12. End Game/Release
"A fire is too risky," Elenya explained yet again when Xander half-heartedly complained about another meal of berries and bread. "Hot soup isn't worth being skewered by Orc arrows."
"C'mon... nobody could see anything through this fog. Besides, you said Orcs don't like daylight," Xander persisted.
"They do hate the sun, and fear it," Elenya conceded. "But not when it's not to be seen. But that isn't what I meant. We don't have the time to waste on a fire." She stood suddenly and grabbed her sword, then put on a long gray cloak. "Finish your breakfasts and be ready to ride. I'll scout ahead and make sure no Orcs are lying ahead."
"Shall I come with you?" Giles asked. He'd finished his own meal and was more than ready to go. Sitting around and watching Willow, Buffy and Xander pretend not to stare at each other was not an ideal way to start the day off.
Elenya smiled at him from under the hood of her cloak. "No. Keep watch here. I won't be long, Giles." She took his hand and squeezed it once, then turned and jogged out of the camp. The fog soon swallowed her up.
She headed east for a while, listening carefully for even the faintest hint of a footstep, but the morning air was still and quiet. That was not uncommon in this barren land, but Elenya's heart was still heavy. There was the issue of Willow, of course, but more than that.
The sudden squawk of a bird brought her back down to earth. There, perched on a rock not ten feet away, was a large black crow. It was staring at her with its bright yellow eyes, and Elenya stared back. A moment later, it squawked again, making Elenya shiver, and flew off into the mist.
Unsettled by the encounter, Elenya turned back towards camp. Halfway there, though, there was another squawk.
Elenya froze. Before her, resting on the damp ground was another crow, or perhaps the very same one. Either way, she knew it was no chance meeting.
She watched it warily for a moment then ever so slowly slid her left hand down to her belt where her knife was. But it was for naught. No sooner had she drawn the blade an inch out of its sheath than the crow took to the air. Cursing, Elenya threw the knife at the bird, but it turned too fast and the blade only ruffled its feathers.
Abandoning the need for stealth, Elenya began running back to the campsite. She arrived there a few minutes later and immediately jumped atop Aratar.
"We ride now," she explained to the confused group. "Hurry! They may be upon us soon!"
"Who?" Giles asked even as he hastily grabbed his gear and mounted his own horse.
"Our old friends from over the mountains, perhaps, or Orcs out of the south," Elenya replied. She quickly told them about her encounter with the two crows. "Their kind often use those filthy birds as messengers. We must hurry!"
A moment later, they were on their way, racing east through the dwindling fog as fast as they dared. Barely ten minutes later, as they passed between two brown hills capped with mist, a horn, loud and harsh, rang out not far off.
Elenya cursed and urged them on faster, but just as they came out from the small pass between the two hills, the fog finally burned away.
All five riders came to a stop.
There on the plains ahead was a long line of Orcs on foot, a hundred at the very least, and behind them a score of mounted Men in black armor. At the very rear, on a huge black horse, was the same man who had nearly slain Elenya west of Rivendell. He smiled at them, raised high his long dark blade, and cried out something in the Black Speech of Mordor.
From behind, there was another cry in answer. Elenya and the others turned and let out gasps of dismay. More Orc footmen were coming up through the gap, spurred on by a mounted company of Men in the distinctive garb of Southrons.
There was a moment of silence, then the Black Númenórean swung his sword in a tight circle, and the enemy horde charged as one.
Buffy ducked as one of the Orcs tried to clothesline her with his right arm during his advance. She pivoted on her left heel, bringing her sword around with her. She stabbed it into the Orc's back with an upward thrust, pulled out the sword then easily beheaded him.
"Thanks for playing, pal," she said to the headless corpse. She leaned forward when she sensed another opponent behind her. Buffy heard the whistle of the axe as it cut the air right where she'd been standing. Rotating the sword around, she made another upward thrust underneath her right arm, and she gritted her teeth when she felt the sword burrow into the second Orc's body.
"And no prizes for the runner-up either," she muttered. With one fluid motion, she withdrew the sword from the creature, whirled around, taking the handle of the sword into both hands at the same time, and the bloodied blade neatly separated the Orc's head from its body. "Wow, that was fun."
One of the other Orcs snarled as he charged Buffy, intent on tackling her.
With lightning quick speed, Buffy whirled around with a high back spin kick. The blow struck the Orc in the face and hurled him backwards with such force he did a complete back flip then landed flat on his stomach. Twirling the sword once in her left hand, she gripped it in both as she brought it down on the Orc, beheading it.
"Looks like you lost your head," she said as she stood straight again. A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. She had to admit - it was actually kind of ... fun.
As Elenya handled one Orc, she sensed another coming up behind her. She paused in her attack on the one in front of her to give a back kick, catching the Orc behind her square in the chest. While the one behind her was off-balance, she spun on one foot, her sword following. The Orc was cut in half before he even knew what hit him.
Once he was taken care of, Elenya turned and delivered a fierce backhanded punch in the face of the first Orc. Her hit sent him back a few steps. Quickly, she shoved the point of her sword on him, driving the blade all the way through his body and up to the handguard. Orc and Slayer glared at one another before Elenya twisted the blade then ripped it back out and finished him off by beheading.
Giles twirled his Elven quarterstaff around then the end of it connected with the Orc's chest. While the Orc tried to recover, Giles swung the staff around and he smacked the Orc upside the head. The staff hit the creature with such a force he flipped over then to the left and landed on his back.
Xander used his sword to finish off the Orc. He looked to Giles. "You're pretty good with that, G-Man."
Giles's eyes widened as another Orc popped up behind Xander with his teeth bared and ready to tear the teen apart. "Duck!" he yelled, grabbing the staff like a javelin.
Xander dropped to his knees without even questioning Giles. Giles threw the staff; it sailed towards the Orc and it squealed as the end of the staff drove straight though his body.
"Holy friggin' crap," Xander gasped when he saw the staff lodged into the Orc. After a moment, it toppled over and lay motionless on the ground. He blinked then watched Giles pull the staff from the dead creature. "I will never ever piss you off again, Giles. I swear it."
Willow hid behind her horse, watching as the other four engaged in combat with the Orcs. She wasn't sure what to do. Part of her wanted to help, but the more vocal part told her to just keep still and let the Orcs do what she couldn't. Kill the others. The Orcs weren't interested in Willow. Several came in close proximity to her but didn't even give her a second glance. And they had to have seen her.
Swallowing hard, she looked down at the ring on her finger then back to the fight. The Orcs were getting the crap kicked out of them by the others - the things were just too stupid to outsmart beings with higher brain level functions. Her gaze shifted to the mounted figure, it was the same man who'd almost killed Buffy and Elenya near the Misty Mountains.
"You guys!" Buffy called out. She paused to stab an oncoming Orc, remove the blade and whack its head off. "I'm thinkin' we're horribly outnumbered!"
"Really, Buff?" Xander replied as he fended off an axe-wielding Orc. "Whatever would've given you that idea?"
"We should make a run for it. It does us no good to get dead." Buffy executed a no-handed cartwheel, each foot smacking one of the Orcs in the face as her feet flipped over her head. When she landed on the ground again, she sliced open the gut of the Orc, spilling its insides all over the ground. It dropped to its knees and howled as it slowly died.
[You could help them,] Willow thought as she looked from her ring to the others. [But why would you want to do that? They've done nothing but plot and conspire against you. They're not your friends. They never were. Let the Orcs kill them.]
She bit her lower lip, her eyes flicking from each of them as she tried to decide what to do. Slowly, her hand began to lift up.
But somebody stopped it.
Away from the battle, Rauko reined his horse around. The four Men proved to be very skilled and extremely hard to kill. Bringing up his sword again, he called out to his own men then the first wave of human beings charged into the fray.
He smiled darkly - he knew the blonde would hesitate against a fellow Man opponent. It was a near fatal mistake she'd made at their last meeting.
"Frodo?" Willow asked when she saw who'd stopped her from helping Buffy and the others. "What ... why are you here?"
"To show you the way South," he answered, his hand still clamped on her right wrist. He nodded in the direction of Rauko. "He can lead you, Willow. You must join him. No harm will come to you."
Willow looked over her shoulder. Rauko had sent a wave of human assailants their way. Panic welled up inside of her, coupled with an inner confusion. "But he ... he's ... bad. I can't go with him." She looked down at the Hobbit. "Are you sure about this?"
"He is an ally, Willow. Our ally. He shall take you to the South, to safety." He slid his gaze over to the four humans still fighting with all their heart. "But you must do something for him before he is able to help you." A hand raised and he pointed to her friends then looked back up to her. "You must kill the others. If you do not, you will surely die."
Willow swallowed hard. [You have to listen to him, Willow,] she told herself. She glanced from him to her friends to the advancing human army.
Slowly, her hand wiggled its way out of Frodo's grasp then rose up. Her fingers trembled. She licked her lips and blinked a few times. Inside, she was completely asunder.
[They'll kill you. You have to do this. It's not murder. It's self-defense. Self-defense.]
Elenya withdrew her sword from an Orc, swept her forearm over her head to clear away the sweat and she sighed heavily. She turned when Giles came up beside her. He, too, was worn out from battle. They could not go on like this much longer. She didn't get a chance to say anything - her eyes were transfixed on the horizon and the charging human army.
Giles's shoulders slumped. "I'm afraid we've reached the end of our journey," he quietly said, more to himself than Elenya.
Elenya narrowed her gaze on the approaching humans. She knew the others wouldn't kill another person - it would be up to her to do all she could to hold the army off. So they could escape. Tossing aside her sword, she brought out her bow and drew an arrow.
"What are you doing?" asked Giles as he watched Elenya take aim. "We have to go. We're outnumbered twenty to one!" His eyes followed the arrow as it sailed from Elenya's bow and struck one of the men. "Elenya - you'll never defeat this army by yourself!"
She fired another arrow then another - each time, hitting her target. "It is not his defeat I am after," she evenly replied. One eye closed as she took aim again. Two arrows launched from the bow, her aim always dead on. She looked to Giles, a familiar glimmer in her eyes. He'd seen it before when Buffy resigned herself to the prophecy - before she died while battling the Master.
He shook his head. "No," he began.
"Go!" Elenya shouted. She drew another arrow and fired, taking down another man. "You know the way as well as I! Go!"
Rauko grinned as he saw the Dunedain woman fired arrow after arrow into the oncoming forces. He chuckled as a gloved hand gripped his reins tightly. The battle was as good as won. With these four dead, he would have cheated the prophecy and his master would have the redheaded fire maker as his eternal slave.
"Shall we finish them?" asked one of the men on horseback to Rauko's left. He studied the profile of the man, wondering when he would put these poor fools out of their misery. They were as good as dead. He glanced back at the others then back to Rauko. "What do you wish us to do?"
Rauko's attention focused on Elenya and Buffy. Slowly, he brought up his sword then slid his gaze over to the man next to him. "Wait for me," he growled. With a violent jab to the sides of his mount, Rauko made for the doomed foursome.
[Kill the others; bring the fire maiden to me.] The voice of his master was loud in his mind.
Willow saw that Elenya ran low on arrows and Buffy and Xander did their best to fight off the humans without actually killing anybody. Her trembling fingers stretched out but she didn't utter a spell. The voice inside her head thundered now - demanding the deaths of her friends. Her eyes squeezed shut, her jaw clenched and she tried to think. [You must kill them! If you do not, you will die!]
Unconsciously, her other hand reached into the inner tunic pocket where she'd stashed the small gem Xander had given to her the night before. Her eyes opened and she stared at her closed fist that contained the gem. Slowly, her fingers unwrapped themselves from the gem then, as she gazed into it, a calm washed over her. The cloud lifted from her mind and the voice was ceased.
Like a videocassette on fast forward, from the moment Willow had met up with Buffy Summers, scenes of all the adventures, trials and tragedies they'd shared flashed through her mind's eye. From the Harvest to the Master, to Angelus and Acathla then to Faith and all of the troubles that followed with her, everything.
It was so clear now. Everything was clear.
She jerked when the rush of memories let go of her. Gasping loudly, the gem dropped from her hand, almost in slow motion, and shattered on the ground. Blinking rapidly, she breathed in and out, hard. Her eyes shifted to the glimmering ring on her finger. That was it. They'd been right. Buffy, Xander, and Giles - they were all right about it.
They were her friends. That's why they were so concerned about her. It wasn't jealousy. It wasn't hatred. It was caring. It was ... love.
"No," she said as she shook her head. She tried to wrench the ring off of her finger but it wouldn't let go of her. Gritting her teeth, she yanked and pulled, but the damned thing didn't budge an inch. "Come off!" she growled.
Elenya fired her last arrow, tossed aside her bow and picked up the sword once again. "Rrrrah!" she yelled as she slashed into the chest of the human adversary who charged her. She looked back over to Giles and the others - they were fending off the humans, doing everything possible to not kill any of them, but at least take them out of the fight.
The whinny of a horse caught her attention. As soon as she looked up, the black rider who she'd fought with before kicked her square in the face. The Slayer flew backwards and landed hard on her back, but quickly, she recovered and flipped up to her feet. She turned just as Rauko dismounted, a gleam in his eye as he met her gaze.
Buffy ducked the sword swipe of her opponent though she wasn't moving as fast as she had been before. The black-clad human delivered a nasty kick to her ribs that was followed by another to her face. She lay on the ground, huffing and puffing, willing herself to move.
[Faith, you killed a man,] she heard her own voice echo in her head.
[I don't care,] was Faith's reply.
But Buffy did. She couldn't go on in this fight against human opponents. Her hand let go of her sword. She'd been living on borrowed time anyway - and her time was up. Her head lifted and she gazed up at the face of the man who would kill her. Not a demon, not a vampire, not any other thing the supernatural world could throw at her - a human.
She waited for the deathblow. Out of nowhere, a large rock came and struck the man in the face. He cried out in pain as his sword dropped from his hand that immediately flew to his bleeding nose. He screamed out curses in a language Buffy had heard before - the one Willow murmured in her sleep.
"Come on, Buffy, get up!" Xander ordered as he grabbed her arm and pulled her back up to her feet. She appeared dazed but no worse for the wear. "Snap out of it! We're not dying here! Do you hear me? We're not going to die in this place!" He leaned over, picked up her sword and shoved it to her. "You fight, Buffy! I am not letting you give up."
Elenya deflected a blow from Rauko's blade but she was tired while he was not. He advanced on her with a series of blows; she was constantly on the defensive. It was all she could do to stay alive. With each connection of blades, Elenya felt it in her arms and all the way through her body. And Rauko's last blow, harder than all the others, brought the sword out of her hands. She watched in part disbelief, part horror as her weapon sailed away.
Rauko flashed a wicked grin at the Slayer before he backhanded her. The force of it sent her stumbling, she lost her balance then collapsed to the ground. His hand gripped his own sword tightly as he watched the woman push herself up from the ground. She was exhausted - the fight had taken very much out of her.
He took two steps towards Elenya, but the sound of his master's voice caused him to stop. [The girl - bring her to me. Forget the others.] Rauko couldn't ignore the voice as much as he wanted to win this battle once and for all, assure himself that he was protected from the cursed prophecy. [Bring her to me!]
Willow struggled with the ring but it dug even more deeply into her finger, refusing to set her free. She turned around when she heard a voice - it called her name. She gasped loudly taking a few steps back when she saw a disembodied lidless Eye hovered above her. As she backed away, she tripped on something and fell on her rear.
It was Elenya's sword.
"Willow ..." the voice said again. "Come to me."
She shook her head; her gaze remained riveted to the Eye above her that seemed to grow larger and more terrifying. "No. I won't!" She pulled at the ring again, whimpering as it squeezed into her skin. [Why won't it come off?!] Her teeth gritted. ['The more you use it, the more it becomes a part of you.'] She remembered Frodo, or what she'd thought was Frodo, saying.
"Give yourself to me," the voice growled, now inside of Willow's head. "You cannot resist my power." A laugh erupted as Willow continued to try to wrench the ring off of her hand. "A small being like you, you shall forever be my slave."
Slowly, Willow's head lifted. Another thing the faux Frodo had said to her echoed in her mind. ['Even the smallest are capable of amazing feats and great deeds, Willow.'] Her eyes narrowed at the Eye made of flame.
"I'm nobody's slave," she declared. She rose up to her feet, all fear of the Eye now gone. "Willow Rosenberg isn't your pawn anymore!" Suddenly, the ring shifted on her finger, returning to the size it had been when she picked it up in Bree. The piece of jewelry tinked on the ground then rolled away. "I'm free!"
She grinned widely. The Eye pulled back, a snarl of anger following it. Then she remembered her friends - they needed help. Her eyes fell on Elenya's sword. Leaning over, her trembling fingers wrapped themselves around the handle of it and she picked it up. "No more magick in this world," she murmured as she gazed at the glimmering blade. "I rely on me."
Buffy punched the last of the human assailants in his nose then she turned around to check on the others. Her gaze zeroed in on Rauko - there he was, sword in hand, headed straight for Willow. She didn't see him coming, though, because her back was to him.
"Xander!" she called out.
Xander turned around then followed Buffy's gaze. The leader of the army was headed for Willow - and she had no idea.
"WILLOW!" Buffy yelled as loud as she possibly could as she bolted for her friend.
Willow heard Buffy's voice. "Huh?" She turned around, the sword moved directly in front of her, and the tip of the blade pointed out and away from her body. Almost as soon as she'd turned, she saw Rauko - sword in hand, determination on his face - right there.
But his determination turned to pained surprise. He blinked a few times, his sword dropped out of his hand and clattered onto the ground. Both of his hands grabbed Elenya's sword that was still in Willow's clutches. The mithril blade had so easily cut through his flesh and was driven almost completely through him. A choking gasp escaped his lips when Willow, realizing what had happened, let go of the handle and backed away. Her wide-eyed gaze riveted to the weapon protruding from Rauko's body.
Buffy skidded to a halt, Xander bumped into her but neither of them seemed to notice. They stared at Rauko as he stumbled away from Willow while he gripped the sword still lodged into his gut.
Willow shook her head. [No. No, I didn't. I ... I stabbed him.] She watched as Rauko gritted his teeth and pulled Elenya's blade out of him. The sword tumbled out of his hands that immediately clutched the wound, now bleeding profusely. The redhead continued to back away when her gaze met Rauko's. For some reason, she felt sorry for him. [And I killed him.]
"I ... " she started but no other words would form. Her hands trembled.
Giles and Elenya, standing next to each other, couldn't believe what had taken place either. It was purely an accident but Willow had killed him.
Rauko dropped to his knees. He pulled his gloved hands away from his wounds, stared at the blood glimmering on them and then his eyes rolled back in his head as he collapsed to the ground. The four strangers had brought his death. Succumbing to his wounds, he released his final breath then lie still on the ground.
Fate refused to be bested.
The prophecy was fulfilled.
Buffy and the rest had only a few seconds to react to Rauko's death before a black arrow nearly impaled Giles' foot.
All five turned to face their enemies' next charge. With Rauko gone, the Orcs had fallen into confusion, but only until one of the surviving Black Númenóreans lopped the head off one of the waverers. That served to spur the rest on. They let out a fierce yell and then charged Buffy.
"Back to the hill!" Elenya yelled, but she knew that even with the hill behind them, they would not last long. There were simply too many of the vile beasts, and no chance of escape through their ranks. Even a suicidal charge to cover the others would fail at this point, the Orc lines were too closely packed now as they drew closer.
"C'mon!" Buffy grabbed Willow's arm and tugged her back. The redhead was still in shock and nearly stumbled as the Slayer tugged her away. "Willow, come on!"
Even as they regrouped at the base of the hill, Orcs began to move around on the slopes above them.
"They're cutting us off," Giles snarled as he slammed his quarterstaff against an Orc that drew too close. "We have to - "
"What?" Elenya replied. She stabbed at one of the Khand-men, hard enough to force him away, and shook her head. "There's - ah!" An Orc arrow cut across her thigh, drawing blood.
"Elenya!" Giles was at her side, helping her stand, and trying to pull her further up the hill, away from the bulk of their foes, but it was no use. The dark horde had completely encircled them now. "I'm sorry."
Elenya smiled through her pain and squeezed his hand. "Look for me in the Halls of Mandos," she began to say, but the shrill blaring of a horn cut her off. [More of them?] she thought, shutting her eyes and resting back.
Then another horn rang out over the plains and hills. But this was no Orcish instrument. The sound was clear and powerful, and just listening to the echoes made Elenya's pain lessen. She opened her eyes and rose to her feet.
"Good God," Giles said, speaking for all of them. The horn sounded again and the Orcs shuddered and stopped their eyes.
Barely a hundred yards to the east, and closing fast, was a company of horsemen in bright blue armor and plumed helmets. Their lances gleamed in the sunlight -
"The sun! Praise Arien!" Elenya cried out as the thick clouds began to melt away and golden rays of light showered down upon the hill. The Orcs howled and, dropping their weapons, began to flee, ignoring the angry yells and kicks of their Mannish companions. It was to no avail. The blue riders came ever closer, and the horn blared once more, and what was left of their discipline crumbled entirely.
As the Orcs fled, shrieking in agony, the Black Númenóreans and the surviving Southrons wheeled around to face the new threat. Even as they formed a new line and began to charge, though, the ranks of the blue riders parted and a single horseman emerged from the rear. He had no helm or armor, but instead wore a great blue cloak and hood, and held a great white horn in one hand and a long silver blade in the other.
He cried out, but was too far away for any of those on the hill to hear his words. The effect was obvious, though. The horses of the evil Men stumbled and turned this way and that, many throwing their riders and the rest dashing off in every direction.
It was all over in less than five minutes from that point. Those few of Rauko's Men who weren't killed by falls or dragged off with their horses were easily cut down by the blue riders as they surged forward. As for the rest, no news of their fate ever returned to either Mordor or the lands of the West, but it was said they drowned when their horses plunged into the River Anduin in their madness.
When the last of the Southrons was dead, the rider in the blue cloak came forward to the base of the hill and threw back his hood.
"Gandalf?!" Xander blurted out, but he immediately realized his mistake. The man looked much like Gandalf, but his hair was darker and held only a few gray strands, and his face was much less lined with worry and age, save for a thin scar upon one cheek. Not Gandalf, but clearly kin.
"Nay," the man corrected with a grin upon his face. "Pallando the Blue, at your service," he said, then bowed and winked at the three women before hopping down off his horse, which then trotted back to one of the other riders to wait.
"You're Pallando?" Giles asked, frowning just a bit. He'd expected someone more like Gandalf or Elrond, not this. [But... no. He's got power, too,] Giles realized. It was hidden deeper than Gandalf's, and perhaps not as strong, but still there.
"And you would be - strangers," Pallando said, giving the five of them a long, appraising look. "So that's why..." His voice trailed off. "But we should be away. It won't be long until that maggot in Mordor realizes his men are dead and sends more Orc scum this way."
"He's right," Elenya said, whistling for Aratar and the other horses who had somehow managed to escape the battle unscathed. "We're far too close to the Dark Tower."
"Hold on," Buffy muttered. "Where are we going to go?"
"Rhûn!" Pallando laughed. "Nowhere else is safe for you east of the Sea now. You must trust me, Champion," he added in a softer voice. "I will see you all home safe, you have my word." But he looked at Giles for a moment, nodded, unseen by all but the Watcher, and then pointed eastward. "We must hurry. Even the Blue Riders are no match for what will crawl out of the pits of Udûn when the sun sets."
After that, there was no debate. Buffy and her friends mounted up and the entire company raced off.
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.