Celebrían was nervous.
The sheer cliffs of the Redhorn Pass towered above her as she gently guided Saiya forward, throwing everything into uncomfortable shadow. A ribbon of blue wound far above, but no blessed sunlight could pierce the gloom completely. Every step of a hoof and every breath expelled echoed ominously. The mood, light and cheerful only an hour before, had darkened considerably. It wasn’t the surroundings that was causing it. It was–mostly–Arwen and Faye.
Arwen and Faye were tenser than Celebrían had ever seen them. Her daughter rode close to her, sword drawn and body stiff and alert. Faye rode ahead of them, looking and listening for the slightest foreign movement or sound. The escort members were mirroring Arwen and Faye’s actions, and every now and then Celebrían caught a hushed whisper from one of them. All were wondering what was going on.
After Arwen gave a start when one of the horses snorted, Celebrían frowned.
“Arwen, what’s wrong?” she asked firmly. “You act as if you expect an Orc to jump out at you.”
Arwen glanced at her, and Celebrían saw immediately that her comment had done nothing to reconcile her. Her firmness ebbed.
“What is it, my Evenstar?” Her voice was considerably softer. “You know there’s nothing to be worried about.”
“I’m fine, Naneth,” Arwen replied. “I just. . .”
Before Arwen could finish, she was forced to pull Rokka to a halt. Faye had stopped abruptly, and was staring at the path before them with wide eyes.
“What is going on here?” Celedon demanded, riding forward to stand with Faye.
Endis snorted, tossing his head nervously. Faye did not check him, nor did her tense look soften. Something was clearly startling her. Celebrían frowned, all annoyance draining away. Faye did not get this way unless she sensed pure danger. She felt Arwen rest a hand on her arm, and Celebrían grasped it.
“This is ridiculous, there’s nothing there,” Celedon snapped, narrowing his eyes. “Walk on, Torran.”
Celedon spurred his horse into a trot, riding away from them. Endis snorted loudly, pawing the ground violently. Faye finally checked him and spurred him forward.
“Get back here, Celedon!” she cried, her voice edged with panic. “It is no longer safe!”
Arwen immediately moved to follow Faye, and Celebrían did the same, anxious to stay as close to her daughter as possible. She did not notice how distinctly separated they had become from the rest of the escort.
What happened next happened fast. One moment, Celedon was in plain sight, slowing as Faye finally caught up with him. Then, he was gone, and a terrible shriek echoed through the air. Endis reared up wildly, throwing Faye to the ground and bolting out of sight. Rokka and Saiya were spooked, stomping and snorting loudly. Celebrían looked up, desperate to locate the source of the shriek. She was suddenly blinded as a flow of hot thick liquid splattered down on her. She dimly heard Arwen scream, and she wiped her eyes clear and looked down at her hands. They were completely coated with blood.
A loud thud echoed nearby, and when Celebrían turned, it was she who screamed. Celedon and his horse were lying there, in pieces. It took all the strength she had to keep Saiya from bolting in terror.
“Run! Run!!” Faye suddenly shrieked. “The path is closed! The path is closed! Head back to Rivendell!!”
Deep, guttural horns echoed from behind, and Celebrían flooded with terror when she heard the escort members give the terrible cry.
“Orcs!!” came the shout. “It’s an ambush!”
Celebrían forced Saiya to turn around, fiercely wiping her face clean. Arwen was hovering close to her, sword extended.
“Faye!” she cried. “Faye, come on!”
Celebrían turned. Faye was struggling to her feet, but when Arwen started turning towards her, she snarled loudly.
“Get going!!” she shrieked.
The sounds of battle started filling Celebrían’s ears, and she turned to see that her escort was being overtaken by Orcs. One of her warriors tried to ride towards her, but suddenly a massive shadow fell between them. It took a moment for Celebrían to realize that she was staring at a giant bat. The creature had its shadowy wings extended, and with an ear-splitting screech it turned and attacked the warrior. The Elf fell, his cries abruptly cut off when one of the bat’s dragon-like talons struck him in the chest. Several Orcs had stopped to witness the kill, and they cheered loudly. The bat turned to them, lifted its mutated head, and screeched.
“Kill them all!” it cried, its voice high and scratchy, but clearly feminine.
The bat then turned and slowly started approaching, a menacing glare in its eyes. Saiya balked and reared up, almost throwing Celebrían, but she clung to her horse desperately. She was frightened beyond her wits. Arwen suddenly rushed forward, forcing Rokka to stand her ground as she faced the bat.
“You will not touch us!” Arwen cried bravely.
The bat made a sound that was unmistakably a laugh, then lifted itself onto its hind legs. Slowly, gruesomely, it started transforming. Wings became extended arms, talons became feet, and leathery skin became a long black cloak. A woman’s head, framed by unruly black hair, appeared, and lastly the body coalesced. Celebrían gasped. The bat had turned into a skeletal, naked woman. The woman lowered her arms, completely oblivious to the chaos behind her, and chuckled at Arwen.
“Who do you think I am?” the woman asked.
“Nobody I can’t fight!” Arwen declared.
“Arwen, no!” Celebrían cried.
The woman laughed again, then suddenly leapt into the air, lunging at Arwen and Rokka. She hit the horse at full speed, sending the unfortunate mare to the ground with a crunch of bone. Arwen rolled away from her stricken mare, scrambling to her feet. The woman threw back her head and screamed, and Celebrían saw her tapered fangs.
“Another vampire. . .” she realized.
Before the woman could move again, Faye was upon her, seemingly having realized the same thing. It became a blur of shadow and snow as the two vampires fought with the savageness of wild dogs. Celebrían dismounted and rushed to her daughter’s side, grasping her and dragging her to where Saiya still stood. She could not block the snarls and screeches that came from the fighting women. They sounded inhuman, and when she looked back at them, she saw Faye in full vampire form, fangs fully drawn and fingers arched into claws. Arwen cried out, and tried to pull away, but Celebrían held firm.
“We have to run, Arwen!” she cried. “Faye will be fine!”
As if to contradict that, Faye suddenly let out a howl of pain, and Celebrían saw that the shadowy woman had Faye down on her back, and was slashing at her violently.
“You’re not going anywhere!” a deep, gruff voice declared.
Celebrían turned around. Twelve Orcs were standing there, each one fully armed. The one that had spoken was carrying a strange sword. The handle seemed to be made of blackened bone carved into the likeness of two fighting serpents. The blade was shining, the metal as reflective as the surface of a mirror. The Orc held it up, laughing gleefully.
“The blade of our mistress,” he said. “It alone fell half of your companions.”
It was then that Celebrían fully realized the danger she and her daughter were in. All of the others were lying dead in the snow behind them. The Orc leader smiled at them.
“Come quietly, and we won’t have to slit your throats,” he growled. “Our mistress seems a bit preoccupied at the moment.”
“You will not lay a hand on my mother!” Arwen declared fiercely, stepping in front of her.
The Orcs laughed loudly. The leader suddenly stepped forward and cracked Arwen on the side of the face with the back of his armored hand, moving too fast for Arwen to defend herself. She fell to the ground, blood trickling from her nose and split cheek. Celebrían cried out, rushing forward and throwing herself over her daughter.
“No!” she cried. “Do what you want with me, but don’t take my daughter!”
A terrible roar sounded from behind her, and suddenly Faye appeared, throwing herself at the Orcs and starting to rip through them. The shadowy woman had vanished, but Celebrían had no doubt that she was still nearby. The Orcs turned on Faye, and soon Celebrían lost sight of her. One of them, the leader, grasped her by the collar of her dress and lifted her into the air. Celebrían struggled, but the Orc was too strong. It shoved her back against the cliff and raised the sword.
“I’ll make sure you don’t go anywhere,” it snarled. “And you’ll get to watch while I disembowel your precious whelp!”
The Orc drove the blade into Celebrían’s shoulder, puncturing through her and imbedding it into the rock behind her. Celebrían shrieked in agony, feeling a sort of fiery pain flow through every inch of her body. The Orc laughed loudly, but was immediately stunned when a spear punched through his chest. The Orc fell, and Celebrían saw Faye’s blurred form approaching. Faye grasped the hilt of the sword and tried to free her from the rock, but the blade refused to budge. The Orcs were rapidly closing in, and Celebrían realized dimly that there was no way Faye could free her before getting caught.
“No!” she cried, reaching out with her free arm and grasping Faye’s. “Take Arwen and get out of here!”
“I will not leave you!” Faye snarled.
“That’s an order, Faye!!” Celebrían screamed. “GO!!”
For a heart-stopping moment, Faye was completely still, and Celebrían feared she was not going to obey. Then, she released the sword, turned, and pelted towards Arwen, lifting her up and carrying her to Saiya, who balked and tried to run, snorting in terror. Faye grabbed Saiya’s reins and jerked her head around. Saiya paused, and Faye threw Arwen’s limp form over the saddle, leaping up behind her. The Orcs were rushing towards her, but she still looked back.
“Get out of here!” Celebrían cried, hot tears flowing down her face. “NOW!!”
Faye threw back her head and screamed, causing the Orcs to pause momentarily. She then drove her heels into Saiya’s side and took off, Saiya’s screeches of panic echoing as they galloped out of sight. At first, the Orcs attempted to follow, but the woman reappeared, driving them back.
“Get this one back to the camp,” she snarled. “I’ll deal with the runners.”
She then transformed back into a bat and flew off in pursuit. Celebrían wailed, grasping the blade with her hands and feeling the edges slice into her palms. The Orcs howled in victory, surrounding her. She stared defiantly at them, trying to mask the pain from her face. The Orcs laughed.
“Little she-Elf is trying to be brave!” one of them cackled.
“Let her be,” another said. “It’ll be fun breaking that feisty spirit of hers.”
“By the time the mistress gets through with her, she’ll curse her mother for giving birth to her!” a third cried.
All of the Orcs cheered at this. Celebrían tried to pull on the blade again, but only succeeded in cutting her palms even more. Darkness was slowly leeching into the corners of her vision, and after a moment of struggle she gave in.
At least in darkness she found relief from the pain.