The Nine - Chapter Six: Phantom Divisions

<p><br /> <em>Stealer of spirit, darkest of heart,<br /> Fear comes when the Undying comes forth.</em><br /> <br /> 15th March, 3019 T.A, The Pelennor Fields/Osgiliath<br /> <br /> <br /> The third gate to the third circle of Minas Tirith was held with resolute force. Timber from the tallest trees of the Grey Wood and metals of the long-forgotten forgery of Westernesse shut the portal against the hosts of the East. A battalion of dour, savage Easterlings and the slimy, scrawling Orcs from the maggot-holes of Morgul were compressed in preparation for their knife-work as a fearsome breed of Troll, an Olog-hai, beat rhythmically upon the gate like a huge drum of doom. The great iron hammer slammed against it, and twice, and thrice. And again, again and again - yet it remained firm in the face of destruction.<br /> <br /> At the forefront of the battalion stood two sombre figures in hues of midnight; one bore a tall staff, and wore intricate crimson patterns along the edges of his robes, regal and proud in his abhorrence. The other seemed to hunch menacingly forwards, gripping his blade in unholy zeal and emitting a creeping, stinking aura of decay and despair. Together they observed their brutish minion fail against the armour of Gondor &ndash; the other Olog-hai in their control had been left in death throes upon the White City&rsquo;s stone floor, thanks to the keen arrows of Morthond Vale. The Troll now threw its hammer against the door and began beating its clumsy fists at it in a rage, howling in curses untranslatable. <br /> The hunched figure turned to his comrade, pawing at his verminous sword impatiently, &lsquo;Why shalt they not let us enter? Why can we not get in?&rsquo;<br /> The other figure stared at him in disgust, ever contemptuous of his sadistic madness and insanity. For the Tainted had always been a blunt instrument bereft of will, his rotting essence easily pushed by the threats of the Dark Lord or higher Nazgul.<br /> &lsquo;You will get your blood, Tainted,&rsquo; he hissed. &lsquo;Yet first I need...power...&rsquo;<br /> <br /> The Nazgul reached out his slender staff and pointed it towards the Olog-hai, still pounding at the gate with futility. His ancient tool began to swirl with forgotten necromancies as he spoke words of dreadful power.<br /> <em>&lsquo;Thrak durb, burz gu kibum. Thrak durb, burz gu kibum. Gu kibum. Gu kibum. Gu kibum!&rsquo;</em><br /> A bolt of magical energy surged from the staff into the form of the Troll, before returning back to the sorcerer, drawing out hues of black and green from the mass. The lumbering beast roared in shock, head bouncing from side to side in panic and fear before the last of the energy escaped its form and the brute crashed into the cold street, shrivelled and dead.<br /> <br /> The staff of the Ringwraith throbbed with power. He raised it into the sky, letting his ghastly spirit drink the energies flowing about him. Suddenly he made an almighty shriek, and the tip of the staff seemed to explode in a flash of white light, causing those about him to reel back and hide their eyes against his potent arcanite display. And as he screamed, and as the flash blinded, a great crash was heard - and the gate crumbled to the ground in heedless rubble.<br /> <br /> The dust of the collapsed obstacle fell about the street. Nothing would bar the weapons of Hoarmurath, the Undying, sixth among the Nine, eldest of all their order.<br /> <br /> Yet, as the falling particles settled, out of the fog of ruin a mounted figure appeared. His horse was snow white, bearing gleaming silver armour to match the resplendent rider. The figure had a blue cloak flung about him, and strange heraldry upon his shield, helm and armour, in likeness of some kind of bird.<br /> Just as Hoarmurath recognised his identity, Prince Imrahil raised a long keen sword to the battalion of Mordor, as another rider, Warden Hurin of the Keys, trotted to the Swan Prince&rsquo;s side, bearing a large banner proudly showing the emblems of the White City.<br /> &lsquo;For Gondor!&rsquo;<br /> The Prince&rsquo;s cry seemed to renew and echo across the city as he galloped headlong into the soldiery of the East, followed by doughty Hurin, and out of the mist steaming from the rubble came charging the Knights of Minas Tirith, Dol Amroth, and all the strength left within the seven circles of the city.<br /> <br /> The Undying lurched back in shock at the oncoming riders, yet the Tainted laughed hysterically and charged towards them, his blade in a death grip. Hoarmurath barely managed to regain control before the men of Gondor reached his ranks.<br /> &lsquo;Shieldwall!&rsquo; his wicked voice rasped like crumbling bones, &lsquo;Spears behind!&rsquo;<br /> The cold command of the undead brought his battalion out of its shock, and the Easterling and Orcs moved as one as the Swan Knights crashed into the fray and the combat began in earnest. <br /> Several riders were skewered upon the cruel pikes of Mordor&rsquo;s armoury, yet the steadfast shields of the Easterlings shattered in the face of the men of the West&rsquo;s wrath like stale air in a sea breeze. Locked in combat were the champions of pure light and dimmest dark, the noble Imrahil and the fetid Tainted. The Nazgul&rsquo;s festering weapon crashed again and again into the Prince&rsquo;s shield, yet he cast the broken safeguard aside heedlessly and brought the sword of Dol Amroth down upon the rotting foe. The callous cackles of the Tainted had ceased, for he barely parried the might of the Prince; and for a moment, as the Sun broke through the plaguing clouds of Orodruin overhead, light seemed to pour from Imrahil himself, and the disheartened Ringwraith lurched back in fear. So had the Tainted failed against the Prince, the Easterling and Orc ranks were breaking fast in the face of the trapped hound of Gondor. As Hoarmurath leeched the essence from another Knight, he saw the grim fate of his servants as Eastern steel was cloven under Western hoof. Now selfishly concerned for the preservation of his mortality, the Undying turned and fled without a sound, for he was never too willing as to put his name to the test (and was probably the reason for his title). Several of his minions witnessed his cowardice, and with their master in flight they had no care to stay in his absence. Soon the besiegers of Minas Tirith began their ejection from the city, their heels treaded by the renewed Gondorian resistance, and Imrahil and Hurin were always at the vanguard.<br /> <br /> The Undying reached the broken gates of Minas Tirith, soon followed by the lecherous Tainted, who seethed venomously.<br /> &lsquo;I shalt rip the Swan Prince&rsquo;s head asunder! <em>B&uacute;bhosh Imrahil, skai!&rsquo;</em> <br /> &lsquo;Calm yourself, vermin,&rsquo; Hoarmurath arrogantly uttered. &lsquo;There is much work to do, and we must look to the larger battlefield.&rsquo;<br /> The Tainted studied the carnage of the Pelennor and began to feel better-humoured at the very prospect of such rampant bloodshed. As the last stragglers of their battalion escaped the city, the Undying raised his great staff and spoke terror to them.<br /> &lsquo;The gate shall be held at all costs! Stop the Gondorians, kill the Swan Knights, or you shall suffer me!&rsquo;<br /> The staff aimed towards a nearby Easterling, who collapsed instantly. The survivors unsurprisingly marshalled themselves very swiftly.<br /> &lsquo;Keep safe the gate, I shall send for additional warriors,&rsquo; said the Undying to his depraved comrade, who seemed to take the order with irritation.<br /> &lsquo;Very well&rsquo;, he hissed, &lsquo;But I desire my bird.&rsquo;<br /> Hoarmurath raised his staff once again to the heavens, calling in aural desecration. In answer two fell beasts soared out of hidden hides, rushing down to the gate with foul speed. Now mounted, the Tainted yanked his steed to scramble atop the archway into the city, anticipating the cavalry as the Undying glided into the chaos of the Fields.<br /> <br /> Hundreds of Orc soldiers disheartened by the coming of the White Tree from the Black Ships scrambled aimlessly across the plain, yet with a little discipline from Hoarmurath they quickly crawled to reinforce the portal into the city. No longer in thrall to fear, the Rohirrim began to fire at the black shapes above, the Undying barely able to swing his beast from side to side in order to evade the Northmen&rsquo;s missiles. Upon the field of battle below him, he saw the new host from the Southern Fiefs before him &ndash; Lord Angbor and his warriors of Lamedon, the scattered remnants of the Corsair assaults, and strange, tall men cloaked in grey. He had strove against their like before, at the bridge at Sarn Ford &ndash; Rangers of the North. Against them was a great oncoming of darkness &ndash; another fell creature groped across the trampled plains, scattering the Dunedain with tooth and claw. Upon the horror was a vengeful and masterful figure, shadow was his majesty and blood was his desire, and not even the sons of Elendil could halt him, for the Dark Marshal now craved for slaughter. Though Hoarmurath cared little for him or his exploits, he too swooped down against the new foe. The two phantoms of menace crushed all that came against them, the hammer of Grond against the armour of Fingolfin, the axe of Gothmog upon the helm of Fingon, the mace of Sauron against the spear of Gil-galad. <br /> Yet from the masses of the disheartened reinforcements, a banner arose of fine Elven craft, blessed with the emblems of the Dunedain &ndash; a white tree, seven stars and a single crown. About it the assault was recharged and renewed against the Eastern hordes. The unified Nazgul warriors struck towards the standard, jointly recognising the command it held. The corrupted Westernesse steel of Akhoarahil and the leeching arcana of Hoarmurath continued to cut a gory path through, until the bearer of the banner looked deep into the empty faces of the wraiths, and was not afraid. He raised his sword and met the malignant murderers, desperate and valorous, yet his white wrath unsettled the Ringwraiths somewhat. For all his strength and glory, the very standard that heartened his kin bore down his combat, and the Dark Marshal was quick to recognise this weakness. Faster than the wings of Ancalagon the Black he leapt from his saddle, launching into the air with his sword raised, and his blade plunged into the standard bearer with despicable ruthlessness. The Ranger fell, but with unnatural strength still his arm maintained the banner upright. As Akhoarahil savoured the pain of the dying man, a sudden and grand cry rang through his senses, agonised yet wrathful.<br /> &lsquo;Halbarad!&rsquo;<br /> <br /> To the side of the fallen Ranger rushed a man, unassuming, yet a fire of heroic glory not seen for centuries burned in his eyes. He bore a shimmering, long sword that sent shivers down the spines of the Nazgul with its very presence. Hoarmurath shrewdly acknowledged the silver ring on his finger, an heirloom that he had seen before...upon the ruined tower of Amon Sul.<br /> The Dark Marshal, too recognising the Heir of Isildur, rushed at him, still on foot, now zealous at the prospect of bringing this champion&rsquo;s head to the Dark Lord. The Undying began to join their duel upon his beast, yet two more combatants joined the fray, relentlessly assaulting Hoarmurath with keen blades. These cursed creatures were also known to him &ndash; Elladan and Elrohir, sons of Elrond. As their accurate strokes continued to furiously harm his steed, he left only a shrill cry before soaring away, leaving Akhoarahil and Aragorn in heated battle.<br /> <br /> As the Undying faltered yet again, he saw that the rest of Sauron&rsquo;s hordes had much the same mindset. Now high into the air, he saw that the Tainted had failed to hold the gate, and the garrison of Minas Tirith had reached the struggling Rohirrim, whom Khamul and the Outcast attacked with little residual effect. Suddenly a bolt of fire sped up into the air, evidently not aimed at Hoarmurath but directed towards his sight. He spiralled downwards to discover the source of the signal.<br /> Alone amidst the slaughter stood the Blood Archer, his robes and armour tattered and broken. The Undying landed by him, his beast pummelling its claws into the dirt and sending a shroud of mist about him. <br /> &lsquo;Hoarmurath,&rsquo; the Archer greeted.<br /> &lsquo;Where have you been? Why have you called me thither?&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;I was left stranded in the city circles. Sightless thought it appropriate to steal my steed, and I barely survived the Gondorian scum. Yet greater matters press us &ndash; we must retreat.&rsquo;<br /> The words hit the Undying with the force of a hammer. &lsquo;Retreat? This cannot be an option, it is -&rsquo;<br /> <br /> Hoarmurath&rsquo;s words were halted with the onrush of wings; the Black Easterling, the Tainted and the Outcast had also evidently seen the signal.<br /> The Blood Archer pressed on swiftly as they arrived. &lsquo;We must fall back. The tide of battle has turned for the worst &ndash; with the coming of the Black Ships we face annihilation.&rsquo;<br /> Dawndeath the Outcast seemed to chuckle coldly at the prospect. Khamul ignored his strange outburst and replied, &lsquo;The Archer speaks the truth. The Lieutenant Gothmog has fallen, and we are in the throes of defeat. Yet we are caught between two threats &ndash; the wrath of the West, or the wrath of the East.&rsquo;<br /> The Tainted shuddered and hissed venomously, &lsquo;Aye...Lord Sauron shalt scorn us mightly for this failure...&rsquo;<br /> The Undying quickly retorted, &lsquo;True, but our master surely would not destroy us, and that is what we would deal with here.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;And lack of victory here does not necessarily mean defeat,&rsquo; said Khamul. &lsquo;Remember that even now Dwar assaults Erebor, and Adunaphel brings death through Mirkwood, as well as the battle at Lorien. And behind the Black Gate lies thousands of our minions &ndash; yet next time they shall not be led by the foolishness of the Witch-King.&rsquo;<br /> The Undying nodded in approval, &lsquo;It was said no man could slay him, and on this field even he could not stand. Aye, we shall retreat.&rsquo;<br /> <br /> A sixth shadow joined the fold &ndash; it was the Dark Marshal, his armour torn and his beast cut with wounds.<br /> &lsquo;I hope you have not injured it too severely,&rsquo; spat the Blood Archer regarding his stolen steed. He then clapped his gauntleted hands together, and the winged creature bolted upright and lunged to his side, throwing Akhoarahil suddenly to the ground, spurring sardonic chuckles from the rest of his order. <br /> The Blood Archer quickly mounted once more. &lsquo;My steed knows who his true master is.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Insolent wretch! I shall rip your soul asunder!&rsquo; the Dark Marshal&rsquo;s rage was burning, the Eyes of the Well flaming red.<br /> &lsquo;I see you survived your duel with the Heir of Isildur,&rsquo; noted the Undying, careful not to be too mocking to preserve himself.<br /> &lsquo;I-I...did not overcome him. Yet next time we meet-&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Ah, what Sightless means to say is that he was utterly defeated. How does it feel, Akhoarahil, to have been so close to destroying Sauron&rsquo;s most hated enemy and fail?&rsquo; The words of Khamul dripped with poison. The Marshal did not retort, yet his eyes could not keep his true feelings in check.<br /> &lsquo;We cannot linger here any longer, we must depart,&rsquo; reminded the Blood Archer, now concerned of the waxing enemy.<br /> &lsquo;Indeed,&rsquo; said Khamul. &lsquo;We shall go. However, as Sightless had the lack of care to lose his mount, I propose that he remain to order the retreat. In fact, as his new Captain, I demand it.&rsquo;<br /> With that the Nazgul began to take flight, until just Khamul and the Undying faced Akhoarahil.<br /> &lsquo;Hoarmurath, your services would be useful in aiding me,&rsquo; said the Dark Marshal, barely able to contain his temper.<br /> &lsquo;I am afraid our Captain gave us an order,&rsquo; recited the Undying, before too taking to the skies.<br /> &lsquo;Your leadership is granted on a fault, Easterling,&rsquo; spoke Akhoarahil, his wrath now bluntly hurtling through his words. &lsquo;I assure you, it will not last long.&rsquo;<br /> Khamul went to retort, yet instead gazed into the Eyes of the Well and recognised the truth in his statement. Without a sound, he vanished into the air, and the Marshal returned to force what will he could into the fractured shamble that remained of the grand army.<strong><strong><br /></strong></strong></p>
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