18. Chapter Fourteen: Transitory Shells
Tory Harding wondered at what point had her quiet, predictable existence become this nightmare where she would be lucky to survive the night.
Less than a week ago, the most hazardous thing she had to worry about was whether or not she should have that extra slice of desert with lunch. Since opening her door to Aaron Stone, Tory had been chased out of her house by phantom creatures, forced to travel across Europe and nearly been clawed to death by the army of monsters belonging to an insane dark lord. To top it all off, she was now preparing to play nurse while Aaron, admittedly the closest thing she had to a brother in this world, prepared to perform some surgical procedure on an elf in the bowels of a Romanian castle.
Tory wondered if she should have just shut the damn door.
It had not been long since Gandalf and Haldir had disappeared from the dark chamber they had taken refuge following their entry into the lower levels of David Saeran's mansion. For the time being, their presence had so far gone unnoticed but Tory was certain that this was largely due to the loud explosion that had rocked the structure a short time ago. An explosion, that Bryan and Eve had undoubtedly responsible. Her intuition regarding Bryan gave her the impression that he could be a walking disaster area if he set his mind to it. In any case, the commotion he and Eve were causing ensured that the attention of Saeran's agents were fixed solely on catch them instead of anyone else who might be hiding in their master's domain.
Still, she had no wish to see him play decoy because as capable as he was, she still feared for his life. Tory knew that she was being foolish, that Bryan was more adept at staying alive than she could possibly imagine but she could not help worrying about him nonetheless. It had been no more than a week since he had entered her life but Tory knew inwardly that she had been awaiting Bryan for a very long time. Tory was never a believer in fate or destiny but with a foresight she not explain, Tory knew that they had been cheated out of a life together once already. Now that she had found him again, Tory was not eager to lose Bryan.
Tory had known love before Bryan. When she met Stuart Farmer, she had loved him but inwardly, there was something inside her that could never yield to the gentle scholar she married, no matter how much she tried. There was always apart of her that held back, restrained by some unknown yearning she had never recognized until the moment, impulse had driven her to kiss Bryan for the first time. When her lips met his, it was as if the floodgates of her emotional core had been flung open and for the first time, she was lost in the tidal of feeling that he engendered it her.
It was vastly different from what she felt for Stuart, which was a safe sort of affection, devoid of any real fire. With Bryan, there was heat even when he was not in the room. It burned inside her relentlessly, stoking into being an emotion of all consuming passion that left her breathless. This and all the dreams that had plagued her of late convinced her that this time it had to be different. They were meant to have more than just one bittersweet moment together. She did not want to become that woman who had stood on the balcony overlooking the city of Gondor, sharing a brief interlude with Boromir that would leave her filled with regret for the rest of her life.
Tory did not wish to be the woman who had loved Boromir of Gondor and mourned him for the rest of her days.
"Tory, keep that torch up, I need to see what I'm doing," Aaron's voice shattered Tory’s ruminations about Bryan and destiny, returning her to the moment where she was meant to be helping Aaron save Legolas Greenleaf's life.
The elven archer was unhappy to be the centre of so much attention but even in their poorly lit surroundings, there was no mistaking the pain he was trying hard to conceal from showing on his face. She had been holding the torch, providing Aaron with much needed light though she suspected it was still not enough. Their only source of light in this dark place was the battery-operated torch that left everything beyond the range of its concentration.
In truth, Aaron preferred a considerably more light when examining any patient but since that was impossible, was forced to make do with what he had. After pulling open Legolas’ tunic, he reached out for Tory and directed her at where he wanted the torch aimed. The light concentrated on Legolas’ chest allowed Aaron to see the true extent of Legolas’ injuries. Behind him, he heard Tory drawing a deep breath at the sight of the terrible bruising against Legolas’ ribs. Deep splotches of purple was a stark contrast against the archer's pale skin and seeing it made Aaron wonder how he could have tolerated the pain for so long.
"Tory, I'm going to need your help," Aaron said firmly as he reached for his doctor's bag and rifled through its contents.
"I'll do what I can," Tory replied earnestly and meant it. Anyone who was able to keep a brave face with that kind of injury demanded her undivided attention as well as admiration.
"I still believe you are over reacting," Legolas retorted, ignoring the fact that each gentle prod Aaron was making against his skin was producing a corresponding wince of pain across his face.
"You can cut the tough guy routine," Aaron replied shortly and prepared a needle full of anaesthetic so that he could begin the procedure. "Haldir's gone, so you don't have to behave like a two year old."
"Haldir has nothing to do with it," Legolas replied indignantly, "I simply do not need to be fussed over like an infant."
"Well you are behaving like one," Aaron responded; only half listening to him because he had more important matters to attend. "Hold onto this a minute," he said to Tory and handed her the needle filled with anaesthetic so that he could continue with the rest of his preparations for Legolas’ treatment.
After Tory had taken the needle from him, Aaron reached into his bag and produced a small bottle of alcohol. Soaking a piece of cotton wool with the clear fluid, he proceeded to sterilize the area around the ribcage where the needle would pierce the skin. Once again, Aaron frowned at where he was forced to perform such a procedure. This was hardly the fitting place to embark on such a procedure and wished he could get Legolas to a proper hospital where he would have access to X-ray machines and chest taps, unfortunately, as he had stated previously, he had little choice in the matter.
"What are you doing?" The elf asked with a mixture of fascination as well as trepidation when the alcohol made contact with his skin and began to evaporate almost instantly.
"I'm cleaning the area where I'm going to have to put the needle," Aaron explained, trying to leave out the details because he did not wish to cause Legolas any more anxiety, no matter how well the elf may think he could handle it. Even linebackers passed out a sight of needles.
"Needle?" Legolas looked at him.
Aaron did not answer him because explanation would only make Legolas more nervous and Aaron needed him still. Instead, the doctor continued with what he had to do.
The procedure in itself was simple, despite the nature of the symptoms it was meant to alleviate. Once the sterilization was completed, Aaron inserted the needle into the skin and anaesthetized the area in a matter of minutes. The initial penetration caused some discomfort but Legolas bore it well and every soon the numbing sensation would ensure he felt little else. Legolas’ breathing had become more strained and hearing it hastened Aaron’s' pace because the doctor knew the elf's condition was deteriorating unless the fluid was removed quickly from his lungs. Once the anaesthetic had done its work, Aaron inserted a large needle attached to a syringe through the chest wall and into the pleural space around Legolas' injured lung.
The elf had understandably turned his head away, wishing to see none of it and Tory could not blame him because she had no desire to see his blood drain into the syringe any more than he did. During that phase of the procedure, Tory ensured that Fred's gaze was fixed elsewhere because the child did not need to see this either. Still despite the fact that the procedure was not meant to take long, the time seemed to crawl and she could not even begin to imagine what Legolas was feeling during its execution. Fortunately, while the effects of the procedure were not immediate overt, Tory did notice after awhile the hoarseness of Legolas’ breathing easing slightly.
"This will have to do for now," Aaron announced after what seemed like an eternity of time.
"Is he going to be okay?" Fred asked, finally being allowed to face them now that Aaron had finished the treatment.
"It will take more than this to kill me, little one," Legolas muttered weakly but his pallor was still white and Tory could tell by the look in Aaron's eyes that the elf's condition was nowhere as improved, as Aaron would like.
"You'll be okay for now," Aaron said gazing at his best friend with a warm smile. "You still need a hospital but this should help you breathe a little better for the moment."
"I have every confidence in your ability, Aaron," Legolas met his eyes with sincere trust. "You have always seen to it that I live to breathe another day."
"Well I can't let you die," Aaron replied warmly, "who's going to get me out of trouble when I get into it?"
"That is for certain, I have often found it to be a full time occupation," Legolas agreed with a tired nod.
Aaron felt a surge of warmth for the elf who had been his friend for longer than he had been alive on this earth. While Aaron remembered nothing about Aragorn Elessar's life, he did know without hesitation or doubt that their relationship was more than friendship, deeper than brotherhood. There was something terrible comforting in knowing that no matter what happened in their lives; they would always travel the same road together. When Aaron had lost Stuart, he had thought he had lost a brother but in meeting Legolas, he had found one again.
Aaron had no intention of losing once more.
There was a curious period of calm in the time that elapsed when Eve and Bryan caught sight of the Uruks who had suddenly appeared in the corridor before them. Neither side reacted except to gape at each other. The Uruks, obviously not the creatures that Tory had encountered in the gestation chamber, were clothed in dark fatigue and carried guns. Despite the dull illumination in the corridors, Bryan and Eve were able to get their first real look at the army of creatures Saeran would use to rule the world if his New Order became a reality.
Aside from their weapons and clothing, the Uruks appeared to be fearsome and formidable race. All of them towered over Bryan and the Englishman had always considered himself tall. Next to the Uruks, Bryan felt positively slender. However, it was not merely their height that made them so imposing. With their dark skins, misshapen heads and animal like teeth, they were menacing to look at and the manic gleam in their eyes revealed their savage natures. These creatures liked to kill and he had a feeling they were very good at it. When he had encountered the Uruks in the cavern where he had rescued Tory, they had seemed aggressive but manageable. Now as he faced a dozen of them, Bryan did not want to imagine what an army of them would look like.
For the moment however, these Uruks were dangerous enough and armed with Uzis, they were better prepared for a fight than either Bryan or Eve who had between them three bullets left in their guns. Hardly enough to survive when the momentary limbo between them came to an end. Bryan knew that when it did, he and Eve would be a great deal of trouble. What was worse, he could only think of one thing to do.
"RUN!" Bryan ordered sharply as he grabbed Eve by the shoulder and ran in the opposite direction.
Their hasty departure elicited a cry of anticipation and excitement from the Uruks who gave immediate chase, spurned on by baser instincts and plain savagery. If they were soldiers with any kind of discipline, the Uruks would have realised that a single burst from their guns would have cut him and Eve down before they could even cross the hallway. Fortunately, their actions gave Bryan and Eve precious time to escape, as well as kindle the hope that Bryan could outsmart them to stay one step ahead of them. They may have been given some education in the use of modern weapons but in truth the Uruks were little more than armed thugs who could be outsmarted by a smarter enemy.
However, the Uruks soon realised their mistake and opened fire with their weapons just as Eve and Bryan rounded the corridor. The adjacent wall was soon riddled in the bullet holes with concrete fragments flying through the air, intermingling with the smoke that was thickening from the fires created by the explosion earlier. The clouds of grey obscured their departure but also made it difficult for the duo to gain some perspective on where they were headed. At the moment, Bryan could think of nothing more than returning to Tory and others, not to mention the cache of ammunition that they had left there. The reconnaissance that he and Eve had undertaken to begin with had evolved into a skirmish that neither was prepared for and they could not continue unarmed.
"Where are we going?" Eve shouted as more gunfire exploded around them. She could also hear the Uruks’ footsteps pounding against the paved floor as they followed in pursuit, as if their blazing guns were not enough to announce their presence.
"Presumably back to the others," Bryan answered as he looked over his shoulder and saw nothing but thick smoke.
"I don’t think we’re going the right way," Eve declared.
Unfortunately, she was right. Bryan looked ahead and saw the smoke was becoming black instead of grey, indicating that they were nearing the source of the fire. However, it was not merely the smoke that lead him to believe this but also the heat being generated from the flames. It was becoming difficult to breathe but they could not turn back unless they wanted to be cut to pieces by the Uzis carried by the enemy. Eve felt Bryan’s hand around hers, ensuring that he did not lose her in the smoke. Something whizzed past her ear and she shuddered because she knew it was a bullet. However, no more came after it because the Uruks had stopped firing upon coming to the conclusion that their quarry would soon be driven out by the flames.
Bryan paused when the shooting had ceased. He stared ahead and saw through the swirling smoke that fire had consumed the upper corridor, having escaped through the partially demolished wall of the laboratory he had reduced to this chaos in their escape from the Nine. There was no way they could cross the distance without burning alive and as unpalatable as it seemed at the moment, it appeared they had no choice but to retreat. Retreat would almost certainly mean capture. Bryan hoped the Saeran had orders for them to be taken alive or else the surrender he and Eve had no choice but to make would end badly for both of them.
"Eve," Bryan met her gaze. Her eyes were watering because of the smoke but her expression indicated that she knew what he was going to say without his needing to speak the words.
"I know," Eve swallowed thickly and nodded in understanding, "we gave them a good run."
"They may want us alive," Bryan said for her benefit even though he was realistic about their chances. Saeran had no use for them and thus no reason to keep them alive.
"They may," she said with a faint smile but there was an inordinate sadness in her face that understood that they could be marching to their deaths. However, her chin set with determination and Bryan felt a surge of affection for this woman who had become a trusted ally.
"Alright," he drew a deep breath and almost choked on it because most of what entered his lungs was smoke. "Let’s do this."
Eve nodded somberly and followed him as Bryan retraced their steps back the way they came. He had placed his hands at the back of his head and gestured to Eve to do the same. Hopefully, these Uruks would understand the universal sign of surrender and act accordingly. However Bryan did not hold out much hope of this and prayed that their deaths would be quick. He did not mind torture but he could not stomach it if they inflicted it upon Eve. Even if they survived such an ordeal, Bryan would never be able to look Aaron in the eye again.
The smoke had thinned enough for their overture of surrender to be recognized by the Uruk Hai who immediately displayed their reaction at the enemy’s capture with loud growls of sneering triumph. Bryan saw Eve hardening her expression into stone, even though her eyes showed clearly her fear. He had a sense that she knew more about these creatures than he did and was more aware of what they were capable of. However, if they were expecting the Uruks to kill them outright, Bryan was rather surprised when the leader among them ordered his comrades to hold their fire.
Apparently, Saeran did want them alive.
The leader of the Uruk who was at least a head taller than Bryan came towards the MI6 agent as the others swarmed around them. He circled Bryan with a predatory gleam in his dark eyes before lashing out with the butt of the Uzi against Bryan’s side. An involuntary grunt of pain escaped him as Bryan landed on his knees from the blow. However, Bryan would give him no more satisfaction then that. Disappointed, the Uruk Hai leader continued his posturing in order to engender a more animated response by delivering another blow between Bryan’s shoulder blades, sending him to the floor on his hands.
"Stop it you son of a bitch!" Bryan heard Eve shout through a haze of pain.
Her outburst was followed by a sharp sound Bryan recognised immediately as knuckles striking flesh. The realisation snapped him to full alertness and he looked up just in time to see Eve hit the floor after being struck hard across the face. The power behind the Uruk Hai’s punch ensured that she would be unable to shirk it off as he had. Bryan saw the leader coming towards him, preparing to strike again when his anger at Eve’s treatment got the better of him. Kicking out his foot, he struck the advancing Uruk’s knee and dropped him to the ground. With lightning fast reflexes that gave the Uruk Hai little time to react, Bryan was on his feet and tearing the gun out of the leader’s hands before the others could collect themselves. Once he was armed, he jammed the barrel against the creature’s skull.
"GET BACK!" Bryan shouted as he yanked back the Uruk leader’s head and paid special address to the Uruk Hai inching nearer to Eve.
Bryan’s efforts gave new lease to Eve’s own instincts for survival and she recovered her senses quickly enough to give Bryan some assistance, despite the pain stinging at her cheek where she had been struck. Standing upright, she turned to the attacker whom had been forced to remain where he was because of Bryan’s threat and marched straight to him. Without saying a word, she planted her knee firmly in his groin and took his gun when he doubled over in pain.
"Nice work," Bryan gave her a smile of admiration, though their situation was nowhere safe yet.
"Thanks," Eve replied shortly, "you didn’t do too badly yourself."
"You’ll never get out of here alive!" The Uruk grunted, his voice was hoarse and almost like a growl.
"Belt up or you won’t make it out of this corridor alive," Bryan warned whilst dragging him to his feet. The Uruk still stood taller than him but the Uzi in Bryan’s hand was a great equalizer. Eve covered his back as Bryan forced him forward under the hateful glare of his comrades.
The rest of the Uruk Hai were snarling their protest at their leader being used as a hostage but they were even more enraged by the fact that the enemy was being allowed to escape. Bryan had this unsettling suspicion that they were even now debating whether or not their leader was worth the price of their quarry’s escape and could be willing to sacrifice him in order to recapture them. In either case, Bryan did not wish to remain long enough to find out what decision they reached.
"I don’t think they’re going to go for this," Eve said quietly, thinking the very same thing, her eyes fixed on them as she and Bryan ploughed their way through the creatures that were begrudgingly stepping aside for them.
"Me neither," Bryan agreed. "Let’s just get to the other side of the corridor," he replied. "After that we can lose him."
They made their way slowly through the tall, orcish warriors, noting the rising dissent amongst them with each step they took further away. The Uruk Hai leader was snarling angrily but was held impotent by the gun aimed at his head. Bryan could see the effects their departure was having upon the others. Their fingers were tightening around the triggers, their bodies poised to act, Bryan had been in enough tense situations to know that things were about to go hell.
And they were reaching critical with each step he and Eve took.
They neared the end of the corridor and a quick glance told Bryan that their way was clear. Bryan met Eve’s gaze and gave her the signal to run. The Uruks were disappearing out of sight but it would only take seconds to close the distance once the debate over the significance of their leader’s life was over. Eve raised the Uzi in readiness to fire when Bryan suddenly shoved the Uruk Hai leader away from him and turned to run.
"Now!" Bryan ordered as Eve released a hail of bullets from the weapon as the pursuing Uruks turned the corner. The deadly barrage forced them back and Bryan was halfway down the corridor when he halted and allowed Eve the chance to reach him. He covered her journey back to him in another hail of gunfire, giving them a precious few seconds of time where the Uruks were forced to take cover instead of closing the narrow gap between them. Once she was to him, they both hurried down the hallway, running as fast as they could as the enemy resumed their hunt once more.
Fortunately, this time the smoke was not so thick and the hallways did not appear wholly unfamiliar. He had some sense of where they were headed this time and turned another corner when suddenly; he saw Gandalf and Haldir in the corridor. The elf was already arming his bow when the first of the Uruk Hai became visible and with the skill Bryan was certain that no Olympic class archer could match, released his arrows with deadly accuracy.
The first three Uruks that rounded the corner died where they fell, creating stumbling blocks for those who followed. In the face of their confusion, Eve had halted and emptied another barrage of bullets at the advancing enemy. Their bodies were jerked spasmodically as the combination of bullets and arrows tore through their bodies. Bryan paused and added his fire to Eve and Haldir’s and suddenly the dozen Uruk Hai were reduced to three. The others had become corpses on the ground. Deciding that they would prefer better odds, the remaining Uruk Hai retreated for the moment but Bryan was certain they would be back in greater numbers.
"That was a timely bit of rescue," Bryan replied gratefully.
"I would hardly call that a rescue," Gandalf shrugged but appeared happy to see them nonetheless. "It appears to me that we merely gave you an opportunity to act."
"We came to find you," Haldir replied, eager to return to the others. He had not liked leaving Legolas even though it caused him no end of annoyance to know that he was terribly worried about the Prince’s welfare.
"What’s happened?" Bryan asked.
"It is Legolas," Gandalf answered, hiding his concern for the welfare of the archer. "His injury is far worse than previously thought. Aaron was forced to treat him immediately or risk letting him die."
"We better get back to him," Eve said automatically. "If anyone stumbles across him while he’s treating Legolas…"
"I know," Bryan stopped her from finishing the sentence and decided it was better not to waste any talking about it when they ought to be moving. "We better get back to them before they get into any more trouble."
After everything else that had transpired in the last hour, Bryan wanted to leave nothing to chance.
His quarry was close.
Saeran could sense her nearby and wondered if she could sense his approach. For years, he had amused himself by tormenting the child in her sleep but he could not deny the delicious pleasure of being able to see the fear in his eyes for himself was very satisfying indeed. As long as the soul of Frodo Baggins was within his reach, Saeran was determined to make this incarnation and every other that showed itself in the world throughout the ages, pay for what the hobbit had done. Fred was too young to understand that it would not end with her death, that he intended to pursue the soul of the Ringbearer until the end of the time.
For now however, he had business with one other who had earned his hatred just as deeply as the Ringbearer and for whom Saeran had waited just as long time to meet. Unlike Fredrica Bailey, there was no connection between them, no way for Saeran to torment as he had done to the child in her dreams. However, they were still bound together nonetheless. The sword in his hand saw to it.
The weapon which he carried as he made his way through the network of corridors beneath his domain had come to him in the summer of 1845 in Vienna. While Malcolm had cultivated his interests in America, Saeran had kept his eye firmly upon Europe and took especial pride in hindering anyway he could, the development of Austria and Germany, the nations built on the lands that had once been the kingdom of Gondor. In Austria, he had ensured the ascendancy of Clemens von Metternich to Chancellor, an extreme conservative who believed that the only way to ensure that the stability of the Austrian Empire was to suppress revolutionary ideas by any means possible. Of course Clemens was nowhere as gifted as Adolf Hitler, some eighty years later, but Saeran could only work with what clay was available.
The sword had been languishing in a Prussian museum, apparently found by an archaeologist who believed he had unearthed the tomb of an ancient warlord or nobleman somewhere in the southern wilderness. While the tomb and the body had been lost to erosion and weathering, the weapon had remained intact and the museum curator believed it was forged somewhere in the Dark Ages. Had radiocarbon dating been available in those days, the man would have discovered that the weapon was perhaps the oldest one of its kind in existence, that it dated back to the days when the Austrian Empire had been apart of Reunified Kingdom of Gondor and Arnor.
Metternich had been more than happy to make the sword a gift when Saeran had inquired after it. The Chancellor was no fool. He knew the price of refusal. He had presented the weapon to Saeran as if he had made some magnanimous gift, not realising that if he had not, Saeran would have simply sent the Nine to retrieve anyway. The sword like the Ringbearer was something that he was determined to have in his possession, although he had never thought he would have ever have the good fortune of reuniting the weapon with its former master. However, fate had an odd sense of humour because the same man who had rid him of John Malcolm was also the master of the sword Anduril.
The sword, forged from the shards of Narsil, the blade that cut the ring from Sauron’s finger. His finger.
"Come with me," Saeran barked at the trio of Uruk Hai when he encountered them in the smoking corridor. The creatures obeyed without question, falling behind their master as he resumed his journey through the passage.
Smoke cleared out of Saeran’s way, bleeding past him in thin clouds of grey. Saeran’s course led him to the corridor blazing with fire thanks to the mischief of his trespassers. The Uruks behind him hesitated slightly as he neared the flames but Saeran did not pause in his advance. As he approached, a great gust of wind preceded him, sweeping through the narrow passage, with such force that the fire was extinguished like a flame being snuffed out on a candle. Within seconds, the tongues of orange had subsided, leaving only walls charred black. Tendrils of smoke hissed around him as Saeran strode through the blackened corridor, oblivious to the destruction because his mind was fixed upon on his prey. Nothing else mattered.
"We must leave now," Legolas suddenly exclaimed, his voice filled with urgency.
The elf was still very weak but he was in better condition now than he was a short time ago, Aaron was happy to say. Although his breathing was still strained, it was nowhere as laboured as before which gave Aaron confidence that he would be able to go without medical treatment for a few more hours. The smoke that had filled the air had abated slightly and Aaron wondered if Saeran had some kind of sprinkler system the way Malcolm’s Monolith had. In any case, the doctor wanted to move Legolas somewhere else before setting out to find what had become of the others.
"Why?" Aaron asked automatically, having become so accustomed to Legolas’ elf senses that he no longer questioned it or its accuracy.
"He is coming," Legolas stated without hesitation or doubt. "The darkness I feel coming towards us can be none other. It is Sauron."
"Can you stand?" Aaron asked sliding his arm around Legolas’, not wishing to waste time by asking useless questions. If Legolas said that Sauron was coming, then Aaron believed him. "Tory, keep Fred close."
"I am," Tory answered clutching Fred’s hand to ensure the girl was close by. The little girl had fallen silent and the apprehension Tory could see reflected in her eyes told her that whatever it was Legolas was sensing, Fred could feel it too. Glancing down the passage leading to their refuge, Tory could see no evidence of anyone coming but as she had learnt since all this had began, nothing was what it appeared to be.
"I can move," Legolas said standing upright with some assistance from Aaron. He was in pain but they could not remain here, not when the threat he could sense was looming ever closer. "Give me my bow."
"You’re in no condition to shoot anyone," Aaron said automatically.
"Aaron, you do not understand," Legolas stared at him. "Morgoth did not know you but Sauron does. You are the heir of Isildur who cut the One Ring from his finger and it was you, Aragorn Elessar who lead the forces of man against Mordor in the War of the Ring. He hates you almost as much as he hates the Ringbearer."
Aaron shuddered a little, not because he was afraid of David Saeran but because he saw fear in Legolas’ eyes. In all the time he had known Legolas, Aaron had never seen him fear anything. His anxiety made Aaron reach for the gun he had forgotten about while he had been treating the elf.
"Alright," he conceded, reaching for the bow of Galadhrim and handing it back to its master. "Just do me a favor and take it easy. If this guy wants me, he’s going to get me because you can’t put an arrow into him until Bryan gets here."
Legolas met his gaze sharply and disbelief, "Aaron, he could kill you."
"Yeah but me dying won’t end our chances of saving the several billion people he’s going to kill if we don’t stop him with our plan," Aaron reminded, trying to sound brave even though he was not.
"I do not know whether I can sit by and watch him kill you," Legolas replied earnestly, real anguish on his face.
"Neither can I Aaron," Tory added her voice to the mix, understanding all too well the difficulty Legolas was feeling. "You have to protect yourself."
"We can’t do anything," Aaron repeated himself firmly, "not until Bryan gets here."
Legolas did not answer him. The elf had suddenly gone still and Aaron knew by the look in his eyes, that something had changed or someone had come.
"Its too late," Legolas confirmed his suspicions with a grave expression, "he is here."
Aaron turned around just as the shadow of David Saeran preceded his entry into the chamber by a fraction of a second. He raised his gun, fully prepared to empty the entire contents of his gun into the dark lord’s human body when he realized with utter despair that he could not. Killing David Saeran would effectively eliminate any chance they had of stopping the enemy from turning the world into a nuclear cinder.
"Shoot him!" Tory shouted as Saeran appeared before them in the flesh.
"I can’t!" Aaron hissed angrily, wishing he could, but to pull the trigger was to ensure what he had seen in Galadriel’s mirror would become a reality as surely as if he had launched the nuclear arsenal himself.
Legolas slumped against the wall he was standing; shaking in frustration because Aaron was right and it may well cost him his life because of it.
David Saeran did not seem surprised when he entered the small chamber and saw Aaron Stone pointing at gun at him but appeared unable to fire. In the light of the chamber, the dark lord seemed to cast larger than life shadows but then the Saeran was a favorite of the dark. He lived his life in it and relished the power given to him by the shadow world. In it, he was in his element and as he faced the enemies he had sought so long to destroy, he had never felt more grateful to feel its power running through his veins.
"Go ahead Aaron, shoot me," Saeran said with a knowing smile as the three Uruk Hai entered the room, taking up flanking positions next to their master.
"Don’t tempt me," Aaron returned in a low voice but whether or not Saeran knew it, his threat was an empty one.
"Temptation is at the heart of what I do, Aaron," Saeran replied smoothly before staring at Aaron with concentration.
"Aaron!" Tory cried out as she saw Aaron being flung backwards across the room by some unseen force.
Aaron was thrown hard against the wall, losing the grip on his gun as the back of his skull slapped against the stone and his entire body shuddered in pain at the forceful meeting of flesh and stone. There was no time to even utter a groan because it felt as if the wind had been knocked right out of his lungs upon impact. There no time for anything but the pain and before he knew it, he was falling to the to ground like a rag doll. Aaron landed on the floor hard, his head swimming with disorientation as he felt warm blood on the back of his head and in his mouth.
Despite the severity of his injuries, Legolas was not about to let the attack upon Aaron go unanswered and reacted with more speed that should have been possible for someone in his condition. Aaron had barely hit the wall before the elven archer was arming his bow and shooting an arrow, hardly caring that a lucky shot could possibly jeopardize their chances of thwarting Saeran’s dark plans for the world. All he could think of was that his friend was under attack and Saeran could easily kill them all without much effort. Unfortunately, this was proven all too true when the dark lord deflected the arrow with the sword in his possession, even one as skillfully delivered by the former prince of Mirkwood. The blade sliced the arrow in half before it could reach him, the pieces dropping harmlessly at his feet.
"I would have thought that a brat of Thranduil’s would be capable of providing me with more challenge than that," Saeran sneered as he regarded Legolas with derision.
"I am more than capable for the likes of you Sauron," Legolas returned coldly.
"You amuse me, the lot of you," Saeran shook his head in disgust as he swept his gaze over his supposed enemies. "You come here into my domain and think that I am unprepared for you? What sort of fool do you take me for? You may have succeeded against me once but not again. I have learnt from my past misfortunes and this time, it will be different, I promise you that."
With that, he turned to the Uruk Hai in attendance and gave them leave to proceed with a slight nod. The creatures promptly moved to restrain Legolas and Aaron who were in no condition to offer them any real resistance.
"Stop it!" Tory cried in protest out when she saw one of the Uruks slamming Legolas’ skull against the wall knocking the already weakened elf out cold. The Uruk caught him before he slid to the floor, while the other slammed the butt of his rifle into the back of Aaron’s head, putting him in a similar state of unconsciousness.
Saeran turned to her as if he had noticed Tory for the first time and as he cast his attention upon her, she suddenly wished she had remained silent. The scathing glare he cast in her direction was enough to wither away her courage into nothingness. Even though Tory had no memory of Middle Earth and knew nothing of Sauron, when she saw the cold flint of his eyes staring at her, she could almost see the dark creature that he was beneath the mask of flesh. Saeran’s gaze lingered on Tory briefly before he turned his attention to Fred who had started to cry at the sheer terror of being in the man’s power again. Without warning, Saeran swung his fist and struck Tory with a powerful blow that sent her sprawling.
"Tory!" Fred screamed as Tory fell boneless to the ground and did not move again.
"I told you," Saeran glowered, tearing Fred away from Tory’s side and forcing her to look at him, "We will be spending a great deal of time together. If you run from me again, I will kill them all. Do you understand?"
Fred stared at Saeran with wide eyes, brimming with tears. Through her sobs, she managed to stutter a response. "Yes," she answered.
"Good, I’m glad we understand each other," he said straightening up. Saeran started out of the room with Fred securely in his grasp before pausing briefly to look over his shoulder at the Uruks waiting for his command.
"Bring them," he ordered before disappearing into the shadows once again.
The minute Bryan was faced with that empty space where his friends should have been, he knew that they had returned too late.
Eve seemed lost as she drifted into the confines of the dark chamber, illuminated by Gandalf’s staff. The policewoman lowered herself to Aaron’s open medical bag and ran her palm gently across the worn leather, almost as if she touching it would bring her closer to him somehow. Bryan saw the tough mask evaporate and in its place was pure vulnerable emotion. Eve was trying not to let her fears for Aaron get the better of her but the glistening pools of her sapphire eyes reflected nothing else.
Whatever had happened here to overcome their friends had transpired quickly. There was no scent of gunpowder in the air which meant Aaron and Tory probably never even got a round off at their attackers. The only sign of violence was the arrow on the floor, split in half by something very sharp, like a sword. Haldir was examining the pieces, his expression grave because he knew as well as Bryan that Legolas had tried to fight back and failed. Bryan’s own attention was fixed upon the dark spot on the ground. He kneeled down to examine and was unsurprised when he discovered what it was. He supposed there was some consolation in there being only a small amount of it though that offered him little comfort.
"Its blood isn’t it?" Eve asked, having seen enough crime scenes in her life to know what it looked like.
"Yeah," Bryan nodded somberly because he knew of ways to kill that did not require any blood being spilt.
"He has them," Haldir retorted with a heavy sigh. "This arrow was split in half by a sword and I seriously doubt that any of the Uruks had the skill to do this."
"It was not the Uruks," Gandalf said with equal gravity in his voice, "it was Sauron. This place reeks of his presence. He took part in the capture of our friends personally."
"We’ll expect us to go after them," Eve declared. "He knows we won’t leave without them."
"It will be a trap," Haldir said meeting Gandalf’s gaze. "Sauron will be waiting for us."
"We must proceed," Gandalf returned. "I have no wish to see any harm come to the others but we must press on. It is more than just their lives at stake."
"How can you say that?" Eve demanded, unwilling to sacrifice Aaron for anything.
"Because he’s right," Bryan said quietly. "We go on as Aaron planned."
"What?" Eve stared at him.
"We go on as planned because that’s the only chance we have of bloody well saving any of them!" He returned with just as much vehemence. "It doesn’t matter whether or not it is a trap! We need to reach Saeran before we can do anything! If it is a trap, he’ll need them alive as bait! He can’t kill them, not without Gandalf knowing, am I right?" Bryan glanced quickly at the Istar for confirmation.
"Bryan is correct," Gandalf nodded. "I would know."
"Eve," Bryan placed his hands on her shoulders, "we have to do it this way because we don’t have any other choice. Aaron’s plan is the only way we have to stop Saeran, even he would agree with this."
Eve closed her eyes as she wrestled with her emotions. He was right and she knew it but the thought of losing Aaron was like the light draining from her world, something she could not even begin to imagine. However, she had to pull herself together despite her fears of losing her. She had to because she would be no good to Aaron otherwise.
"Okay," she nodded slowly, composing herself a little better. "We’ll continue with Aaron’s plan."
"That’s my girl," Bryan said with a smile, planting a small kiss on her forehead. "I knew you wouldn’t let me down."
"Yeah, yeah," she retorted, not at all confident about their chances. "So, now that we’re decided what we’re going to do, you want to explain how we’re going to do it?"
"Well that’s easy enough," he shrugged meeting Gandalf’s gaze, "if he’s setting a trap for us. We shouldn’t disappoint him."
It was the sunrise that awoke Aaron Stone.
It peeked over the mountains, a crack of light against the range of the Carpathian Mountains, gaping at him through the open balcony doors, even though the sky around it was still bathed in darkness. It was still twilight but the dawn was rapidly approaching and as the light caught his eyes, Aaron felt reality returning to him with similar clarity. He could still taste the salt of blood in his mouth and the pain on the back of his skull had rescinded thankfully into a dull throb. However, for most part he was relatively in good condition.
The promise of impending sunrise had roused him from his unconscious state and with wakefulness came the realisation that he was laying against a cold, hard, floor. Blinking his eyes into focus, he saw the flat plain of a marble floor before him. Adjusting his vision to take in a wider scope of his surroundings, Aaron’s gaze soon reached Legolas who was lying flat on his back, in a similar state of slumber. He could tell by the rise and fall of the elf’s chest that Legolas still lived but his mind was soon crowded with thoughts regarding the fate of the others. Where were Tory and Fred?
"I’m glad to see you’re still with us Aaron," Saeran’s voice sliced through the dark.
Hearing Saeran caused Aaron’s adrenaline to rush through his veins and the doctor was suddenly alert, searching for the dark lord whose captive, he so obviously was. Even though the dawn was fast approaching the horizon, the room was still shrouded in amber light. Light fixtures resembling those found in nineteen century mansions, with ornate bronze holders and glass teardrops dangling like a mini-chandelier exuded enough illumination for Aaron to see his surroundings but not very clearly.
Apparently, David Saeran preferred the shadows.
Saeran himself was sitting at something that resembled a throne and Aaron found himself thinking that being a dark lord came with its own case of severe megalomania. Saeran was perched upon his throne, with Fred seated at one side of his feet while a dark haired beauty Aaron did not recognise sat at the other. Tory lay near Legolas, starting to reach consciousness, thanks to Saeran’s voice. The only reason Legolas was not the first among them to awake was because he was injured and Aaron prayed that the reason for his continued slumber was not because his condition was worsening beyond Aaron’s ability to treat.
"I am being rude," Saeran continued to speak but this time he was addressing the woman next to him. "I should introduce you two, professional people and all. Irina, meet Doctor Aaron Stone, formerly of the New York Psychiatric hospital before he became a wanted fugitive I believe."
"This is the man who brought down John Malcolm?" She responded after staring at him with great scrutiny, "I find that hard to believe."
"I find it hard to believe that you can sit there like his lap dog when he’s about to turn to bring down nuclear Armageddon," Aaron found himself saying in return.
"A god has the right to reshape the world as he sees fit," Irina replied as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world.
"He’s not a god," Aaron stated and saw that unflappable mask waver slightly as the deification of her lord and master was questioned. It dawned on him that she truly believed Saeran was some kind of god and found himself adding to test the depth of his theory, "he never was."
"He is a god!" She said sharply, rising to her feet.
"Calm yourself Irina," Saeran spoke automatically, somewhat amused by her reaction. "I am not a god but I am not quite a man either. It appears that we are none of us what we seem are we Aaron?"
"Well if you mean that you’re a Valar errand boy with delusions of grandeur, then I would have to agree," Aaron retorted, trying to distract himself from paying too much attention to the reverential treatment Saeran was affording the sword in his grasp.
"I cannot deny what I was but we both have our secrets don’t we Aaron? Or should I call you Aragorn?" Saeran met his gaze sharply.
"Aragorn?" Irina asked puzzled. "Who is Aragorn?"
"Aragorn Elessar," Saeran stood up and made his way towards Aaron, "King of Gondor, the hero of the War of the Ring, Thorongil to the people of Rohan, Strider to everyone else. The elves called you Estel I believe."
"That was another man," Aaron replied, feeling distinctly uncomfortable that Saeran could not see him as anything else.
"The soul does not change Aaron," Saeran said with surprising emotion in his voice as he paused in front of Aaron. "The shell of flesh and bone is transitory but the soul remains and while it breathes, the man whatever the age, remains the same. You are Aragorn Elessar, you look like him and judging by the way you dealt so masterfully with Melkor, you think as he did."
"I would have thought you wouldn’t be happy that I screwed things up for Malcolm," Aaron said unable to deny being taken back by Saeran’s complement.
"Why shouldn’t I be?" Saeran asked. "Do you have any idea how long I served that fool? All he knew how to do was tell everyone that he was a god and expect to be obeyed. If it weren’t for me and the demons he created at Angband, Feanor and the Noldor would have mounted his head on a pike for the theft of the Silmarils. Not that he was much use after he got his hands on it. All he would do is leave the work to me and gaze at the stupid thing like a child with a new toy. If there was Hallmark back in those days, the Valar would have got a thank you card from me for sending him to the Void."
"So I guess it really burned when he got brought back first," Aaron declared, prompting Saeran to keep talking. In truth, it was an effort to buy time because he had faith that Gandalf and Bryan were trying to reach them even as he was forced to sit here and endure this audience with Saeran who obviously wanted to gloat over his apparent victory. He had to believe or else, he Tory, Fred and Legolas was as good as dead.
"I mean who knew that crazy cultists could come up with a spell to raise him?" Aaron added.
"The spell was mine!" Saeran snapped angrily. "I was the greatest sorcerer of my time. Do you think after what happened to Melkor at the hands of the Valar that I wouldn’t take precautions to ensure that if anything similar happened to me that I would be able to escape? I created the spell of resurrection after Melkor was sent to the Void but it was not meant to be used to raise him, it was to be used for me. Imagine my surprise when I returned to the mortal coil and found myself serving my former master."
"I guess something got lost in the translation," Aaron said sarcastically.
"However, I have you to thank for riding me of him," Saeran answered with a smile as he raised the sword to Aaron’s neck. For a moment, the blade lingered between them, its sharp point resting against Aaron’s throat.
Aaron felt the cold steel biting into his skin but refused to show Saeran any fear. H would not give the bastard the satisfaction. He glanced sideways and saw that Legolas was awake and staring at him, uncertain of what to do. The elf’s pallor had become grey and Aaron knew that if he did not get help soon, he would die in this terrible place. In any case, Legolas was in no position to be of any help to him at this moment.
"If you want to show gratitude, you’re going to have to do better than that," Aaron said in a strained breath.
Saeran’s expression broke into a grin before he lowered the sword, "if nothing else Aaron, you have courage. It will be an absolute pleasure breaking you."
"It is pleasure torturing a little girl?" Tory asked, entering the conversation unexpectedly.
Both men turned their eyes to the barrister who was staring at them, a large bruise across her cheek where Saeran had struck her. Tory’s gaze shifted between them and Fred who was still seated at the foot of Saeran’s throne, too frightened to move after Saeran’s threat to kill those she loved if she made any effort to escape.
"The pleasure is that she will be a young woman one day," Saeran said turning to Tory as if her sudden entry into the conversation had not surprised him in the least. "As a child she will know fear, as a woman, the possibilities are endless. I will never be as grateful as the day I found out that Ringbearer was born into this time as a woman. The pleasure I will have from her utter and complete torment over the next sixty years may almost compensate me for the one hundred thousand years I spent trapped in the hell the Ringbearer sent me to when he destroyed my property!"
"You sick son of a bitch!" Aaron lashed out as the full implications of Saeran’s plans for Fred dawned upon him. His fist struck Saeran across the cheek but he victory was hollow because the next thing he knew, Tory was flying through the air, spinning in mid-flight before she hit the marble floor hard.
"You promised!" Fred screamed at Saeran. "You promised you wouldn’t hurt her if I didn’t run away!"
"I promised I wouldn’t kill her, I didn’t say anything about making her bleed a little," Saeran answered the child in a gentle voice. "In any case, you can blame Aaron for this."
"You bastard," Aaron spat angrily but could do no more than that because if he moved against Saeran again, Tory or even Legolas would pay for his crime.
"Sticks and stones Aaron," Saeran replied as he raised the sword to Aaron’s chest once more. "I suggest you save your strength until the others arrive. I am really looking forward to meeting Bryan Miller."
"I seriously doubt it," Aaron muttered under his breath, perfectly aware that when Bryan and Saeran met face to face, it would not be as amicable a meeting as this.
One of them would die.
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.