In the wide cavernous room, the warrior paced. Its movements were slow and strained, every pull of a muscle pain beyond imagining, but still it forced itself to keep upright, to keep walking. It forced itself to ignore its massive array of injuries, and the drops of its life blood that fell from between the cracks in its armor. The sweet smell that permeated the air was pungent, assaulting its senses, giving it yet another weakness to deal with. This place was far too open, too exposed. But it was the first familiar place it had come to. And now that it was here, the warrior was rapidly losing strength and will to continue on.
The enemy it had captured still lay where the warrior had dropped it, curled into a ball upon the floor and staring with wide bloodshot eyes. For a while, it had been making pathetic whimpering and crying noises every time the warrior moved. In severe agitation, the warrior had finally lashed at it with its long serrated tail. The enemy had let out one last squeak of fright, but had fallen silent afterwards. However, there was no stopping the constant waves of fear that emanated from it. They struck the warrior like physical blows, but it no longer had the strength to block them out.
It could not remember exactly what had happened when it had suffered the great injuries. All the warrior could recall was lunging for the enemy, hearing a crash somewhere above, and feeling the wreckage come down upon it. The sole blessing was the fact that the injuries had caused its blood to flow profusely, eventually allowing it to fall through the floor and away from the crushing weight.
For a long while it had simply lain there, lost in the cloud of shock and agony. However, even then the warrior still had some strength left. When it had at last sensed that one of the strong enemies had separated itself from the others, the warrior had succumbed to its furious desire for revenge. It had forced itself to its feet and gone on the hunt, stalking through the silent corridors and up a wide stairway. It followed its prey into a large room it had never been in before, and trapped it in a corner. Terror had stricken it silent. The warrior had advanced, thirsting for the kill.
And then, it had felt as though its very head was splitting in two. Focus upon the trapped enemy had made the warrior neglect to sense the arrival of the other strong enemy. It had shattered the warrior’s barriers, assaulting its mind from every angle. The warrior could not focus, could not think. It had staggered backwards, and another enemy had come into the room, heading towards the one it had trapped. In sheer desperation, the warrior had turned and lunged at the attacking enemy, striking the side of its head with one of its powerful hands and sending it flying across the room. The assault immediately ceased, and its mind cleared slightly. The warrior turned around, its tail lashing out ferociously. The other enemy, still trying to reach the trapped one, was caught across the abdomen.
It was then that the trapped enemy found its voice. As the other fell, blood spilling out onto the floor, it opened its mouth and started to scream. The sound instantly attracted attention. The warrior had sensed that other enemies were responding. And it had known it had no chance of fighting. So it had grabbed the still-screaming enemy and run for its life, disappearing down into the darkness.
The warrior stopped, a deep groan escaping as a tremor of pain raced down its spine. Every slight movement was a growing agony. And behind it, it could feel the eyes of the enemy staring, a surge of hope breaking through the terror. It could sense the warrior’s pain, and it was wishing for it to die.
Some semblance of anger momentarily returned to the warrior’s strained beating heart, but it did not last. Like a weakened flame, it sputtered and died, leaving it where it had been before. It could not move, and it was slowly starting to sag. It was bent so low now that its fingers grazed the hard cold floor.
And then, it had nothing left. Slowly, the mighty warrior crumpled to the floor, its tail thrashing weakly as a sharp pained breath escaped. It could still hear the dull hissing noises as more and more drops of precious blood leaked away. Its tail stilled as its mass settled on the cold stone, one long-fingered hand scratching the surface uselessly beside it. Behind it, the enemy let out a soft moan, and once again the warrior’s mind was struck by a wave of desperate hope. If it had the strength to move, this would have been the moment that the enemy would have met her death. The mental blows, the constant fear and hatred and burning desire to see it dead, pained the warrior far more than any physical injury. This was not what it was supposed to be hearing.
Once more, the warrior found itself asking the same questions. Where were its brothers and sisters, and the loving encouragement it knew it deserved to be hearing? Where were the Queen, and the crèche, and the sense of purpose? Was it doomed to die as it had been born…completely alone?
A deep, moaning hiss escaped the dying warrior, at the same moment that it sensed the approach of more enemies. The enemy it had captured whimpered, also hearing the enemies coming nearer. Something deep inside was being triggered, lending the warrior strength it did not know it still possessed. It was not much, but it was just barely enough to force it to turn its broken body over, and to draw its arms up underneath it. Slowly, painfully, it started to rise upward. Instinct was driving it now, commanding it not to simply lie there and wait for death. It was still a warrior. It had to fight.
But the effort the warrior was extending was monumental. And it could see no reason for it, apart from appeasing its own instincts to fight. And it was not a creature created to fulfill its own desires. Its kind functioned best as a group; it had always known this simple fact. With the support of the Queen and colony, one could find the strength and desire to fight to its last breath. The warrior had never known this. And all of its efforts had led it now to its last, desperate, lonely stand.
The enemy behind it was moving. And so concentrated was the warrior on the sheer act of trying to regain its feet, it did not notice that the enemy was moving. It was edging along the wall, crawling carefully, seemingly trying to reach the smaller door that stood half-ajar several yards beyond. The warrior hissed dangerously, and the enemy whimpered, coming to a halt. Waves of panic and desperation were radiating from it. She was trying to reach the door, trying to escape. And seeing the warrior regaining its feet was filling it with a new level of terror.
And beyond the door, the other enemies were approaching. The warrior could feel their hatred and determination. It could hear them drawing their weapons.
The warrior heaved itself to its full height, the captured enemy letting out a cry that echoed through the cavernous room. The warrior thrashed its head and roared, sounding out its defiance. The door burst open wide, and three enemies appeared. It could recognize each one of them, the ones it had failed to kill.
A few more drops of precious blood escaped, but the warrior was ignoring the pain now. It was on its very last stand, but it was ready to fight to the death.
And if it was going to die, it would take at least one more enemy with it.
* * * * * *
Maida had never felt closer to losing her mind. She lay curled up on the hard stone floor, her gaze never moving from the beast that paced back and forth a few yards away, its blood carving its path into the stone as it moved. Her mind was overwhelmed with the memory of Amalindë’s death. She could still see that moment, as clear as day. That long serrated tail whipping around as Amalindë ran towards her, catching her across the abdomen. Her beautiful grey eyes going blank and lifeless as she lay sprawled on the floor in a growing pool of blood. If Maida had not been so petrified, she would still be screaming.
But she could not scream now. The beast had struck out at her the last time she had made a noise. She could only lie curled up on the cold stone floor and pray.
The creature was starting to weaken. With each bated, hitching breath Maida took, its pacing slowed a little more. She could sense its physical and mental pain. And that only sickened her more. She hated the beast. She wanted nothing more than to see it die, die as horribly and gruesomely as Amalindë had done.
The vast cavernous shadows of the wine room pressed down around Maida as they had never done before. The air was still thick with the smell of the wine that had been spilled a few days before—because of the beast now pacing in front of her, there had not been any opportunity to clean up the mess. But a very slight current of fresh air flowed in from the slightly open door a few yards down the wall from where she lay. The same door that the creature had disappeared through that day. She could not prevent herself from glancing towards it every few seconds.
Just die, she thought desperately. Please, just die. Lie down and die.
And then, the creature stopped pacing. A low, hissing breath escaped from its terrible mouth as it slowly started to collapse. Through her terror, Maida felt a sudden surge of desperate hope. Its limbs twitched weakly as it sank, finally landing on its side upon the floor with a clattering thud, its deadly tail twitching once before falling still. Maida moaned softly, tears trickling down her face as a bolt of heat shot down her spine. It was dying. It had to be dying.
Please die. It’s over. Just die now, she kept thinking over and over. Maida curled up even tighter, unable to stop herself from shaking or keep the tears from falling. With every icy breath the beast took, she remembered Amalindë all over again.
So focused was she on the creature that when she began to sense someone approaching from the corridor beyond the door, she nearly jumped out of her skin. The creature unleashed a sharp, breathy hiss, its black lips pulling back to reveal every single one of its silvery teeth. Against her will, a whimper escaped her. Maida’s gaze darted back and forth from the door to the creature. It took all of her concentration to focus her senses on those approaching, trying to figure out who it was. It did not take long to recognize Thendril, Legolas, and Haldir. There was a fury radiating from them so strong she could almost taste it.
For a single moment, Maida felt a different kind of hope. The creature was dying, and she was going to be rescued. It was over. It was finally all over.
And then the creature began to move. Maida turned and stared in open mouthed shock and terror as she watched the beast slowly roll over, its long arms curling up beneath it.
She was moving forward before she could fully register that she had picked herself up off the ground. Edging along the wall, Maida began a slow but frantic crawl towards the door, her heart pounding in her chest. The creature was continuing to shift upward, its long black body rising inch by inch. The effort was costing it severely; she could sense its continuing agony. But it was not going to stop. Her pace quickened a little, but she had not made a foot of further progress before it noticed her. It snarled at her, its hideous head turned directly at her. For a moment, its smaller tongue flashed into view. Maida stopped, whimpering and pressing her back against the wall, raising a trembling hand to shield her face from the sight of it.
She could hear footsteps now, and the sound of weapons being drawn from leather sheaths. Legolas, Thendril, and Haldir were right outside the door, though Maida could not see them from where she sat cowering.
Suddenly, the creature heaved itself to its feet, its tail slashing through the air as it settled once more onto its long thin legs. Maida screamed, and the creature let out a roar that made the walls shake. The door burst open fully, and her rescuers appeared, Legolas in the lead. Immediately they fanned out, momentary looks of absolute relief forming on their faces as they saw that she was unharmed. The creature hissed deeply, swaying slightly like a snake searching for a place to strike. Haldir moved to its right while Thendril put himself between it and Maida. Legolas stood in front of it.
“Maida,” he said sharply, his eyes still on the beast. “Get out of here. Now!”
She was on her feet in seconds and running towards the door, but the creature’s reaction was faster. It hurled its mass forward and struck Legolas full in the chest, screaming as his sword sank through a crack in its armor at the base of its neck. Legolas was thrown against the door, which slammed shut on his impact. Haldir and Thendril instantly ran forward. Haldir threw himself down into a crouch a second later, just barely avoiding the long serrated tail as it whipped around inches above his head. But he could not dodge the creature’s foot, which kicked out at him as it turned to face Thendril. He was sent skidding across the floor, stopping at the edge of the large wooden trapdoor beneath which the rushing roar of the river flowing twenty feet below was clearly audible.
On normal days, empty barrels were stacked on the trapdoor and lashed together before being dropped to the churning waters below to float back to the winemakers further downriver. But it had been days since any work had been done in here, and the flat stretch of wooden planks was dusty and empty.
Haldir and Legolas regained their feet at the same moment, just as the creature charged at Thendril. One taloned hand swiped the air, but Thendril dodged it, and the armored black limb met the broadside of his sword with a resounding clang. Maida gasped as he nearly lost his hold on the blade, but he was able to maintain his grip. And then he was forced to jump to one side as the creature struck out, its second tongue lashing the air right where his head had been a second before.
A loud hiss rent the air as the creature twisted around, trying to follow Thendril as he moved deeper into the cavernous room. There was a clattering noise as the hilt of Legolas’ sword fell to the floor. What had once been a fine blade was now only a shard of melting, bubbling metal as it dissolved with the beast’s blood. It shrieked and twisted around again, its tail lashing out. Thendril gave a shout of pain as the tip sliced across his left shoulder.
“Thendril!” Maida shrieked.
Legolas was a blur of movement as he ripped his bow off his back and fired a pair of arrows. The creature screamed as both hit. One sank into the wound left by the sword. The other embedded into a corner of its mouth. It instantly turned its attention to him. It shot forward, moving impossibly fast, both of its hands outstretched. Legolas jumped away from the wall, giving himself more room to maneuver as it charged.
The creature changed direction at the last second. Maida had been standing frozen in the same spot through the fight, but now she screamed and bolted as it abruptly turned towards her. With its deadly tail blocking her path to Thendril, she ran towards Legolas and Haldir, who were rushing to put themselves between her and the beast.
It was faster. Maida shrieked felt one of its clawed hands connect with the back of her head, its fingers curling over her skull. The blow sent stars dancing in front of her eyes, and her knees buckled. She fell, but the creature’s grip was unbroken. She screamed in pain as she was lifted into the air, blood trickling down the sides of her head where the claws were piercing skin.
Maida did not see what Thendril was doing. But abruptly, she was dropped, and the creature was bellowing madly. She glanced around, blanching as she saw the thick yellow blood spurting from the stump of the creature’s arm. The rest of the arm lay beside her, a few of the claws still tangled in her hair. She yanked it out of her hair and threw it aside, tears of terror falling freely down her face as she scrambled back up against the wall again.
The creature was starting to weaken again. Although it still struck out and swung its tail back and forth, it was slowly being driven backward by the onslaught. Haldir and Legolas had joined Thendril, and they were forcing the beast further away. Legolas had managed to shoot a third arrow into its thigh. It seemed unable to fully bear its weight on the injured leg now. It hissed and snarled with each fading step backward, its body twisting and trembling. The floor beneath it was smoking and dissolving as its blood continued to flow.
“This will be ended!” Thendril bellowed suddenly.
Thendril suddenly rushed forward, thrusting his sword ahead of him. Legolas and Haldir moved to follow, but the enraged Marchwarden reached the beast first. There was a terrible, ear-splitting scream as Thendril’s sword sank deep into the beast’s side. Unable to brace itself, the beast staggered and fell under Thendril’s momentum, and both were sent sprawling. It landed hard upon the floor, but Thendril tumbled a little further on, until he was spread-eagled across the wooden trapdoor. The creature immediately rolled over and lunged forward with its massive domed head, its second tongue lashing out. Thendril ducked just as Legolas loosed another arrow. A second piercing scream echoed as the arrow pierced the horrible tongue. The Marchwarden rolled off the trapdoor, managing to avoid another strike from the creature’s tail as it blindly thrashed around.
“Drop the trapdoor!” Legolas yelled suddenly.
Everyone heard him, but it was Haldir who reacted. The control to drop the door was nothing more than a lever jutting out of the floor a few feet to the right. Haldir threw himself upon it, nearly breaking the lever as he activated the mechanism. There was a loud grinding snap, and suddenly the trapdoor fell away, the two doors smashing into the walls beneath with a crash. The creature roared as it fell, but it also twisted around again. The base of the serrated tip of its tail caught Legolas around the left ankle, knocking him off his feet and dragging him down.
Even as Maida screamed in terror, Legolas was reacting. He dropped his bow and turned in midair, his hands just managing to catch the edge of the hole. Instantly Thendril and Haldir rushed forward, gripping his wrists. Maida scrambled forward as well, looking over the rim of the hole. The roar of the river below was deafening. But she could see a sinewy black figure just clinging to the side of the hole, the claws of its remaining hand and feet digging into the damp rock.
“Pull him up! Pull him up!!” Maida screeched.
But the creature, somehow, was moving faster than Haldir and Thendril were pulling. It was climbing, inch by inch, even as its stump of an arm dangled uselessly, drenching its side in blood. It opened its mouth wide and hissed, its second tongue striking out at Legolas’ foot. It just barely missed, and a handful of dust and gravel broke away from the wall at the impact.
Maida would never know how she had managed to do it. But suddenly, she was on her feet, grabbing Legolas’ dropped bow. Haldir and Thendril pulled at the same moment, heaving Legolas up out of the hole. Maida ripped an arrow from his satchel as he was pulled past her. The creature opened its mouth wide in a scream of rage. And Maida shot the arrow. It sank into the roof of its mouth, imbedding itself deep into the skull.
For a long moment, everything froze. The creature paused, its scream dying away, its mouth still hanging open. And then, its grip broke, and it fell. All watched in stunned silence as the creature plummeted downward and vanished into the swirling water.
It seemed as though hours of motionless silence had passed, but finally Maida felt a hand settle on her shoulder. She dropped the bow and turned, burying her face into the strong chest, not having to look to know it was Thendril. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head.
“Lady Galadriel will be alright,” she heard him whisper. “Maida…I regret…Lady Amalindë…”
He did not say anything more, his voice trailing away as Maida broke down at last. She clung to him as she sobbed, unable to comprehend the fact that it was finally over. The creature was finally dead, but there was so much more pain yet to go through. Now that the terror had passed, she was overwhelmed with the memories of all who had been so ruthlessly slaughtered.
“Carry her,” she heard Legolas say dimly. “We need to report to…to my father.”
Maida glanced around as she felt Thendril gather her in his arms. Legolas had his head bowed, and there were silent tears flowing from the corners of his own eyes. Haldir, who had paused only to retrieve the bow, settled a hand on his shoulder.
“The beast is dead,” he said reassuringly.
“It is over.”