The inky black sky was sugared with stars as Anya walked along a side road in Durrow. She liked nights like this when the new moon allowed the true brilliance of the sky to sparkle like tiny adamants were tossed by the handful into the air.
She was taking a risk, she thought, going to him in the night. She wasn’t naive enough to think he spent them alone. But she missed Morty’s smile. His voice. The scent of his roses.
Anya cast a glance upwards and didn’t notice the rut in the dirt road. As her weight shifted unexpectedly, she let out a cry of surprise as she fell on the twisting ankle. The pain shot brightly through her, but she’d felt worse. It was nothing, really. Nothing until she hit the cold dirt and then…
It was midday and she stood looking out over yellow plains that stretched into rolling hills. The sun was brutally hot; it was midsummer and the men would be expecting the arrival of the shipment from the west as payment for the armour the fortress sent to the young settlements trying to gain a foothold as they fought over the invisible borders that ran through the Lone-lands. Rhudaur had an advantage, and though some were jostling for a temporary peace with Cardolan, Amon Sul would never find peace. Not while the palantir sat at the top of the hill and not while the Witch-king kept his heavy hand in the land.
The elders grumbled among themselves as they crossed the courtyard. They were always grumbling to themselves these days. They disliked the tower being occupied by the dark sorcerer and did their best to keep the people away. She found him fascinating, however. He wore a robe made from the skin of a great crimson long-worm that he claimed he slaughtered in Angmar. If he ever left the tower, he carried a gnarled grey staff topped with sickly green jewels. She wondered how much truth existed in the rumours of his power and dreamed of learning his secrets.
She turned and walked down the narrow stone steps. Glancing into a rain barrel, she pulled at the corner of her sharp blue eye stretching the skin smooth. Sighing heavily, she frowned. Then, without looking up, she turned and ran into the solid mass of a man.
Strong arms caught her. They set her on her feet and a gentle, deep baritone went, “Woah, there. Easy now.”
She looked up into eyes as blue as the sapphire stones the Dwarves brought from the mountains far away. Her breath caught and her heart stopped beating. She realized her hands had grabbed hold of him in their frantic flailing and she felt his muscles flex as he steadied her and stepped back.
Aeron. He was dressed in hunting leathers instead of his metal breastplate. His arms were bare and he wore an easy smile. She had never looked at him so closely before. He was just a solider, after all. Nothing new or exciting there. Except… the way his head tilted as he regarded her. And the set of his lips as they curved into that amused smile.
“Are you all right?”
Her heart didn’t start beating again. It took off at a gallop and leapt into her throat.
Then suddenly, it was night again. The stars twinkled steadily in the sky and the Valacirca hung low over the sorcerer’s tower. She felt his warmth around her, enveloping her like a warm bath. He smelled of soap and leather. His touch ignited her skin…
When Anya awoke, every bone in her body ached with damp and cold. The sharp pain in her ankle still throbbed and brought her quickly to her senses. Tears began to flow before she even tried to push herself up from the ground.
What happened? she thought as the looked up and found the Sickle high in the sky. Several hours had passed since she left for Morty’s little home on the edge of the graveyard. High above was still an inky black. Clouds had moved in blotting out the stars and for a moment, she didn’t know where she was.
The Lone-lands. She never wanted to go back. Was it a dream? It felt so real. Aeron. She saw Aeron young and alive and suddenly she missed him dreadfully. It ate away at her and made her want to bawl for want of him. The confusion that sprung up in her mind conflicted with the certainty in her heart. Why would she feel like a limb was missing? Like she’d never see sunshine again? She must have been seeing the world through Faethril’s eyes. She shuddered at the thought.
Slowly, she pulled herself to her feet and tested her swollen ankle. She looked around and regained her bearings; she was at the gate near Ravenhold. Her own home was closer than Morty’s. She tried her best to keep her weight off her tender ankle as she slowly hobbled home still pondering the dream.
A low fog descended upon the brown lands surrounding the Eglain stronghold of Ost Guruth. The clouds hung dark as coal as they covered the grounds, stifling torches not a few feet away to faint glows like fireflies across a field. From the red pools to the east, a crimson mist rose and the norbog screamed with excited chatter. The wargs retreated from the open fields and orc and goblin trembled in their camps.
The mist rose over the stone walls of Ost Guruth. With creeping fingers, it clawed its way over the cobblestone paths seeking. . . seeking the prone form half-wrapped in a bedroll with her head resting in the pillow of her lover’s arm. Creeping across ankles, slithering beneath the heavy fog, the mist found a bare foot. . . an ankle. . . a milky calf. . . a hand. . . a neck. . . two parted lips. . .
For a brief moment, it swirled about her mouth. Tendrils of blood-red dipped into her nose, seeking entrance. As she took a breath, the mist delved between the rosy lips and filled her lungs with its malice. Her very blood served as the conduit to the physical world. . .
((Edited for tense and exposition from chat logs taken 3/30/2014))
Eirikr Tenorbekk stood at the junction between the road and the path leading up to Eruviel’s front door. He looked up toward the house as its owner came down the path. He could see the tops of the statues and the shingles on the roof. The comfy little hammock, the friendly firepit, and Anya’s rose bush were hidden by the slope down to Fountain Street. “Eruviel,” he said neutrally as she reached the street.
Eruviel offered Eirikr a curt nod as she stepped past her front gate. “Eirikr. Are you ready to depart?” The Elf wore her armour with ease and Eirikr could not help but notice how well it suited her out of the corner of his eye. He continued to stare at the roof of the house for a long moment before nodding.
“You said that Anya has chosen to live with that man who is courting her?” He tried to keep the concern from his tone.
Eruviel glanced back towards her home, the corners of her mouth twitching. “Yes. He has a spare room that she will occupy. And he will protect her, so that puts my mind at ease.”
Eirikr leveled his eyes with her face. “You trust him? He was quick to offer this ‘spare room’ to my sister. He is honorable in battle, but is he honorable in matters of the heart?” Deep in his mind, he knew he was being foolish since his sister already left for Ered Luin the day before.
Eruviel met his gaze. “I do trust him. He is honest, and I respect that, especially about Anyatka. I do worry, but more over Anya than Anric.”
Eirikr cracked a smirk and said, “You may have a point there. She seems to find trouble wherever so goes. Shall we?”
She smiled slightly, nodding in agreement. “Yes, let us depart.” He turned and mounted the steed behind him taking a moment to adjust his saddlebags. His weapons, aside from his bow, were arranged within their scabbards on the horse. He looked over as Eruviel stepped up into her own saddle, her horse patiently bearing three medium saddle bags and two spare quivers stuffed full of arrows.
Without a word, they turned their mounts toward the road and took off with a thunder of hooves. They rode hard without pause until they reached the Forsaken Inn. Eirikr looked over to his companion and asked, “Do you wish to break, or simply ride through to Ost Guruth?”
Eruviel reined in her mount, the steed circling restlessly. “Ost Guruth would be a safer place to stop at for the evening. There a few fighters from the Free People who will be riding there this evening and would offer safer passage, unless you desire to take it easy the first leg of our journey.”
Eirikr shook his head. “There will be no easy leg of our journey. We ride.” His mount reared as he thundered off down the road. Again, they rode in silence until the tall walls of Ost Guruth loomed above them. Only as they turned from the road to take the well-worn path to the stable did they slow. He sighed as he ran his hand through his hair. “We camp here for the night.” He slid down from his horse and handed the reins to the stable-master with a nod.
Eruviel slid an arrow back into its quiver, glancing back up the hill to be sure the warg hidden on the side of the road did not follow them. “I will find us some food. The healer will have beds already prepared for us.”
He gave her a look. “I should go with you,” he said evenly and leaving no room for debate. “I need to go with you.”
Eruviel arched a brow at Eirikr but merely bobbed her head at him. “Let us go, then.” Pulling a saddle bag from her horse, she smiled back at Unni, the stable-master, before heading towards the steps leading to the fortress. Eirikr grabbed his things and followed, looking around. The old keep was busy with evening preparations. The meal was being served and people were finishing their last tasks before the sun fell too low in the sky. The lithe Elf walked through the camp with an air of familiarity and stopped by the table in the building of healing. Setting her bags on the table, she nodded to Strangsig and muttered quietly. “It has been a long time since I’ve seen so many empty beds.” Shooting a small smile to Eirikr, she turned and headed back outside.
Eirikr looked around once more as he followed her out after dropping his own bag onto the floor. “That is a good thing,” he stated as he trotted behind her.
Eruviel bowed to Trumswith who stood behind a cauldron cooking on a fire. “It has been a long time, mellon! Three plates, if you please.” Eirikr raised a brow and silently counted them both: one, two. He remained silent, however, and simply watched the man spoon up the meal.
Eruviel offered the first plate of deer meat and some sort of mystery beans to Eirikr, reaching out her other hand to take the second and third. “For the healer. She has a bad habit of forgetting to eat,” she explained simply.
Eirikr raised his other brow only briefly and then smiled at her as he took his plate. “It is good of you to think of her,” he said softly. He had not taken much time to get to know Anya’s ‘systir’ on a personal level. Their many nights as a trio were usually spent eating with the women singing or playing games. They often tried to pull him in, but just as often, he resisted. He began to admire her thoughtfulness as she balanced the plates.
She rolled her shoulders, smiling. “It is the least I can do.” Inclining her head she added, “You find a place and I’ll join you in a minute.”
As she returned to the healers, he wandered about a bit with his plate until he saw the gap in the wall. He headed that way out of sheer curiosity. “Sig,” he heard her call out. “Dolle naa lost!” As he left the walls of Ost Guruth, he turned briefly to examine the skirmish camp to his right, but then his eyes landed on the reddened land below. He frowned as he stared over the tainted earth.
From the healer’s building, he heard the healer’s reply. “Lle holma ve’ edan!” the woman shouted over and there was a barking laugh from both.
He waited in the noisy silence that fell after their voices died out until he could hear her footfall behind him. “She had to go through that.” He gestured down with his left hand, his right holding the plate of food. “And you went with her. And Anricwulf.”
Eruviel skewed her mouth to one side as she chewed thoughtfully. The glimmer of a memory flashed across her eyes. Swallowing her food, she let out a small breath. “We did. It was a perilous trip, and we were lucky to have survived.”
Eirikr asked hesitantly, “Would you tell me about it? About what happened? I-I was not a good brother when she returned. I had received the letter from Ninim, and all I could see was-what happened, Eruviel? It had been enough that she was alive and rid of the spirits that plagued her.”
Eruviel stirred the food absent-mindedly around her plate as her eyes darted around the red valley below, noticing every hidden predator. “I was surprised . . . how relatively easy it was to get through to the outpost. The spirits seemed . . . almost weary. Anric paved the way, unwaivering the several times numerous dead swarmed us. It was not like Fornost at all,” she said grimly. “The red reminded me somewhat of Angmar. It was as if we sloshed through pools of blood.
“Fear first struck me when Anyatka cried out in pain from behind me. I was so caught up in keeping back the advancing enemy that I had missed one that had snuck up behind us. The foe fell to my arrow . . . we were in such a hurry since Faethril’s hold had grown so strong . . . we could have lost Anya there.” She gazes miserably down at her plate before continuing,
“Anric took the brunt of the assault as we entered the Red Maiden’s lair. The fight was a blur but I remember the fear that at any moment Faethril would take hold of Anya and either kill her or find a way to utilize the Red Maiden’s power. Then . . . then she collapsed. Thank the Valar that by that time we had been able to free the Red Maid. We were at a loss. Anric carried her back out as I took the lead back here. I . . . I think Aeron was guiding us. Faethril emerged after Anric cut the bracelet from Anya’s wrist. Unfortunately she was already lost . . . we tried to reason with her, we truly tried. She would not relent, though, and we had to end up fighting her, only winning when Anric kicked a vat of molten metal on her, killing her.”
Eirikr slowly turned to look at her. “I see why you trust him. I will not worry about Anya while we are away.” He stepped over to stand before her. “Eruviel, I must implore you one last time: go back and let me finish this alone. You have taken part in so many noble deeds – mine does not have to taint your record.”
Eruviel turned to face him, frowning. “Why do you insist I not go with you? What on this trip could possibly taint my ‘record’?”
A voice rang out from behind them and Eirikr looked up with a start. An Elf said, ‘Thought I heard voices up here. Good evening to you.’ She bowed deeply before Eruviel.
Eruviel shifted around and bowed slightly to the woman. “Suilad, arwenamin.”
The Elf said, ‘Suilad, hiril.’
Eirikr turned at the sound of the new voice and shot Eruviel a look. He looked the Elf up and down.
The Elf said, ‘A cloudy night…no stars.’
Eruviel gave the Eldar a thoughtful nod. “Stars are a treat when one camps near the Red Pass.”
Eirikr looked up and swallowed. It figured something like that would interrupt them. He knew the further they got from Bree-lands, the harder it would be to persuade Eruviel from accompanying him. He glanced down at the plate of cold food and picked up a hunk of meat from it with his fingers. He ate it automatically as he looked on the new Elf.
She looked at the man curiously and spoke in Sindarin, saying “What brings thee to this desolate land?”
Eirikr answered in Sindarin with a smirk, “Travel, of course. You?” His time as a trader in Dale gave him a good understanding of many languages and he was proud of his command of the Elvish tongue.
The Elf lapsed into Sindarin, glad to not have to intone the endless epiglottal stops of Westron. “I am here to look into the state of affairs.”
Eirikr continued to eat slowly, rarely raising his eyes. “Since when has it been an Elf’s duty to look into the state of affairs of the Eglain?”
At almost the same moment, Eruviel responded in the same tongue, “The men of Ost Guruth were very kind to offer us shelter. It is good to know there are others who keep watch in these lands.” She arched a brow at her human friend, but mantained her calm demeanor.
The Elf regarded Eirikr coolly. “I am come out of Mithlond. It has become plain that the great road is no longer safe. I and many others beside me have come to lend what aid we may to the peoples between the sea and the moutains
Eirikr finished the food and finally looked up at the Elf. “How thoughtful.” He tossed the plate aside and turned around to face the Circle of Blood. He jammed the head of his spear into the earth and sank down beside it. He continued to stare over the land, leaning on the spear.
The new Elf glanced quizzically to Eruviel.
Eruviel rolled her eyes slightly, inclining her head apologetically. “I originally hail from Forlindon. I have only seen our kin from Rivendell patrol the East Road of late. I have not been back to see about affairs in the western lands in some time.”
The Elf looked solemn, seeming worried she had breached some cultural taboo and hurt the man’s feelings. “Though our people have long looked only West, the war that is coming will snuff out all of us separately if we do not stand all as one.”
Eirikr pulled out a fishing hook and some feathers and line. With deft fingers, he began making a lure.
Eruviel smiled warmly. “Forgive me, valiant one, you had interrupted my friend’s . . . argument with your arrival. He and I have a debate to settle as I take part in my own meal. But I thank you. It is a light to my heart hearing another Eldar speak in a like-mind to mine.”
The Elf smiled. “More of us all the time. They’ve started complaining of elves cluttering up the roads in Bree.”
Eirikr continued to tie the lure, stifling a yawn.
Eruviel chuckled. “I would say that the Adan should be grateful, but I fear it is only a sign that the days continue to darken.” She bowed deeply before her kindred.
The Elf returned her bow and shrugged lightly. “They can be grateful once we’ve won. Until then, I understand how they wonder why we have been so long invisible.”
Not seeing an end to the idle banter between the Eldar, Eirikr climbed to his feet and nodded curtly to the Elf. To Eruviel, he said, “I am turning in for the night. We ride at dawn.”
The Elf said, ‘I am Gilrayen of Mithlond. If I may be of help to thee, you have but to leave message for me with Radagast.’
Eruviel pursed her lips, giving the man long look. “Very well, mellon. I expect an answer to my query in the morning.”
Eirikr looked at Eru for a moment and nodded. Then he offered to Gilrayen, “Eirikr Tenorbekk of Dale. Pleasure.” He headed back to his bed for the night. As he walked away, he heard Eruviel’s voice brighten as they traded introductions and he sighed heavily. Sinking down onto a bedroll, he stared up at the stone ceiling. He never had that natural ability to connect with someone and he always felt like the facade was too big of a burden. He envied Eruviel’s affable nature. Perhaps if he had such abilities he could have settled into the role of his father’s apprentice and satisfied the man’s need for power and legacy.
He rolled over with a grunt. Useless thoughts, he told himself but he continued to stare at the cold stones for a long time before sleep came.
Anyatka nods and manages a smile. “Yes. It is three. I tend to be rather demanding; I apologize.” She swallows at her mention of her appearance. “Sleep will come,” she says softly. “I will spread word of your flowers. Do take care, Esthyr. He loves you very much.” With that, she curtsies and turns to leave.
Eruviel nods to Anyatka. “Are you ready, oselle?”
Esthyr calls after her, “People tell me that, too. Tell them you aren’t demanding; you just know what you want!”
Anyatka looks ahead and nods to Eruviel. She smiles at Esthyr’s parting words and actually chuckles.
Anya sat astride her horse – her horse, not a rental – and took a deep breath. They rode at a leisurely pace, which suited her just well. She suppressed the feeling that she would never see Bree again as they passed the Yellow Tree and she could not help looking back.
Eruviel rode slightly behind her and caught her backward glance. She offered her friend a small smile and turned to face forward again. One hand gripped the reins and the other held the stems of the five lily-of-the-valleys she bought from Esthyr Mossfoot. She spent the three silver on the five blossoms mere moments before she left the Pony, sneaking out through the kitchens as if to avoid anyone she might know. She had asked Miss Esthyr to take care of herself. She told her she wanted to get to know her better. She asked if she would say hello to her father for her.
Because I may never be able to again.
She pushed the thought from her mind. Focus and determination, Eirikr had said. Instead of a pretty young girl with pure white flowers contrasting her dark attire, she pictured her brother as they rode away from the familiar lands surrounding Bree. He walked them to the edge of the homesteads, his arm in a sling. When they reached the gate, he had looked down on her for the longest time just holding her shoulders as if to keep her there. She had looked down. Still she felt his gaze on her and finally he pulled her into a tight embrace.
“I love you, Anyakta. You are in good hands. Eruviel will bring you home.”
Turning in her saddle, she looked back at Eruviel again. Her “sister,” to whom she owed so much. Who, despite injuries that plagued her far worse than she let on, still rode into certain battle with Anya. Her gaze shifted to Anricwulf. The Bardian was more than welcome in her small company. She couldn’t help but think about the danger each was willing to put themselves in just to try to save her.
Her thoughts drifted north to where Canderas had been called back to duty. Their parting had been bittersweet and brief. He took his duty seriously though he swore he wished he could accompany her to the Circle of Blood. Torlach, despite his promise to see things through to the end, had declined accompanying them. Anya struggled with her thoughts and feelings about his decision. His wife demanded his attentions and family first, and Anya knew that it was the way it should be. Still, she felt a cold fear without him by her side. He had been there from the start, from the first glimpse he had of the bracelet to the release of Aeron at Fornost. They should have pushed back their journey until he could have gone. Without him, would they survive?
Anricwulf rode slightly behind as they left the shelter of the Southern Chetwood. As the road passed through the southernmost tips of the Midgewater Marshes, he said, “Do we have a more straightforward plan this time? Or simply go inside and see what happens?”
Anya sighed. “I hope to learn more as we go.”
However, beside him, Eruviel smirked slightly. “We do, thank the Valar. But I feel it safer not to elaborate till we get there . . . For Anya’s sake more than ours.”
Anricwulf said, “Very well.” He took his spear and began to sharpen it.
Anya turned in the saddle to look back at them. “Eruviel, what?”
Eruviel thought for a moment, then asked, “How well have you been managing her– the spirit?”
Anya ran the tip of her tongue over her lip. “While at the house…it was almost as if she wasn’t there. Eirikr and I spent most of our time catching up, drawing. That sort of thing. But since leaving…” her voice was strained.
Anricwulf spoke up. “Garth Agarwen…that’s where we’re headed, is it not?”
Eruviel looked back to him. “Yes, that is whre we are headed.” She then nodded, as if Anya answered her own question. “I keep that house in the state of an elf haven. I should not be too surprised that she did not emerge there. But I do not want to risk her taking control of you so early in our journey.”
Anya looked down the road. “We should make haste through the Lone-lands,” she says quietly.
Anricwulf fell silent again, still sharpening his spear. After a pause, he said, “I’ve been in those ruins many times…And I agree.”
She knew full well what would happen if Faethril heard the intentions of the party. So far, she had been able to keep things separate and shut her out of her private thoughts. But as they drew closer to Faethril’s homelands, Anya began to feel her presence growing like a shadow in her mind. It was a relief when they passed the Forsaken Inn and broke into a hard gallop because she had to concentrate on staying in the saddle. As she focused on the rhythm of the hoof beats, she could not feel the shadow swallow her whole.
They rode into Ost Guruth three abreast.
“Our goal,” said Eruviel as they surveyed the Eglain that lived so beset on all sides by foe, “I will now tell you, is to clear the land past the Rest Pass of the fell spirits. Once the land has been cleansed, Fae should be expelled from Anya.”
Anricwulf scoffed. “All the spirits? For good?”
Eruviel looked to Anya. “If we can,” she said softly.
Anricwulf said, “Then you are a fool. Those lands are as dark as a moonless night. We may drive some of the spirits away for a time, but there is nothing that can cleanse those lands of all the evil.”
Anya suddenly stiffened, her eyes rolling up. She slumped forward a moment over the horse’s muscular neck and and her fists tightened around the reins. “No…” she groaned through clenched teeth She sat up, eyes shooting open and jet black. “No!” Her steed cried out and reared, throwing her backwards. She landed on her back but sprung to her hands and knees.
Anricwulf looked to Anya, unsure of what was going on.
Eruviel shot him a cold look. “We will do what we can . . . and what we must.” Seeing Anya fall she pulled a decent amount of elvish rope from her saddle bag. “Oselle?”
Anya pushed up into a low crouch and took a step back. Her voice hissed out high and clear. “Give it to him – he needs it!”
Eruviel opened her mouth to respond, shut it, then sat up straight. “Aeron is gone, broken one. He has passed to an eternity of peace you deprived him of.” Her expression softened. “You can still join him, Faethril, if you let us help you.”
Anyatka hissed and an inhuman scream came from her. “You lie!” She turned toward the entrance to make a break for it.
Anricwulf rode after her, taking his blunt end of his spear and aiming for a knockout blow.
Eruviel jumped off her horse, pulling the small pouch out from her armour. “You want this?! It is broken, Faethril. We were in Fornost a week ago and set him free. Do you not love him any more? He hopes for your redemption!”
Anyatka screamed loudly and lunged for Eruviel. Unfortunately – or fortunately – Anricwulf landed his blow. She fell forward in a heap.
Anricwulf slid off Fjall. “This should keep her calm until we get to the ruins. I suggest you help me get her onto my goat; I’d like to be inside before she comes to.”
Eruviel sucked in a deep breath, stuffing the pouch back into its hiding place and giving Anric a sad but thankful smile. “That would be ideal.” She moved to take one of Anya’s arms, grimacing slightly as she stooped low.
Anricwulf took Anya’s other arm, and lifted to drape the lass across Fjall’s saddle in the back. Anya was just a sack of unconscious potatoes.
Eruviel took her rope and offered it to Anric. “If you think this would help . . .”
Anricwulf said, “If you wish to restrain her arms and legs you are welcome to. I’ve no intention of lashing anyone to Fjall. She’s a sturdy goat; no fear of her falling off.”
Eruviel noded slightly, her eyes moistening slightly as she bound Anya’s arms and then her feet together.
Keeping a hand on Anya for extra stability, Anricwulf said, “Let’s be off.”
Together, the two started for the Red Pass to put an end to it, once and for all. Anya regained consciousness shortly after entering Garth Agarwen; they loosed her feet but kept her hands tied as her eyes flashed with Faethril’s darkness. They fought their way through the outlying Créoth camps, Anric leading the way. His time spent in the Lone-lands served them well. They searched the ruins and red pools until they found it: the remnants of an alter and a secret ritual still carried out by the evil men.
The battle for the sacred site raged epically until the corruption was put to a stop. When the last Créoth fell, Eruviel gasped for breath, looking to ensure Anya was whole. She saw Anya fall into the darkened water, submerged. Her body flailed for a moment and then stilled. Anricwulf knelt before Anya, checking for vitals, as Eruviel dropped to her knees, pulling Anya’s head above the surface.
She looked up to Anric. “Is she . . . .”‘
Below the water, the bracelet around Anya’s wrist glowed hotly.
Anricwulf said, “No…her pulse is weak, but it’s still there…” He noticed the bracelet and lifted Anya’s arm out of the water to have a closer look.
Eruviel swallowed, her eye catching the glint of the bracelet. “Will you hold her up? I will attempt to remove it.”
Anricwulf nodded, sat in the water and hoisted Anya’s body onto his lap.
The bracelet burned brightly, the little blue jewel darkening to black. Anya’s wrist, which never was burned before, started to redden around its edges.
Eruviel reached over, bracing herself, and attempted to undo the clasp. As she tried, Anricwulf took handfuls of water and poured it over Anya’s wrist, trying to cool the bracelet and the burn on her wrist. It didn’t budge; it was if there was no end nor beginning: the bracelet was whole and seamless, grown tightly around Anya’s limb as Faethril had grown in power. The water seemed to help ease the burn though she remained unconscious.
A voice on the wind could barely be heard, masculine and deep. “Ost Guruth…take her home…”
Anricwulf blinked. “I’m not the only one who heard that, right?”
Eruviel pulled back and rose to her feet. “Anric, would you mind carrying her as we leave this place?”
He nodded. “If you’ll help her onto my back.” He knelt down to make it easier to get Anya onto his back.
Eruviel bobbed her head, lifting the soaked woman and placing her arms over Anric’s shoulders. “I will pave the way back.”
Back in Ost Guruth, they took Anya to the metalsmith. He loaned them some sheers and Anric dug out his jeweler’s tools. As they examined the cooled bracelet, they noticed it had loosened: it would turn around her wrist but they were still unable to slip it over her hand.
Anricwulf took out a hand clamp, seeing if he can fit it between the bracelet and her wrist. Suddenly, Anya jerked as if her body was trying to get away from the clamp. Eruviel sat by Anya and pulled the woman onto her lap to better hold her still. Anricwulf fiddled his hand clamp between Anya’s wrist and the bracelet. He gave the clamp a squeeze, trying to work the spot on the bracelet thinner so the shears had less metal to cut through. Once he was satisfied with the thinning process, he worked the shears under the bracelet and squeezed to cut the bracelet off. Eruviel watched the man work, holding Anya down to prevent her from getting hurt.
Anyatka started to thrash and jerk as if the bracelet knew its time had come. A scream was rent from her as Eruviel held her still as best she could. The Elf struggled to hold Anya down, setting her jaw and whispering encouragements in Anya’s ear.
Anricwulf squeezed harder, forcing the shear blades through the metal with brute force. As the bracelet is destroyed, her scream echoed off the broken stone walls. A cold wind rushed through the compound and a figure emerged.
Eruviel’s eyes darted to Anric, then up to the figure suddenly standing beside them.
Anricwulf looked up at the figure, dropping the shears and reaching for his spear.
Faethril shimmered near Anya’s prone form. She stared at them for a minute, her cool blue eyes wondering.
Eruviel reached out her hand to Anric. “Who . . . Is it you?” she asked, frowning up at the female spectre.
Faethril turned her head to look at Eruviel. “You? Who?”
Anricwulf lowered his spear in order to avoid provoking whomever it is that has appeared in front of them.
Eruviel swallowed a little. “You must be Faethril. I am Eruviel. We’ve — spoken before.”
Anyatka moaned softly.
Faethril nodded. “I am Faethril. We have spoken? Who are you?” Her eyes roamed to each of them.
Eruviel brushed her hand softly over Anya’s forehead that still rested in her lap. “I am the elf Eruviel Aranduin. The gentleman is Anricwulf, and the lady you just emerged from is Anyatka Tenorbrook.” She hesitated before continuing. “We were friends of your husband’s. He sent us to see to your well-being.” She watched Faethril carefully.
Faethril looked around. “You know Aeron? Howso…did you serve at Fornost with him?” She noted Anya’s condition. “Is she all right?”
Anricwulf looked to the elf, wondering how much they should speak of, and how much of the truth they should bring up.
Eruviel sighed sadly. “I did not, though I suppose my brother did.” She paused before continuing on more confidently. “You were within her, Faethril. This year is far past your time. The last time I saw Aeron, he was a shade as you are, rising from Anya, telling us how to . . . how to save the two of you.” She shrugged her shoulders at Anric. She added, “He wanted us to save you so that you could join him, my friend.”
Anricwulf nodded enthusiastically, deciding not to speak to avoid saying the wrong thing.
Faethril ‘s eyes widened and she looked around her again as if seeing for the first time. “Sa-save me…join him…he…he’s dead?” She shade began to solidify and her blue eyes started to blacken. “No…no, it cannot be…”
Eruviel carefully set Anya’s head down to the ground and stood, offering a kind hand and sad look to the woman. “Why are you so filled with fear and anger? He was . . and is a brave man who wants the best for you. My friend, there is a far better place beyond us where you will never be parted. You need only accept that beautiful truth. Even I envy men their eternity with Iluvatar.”
Faethril shook her head as she backs away from Eruviel. “No…those are lies…no one knows…where is it…it will save him…” Her voice took on a feral tone and her hands clenched into claws. “No…he needs it…”
Anricwulf said, “Faethril…do not believe the darkness. Your beloved has found peace, and wishes for you to find the same peace. Let the sadness leave you, and he will guide you to happiness…”
Eruviel turned her head so that Faethril can see the still-red claw marks that showed along her jaw. “You are better than this, mellon. You are stronger than to give into despair.”
Faethril continued to shake her head. She doubled upon herself, holding her head. “No! The necklace will save him! It will unite with the bangle and save him!” She reached for her wrist and screamed when the bracelet was not there. “Where is it?!”
Anricwulf looked to Eruviel, unsure of what necklace she speaks of.
Eruviel turned and nodded to Anric, mouthing “the bracelet” to him as she reached a hand beneath her armour to once again pull out the pouch, undoing the leather ties. At her feet, Anyatka looked pale in the moonlight.
Anricwulf slipped Eruviel the bracelet as stealthy as he could manage.
Eruviel looked up in attempt to meet Faethril’s eyes. “Did you love him so little as to think binding him to darkness would help? You should have trusted Aeron, my lost friend.” She carefully dropped the broken necklace into her other palm.
Faethril turned to Eruviel. “YOU!” More corporeal now than ghost, she lunged toward Eruviel to reclaim her tokens. Eruviel braced herself, a ruined token in each hand. Anricwulf moved forward, shield up to try and keep the spectre away from Eruviel. The dead woman lashed out at Anricwulf with her right hand to knock him away.
Anricwulf took the hit with his shield, but was ultimately knocked to the ground.
Eruviel ‘s eyes darted to the molten metal by the forge. “Faethril, please, stop this!”
Faethril leaped to land on Anric as her focus was taken by his block attempt.
Anricwulf groaned, still stunned by the power the spectre had behind her attacks, unable to defend himself.
Eruviel lunged forward, knocking Faethril off of Anric. Faethril was thrown backward from the impact. She landed hard on the ground with an oof. Raising her fist, she brought it up toward Eruviel’s head. Eruviel took the punch across the face, stumbling back but able to keep her footing.
Anyatka slowly rolled to her side, moaning.
Faethril lept to her feet and moved to rugby tackle the Elf. “Give them to me!”
Anricwulf staggered to his feet, trying to determine if attacking is a good idea.
Eruviel smoothly dodged to the side, tripping Faethril. Dodging away she stopped beside the vat of molten metal. “Faethril, they are both broken! You are a hundred years too late!”
Anyatka pushed herself to her feet, groaning. “What is happening?” she muttered.
Eruviel extended an arm to Anya, the broken end of the bracelet peeking out of her fist. “Oselle, stay back!”
Faethril fell into a heap, dust flying up all around her. She looked up at Eruviel and screamed incoherently, an unnatural sound, as she reached in vain for the jewelry.
Anyatka stepped back, still unfocused and looking startled.
Eruviel jerked her head, motioning for Anric to take the jewelry. “If she does not stop, drop them both into the vat.” She handed him the tokens and began to step towards Faethril.
Anricwulf nodded, took the jewelry and stood by the vat of molten metal.
Faethril shouted, “No!” and attempted to climb to her feet again. She would not stop unless they are joined or destroyed.
Anricwulf noticed the movement and went to drop the jewelry into the vat.
Faethril gained her feet and launched herself toward Anricwulf. She slammed into him, knocking the gems from his hand. He lost his grip on the pieces of jewelry and Faethril snatched the gems as they tumbled toward the vat.
Anya called out, “Anric!”
Anricwulf stumbled back. Acting quickly, he screamed ”MOVE!” and kicked the vat of molten metal at Faethril.
Eruviel whirled around and lept away just in time.
Faethril screamed, this time in pain, as the magma and miasma of the molten metal covered her. The jewelry was coated in the hot plasma. They were destroyed, melting beneath the heat, and Faethril lost substance. As the gems in each piece burst, her face took on a serenity and then, she was gone. In that moment, Anya fell to her knees as if struck.
Anricwulf scampered to his feet to avoid any of the molten metal he just splashed at the spectre. Regaining his composure and dusting himself off, he nodded satisfied at the results.
Eruviel turned to shield Anya in case there were to be any sparks or metal flung their way. “Anya!” She cried out before glancing back to make sure Anric was alright.
Anricwulf said, “Well, that worked out well.”
Anyatka had fallen forward to her hands and stared at the dirt. “They’re…she’s gone.”
Eruviel nodded to the man, “That was quick thinking on your part, mellon. I am in your debt.” She then placed a hand softly on Anya’s back. “How do you feel, oselle?”
Anyatka looked up at her. Her gaze slowly shifted to Anricwulf. “I…I feel so light.” She curled her legs beneath herself to sit. Rubbing her hands to dust them off, she addded, “Are you two all right?”
Anricwulf cracked his neck. “I may be a lousy shot with a bow, but I can throw or kick anything towards a target.”
Eruviel let out a sigh of relief. “That was an expert kick, Anric.” Smiling down at Anya, she shook her head. “I am unscathed, Anyatka.”
Anricwulf said, “Always happy to help.”
Anyatka nodded in relief. She, on the other hand, felt a sharp pain down her back and her cloak was ripped. She winced and slowly climbed to her feet, mud clinging to her clothes.
Anricwulf said, “So…I suppose our quest is done then?” He moved towards the group, the metal sufficiently cooled to walk over.
Eruviel nodded to the man. “I do believe so . . .” her voice trails off as she sees Anya wince. “What is it?”
Anyatka nodded to Anric. “I think so…” She looked at Eruviel and shook her head. “It’s nothing. A blade caught me, but I am fine.”
Eruviel frowned rather darkly. “What blade — where are you hurt.” She then smirked. “You do not let me off the hook so easily when I am injured.”
Anricwulf said, “I’ll go get some help.” He headed toward the infirmary to seek a healer.
Anyatka nodded and said, “One of the men…I shall be fine.”
Eruviel did not look convinced. “We will find you a healer. And I want to know when you got the wound. Was it when we were beyond the Red Pass?”
Anyatka nodded. “I didn’t see it coming and it just caught my back.”
As the healers of Ost Guruth worked to sew Anya’s back shut, Eruviel sat beside her, holding her hand. Anric stood watch with the guard for a long time that night, and for the first time in an age, Anya slept peacefully. In her bag, the delicate bell flowers waited. Despite their delicateness, their tiny blossoms survived.