Muse Quest - Chapter 25: After

Taras and Cebu eventually got Eicys away from Ungrath's body and down the stairs. On the last step Cebu stopped, and let her little sister slump against her shoulder, shuddering with sobs. The redhead looked sadly over Eicys' head at the dark hump near Orthanc's door: the bloodstained heap of corpses, with Ungrath among them. She shivered, and hugged her sister closer. Taras watched them quietly, his grey eyes sober.
"Come on," he said at last. "We have to go."

Eicys choked down tears and nodded. Cebu squeezed her hand, pulling her gently after Taras. Eicys trailed behind, throwing one last, miserable look over her shoulder as she went. Then she turned away again and hurried blindly after the others, tears burning in her throat and eyes.

Behind her, the tower of Orthanc loomed black against the dingy sky, its horned head tearing a hole in the reek of smoke. A single ray of sunlight stabbed down, gleamed for a moment on the scattered, huddled bodies, and then slowly faded, and died.

* * * * * *

Dilly stumbled along between her three friends. Her good arm was around Eredolyn's shoulders, and Wlore grimly supported her other side, ignoring the scarlet stains spreading over them both. Dilly had her lips pressed together so tightly that they were completely white, and her dark eyes looked huge and bruised in her pinched face. Tuima was riffling frantically through her pack, hoping for some sort of medical kit. Blood dripped gently down her arm and smeared across the supplies inside, and still the Elf's fingers scrabbled through the contents of her pack again and again, with a sort of mindless desperation.

Eredolyn appeared to be in shock: she stared distractedly between her friend and the path ahead, horrified and bewildered. But it's a story! her mind kept insisting. This isn't supposed to happen to us! It's just a story!
"How are we going to get out?" Wlore said abruptly, breaking into her thoughts.
"We need to wait for the others," Tuima muttered, still combing through her pack.
"We need to stay alive," Wlore snapped. "Ungrath will hold the orcs for a while, but..."
There was a nasty silence, full of guilt and fear.
"We have to stop," Eredolyn said. "Look at Dilly, she can't keep going..."
"I'm okay," Dilly hissed through clenched teeth.
"You keep saying that! You are not!" cried Eredolyn.
"'m fine," she gasped again.
"We have to get out of Isengard," Wlore repeated.
"What about the others?"
"We have to stop now!"
"If we're still here when the sun sets we're as good as dead - "
"Tell us how to get out then! There's only one gate! Do you know how many orcs - "
" - Blood everywhere, Ungrath's probably dead and Dilly's hurt and we don't know what happened to the others - "
"They couldn't have escaped, there were all those orcs - "
"Ungrath - "
" - no one could've survived that - "
"What about Eicys and the others, are you saying that -
"This isn't supposed to happen, she's bleeding everywhere - "
"I'm okay, Ered'lyn!"
" - if I could just find some herbs... and water... we could tear up clothes for - "
" - We have to get out of here!"

The Immies stood glaring at each other for a second. Then, as if in counterpoint to the argument, Dilly's eyes rolled back and, with a slowness that would have been comic if it weren't so awful, she sagged against Eredolyn and slid to the ground. Eredolyn caught her just in time, with a strangled, helpless yell.

This seemed to finally bring Tuima to her senses. "Look," she snapped, falling back on the aloof, in-control façade that terror always brought out in her. "We will all go to the edge of the Ring of Isengard and wait. I'll see what I can do for Dilly while the two of you keep an eye out for our friends. If no one comes after an hour... well, we will make our plans from there. All right?" She helped Eredolyn lift Dilly, and Wlore hurried to help. The three of them stumbled awkwardly as they made their way towards the enormous curving black wall that circled the wizard's home.

Looking up as it loomed higher and higher above her heads, Eredolyn began to realize, with a nasty sinking feeling in her stomach, that after all the horror of escaping Orthanc, none of them had given much thought to the problem of escaping Isengard.

When they finally reached the smooth black wall, the three girls laid their unconscious friend on the ground and sat back against the stone, panting a little. Eredolyn had privately decided that any movie whose characters ran long distances immediately after fighting was completely, hugely, appallingly unrealistic - even if that movie was "Lord of the Rings". Three minutes of fighting for your life was more draining than three hours of anything else, and now that the adrenaline had worn off, Eredolyn was keeping herself awake wholly by dint of frantic worrying. There was no sign of their friends, and none of them had the faintest idea how they were going to escape: they had seen Isengard's gate from a distance, and it was not the kind of distance that they wanted shortened. The walls were so thick that the entryway was a sort of tunnel, blocked by massive doors and hordes of orcs. One thing was certain - they were not going to get out that way.

Unfortunately, as Wlore pointed out, there wasn't any other way.

To make matters worse, Dilly had been unconscious for a long time now, and she was still bleeding horribly. Eredolyn was amazed that people even had that much blood in them. She hovered nervously over Tuima as the Elf tore a spare cloak into strips, grimacing at the filthy material and asking worried questions.

Finally Tuima turned around and practically roared at her to go away: she had not quite forgiven Eredolyn for their fight several days ago, and she was in no mood to be reasonable about it at the moment, stuck here without even the crudest of healing supplies and a friend lying so bonelessly quiet on the ground. The Elf was, quite honestly, frightened out of her wits. She had never even thought about death before...

Wlore was prowling nervously along the wall, fiddling with her knives and keeping an eye out for sentries. Every once in a while she would hiss a warning at the others and they would freeze, silent and watchful, until the coast was clear again.
It was their very bad luck that Dilly woke up just as a sentry passed overhead.

She opened her eyes and stared fuzzily at Tuima. "Wh'r'you?" she mumbled.

"Ssh, Dilly - it's me, Tuima."

"Tha's'a funny n'm," Dilly commented in an alarmingly loud voice. She tried to sit up. "Why won' m'armmmmove?" she asked, swaying.

"Sshh!" hissed Wlore.

"Don' wanna," Dilly slurred. "My arm! `S broken. Won' work." As Wlore shushed frantically, Tuima peered into Dilly's eyes. The pupils were huge and unfocused. Dilly blinked slowly, and said, as though from very far away, "Hurts." Tuima nodded, and tried to push Dilly back onto the cloak they had spread for her.

"'S all blood," Dilly said, fighting her. "Hurts!"

"Dilly, ssh!"

"No!" said Dilly.

The sentry stopped walking, turned around, and looked over the parapet at them.

Dilly peered dizzily up into his ugly face. "I don' like d'ct'rs!" she announced to the world at large, and slid quietly back into unconsciousness.

There was a moment's horrified pause, then a blur of motion from Wlore. A look of shock and a large stone reached the sentry's face simultaneously.


"Nice shot," Tuima commented absently as the orc crumpled. Wlore grinned and caught the rock as it fell.

Eredolyn ignored them both, crouching anxiously over her friend. "Dilly? Dilly, are you okay?"

Dilly broke the surface of consciousness long enough to mutter, "`M f'n. Whr's p'lyspo - polisp - p'lysporininin? Anna b'nd'd..."

"What did she say?" Wlore asked.

"She wants polysporin," Eredolyn said. "And... a band-aid."

"I see," said Wlore, who didn't.

"She's in shock," said Tuima, sounding coolly professional. She wanted to cry, she wanted to panic, she wanted to go home...

"Is she going to be okay?" Eredolyn asked.

Tuima hesitated a fraction of a second too long. "She will be fine," she said.

"Tell me the truth," Eredolyn snapped, sounding as though the truth was, in fact, the last thing she wanted to hear. Tuima's fingers hesitated as she pressed a new strip of fabric to Dilly's wound.


The Elf looked miserable. "I don't think she'll die..."

There was an ugly silence. "Don't think...?" Eredolyn echoed numbly.

"The bleeding is slowing," Tuima interrupted hastily. "But she has lost a great deal already. Her collarbone is broken, and the wound is deep and jagged." She looked up from under a curtain of snarled, matted hair. "We have to get her out of here," she said. "If we could reach Fangorn there would be clean water, and herbs..."

"Slight problem," Wlore said. "Fangorn's on the other side of this." She kicked the gleaming black wall.


The Immies paused.

Tuima looked narrowly at the wall. "...Do that again."

Wlore, whose impatience and frustration had been mounting steadily since the fight, was only too happy to oblige.


"It sounds hollow!" Eredolyn said, bewildered.

Tuima stared unseeing at the wall. "Valar, I've been so stupid!" she exclaimed. "I remember my uncle talking about this: he said it was so like Saruman, so devious, always seeking complications... He said it was a foolish idea, even if it did make ambushes easier - "

"Tuima!" snapped Wlore. "What are you talking about?"

"The warg pens!"

Eredolyn's bewildered expression deepened, but Wlore gave Tuima a deeply wary look. "What about them?"

"Saruman has sent out wargs often of late, and they are almost always used as a surprise attack. That means they do not use the main gate. That means there is another way out! My uncle was saying how foolish this was, because Isengard is otherwise impregnable..."

"Oh, really?" Eredolyn smirked quietly. "Man, I can't wait until the Ents come."

Wlore looked at her curiously, and Eredolyn, feeling that it would be stupid to give away too much of the storyline to actual inhabitants of Middle-earth, busied herself fussing over Dilly again.

"I was saying," Tuima resumed, shouldering Eredolyn aside a little more impatiently than was strictly necessary, "that the wargs are most like stabled inside the walls themselves, to allow for quick ambushes. If we can find a way into the wall..."

Wlore looked glum. "I hate wargs," she muttered. "Stupid animals never realize when they've been killed."

"You've killed wargs before?" Eredolyn asked, looking impressed.

"They were trying to attack our stable," Wlore said fiercely. "Like I said, stupid animals."

Eredolyn silently agreed. Those who attacked an Eorling's horse tended to find the (very brief) remainder of their lives to be full of... incident.

"So, we have a plan," Wlore said. "Now what?"

"I'll stay with Dilly," Tuima said wearily. "You two will have to try to find the exit - or entrance, as it may happen."

Eredolyn made a face and pulled herself upright, ignoring her muscles' violent protests. She pretended not to notice Wlore testing the sharpness of her blade on a strand of her own pale hair, and looking disappointed. "Come on, then," she sighed.

Wlore looked up. "We should probably split up, don't you think?"

"Oh," said Eredolyn. "Yeah, probably." Stupid practical warrior-types, she thought. Eredolyn considered herself to be in pretty good shape, what with martial arts and all, but right now she would kill - okay, argue incoherently - for a bath and a soft bed. While Wlore looked as though she could eagerly take on an uruk-hai. Eredolyn sighed again and stumbled off along the wall, throwing a few unhappy glances over her shoulder as she went.

She was not at all reassured to see that Tuima was slumped against the wall next to Dilly, staring at nothing and looking as though she wanted to cry.

* * * * *

He felt... strange. Warm. A weird rushing sensation spread rhythmically through his body, pulsing through his limbs, warming, quickening... Hot life pushed against his skin, faint at first, then stronger, until every hair stood on end. He moaned and stiffened, surprised that he could. The blood flooded his muscles and seared against his injuries.

He gasped and opened his eyes, not seeing anything but feeling the strange life in him weave itself across his wounds, binding and healing. Taking a deep breath, he felt an answering surge of energy and sat up abruptly. His surroundings slid dizzyingly in and out of focus; the stench of blood was heavy in the air.
Where am I?

He looked down and flinched. Tentative memories came trickling back at the sight of the blood and bodies surrounding him, and he recoiled, feeling contaminated.

He scrubbed one hand across his eyes and jumped: his vambraces clanked loosely and the feel of his hand was strange. He examined it. It was black and filthy with congealing blood, but it looked thinner and smaller than he remembered.

Even with the odd new strength pulsing through him, he felt desperately weak; he staggered clumsily to his feet and his armor clanked again. There was a strangled cry, and he looked up, his vision weaving and blurring in all directions.
Except for one point. There was a girl, staring at him. Her face was white under its layer of grime, and her bright blue eyes were round with shock and terror.

He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again; it made his head spin. Why was she afraid? It was, somehow, terribly important that this girl not be upset or sad, ever, ever. He took a staggering step forward and collapsed again. Lines of pain crisscrossed his body. He stayed on hands and knees, panting, gathering his breath -

"Eicys," he gasped. He raised his head, pulled himself to his feet. "Eicys!"

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