Dead Girl’s Party
Authors Note : I don't own any of the characters of BtVS etc.
As far as the eye could see in every direction were the pale grey trunks of trees ascending into the canopy that blocked out virtually all the light from the mid-day sun. All that was left was a strange green light that filtered through the ceiling of the forest to light the baron ground below.
For just over two hours the gaunt blonde form struggled forward through the trees, her despair settling over her to a greater extent with each passing mile. Every part of the forest looked the same; smelt the same. It was impossible to tell if one were going in circles, had made progress, or had simply stood still.
With a nervous movement she swept a couple of dank strands of her short hair out of her face. Her ears were different: more pointed and sensitive than she remembered them feeling, but without a mirror she could check to tell.
A panicked look around to try and see if she recognised anything, and she was once again off. She took care with where she stepped, less she fell flat on her face thanks to the wicked looking roots that writhed all over the ground. There was life in the trees – from time to time she could catch a glimpse of something moving in the branches, only to look back and see nothing at all.
At last she stopped and looked around again. She was breathing hard and half lent over to catch her breath. It was still impossible for her to tell if she had made progress. With a frustrated sigh she sat down on a particular large root and tried to think of a way out of this mess. The only problem was though, that ideas were not particularly coming thick and fast.
The forest was not good – that much she was sure of. It had an uneasy quiet about it. The leaves in the upper canopy made a soft rustling sound as the breeze rustled them, but down on the ground the air didn’t move and it was stifling. The animals seemed distrustful, as if afraid to show themselves. But more than that, there seemed to be a watchfulness about the place; as if someone or something were studying everything that moved.
It made the hair on the back of her neck feel like it was standing on end, and it was the same feeling as she had felt a couple of times before. As if she was being examined: watched. The sensation made her want to run, but she’d been doing that since mid-day and now the light was starting to dwindle. Running hadn’t done her any good.
She would have to stand and face it. Not like she hadn’t done that before. Not like she hadn’t been weak and tired when she’d done it either. The only problem was that she was so tired. If only she could get a little sleep, perhaps she would have the strength to fight. Food and water would have to wait – she could manage for the time being.
It was only a feeling, but she could sense a danger approaching. She knew it would be cavalier to disregard that feeling – but if she didn’t rest soon she would be no better off than if she forced herself to stay awake. The heat didn’t help her cause either, and soon she had drifted off into a dreamless sleep. The girls head was slumped forward, strands of blonde hair falling from behind her ears, and she dozed where she sat.
Eyes peeked over the boughs above her to watch the strange creature that was walking through their domain. The eyes disappeared as quickly as they had appeared with a sound of three goblins marching to where the girl sat - their boots making a terrible racket, and their metal armour clunking and clicking.
Still she slept on, seemingly oblivious to her danger.
The largest goblin walked up carelessly to her. His small rotten teeth showing as he grinned evilly at the feeble creature before him. With a swift swing of his club he had hit her around the side of the head and she collapsed from where she had been dozing.
“Bring her!” he ordered his two smaller goblins in his own fowl tongue.
“She would be a tasty morsel,” One of the smaller goblins argued, eyeing her flesh with a hungry glint in his eye. The other smaller goblin squeezed the flesh on her arm between his fingers, and his hungry eyes roamed over her strange clothes.
“Not for you. He wants her for questioning.” The main goblin told them, moving closer so as to be able to intervene if needed.
“And what a waste – she will rot and we will go hungry!” The goblin argued back.
“Better hungry than dead,” the lead goblin barked at them. He grabbed the girl under the arm and started to drag her off, her feet dragging carelessly on the ground, bumping over the roots below.* * *
In a circular grand room, made from white stone as if carved from the earth itself, two men stared at each other. One clad in white sat on a throne also made of white stone – his eyes though glistened with a brilliant blackness. Another old man dressed in a drab grey robe stood before him. Their positions well rehearsed, they spoke with a false politeness that hid how times had changed around them.
“Saruman, the Necromancer in Mirkwood continues to draw the dark things to him. This cannot be allowed to continue!” The figure glad in drab grey argued.
Saruman the Whites eyes seemed to narrow for a moment, before he responded. “Indeed Gandalf, the reports are most grievous.”
“So you agree?” Gandalf asked, not looking directly at the man who considered himself his better.
“I did not say that, old friend. The time has not yet come for us to challenge Dol Guldar.” Saruman said, his voice pleading and soft.
“I say we act now before it is too late,” Gandalf countered.
“Indeed, and so you have before. Our place is not to interfere, merely to guide. You overstep our mark, I warn you.” Saruman said carefully.
“This necromancer, I fear, is not as bound to that ideal,” Gandalf countered. He knew the argument was pointless. This was the same argument he had put forward on a previous five occasions, and on all five occasions the argument was won by Saruman.
“I understand your desire to help those we guide,” Saruman continued, “I too feel the pain of watching those around us suffer and endure the woes thrown at them by this world, but we cannot directly intervene – so it has always been, you know this to be true.”
“I do,” Gandalf grumbled.
“I am glad. To use our abilities against those under our care would only serve to be our downfall. Maybe not to begin with, but eventually – you have said so yourself.” Saruman argued.
“And if the master of Dol Guldar is one of us?” Gandalf challenged, careful to avoid the beady eyes of Saruman. For a moment, just a moment, the glacial façade put on by Saruman crumbled, and he looked annoyed.
“I sincerely doubt that to be the case; and, even if it were, he would be capable of but a little malice since his power was lost.” Saruman countered, his demeanour returning.
“So you don’t rule it out?” Gandalf asked, his interest peaked. Saruman had always historically denied there was even a possibility of Sauron having returned.
“I have thought long on our last conversation, to continue to rule out the possibility that he has found a way back from the jaws of the abyss would be foolish.” Saruman observed that his grey friend looked pleased at this admission. “It would, however, be for the council to decide if he has indeed returned. Without any evidence of this return it would be a hard case to make.”
“If there is a chance though, should we not take action?” Gandalf argued.
“You tread a dangerous path, my friend. One I fear if we were to follow we could not easily return from.” Saruman said, an air of pleading in his voice.
Gandalf seemed to think for a moment, and the white wizard in front of him watched him thinking. What Saruman would give to be able to read thoughts!
“I shall heed your counsel, and present what little evidence I have at the next meeting of the white council.” Gandalf said, his head bowed in a show of respect.
“Yes, my friend.” Saruman agreed. “That is the wise course of action.”* * *
The first sensation that she was aware of was a violent burning feeling in the back of her throat. She gagged, but there was nothing for her to bring up. Her eyes opened and darted around the room, focusing almost instantly to the dark.
Everything else in the room was seconded by the man standing in front of her, if she could exactly call him a man. He gave her that same tingling feeling at the back of her neck that she had felt earlier in the wood. Apart from now she knew it was from him, and it was making her skin crawl. Her eyes were drawn to his, to find only fires burning behind the metal helm he wore.
She hadn’t felt this fear and thrill of adrenalin in a long time. Her body was weak, but her mind had no problem processing what her eyes saw. Just by him standing there everything else seemed to fall away into the background. Her eyes flicked around to assess the room and her surroundings, before returning to him. If the other three men, door and table were anything to go on she would guess he was some kind of giant.
“You have a name?” he asked, his voice harsh and rasping. She mused that most would probably find it intimidating.
“Yes,” she confirmed, keeping her voice perfectly level. She made the mistake of looking into his eyes and couldn’t help the immature part of her from trying to stare him down – not that you could really stare someone, or think, with two fiery pits for eyes.
“And that would be?” Sauron eventually asked.
“Buffy Summers,” Buffy confirmed, her eyes glancing around the room again. His accomplices didn’t seem interested in getting involved and hung back.
“Why do you walk in my land?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know…” Buffy tried to apologise. She hadn’t known it was his ‘land’, as he put it.
“Why?” He asked again. Buffy’s gaze once again drifted to his eyes. He was evil, of that she was in no doubt.
“I’m lost, and I really am very sorry,” she told him quietly: there was no need to provoke him unnecessarily.
“Yes, you are,” he confirmed before turning to the three shadows behind him. “Take her away,” He ordered before marching out.
Two of the shadowy figures followed him, leaving a third behind to ‘take her away’ to wherever it was she was supposed to be going. He seemed to observe her for a good minute before doing anything. Buffy could see his pinched features – so drawn and narrow. She flinched involuntarily at a slight flick of his wrist, and found her bonds released.
“Follow me,” he told her in a thin high voice. She would have been tempted to describe it as a ghostly whisper.
“Yes,” she confirmed, nodding her head slightly. She had a chance to quickly glance over her clothes. Still the same jeans, t-shirt and jacket she had been wearing before – but they were a lot dirtier than a few days earlier – and she needed a bath.
“You are a prisoner,” he needlessly informed her, before turning and not needing to look to check she was following.
They wound their way along the cold stone corridor. Buffy followed him silently for a number of turns and flights of stairs, all the time descending. The temptation to assault him was high, but the two black clad men behind her put her off that idea, that and her complete lack of actual physical strength.
It had been a mistake, Buffy realised a little too late, trying to take on what she assumed was a hell mouth in northern Russia by herself. There was something supernatural in Tiksi, that explained it setting off her senses, but she hadn’t listened when Willow and the rest of the coven had told her it categorically was not a hell mouth. Not that she listened to anyone much these days.
She was forced to stop her line of thought when the shadow came to a stop outside a heavy wood door with two iron bolts on it. The creatures behind her stepped forward and pulled the bolts back.
“Enjoy your stay Miss Summers,” the shadow’s hoarse voice laughed.
She had no choice but to enter the cell.
The door slammed behind her, and she scanned the room. It was fairly large as far as cells go. There seemed to be a lot of dirty straw thrown about the place, and a high narrow window with bars blocked the way out.
“Zinĭ” Buffy’s head shot around as a gruff voice came from the corner of the room. She could see something – rather, someone – slumped against the far wall. He was short, even by her standards.
“Pardon?” Buffy queried, not quite catching what had been said. She took a step closer as he grumbled under his breath.
“Girl!” he rumbled.
“Yes?!” Buffy replied, annoyance creeping into her voice. The man was definitely short, and was very hairy. He looked old, if the amount of grey in his hair and beard were anything to go by. Also, he had an eye missing, and where his eye should have been there was just a sore looking wound. It reminded Buffy of what happened to Xander.
He laughed for a moment, before his laughter descended into a hacking cough that he took some time to recover from. Buffy looked around, not quite sure what to do until he finished coughing. After that he didn’t seem disposed to talk to her so Buffy chose to crouch against the wall near the door – along the same wall as her cellmate.
For a time Buffy just squatted and cast the occasional furtive glance towards her strange room mate. He, on the other hand, had shut his eyes and seemed completely uninterested in her.
Unfortunately, the call of nature came to Buffy and she had to go. The only problem was she wasn’t quite sure where to go. Well, she figured since she was sharing a cell with this man, she had better ask him – no point in needlessly upsetting him.
“Excuse me,” Buffy said, standing off to the side slightly.
He grunted in response, opening his eyes and looking at her with furrowed brows.
“I need to go…” Buffy started to tell him, feeling self conscious at having to admit to her bodily needs.
“No one has ever left,” he told her grimly.
“No! I mean, I guessed that, but I need to… you know…” Buffy tried to explain, she could see he wasn’t getting her. “Shit.”
He simply pointed to a corner of the cell, an expression threatened to flicker across his face. Buffy tried to smile at him, before making her way over there. It was a board in the floor – which, on removal, she found was little more than a drain out the room. Buffy looked back at the old man and he was still blatantly staring at her.
“It’s rude to stare,” Buffy told him, trying to sound stern. She waited for him to look away, which he most un-cooperatively didn’t do. After a minute of waiting the need to go outweighed the gross out factor of being watched, so she got on with her business, before returning to where she had crouched before.
Neither of them talked for some time.
“When do we get fed?” Buffy asked, trying to spark up a conversation.
“Every second day,” he told her. This time he didn’t bother looking up. If he had he would have noticed Buffy looking appalled. In her eyes, this kind of treatment was barbaric.
“How did he catch you?” he asked. It was the first time he had shown any interest in her whatsoever.
Buffy thought about how the new watchers council had spent years closing down every hell mouth and major demon operation across the world. It had taken them nearly ten years, but the demons at last were going to be a thing of the past.
Then she got this damn freaky dream about some place that looked cold and northern. A dream that didn’t go away, and in the end was graphic enough that she could figure out it was a place called Tiksi, which turned out was in northern Russia. Only problem was it was definitely one of those prophetic type dreams, and it never did to ignore them.
She had spoken to Willow about it – albeit briefly – who had thought her going was a bad idea. There were no signs of a hell mouth or other demonic activity, so the red head had reasoned it had to be something else. Still, Buffy had been working on her own for a long time: part of the reason why the new council paid her so well. She didn’t need the New Council rubber stamp to take a vacation.
So, she had take a flight to Moscow, and then a train further north. The only problem was after getting off at the closest station she found that her pockets were empty. This led her to have to take a forty mile walk through a country that boasted permafrost.
It wasn’t so much cold as freezing: literally. Buffy hadn’t packed for the journey, and only had on the shirt, jeans and jacket she wore. They were completely inadequate for the whether. It was like wearing an Eskimo coat in California. The only choice was to run.
Even running she could feel her fingers lose sensation. Her face felt numb. It took six hours of intermittent running and walking to reach Tiksi. Then, it was as she had remembered in her dream: the drab concrete buildings daubed with gaudy paint to try and improve their look. One of the buildings still had a hammer and sickle on it.
Making her way inside one of the housing tenements she walked up the stairs to the second floor. Apartment 201b was easy enough to find. A quick kick to the door, and the thin structure gave way. One minute later a man rushed into the hall – one she recognised all to well.
Why Ethan Rayne was still trying to practice the dark magics, Buffy didn’t know, and in truth didn’t really care. It was actually kind of pathetic that he was still trying to be the rebel when he was well past pensionable age. Any other respectable pensioner settled for a nice home is Somerset – not Rayne though.
Rayne had been talkative right up to the point where the manipulative bastard had gotten her to where he had wanted her. Then, he hit her with something, and she was out cold.
And, when she woke up she found herself in a grove of trees. Only a lot of running had proven to her it was a bit bigger than a grove or wood. The problem with that though was six hours of running in the freezing cold, being zonked by Rayne, then another six or so hours of running in that stifling forest had left her weakened and tired.
“I got lost. In the forest.” Buffy eventually explained to her slouched cell mate.
“Careless,” he growled.
Buffy considered a smart ass response, but bit it back. “How did he catch you?”
“I don’t remember,” he told her flatly.
Silence rained supreme once more. Buffy didn’t have anything to talk to him about, and seemingly he didn’t want to talk to her. As much as she didn’t trust the strange man she shared a cell with, the days events and shadowy twilight that settled in her prison caused her to drift off to sleep.
A rattle at the door jolted Buffy awake and she could see the man eyeing her cautiously. She returned her gaze to the door and could see that a tray, of sorts, had been left just inside. Getting up she walked over to the door and picked the tray up before making her way over to the man.
“What are you doing?” he asked her. He seemed to notice something about her, and a frown settled on his face.
“We share,” Buffy told him in a tone not to be argued with. The contents of the platter weren’t much to fight about anyway: a rather stale looking piece of bread and something grey and lumpy.
“First I heard an elf share anything with a dwarf,” he told her, muttering into his beard.
Buffy looked confused for a moment, and blurted out before she could stop herself, “A what with a who?”
The short man looked at the contents of the tray, back at her, then back at the tray before helping himself to some of it. “You must eat,” he told her.
“I’m fine,” Buffy tried to reassure him. He looked ill, and Buffy really didn’t want to be the cause of him getting worse. Even if he was damned confusing.
“You won’t be if you don’t eat,” he carried on.
“Fine,” Buffy huffed, using her hands to scoop up some of the goo on the platter. On tasting it, she was hard pressed to force herself to swallow the lumpy foul tasting substance. “There’s not much of it,” she observed.
The man let out an unhealthy chuckle. “Enough for one,” he told her. Buffy didn’t like to think on why they were only feeding them enough for a single person.
“When I get strong again, I’ll break you out,” Buffy told him, trying to keep his spirits up, as he seemed to concentrate on the food. It had caught her attention that bits of the gruel like stuff had caught in his beard, and by the look of things it wasn’t the first time that had happened.
“No, you wont,” he told her. “Give me some of the bread.”
Buffy did as instructed, and broke off a large half of the bread that had been brought in. She wasn’t letting the no hope comment go though. “You think not?”
“Hmm!” he grunted. “And even if you break the door down, which you can’t. And get by the goblins, which you won’t. Where you going then? You got caught walkin’ around I’d wager, and you’d be escaping right back to where you go caught.”
So much for the positive mental attitude, Buffy grumbled to herself. “You gotta have hope though?!” She tried to sound upbeat, and not make it into a question, but it still came out at one.
“Hope! I think not,” he almost seemed to laugh at the idea. “We will get water in a few hours. Finish off the food – I have had my fill.”
Looking dubiously at what remained of the gruel, Buffy mopped it up with the remains of the bread. It still tasted foul, but it was considerably better than the alternative of going hungry.* * *
In the nine nights and four meals that followed Buffy watched as her cell mate seemed to slip further and further into his own frailty. She had virtually starved herself to ensure he was fed properly, and she had precious little enough reserves of fat to draw on, but he still seemed to just get weaker with each passing day.
Although, despite his apparent weakness, he had not admitted that anything was wrong; and, he still hadn’t provided his name or where he was from.
He was, however, very forthcoming about the long standing animosity between elves and dwarves (which he claimed to be). Buffy had been curious about his comment about her at their first meal, and had continued to ask him questions. It turned out she really did have pointy ears, and that made her an elf.
Apparently, elves and dwarves didn’t get on. He wasn’t exactly specific on the reasons, but she got the impression it was something to do with the elves thinking they were better than everyone else.
His unwillingness to talk about himself seemed to change on the tenth day.
“Girl!” he shouted out in a hoarse whisper. Buffy, already on tenterhooks, flew next to his side. “I had thought you a device of our host…”
Buffy looked at him confused, before working out what he meant. “No! I wouldn’t…”
With the man raising his hand she stopped talking. “Then I remembered. His interest in seeing me ended when my beard was still red. How long that is, I am not sure, but it feels like an age.”
“I am sorry,” Buffy told him sincerely.
“I know. But my time draws to an end…” he started to tell her.
“No,” she said firmly, “you mustn’t think like that.”
A small smile played on his lips, and one hand slipped inside his tunic. “Ha! I will not see the world again. This I know. You though, may; and, if you do, you might yet be able to bring hope to my kin where my life was naught but despair.” As he spoke he withdrew a battered piece of parchment from within his tunic.
“You have relatives? Children?” Buffy asked, catching on to what he was saying.
“That I believe, though I no longer can say for sure,” he held out the parchment, “Here – take this.”
“What is it?” Buffy asked, opening it. A key fell out that she caught, and repositioning the paper she could see a map labelled Thorin’s Map. The geography didn't look familiar to her,
“Riches and splendour, the likes of which you have never seen,” his eyes seemed to glaze over even thinking of it. “See to it my kin has this map should you ever escape this infernal prison.”
“I will – who exactly am I looking for,” Buffy asked, carefully folding the map up and stuffing it into the pocket of her jacket.
“Alas! That I cannot tell you. My life before is… faded… memories seem to pass by, and I cannot grasp hold of them like I once did.” His gaze sank down to his chest, and he shook his head slightly from side to side.
“I’ll do what I can – I promise,” Buffy told him.
“Aye – that you will.” He mumbled, before a moment later becoming animated. “But keep it a secret! If he knows…”
“I get the picture… it would not be of the good,” she nodded to show she understood where he was coming from, before getting up to make it back to her half of the cell.
It was hard for Buffy – she had spent years trying to stop people from thinking they were going to die in the very worst of situations. But there was just no way to deny this guy was frail and sick, and he was most likely not going to make it. Even with her mother it had been quick, in the end.
They spent a lot of time like that – not talking. Buffy didn’t really seem to be able to find the right thing to say, and he didn’t seem to want to talk; so, the light once again began to dwindle and the cell sank into a depressing darkness.
From the noises coming from him, Buffy assumed her cell mate was by now asleep. As she herself allowed her attention to wander, despite the fact her eyes were still open, her attention was brought back to the here and now by a scraping noise on the cell door.
A moment later it was opening and a cloaked figure stepped into the room. Buffy was half tempted to jump whoever it was, but hung back to see what his intentions were. He slid the door back to and made it over to the man she shared a cell with. Seemingly, he hadn’t seen her yet.
“Thrain? Is that you!” he lent over the slumped figure on the ground, and gently shook his shoulder. “Thrain!”
“Hey!” Buffy said, stepping forward from her corner.
The ‘guest’ whipped around, and Buffy could see he was old in the extreme. He was careworn and had a long white beard. “Identify yourself. Friend or foe?” he asked.
“That all depends on you,” Buffy told him. She hadn’t failed to notice that his hand was resting on what she assumed was the hilt of a sword.
“It is of the utmost importance I speak with Thrain,” he insisted.
“Be my guest,” Buffy said, gesturing with her hand for him to carry on. It was also more information she’d received in the last minute on who she was sharing a prime dungeon plot with than she’d gotten in the past two weeks out the man himself.
Gandalf didn’t acknowledge what she had said, other than to turn back around and squat next to the aged creature laying down. “Thrain. It is Gandalf. Can you hear me?” He spoke in hushed tones, though Buffy could make them out clearly enough.
“I hear you, though you are not familiar to me.” Old eyes looked over the bearded weathered face in front of him.
“Once you would have called me friend, but I see that time has passed,” Gandalf seemed to reflect to himself for a moment, “You were captured by the Necromancer. What can you tell me of him?”
“I do not remember,” the dwarf known as Thrain shot back and was forced to break eye contact with the grey wizard. “I don’t know.”
“It is vital you recall anything you can about this necromancer,” he pressed.
“No… No!” Thrain wailed, moving his head from side to side. It looked like he was in some kind of pain.
Buffy stepped forward, crouched, and placed a hand on Thrain’s shoulder. It seemed to have the effect of soothing him slightly.
“I think he’s had enough questions, don’t you?” she shot the elderly man in a grey cloak a meaningful expression. At least, most vampires that knew her would have found it meaningful and a bit intimidating.
Clearly though, having not exactly looked after herself and been half starved for the last two weeks didn’t help matters, and Gandalf just raised a sceptical eye brow. “If you say so.”
“I think I just did,” Buffy told him back, her voice flat.
“Hmn!” he harrumphed, “in any event, he does not seem to be in a state to answer any further questions. We shall wait to see if his condition improves.”
“I doubt that will happen,” Buffy said, with a tinge of regret in her voice.
“Explain,” Gandalf queried, raising a bushy and inquisitive eyebrow.
“He’s been like this now for days: getting worse,” she explained, gently holding the dwarfs shoulder, “I don’t know why, but I don’t think he has long. Maybe only a few hours, a day at the most.”
Gandalf seemed to look closely at him, and then at Buffy, before returning his gaze back to Thrain. He didn’t however say anything for some time. When he did eventually speak it was in a detached tone, his vision firmly fixed on the dying dwarf.
“I knew Thrain for over fifty years, and he has been missing for at least as long as that again.” Gandalf looked into Buffy’s eyes, and she could see that his were wet, though he didn’t shed any tears. A noise just at the edge of Buffy’s senses caused her to stand and make a sharp turn towards the door.
“What is it?” Gandalf asked also standing.
“I heard something… I’m sure…” Buffy said, slowly walking towards the still open door to try and listen again.
Gandalf looked at her with a confused expression on his face. She waited a minute before a distant thunking noise could be made out. “Someone is out there,” Buffy whispered to him. She watched his cool grey eyes calculating something.
“A guard,” he whispered back urgently. “Unless you know of another exit, I fear we shall be discovered.”
A small smile threatened to make its way onto Buffy’s face. As weakened as she was the thought of actually getting some payback for the last two weeks was tempting in the extreme.
“You will lure him in here, and distract him, while I dispatch him,” the old grey cloaked man whispered to Buffy urgently under his breath.
She was sorely tempted to argue with him, but decided that it would just waste time and increase the odds of the being discovered. So, she chose to do as he asked, and made her way to the door.
The foot steps got closer and she could make out the rough shape of a man coming towards her. “Excuse me?!” Buffy called out, in her best mock damsel in distress voice.
As he got closer still she could make out that his head appeared to be horribly deformed. A goblin. “Trying to escape?!” He half snorted and half said.
“No…” Buffy started before being backhanded into the cell by the goblin, hard. He followed her into the cell.
“Let’s see if you ca…” he started to say before he spun around to the slight whoosh of a sword. The swords blade went through his chest, and Gandalf pulled it back out with a slurp. The goblin collapsed to the floor.
“We must leave now,” Gandalf said to Buffy, his eyes darting around the room, before he stepped closer to the door to take a look up the corridor.
“What about your buddy?” Buffy asked, not moving. He looked confused, or she assumed that’s why his eyebrows got knitted together like that. “Thrain,” she explained.
He nodded slightly in recognition, and made it over to him, muttering a few words that Buffy couldn’t catch. A turned back around. “It is as you feared, his time is nearly spent. If we are to make good our escape I dare not take him with us. If we are to have any chance of escaping we must make our exit as swift as possible.”* * *
In the higher levels of Dol Guldur, Sauron sat in a kingly thrown in an elaborate black stone room. He appeared passive, almost as if he was resting. Yet his eyes still glowed a faint orange, like the ember of a dying fire.
There was something amiss – he could sense a very faint trace of magic. Too faint to be anywhere close, but strong enough to not be distant either – or at least, if it were distant, it would have to be massively powerful.
“Khamul,” he rasped, without need.
A shadowy figure made its way into the room, black cloak obscuring its face and body. It bowed its head to its master in a show of respect.
Nothing was said, and nothing needed to be. Sauron had such a hold over his wraiths that they responded to his very thought.* * *
Buffy looked back down at Thrain. He had slipped into a deep sleep, and she knew somehow he wasn’t going to wake up again. It was as good a way to go as she could imagine.
Resolving herself to leaving, Buffy turned back around to Gandalf. “Fine,” Buffy told him.
“Follow me, and do what you can to stay out of harms way,” Gandalf told her before sneaking out the door. She rolled her eyes, and followed him out. He pulled the door to and bolted it, before slinking off down the corridor.
The corridor meandered to the right slightly, and headed up. Light was scarce, but would have been enough to see by, and with her enhanced night vision anyway she could actually see nearly as well as during the day. The corridor had a low vaulted ceiling and Buffy could make out cell after cell on their way up. She wondered just how many innocent people were actually locked up for little more than being in the wrong place.
As they approached a noisy room up ahead, Gandalf held up a hand to indicate they should stop. Buffy considered that there was little point in telling him that she had heard them several minutes ago.
“Await my return here,” Gandalf half mouthed to her before sneaking off. Buffy would have to give him points for being stealthy. A minute later he had returned, as promised, and indicated for them to back up.
“It would appear our timing is unfortunate,” Gandalf told her looking serious, “it seems we must suffer another patrol.”
Buffy just raised an eyebrow. Secretly, she wasn’t exactly quaking in her boots at the prospect of taking on some skanky goblin.
He looked at her for a moment. “We shall await the patrol here and catch the guard by surprise.” Gandalf stepped into the shadow under an arch and indicated for her to do the same. It wasn’t exactly secretive, but Buffy imagined it probably was, if you couldn’t see very well in the dark or just in general.
And, sure enough, a couple of five minutes later the sound of goblins could be heard walking down the passage. Buffy was guessing from the worried look (although it seemed to be a look he wore a lot of the time) on Gandalf’s face, he had not been expecting more than one.
Both of the goblins did not appear to be in a hurry, and certainly were not ready for an attack. Gandalf already had his sword drawn and was able to take the first goblin by surprise, his sword skewering the goblin before it could react. The second was not so slow though, and already had his sword drawn. It readied to attack with Gandalf’s sword still occupied in the first goblin, and even as the grey wizard started to withdraw his sword he knew that a protracted and noisy sword fight would be their undoing even should he kill the goblin.
However, the goblin was never able to attack, as Buffy had stepped silently from behind it, and grasping its head in both hands proceeded to break its neck with a sickening snap quicker than it could possibly react. As the goblin slumped to the floor, Buffy couldn’t help but smirk at the look of relief and surprise on the old mans face.
“You know how to fight?” He asked without need.
“So I’m told,” Buffy responded.
Gandalf stood for another beat, before determining what to do next. “We must go through the guard room, and from there we can make it out through the north corridor.”
With a slight nod of her head, Gandalf seemed to acknowledge that Buffy had understood what he said and turned to make his way off down the passage to the guard room he had been spying on a moment before. Gandalf indicated for her to stop so he could check the room out for any remaining goblins; not that Buffy really needed him to, she could already sense that the room was clear.
He beckoned for her to follow him in. Unlike her cell, and the passage she had come from, the room was actually lit relatively well – with a small fire in a plain stone hearth and several torches mounted on the walls. Buffy was detecting a definite medieval theme going on here, and hoped that it wasn’t going to be omnipresent everywhere she went.
Again, Gandalf pressed his ear up to the low oak door out of the room before returning to where she was still standing. “We will head along the north corridor and make good out escape from the south of Dol Guldur. We must hurry before our guards are missed.”
“So the north corridor takes us south?” Buffy queried with him, just to make sure she had gotten it straight.
“No.” he looked exasperated. “The north corridor heads north. It starts in the south of Dol Guldur and heads north. Hence, we come out on the south side.”
Buffy pulled a face – there was no need for him to talk to her like she was an idiot. She rolled her eyes, before replying, “Fine – you go first.”
And with that he seemed to create a sort of snorting noise through his nose before turning and heading towards the door. After opening it a fraction and peering around outside, he seemed happy to carry on. Buffy followed behind, and couldn’t help but be underwhelmed by the drab looking corridor, what with its low ceiling and crumbly stone walls. There was some serious damp going on as well around the place – she could even see moss growing here and there.
Following the grey old man along she played his game of being Mr Stealthy – even if there weren’t any of the goblin creatures for quite a way still. Ever so often she could hear him say something that sounded vaguely like a number. He was counting the doors!
The thought occurred to Buffy to ask him why he was counting the doors, but she decided since he seemed to think the doors worth counting she wouldn’t interrupt and probably make him loose count. Assuming he was doing it for a reason, and not just because he wanted a guest spot on Sesame Street, Buffy decided to let him carry on without interruption.
As they passed the twentieth door he seemed to try and be even more sneaky, and she could see why: at the far end of the corridor was a door – still some way off yet – but guarded by at least ten goblins. They made it to the twenty-second door before he opened the handle as silently as possible, and indicated for her to follow behind him.
Once the door was shut he seemed to relax.
“Tell me you don’t plan to go through that door,” Buffy said to him, pointing back out in the general direction they had come from.
“I don’t plan to go out through that door,” he told her with a hint of sarcasm. The expression on the young blondes face made him hasten to add, “There is another exit – less well known and used that leads off the main road from the south.”
“A secret exit!” Buffy said, not doing a very good job of pretending to be excited.
“No. Just not widely used,” Gandalf informed her, a serious expression on his face, before he turned and carried on walking along the corridor with Buffy traipsing along behind.
“So this not widely used exit? I’m guessing: not heavily guarded, right?” Buffy said, not sounding convinced.
“I hope not,” he seemed to mutter to himself before continuing along. The corridor didn’t get anymore interesting as Buffy walked along behind her unexpected guide. The ceiling remained low, the floor damp, and walls the same crumbly grey stone as was everywhere else.
Eventually, they arrived upon the door, and it was everybit as unguarded as Gandalf had predicted. The only problem was it also appeared to be locked. He pushed it and shoved it, but the door refused to move. In the end he threw his hands up in the air, made a most undignified sound, and lent against a wall.
“I cannot believe we shall be forced to go back for the sake of a locked door,” he complained loudly, and mainly to himself.
“Perhaps I could give it a go…” Buffy ventured, looking the door over. It certainly appeared to be solid.
“By all means try, but I fear we have little choice but to return,” Gandalf murmured.
On closer inspection, Buffy could see it was of a solid wood construction, it opened out, and the lock seemed to be bolted through the door in a fashion as to re-enforce it. If she had been at normal strength it would have been an easy job to break down, but since she had been rotting in a cell for two weeks, and she was weak before even then, Buffy wasn’t as sure of herself. So, when she landed her foot next to the lock she put a lot more effort into it than she normally would.
The result was the door splintering and exploding outwards, leaving the lock hanging for a second before falling to the ground. Gandalf look shocked.
“Must have been rotten of something,” Buffy explained, shrugging one shoulder slightly.
He walked out through the door with her, still watchful in case any of their enemy still watched their escape, before examining the door.
“Or something…” Gandalf muttered to himself, raising a sceptical eyebrow.