needed. His father had always told him that the way to deal with a bully was to give him a bloody nose and send him home crying, not politely ask him to withdraw by giving up pocket money or in this case, missiles in Turkey.
In Vietnam, the war in which he had been blooded. He saw friends and superior officers killed by the communists. They had turned Vietnam’s peaceful people into a hungry bunch of murderers who were willing to kill anyone in the name of their cause. They did not even have the decency for a straight out fight, instead hiding bombs in restaurants and hotels. It was a coward’s way of fighting and America had let them get away with it. The notion that America may have been partially responsible for the conflict in Vietnam did not even occur to Green as he drove a hundred miles out of town, towards the Launch Control Centers away from the support base. All that mattered to him was that the Communists had been allowed to have Vietnam despite the soldiers who died defending it.
The Launch Control Centers or LCC’s as they were called by those in the know, were manned by two men at all times. In the case of Minuteman ICBMs, they would have to remain at their posts in LCC for 24 hours shifts, where they would be conducting training exercise or trying to sleep in the 90 dB that could be heard when their equipment was operating at full capacity. Since he was their commanding officer, Green did not anticipate any difficulty gaining access. Snap inspections were not unheard of and since he was in charge of the whole missile program in this area, it was no exaggeration to say that his loyalty was beyond reproach.
Which in truth, it was not until now.
Green thought of Elizabeth and how she had driven to this and wondered how he could be undone so completely by a woman. Before he could question himself to deeply on that question, a sharp voice not completely his own, deep inside his head answered with a sharp and menacing hiss.
It was the communists!
Yes, Green remembered, it was the communists. They had turned Elizabeth against him. They had used her as their pawn and forced her to tell him lies under the pretext of love, making him a fool who loved her back. His heart ached in pain by the betrayal but the rage inside him did not burn as hot as when he thought about the people who had set the mechanism for his humiliation in motion. They wanted to know about America’s nuclear capability? Well, he could oblige them. If they wanted information about the Class LGM-30 Minuteman III ICBMs, he would give it to them and all the people who dared to call themselves communists.
At the very instant that Green was contemplating his vengeance, Major Andrei Nikolaevich had arrived at the missile alert facilities in Aleysk, the Russian equivalent of the LCC. Unlike its American counterpart, the facility was manned by not two men but rather three. During the early days of Russia’s new democracy, there had been questions raised regarding the security of the missiles, when some officers loyal to the old regime had shown definitive signs of instability. Though none of them had managed anything as catastrophic as a launch, the Russian government had sat up and paid attention to the possibility. The two-man system was abandoned to include a third and REACT (Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting) consoles were adopted in 1996 to ensure that accidents could be dealt with a modicum of affectability.
However, he was a respected commander and the men who sat in charge of the facility answered to him and on some level, could be considered friends. They trusted him. He had no wish to hurt them really but one thing that Andrei did understand though many might think him a monster for believing such things, was that in war, even friends had to be sacrificed for the greater good. During the Second World War, when Hitler had violated the Axis Pact by crossing into Russia with his troops, the Russian people had mounted perhaps one of the most magnificent defenses of any homeland in the history of the world.
Friends, family, even perfect strangers, threw themselves into the fray for the defense of the motherland because it was required. Land was ignited and whole towns were razed to the ground with the scorched earth defense they had mounted to ensure that the Germans fought for every inch of land they assumed to control. The Russians were often thought of badly because they considered six million dead Jews to be nothing in the face of the 20 million they had sacrificed to keep Russia from becoming another Nazi stronghold.
This would be no different. He had to sacrifice those men to achieve his victory against the enemy, to make Russia great. He would push her unwillingly into the last great war that would make his nation stronger than it had ever been. He thought of his wife, who waited for him to return to Moscow and hoped that she understood that what he did, he did for her as well as Russia. In the final analysis, Russia was all about her people and her people were strong.
He arrived at the missile alert facility some miles away from the Aleysk base. It was standard operational procedure that these centers were kept away from larger command bases in the event of an attack. It was still in the middle of the night, with the snowfall rising steadily and the wind cutting into his skin when he emerged from the jeep within the compound. Considering what it was that occurred here, the missile alert facility had the outward appearance of a small, listening post consisting of one single storied building and a soft HF antenna. Thanks to the snowfall, the hard HF and transmit antennas were concealed.
Andrei greeted the young man currently on duty at the support building during the twilight shift. The young lieutenant was alone at this hour of the night and had been captured by surprise by the sudden appearance of a major in what was obviously a surprise inspection. Still, inspections like these were not all that unusual. In recent years, they had gained some frequency and on some levels, quite beneficial to those who liked to think they were prepared for every contingency. Andrei greeted the young man and explained casually that he had been asked to do a surprise inspection of the launch control center. The lieutenant accepted this without question even though Andrei had produced some forged papers to make his lie more convincing. The boy offered no more than a cursory glance over the paperwork before promptly informing the men below that they were about to have company.
Lieutenant Dmitri Rastov keyed in the proper authorization code for the lifts to take the Major to the control center beneath the support building and turned around just in time to see a gun barrel staring back at him. He had no more than half a second to register this information before the gun fired its bullet soundlessly through the silencer fitting and ended any speculation whatsoever when the projectile tore apart his brain.
Unlike the United States and the Russian Federation, China’s entry into the nuclear arm’s race was slow. The state of China’s current nuclear program is a source of mystery to the western world, largely because China had sense enough to pay attention to the deployment of her competitors arsenal and kept its nuclear program under tight secrecy. Since satellite technology had progressed to such a state that it was easy for the enemy to detect silos from orbit, China had taken a different tact in how it built its facilities and its control centers. Instead of locating them in places where they could be easily detected, China’s silos were constructed underground, within vast tunnel systems carved out by engineers within mountain ranges.
From orbit, it was virtually impossible to discern the locale of these silos in their underground tunnel network and if anyone outside the PLA were ever allowed to witness it, they would be impressed to say the least. An enemy attempting to bomb one of these facilities would be hard pressed to destroy it even with a nuclear arsenal at their disposal. The missiles were kept so far underground that it would require a weapon with a yield of more than 500 megatons to even reach them. Thus when Xiang took the lift shaft to the control center after disposing of the staff manning the support command, it did so with some measure of nationalistic pride which an outsider would not consider undeserved.
A sliver of remorse surfaced within Xiang as he thought about the young men he had just killed, who had looked at him with admiration and respect because he was a decorated officer without reproach. He had all the correct paperwork and they had not thought twice about giving them access to the control center for the surprise inspection he was meant to be carrying out. He had ensured that the men he would soon kill had no suspicion that anything was amiss. The moment of silence as he journeyed into through the earth to his destiny gave Xiang time to consider the righteousness of his cause.
Cause? He snorted to himself. There was no cause. There was only vengeance.
The Americans had driven him to this. They had used Ming with her artful sexuality to compromise his standing. Two years, she had been his mistress and he had suspected nothing. He was career officer; not at all gullible having distinguished himself on the field of battle and off it, to be taken in so completely by a whore was more than his pride could stand. He thought of all the soft whispers, all the pleasure they had shared and felt his stomach hollow in disgust at the realization that it was all a ploy to loosen his tongue. He did not know how much he had told her about the nation’s missile defense system but even a few words was too much.
The PLA kept ironclad control over information regarding its nuclear program. When the Americans revealed that they were in possession of detailed information about Chinese missile deployment, the PLA would almost certainly know that someone in their missile staff had provided it to the enemy. It would only be a matter of time before his superiors traced that information back to him and at best, he would be court-martialed for his stupidity, and at worst he would be shot for treason. No matter how he played this out in his mind, Xiang knew that he was out of options and this most desperate of measures was the only way he could think of to keep his honor and take vengeance on those who had arbitrarily set out to destroy him.
The sudden stop of the lift jarred him out of his rampaging thoughts, which was just as well he decided as he stepped through the blast doors that were left open for him because the men within the control center trusted him. In the event of an attack, the blast doors would seal them inside the facility and would be virtually impregnable to any efforts to open it. In stepping past them, he was crossing the last obstacle that lay between sanity and what had to be.
"Colonel Li," the young captain snapped to a salute with a smile. "It is an honor to meet you Sir."
Next to him, a seasoned sargeant stood with the same attention though his salute was no less genuine.
A true soldier, Xiang thought to himself, careful never to address a superior officer unless first addressed. He was a good man and one that the PLA had too few of lately. It was a shame that Xiang had no choice in carrying out his next actions.
"At ease, gentlemen," Xiang said after he returned their salute.
They were in the process of relaxing when Xiang reached for his sidearm and promptly fired a bullet into each of them. They fell down dead where they stood, an expression of horror and surprise etched on their faces from the half instant they were given to realize that they were about to die. Blood oozed from the ruined flesh behind their skulls, a crimson pool expanding around their skulls across the floor. Xiang lowered himself to them, ignoring their dead eyes as he removed the launch keys hanging around their necks.
There was a strange sort of clarity in his mind as he went to the launch control console and sat down. Staring at the switches but not really seeing them, his mind seemed to be operating without his need to think. Suddenly, Ming and his career felt very far away. Only the purpose before him had any true meaning. Only it was pure. He stared at the keys in his hand for a few second, wondering whether his entire life had been building towards this moment or was it just a random quirk of fate that these were the cards he ought to be dealt. Xiang did not know for certain but then great men who found themselves in situations like this rarely did.
Sliding the first key into its slot, Xiang released a deep breath and uttered a line spoken by Caesar once a upon a time, that seemed very fitting for the occasion.
"The die is now cast."
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.