Recap of Tale 19 . . .
“Your fault,” she insisted tearily. “Your fault . . .”
He stroked her cheek with his thumb. “Yes . . . My fault . . . Then make me pay, Omega. Kill me.”
She drew back and snarled through her tears. “If you are so eager for death, I will gladly grant you that wish.”
With Marie’s cold body still in his arms, Haldir watched the cloudless black above him, his eyes fixed on a point in the star-speckled sky. A moment later there was a flash and a sound like a cannon going off; his eyes shifted to that point until the flare and boom sounded again elsewhere. The other four Elves were mimicking him, peering through the chilly night air.
The news crews had given up on Marie after Elladan and Elrohir had drawn swords on them warningly and were now trying to record the battle between Alpha and Omega. Others had focused on the two dragons, one of which could not be seen except where the moon cast its light across her.
Abruptly, there was an explosion of earth and the ground trembled. After a long silence there was appreciative laughter.
“Oh, my dear Omega, you have become quite the fighter indeed!”
Haldir watched Alpha launch from the crater and attack Krystine again. The crater incident had happened several hours before–after the posturing and Marie’s death–and Krystine had been the victim of it that time. He knew, though, that she was a quick learner and would turn the tables eventually.
Yet they had been fighting for over twelve hours and the victor still had not been decided. Krystine had said it would begin midday and end the next midday, but to know such information so surely . . .
Night slowly became day and the morning hours passed at an agonizing pace. Consulting his watch for the fifteenth time in as many minutes, Haldir cursed. The time was nearing midday and the two in their flash-bang battle showed no signs of stopping anytime soon.
[Haldir,] Dirnees began, [how will we know when the battle is over?]
He shook his head. [I do not know. In both the First and Second Ages they were slain prior to or during their battle. Assuming that nothing happens to them in the]–he checked his watch once more–[five minutes left, this will be the first time they have ever completed a battle.]
The battlers reappeared and Alpha grabbed Omega’s wrist. Almost instantly her skin began to melt away, revealing dark muscle and sinew that also slowly began to rot and disappear to leave only bloody white bone behind. Omega quickly stiffened in disgust at the sight before her, oddly feeling no pain even as her hand and forearm flopped limply to the side, unable to move without the aid of ligaments, tendons, and muscles. She glared at Alpha, who only smiled.
“My touch brings death,” he whispered almost inaudibly, smirking.
“As mine brings life,” she spat, using telekinesis to pry his hand from her. Bringing her still intact hand around, she closed her fingers around the bone and glared at Alpha as her muscles and skin reformed. “Never do that again.”
He grinned cruelly and bowed deeply, banking on her being startled that he would dare take his eyes from her so that he could finish the battle. “As you wish, my fair lady.”
Omega narrowed her eyes as he bent low. The fool. She would get him this time, once and for all, when he straightened.
Alpha did indeed straighten, bringing his right hand upward at the same time she thrust her left downward. Their hands met harshly and the symbols on their palms burned as they struggled back and forth, trying viciously to wrest dominance and victory. They gritted their teeth, faces inches apart, not letting up even when shots of blue lightning began to zap from between their palms.
Then, at last, they swung their free fist at the other and separated that way. A brief moment of rest was taken and then they lunged forward, their etched hands reaching in a final effort to kill. This time, their hands skimmed very closely past each other and slammed in the center of the enemy’s chest.
A vacuum of utter silence permeated every inch of the plain below them; the screams of the two warring dragons were lost in nothingness. They arched back at the unbearable agony of their hearts bursting within them, eyes wide and mouths open in shock. The moment ended–they fell away from each other and hit the earth with ominous thumps.
Krystine twitched helplessly where she lay in the grass and gasped repeatedly as she stared unblinkingly at the beautifully clear blue sky above her, choking on the sudden airless feeling that squeezed her chest. Yet still she could hear Jonathan gasping far more loudly than she just a few feet away. Pulling what strength she had left, she rolled onto her stomach and crawled to him, putting an arm over his chest and shoulder to look at him.
His face was deathly pale and his eyes were glazed and unfocused, obviously breathing his last. Seeming to sense her presence, his head rolled toward her and his eyes cleared to focus on her. He drew in a rattling breath and whispered, “Krystine, I . . . I didn’t . . . didn’t want to . . . do it . . . To hurt you . . .”
Tears filled her eyes and spilled unbidden down over her cheeks. “Then why . . .?” she begged quietly.
“Had I not done it . . . then my master . . . would have . . . We are two halves of . . . of one whole, my heart, and I could not . . . could not bear to leave you . . . to his wrath . . .”
“So you came for me instead?!” she managed to sob in one breath.
He smiled wryly in reply. “. . . I just wanted . . . to save you . . . save you as much unnecessary . . . pain as I could . . . Dying at my hand . . . I would not let you . . . let you suffer . . .”
His eyes darkened and unfocused. “. . . I get so lost sometimes . . . When I wanted to run away . . . I came back to the place where you are . . . In your eyes . . . I am complete . . . The resolution . . . of . . . of all my fruitless searches . . . I wanted to touch . . . to touch the light, the heat, in your eyes . . .”
He took a breath and held it, face twisted as pain lanced through him. He coughed weakly. “I . . . I looked to the time with you . . . to keep me awake . . . awake and alive . . .” She choked on a wail and took hold of his hand as he tried and failed to lift it, bringing it up to her face and pressing his cold fingers against her cheek. “. . . I don’t like to . . . to see so . . . much . . . pain . . .”
Just like that, he was dead.
Desperate, Krystine tried to use her powers to bring him back to life, but she failed. She looked at her left palm and found the omega symbol gone. Jonathan’s alpha symbol had gone as well.
“After everything, we . . . we were . . . abandoned?!” she sobbed, unable to understand how obeying the Valar’s commands could result in such a cruel penalty. She lifted her face to the cheerful sky, tears flowing in rivers over her cheeks, and screamed in a betrayed tone, “That’s not fair!”
Strength spent, she collapsed on Jonathan’s unresponsive form and wept into the white leather of his trenchcoat. After a wrenching moment her sobs quieted and finally ceased in a long exhalation of air.
The Elves arrived at last after their dash across the plain and Haldir, having passed Marie to Elladan, gently flipped Krystine onto her back in his arms, hoping against hope that she was still alive and merely breathing shallowly, but the longer he looked at her, the more obvious it was that she was gone.
He cradled her tightly, providing belated comfort as he bowed his head and murmured a prayer.
[We should go,] Dirnees urged quietly, watching the news crews approaching at a run. [We should go now . . .]
He looked at Jonathan. [Legolas, bring him.]
[What? But he—]
[Do it. She would never forgive me if I did not.]
Wraith and Ghoul, scratched and bloody, landed by them and lowered to the ground so they would be easy to climb on. Then the two pushed away from the earth and headed westward for several hours, landing in the front yard of the house. Relatives of Marie and Krystine, who had gathered there the night before for moral support, poured out of the house–most of the women were crying.
Oddly, Marie’s mother was dry-eyed. She approached Haldir, firmly keeping her eyes off Krystine’s body, and said, “You should probably go upstairs, Haldir, and to Krystine’s room . . . There’s something that I think you should see.”
Interested, Haldir handed Krystine to Elrohir and went into the empty house. He was momentarily overwhelmed by emotion–Krystine’s happy voice, echoing in his memory, would never be heard by these walls again–but he shoved that down and went up the stairs, pausing outside the door to her room. After taking a breath to steady himself, he opened the door and stepped inside.
There, curled on the bed together with the little grey Phantom, was an infant human sleeping peacefully. At first he did not believe it was actually a live baby, considering that neither Krystine nor Marie had shown any sign of pregnancy, but in the next moment he recalled seeing pictures of Marie while she was with child and how she had–in stark contrast to other mortal women–barely shown the fact even though in one picture she was a month overdue and had to eventually go out to the hospital and have her labor induced, a trait which was a rather odd and even medically-unexplainable quirk of the female portion of her entire family.
He knew now that it was because of her Elven heritage, but at the time it had surprised him to see and hear of such things. And since Krystine was her mother’s daughter, would she not behave the same?
The infant sighed faintly and rolled over, face planted against Phantom’s tiny wing bud. The grey dragon snorted and a small black cloud of smoke erupted into the air, scorching the blanket. He watched them for a time before he let his gaze be drawn to the foot of the bed, where an envelope addressed to him in Krystine’s own hand sat waiting to be opened.
Curious yet heavy-hearted, he picked up the envelope and got into it.
If you’re reading this, either you’ve snuck into my room without my permission again or I’m dead. Know that if I am dead, then I have fully intended for you to know of this. If am not dead, you will wish I was after I get through with you for invading my privacy.
Forgive me for hiding this . . . I knew you’d only be angry.
Anyway, her name is Mithiril. Just like Phantom, I consider her a mix of two exact opposites and so name her for the shade that comes from a fusion of light and dark. Mom said you might be interested that it seems the family’s term of pregnancy is roughly eleven months–a bit short of an Elf’s, she tells me.
If you like, you may explain all of this to my aunt Sophie–who agreed to take Mithiril in should anything happen to me–so that her name won’t be forgotten. If I am dead, it will be the only worthwhile thing that I will ever give her.
As I assume you’ll be going to Valinor at last now that your job is complete, I thank you again for everything you’ve done for me, bid you the fondest farewell, and pray your journey is a safe one.
He started to crumple the letter, then thought better of it and folded it, placing it reverently back in its envelope. Setting it on the bed, he went around to sit on the bed’s edge by Phantom, who lifted his head up and blinked sleepily for a moment before settling back down.
Haldir watched the child sleep; it appeared similar to the few Elven infants he had seen–lean but not at all bony, and definitely not the chubby blobs of life mortal babies were. She even had the beginnings of the Elves’ pointed ears, most likely a residual trait retained millennia after the Elven blood had been overwhelmed by the blood of mortals; perhaps the result of being carried to term instead of being forced prematurely from the womb allowed time for such development.
Even though the child was staying here in America and he could, therefore, not risk forming another attachment as he had to Krystine, he reached out and let the backs of two fingers rest on the small, warm cheek.
She woke at his touch and yawned delicately, blinking at him curiously and burbling a question. Her eyes were the palest blue he had ever seen, like the sky had been captured and then frozen over with a thin layer of white ice so that a vague and beautiful marble effect was created.
[You are Mithiril?] he asked, smiling when she giggled at him and stretched her arms toward him, hands opening and closing in a grabbing motion. He picked her up and cradled her as she clutched at his jacket. [Well then, Grey Lady, I am Haldir and it is a pleasure to meet you after your mother sequestered you from my eyes for so long before. I expect—]
He cut himself off and froze. What was he doing? Krystine had said that the child would go to Sophie. Why was he sitting there bonding to it?
He dropped his head and sighed, holding the infant tighter. She murmured a soft question and raised her arm, her tiny hand smacking lightly against his cheek and clumsily brushing away the tear that had escaped his careful guard. A polite noise by the door made him compose himself, then look up. [Yes?]
Dirnees, face twisted with sadness, said gently, [We should go home.]
The former Marchwarden of Lothlorien gazed around the room for the last time. When he left, he would not look back. [. . . Home . . .]
Okay, so I have a cart of rotten fruit here for whoever wants to take a pot-shot at me!! Don’t worry, I don’t mind–ain’t nothing worse than a mouse-eating cat’s breath and a German Shepherd’s drool with the viscosity of bog sludge.
Anyway, I have a not-quite-contest for you all!! Whoever can name the song I shamelessly used in this Tale–without copying someone else–will get a digital cookie or two!! (::(:: Happy hunting and stay tuned for the Epilogue, the real final Tale!!!