Between Darkness and Dawn
Chapter 20: Nothing is Ever Simple
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“Legolas!” Aragorn sprinted towards the downed prince. He
had no weapons, nothing even vaguely resembling one, but he could not
abandon his friend.
The torch Legolas had been carrying lay against the wall, sputtering
and choking from the water that washed up onto the walkway.
Snatching the dying flame, Aragorn raced forward and buried the burning
end in the soft flesh of the monster’s tentacle that held Legolas’ arm
pinned. Moving quickly, the ranger did the same to other the
tentacle that coiled around the elf’s leg and up his body. He stabbed
at the creature with the smoldering wood, causing the wet, black flesh
to sizzle and steam. A very nasty smell filled the air.
The creature screamed in pain. Rearing up into the air and
dropping the elf, it recoiled momentarily in surprise. Its
monstrous bulk sank back into the lake as it tried to judge whether a
further attack was eminent. Its enraged roars reverberated off
the rock walls.
Aragorn helped Legolas up from where the beast had dropped him.
The prince’s chin had a deep gash on it where he had fallen and it was
bleeding freely. There was no time to worry about the elf’s
condition however, as the water creature regrouped and lunged at the
two smaller beings. Its tentacles grasped the doorframe, the rock
shelf, any outcropping where it could find purchase as it attempted to
recapture the elf and the ranger.
Aragorn skidded into the hallway underneath one of the grasping appendages, narrowly missing being caught by the limb.
Throwing himself to the ground, Legolas rolled onto his left shoulder,
avoiding the flailing tentacles as he leapt to his feet and raced down
the passage after the ranger. The sounds of the water creature rang through the tunnel as it threw its bulk against
the doorway repeatedly. It was too big to fit through the entry
and too far away from the water to muster enough force to bring the
sturdy stonework down. The beast’s eerie, rock-grating cries
followed the two friends down the tunnel as they ran.
“What was that thing?” Aragorn asked when Legolas finally caught up
with him. The ranger had stopped just after the switchback and
was leaning against the tunnel wall, trying to catch his breath.
His head swam nauseatingly, reminding him why he needed the antidote
for which they had just risked their lives.
“I don’t know. Are you sure there was only one?” Legolas stared
hard around the corner. The monster’s raging had ceased and only
the sounds of their own breathing echoed in the passageway. In
the dark, caught in its clutches, it had been hard to tell if it was
just one beast or a host of snakes.
Aragorn simply shook his head. He had no idea what that thing
was, but he was certain he knew now why Rhzaq was deathly afraid of
coming down here. He’d take any odds that this was the creature
that was killing the orcs.
“Let us go. Yrin says we need to use the Nazgûl’s
lab. If we are to do that, we need to try before he realizes we
are missing,” Legolas whispered, hooking his fingers in the
ranger’s tunic and pulling him along. They were both soaking wet
now and the lower reaches still held a chill despite the thermal flows.
Legolas led them into the main cavern, and froze mid-step.
Just inside the grotto stood two, large cave trolls, talking amongst
themselves in quiet grunts and whuffles. They had been drawn into
the cavern by the sounds of the water beast. Their curiosity had
brought them in to investigate. Often, when the water watcher was
disturbed, it meant there were little tasty tidbits running about ripe
for the catching. The troll nearest to Legolas stopped speaking
and turned towards the intruders.
Small, semi-intelligent eyes focused on the elf and the ranger.
The trolls stood perfectly still, wondering if they had been
seen. Their arms, nearly as long as their bodies, hung at their
sides. One held a large, crudely made hammer. The other
slowly hefted a twelve-foot spear, the tip of which was crafted from a
torn piece of metal that resembled the remnants of a door.
“Trolls,” Legolas murmured almost inaudibly. “It had to be
trolls...” his arm curled reflexively around his stomach, remembering
the last near-fatal encounter he had had with members of that huge and
Aragorn shifted closer to Legolas, looking up at the tall, green-scaled bodies that stood between them and their way out.
“What now?” he whispered quietly.
Barely shaking his head, Legolas didn’t move. His eyes darted to
the smaller opening across the way. The trolls’ gaze followed
his, glancing at the narrow, winding stairwell.
One of the hulking beasts moved closer, scenting the air above the
intruders, trying to decide if there was a threat. These
creatures were not nearly as smart as their cousins that lived further
south, but they were just as dangerous. The large, flat feet of
the trolls shuffled closer, making Aragorn nervous. A rasping
bark from the one that lagged behind seemed to make up their minds.
For all their bulk, the two creatures moved incredibly fast.
Sensing the shift in the beasts’ temperament, Legolas darted to the
right, heading for the small opening nearest them. If they could
get inside the narrow passage, they would be safe. Aragorn
followed suit, dodging behind the elf and sidestepping the troll as it
tried to tread on the two fleeing beings.
A blow from the monster’s hammer cut off their attempt at escape as the
cave trolls reacted to the quick-moving elf. The mallet slammed
into the stone wall above the doorway, caving the stairwell’s frame in
and reducing the passageway to rubble at the opening. Large,
broken pieces of granite fell from above, threatening to crush the elf
and the ranger as the two skidded to a stop, backpedaling away from the
“This way!” yelled Aragorn. He grabbed the collar of Legolas’ tunic and
pulled the elf out of the way as a stone shard taller than the prince drove
tip first into the ground in front of them, blocking their path once
Legolas raced after the ranger, dodging between the trolls’ awkward
attempts to stop them. The stone hammer fell between them,
causing the cave floor to shake. Aragorn was thrown forward as
the blow barely grazed his boot, nearly catching him. Legolas
leapt backwards, only just keeping his balance as he whirled tightly to
the right and ran for the wide, dark opening of the main stairwell.
Dazed and off-balance, Aragorn rolled onto his shoulder, letting it
take the brunt of his fall. He stopped in a crouched position as
he realized that the second cave troll had stepped from behind him,
blocking his escape to the main tunnel.
Legolas had already made the stairs, but looked over his shoulder on
the first step and noted Aragorn’s position. Both trolls stood
still, breathing heavily as they watched the small human, waiting for
him to move. They knew just as well as the ranger did that he was
The troll behind Aragorn muttered in a deep, growling voice. What
exactly they were saying, the ranger did not know and had no desire to
discover. Dodging forward, the ranger feinted left before turning
sharply right. The troll was too slow to catch onto the
misdirection and lunged at the darting human. Aragorn threw
himself to the left, narrowly avoiding a swipe by the huge spear that
the troll jabbed at him. The large beast shifted its weight,
throwing itself back into the human’s path. Before he had time to
think it through, Aragorn dropped to the ground and rolled underneath
the troll. He tumbled between its massive feet as it tried to
step back into his path.
Legolas roughly grabbed the ranger’s tunic and hauled the man to his
feet, shoving Aragorn into the darkened pathway. Stumbling up the
steps, Aragorn realized he could not see in the pitch black tunnel.
A dimly, glowing light darted past him, lighting the steps just beneath
his feet as they nimbly raced upward. Behind them the outraged
howls of the cave trolls could be heard.
“Estel, quickly! They are following us!” Legolas cried out. He
increased his speed as much as he was able to, taking into account the
ranger’s natural impediments.
Indeed, it was as the elf had said. The two trolls, enraged and
unwilling to give up, were chasing their quarry up the ancient, stone
stairs. The cavern reverberated with their heavy steps and their
guttural roars. The sound of pursuit alone was enough to spike
adrenaline through Aragorn’s veins, giving him the extra boost he
needed to mount the stairs.
They burst into the upper chambers, flinging wide the large double
wooden doors that protected the portal. Yrinvan had heard the
clamor. Thinking one step ahead of the escaped prisoners, he
raced towards the tunnels and unbarred the huge doors. Tinald
came running from the opposite direction, disturbed from his nightly
rounds by the racket echoing up the steps.
“Yrin, what in the name of the moon is going on?” he demanded, but he never got an answer.
Grabbing the smaller servant, Yrin pulled Tinald out of the way just as
the doors swung open, slamming into the rock walls behind them with a
Legolas leapt into the hall and quickly headed to the left, towards the
laboratory. Aragorn was right on his tail. The ranger slid
to a stop against the far wall of the hallway, halting only long enough
to yell a caution to the servants.
“Yrin! Tinald! Get out of here! The trolls are on their way
up! GO!” With that simple warning he pushed off the wall
and raced after Legolas. Their chance for secrecy was gone.
Now all of them would simply have to try to survive.
Tinald was stunned. “What? How did-”
The clumsy, thundering steps of the cave trolls could now be felt as
small tremors through the stone castle floor, their roars and bellows
waking the entire household as they gained access to the main landing.
The doors had partway closed, moving on their own slowly as the force
with which they had been thrown open dissipated. Yrin and Tinald
quickly muscled them shut, dropping the huge bar back into place in an
effort to keep the creatures contained. The trolls had never come
up to these levels before. The slaves weren’t sure what to do.
No sooner was this done than a large stone hammer slammed through the
top of the portal, smashing the wooden doors to splinters. Tinald
was frozen in fear as the huge beasts crashed through the gates and
lunged into the hallway. Quickly, Yrin pressed the other servant
to the floor, crouching over them both and covering them with his
cloak. It was grey and drab, melting in perfectly with the walls
and the floor in the Witch-king’s castle. He knew that the trolls
had poor eyesight and would only follow movement. If they could
keep from getting stepped on, the creatures wouldn’t even know they
existed. The one and only thing they had on their side, was that
cave trolls were incredibly dumb.
Down the hallway, the ranger’s boots rang on the stone passageway,
attracting the monstrous beasts’ attention as the two escapees fled
through the castle. With a sharp bellow, the cave trolls
continued their pursuit. Careening down the hallway, they punched
holes in the walls, caving in small alcoves and doorways as they vented
their frustration on anything that impeded them.
The hallway filled with dust and bits of rock from the melee, choking
the two servants as Yrin slowly stood up and surveyed the damage.
“The master will be angry... Oh stars, Yrin, he’s going to kill
us,” Tinald whispered shakily. He dusted his clothes off and
shifted a large splinter from the broken door. His mind reeled in
shock. They were all going to be very, very dead.
“The master will not have time to be angry with us,” Yrinvan
answered darkly. The tone in his voice caught the others
attention and grounded him back to the moment. Tinald glanced up
at his friend.
“Do you remember when we were younger, before Givon died? Do you
remember the plan? When we had promised to escape or die trying?”
Yrinvan’s face was set. His mind had been made up from the moment
he let the prisoners go free. He had known then that there was no
turning back. This merely added a new twist to the situation.
Tinald’s eyes grew round and his mouth opened slowly. Of course
he remembered. Givon and Yrin had been best friends. Even
though he was almost a child, Tinald had gone everywhere with
them. He remembered the plans they had discussed and the
contingencies they plotted... But he also remembered that all those
plans had died with his big brother when the Nazgûl became
suspicious and sentenced Givon to death in the ice cell.
Yrin took his friend’s orphaned brother into his own family, and Tinald
had never heard the older man speak of escape again. Tinald had
spent plenty of time thinking about it himself, but it had never gone
beyond thoughts and hopes. He had never expected to get close
enough to actually try, and certainly not tonight. Plans were
easy to make, but much harder and more frightening to attempt.
“Well, it’s time.” Yrin turned the smaller man around and pushed him down the hallway.
“Yrin... even if the trick with the vents works... the antidote... we’ll all die,” Tinald said quietly.
“Maybe. But it’s too late to worry about that now. I’ve
taken the last of the antidote from the master’s lab. He didn’t
have much left in reserve unfortunately. We’ll need it later if
we are to try replicating it. Go quickly! Wake up Ahnna, if
she is not already awake. Tell her to get the others out and down
to the plateau. You should run into minimal resistance at this
time of night. The trick will be getting them all to
comply. Tell them these are the Master’s orders if nothing else,
no one will question that. Move swiftly and use the back
stairwells, no one will be there. If you can find Rhzaq, take him
with you. If I find him on the way to the vent room I will send
him to join you. He doesn’t deserve to die in this hole.
The other orcs can stay. You know what to do.”
Untying a wrapped, oddly shaped bundle from his back, he handed the pack off to the smaller servant.
“These are the weapons that belong to the healer and the elf. I
found them in the lab in one of the cabinets when I was searching for
the antidote,” Yrin explained softly. “Take them with you and
keep them safe. Right now they are the only ones we have.
If we all make it out of here alive, I should think they will need them
The sureness in Yrin’s voice and the steeled look he laid on his friend
calmed the smaller man. He would follow Yrin to the underworld
and back... and tonight, that might be exactly what he was doing.
“What about you? You will join us, will you not?” Tinald
asked softly. He knew what his friend was headed out to do and he
feared for him. Silently, he fastened the bulky pack of weapons to
his back, slinging it over his shoulder.
“I hope so. If this works right... maybe. If not, I’m
trusting in you to take care of Ahnna and the children,” Yrin charged
the younger man.
“Of course. Don’t get caught, my friend.” The younger slave
hesitated, the desire to be free warring with the fear of failure in
his eyes. “Yrin, what if it doesn’t work? What if we were
wrong about the magma? And the strangers, what if their promises
are false, Yrin? We’ll all die.”
“Then we’ll all die free. But this ends tonight.” Yrin
grasped Tinald’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. One thing he had
learned from the two new slaves was that it was all right to hope, and
tonight he had the feeling hope was on their side. This was that
moment to act. Most of them would die either way now. They
had little or nothing left to lose. Strangely, Yrin found the
desperation of the situation freeing. No more trying to appease
the Master and his conscience at the same time. No more
treacherous balancing game. Right now, everything felt like a
free-fall plunge, but it was better than standing forever on the knife
“I’ll meet you on the plateau. Make sure you get far enough away that no one gets burned,” Yrin said.
With a simple nod, Tinald ran down the hallway and turned a corner, out of sight.
Sighing deeply, Yrin hurried to a small cove and raced up the vertical
stairs set deep into the passage. They didn’t have much
time. The ruckus of the trolls was certain to rouse the orcs and
the Nazgûl any minute. Inwardly, Yrin was afraid that if
the Witch-king were to appear and command him to stop, he would obey
and betray everyone who was trusting in him. He was afraid of how
much hold he knew the Dark One had over him. That fear propelled
his feet ever faster. He could not fail. He could not get
caught! He would rather die first.
A straight tunnel ran down from the top floor to the storage rooms, an
upright passageway spanning the length of the castle. It was the
only way to reach the room that contained the controls for the massive
heating system that had long ago been built into the core of the
Managing the vents was a tricky job. They had to be opened at
certain times and only to certain angles, allowing small amounts of
lava to flow through the tunnels that ran throughout the castle.
Every so often, a team was sent into the chambers to clean out the
residue lava, but that only happened in the summer months when the heat
wasn’t needed. For the most part, the superheated magma moved
easily through the bored tunnels and emptied into a large cavern deep
in the heart of the mountain, back into a pool of liquefied rock, to be
used again later.
Yrin had often theorized that, if he timed it right, he could overload
the system. If he opened the vents fully one at a time, the magma
would swiftly gain enough speed to trigger the tunnels to
overflow. He could flood the living quarters and the
Nazgûl’s personal chambers, not to mention the winged mount’s
cavern that was heated constantly by natural thermal flows. In
the beginning, when they were still new to this place and its horrors,
he, Givon and Tinald had spent many sleepless nights discussing that
very thing. But after his friend’s death, days had faded to
months and months to years without an opportunity to attempt their
daring plan. The darkness had slowly sapped their hopes and
dreams until it was simply safer to try to continue surviving, than to
upset the delicate balance between the meager existence they called
life, and the horribleness of torment and death that would result from
defying their Dark Master.
Yrin’s feet pounded softly up the long stair, his heart matching the
uneven rhythm. Tinald was right; the plan worked in theory
only. He did not know if he really had a chance of success, but
it was now or never. The time for caution had passed.
It was a precarious place that the Witch-king had chosen to construct
his castle, almost directly atop a dormant volcano. Yrin had
always believed that somehow the evil one had worked his powers on the
mountain itself and tamed it to his will, as he tamed everything he
made his own. That was one of the biggest unknowns about their
plan. Was it even possible to wrench that control away from the
Wraith? Even if faced with a complete mechanical breakdown, would
the mountain still remain in the control of the Witch-king? Yrin
didn’t know, but he was ready to discover the answer.
Sliding the portal aside, Yrin pulled himself into the vent station, a
room barely large enough for a single occupant. After flooding
the vents, he would have only minutes to evacuate the vertical shaft or
be caught in the overflow.
The controls were ancient, simple slide bars connected to thick metal
doors set in the shafts somewhere below. He had no idea who had
constructed them; probably some poor soul now long gone from this world
and this evil place... he almost envied that person as his hands slid over the
The danger zones were marked with heavy, uneven scratches carved into
the rock face of the panel he worked at. Taking a deep breath and
letting it out slowly, Yrin began to open one vent and then another in
a pattern he had learned eons ago when he used to work the vents.
Only this time, instead of stopping at the carefully indicated notches,
he pushed the handles all the way up, past the point of no return.
For half a heartbeat he did not know if anything had happened.
Then, the levers on the wall next to him began to tremble and jerk
upward with popping, groaning sounds as the vents they controlled were
forcibly impacted by the sudden onslaught of molten rock.
In seconds, the magma had picked up speed and he was no longer in
control as the vents were forced off their hinges and broken down in a
systematic domino effect. Once the main catches were released,
the secondary vents were swiftly compromised. Melting underneath
the overloading system, they were forced aside as magma spilled through
the vent ways, finding every opening on every floor in the
castle. Already the fiery rock was oozing out of the holes around
the levers on the wall behind the slave.
Yrin tried to control a stab of fear. This was happening a great
deal faster than he had anticipated. He might not have time to
get out of here after all.
Crouching down, the slave hurriedly eased back into the vertical
passage and swung out onto the stairwell. He closed and sealed
the hatch leading to the vent room behind him. A bright, flaming
speck of debris fell past him, landing with a splat on the stone floor
far below. Glancing up, the servant noted the bright,
orange-yellow spot above his head. The magma was already seeping
through and eating away at the closed hatch above him.
The part of the castle they were running through was foreign to
Aragorn. He had never been this way. He knew how to get to
the laboratory from their cell, but the hallways the elf was leading
him through now he did not recognize.
“Legolas, where are we going?” Aragorn asked as they slowed down a bit. He hazarded a glance behind them.
“Are they still coming?” The elf stepped back past the ranger and glanced around the corner looking for the trolls.
“We might have lost them.” Aragorn leaned against the prince,
glancing over the elf’s shoulder. He was breathing heavily and
could feel weariness beginning to leach the energy from his body.
Wincing slightly, he rubbed his sore shoulder.
“I don’t want to lose them. I want them to follow us,” the elf whispered.
A soft, snuffling noise could barely be heard in the hallway.
Legolas froze in place. The trolls were trying to pick up the
scents of their prey. They had suddenly realized that they had no
recollection of where they were. The smells and sounds were
foreign to them and in their small minds fear began to rise.
“We’re losing them.” Legolas crept back down the hallway.
“I thought that was the point. Legolas!” Aragorn whispered
fiercely, hesitantly following the elf towards the sounds of the cave
Leaping around the corner, Legolas shouted at the two creatures in
elvish, startling the large beasts. Responding to their fear the
only way they knew how, the trolls lunged forward, bellowing and
roaring in anger as they took up the chase anew.
“Smart!” Aragorn shouted at the fleeing elf, racing to keep up with him.
“Trust me.” Legolas called back, skidding to a stop before a
large, dark, ornate, wooden doorway. The elf pounded on the
portal before tearing down the hallway, yelling for the ranger to
hurry. Aragorn stumbled as a wave of pain and black fear swept
over him – the Wraith was near.
The wooden doors parted and blackness leaked out into the already dark
hallway. The cave trolls’ fear and anger-dulled senses noticed
the evil ahead of them too late to change their course as they lumbered
down the passage. They would have run from it given the chance
but, finding themselves suddenly upon it, they lashed out in terror and
anger. Their fear and malice blended together into an unstoppable
Enraged and terrified by the dark fear behind the door, the cave troll
nearest the doorway rushed forward, raising his hammer and bringing it
down hard against the stone archway above the portals.
The impact cracked the stone support and the doors shrieked in protest
as they were torn from their hinges, crushed under an avalanche of
stone and wood. When the air cleared, the doorway was a jumble of
boulders and splinters. This was one door that would never open
again. An angry, piercing shriek echoed through the castle,
sending black ripples of terror through the stone fortress. High
above in its cavern, the Wraith’s winged mount lurched to its feet and
answered its’ master with its’ own ringing cry. Magma was seeping into
its lair and rapidly covering the floor in a liquid carpet of glowing
Realizing exactly what Legolas had been up to, Aragorn skidded to a
stop and turned back, watching as the cave trolls made short work of
the door to the Nazgûl’s chambers. The creatures had
wreaked a trail of destruction down most of the passageway, but stopped
their rampage just up the hall from the broken door. They were
now slowly turning back the way they had come, carefully watching the
floor and talking to one another. Something had happened to check
their all-out frenzy. The beast with the spear gave his companion
a small shove and motioned down the hallway.
“Legolas...” Aragorn called to the prince as he took a step towards the monsters. “Something’s wrong.”
“Very.” Legolas answered from his right. The elf pulled the
ranger back with him, jumping out of the way as a rivulet of lava
traced across the floor, scorching the stone with a hissing sigh.
“It’s coming from everywhere.”
What the elf said was true. Tiny streams of molten stone were
oozing from the heating vents situated in the walls just above the
floor. The superheated liquid poured out from under the doorways
of several rooms, spilling across the hall and instantly raising the
temperature in the passageway. Heat rose in shimmering waves from
the floor and walls. The two friends began to feel the warmth
radiating through the thick leather soles of their boots.
The thundering pounding of the cave trolls’ footsteps shook the corridor
as the creatures headed back for the lower levels, jumping across the
widening rivers of molten rock.
“Did we trigger this?” Aragorn questioned in alarm as he stepped
closer to Legolas, avoiding the steaming fingers of lava that reached
out for his boot. The mountain trembled beneath them, throwing
them off balance. The increasing heat and gasses made the ranger
Legolas caught Aragorn to keep him from falling down upon the glowing floor. They had to get out of here.
“I do not believe this was the work of the trolls,” Legolas said
quickly as he urged his friend quickly up the hall. He understood
very well how a thermal heating system worked... and what would happen
if one was sabotaged. His home in Mirkwood employed very similar
devices. “And no, we did not do this either. I believe the
servants must have, if it was indeed intentional and not an
accident. Someone who knows how to work the vent system could
have caused this,” Legolas explained as he backed up a pace, pulling
Aragorn with him. “Perhaps our friends amongst the slaves have spent more time thinking
on escape than we gave them credit for, now that we have given them
hope.” He patted the bulging sachet of herbs tucked inside the
ranger’s shirt. “I believe they have found their courage.”
Another rumbling shake from deep in the core of the mountain shook the
passageway, breaking open new paths for the lava to traverse.
“Wonderful, if it doesn’t roast us alive first,” Aragorn murmured,
blinking to clear the sweat from his eyes and holding his head.
His vision did not clear. He could not tell whether that was
because of the gasses being released or because of his illness.
“We cannot go back.” Legolas watched, as the doorway across
the Wraith’s chambers broke apart, spilling liquefied rock into the
corridor and splattering it against the far wall. “Quickly, this
way. There is a stairwell that I believe leads to an exterior
Knowing the ranger would follow unquestioningly, the elf raced up the
corridor, nimbly avoiding the rivers of lava that were widening and
deepening through the passages as the venting system overloaded.
He had been concentrating so deeply that all awareness of the physical
world around him had fallen away. The Witch-king kept running
through the information he had acquired from the human’s mind.
There was something that was bothering him. It all seemed correct
He could not rid himself of the feeling that he was missing
something. It was like a precognitive premonition, an awareness
that barely brushed the back of his warped memories and it ate at
him. Even now that he had ravaged the human’s memories and taken
control of his mind, the Wraith found he was still bothered. Was
it possible there was something the ranger was hiding even now?
Was there some corner of his mind left unsearched? The Wraith
felt hesitant to entirely trust the new situation and he did not like
the feeling that he may have missed something. He hadn’t wanted
to destroy the man completely but if that was what it took to uncover
the reason for this nagging doubt... then so be it.
The inhuman howling of the cave trolls outside his door suddenly
interrupted his meditations and then someone pounded on the entry,
completely breaking his train of thought. No one ever deigned
it necessary to disturb the dark lord without his leave.
Outraged, the Wraith stalked to the doorway, intending to discover whom
it was that his wrath was about to visit. What he hadn’t counted
on were the enraged trolls that lumbered down his hall, equally
irritated at being disturbed. The hammer of the troll nearest his
door smashed into the archway destroying the portal, and the Wraith was
thrown backwards into the interior of his chamber.
The entry was completely destroyed. Debris and rubble filled the
doorway, blocking any entry or exit. Before he could decide what
to do next, the Wraith’s swelling anger was checked as he sniffed the
air about him. His sense of smell and hearing far exceeded that
of any normal human. Something in the mountain had changed,
something had happened. The fumes of molten lava reached his
senses and he halted, staring at the collapsed passageway.
Moments later, traces of tiny yellow-orange fingers spread from
underneath the debris, fanning slowly across the ornate carpet.
They cooled and darkened to a semi-obsidian color on prolonged contact
with the outside air, but more continued to seep through, layering
magma atop magma. The carpet could not take the heat and burst
into bright tongues of superheated flames.
The lava flues had been flooded. The mountain was burning.
Fire! The Wraith’s senses shouted as he recoiled from the blazing
rug and the magma creeping in under the destroyed doorway. FIRE!
Above all, the Ringwraiths hated water and fire. They were the
only things of which they, the shadow creatures, were truly
afraid. With a piercing scream, the Wraith vented his anger and
Aragorn staggered, sagging against the wall nearest to him as the
Witch-king’s rage washed over the castle and the remnants of beings
inside. His shriek shook the stone and nearly deafened anyone
Legolas leapt across a stream of moving lava, grasping the rungs of a
vertical ladder shaft that ran up from the passage floor into an access
hatch, high above. Balancing on the bottom rung, he turned back
to the ranger. The ladder-well was set in a crawl space in an
alcove at the end of the hallway. The floor at the far end of the
passage behind them was now a glowing sea of lava and they had reached
a dead end. There was nowhere else to go but up the shaft.
“Strider!” the elf cried out in distress as he watched the river
of lava at his feet widen, washing up on the wall and lapping at the
base of the ladder. “Estel, quickly! Jump!”
Scurrying further up the ladder, the elf held his hand out towards his
friend who was just recovering from the blow of terror that had left
Aragorn’s eyes widened as he watched part of the wall break away,
increasing the flow of molten rock through the hallway. He was
standing on a small, dwindling island of stone floor, caught between
two lava flows. His gaze latched onto Legolas who was straining
out over the molten rock that now separated them, reaching for the man.
Taking a deep breath the ranger ran back down the hallway a few paces,
putting a fair distance between himself and the end of the
passage. With a shout he raced towards the ever-expanding river
of molten rock and jumped at the last moment. The tip of his boot
barely grazed the heated rock, searing the leather.
He slammed against the rungs of the ladder, slipping down towards the
floor of the hallway, which was now covered in a yellow, undulating sea
of lava. A strong hand wrapped around his forearm and pulled him
back up. Legolas hugged the human to his side until Aragorn was
able to get his balance.
The lava licked the bottom rungs, filling the alcove with heated
air. The iron bars beneath their hands almost began to burn them
as the metal conducted up the heat from below. Quickly glancing
upward, Legolas hurriedly began the long climb into the enclosed shaft
above them. The tremors in the mountain around him were warning
the elf that, as the Nazgûl lost control of his home, the volcano
no longer slept and they would soon be out of time.
Behind him, Aragorn climbed at a slower pace. His injuries and
the poison in his system were beginning to renew their toll on
him. The effect of the chrysien seeds was fading and his illness
was taking over once more. The collapse Yrin had warned him of
was imminent. It was long past time for him to have more of the
antidote and his body was remembering that as it slowly came out from
under the effect of the narcotics he had taken.
The full extent of his injuries seemed to be crashing down upon him
once more. He stopped and leaned against the rungs, breathing
hard. With a soft sigh the ranger rested his head against his
forearm, waiting for the pain to ease. The vise-like pressure
around his temples increased, pounding in his ears.
It startled the ranger when Legolas edged around him, holding onto the
side of the railing and stepping down on the rung upon which the human
“There is an access hatch only a bit further ahead. You cannot
rest just yet, my friend.” Legolas whispered as he moved around
to stand behind the ranger, bracing his back against the stone wall
behind them. “Come on, I will help you.”
Wrapping one arm around Aragorn’s waist, Legolas pulled the human up
with him, moving them slowly up the rungs. Below them, the tunnel
was completely blocked by the rising lava. That exit had been
sealed off, replaced by a deceptively thin top layer that had barely
Legolas desperately wanted to be moving faster. He was well aware
of how quickly the lava was catching up with them, but it was difficult
maneuvering Aragorn’s only partially responsive body up the vertical
“It’s the poison isn’t it?” Legolas asked softly as he eased them both
up one more rung. He had come to recognize the pattern in his
friend; the sudden bursts of energy that gave way to almost complete
collapse as the toxin alternately goaded and drained the human.
Unfortunately this crash was coming on even worse. The elf feared
that his friend was paying the price for his temporary, artificially
The only answer he received was a small nod as Aragorn focused on simply climbing up the ladder.
At the top of the shaft, the access hatch was covered with a metal
grate. Pressing Aragorn firmly against the rails so he could not
fall, Legolas braced himself on the sides of the tunnel and shoved the
access portal hard. The catch on the other side buckled and
released under the elf’s strength. The hatch popped open,
clanging loudly against the floor in the tiny room above them.
Scrambling past the ranger, Legolas climbed into the crawl space and
reached back down, pulling Aragorn up after him.
The level of the lava below them was rising and the repercussions of
distant explosions rocked the mountainside, shaking Aragorn’s grip
loose. He slipped from the rungs just as Legolas’ hand wrapped
firmly around his wrist, pulling him back to safety.
Drawing the man close to him, the elf kicked the hatch closed and eased
his friend down onto the blessedly cool floor. Snow lightly
drifted in the corners of the room, but it was already beginning to
melt as heat rose slowly from beneath them.
A good eight feet above their heads, the shaft was sealed off with
another hatch similar to the one that had let them into the tiny,
circular room. Legolas could see from his vantage point that the
grate above them was locked firmly shut.
The room, if room this could be called, that they found themselves in
now was small. Barely seven feet wide in each direction, the
chamber was taller than it was wide.
Legolas tried in vain to open the sealed hatch above them. He
could jump up and touch the grate, but he could not muster near enough
force to break the sturdy lock, he had no leverage. It was
maddening. He could see the fading night sky through the grate
overhead, he could smell the scent of free air... but he could not
The elf’s eyes darted around the room, seeking another exit.
There were none. The small chamber had only two access
points. One was closed off by lava; the other was firmly locked
They were trapped.