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Thread: Another Story: The Quest for the Straight Road

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Quote:
from the previous page.... Now writhing on the floor, clutching at his burning throat, his claw-like hands thrashed against the ground drawing blood, breaking stone and bone in equal measure.
He was beginning to lose consciousness when...



.... like a rush of ice cold water, numbing his pain, something washed over and through him, making him gasp for air.

************

"I can't hold him....... he is slipping away again......." Vaeltira's distraught voice cut through the eerie silence. She looked in despair at Drogba and then Amarie...... "I can't..... no... Aelric..... please...." Her breath came in gasps, she clutched her throat. "It burns.....!"

Amarie instinctively ran to her, taking hold of her shaking hands. Immediately, warmth flowed through Vaeltira, and the burning stopped. Ice cold! She felt ice cold despite the healing warmth from Amarie. She held Amarie's hands tighter. "Please, don't let go..... he needs me, needs you... By the dread Pits of Mordor he is suffering as no one should....." Amarie flinched at the name but continued to hold Vaeltira.

"Hold on to him"whispered Amarie. "This is what Melvorion feared.... you can still reach him. Hold him in your heart, Vaeltira."

The noise had woken Daria and she cowered behind Moori away from the dying men and the seemingly bewitched Vaeltira.

A disturbance outside demanded Drogba's attention. Aragorn had returned with Roland and a very sick and bleeding Nilgaerien.
Etharion was at the mouth of the cave standing guard, when they bringed Nilgarien back. He fellt very sorry for her, but......happy too. He couldnt beleave what he just thoought of. Then his head started aching. He droped his sword clutching his head with both hands. He lett out a cry of pain. He fellt a dark preasence...then a memory..a old one. Easterlings swarming in through broken gates.....fighting and death all around him....and then again a dark, winged shape...close by, but still so far away.
The others stared at him suprised with his sudden change. The elf was on the ground holding his head, mumbling and cursing. The pain felt less, but then he could remember no more. He was not moving anymore.
In Thuringwethil 's lair Aelric stopped writhing. The coldness seeped through him numbing sensations. Exhausted he lay amid the blood and debris one thought in his mind - Vaeltira. "Oh my beloved" he whispered, "What have I done?" As his thoughts rested on her it seemed he could feel her presence and influence strengthening him. The pendant? Was she close? Was this respite due to her and the bond between them. "Please, My Lady, help me." His will grew stronger as the strange coldness extinguished the blazing heat that had threatened to consume him.
Roland laid Nilgaerien just inside the entrance, according to Aragorn's bidding. Amarie turned with little curiosity then realized who it was they had just brought in. "Nil!" she exclaimed then shock hit her at the torn and battered white skin of her friend. Vaeltira's eyes were closed so Amarie thought it safe to leave her for a moment and moved to Nil's side.

The elf stared at her for a moment then the cracked lips parted. "Amarie..." she rasped. "You look...better than I do...I'd say..."

Amarie swallowed hard, tears misting her eyes as she looked down at her. Nil's eyes weren't right. They were pale, most of the blue coloring drained out of them, as a blind man's eyes would look. They also weren't focused properly. "You look...fine, my friend."

"Don't think you can...lie to me...I know...I look terrible..."

Amarie waved a hand in front of Nil's eyes. They didn't follow the movement. "Nil - can you see me?"

A shudder passed through the frail body and she heaved in a tight breath. "My sight...began to fade when...when..." She made choking sound and tears ran out of the corners of her eyes. "When...Gondolin..." She closed her eyes then and began mumbling to herself in that awful, grating voice she now had. No matter what Amarie said to her, she did not respond.
As the searing agony diminished so Aelric's awareness increased. His vision was changed and sharpened, his body had no substance and he tasted blood, elf blood, orc and human. He craved more and the feeling disgusted him. Faint images flittered before him, darkness, flight, consuming flesh and blood...... images from thousands of years ago and more recent.

Vaeltira shivered. Without Amarie's help she could not stem the flood of pain and revulsion, self loathing and desperation spilling into her but she kept her thoughts on Aelric, willing him to fight against his possessor.

But as his awareness increased so did his fear, guilt and loathing for what he was becoming. He could no longer see his body, instead he saw black skin and iron claws extending beyond him. He could feel Vaeltira, he knew she felt what he was feeling and he felt her spirit slacken. "No! Leave me, Leave me, Lady, I beg you! " He wrenched his consciousness away from her and immediately the tortuous pain returned.

Breaking free from the link Vaeltira retched, her breath laboured and weary, sweat beading on her forehead. She staggered outside to Aragorn, "My Liege," she cried, wiping spittle from her mouth, "I have seen some.... I have shared with him...." she stuttered and halted seeing Nilgaerien so damaged, "And i know what happened to her... May your Valar protect us all... I know what happened."
Etharion was felling a little better after the first pain pased away. It seemed that nobody noticed his sudden attack of pain so he tried to act normal. He was trying to put together what had just happened. The dark spirit must have been the one on the island, and it was trying to...see through him. Trying to find them...kill them!! He would be on guard now, not leting his mind wander. The shadow must not find them. " I think it would be best if we send the wounded and women back to the ship, and then find the Gem. Quickley! The evil is angry, and soon it will be to late to escape it, and the Gem will be lost . We must hurry!!"
Amarie was focusing all her strength on Nilgaerien, her hearth aced for her friend, her eyes and ears closed for anything else. She held Nilgaeriens hand tight and poured as much as she could of her healing energy into the elf maidens body, the body healed but her mind seemed unreachable. "Nil, come back! Please, wake up!" With tear rolling down her cheeks she pulled the elf up in a sitting position and embraced her, holding her tired body tight to her own. "Hear me, I am here." she wispered. "Come back to me." She closed her eyes and rocked her like a child.
Nilgaerien felt her body in someone's arms but all she could see in her mind was that black shape, flying closer and closer..."No!" she screeched. The arms abruptly feel away and she tried to scramble away though she didn't seem able to move. "Don't allow it near me! It can't...I can't....I..." No more words would come though she tried and tried to get them out, to call for help.

She blinked and realized the dark around her was her sight and the fuzzy shapes in the dark werre those things she couldn't see. She whimpered and found her legs with her hands, wrapping her arms about them in a tight ball. Doomed to be in the dark...with that thing? A scream rose to her throat then she heard something she recognized, a familiar voice. Perhaps it would keep the creature away from her...from Gondolin...she squeezed her eyes shut - that was what she was doing? She was tired, so so tired and confused. If she just rested a moment...just a small rest in that black pit looming before her...
Aragorn looked at Etharion. "The women stay here. They are needed. And Vaeltira knows something about the attack on Nilgaerien. I will listen to her before any decision is made."

Vaeltira told him about Thuringwethil, the sword, the endless years of isolation, her children, her desires. All this she had seen within Aelric, possessed by the Vampire creature of Melkor and Sauron. She told of the bloodlust, devouring spirit and lifeforces, the attack on Nilgaerien and Melvorion's plotting over the years and his loyalty to Thuringwethil.

"My decision stands. The women stay. Roland and Valruin will take the survivors of Aelric's men back to the boat. Then they will return."
Amarie lifted Nilgaeriens head, held it with both hands and stared into the blurred eyes. "Don't go back to sleep, listen to me, you can do it, you..." She was intrerrupted by a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at with an annoyed look "What?! Oh.. Aragorn." She could see he had bad news. He made it short and to the point. "The sword wraith is... Thuringwethil. She wants the Gem. And she attacked Nilgaerein." Amaries went pale and she felt cold fear spread. "So that is what.." she bit her lip. Aragorn gave Amaries shoulder a supporting squeeze and let her be. She moved closer to the curled up Nilgaerien and put her arms around her, too worried to cry now. "I am here, she can't hurt you now. I will not allow it. Come back, sweet Nil. Come back..."
Arkantos turns and goes back inside the cave, to wait for everyone to return. The miasma of unwashed bodies mingled with the smell of fear and desolation from the wounded men. Tired to the bone, he sits, and begins to hone the edge of his sword, the grey whetstone making a grating noise that set everyones nerves on edge..
"My Lord Arkantos," the voice disturbed this thoughts. "My Lord" it became insistent. He looked up into Vaeltira's face, it's usual unlined symmetry disturbed by a frown. "Are you whittling that away for a purpose? " He paused, his glance in Amarie's direction betraying his thoughts. "Why don't you just talk to her?"

"My Lady?" he was caught offguard. Vaeltira leant towards him and whispered to his ear, "You and she are the only ones who do not know. Talk to her. If nothing else she values your friendship." The woman moved on, graceful even in her masculine travel gear. He heard her talking softly to Amarie and his heart pounded. But she spoke only of Nilgaerien. He took the whetting stone again to the sword sweeping it along the now sharpened blade to be stopped by the solid wooden handle of a great axe. "Laddie, make yourself useful and help these poor men to the boats." The dwarf grinned, "Otherwise I may have to sharpen my axe on your throat."
...Drogba paced at the cave's mouth, his atttention fixed upon his master's lady. "She knows where he is, yet she does nothing... how can she idly carouse with these strangers when her husband is in the direst of straits?" he thought. Vaeltira caught his eye as she turned from Amarie.
"What is it Lieutenant you look restless, is there something on your mind?"
Drogba looked away and stiffened, "M'lady, i think we waste time here, i appreciate we have wounded, but whilst the day lasts we cannot trust in mere providence to deliver our Lord Aelric to us safely. We have to act swiftly and decisively or else he will surely be lost."
"I more than anyone here appreciates that, but we have to regroup and establish the facts, otherwise we will merely blunder in the dark." she snapped. Vaeltira almost immmediately regretted her tone, and the effect it had upon the young man was marked, he gave a short perfunctory nod and left the entrance of the cave, muttering under his breath.
He approached Aragorn. "My Lord Elessar, I ask leave to search for Lord Aelric while it is light. The elfmaid is in no state to lead us to the Gem and we waste valuable time here. I will go alone if need be." The young Lieutenant stood stiffly to attention. Hiding a smile Aragorn considered this request. "I give you leave, but not to go alone. Take whoever you need. Roland and Valruin will return before dark. Be sure you return also, with or without Aelric."

"My Lord, thank you." The young man clicked his heels and saluted fist to heart.
"Arguing, and fighting amonst ourselfs, will aid us little", said Arkantos quietly, as he put away his whetstone, "All this waiting grates on, setting peoples nerves on edge"
Arkantos turned to face Amarie, looking her full in the face, "My lady, what is needed is more positive leadership. Instead of having men sitting around waiting, appoint tasks, so that their minds might be occupied.".
With that, Arkantos moved over to Vaeltira, and whispered quietly into her ear, "And I would thank you, to mind your tongue, for what I feel for anyone, is my business and my business alone."
Vaeltira blushed angrily.

Arkantos stopped, looked round the cave for a moment. "If we are to move the wounded to the boat, litters and stretchers my be of assistance. I am going to cut some staves from the forest to make such, would any accompany me?"

As Arkantos stalked out of the cave, Vaeltira could be heard muttering angrily to herself...
Arkantos's remarks did not go unnoticed by Drogba. The man has no manners, he thought, to speak to the Lady Vaeltira in such tones even though she could be infuriating at times.


"My Lady, Lord Elessar has given me leave to search for Lord Aelric. If you change your mind I would have you join me." He expected another refusal but instead she nodded in agreement. "I was too hasty earlier, Drogba. Of course, Aelric is my first concern."

"You'll be needing some muscle, young Man, a pair of dwarves might be just the thing. The lovely Moori is twitching in that cave."

Provisions were gathered quickly and the four set off, following the direction Vaeltira indicated. "Hold!" Etharion ran lightly across to them, his face serious. "There is much evil about. My skills will be needed."

"Ha! Young Etharion, join us!" Dorin shouldered his axe and grinned at the elf.

They made their way through the trees soon leaving sight and sound of the others. Aragorn watched them go with unease, a prayer to Manwe on his lips. They had seen what could happen in the shadow of night.

Etharion walked ahead, scouting for dangers. Every so often he waited for the others to catch up to him. He watched the trees, so many, so close and so old. His homeland was a desert to this lush island and his spirit soared to walk beneath such greenery.

Vaeltira paused occasionally. Aelric was difficult to sense and she was struggling to determine a true path. Her brow furrowed in concentration until she was sure, then she set off again. Always she felt he was a little closer and a little stronger. Drogba walked silently beside her and the two dwarves followed behind.

Etharion waited for them eager to report the large cliff face rising out of the forest not far ahead. The cliff was dotted with what looked like many large caves, possibly the sleeping places of Thuringwethil and her brood. Etharion had noticed no outward signs of guardians or traps. It seemed the brood, in their arrogance, did not consider the possibility of attack. No doubt the orcs, restricted as they were to the night, were no threat at all to these creatures.


Etharion's keen eyes scanned the lofty cliff-face for any sign of activity, there was little to report as he turned to see Drogba with the others approaching him.
"I have seen only large bats flying over the tree canopy, beyond that the cliff itself seems pretty quiet. I dont see an obvious way to scale the cliff either, there may be another route at the cliff's base." he shrugged, unable to offer more and unwilling to speculate.
Drogba considered the options, were they to risk a climb up the cliff with inadequate gear, or seek out an alternative way in what may or may not be in evidence in the forested ravine below. He looked to Vaeltira, her tell-tale grimace indicated that Aelric was in the vicinity and was running out of time. Whatever creature or force was responsible for Aelric's condition, it would be an infinately more dangerous prospect in no more than a few hours, as the precious sunlight dimmed steadily behind the range of hills and mountains in the west.
Aragorn kneeled down next to the elf maidens. "How is she?" Amari stopped her soft singing. "I had her back a few times, but she drifts away again. She is scared and confused. I don't know if she knows I am here, of is she just does not care anymore."

"And how are you doing, Amari?" He looked her softly, he knew her, she would never give up on a friend. She smiled sadly. "Don't worry about me. Her body is healed, all I can do is sing and talk to her and hope she wants to come back." Aragorn looked at Nilgaerien. "If she is healed, why are her eyes still pale?" "She is scared to see, she is trying to protecting herself from the horror she saw. There is nothing I can do, she has to choose if she wants to see or not."

"Is there anything I can do?" "I am afraid not, but thank you. But maybe you could talk to... no, it is me he has a problem with, I should talk to him myself." Aragorn looked confused and then angry. "Who are you talking about? Is someone bothering you?" Amari smiled, his consern made her feel abit better and she lifted er hand to touch his face. "No, my friend, but if anyone was, I would know who to turn to." Aragorn sighed. "May I bring you some food and water then?" Amari giggled. "Yes, Your Majesty, you may."

He smiled and got up. As he left he heard her start singing again. Valruin and Roland had gotten the boats ready and were moving the men. Aragorn looked at them, the horrors that had scared these brave men was waiting out there. His crew and dear friends might very well end up like them or worse. His face was worried as he went inside.
"My Lady, you must aid us. We must know which direction to take."

"I know, Drogba. I can sense him.... I can almost touch him.... " She reached out and grasped Drogba's arm, "Not up there, not the caves..... he is deeper, underneath...... We must go down."

At a nod from Drogba, Etharion disappeared through the trees towards the base of the cliff. The others followed, the path overshadowed by trees with the smell of rotting vegetation clinging to everything.

Etharion stood at a natural fissure in the cliff face that disappeared deeper beneath ground, belching foul gasses from its oily belly to spew against what little greenery still strove to reach the light.
Entering the cave he noticed Daria curled up like a ball, with wide, scared eyes she watching the mariners being move out. Poor woman, she had been forgotten in all the confusion with the mariners and Nilgaerien.

Daria sat huddled up against the cave wall. What was happening? Where did these people come from? And there were elves! Not beaten and dirty like she rememberd from the slave pits, but strong and proud and fair, like in the stories. She watched Valruin holding one of the scared mens hand, speaking to him. She curled up, hiding her face and closing her eyes. So many voices! If she was small enough, invisable, then she would be alright.

She heard someone say her name. Only tricks to lure her out, to take her, be quiet be quiet.

Aragorn said her name again. The poor thing, no wonder she was scared, people were dying and screaming in agony and blind fear. When she still didn't respond he gently touched her shoulder. She screamed so loud and sudden that he jumped back. Her eyes wide with terror. "Food, Daria! Food!" He spoke with the old Dnedain tongue. Her eyes moved from him to the food and with a swift motion she snapped the plate out of his hands and ate as fast as she could. "Calm down, Daria. No one is taking it away form you." She didn't seem to listen so he got up and got the food he promised Amari. Daria glanced at him in secret. Grey eyes. Warm grey eyes. Like dad.
They stared into the split, trying to pierce the blackness. Vaeltira shivered and made to move into the cave, "No, my Lady, let me go first." Drogba set himself in front of Vaeltira. "I should go first, Drogba. I have to... in case he is there. I am no warrior, Drogba, but I may have the only weapon we can use in there."

"Very well, My Lady." He motioned Dorin and Moori to stay close to Vaeltira.

As she moved deeper into the cliff Vaeltira could feel the pendant around her neck pulsing with the influx of dark power. They passed through small chambers, their pathway winding downwards before them, their only light a soft glow from the pendant.

A large chamber opened up before them, a red hue tarnishing the dark. The ceiling of the great cavern was hung with what looked like many stalagtites.
"Okay, everybody in the boats!" Valruin shouted. Two boats were in the water, ready to go to the ship. Slowly the wounded men stepped in the boats, helped by Valruin and Roland where ever they could. When the men were in the boats, Valruin stepped in one of them, and Roland in the other. Valruin and Roland grapped the oars and started rowing to the ship. When they arrived Aelrics men were already waiting for them. They helped Valruin and Roland on the ship, and then helped the other men on the ship.
As Vaeltira made to walk on but Etharion swiftly moved to stop her. "Careful, my Lady" he whispered, "the shadowbeasts sleep here. We wake them at our peril." Indeed, as they watched closer they saw the 'stalactites' ripple as they breathed, deep in restoring sleep. Crouching, they made their way slowly beneath the sleeping beasts towards the deepening red within a further chamber.
The pendant weighed heavy around Vaeltira's neck. She knew it was sucking in the dark power that flowed around, allowing her contact with Aelric to strengthen as they moved closer. He was unconscious, she could feel the fear that assailed him even now and she could feel his abandonment within himself. Concentrating, the pendant felt hot and cold within her grasp, she felt Aelric wakening, she felt his heartbeat increasing, the panic rising within him, the struggle to breathe and to fight against whatever invaded him. She faltered in her step and Dorin instantly steadied her but she could not go on. Aelric was screaming in her head, telling her to stop, to go back. Tears ran down her face. He was so close now. Etharion motioned to Drogba - the beasts were beginning to stir. Drogba took Vaeltira by the shoulder, turning her so she faced him. Her eyes were blurred with tears, she shook her head. "No" he whispered, "I will not leave him here." "We have no choice," Vaeltira's voice quivered, "I feel what he feels, I know we cannot fight it here. Do you think I willingly leave My Lord with that creature?"

They made their way back outside as quickly and as quietly as they could. The sounds of the creatures rustling their leathery wings increased. Time was short. Soon, in the darkness, they would take to the air with Thuringwethil, her need to feed increasing as she fought for control over Lord Aelric, wrapping her lubricous body around him, seaping into him.
The foul stench of rotting flesh and blood mixed with the beasts own excrement followed the group. The beasts needed to feed regularly on flesh and blood (being beasts of this world, unlike their matriach, Thuringwethil, creature of Melkor existing before Iluvatar conceived Ea) but only Thuringwethil fed on living spirit as well.

Aelric knew this, his mind absorbed Thuringwethil's thoughts and as he came to understand them so Vaeltira did also. She saw before the Breaking of the World when evil spread across the earth, she saw Thuringwethil seeding this land with her evil brood, and the weakness that came from bequeathing part of her spirit. Thoughts of imprisonment, the sword, her guardian, Melvorion the Necromancer who failed The Dark One and paid the price. Darkness, greed and hunger - feeding over the ages on all living things devoured by the sword in which her essence was trapped.

Entwined with these crude thoughts Vaeltira could hear Aelric's own . He was begging her to end the torment for him, then for her to flee now and leave him. She concentrated on thoughts beneath the panic... his own disciplined mind continued to analyse all that was happening. Thuringwethil's unborn offspring had been trapped after the earth was moved and not until the Gem was brought to this isle and its power seeped into the ground disturbing things that should have been left alone did they awake and take possession of the island, drawing evil orcs to it for food. With the orcs came men as slaves and another source of food. Now there was new blood on the island. Thuringwethil remembered well the smell of elves and dwarves and the smell of Numenoreans untainted by evil. These, her children were to leave alone, they were for Thuringwethil to feed on, sapping their life spirit slowly. Already she had tasted one elf and she wanted more. When she had finally defeated Lord Aelric's resistance and his body was truly part of her, she would make such a feeding on their blood and spirits and with the power of the Gem hidden on this isle she would be made whole once more and mighty against the world of Men and even the Valar.

Vaeltira urged them to hurry. Darkness loomed, coating the sky. Soon those of the brood who needed to feed would swarm from the caverns and despite Aelric's knowledge that they would not be hunted by the brood, the further away they were the better. "Aragorn" cried Vaeltira, "Aragorn must vanquish Thuringwethil! He is the only one." This was the last coherent thought from Aelric. Quickly they made their way back, the way was clear to them and they returned to the cave untroubled by orcs or batbeasts.

Aragorn was anxious for their news. He listened intently while Vaeltira told him of Thuringwethil, the thoughts passed to her by Aelric. It was no surprise to learn that Melvorion was a onetime servant to Thuringwethil or that she was responsible for the pollution of this island. Vaeltira told him of her thirst for power and plans to use the Gem with Melvorion's help. Then she told him of Aelric's final thought - the knowledge of which he was certain - that Aragorn would be the only person able to fight and win against Thuringwethil. Whether this was Aelric's hope or Thurningwethil's fear, she did not know. She could only trust that he was right.
The others were sitting around listening. After transporting the men back to the ship and telling what little they had learned, Varluin had taken Amaris place looking after Nilgaerien. It seemed Amari was the only one Daria would talk to, but her endless flow of words was incoherent. Amari had gotten her to come to the small water fall for a wash and dressed her in new clothes, and found there was a quite pretty young woman under the rags and filt. But her face was clouded by fear and worry and she was clinging to Amari like a scared child to her mother.

Arkantos had started digging graves for the deceased men, Roland came and helped him a while later, but he was quite happy to have started alone. It gave him a outlet for his frustration and he had been digging like a man mad befor he calmed down. Roland was quite impressed with the work he had done and Arkantos was glad to discover that he once again could have a conversation without yelling. Together they finished the digging the graves and then said a prayer for the souls of the men. Though they had worked hard and were sweaty did talk of Thuringwethil send chills down their backs.

Though Amari had her attention directed towards Vaeltira and what she said, she she felt a sudden disappointment when the two men put their shirts back on. She blushed and focused on the discussion again, but felt a sting of shame. What kind of friend was she to let herself be distracted by such foolish things at a time like this? Luckily she was in the back with Daria talking non stop, so no one noticed. Then Aragorn stood up.
"This evil must be removed if we are to save the Gem. I will fight Thuringwethil. I ask only Drogba and Etharion to accompany me and the Lady Vaeltira."

Amarie strode forward, "My Lord Elessar, I must come with you."

"No Amarie, you must stay here with Nilgaerian. Ensure she heals quickly. We must be ready to move on when we return, with or without Lord Aelric."

Drogba's fist clenched his sword hilt; a move which did not go unnoticed by Aragorn. "If there is a way to bring him back then we will and I will risk my life to do so. You can ask no more of me. Come, we must make great haste."
The four companions travelled the pathway back towards the cliff face untroubled by the great flying beasts. As they approached Aragorn called a halt before the path led downwards. The surrounding trees offered shelter, and hindrance to his enemy. He would need to draw Thuringwethil from her lair. Above him, black shapes rippled across the night black sky - if he failed here then they would all be in desperate peril.

The others were prepared. Vaeltira held the pendant tightly but she could barely sense Aelric. Drogba and Etharion drew their swords but stood back from Aragorn as instructed.

Drawing his sword, Aragorn son of Arathorn, King Elessar stood before the cliff face. "Elendil!" he cried,"By Elbereth I command Thuringwethil to come forth.!" He raised Anduril high above his head and the stars above shone brighter, their light drawn to Anduril and a great radiance emanated from its blade. Those beast flying through the rays twisted and fell swiftly, their bodies consumed by the bright light. A great cry came from the depths of the caverns and Thuringwethil, feeling her children's death cries, gouged her hideous claws through the rocks. She gathered her great form together, and swaddling Aelric's puny body to herself she burst from her lair.
Aelric did not sleep but he dreamt. Between waking to the horror around him and fighting against Thuringwethil he had slumped into a comatose state unable to control the dreamlike images swirling in his head. Images of Thuringwethil from distant ages, all horrible, all twisted, all evil. The stench around him made him retch. He could see little except a red glow and a great mass of black entangled around him, sinking into him through armour and cloth, like thousands of tiny needles burrowing into his flesh. Among this insanity had been flashes of brilliance when Vaeltira's face was before him. He felt the thread connecting them and drew strength through it. He wanted nothing more than to know she was safe and that she would flee this terror yet he knew she would not. He knew that these people he had spent the past months with would, despite the evil that had grown in him, risk their lives to save him. And Vaeltira would be there with them.

He lay, almost abandoned by the sleeping Thuringwethil, yet still bound to her by the insidiuous threads of her essence. Then great pain swept through him, screaming rent the air and he was dragged from the ground and wrapped in blackness as Thuringwethil moved swiftly to confront Aragorn.

He could see nothing but black but he felt the rush of air, foul smelling at first then fresher and he knew they had left the lair. He felt the anger from her, swelling inside, and knew that this frenzied flight of hers was in pure anger and lust for vengance. As she swept up and above the trees he felt the presence of others; Vaeltira he could already feel but Thuringwethil was aware of only one - Lord Aragorn, the elf lover who called himself 'King'. At her full strength she would devour him with ease but now she was still weak and she had not fed fully, using what strength she had to ensnare Aelric. But she gave no thought to this, her rage centred on this man who slaughtered her children and she sought only to kill and consume him; she did not see the great sword raised against her.

The wind rushed past as Thuringwethil changing direction, hurtled towards Aragorn. Aelric felt no fear in her, only rage and hatred. Then came pain as something slashed into her. He shuddered, still held fast by her as she faltered. But the rage continued and again he felt the pain stabbing throught her body.

"Vaeltira" he cried. More pain from elven steel coursed through him yet it was tempered with that strength he drew from his Lady. Thuringwethil's bulk protected him, each sword blow bit deep into her, sapping her strength and ravaging her mortal body. He could feel the first thoughts of fear from her, the realisation that this was no ordinary man and no ordinary sword. For a moment she regretted her haste but again the rage consumed her and she swooped downwards again.

His bonds slackened as she withdrew more of herself from him to aid her offense and through the ragged strands he could see shadows rushing past and figures moving swiftly below. Suddenly Thuringwethil turned her flight away from Aragorn and Aelric did not need to see anything to know that she now chose to assail Vaeltira, the one giving him the strength to continue resisting. Desperately, he tried to twist Thuringwethil away, but he felt her claws spread wide as she anticipated the kill.
Already Vaeltira's strength was waning with the struggle to keep Aelric from slipping away completely and when she realised Thuringwethil's intention there was little she could do to protect herself even with the pendant. For a moment she lost contact with Aelric but not before she saw what was in his mind. Ripping the pendant from her neck she threw it with the last of her strength to Aragorn shouting "Sword to Sword!" and then cast herself aside from the oncoming creature blinded by its madness to the consequences of killing Vaeltira. As Thuringwethil wheeled around Aragorn seized the pendant and felt the ancient power of Aule flow through him to Anduril and raising it he brought it down to bear with all his might against the sword still grasped in Aelric's hand within Thuringwethil. The sword that had been both her prison and sanctuary for many ages shattered as did bones in Aelric's hand and arm and he hung from her underbelly like a fly trapped in a spider's web, the thinning filaments of her essence dissipating from his body.

Etharion and Drogba, who had aided Aragorn, continued to hack at Thuringwethil's body as it contorted and writhed in agony, until it lay, emptied of life and spirit, spilling its filthy blood into the ground as that which was left of her spirit fled, vanquished and without form. Beneath the corpse lay the battered, tortured body of Lord Aelric, his black armour tarnished with blood and muck, tendrils of black ooze still seeping from him.
Arkantos was standing in the cave opening watching were Aragorn and the others had disappeared.

On Aragorns orders everybody had gathered inside the cave. Valruin and Amari was taking care of Nilgaerien. There had been some contact, but she still had not woken up. Daria followed Amaries smallest step and movement like a puppy. She seemed to understand that Nilgaerien needed Amaris help, but she was never more than a few steps away.

Arkantos glanced over at Amari for the hundredth time. She was ignoring him and he deserved it. If he didn't do something he would loose her forever, he had to make it right again while he still could. He couldn't stand the thought of not having her in his life, even if it was only as a friend.

He saw Roland came over and he moved his eyes back to the woods. Suddenly there was a bright light and the hideous deathcry from Thuringwethils children told them the fight had started.

At the sound of the cries, Daria screamed in panic and grabed hold of Amari, trying to make her come with her and hide. Suddenly Nilgaerien screamed too and Daria let go and took shelter in the back of the cave, trembling with fear.

In her dreamstate Nilgaerien saw and felt Thuringwethil, the piece of her lifeforce that the vampire had taken, made her a part of the creature. As the vampire fought and died, Nilgaeriens body convulsed and she screamed in fear and agony, not knowing were she was. Valruin, Amari and the two dwarves did their best to hold her so she wouldn't hurt herself, but were unable to help her. She twisted out of Amaris grip and lashed out blindly, striking Amari in the face. Amari fell back on the floor of the cave and Arkantos was by her side immediately.

"Amari! Are you alright?" Amari sat up with a frown, gently stroking the side of her face. "Yes, I was unprepared, that is all." He gently grabbed hold of her chin and turned her head so he could see. A nasty bruise was froming, but nothing serious. He suddenly became aware that she was so close, he could see himself in her clear blue eyes. She swallowed. He tried to speak but didn't know what to say. "I.. " Then Nilgaerien screamed and suddenly lay dead still. Amaris attention was once again fully turned towards her friend and she hurried to her side. She took her hand and held it tightly. "Nil?" She gently touched her face and the elfmaiden gasped and blinked "A.. Amari? Where..?" Her free hand fumbled blindly and found Amari arm, shoulders and finally her face, she turned her head to look at her. her pale eyes moving but not locking on to anything. "Amari.. Why is it so dark? I can't see!"
"Hush, my friend," Amarie said, taking the frail body in her arms. "You're safe, remember?"

It took Nilgaerien some minutes before memory did return, though her sight refused to do the same. "Y-yes, I remember..." She felt better - that dark part of her mind was gone; that must have been attached to Thuringwethil. Wait...yes, she was remembering! Tears welled up in her eyes and she leaned her head forward, touching what she thought was Amarie's shoulder. "Gondolin..." she whispered. She didn't sob, didn't let more than a few tears fall, but her grief welled up in her.

Amarie's arms tightened around her as she sensed her friend's grief. "Let it go, Nil...you cannot allow it to stay and ruin you." So Nilgaerien did, letting ehr grief flow out through silent tears.
For some time Amarie sat holding Nilgaerien, Daria close by watching the elves in fascination. The mood within the group was sombre. Nothing had been heard since the terrible screams.

Moori stood up and reached for her axe. "Well, Dorin-Sit-Around, get off your backside and do something. At least let us look for them." "I thought you'd never ask; as always I await your command." Moori stamped her feet impatiently. "Anyone else coming?"

As Roland and Arkantos joined her and Dorin, shouts were heard. Valruin, who had been standing guard along the beach appeared. "Men from the ship are here!" and behind him came a company of some ten mariners, some with bows, and behind them Urdon talking urgently to one they recognised as the ship's surgeon.

On seeing Roland and Arkantos, Urdon hurried to them, "My Lords," he began, "We thought some help might be needed." He hesitated "And we'd like news, if you 'ave any, of our Lord Aelric."

"Good Urdon," Roland slapped the old servant on the back, "I thank whatever put that idea in your heads. We have heard nothing since the screams. It is time we went in search of your Lord and our friends. "

So it was arranged that three of the mariners would travel with Arkantos and Roland, Moori and Dorin. The others would stay with the others at the cave in case the survivors of Thurngwethil's brood came hunting.
Aragorn knelt, sword in hand, his head bowed. He had felt the energy drain from him when he struck Thuringwethil, as if his own life force had sped through Anduril and blasted into Aelric's sword. But now was not the time for weakness, they were vulnerable from the still sundered brood but soon those cries would be heard again as the beasts gathered, insane with grief. At least they must seek shelter until darkness gave way. He looked at the pendant still clasped in his hand. It was twisted and the metal around the edge had melted to form a smooth rounded lip. Was it mere accident that their paths had met and brought them together here or was this fated? Whatever roads this pendant had travelled, and whatever trivial use it had been put to, here had been its greatest feat. For something lost so long in the depths of Sauron's lands had , by whatever means, returned to its original allegiance. Aragorn murmured a prayer of thanks to Aule.
Nilgaerien sat at the mouth of the cave, despite Amarie's misgivings of her doing so. Her tears had subsided as she heard the others' plans of heading out. Dorin had placed a hand on her shoulder, a silent reassurance to her, then had moved away. With Amarie's help and on shaky legs, Nil had followed the sounds of their movement to the mouth of the cave then insisted she be left there. Beside her sat a cup and small bowl. The cup had been drained of its water twice but the food in the bowl had barely been touched, much to Amarie's chagrin. But after Nil's stomach almost released the few bites she had taken they had given up.

A small breeze teased tendrils of her now-soft hair across her face. Amarie must have washed her up when she was still unconscious. She was grateful for that time; otherwise, she might not have endured Gondolin's passing. Grief still hollowed out a portion of her stomach from time to time but she knew that would pass.

Something in the back of her mind bothered her. She stretched out her senses to the Gem, let its power rejuvenate her battered mind. As she connected to it, something else flowed in...she buried her head in her hands as Roth's cry seared its way through her mind.

"Nil?"

She lowered her hands and reached out, feeling another hand grasp hers. "He is searching for me, Amarie. Melvorion. Even with the death of Thuringwethil, his will drives him on. I can feel his hate...it is all-consuming, it drives itself into me with every step he takes...and it's killing Roth."

"We won't let him take you again. I promise. You're safe here."

Nil's pale, unseeing eyes stared out at something she could only see in her mind. "I - and the rest of you - will only be truly safe when the Gem is in my hands again and we are rid of this forsaken Isle."
Amari sat down beside Nilgaerien and sighed. "There is nothing I would like more than to get of this cursed island, this place does strange things to us all.. But we still have a long way to go befor we are home. Maybe there is a way to help Roth, maybe there is not." She noticed the ship surgeon standing nearby, he pretended to ignore them but she knew he was listening. She frowned. At least something was like it had been befor she got wounded. He didn't like it when they had 'invaded' his surgery, even if it was to help the wounded men after the fight with the pirates. And it didn't help that Aerlic had fetched Amari to help his lady, insted of him, the surgeon.

Amarie got up and went over to him. "How are the men we sent over?" His lips tightend as if he wasn't sure if she deserved a reply. "They are doing well enough." he said with a chilled voice. He had not come here to talk to elves. "There was a young man, he had a scar on his left cheek, he gave me this befor he died." Amari reached into her pocket and pulled out a gold medallion. "He talked about his sister and mother, if I give this to you, can you make it so that they get it and let them know he is at peace?" The surgeon looked surprised but took the medallion. "Yes, I know who you speak about, I will see what I can do."

He put the medallion in his pocket, cleared his throat and regained his stonelike face, ignoring her. But her eyes were now scanning the woods. "Someone is coming." she said.
At that moment everyone, even Amarie, was knocked to the ground. The very earth itself seemed to be growling and convulsing.

"Sulphur!" The surgeon cried.

Amarie nodded. She knew now what it was that she had sensed. The sky exploded, followed by the sound of high-pitched whistling. Something large splashed into the water and hissed.

"We have to get out of here fast!" Amarie cried. "The Volcano. It's erupting! The Darkness' Anger is great indeed!" She hoped the Meneltauros was undamaged...

Arkantos gripped Amarie by the shoulders, turning her to face him. "Take the others back to the ship. We will find Aragorn." He saw the fear in her eyes, was it for him or for Aragorn? "Do not argue!"

He shouted to the dwarves and Roland. "The mariners stay here and help. We will move faster alone. " As the ground shuddered once more they sped swiftly away into the shadows. Amarie spared a glance after them and then turned to the rest. Valruin, ever watchful, reported more boats rowing towards the shore and huge firey rocks hurtling into the sea, frothing and boiling the water.
"No!" Nilgaerien screamed. "We can't leave! The Gem...I have to get the Gem!" She took a step, her mind focusing on the challenge of finding her way about blind.

Valruin's strong arms caught her before she could take another step. "Leave it, Nil - we must leave this place or be killed! Are you listening to me?" That was doubtful as she was fighting his efforts at pulling her in the opposite direction. But she was weak from her ordeals and had no chance at breaking his hold. Not wanting to waste time or effort, Valruin simply picked her up and deposited her by Amarie. "Calm her, talk sense into her. She is not thinking clearly." He turned as another fiery missile plunged past the entrance and through the smoke it raised, he saw the boats almost to their goal.
The sky, still some hours from sunrise, was streaked with red trails as the once silent volcano, rooted in the line of hills and cliffs stretching from one side of the island to the other like a tear in the green forests, belched fire into the air.

Daria clung to Amarie, hysterical with fear. Leaving Nilgaerien with Valruin, Amarie steered Daria towards the beach where the boats had been drawn up for them. She glanced back towards Valruin still coaxing a frightened Nilgaerien to move. There was something more..... she felt it... the same feeling she had before the volcano erupted. Someone was close. Urdon urged her and Daria to climb into the boat but she felt anxious about leaving Nilgaerien, even with Valruin. She pushed Daria towards the boat, and turning made to run back but the ground shook as if it were a rug being shaken and the ripples sent Amarie and Urdon sprawling on the shoreline. "Nil...!" Her cry was cut short as a a thick fog arose around them and Nilgaerien and Valruin were swallowed by the vapour. She heard Nilgaerien scream. Struggling to get up she once more made to run in the direction of her friend. A figure loomed before her, masked by the fog. A figure in black, a man tall and menacing. Two of the mariners drew their swords and ran towards him. He raised his arm and once more the ground trembled and rocked. The men faltered as bright streaks shot from his hands to slice through their armour and flesh. Still they struggled towards him. Again he flung his dark magic a them laughing as they writhed and fell.

Amarie found herself being lifted by Urdon and dumped somewhat unceremoniously into the nearest boat. "Beggin yer pardon, m'lady, but if we don't go now, we'll all be swamped and drowned." As the boat pulled away from the island Amarie wept. "We must go back, we must..... we can't leave her!" She screamed at the mariners restraining her, beating her hands against them. "Take me back! Take me back now!" Her impassioned pleas bought no favouable response and all she could do was to weep as they abandoned her friends. "M'Lady, she's got that elf with her. He'll see her safe, you'll see. As soon as all this stops we can go back."

"But Urdon, you saw him, he was there and he is looking for her. How can we leave her to him?"

"Trust young Valruin, m'lady. He's one of your lot and a fine lad. She'll be alright. Yes, she will..."

Valruin was having trouble persuading Nilgaerien to move. She kept muttering about the gem and pulling back from him. The ground shaking worsened. As Amarie was falling into the tide's edge so Valruin and Nilgaerien stumbled backwards and Nilgaerien, being blind, tripped upon a tree root and tumbled into a steep gully beside the rocky outcrop where the cave was. As the fog advanced Valruin lept after Nilgaerien. She lay stunned for a moment then grasped Valruin's arms as he leant over her. "He is here." she whispered, her voice shaking. "He is here for me! He is here! "

"He'll not harm you again. My word on that."

"No, you don't understand..... you can't fight him... I can't fight him... I must run, run and hide, let me hide, let me go!" She wrenched away from him, crawling across the gully floor and scrambling to her feet she started to run, her arms held in front of her. Valruin followed and guiding her led her along the gully into the trees that covered both sides. "This way" he kept saying to her. "This way and we'll be safe. Hurry."

"Nil...gaeri....en!" The cry brough Nilgaerien to a halt and she turned her sightless eyes in its direction. Tears welled up and flowed down her face. "He needs me" she faltered.

"No, that is not Roth calling for you. Be strong. This way.... come, Nilgaerien, this way...."
Her mind couldn't stick with any one image and they were all flying about, making her dizzy. Nilgaerien shook her head, tried to concentrate on what Valruin was telling her. Not Roth? But how...no, wait. She had been over this conversation with herself just a moment before. What was happening now? Her legs were moving - stiffly, but they were moving - and Valruin was saying something...if she could only get past the weird fog covering her mind, she might be able to make out his words.

That thought brought Nilgaerien up short, causing Valruin to almost wrench her arm out of its socket. Fog! She'd felt it before, when she had been under Melvorion's influence and he was trying again to sway her will.

"Nil? Nilgaerien, please, you must move!" She latched onto Valruin's voice and used that to anchor herself in the fog. She didn't have the strength or concentration to throw the sorceror out of her mind but she could make his efforts useless.

"Valruin - keep talking to me. He's trying to pull me back. Keep talking and I will be all right."

She sensed his nod of agreement then his tug on her arm had her running again, he talking aimlessly all the while. The fog in her mind gradually decreased then ceased altogether. That was when she felt the first trickle of fear in her stomach. With her stumbling gait, Melvorion should have been able to catch up in little time - why would he suddenly lose contact?

"Valruin - "

"I know. I do not feel his wrath any longer. Come, there's a rock outcropping a ways ahead."

Nilgaerien worried her lower lip all the way to the outcroppping, where Valruin helped her to a sitting position. What could he be doing? Was he even now nearing their temporary safety?

"Don't do that, Nil. You'll turn your lip all bloody and you have enough cuts and bruises to last you a lifetime," Valruin said. She stopped her frantic chewing on her lip and reached for his hand, a physical reassurance that she was indeed with a friend.

"Should...should we go to it? The Gem?" she asked hesitantly. His shock rolled into her mind and she winced. "With it, we will be safe. Once I have it - "

"Once you have it, Melvorion will take it from you."

"He's trying to take it anyway! And he will eventually succeed if we don't get a headstart. I can feel my defenses pulled down further every time he makes contact. I-I'm not well enough to stand up to him for long. The Gem isn't all that far away. Even now, with my mind closed, it throbs its way in. I can make it, with your help. Please, Valruin?" His hesitation prompted her next words: "It could be our last chance."
Amrie was helped reluctantly onto the great warship with Daria close behind. Urdon was already shouting to the men for blankets and food, answering their questions about what happened. Once on board Amarie looked around. No one was smiling. The men's faces were grim as they went about their work. Many looked towards the two women wrapped in blankets, one silent with a determined look, the other wide eyed and babbling.

A young sailor stood watching them. After a moment he walked to where they sat and knelt beside Daria. She hid her face against Amarie.

"Lady Amarie of Rivendell" he started "There are those of us who speak some of the old tongue but even those who do not can tell your friend is very scared. Allow me, please." He spoke then to Daria in the speech of the Dunedain although his accent and pronunciation were different, telling her not to fear them, that if she was a friend of the elves and of Aragorn then she was a friend to them. At the sound of her own language she paused in her sobbing and listened. He spoke to her of the sea and great journeys and told her of the passing of Sauron and the freedom for his people. His speech was stilted and slow but she understood enough and gradually her fear subsided and she loosened her grip on Amarie's arm.

"Majos!" The shout came from the watch commander. "Stop yer nattering and get on with it or I'll have yer flogged here and now in front of yer fine new friends!" Majos rose and bowing to the women he continued in his duties. The watch commander loomed above Amarie, he was tall and well built. Once again Daria shrank against Amarie.

"Scum!" He spat the word at them. Then with a sneer he lent towards Daria. "Filthy scum. But who knows, a good scrubbing and maybe we can have some sport after all." Daria screamed and finding she could not get away, reached out and raked her nails down the man's face leaving red marks that slowly oozed blood.

"Why you....!" he stood, raising his arm to strike but the Officer in Charge was there, shouting at the man to move away. He went, but not before he had muttered a warning.

Amarie was resolved that they would return to the Island as soon as the volcano's wrath had diminished. She refused to go below, taking only the food and blankets that Urdon provided and setting herself to watch the distant shoreline. Without Aelric, Aragorn or Drogba to command them these men were dangerous. They must go back as soon as possible.
Before Valruin could reply Nilgaerien staggered blindly forward, her hands clasping her head. "Screaming!" she cried, "In my head, I hear someone screaming. Oh Manwe, such pain!"

"Is it Roth?" Valruin knelt beside her, holding her shaking shoulders.

"No! Not Roth. Someone else...... I don't know..." she wailed, "It is too loud!"

"Then concentrate on the Gem, Nilgaerien! Bend your mind to it as you were taught."

She gasped, "I can't.... I can't.... it's.... oh......." With a great effort she dragged her mind from the screams and let it settle on the Gem. Instantly the noise ceased. Delicately she probed further to a mind in agony. She saw dark shapes and felt the warmth of blood and the taste.

"No, it cannot be..... the beast... I feel her... no... it isn't" She babbled. Valruin waited patiently for her to gain control. "I feel him.... so cold... so alone."

"HIm? Then it is Roth?"

"No, not Roth.. It is Lord Aelric. And he is in great pain. Great pain. I cannot help him." Her shoulders sagged and she made to fall forward. Then suddenly she took a great gulp of air as Valruin steadied her. "I can no longer feel him."

"Is he dead then?"

"I know not. Perhaps."
**********

Vaeltira knelt beside the still body of Aelric holding his undamaged hand; cold to the touch and seemingly lifeless. They were now, at Aragorn's direction, hidden within the dense forest surrounding the cliff face. Dawn was already edging across the island and from within their safe retreat they waited; the cries of Thuringwethil's brood dissipated as the creatures fled the light for the darkness of their lairs. The ground shuddered at intervals, and flashes could be seen through the thick canopy of twisted branches and foilage as the volcano spewed rock and ash around it. But here they were safe.

Aragorn had returned the pendant to her, no words were exchanged as they embraced, their eyes spoke for them - fear, hope, fatigue and wonder. Aragorn was bruised and exhausted still. His sword arm ached and his eyes stung from the fell vapour that had boiled the air in Thuringwethil's death throes. Vaeltira's face and arms were lacerated and blood covered although she showed no awareness of her wounds. Drogba and Etharion kept watch, the two warriors being for the most part unhurt. Elf and Man shared an unspoken bond, forged as they had battled together.

With no warning Aelric's body flushed as a sudden heat seared through him. It lasted a mere few seconds and then his tensed and twisted body relaxed again. Vaeltira felt his fingers stiffen within her grasp. What evil now invaded him? But his face softened and the dark shadows that marred his still ashen skin began to fade.

Aelric surrendered himself to the warmth surging through him. Thoughts of Vaeltira laughing lulled him and for a time he was at peace.

Amarie sat huddled against the ship's rails looking towards the island. Even with her keen elven sight she could not pierce the mist that curled around the shoreline like grey flames as the chill sea air met and mingled with the warmth from the lava flows spreading their way down to the water's edge. Above the mist to the east she could see the mountain top, broken and crumbled in upon itself, a gaping scar etched into the dark line of mountains, spitting red ash and black smoke into the lightened sky.

Urdon brought them mulled wine, warm and fragrant which they drank gratefully.

"Urdon, ready the boat. I will go back now."

Her tone was such that he dare not argue and he hurried away. She looked at Daria wondering whether she should take her back to the island or leave her here, with these men, not all of whom were trustworthy. She had seen the glances cast their way as the men went about their duties; some of interest and wonder, others suspicious and, she shuddered, malevolent. No, she dare not leave Daria in their care. She sighed.

Taking hold of Daria's hand she urged her to follow.

Nilgaerien shivered and leaned closer to Valruin. She was cold, not from the chilly drizzle beyond the sheltering rocks they huddled beneath, but from that place in her mind and spirit Aelric had touched. That torture, it was too much like her own pain at the hands of Melvorion...her entire body shook at that and she moved in again.

She felt Valruin shift. "Nil, if you move any closer, you'll knock us both over."

"I-I;m sorry...I-I can't get warm."

An arm came about her shoulders. "I only wish we had run for the boats instead of away. You could be aboard the Meneltauros now and Melvorion would have no chance of reaching you."

"No chance?" she laughed, a low sound with no mirth in it. "Then who drew me from that safe ship in the first place? Who helped me destroy two of the guards supposedly able to handle Roth?" Her companion was silent and she felt remorse. "I'm sorry, Valruin. I don't mean to be bitter. It's just...I can't...nothing is straight right now. I can't concentrate..."

His arm tightened and she could almost see his smile. "This will sound ridiculous, but don't worry. We'll get the Gem...but not alone, all right?" She nodded and both sat in silence until..."Valruin," she whispered. She felt his attention shift from his watchfulness to her. "Roth - Melvorion - is getting closer."
Amari calmly explained to Daria where they where going and why. Darias eyes widened and she started babbling again. The island had been her prison for so long, filled with fear and evil creatures. Terror, pain and loneliness. But the nice people were there. And the tall elves like those from the stories. And nice Amari was sad to be away from them and wanted her to come too. To the nice people. She glanced across the deck, these people here were not nice.

Amari tried to calm her down, several faces were glaring at them. She wondered for a while how many she could take out if someone did attack them, but she tried to shake the thought away. Daria slowed her babbling to a mumbling, her eyes wandering from the island to the men on deck and to Amaries lovely but thoughtful face.

Suddenly Amari noticed the ships surgeon walking towards them with firm steps ignoring Urdon almost running to keep up. "b-b-but sir, your patients! They need you, you can not... shouldn't you..." He stopped in front of her with his usual stone like face. So I understand you are going to go back to the island. Amari looked at him suspiciously. I am sorry, lady Amari. said Urdon. He insists on going back too.

Yes, my captain needs me. I could not leave him in the hands of your kind. Amari frowned. She didnt want his company, but she had a feeling that both of them could be needed on the island and another set of weapons would be helpful. Unless he planned to use them on her... It wouldnt do much good to argue, he would only get the satisfaction of having annoyed her.

I would be honoured to travel with you. She smiled politely. Daria was hiding behind her, not sure what to make of this man. He nodded and got in to boat. No need for you to get in the boat Urdon. He announced. I will take the oars. Amari rolled her eyes, she had been planning to row herself, but since he insisted...

They arrived at the island close to where they had left. Amari looked around. The rain of ashes had covered everything, every trace of the men was gone. She went to fetch her things she had left behind. Vaeltiras never described where the Shadows cave are, I know the direction they took, but that way is blocked.
So much for your elfish senses.
Amari ignored him and stared into the mist. She saw more than he did. Trees had fallen over and blocked the way, further in they were leaning dangerously, threatening to fall at any time. Entering would be foolish.
We have to find another way to the caves.

Daria had been silent, but now she lit up and tugged Amaries arm so she would look at her. "Come with. Come with" She then started to babble again, puling Amaries arm dragging her in what both Amari and the surgeon would consider the wrong direction, but she followed.

Where is that crazy woman going?
She has lived here for many years, she knows this island. But you can find our own way, if you think you can do better.

He snorted, but quickly followed.
... All was suffocating, all was pitch, all deathly cold - for that instant this is all HE knew as real. Then the heat, and following that, steadily there came into his consciousness, light. A clarity of thought and the beautiful realisation that he was truly free, free at last from the binding, soul consuming shroud that had been his prison for nigh on five decades.

Lord Ael-Mynautur of Umbar and son of the Doomed Isle of Westernesse was awake from his slumber, and he knew now his enemies those that dwelt from within and those from without.

Drogba looked on at Lady Vaeltira's tender ministrations to her fallen husband, and then without warning their was a sharp intake of breath from Aelric and his mouth fell open and uttered a rasp in Andunaic "the beast eternal does not die, but lies beneath..." Vaeltira steadied herself and felt warm wet tears roll down her face as she translated for the benefit of all but Drogba and Aragorn who knew well the ancient tongue of Numenor. "By Manwe he lives, and the Vampyr's veil is lifted." At these softly spoken words, Aelric's eyes opened and looked up to see those of his wife, it seemed for the very first time.

Aragorn, his arm as grieviously wounded as Aelric's, his face worn with pain, understood something of Aelric's riddle, "I think your lord means to warn us to avail ourselves of this damnable place m'lady, and i am inclined to agree with him." he smiled ruefully, seeming pleased with Aelric's recovery and the prospect of leaving the Isle as soon as Aelric could regain his feet without too much assistance.
"The beast? He means Thuringwethil, doesn't he?" She questioned Aragorn. "Is she truly still able to hurt us? "

"Her spirit cannot be killed by either elf or man, only her corporeal form destroyed. She has slunk into the very bowels of the island, helpless for the time being but still possessing great power. No doubt she assists that creature Melvorion."

At Aragorn's words Vaeltira gasped. "The volcano?" He nodded. "We must hurry before she gathers her power; even depleted as it is she is a formidable foe."

Drogba, following Aragorn's orders moved Aelric's battered body to the safety of a small cave, no more than a deep hollow within the cliff face but enough shelter for the time being.

Etharion, ever watchful, directed Aragorn's attention towards the shadows beneath the trees. "Someone, or something approaches." Moments later Arkantos, Roland, Moori and Dorin burst forth from the woods.

Arkantos surveyed the group. "My Lord Aragorn, apologies for the delay but the island is twisting itself inside out, or so it seems. Our journey took longer than we thought. What news... ?" his question was cut short by Etharion, "Someone else.... from over there!" He pointed towards the steep rocks stretching from their refuge towards the caves where Thuringwethil's brood slept uneasily, awaiting their chance for vengance.

A joyous cry broke from Amarie as she nimbly negotiated the boulders and jagged rocks. Behind her, huffing and puffing came the surgeon leaning on Daria. "My Lords.... my Lords...." he gasped. "Oh dear, oh dear..... such a way she led us... oh my Lord Aelric!" He stopped short of the group now gathered round Aelric and with a waves of his hand he shooed them away. "Let me see... oh my oh my..... this won't do at all.....Away with you and let me about my business!"

Amarie prepared to offer assistance where she could but shattered bones were beyond her skills. The cuts and grazes and gashes she could heal. She stopped before Vaeltira and looked at her wounded face and arms.

"My Lady Amarie of Rivendell" Vaeltira whispered, "Your timing is perfect. If ever we needed your gentle spirit and elven healing....." With a sigh she leant towards Amarie, her eyes closed.
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