Author’s Note: Cette chapître écrite pour graadlon.
“No matter how you try,” Legolas told his father with a sigh, “the trees here will not speak to you, Ada. ‘Tis clear they are long dead.”
They had been marching down the mountain for a few hours, and the landscape had grown progressively grimmer until there was nothing but the odd withered shell of a tree here and there. Thranduil had been trying without success to elicit information from each as they came to them, without success, and Legolas had become more than a little irate with his father for slowing down their progress in order to commune with nature.
Thranduil turned away from a particularly sad-looking specimen and patted the charred bark of its stunted trunk with affection. “Be that as it may,” he replied with great serenity, and began ambling over to another tree in the distance. Ever since Gimli, of all people, had noticed tracks (perhaps because he was closer to the ground?) Thranduil had been striving hard to come up with his own important discovery. A competitive elf, was Mirkwood’s king.
The tracks had been shallow, hardly noticeable if you weren’t an elf or Slayer, with the word “Reebok” visibly imprinted in the glassy black soil if you looked at it from the right angle. This news had duly been reported to the other group via telepathy, making Buffy long for a cell phone or even just carrier pigeon-- anything less wiggy than people speaking in each other’s heads.
“Your dad’s a kook,” Buffy whispered to Legolas, eyes never leaving her father-in-law’s antics. “I know elves like trees, but isn’t that a bit over-the-top even for someone from Mirkwood? Oooh… what’s he doing now?”
For the king of that land had abandoned all pretense at aloofness and had wrapped his arms around the tree, pressing his elegantly pointed ear to it. The others stopped and stared shamelessly until he opened his eyes once again, his expression triumphant. “It says,” he informed them with more than a touch of gloating, “that there are many fell beings this side of the mountain, which is named Mertseger. The lord of storms often shows his face in this harsh land, and we must beware of a being named Satet.” Pulling away from the tree, he reaffixed the tiny, beautifully-wrought golden cuff to the outer curve of his ear and surveyed them with an expression of deep satisfaction.
“Satet?” Radagast frowned in concentration. “Is she not the goddess of war of this realm?” He paused to think, not noticing the looks of near-panic exchanged by the others (except for Thranduil, who never looked anything akin to panicky). “Nay, that is not it, though I am sure Satet has a lioness’ head as well… ai, Yavanna, how strange these other dimensions be. How I rejoice Iluvatar felt not the need to vary the races so, in our beloved Arda.” He seemed to believe She could hear him, and Buffy watched curiously to see if the wizard received a response, but he merely he wandered off, staff stumping along at his side.
She grinned at Gimli. “Seen any more of those tracks?”
The dwarf answered in the negative, but just then Legolas shouted from where he’d gone to scout ahead. Jogging toward her husband, she saw he was holding something between his fingers and staring down at it in confusion.
“It smells not unlike the Hobbits’ pipeweed,” he said as they approached, “but is wrapped in parchment. Is it placed in a pipe?”
Buffy stopped dead, staring with wide eyes at the cigarette butt her husband held. It could only mean that someone from her world—or one similar to it, like Corinne’s—was here as well. “Look for more footsteps,” she urged, and it was Thranduil whose sharp eyes found the second pair—boots, they appeared to be, larger, with thick soles.
“A Man,” the elf-king concluded, head tilted consideringly to the side. “Medium height.”
“Ten, perhaps eleven stone in weight,” Legolas added from beside his father, his head also tilted. They were so similar in build and colouring already; having their mannerisms match also caused Buffy to wonder if it were adorable or just plain scary.
“Frightening,” Gimli murmured, having decided for her. She agreed rather fervently when both elves straightened and glanced over their right shoulders, shooting identically alluring glances from beneath half-lowered lashes.
“Terrifying,” she agreed, but couldn’t prevent a smile from curving her lips— each had just noticed what the other was doing and both now exchanged glares before turning away and kicking their left feet at some of the angular black rocks that littered the ground.
“Nauseating,” Radagast declared, sweeping by them in a swirl of rusty brown robes. “If you recognize this thing Legolas has found, Dagnir, it would be helpful to actually mention that fact to us.”
Legolas and Thranduil turned to look at her, and Gimli peered up into her face; Buffy felt much like she was back in high school; Radagast was almost as disagreeable as old Schneider had been. “Um, yeah,” she said. “That’s a cigarette. It’s like smoking a pipe, but the tobacco’s in a tube of paper, instead of a pipe.”
Something was tugging at her memory, this cigarette combined with the bootprint, but try though she might, nothing came to the forefront. She sighed in frustration. “Well,” she began, pushing a straggle of hair back from her face, “at least Corinne’s not alone any more.”
“Her new companion might not be friendly,” Legolas countered. “What if he is one of Aker’s beings?”
“Then she has even greater need of her rescuers than before,” Gimli stated, and turned to stare at the horizon. His expression changed from grim determination to concern. “Look you yonder,” he directed, a sense of urgency in his voice that wasn’t there before, and he pointed.
The clouds that roiled overhead, varying in shade from charcoal to pitch to gunmetal, had begun to coalesce into a teeming dark mass of supreme menace which emitting a blinding flash of scarlet as what appeared to be a flaming meteor zipped by overhead, lighting up the sky for a moment before “There’s the hellfire,” Buffy said, and anything further she might have added was obscured when it crashed with a deafening noise to the ground, making it shake beneath their feet. “Ah, that must be the brimstone.”
“Dagnir,” Legolas addressed her, a new urgency in his voice, “if I am not mistaken, there are ruined buildings in the distance, and two figures… they were… dancing.” He frowned and turned to her.
“Dancing?” An odd action for such a depressing place, she felt.
A few miles ahead of them, Corinne couldn’t agree more. “Spike,” she yelled, thumping him hard on the shoulder, “they’re all squished. You can stop now.”
He dropped his arms and stepped back. “So they are,” he agreed, surveying their killing spree with satisfaction.
“Why are you all happy?” she asked, wishing she had a stick or something to wipe off the worm spooge, but settling for dragging her feet on the ground, scraping the worst of it off. “Our situation isn’t what you might call ‘promising’.”
“Could be worse,” Spike told her, beginning to walk “We could be in a jungle.” He turned around to face her, walking backward whilst giving her a jaunty grin. “It’s not the heat, pet, it’s the humidity.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Corinne grumbled. “That’s what they all say, and they’re completely full of—“ Whatever she would have said was cut off when Spike stumbled, then froze, a look of great alarm coming over his face.
“Bloody hell,” he said, and then he was gone.
Eyes wide, Corinne ran over to where he’d been a moment ago, and found that where he’d been walking had a symbol etched into a flat rock set into the ground. Bending low and squinting, she could just make out his footsteps, and how they led directly to there. “Oh, you stupid bastard,” she murmured, then, “What the hell.”
Standing, she purposefully stepped onto the symbol. The world seemed to wink out of existence, and then there was a hoot like a car horn. Corinne felt a rushing sensation around her, and then she was dropped into a shallow pool of what she soon learned, when she snorted it out her nostrils, was stale water. Wiping her eyes, she blinked at the bright sunlight, then coughed up a piece of slimy something, seaweed or similar.
She appeared to be sitting in the middle of a large, waist-deep puddle ringed with reeds and long, waving grasses. Bubbles blooped rhythmically not far from her, and she shifted away from them as she looked around. Tall trees with vines trailing like skeletal fingers to the ground surrounded her on every side, and the underbrush was thick as well. Even drenched, she could tell that the air was thick with moisture, and the faint steam that rose from the surface of her puddle assured her that it was pretty freaking hot.
“Spike!” she croaked as loudly as she could, and stood. Coughing, she brought up another bit of greenery. “Spi-“
“No need to shout, pet,” he said from behind her, and she spun around to find him standing on the shore of the puddle, water lapping gently at his boots as he grinned wildly at her.
“You’re still happy?” she demanded accusingly. “We—“ she gestured around them, then let her arms drop tiredly to her sides. “It’s a jungle. You said a jungle would be worse, and now we’re in one. You suck.”
“Don’t worry ‘bout none of that, Schoolgirl. Look.” He pointed up.
She obediently looked up. All she could see through the shimmering heat waves surrounding them were the distant treetops and, above them, the blue and cloudless sky. “Yeah, and?”
Spike’s shoulders slumped. “Silly bint.” Flinging his arms wide, he spun in a circle. “It’s daytime. There’s sunlight all over the place.” He pointed to himself. “Vampire, remember?” Comprehension dawned on her face as he continued. “And yet, I’m neither shrieking and flaming, nor a little pile of dust on the ground.”
He tilted his head back and basked in the ray of light that fell over his face; it threw the sharp angles of his face into stark relief and made him, quite ironically Corinne thought, look positively angelic. “I don’t wanna hear it if it turns out you sunburn easily,” she warned sourly, plucking the wet fabric of her shirt away from her chest and frowning. Wet jeans were damned uncomfortable.
She ducked behind a massive tree and shimmied out of her clothes, squeezing as much water from them as she could. “Now what do we do?” Oh, that was a mistake, she thought crossly as she tried to pull her jeans back on. Finally buttoned back into the resisting garment, she emerged and found him staring at the ground.
“There’s a path,” Spike replied, pointing to the right. “I say we follow it.”
“Which way?” Corinne wanted to know, but just then a garbled roar sounded in the distance. There was a thud, and the ground shivered.
“Away from that,” Spike recommended when another thud sounded and they realized that the thuds were actually massive footfalls. He began to run, pausing only long enough to catch her hand and force her to keep up with him.
As they pelted through the jungle, Corinne wondered what Haldir was doing at the moment, and if he’d had the sense to steer clear of reckless vampires with a talent for getting himself (and, by connection, his companion) into trouble. It was strange to be able to think of the elf without the compulsive lust and longing; she felt lonely without his comforting presence in her mind, and oddly light and unburdened without that aching nausea and fear for him when they were parted for so long.
Long years of multi-tasking both note-writing and daydreaming in class allowed her to run wherever Spike led as she allowed her thoughts to wonder back to that morning. Had it only been a few hours ago that she’d been writhing under Haldir as his beautiful body pierced hers, only hours ago that he’d promised to love her with his last breath? Had it only been a few hours since he’d attacked her?
She knew him better than anyone else on Arda, and was sure he was beating himself up horribly about it. The thought of him despising himself made tears sting her eyes, and she stumbled and fell as she struggled to keep from just collapsing into a heap and sobbing for him, for her, for them.
Spike opened his mouth to say something no doubt unspeakably rude but took one look at her face and said nothing but, “Hurry,” as he yanked her to her feet and began to run again. Corinne chanced a look back and caught a glimpse of a huge, hairy leg; she hurried.
Haldir was fervently relieved to be one of Elessar’s group, instead of Dagnir’s, as there was no way he could have borne her well-intended fumblings about the disastrous events of that morning. His refusals to talk with her would have been ignored; she was nothing if not persistent.
Once it had become clear she would get nothing from him, she would have badgered her husband to approach him, and Haldir would have felt bad about maiming poor Legolas, but his mood was savage enough that maiming was probably the best of all possible results, the worst being ‘brutal dismemberment’.
It was very possible that his bond with Corinne was severed; it was even possible he might be sad about it. There was no way for him to know, however, because a sense of bewildered, frightened, enraged fury for nearly raping her not two hours ago had encompassed him until he felt as if he could easily do harm to himself, so filled with self-loathing was he.
Nearly four thousand years old, and a warrior trained in the art of complete, utter, unfailing control of himself, and he had failed. Failed his teachers and their long lessons all those centuries ago; failed Corinne and her trust in him. Every other second brought a new flash of her face, of her eyes, as desire and love melted away to be replaced with fear and betrayal. He had only been stopped by Dagnir’s timely arrival from taking Corinne with a violence he’d never before suspected he’d harboured.
Most of all, he’d betrayed himself. Haldir had spoken true when he’d said it had always been him—all along, buried deep, had been that fragment of him that relished the cruelty. ‘Twas not hard to understand, for had he not risen to the top ranks of elven warriors because of his prowess in battle? And did he not fling himself, wholeheartedly, into the melées with his knives, when other elves stood back and plied their bows? Was he not renowned for his cool dispatch of dozens, even hundreds, without remorse?
Foolish for him to have thought he could be a killer in matters of war, and yet a serene elf in matters of peace. And in matters of love… as he trod along at the rear of the group, eyes fixed on the lush ground beneath his feet, he felt his throat close in sorrow and blinked hard to prevent the tears from falling.
Whatever love he might have had with Corinne was over now; even had the cartouche not been broken, his actions earlier had surely ruptured whatever kind feelings for him she might have been disposed to. Her eyes, ai, her eyes… so wide, overflowing with adoration for him, and then so empty but for the terror. Terror of him, who should have died before causing her pain. Filled with shame, he did not believe he would ever be able to look at her face again. That is not my right, he thought bitterly. I do not have the privilege of gazing at her.
So resolved was he to spend the rest of his existence atoning for his trespass that he failed to notice the others had stopped, and so continued walking.
“Haldir,” Arwen said softly, placing her hand on his arm.
Surprised, he jerked away from her, eyes blazing. “Do not touch me,” he gasped, hand halfway to his dagger-hilt before relaxing. The others stared at him, shocked. “My apologies,” he said after a moment.. “But please do not touch me, I cannot bear it.”
Arwen nodded slowly. “Radagast has told me they have found tracks, and believe them to belong to Corinne,” she told him carefully.
“Should we turn around and join the others, then?” Boromir asked, and Arwen’s exquisite visage frowned slightly as she relayed the message.
“It is not as easy for me as for Grandmother,” she said with a deprecating smile that caused two tiny, perfect dimples to emerge in her smooth cheeks. “Radagast tells me that Dagnir wishes for us to continue as we are, that we should concentrate on locating Aker, and they will focus on finding Corinne.” She paused again, and her smile widened. “She also wishes me to tell you that you must ‘lighten up’ as she puts it, or she will ‘kick your hiney all the way back to Arda’.” The half-elleth turned to her husband. “Elessar, what is a ‘hiney’?” she asked, but he shook his head, grinning.
“Tell Dagnir all is under control, and for her to concentrate on her own moody elf,” he directed flatly, and Arwen laughed when she reported Dagnir’s question: “Which one?”
“It is done,” Arwen said at last, and they resumed course, walking for another few hours until Dawn complained of hunger, thirst, and really sore feet. The terrain wasn’t at all difficult, all gentle slopes and cool streams and shady trees for their brief rests, even plenty of fluffy bushes for when a bit of privacy was in order. Altogether, a rather decent place, if you happened to be in a surreal dimension tracking down an evil god who was threatening your world.
Dawn plopped down on a hassock of grass, nodding absently when Boromir said he’d bring her a bite, and pulled off her boots to massage her toes, stopping only when a hand held a piece of lembas in front of her face.
“Here you go, Dawn,” said a warm, loving, female voice. A familiar voice, a voice that made her think of the earliest moments of her life: a soft song lulling her to sleep, the scent of milk, the warmth of a soft and comforting embrace. A voice she hadn’t heard in nineteen years.
Dawn whipped up her head to find Joyce Summers standing before her, beaming happily at her younger daughter. “Mom?”
Ada = Father