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The Wall of Shadow by Urloth

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warnings: disturbing imagery, cruelty to, and  the death of animals

They waited for Maglor to give them permission to come closer but he did not.

He did not even ask who they were. What they wanted.

His right hand returned to his side. His left hand had not moved from his sword. He watched them and they watched him.

Eventually one of them would have to give way. Erevir knew it would be them.

Maglor had come here to die, Erevir had come here prepared to haul him back alive no matter what. Compared to everything else that had happened to them in their life, standing and waiting in this unbearable heat was a mild discomfort not an agony.

They counted time by the number of times Maglor blinked. There was a glazed sheen to the bright eyes that made them wonder if Maglor wasn’t suffering from the light blindness the Silmaril was barely keeping back.

Blink by blink.

Breath by breath.

And then Maglor’s eyes did not open and slowly then quickly he fell sideways with the graceful clumsiness a body no one is controlling has.

Erevir did not stir. Behind the cloth they’d pulled over their face to try and save some of their skin from the burning they licked their chapped lips and wondered if they were seeing a trap. Maglor had fallen away from his sword though.

Panic duly flared.

What if he had finally achieved what he had clearly set out to achieve when he travelled here?

What if Erevir had just stood and watched him die?

But it could definitely be a trap.

There was almost a smug feeling. Makalaurë had excelled in games of strategy and tactics. His son…

Hold, Erevir firmly caught themselves as their thoughts tried to slip into that particular trap. They stepped to the side of Maglor’s prone body and kicked away the sword. It spun across the sand.

It was a good sword. A short sword which was surprising. No special maker's marks or designs that they saw. In fact they rather thought it was one of those mass produced blades Gil-Galad's armory had been overflowing with. The kind that had been wielded by the Minyar foot soldiers of the Amanyar army in case they lost their spears. Quite a few had been left behind when the shining host had departed.

They looked at Maglor again.

It was a trap wasn’t it? It was most definitely a trap.

But in this heat which was not even approaching how it would blister the skin at the zenith of the day.

Ah but it was too convenient.

But then again look at him. There was nothing left.

Still they were not convinced that Maglor was not pretending and they were right, utterly unsurprised when they reached to touch the pulse in Maglor’s throat and found their hand bent back to an impossible angle and then their throat grabbed. Their back hit the ground and something in their shoulder did not like how hard they hit the rock solid soil.

But really the most pressing thing was that Maglor was doing his very best to choke the life out of them. He was doing a very effective job with only one hand, he was using the other one to apply weight so it was more of a crushing attempt.

They weren’t sure if the dark spots in their vision were light blindness from the brightness of Cuiviénen or the lack of air. Maglor had chosen to grab them as they breathed out. Very sly.

Very cold.

Calculated…

Makalaurë

Eru they would pass out. The cloth over their mouth had become a willing accomplice to Maglor’s terrifyingly silent assault, making drawing any breath an impossibility as it wound up scrunched in their mouth.

They wished that he would say something. Their kicks and blows were doing nothing. They were loath to draw blood. Their nails carried enough trace amounts of silima that they could open flesh to the vein if they weren’t careful. It seemed to defeat the purpose of finding him if they would cut him open. The Hallowing was popping under their skin. They could feel it flaring in scalding bursts of pain along their shoulders and under Maglor’s hands in particular, radiating away from their skin contact. They did their best to stop it actually touching Maglor but they must have failed.

There was the faint scent of burning skin.

He growled out “sorcerer!”

And yanked the cloth over their face away, giving them a moment to breathe, with a clever hook of his single finger.

And then they wished that he would go back to that terrifying silence given the acidic torrent of abuse that reigned down up them and how their neck was going to break with just how hard he was bearing down on it.

They really shouldn’t feel so blasé about the damage he had already caused.

Talking was now right out of the question and would be for a few days till the crushing injuries were healed.

And the Hallowing was building strength behind their fraying hold on it.

It slipped their grip in a sharp punch of power and they heard the sizzle of flesh even as Maglor was flung back, something bursting bright between their bodies like ignited magnesia.

And then Maglor was not pretending to be unconscious and Erevir had something near to a crushed windpipe though they could draw enough breathe it couldn’t be completely gone. They hauled the Hallowing back like the leashed beast it should be. It came, petulant, and they thought again that they were not at all happy that the Hallowing seemed to be gaining a sort of sentience. It was easier when it merely reacted to control it.

They crawled over and checked Maglor’s pulse… steady.

The Hallowing tried a feint and they slapped it down so hard they felt the impact of the blow like an aftershock.

They checked Maglor’s hand with nausea then chilly relieved shock to find the skin was only blistered on the outer edges.

A scalding burn.

But the smell…

Their skin prickled all over and acid coated the back of their throat to see that the old Hallowing wounds were reburned. Most particularly the hardened, necrotised flesh of Maglor’s fingers was …char.

It was too much. They pushed him back so they didn’t vomit on them then regretted not controlling themselves because even that was precious water they couldn’t loose.

This was not, in anyway, how they thought this would go yet at the same time they weren’t sure how else it could have gone. Fëanor had left them with a host of strong feelings and beliefs that weren’t their own. All of those regarding his sons were positive.

Beyond positive. They were overflowing with his love.

At times these emotions would fly free and Erevir would be paralysed by the overwhelming nature of his love for them and of his assured knowledge of their love for him… and every time they had crossed paths with one of his sons they had tried to kill the Silmaril.

Well.

All of the two times they had encountered one of their creator’s sons.

Did Celegorm’s hungry spirit count?

They thought so.

Celegorm had even been in possession of a body at the time.

The contrast between what those emotions tricked them into expecting or perhaps wanting and what happened was so jarring and disheartening…

Which was irrational because they couldn’t blame him…

Cheer up, they told themselves.

Celegorm actually choked you into unconsciousness and tried to eat your heart to boot.

This was nothing.

This was… nothing.

 They really couldn’t afford to lose the sort of liquid crying would waste.

What could they do about Maglor’s hands instead? They had left much of what they’d carried at the last oasis, as much as one could call the puddle sized patch of brackish water with a few straggling bushes and two very sad trees that might have been palms. They had buried it near the trees. Who knew what withered scavenger might have dug it up?

Maybe it was a good thing Maglor was unconscious. They could carry him at their own pace and not worry about him. It would be two days by foot if they pushed themselves.

They settled for coating Maglor’s hands in the salve they had been given for blisters and bruises since they had nothing else, and then wrapped them in their scarf.

The scalp sores needed cleaning. Maglor’s hands probably needed cleaning too but Erevir was not going to risk wasting water even if he didn’t wake up to drink it. They wrapped Maglor’s head lightly in a dirty scarf they found amongst his few possessions, skin crawling at it, and then gathered what they found.

There was not much. Decaying clothing, a few cloth wrapped objects they suspected were of emotional value and the pack he’d carried them in which had given out at the bottom. There was also a misericore.

Erevir had seen Maglor’s sword in Gil-Galad’s armory alongside Maedhros. They had been recovered near the outskirts of the Minyar encampment where the two remaining Silmarilli had been taken. They had been every bit of the beautiful art combined with lethal practicality and functionality one  would have expected from the sons of Fëanor. Not the word of Fëanor himself but instead one of his first apprentices.

The enamelling on the misericore matched the same beautiful combination of white and dark blue that had been on Maglor’s sword, with the same discrete rippling that was meant to guide liquid away from the grip.

They supposed they should be thankful Maglor had either misplaced it or had chosen deliberately not to use it because a stab through the eye and into the brain wasn’t something they could walk off.

They could survive it. They were not permitted to end their existence until they had fulfilled their bargain with the Almighty and besides there was no afterlife for them to go into. But brain injuries always healed the slowest.

It had taken them years to recover from taking a zaġāya to the head, and the fallout from the Hallowing responding to the violence had erased a very prosperous town from all maps.

The misericore was wrapped up and packed away and they grabbed the kicked away sword.

It was put back in a sheath that was definitely the property of some poor Minyar foot soldier, and they buckled it over their hips to get it out of the way. Then they heaved Maglor up into their arms, pointing themselves towards the unknown road that would finally bring them away.

They passed the Runaway, and then amongst bleached white bones they saw the Matriatch where she lay in final repose. She had a great many scars across her hind quarters and back. And as they rounded her they saw a trident embedded in her left flank, shaft snapped off and what wood remained well weathered

They paused and stared in awe for the skin had grown around the tines thick and hard like wood.

The Matriarch’s large dark eye stared up into the endless blue sky, up beyond the clouds and where the veil of stars hung, beyond the dome, beyond darkness, beyond… to wherever it was that Men and Oliphaunts escaped to when they shook themselves free of Arda.

If their hands had been free they would have saluted her. The most they could do was bend their knees in nothing close to a bow but as close as they could manage.

Not that she could care. Or would have cared.

Apart from briefly inspecting them with her trunk she had been a disinterested travelling companion but had cast a decent shadow to stay in.

Nen Echui did not quite farewell them but they did feel the moment they stepped beyond what would have been the edges of the world for the Unborn and the three generations or so who had called it home.

They were not sad to leave.

-

A mile out and a wave of wrongness rolled over them.

They shouldered their burden carefully and considered the consequences of investigating it. When would Maglor wake up?

His wounds should not have kept him sleeping but he was in a torpor. A real one. Not pretend. They had risked brushing their mind against his and found his thoughts trapped beneath a deep thick fog of exhaustion. He must not have slept recently. Possibly for as long as it was possible for Eldar not to sleep. Which was a length of time that would kill a Man.

Did he have trouble sleeping in general or had something been hounding his dreams away?

Their stomach heaved at another wave of …

Maybe they could walk on. But with Cuiviénen so close…

It wasn’t that the land was a holy one, or sanctified in anyway. But its nothingness gave it a purity found nowhere else and usually influenced its surroundings. Things simply did not approach it, for ill or for good. Animals lived and died beyond its borders and oliphaunts within but the ground and much beyond it simply would not take up personality in the way the land of Arda should.

So why was this taint seeping across the ground and through the air as the thin wind changed to bring a ripe, gagging taint of carrion?

Well they would not put Maglor down but if they were careful they could look.

It required they scale a steep dune; to climb so high up shifting slippery sand that when they reached the top they thought they saw the word begin to bow like a map over the edge of a table at the horizon, and they climbed it cursing Maglor’s long legs and unwieldy hard shoulders all the way up.

Steep as a cliff on the side they had climbed the dune flowed gently down. Down and down and down it rolled that even though it would a gentle fall your own momentum would kill you. And lying at the base of that gentle slope where the ground spread out into a deceptively beautiful plane of gold lay the carnage they had smelled.

There were three calves… no four, they had not seen the unborn calf that had been hidden by the gutted baulk of its mother in amongst the piles of discarded intestine.

Four calves and three matron oliphaunts, arranged in a bent ovoid shape with blood drenching the sand and cementing it still in the spaces they did not touch. In the middle was a pile of their hearts still smoking.

T’was an eye, staring up at the viewer.

It saw all.

It saw them.

Erevir’s skin lost all heat and their head went light from the horror of it.

The longer they stared the more awful it became. It was not just oliphaunts. Amonst the offal they saw vultures and lion dogs, the scavengers of these impossible landscapes of shadow and gold, lying on their sides or splayed atop of the generous offerings of food. And that shading across the ground was not the shadows cast by the oliphaunts' bulk. The sky was in the wrong positon to cast shadows that way. It was insects, dropped dead when they should be crawling everywhere.

This was nothing the paltry light of a Silmaril could heal.

“I must leave,” the Silmaril breathed out into the air, more a thought on breath than actual spoken words since they were unable to form hard sounds around the pain in their throat “yarely I must leave or I shall unravel.”

The dry air stole what sound they were able to make as they spoke and just as well. It might be out there, whatever it was, listening.

The Hallowing thrashed around their body, kicking up sand and petrifying it into explosions of cloudy glass around their feet while it clawed the air, digging furrows of fire out of nothing all around them. It was not even bothering with Maglor. Compared to what had riled it now he was nothing…

They caught a scythe of fire before it slammed against Maglor’s sleeping face.

Almost nothing.

The Hallowing wriggled a defiant razor of pain against their palm so they released the fire to dissipate into the air from a bloodied palm.

They were so far from the trade routes out here. They were so far away from where caravans and inns made life tolerable.

They would have to endure further askance of their body to defy what the Quendi had taught it to need. Walk through the day and night to the oasis, give Maglor a chance to revive if he had already not, and then press on. If Maglor could not keep up they would carry him. They would bind him hand and foot with those filthy rags he wore if he fought them again. They could force their body to march through the day and night to remove themselves far from this place and pay the heavy price of doing so later, far away.

Far, far away.