Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 20: Nothing is Ever Simple

by Cassia and Siobhan

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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 brutal race.

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 destroyed tunnel.

“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 more.

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 trapped.

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 metallic clang.

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 back.”

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 edge. 

“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 mountain.

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 ancient equipment.

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 trolls.

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 rampage.

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 lava.

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 nauseous.

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 from 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 passageway, hurry!”

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 but...

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 terror.


Aragorn staggered, sagging against the wall nearest to him as the Witch-king’s rage washed over the castle and the remnants of beings still inside.  His shriek shook the stone and nearly deafened anyone within earshot.

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 him immobile.

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 was balanced.

“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 cooled.

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 ladder.

“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 induced reprieve. 

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 reach it.

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 against them.

They were trapped.