It wasn’t until Faye was led out into the gardens that she realized that Arwen and Maida were no longer behind them. Ripping her hand out of Celebrían’s grip, she turned back in the direction they had come, searching for the missing girls. There was no evidence of them anywhere.
“Arwen!” she cried, clenching and unclenching her hands in an effort to calm herself. “Maida!”
“They must have wandered off,” Celebrían offered gently. “It is okay, Faye. They are safe.”
“No,” Faye mumbled, but she knew Celebrían was right. She has sensed no open hostility here, save maybe from her captors, but none had been directed toward the children.
Faye took a deep breath, slowly calming herself. She had no need to be tense around Celebrían, who had been as gentle–if not more gentle–with her than Arwen. Where Arwen had reminded her of her children, Celebrían reminded her of what she herself used to be. Gentle, loving. . .a mother.
They were standing near a line of rose bushes bearing spicy-scented blossoms, and Faye breathed in the smell to further calm her. Celebrían smiled and moved to pick one of the flowers, but a sudden soft breeze blew the stem into her palm. She gritted her teeth slightly and withdrew her hand. Faye studied Celebrían for a moment, watching as she cradled her hand.
“Okay?” she asked.
“Yes, I’m fine,” Celebrían replied. “I just cut myself on the thorns.”
She brought her hand forward to show the wound was small. The cut was small, but deep, allowing a thin stream of blood to flow. The blood was bright and rich, and almost immediately, Faye could smell it.
Her senses were instantly overwhelmed by the intoxicating smell. It was not mortal blood. No, this blood was far more potent. Faye closed her eyes, feeling her fangs form against her lips, threatening to pierce the skin. For a moment, she resisted the powerful urge to grab Celebrían’s hand and lap at the blood, to rip open her wrist and suck on the artery. . . .
. . . .Faye lost.
An inhuman shriek ripped from her throat as she threw back her head, her thirst for blood overpowering her. Celebrían stumbled back, crying out in fear and shock. Faye moved stiffly, every muscle in her body tensed to pounce. She dimly heard someone shouting above her, and it took every ounce of will she possessed to register Arwen’s voice.
“Ananyé! Ananyé!” she was crying.
For a moment, the small part of Faye that was still human rebelled, forcing her to take a small step back, to listen to the child that had shown such obvious faith in her. However, her humanity was swamped in the predator-born blackness, and she lost all control. She turned her wild gaze to Celebrían.
“Run,” she snarled. “Run!!”
The word was lost in a thunderous roar before she had finished pronouncing it. Rounding on the maiden, Faye pounced, her fangs fully formed and her fingers arched like claws. Celebrían barely managed to dodge her, running away as fast as she could. Faye turned and lunged forward, managing to rake Celebrían’s arm with her nails. Celebrían cried out as blood began to flow from the slashes.
Faye lunged forward again, attempting to secure her hold, but suddenly she felt a fierce pain in her shoulder. She stumbled, seeing the feathered arrow shaft protruding from just underneath her collarbone. A glance up revealed one of the young men–Legolas–standing protectively in front of Celebrían, a malicious look on his face. He already had a second arrow aimed.
“Stand down, demon!” he shouted. “Or this one pierces your heart.”
Faye pulled the arrow from her shoulder, meaning to break it and toss it aside, but small hands suddenly grasped her other wrist. She lost her grip on the arrow, and it fell harmlessly to the ground.
“Don’t, Legolas!” Arwen cried. “She’ll be okay! Just give her a minute to calm down.”
“Arwen, get away from her!!” Celebrian shrieked, panic in her voice.
Faye reacted before she fully realized Arwen was the one holding her. Twisting her hand free of the child’s grip, she caught her by the throat and lifted her into the air, using her tiny body as a shield against the arrows. By then, a large group of armed warriors had arrived, led by Elrond, and all froze when they saw Arwen’s plight. Maida, who had been close by the entire time, grabbed Faye’s other hand.
“No!” she shouted. “I won’t let you hurt my friend!”
Faye did not acknowledge Maida’s grip, nor hear Celebrian’s frantic sobs and Elrond’s angry protests. All she saw was Arwen, dangling helplessly in her iron grip, gasping even as her face began to flush red with the pressure. Tears slid down her cheeks, and fear flooded her innocent eyes. She looked every inch like a child whose hopes and dreams had been shattered in one fatal instant. Faye’s humanity suddenly pierced through her predatory fury, and her heart flooded with anguish.
“What have I done?” Faye whispered hoarsely.
Instantly she released Arwen, and the child dropped limply to the ground. Faye heard a soft, strange sound, and a second arrow struck her, missing her heart by a bare inch. She stumbled backwards, sinking to her knees as she felt her lung collapse. She watched as both Legolas and Glorfindel aimed more arrows, feeling blood well up in her throat as she gasped.
The next one won’t miss, a small voice in her head whispered. Take your own advice. Run while you still can.
What Faye did next occurred before the two archers had fully drawn back their arrows. She forced herself to her feet, grabbing both Arwen and Maida around the waist. Lifting them into her arms, she fled, hearing the whistle as one of the arrows barely missed her. The other imbedded itself in her side. She did not allow herself to register the pain, instead summoning every ounce of speed and strength she had to outrun those that instantly gave chase.
Faye didn’t even comprehend the direction she was going. She flew over the terrain, leaving her pursuers far behind, outrunning even the two that followed on horseback. She could not feel the children in her arms, nor hear their frightened cries. All she knew for hours was mental blackness.
Being a vampire gave her endurance enough to run through the day and long into the night, but she could not run forever. Finally, just as she reached the summit of a steep, rocky incline, her legs gave out, and she fell heavily to the ground. Somehow, she had managed to release the children mere seconds before collapsing, so they did not feel the force of the impact. The arrows that were still imbedded in her snapped as Faye rolled to a halt, and fresh blood flowed from wounds that had sealed around them. The skirt of her dress was tattered, and the soles of her bare feet bled where sharp rocks had cut her. She remained where she had fallen, gasping weakly. She had no need to breathe, but the feeling of the useless lung in her chest awoke long-forgotten bodily responses, which included gasping. Rolling onto her back, Faye pulled out the arrowhead from her chest. Her blood glistened wetly on the sharpened metal and sanded wood. After resting a moment, she removed the arrowhead in her side.
It took some time, but eventually the wounds on her feet and torso sealed, and the pain vanished. Faye sat up, finally conscious enough to turn her gaze to the children. Arwen and Maida were huddled near to where she had dropped them, shivering in the cool night air. Blood stained Maida’s dress, and it took a moment for Faye to realize that she was injured. The arrow that had struck her side had grazed Maida. However, the blood was dry, the smell stale. The children whimpered in fear when Faye turned to them.
“Why do you cry?” Faye asked, pained by their fear. All predatory instinct had vanished long ago.
“Please don’t hurt us,” Arwen begged, tears flowing freely down her cheeks.
“We just want to go home,” Maida cried.
Now Faye realized what she had done. She had taken these two innocent children far from everything they knew, forcing them to believe she was going to kill them. They would have run had they known where they were. Faye looked down at her hands, almost expecting to see blood.
“No,” she moaned.
“Arwen, I’m cold,” Maida whispered suddenly, seemingly trying to speak too low for Faye to hear.
Faye stared at Maida. The child was shivering hard, and Arwen had her arms wrapped around her, trying to warm her.
“Cold?” Faye questioned. She did not feel the elements as others did. She could stand extremes of heat and cold, drought and flood, for long periods of time. Although she could see her skin paling from the breeze flowing down off the mountains, she did not feel it.
Faye looked around. A small, dead, decrepit tree stuck out of the rocky soil not too far off. She quickly approached it. The wood was old and dry, and after tugging on the roots for a moment, it came free of the soil. It didn’t weigh much, so she easily dragged it back. With the children watching her every move, she began snapping the branches, breaking them down to size and piling them up as close to the children as she dared. When the pile was a decent size, she crouched down before it, focusing her gaze into the heart of the pile.
What she was attempting to do was a trick that–to her knowledge–made her unique among her kind. Not even the Mother knew how to do it. Faye had learned long ago that if she concentrated on something long enough, if she allowed her strength to leave her body and touch another–whether living or inanimate–she could set it on fire.
Already drained from the run, it took a great deal of concentration to focus her strength. Slowly, she began to force her strength from her body, to reach out with the invisible tendril of raw power and touch the pile of branches.
“What is she doing?” she dimly heard Arwen whisper.
It happened in the space of an eye-blink. With the force of a fist to the gut, Faye felt her strength momentarily leap from her and strike the pile of branches. The pile instantly flowered into a warm, strong blaze. The children gasped when the fire was lit. Faye stumbled back, reeling momentarily. She recovered quickly, though, and looked up at the children.
“Have warmth,” she said gently. “Sleep. Dream of peace. I’ll stand watch.”
She then moved away from the children, keeping her back to them. After a moment, she heard them approach the fire and curl up next to it. Another moment later, both were asleep. Faye was surprised that the children still trusted her enough to sleep in her presence, but she would not betray their trust again. The night brought to her distant sounds and smells that relaxed her, and her sharp vision scanned the terrain through the shadows.
She saw nothing but darkness.
* * * * *
Garunthor stood upon the rocky outcropping, looking down at the miniscule point of light further down the mountain. He had sensed the power that brought that light into being, and it intrigued him. He had not felt such power since the time of the Great Darkness. Behind him, his pack waited, believing he had spotted prey. They were abominable beasts, the creatures that were his pack. None of them could remember a point in time when Garunthor was not their leader.
But that was the fatal flaw of Wargs, wasn’t it? The wretched creatures couldn’t decide anything for themselves if their smelly hides depended on it. This group, over the years, had managed to glean a bit of intelligence that made them slightly better from their smaller, Orc-allied cousins, but deep inside they were still Wargs. Garunthor had to constantly remind them that he was the superior being.
Garunthor was no Warg. He was the littermate of the mighty Carcharoth. He was not as large or as fierce-looking as his brother, but he was smart. Garunthor the Wise, they called him, or Garunthor the Swift. His brother wolves had respected him for his intelligence, which made up for his lack of muscular bulk. He had always been the spy, or the messenger. He drew the prey close, and the others did the killing.
That did not mean he could not kill. He would not be here now if he didn’t know how to fend for himself. For three centuries he had wandered alone, living off the misfortune of others. It was loneliness that had caused him to adopt the wandering, leaderless Warg pack. His wisdom had made them strong.
That was who he was now. Garunthor the Survivor, the last of his kind. No creature could stand against him and live.
“What do you see?” Mur, the pack second-in-command, asked. “What do you smell?”
“I see Man-fire,” Garunthor replied. “I smell. . .” He sniffed the cold air, growling when he caught a tiny scent. “Prepare the pack. Tonight, we feast.”
Mur snarled happily and loped back to the rest of the pack. Garunthor sniffed the air again, baring his teeth to the delectable scent. It had been many long years since he’d last tasted sweet Elf-flesh, a tender treat for any beast strong enough to bring one down. And this scent had a youthful spice.
“Elf-cubs, my brothers and sisters,” he declared. “We have helpless Elf-cubs on our land.” He turned to face his pack. “For too long we have gone without sweet meats. Too long we have had to choke down the foul flesh of the Orc.” The pack snarled in agreement, drops of drool falling from wide, heavy jaws. “Not tonight, my brothers and sisters. Tonight brings the chance to taste the most tender meat to ever slide down your throats. All you have to do is catch it.”
“Move out!” Mur commanded, his voice barely heard over the victorious snarls of the pack.
Garunthor watched the pack move off, growling grimly. He had not bothered to tell them of the power he had sensed. Another creature, an ancient death-bringer, was down there somewhere, possibly guarding the Elf-cubs. Blood would be shed before the Elf-cubs could be claimed. His pack was strong. The death-bringer would be slain. But so would members of his pack.
Oh well. That left more meat for him.