Author’s Note: From this chapter onward, a general knowledge of what an Alien is and can do—and how it thinks and behaves—may be necessary for complete understanding of this story.
* * * * * *
“How are you faring, Maida?”
Maida slowly glanced around. Thranduil was standing at the door, a gentle frown on his face. Maida shook her head, gathering her quilts a little tighter around herself. She was sitting in her bed, trying to erase the gruesome images of poor little Lucy from her mind. Thranduil approached, sitting down next to her.
“How is Amalindë?” she asked softly.
“She is resting,” Thranduil replied. “She received a terrible shock tonight.” He gently settled a hand on her shoulder. “As did you, my dear.”
“It was awful. . .” she whispered, gripping his hand. “What happened to her, uncle?”
“We do not know,” Thranduil replied. “Nothing about what happened to Lucy makes any sense right now. But we are trying to make it clearer.”
Maida sighed and closed her eyes. The sight of Lucy’s face was burned into her memory.
“She must have been in so much pain,” she murmured. “And I started it. I should not have tried to pierce her mind.”
“Nothing that happened tonight was your fault, my dear,” Thranduil said firmly. “I forbid you to allow yourself to think that. I suspect what happened to the child was something that was going to occur no matter what.”
“But. . .” Maida began, confusion and fear rapidly mixing with her sadness. However, Thranduil silenced her with a gentle wave of his hand.
“Rest now, Maida,” he said, his grip gentle but firm as he pushed her down onto the pillows. “Try not to think of what has occurred.”
Maida stared up in bewilderment at her uncle. She could scarcely bring herself to believe that there was a way for her not to think about the sight of Lucy’s tiny mangled body. However, before she could try and speak again, both she and Thranduil were slightly startled by a soft knock at the door. Maida was surprised to see Galadriel standing at the doorway, gazing in at them with a troubled look in her eyes. Thranduil stood to greet her.
“Haldir told me what has happened,” Galadriel said, her voice soft and calm. “I have come to see what I can do to help.”
“I do not think there is anything else to be done,” Thranduil replied solemnly. “It may be many more hours yet before it can be discovered exactly what killed the child.”
“I was not speaking of the child,” Galadriel replied. “I was speaking of your niece, and of your wife.” She turned her gaze to Maida. “I can ease the memories, and allow you to sleep in peace.”
Thranduil had a thankful look on his face, and he gripped Galadriel’s hands before allowing her to pass him and approach Maida’s bedside. Maida sat up again.
“Please, Lady Galadriel,” she said softly. “Help Amalindë first.”
“I already have, Maida,” Galadriel replied. “Queen Amalindë will recover from the shock very soon. And it is a strong credit to you that you were able to continue assisting her even after seeing what happened to Lucy.”
Maida blinked, slightly embarrassed at being paid such a compliment by the Lady of Lórien. She was even more disconcerted when the powerful Lady sat down where Thranduil had been moments before.
“Thranduil, I wish to speak with Maida alone for a moment,” she said.
“Of course,” Thranduil replied.
After casting Maida a comforting glance, Thranduil turned and exited her bedchamber, pulling the door closed behind him. Once they were alone, Galadriel turned and focused her gaze at Maida, who flushed nervously. What could Lady Galadriel possibly want with her?
“Haldir said that earlier this evening you sensed something within the child,” she began. “A barrier, am I correct?”
“Yes, Milady,” Maida replied. “It was very strong. I cannot see how Lucy would have been able to create it.”
“Did you sense anything else along with it? A presence, perhaps?”
“Not that I can recall.” Maida shook her head. “If there was something else in Lucy, she broke contact with me before I could discover it.” She blinked. “Do you suspect something, Milady?”
Galadriel was silent for a moment.
“Until the moment of Lucy’s death, I was unaware of anything about her aside from the fact that she had been found,” Galadriel said finally. “I was under the impression that there was no threat, for I could not sense anything that would be cause for concern. I retired early tonight because I believed that Lucy was a matter better suited to Thranduil’s care.” She paused. “At the moment of Lucy’s death, I sensed something deep and terrible.”
“What was it?” Maida asked breathlessly, her eyes wide with worry and fear.
“Pure rage,” Galadriel replied. “Did you not sense it as well?”
Maida thought back to the moment when she and Réyis had stopped hearing Lucy’s screams. Distracted by her panic at that time, Maida had not registered the momentary surge of fury. But she remembered it now. A cold shiver ran down her spine.
“What does it mean?” she asked, now more worried and upset than ever. She could feel her body shaking slightly.
“I do not know,” Galadriel replied. “I have never sensed such a presence before. What worries me is that it is clearly strong, and yet I can no longer sense anything. No rage, no hostility. Whatever it was, it has vanished from me.”
“I cannot sense anything, either,” Maida said. “Could it mean that it has gone?”
“I am not willing to take that chance,” Galadriel replied firmly. “In the morning I intend to search for the source of this rage. And I wish for you to accompany me.” Maida gaped in shock, but before she could speak, Galadriel had gripped her hands. “Your gift of perception is as strong as my own. Together we will discover the cause, whatever it may be.”
Maida was speechless, her astonishment momentarily overwhelming her fear and worry. Galadriel smiled slightly, and abruptly reached out and pressed her left hand against Maida’s temple. Almost instantly, Maida felt herself overwhelmed by a deep sense of quiet calm that banished all other thought from her mind. Bonelessly, she slumped back onto the pillows, her eyes fluttering as sleep overcame her.
“Until morning, young one,” Galadriel said softly.
And without another word, Galadriel stood and left Maida’s bedchamber.
* * * * * *
It was very late when Legolas quietly pushed open the door to Maida’s bedchamber to see how his cousin was faring. Maida was fast asleep, her expression calm. So Galadriel had come to see her, just as she had visited Amalindë. Legolas felt a new surge of appreciation for the Lady of Lórien. Though he himself had not seen the condition of the child’s body, he had been inside the bathing room where the death had occurred. Nothing less than grotesque trauma could have caused that much blood to splatter in so many places. It was no little wonder why Amalindë and Maida had been so deeply shocked.
Satisfied that Maida was at peace, Legolas quietly shut the door and continued down the dimly-lit corridor. He had been assisting his father for most of the night, and was more than ready for a few hours of rest in his own bedchamber. However, he had not made it a dozen steps from Maida’s door when he was quietly hailed from behind. He turned to see Réyis approaching him, and stopped to allow him to catch up.
“I have made a little progress on the child,” Réyis said, a very tired tone to his voice. “Though each answer gained only brought more questions.”
“What have you found out?” Legolas asked.
“I have determined that the damage to Lucy’s chest was caused by a massive force that rent her internal organs to pieces and spread her ribs apart,” Réyis replied. “Whatever it was, it came from inside her.”
“Inside her?” Legolas was completely confused. “How is that possible?”
“I do not know,” Réyis admitted. “But I did find a very peculiar cavity in the space between her ribs and internal organs. Well, what was left of them. . .” He sighed, rubbing his eyes. “There was something inside of that poor girl, I am sure of it now. But what it was, and where it is now, I cannot guess.”
Legolas frowned, understanding the seriousness of Réyis’s discovery.
“We must inform my father,” he said.
“King Thranduil already knows, my Prince,” Réyis replied. “I just finished speaking to him. He said that the number of guards will be increased tonight, and tomorrow we will conduct a thorough search of the palace.” He set a weary hand on Legolas’s shoulder. “My Prince, you look as exhausted as I feel. Maybe we should both retire for the night.”
“I agree,” Legolas replied. “Goodnight, Réyis.”
Taking leave of the old healer, Legolas continued on to his own bedchamber. His mind was racing with the many scattered pieces of the deepening mystery surrounding Lucy. Most worrisome was the fact that something else had been there, and that thing was now loose in the palace.
Legolas finally reached his bedchamber. Silently, he prepared himself for bed, still thinking over the events of the last hours. The storm, the Nazgul, the child. . .he could not begin to think of how they could possibly be linked, and yet they had to be. Nothing else made any sense. The Nazgul delivered Lucy knowing that something was inside her, he was sure of that. The storm, perhaps, had been a diversion to ensure the Nazgul’s task would not be interrupted. But what force could have caused a storm so powerful?
Settling himself wearily onto his bed, Legolas tried to find a way to relax into sleep. But his thoughts kept him alert against his will. An even greater mystery was what had killed Lucy. Legolas was a skilled enough warrior to be able to read patterns in damage caused by struggling, and Lucy had struggled violently. The bathing room had been torn apart, blood splattered across every possible surface, even the ceiling. Lucy had staggered around the room, smashing objects and flinging herself against the walls and door in an attempt to stop whatever was happening to her. And it was even possible that she had remained alive for a few minutes after her chest had burst open, accounting for the thick trail of blood that Legolas had seen stretching from one end of the room to the place where her body had been found.
The horrible pain Lucy must have endured aside, Legolas could not stop wondering what it was that had come out of the child. It could not have been a spell or curse, for its effects would have been felt already. Plus—though he had scarce knowledge in the subject—he was fairly sure that spells and curses did not work like that. It must have been a creature of some kind. But what? Legolas knew of no beast that could do what had been done to Lucy. Not from the inside, at least.
Legolas sighed deeply, resigning himself to the fact that he would be getting little rest on this night. Whatever was going on, he knew that few in the palace would get full nights of sleep until the mystery was solved, and Lucy’s killer slain.
* * * * * *
The warrior hissed in pain as it curled and uncurled its sinewy body, struggling to extract itself from the prison that had once been its own skin. Only hours had passed since its birth, and already it had nearly doubled in size. So was the perfection of its species. It could grow faster than any other creature, and reach adult size and weight long before its enemies could prepare themselves to fight. Right now its hide was soft and pale, and coated with the slippery birth slime that had enabled it to escape from its host without covering itself in blood and offal. But given only a few more short hours, it would shed its skin again, and no longer would the warrior be pale, soft, and vulnerable. Its hide would become black and hard, armor worthy of its might.
And it would be too late for its enemies. The warrior would be unstoppable.
Lashing its long tail against the hard polished floor, the warrior braced itself and stretched out its neck and limbs. Finally, it felt the old hide split along the spine, relieving the pain and pressure. With a few more strong thrashes, the hide fell away, and it stepped out of its once prison. For added measure, it grabbed the bothersome hide with its newly formed teeth and rended it a bit.
The warrior’s wrath was absolute. Every instinct it possessed was saying that everything was wrong. Where was the crèche? Where were the soft, comforting thoughts of its brothers and sisters? Where was the queen? It had not been born into a warm, steaming nest and immediately greeted with love and pride. Its life had begun in a cold, bright room, with the shell still screaming and enemies shouting just beyond the door. But even moments after its birth, it had known what to do. It had ignored its desire to finish off the shell, to stand and fight its enemies. It had escaped, hiding in a vanity cabinet until its enemies had departed and then racing away, its instincts leading the warrior down into the calm and quiet darkness of the lowest corridors in the place.
And here the warrior would remain, for a time, shedding and growing and waiting. There were many enemies here, some with great power that it could sense even now. Those would have to die first. The warrior knew what it would have to do, once it was ready. It would eliminate any threat it sensed, and gather others for the new crèche it would build. Alone, it would be hard work, but the warrior was not concerned. It knew it would not be long before more of its kind arrived, and the crèche would be ready for them.
For the time being, the warrior was alone. But it was not afraid of the many enemies living above. All the warrior knew was rage and instinct and determination. It would do what had to be done, because that was the way of things. It was a predator, and it would hunt down its prey no matter how many there were. And it would fight.
And it would win.