Tenth Walker, No Choice

To The End of Night

1. Revolving doors

   

~ 

Only the light of the stars guided Gimli's steps when the Fellowship approached the imposing walls of Moria. He was there, at long last! His breath hitched and, suddenly anxious, he raced to the forefront of the group, brushing against Frodo in his hurry. Gimli did not need to glance down to the hafling's pale face to know traces of fear marred his friend's features. None of them wished to enter this realm of whispered legend.

None but I, Gimli son of Glóin.

He was very much aware of the dark shroud of evil that had enveloped Moria ever since the awakening of Durin's Bane, and the subsequent flight of his people from the ancient halls they called home. Yet there was no place for apprehension in his mind and his spirit in this moment. His proximity to the fabled halls of Khazad-dûm had kindled a great fire in his heart, one he did not intend to quench. To think that he, Gimli, would soon stand in the very place where Durin the Deathless had stood in the Age of the Stars! To think that he would have a chance to peer into the Kheled-zâram! Never in his life did he imagine he would receive such a boon.

Gimli pressed on - his feet followed the again narrow path, his back pressed lightly against the cliff wall. Slow minutes passed, the only sound to be heard that of his own feet, and those of his companions.

A chill prickled at his spine at the unnatural silence.

The path twisted and turned, and, suddenly, he saw it. The Hollin gate! The rapid beat of his heart thundered in his ears. The Doors of Durin were there, he knew, their secret waiting to be revealed.

It will not be long, now.

~

Tap!

Solid rock. Sighing, Gimli walked on, further along the wall, and tapped the stone with his axe again. Still, there was nothing. Indeed, he mused, dwarf-doors are meant to be invisible and so kept hidden from the eyes of the enemy. He did not deny the wisdom of it. But even the thought of the prudence of his forefathers did nothing to temper his growing impatience.

Tap!

The elf was there as well, he saw, his ear pressed firmly against the stone wall. Does he think to find the entrance so? Gimli doubted it, but quickened his pace regardless – the notion of an elf besting a dwarf in matters of stone fueling his efforts.

"Look!" he heard Gandalf say. "Can you see anything now?"

He turned just in time to see the wizard glance up at the sky - a startled gasp tore from his throat as the moon revealed itself in all its majesty at Gandalf's unspoken command. The level of light intensified, but not all of it was coming from the brightness above. Silver lines formed along what had, seconds ago, been a wall of nondescript rock. Right before his eyes, a gateway appeared – a crown just under the arch, surrounded by the shapes of seven stars, and, beneath it, an outline of an anvil and a hammer.

"There are the emblems of Durin!" he cried.

"And there is the Tree of the High Elves!" said Legolas in answer.

A dwarf and an elf crafted these gates together, long ago, Gimli recalled. He glanced at Legolas, who now stood next to the haflings, and shook his head once. Narvi and Celebrimbor, the two companions of old were called, and Gimli now wondered if the craftsman of Khazad-dûm had found his elven friend as difficult to deal with as he found Legolas to be. Somehow, he doubted it – if it had been so, in all likelihood, the Doors of Durin would be missing their inscription.

Gimli stepped forward. Soon, he would pass under that high arch and enter an ancient realm, one still remembered in his people's songs. A satisfied smile tugged at his lips.

It will not be long, now.

~

"Ando Eldarinwa a lasta quettanya, Fenda Casarinwa!"

Another incantation. Gimli turned back, eyes on the stone door, hands pausing mid-motion. Perhaps, this was the correct one. A moment passed, and then another, but the door remained closed, gleaming in the darkness. A frustrated sound escaped him, and he reluctantly resumed sharpening the blade of his axe. The rough sharpening stone pushed inwardly from the cutting edge, guided by the dwarf's steady hand. When he smoothed out one of the few burrs that marred the surface of the weapon, Gimli paused again. An axe with a blunt edge becomes no more than an inefficient hammer, he knew, yet his mind would not concentrate on the task at hand.

"We should have been on our way by now!" The words escaped him against his will. Aragorn looked up from sharpening his own knife.

"Do not be so quick to wish it, Gimli," he said. "Who knows what awaits us when we pass through these gates?"

"Better to face it sooner than later, then, if it cannot be helped." Gimli's hands lead the stone to the cutting edge again.

"There is truth in what you say," Aragorn nodded and fixed his keen eyes on him. "But it is not the sole reason for your impatience."

Balin. Was he even among the living? Thirty years had passed already since his cousin's departure from Erebor, and news of him had become scarce. Gimli still hoped to put his mind at ease regarding his cousin's safety.

"No," he admitted at length. "It is not." He glanced at the door again – a light touch on his shoulder, and he turned to see Aragorn stand beside him.

"You will find your answers there, friend." Aragorn gestured at the looming walls. "I only pray that they do not grieve you much."

"Mellon," the wizard's voice rang.

The doors were opening.

~~~


The sound of approaching footsteps grew louder, and Kalista's hand paused, mid-motion, before finally reaching for the half-opened door. She traced the surface of it, with just the tips of her fingers, carefully – it felt smooth against her callused skin. A sudden gust of wind pushed against the door, but she held it in place, lightly, and inhaled a mouthful of the crisp night air into her lungs. A lingering scent carried on the breeze – it drifted into the corridor, and she froze again. They were outside. What if they find her?

There is still time, if I leave now.

The thought did not have the desired effect, but caused a familiar excitement to course through her veins instead. So what if they find her? A part of her would welcome the simplicity of a fight – provided it was one she could win. The scent intensified as they drew nearer. How many of them were there?

I am tired of hiding.

One step forward, one push against the door, and she would be in plain sight – one way or the other, it would be over. Kalista withdrew her hand and took a step back instead. And another one after that, step after step down the derelict corridor, until she came to a vacant room. A large hole in the wall stood in place of a window. The surrounding buildings were not particularly high – and all of them on the level with this one. If she could climb up the fire escape… There!

Kalista scrambled up, quietly. Once on the roof, she ran across the length of it and jumped the short distance to the connecting building. After reaching the end the last roof-top – the seventh in a row and nearer to the ground than any of the ones before – she jumped down and landed in a sparsely-lit alleyway. Nearby, another door creaked open – she turned, muscles relaxed and ready. An orange colored cat ran pass her, hissing as it knocked over a half-empty garbage can.
 Did they follow? She couldn't smell them anymore. Kalista closed her eyes and listened, still undecided.

There was only silence.

Tomorrow, or the night after that, the vampires would come again. But, for now, she had wasted enough time being prey.

Kalista broke into a run again, and the hunt began anew. The night was quickly drawing to its end, with the Polgara still on the loose; barely an hour ago she had discovered the bloody remains of its last victim.

A small brick wall – two by two, chipped in places. Ordinary grey brick. The drying blood that covered it made it seem almost black in the dark, the patches of grey far and few in between. The body itself was hardly recognizable as human anymore. The man's severed head lay some feet away – long strands of grey-streaked hair fell over the mutilated features and hid them from sight. Bloodshed aside, a part of her admired the Polgara's weapons: retractable bone blades that sprung from its forearms at will. It was an efficient killer.

The clear lines of the demon's weapons could still be seen amidst the mass of other, gorier injuries – it had taken no more than three slashes to dismember the body. The rest was done post mortem and not by the Polgara. A reluctant search of the remains had confirmed what she knew already: the heart and the lungs were missing.

Two hours till sunrise. Kalista picked up speed.

At the next crossroad, she came to a sudden halt. Two boys who looked no older then eighteen walked up and down a well-lit part of the sidewalk. A girl sat on a beat-up bench not fifteen feet away; she looked even younger. Flesh for hire. The bruise that covered half of the girl's face was clearly visible, even in the dim light. Other than that, the streets seemed deserted. That alleyway, there – that was where she needed to go.  

A sudden movement caught her eye, and Kalista turned to see a man stumble and then lean heavily on the railing across the road. He clutched at his chest, falling to his knees, then, with a shuddering groan, slid slowly on to the ground. Kalista hesitated. The alleyway began just where he slumped to the floor. She would have to go past him. On the first  step he called out to her and moaned on the second. His agony brushed her mind, muted and brief.  
 A moment passed before her feet moved, more of their own accord than by a conscious choice. Swearing softly, she crouched next to the man.  Souls below! He reeked of a combination of dirt, grime and bodily fluids that had at least a few days to marinate, and absorb in to the skin and clothes, which were no more than tethered rags. Kalista guessed his age as late twenties, but his weathered face looked somewhat older.

The sleeve of his right arm rolled up well past the elbow, and a brief glance at the needle marks there proved her suspicion right – a junky. She listened to his labored breath and the rapid beat of his heart; it was only a matter of time before he went into cardiac arrest. Did she even care? Stung by the thought, she looked up.

The hooker in the corner deliberately avoided meeting her eyes, and the two boys were rapidly backing away. Possibly, they had the right idea. He had done this to himself. When Kalista started to rise, a sudden pressure at her ankle froze her in place. Pain and fear – not her own – welled up in her. Stepping back, she escaped the touch – the borrowed feelings subsided, fading into the background, a faint echo easily ignored.  
"H…help…me," the dying man managed to choke out, before taking a series of shallow breaths. He shook visibly.

The smell of fear suddenly covered even the stench of his clothes – a part of her sat up and took notice, growling with excitement. Instinct took over. A pained sound escaped him, his fingers brushed against her ankle again – help me – Kalista looked down. His eyes were pleading and terrified, his face ashen. She frowned - the thrill left her, and the numbness seeped back in.

For a moment, she hated him for it.

He shook again, the muscles of his forearm flexing and relaxing in sporadic spasms. Sighing, she crouched next to him again, careful not to touch, and murmured soothing nonsense.

I don't have time for this.

A fresh sense of urgency accompanied the thought. Even now, there was a good chance another victim was being ripped apart by the Polgara. The bastards would have her hide if the demon's head count got any higher… or withdraw their protection. Hell! As if she was to blame the thing had an appetite.  

A car passed by. The driver didn't stop at her gesture, but sped up and drove away. It figured – who in their right mind would stop to pick anyone up in this part of town? Kalista straightened and started walking towards the main road.

"Don't… don't leave me," the junky called after her. "Pl…please." The last word came out as a breathless whisper.

"You need help… I'll get you some." She didn't turn around to make sure he believed her. Why did she bother doing this in the first place? An inward shrug – an acquired habit, she guessed.

It didn't take long for another car to come their way; a pair of headlights rushed towards her. Quickly coming to a decision, Kalista stepped forward – the breaks shrieked, and a yellow cab came to a halt mere inches from her steel-toed boots. From behind the wheel, a shabby looking man stared at her in shock.

"I have a customer for you."

~

Nodding her thanks, Kalista pressed some cash into the still-reluctant cab-driver's hand. Before the door closed, she grabbed hold of his arm.

"Watch him. If his heart stops, use CPR. I don't care how you do it, or how often, but keep him alive till you get to the hospital. If I find out he died because you decided it wasn't worth the bother…" She gave a thin smile, her teeth bared. "If that happens… I'll be paying you a visit."

All color drained from his face – the only pleasant sight this night – and he gave her a jerky nod of the head. Briefly, her eyes drifted towards the body strapped into the passenger's seat. The junkie's breathing was becoming more and more erratic – the rapid beat of his heart drummed in her ears.

He won't make it to the hospital.

She let go. The door closed with a soft thud.


~~~

Boromir lowered his head to pass beneath a low arch; not the first and certainly not the last he would encounter, here. When his shoulder lightly brushed the pillar on his left, a cloud of dust enveloped him. The arch above him groaned and cracked, a number of small stones raining down on his head and back.

'Careful.'

In the depths of Moria, there could be no room for mistakes. If only they had not been forced to take this path!

'How the Doors of Durin crumbled, no more than a child's toy against such force..'

He dismissed the memory of the cave-in, for it mattered little, now. That way was closed to them.

He stumbled – his foot caught in one of the small cracks that littered the path before him. With so little light to guide his steps, it could not be helped.

"Are you well?" Legolas inquired, turning to face him. The elf's gaze centered on his leg, bright eyes narrowing in frank appraisal.

Boromir made a dismissive gesture, briefly leaning on the rock wall. Wincing, he tightened his boot-laces and ran his hand along the back of his calf, gently squeezing the muscles there. A slight injury, as far as he could tell – he would examine the ankle later, when Gandalf commanded a halt. He straightened, with little effort, and carefully placed some of his weight back on the injured foot. The pain was sharp, but manageable. He took in a deep breath, and then another one, before he pressed on, his eyes fixed on the green cloth that adorned Legolas' back. It stood out in the dark.

Why had they come to this place?

Boromir shifted his gaze from the elf, and glanced back, towards the darkness that stretched out behind him. The Ranger stood there, his tall frame a mere shadowy figure in the dim light. What would his father think of the man – Isildur's Heir? Boromir did not dare guess. At the moment, he was undecided himself.

He hastened his steps. The sooner they reached the Dimril Dale, the better – he could hardly wait to leave this stifling maze of connecting caves and winding tunnels behind. He had been away from the walls of the
White City for far too long already.

'Will it soon become too late?'

The once clear blue skies above his city grew darker by the day, and Sauron's armies continued to grow, while the forces of Gondor diminished steadily. They had hope, still – but how long would hope and stout hearts hold the might of Barad-dúr at bay? 'What if Gondor should fall in my absence?'

A chill went through him. "We should not have come here," he muttered. Legolas stilled and turned to face him – he had not been quiet enough.

"Take heart, Boromir," the elf said. A reassuring smile lingered on his lips. "Stay the path. Mithrandir will find a way."

If only it were that simple. He gave a slow nod, regardless – they could not turn back, now.

The way was shut.

~

Mithril.

All folk desired it, it was said.

'The Dwarves at least must have craved it,' Boromir thought, 'to dwell in these dark holes.'

If such was the price of Moria-silver, he had little need for it. Shaking his head, he continued his slow descent, step after careful step. The ancient stone nearly crumbled beneath his feet, and he paused, hesitant to glance down to the chasm that sprawled beneath him. A narrow trail bridged the void and led to safety, starting at the bottom of the staircase. If he could only reach it first! Another large shard of rock broke off and tumbled down into the darkness. Moments passed – a loud sigh of relief escaped him after his feet settled on a relatively wide path. He had crossed it. Praise the Valar!

The others moved forward, so he followed. Only the Ranger trailed behind him.

Suddenly, a glimmer of light flashed in the dark – intrigued, he looked closer.

There it was again! A shimmer of silver in the stone wall. He stepped off the trodden path, curious despite himself – could it be true-silver? His arm extended, fingers reaching for that faint gleam in the dark. Three steps he made, before his right foot descended towards the ground, only to meet with air on the fourth. His balance lost, he stumbled forward; his breath caught in his throat. How deep was this crack in the ground below him? A moment passed, and he felt himself falling – the narrow vein of silver twinkled in his field of vision, mockingly, even after he squeezed his eyes shut.

A strong hand wrapped around his forearm and pulled him back from the edge with a jerk. After he felt solid ground beneath his feet again, he exhaled loudly. His hand flew to his face to wipe at the thin sheen of sweat that had formed on his forehead. How could he have been so careless?

"Not all dangers lie in plain sight, Boromir," a voice cautioned. "Even a promise of light can bring death in this place."

A moment passed before he could answer. "I am well-aware of it." His throat felt dry and constricted. "Now. It will not happen again." The Ranger nodded and drew back, allowing him to take the lead. Boromir shuddered, once, and pressed forward.

There was only one light he could follow here, unafraid.

The faint glow of the wizard's staff beckoned him in the distance.

"Gandalf will have us stop, soon. We covered enough ground for the day, I think." Aragorn's voice carried from behind him. "Only a little ways further, and we can rest for a few hours."

~

Water closed above Boromir's head, the weight of his armor pulling him under, towards the bottom.

'No!'

He held his breath, frantically fumbling with the leather fastenings – they would not come undone under his wooden fingers – he drew a knife from his belt and cut through them instead. One, two, three – 'Oh, Valar! How many of them are there?' – the last one gave out, and he was free. Dim light reflected off the emblem - the White Tree of Gondor - as the heavy breast plate drifted down, to rest on the river bed. Memory stirred... his father's gift. But how? He had lost it before, had he not?

'Osgiliath…'

His lungs burned. 'Air.' It was all he could think of.

In a near frenzy, Boromir broke through to the surface, coughing and spiting violently, his previous confusion forgotten. After taking a series of deep, steadying breaths, he began to swim, struggling against the changing current.

He knew, now, where he was.

The deafening roar of his men's cheers echoed in his ears, as he made for the river bank, followed closely by the sound of angry orcish curses. Was he out of bow-range? Weary muscles groaned in protest with every stroke, but he would not yet stop and rest. One way or the other, he had to keep moving – before the cold robbed him of the little strength he still possessed. He cast a hurried glance to his right. Faramir! Where was his brother?

There! With swift, sure strokes, Faramir cut his way through the murky waters. They would reach the shore together.

Once out of the water, he allowed himself to turn back. A smile tugged at his lips at the sight; exhilaration battled with exhaustion and won. The day was theirs! Gondor had prevailed against the Enemy – the last stone
bridge of Osgiliath stood no more! Pushing back the strands of wet hair that clung to his face in one quick motion, he laughed in triumph. They had won!

He felt a slight tugging at his shoulder – he whirled around, only to find no one there. The entire river bank stood empty. Where were his men? 'What new trickery is this?' He glanced around him. Some fifty paces away, Faramir climbed up from the river; as he straightened, small rivulets of water trickled down his arms and legs. Relieved, Boromir raised a hand in greeting, and Faramir returned the gesture – with long strides, he started to close the distance between them.

Boromir tried to follow suit… yet his feet refused to move. Again, he felt the touch of that invisible hand on his back.

Confused, he called out, but no sound came. What was happening? Suddenly, fear clutched at his heart - an orc stood behind Faramir, sword in hand. Boromir's mouth opened in a silent scream.

The rusted weapon moved in a downwards swing – Faramir! – there was a searing flash of pain; his pain. The jagged edge of the blade dug into Boromir's back.

His eyes snapped open – he gasped for breath.

"Boromir," Frodo called, still gripping his shoulder. "Gandalf said to wake you. We are to continue."

It had been a dream.

Shaken, he fumbled with his pack to mask his discomfort. "I am ready." He followed the Ring-bearer. His foot still ached when he put his full weight on it, but it was a distraction he welcomed.

"Merely a dream," he whispered.

His lips moved in silent prayer, regardless.

'Valar, keep him safe.'

~~~

'Oh, sweet Elbereth, protect me.'

Hithriel ran through a rounded, narrow tunnel – the flickering artificial light flashed white, once, and died out – she stopped, blinded. Careful to keep her right hand pressed against the wall, she stepped forward, tentative and unsure. The rough surface left a greasy residue on her fingers, the foul smell making her pull her hand back with a sharp jerk – a moment's indulgence. Both fear and reason returned, and she replaced her palm, edging further down the tunnel, gaining speed and confidence as she went. Her perception altered – the four remaining senses sharpened – the sound of her footsteps bounced off the low ceiling and returned to her, the echo twice as loud. She winced inwardly. Would it hear her? Her heart pounded so fiercely at the thought that, for a moment, she feared it would burst right out of her chest.

Her fingers found a protrusion in the wall – a cylinder shaped metal, cool against her skin. She moved in that direction, her hand wrapped around it. After no more then fifteen paces, the protrusion abruptly ended, and she tried to feel for the wall again – only to meet with air. 'Where?' Hithriel's breath quickened. How could she hope to escape without sight or touch to aid her? Frantic, she lunged to her right. A hollow metallic sound echoed through the sewers when her foot connected with…what? She did not know. Silence followed, interrupted only by the steady sound of dripping water.

Coming back on, the lights flickered once and stabilized, emitting a low hum. Then, it roared, somewhere in the tunnels.

Dread became all she knew, and Hithriel ran, heedless of where. She had to escape it. There was a sharp turn in the road ahead – the tunnel divided into two separate passages; the fluorescent lighting gone from either one. She paused. To the left or to the right? How could she decide? She looked back over her shoulder – the breath caught in her throat. Left or right, it did not matter now – it followed, a scarce few paces behind her.

In a blind panic, she fled down the left passage. No! Hithriel choked out a desperate sob. A barrier stood before her, blocking her way. There was no way out. A low growl reverberated through the air, and, when she turned, she saw it standing behind her - leathery, ghostly white skin spread over a bulking frame; seven feet of solid, hard muscle. A web of scars covered its massive arms; complicated, painted-on markings ran down its torso and legs. The black, silted pupils sent a jolt of fear through her.

There was roar - of effort so intense it might have been pain - and deadly-looking twin spurs abruptly burst out from its forearms, the already torn flesh parting wetly to allow them passage. Bright green droplets glimmered across the length of them. Was it blood? She could not tell, but, when it came towards her, all thought fled from her head, save one.

'Run.'

There was another sound, and the monster whirled around. A woman stood in the passage behind them, still and unmoving – holding one large knife in either hand.

Hithriel felt a surge of hope.

"Thau nín!" she cried.

'Help me.'

~

________________________________________

Quenya:

'Ando Eldarinwa a lasta quettanya, Fenda Casarinwa!' - ('Gate of Elves listen to my word, Threshold of Dwarves!')

Sindarin:

'Thau nín!' – ('Help me!)


This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

   

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Pen 52

Status: Beta

Completion: Work in Progress

Rating: General

Last Updated: 07/02/07

Original Post: 06/06/06

Back to challenge: Tenth Walker, No Choice

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