Written by Manuel
He'd been on a Daredevil/Batman/Nightwing kick when the Net Event had happened, reading about Street Level heroes and thinking himself sophisticated for it. It was one of those pretensions of comic readers that he scorned, but was himself guilty of.
At least, until he'd been empowered with the very abilities of those street level heroes.
The world had been chaos at first. Suddenly millions of people were running around with superpowers. The vast majority of them in first world countries, especially the US. The result of that was a huge rise in patriotism, and in racism. The international relations had gotten alot uglier fast. Since the US was armed to the teeth with superhumans, it didn't matter. They volunteered in droves for army service, wanting to be superheroes. After all, the US was *better* than everybody else, obviously because they'd been blessed with more superhumans than anybody else. Few people looked to the obvious fact that more people in the US had internet access than anywhere else.
At first, Manuel tried to continue living a normal life. It was impossible, of course, but he tried as hard as he could. Recognizing him as a Net Event person was easy: He gained the chiseled look in the face and the lack of body fat that every male who'd been empowered by it did. Every woman effected by it quickly became a figure who could equal any fitness model in looks. They became comic-book people.
In a way, he was a little bitter about it. The resulting physical attraction meant that women who'd barely paid attention to him before now showed active interest. It was flattering, but also insulting at the same time. Most of them just wanted to date a celebrity, a superhuman. Few actually gave a damn about him, his values, what he believed in, or anything like that.
In the secret hours of the night, lying next to Zoe, he would wonder if she only married him because of that. He had tried to be as careful and selective as possible, picking only women that he'd known beforehand and that he respected, and that he knew were God-fearing Christians. Still, the change in attention that she had showed him was very sudden, and it hurt. He didn't want a superficial marriage, but it always nagged in his mind that thier relationship would never have had a chance, if not for the Net Event.
Trying to continue with his plans to teach spanish in high school was impossible. He could hear too much. For many blocks radius he could always hear everything that was going on, smell a thousand smells at once, all distinct. He could tell when somebody was lying by the change in thier heart rate, when somebody was hiding something, when somebody was angry, everything. It was eerie, almost like being telepathic, and it felt natural. He'd expected to be unable to sleep at night after getting Daredevil's senses, but all the noise faded into the background smoothly when he wanted it to.
Except all those times that he heard somebody getting mugged. Or somebody beating thier wife. Or a store getting robbed halfway across town. Or an errant superhuman venting his anger on a normal person. The latter seemd to happen alot.
He couldn't ignore it, not and live with himself. At first he called them "interventions", and told himself that he was only doing it when it intruded on him. A thrown blunt object, bouncing around with perfect accuracy, always did the trick. He never missed. A coke can easily knocked a gun out of somebody's hands. A frat boy planning on taking advantage of a girl never saw the unseen person who'd take his wallet, making him unable to buy beer, only for it to mysteriously return to his pocket later. A raging superhuman citizen being taken down by a perfectly aimed electrical wire that snapped when he severed in two by throwing his pocketknift at it.
He started to enjoy it, the kind of power he had. It wasn't anything like the amazing, God-like powers of some people. He couldn't control minds, teleport, throw trucks, of turn into a dragon. But he didn't have to. His power frightened superhumans, because it was so mundane, but so dangerous. Many of them realized that he could kill them, easily, if he wanted to.
He finally resigned himself to the reality of needing to do something with the powers. After talking it over with Lindsay, they decided the best thing would be for him to join the army Superhuman program, and live on base. The trouble was, however, that his powers hadn't granted him any sort of superhuman strength or stamina. Boot Camp was a nightmare for him, he got placed with regular recruits, and barely made it. His knees hurt constantly, all his muscles were sore, and a seargeant yelling in his face was something he could barely stand. He barely avoided failing the PT test every time. He scored absolutely perfect on every weapons and firearms test, of course. They tried to shunt him into the variant of special forces training they had for superhumans next. By this time, he was getting into something resembling decent shape, and his body was beginning to fill out what the superhuman physiology allowed for. Still, the mental stress of Spec Ops training was brutal, and despite the male-model looks he wasn't in *that* good of shape yet. He failed the physical tests three times, and walked away before ever reaching Hell Week.
It was humiliating.
He sank into a depression for a while, which wasn't good, since by that point Zoe was swollen with thier first child, and they were short on money due to his having left his teaching job to go to the army for half a year. The stamp on his army discharge read "Could Not Adapt To Military Lifestyle." It was a regular discharge not an honorable one. It even made the local Denton news, "SUPERHERO FLUNKS TRAINING!" was pasted on the front page of the Denton Chronicle for a whole day. Most of his friends were supportive. Other superhumans less so. It burned his pride, made him want to do something.
For a little while he simply distracted himself by visiting and meeting in person everybody he'd know from the Rumbles Board, and from Ex Libris Nocturnis. Meeting them was bizarre, often awkward. Some of them were scary to be around, and those he quickly excused himself from.
Then Daniel simply suggested that he join the police force. They had superhuman units, called "SuperSWATs". He took him up on the idea. It was a brilliant notion. Dalllas SWAT had stringent physical requirements, but it wasn't something unattainably hard, nor accompanied by mental torture. On the first day of training he broke every single field record the SWAT had ever set for weapons use, and spend the next few weeks qualifying on every single weapon they had, including ones specially developed for taking down superhumans.
What he didn't count on was that, eventually, he'd have to kill people.
It came pretty soon. His first son, Jeremy, had just been born, and he'd just come off a 2 month vacation for that to return to full-time duty. He made fast friends with a superhuman on the SuperSWAT team called John "Excalibur" Wilson, and another called Brenda "Morrigan" Davis. They adored his wife and his child, and they showed the beginnings of a sort of strange extended family. It didn't hurt that they paid him ridiculous amounts of hazard pay. He'd always wanted to drive a BMW, and now he did.
He had always managed to avoid killing. He could bounce bullets perfectly off four different wall surfaces, in a room that he percieve by sound alone, and still disable a hostage taker. He could aim a flash-bang so that it would go off right in a super-criminal's face. He could sneak unseen, undetected, into a crazed telepathic cult-leader's hideout and plant a vial full of massively powerful sedatives in the guy's back, and then vanish from plain sight again so quickly that the Cultist's didn't have time to respond to thier "God" falling over with a huge syringe in his chest. He was a terror to behold for criminals, dealing justice with a silenced MP5 that never, ever missed. Every single hostage situation in the Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex that year was resolved within an hour of starting. It would have been less, but it often took time to get to the sites.
Eventually, though, there was one that just wouldn't stop. A superhuman that couldn't be restrained. That thought the world owed him something. That didn't take shit from anybody. He called himself El Lobo Loco. Manuel felt ashamed that he shared the same ethnic background as the guy. Lobo Loco died when Manuel put a .50 caliber shell through his skull, after all other attempts at restraint and capture had failed.
His reaction hadn't been that bad. He usually ended up hating criminals fiercely after a point. He know it wasn't proper, that forgiveness and mercy were the traits he should show, that anger towards another human being was the same sin as committing murder. He tried to love them, somehow, but he couldn't. Perhaps it was a defense mechanism, empathizing with the people he had to kill to protect the public would probably quickly drive him insane. Hating them was easier. Telling himself that he was a government agent, put in authority by God to deal out life and death, was easier.
But the horror of thier faces stayed with him. There is something horribly chilling about seeing someone die, about taking a life, no matter how much they deserved it. He killed alot of people, most of them superhumans, as more and more frequently all other methods of restraint failed. His fellow SWAT members nicknamed him "Nightmare Bot", in reference to some video game. Superhuman criminals started to hate him, as his reputation began to spread. On three different occasions he had to kill superhumans who tried to target his family to get at him. He grew to dread and fear especially the ones with mental powers. They couldn't effect him, as his Stealth seemed to extend to the mental realms as well, but they could effect people. His friends, his family.
He became haunted and withdrawn gradually. By the time Jeremy entered pre-school and Zoe gave birth to Rachel, his wife practically had to take care of him at home. He had no motivation for anything other than the brutal horror of combat. It seemed like he was having to battle rogue superhumans nearly every day. His life had turned into a war zone. He still loved the people he was close to, but he wasn't made for the kind of life he led. Excalibur and Morrigan were raising his kids as much as he was, after a point. It didn't surprise him when they got hitched, too, and moved in next door. He laughed at the irony of his wife getting pregnant a third time. Surely his sperm, sharing his apathy and feeling of coldness at the world, wouldn't bother with such a thing as fertilizing Zoe's eggs. Yet they did. Slowly, life and energy returned to him, and he grew engrossed with Zoe's pregnancy and carrying of Emily, thier third child. He took and extended vacation and traveled the world with Zoe and Excalibur, wanting to see a life beyond fury and gunfire and fear. It came alive for him again, and he found his peace with his work.
He returned to work after that with vigor, and as a result grew even more feared by superhuman criminals. The Army even gave him a call, offering to reinstate him, and a waiver to let him skip the PT tests in the Superhuman division training. He told them to go shove it gleefully, and took care of his city.
He had heard, of course, of superhumans with even more frightening powers than the mental ones, of visitors from other worlds, of the rumors of parallell earths where Net Events had also happened, of scarred, broken people who had been shunted off to hells by alien superhumans, only to return years later, a shadow of thier former selves. He didn't expect those frightening things to come to him directly, though. He didn't expect reality to shatter as one of the beings released an uncontrolled burst of demensional gateway shards through an entire city block to make an escape.
He didn't expect to behold a barren, blasted plain covered with ash and smelling of sulfur and rotting flesh. Yet there he was, as the gateway shard faded, standing in the countryside of Middle Earth. Of Mordor. Stranded on a world he knew not of, yet, with nothing but his SWAT gear.
It didn't take long for the tear to come as he realized that he might never see his home again. But it was only one tear. He had returned his life from despair, and he knew if there was a way to bring him here, there was a way to get him home.
He set off across the countryside.
The blasted, black plains slowly gave way to rocky hills as he hiked across the barren landscape. A pall of black clouds stretched from horizon to horizon, letting barely any light in. It grew dimmer still than when he'd first appeared, leeching the color away from the landscape.
He'd spyed a great, isolated mountain far off on the horizon, quite a few miles from where he was at first. From the slight tremors in the earth, it was an active volcano, inside a ring of now dead volcanoes that formed a mountain chain around where he was. That accounted for most of the smells of ash and brimstone, but not the rotting odor that wafted to his nose now and again. For a time, he'd heard a sound that he hadn't in while: Silence. Not total, of course. There was the wind, the tremors, and his breathing. But no other people. No other heartbeats except his own, for miles around. It would have been peaceful if he were not lost on an alien world.
There was a tower, too, in the distance. A fortress that he'd missed at first, it being so far that even his senses hadn't spotted it at first. Another pass, this time with low-light amplification gear and magnifiers, had caught it.
It was the most bizarre thing he'd ever seen. A fortress with a single, lonely black tower rising out of it. At the top of the tower were four spires. Floating between the spires was a single red unblinking eye, wreathed in flame. It seemed to stare at him through the gear. He shuddered, and looked away. He set off to the west, away from that fortress and that volcanoe, towards the side of the mountain chain nearest.
It was several more hours of hiking before he began to draw near it, and felt the stir of life again. In the distance, set into the mountain chain, was a tower, set to guard a pass. Caves forrowed into the cliffsides as well. Much nearer, in the rocky terrain, he could hear hearts beating and feet stomping, metal rustling. It sounded like a medieval army on the move.
He clicked the safety off his rifle, and advanced more guardedly.
When he discovered what they were, he nearly retched. They were monsters. Literally. Even the most debased superhuman criminals had still been human, had been normal looking, apart from the absurd costumes some of them had worn. These things looked like twisted mockeries of humanity. They had slack, drooling jaws, tusks protruding from thier mouths, yellow predatory eyes, misshape limbs bulging with grotesque muscle, and greenish, oily skin. Patchwork armor covered thier bodies, and they carried black iron scimitars. Several of them were dragging bodies behind them, dead ones. He could see that they were the corpses of normal people.
It's like I'm in a fantasy novel.
He thought back to ever novel he'd ever read with something like this. This was like the Blight in Jordan's books, like Mordor in Tolkien's trilogy, like Lord Foul's domain in the Thomas Covanent books. The Grey Waste in the Forgotten Realms setting. Any of those. Supposedly there were demensions out there where every fictional world existed. But this could be any of those, or none of them. He wished that he hadn't given up reading fantasy after the Net Event. At the time, it had seemed silly to continue, as his life had become far more fantastical than any book. Now, though, he wished he had kept on.
He Stealthed long before they got within range of seeing him, and he saw that they were the bodies of soldiers, warriors. They were fair-haired, tall. The monsters were already somewhat battered, nervous, and tired. It was like they had been defeated, and so were dragging home whatever trophy they could find.
It stirred anger in him, and not a little contempt. They were monsters anyway, it would be like putting down a rabid animal. He put away his heavy rifle and pulled out his MP5. This wasn't something that would take superhuman-killing firepower.
His shots came out of nowhere, striking the leader in the back of the head. One bullet for each monster, scattering thier brains to the landscape. He squeezed the trigger calmly, listening to the pop of each shot. In a few seconds, it was over. Monster bodies littered the ground, next to the bodies of humans. He realized then that he didn't know what to do with them. They deserved a decent burial, and the monsters deserved to be burned. But he didn't have any food with him, and he wasn't going to exhaut himself digging a hole in the ash-covered ground with his hands.
He left them all there, and continued on to the mountains, drawing nearer and nearer to that tower and those caves guarding the pass in the mountain range.
The foothills of the mountain range got steeper gradually, leading up to a series of caves. There were several paths up into them, a few of which led off towards the fort built into the mountainside. He could hear more of the strange creatures moving around in that fortress, easily identifiable by thier raspy breathing and irregular heartbeats. To him they felt *unhealthy*, like they were the result of taking a normal person and warping them, twisting them horribly. He suspected that they didn't have much of a lifespan. He didn't even want to think about how they reproduced, since there were so many of them.
Unseen, he made his way up to the entrance of one of the caves some distance from that fortress. Climbing made his knee hurt like it often did, and the weight of his weaponry didn't help any either. It was oddly dark inside the cave, like a black pit, despite the dim, diffused light that made it's way through the murky clouds. Even his eyes could see *nothing* inside that cave. It was like something leeched the light out of it. His radar sense told him that the cave led off into the mountainside, and from the echoes and sounds of the air moving through it he could feel that it was part of a much larger cave network, but he could see nothing. Even light amplification gear didn't pentrate it, although IR mode revealed it to be lined with cool stone. The laser sight mounted on his gun (which he kept only for intimidation value) didn't work on the blackness either, the beam literally ended in midair upon entering the cave.
Leaving his IR headset on, and paying attention to his senses, he proceeded into the cavern. There were smaller things alive in here, and far-away distorted sounds that could have been people, or monsters, or rocks falling. He put his MP5 away and readied his HHV Rifle, extending the shoulder and body brace, priming the chamber. Somehow, he knew something was going to die before he exited this cave again, if what he'd seen of this world so far was any indication. It wasn't going to be him, if he could help it
Written by Tanith 12-02-2002 01:00 PM
They had switched back to the breathing masks as they walked down the valley of Ephel Duath. But it wasn't nearly enough. While the masks could filter out all the material contaminants in the foggy air, it could do little to relieve them of the miasma of evil that clung to the path into Mordor.
Gimli the dwarf was perhaps the least affected, being race with natural constitution against corruption. The rest of the group all had some kind of psi-abilities, which only served to make them more aware of the taint of malevolence that hung in the air.
And once again, Tanith's pokemon Eos led the way, in his Umbreon form. The vale was so dark that even elven senses were dulled; and IR scanners could pick up little except the roaming bands of orcish patrols that also moved along the road. The bright rings on Eos' pelt gave them scarcely enough illumination to find their steps, but was dim enough that a minimum amount of tampering was needed to hide it from prying eyes.
Suddenly, the rock beneath them trembled, with a great rumbling noise. Then came a great red flash. Far beyond the eastern mountains it leapt into the sky and splashed the lowering clouds with crimson. Then came a great crack of thunder.
Minas Morgul answered. There was a flare of livid lightnings; forks of blue flame springing up from the tower and from the encircling hills into the sullen clouds. The earth groaned; and out of the city there came a cry. Across the narrow valled the walls of the evil city stood, and its cavernous gate, shaped like an open mouth with gleaming teeth, was gaping wide. Out of the gate an army came.
All that host was clad in sable, dark as the night; small black figures in rank upon rank, marching swiftly and silently. Before them went a great cavalry of horsemen moving like ordered shadows, and at their head were one of the two remaining Black Riders.
Reinforcements? The thought crossed the minds of the four observers as they stayed still and silent where they stood. Valar help our friends back at Minas Tirith...
Finally, the army passed, and the four breathed easily again. They moved on, onto the climbing ledge, and then rounded the angle where the mountain-side swelled out again. There the path suddenly entered a narrow opening in the rock. The first stair of Cirith Ungol.
The stairway itself was enclosed on both sides by mountain walls. And it was steep, making it all the more dangerous in the darkness. The steps were narrow, spaced unevenly, and often treacherous. Many were worn and smooth at the edges, and some were broken, and some cracked as foot was set upon them. As the group climbed up and up, they became more and more aware of the long black fall behind them, should they ever slip.
It was not long before the two human members began to tire. Legolas was not faring well either, for though his stamina was the greatest of them all, the darkened enclosure of tainted evil had taken its toll on the wood elf. Gimli was likewise less winded, but his height had made it difficult for him to climb the staircase nevertheless.
Just as it seemed that there would be no end to the staircase, their steps fell onto a gentle slope. With nigh audible sighs from all of them, they paused there to rest.
Tanith consulted her map; or rather, the novels that were also their guide. "That was the Straight Stair," she whispered softly to them in the darkness. "There's still the Winding Stair... it's supposedly longer."
"Great," muttered CBY. "I can't wait to get this over with. This place feels worse when you're Force sensitive to the Dark Side."
"These be no caves that even a dwarf would love," growled Gimli in a low voice as he rubbed his ankles. "Cursed be the Ring and its lord."
"Did I just hear a dwarf declare dislike for caves, Master Gimli?" murmured Legolas from where he was vainly peering into the gloom. "Next we shall see you dancing under the trees." He turned toward the direction that Gimli's voice had come from, a wane smile on his face, as he tried to lighten the dark atmosphere around them.
The dwarf snorted. "I'll show you dislike," he muttered, but did not rise to the bait.
The passage between the stairs seemed to stretch on for miles, and always the chill air flowed over them, rising as they went on to a bitter wind. The mountains seemed to be trying with their deadly breath to daunt them, to turn back from the secrets of the high places, or to blow them away into the darkness behind. They only knew that they had come to the end, when suddenly they felt no wall at their right hand. A cliff was on their left and a chasm on their right.
More hours passed along the passage before they came to a wall looming up, and once more a stairway opened before them. It was another long and weary ascent. But this stairway did not delve into the mountain-side. Here the huge cliff face sloped backwards, and the path like a snake wound to and fro across it. At one point it crawled sideways right to the edge of the dark chasm, and below they could see as a vast deep pit the great ravine at the head of Morgul Valley.
Suddenly, Tanith felt a light touch on her shoulder. She turned to look at Legolas, who was behind her. The look was lost in the darkness, but she caught his whispered words.
"Do my eyes deceive me... or does a light not of Morgul-make shine yonder?"
Squinting, Tanith looked around her, trying to peer through the gloom with her own eyes. But she saw nothing, except patterns in the darkness that was surely her own eyes playing tricks upon her. Still, the words of the keen-eyed elf was not to be dismissed lightly, and she began switching through the various sensors of her gelsuit.
A flash. One that had quickly disappeared as if around a bend in the mountain.
And another, just a few steps away.
With the speed of electrons, she had the complete analysis of the light source displayed before her on the visor of her suit. A new sense of hope came to her in the darkness of Mordor.
"It's a pokemon effect. Flash," she whispered excitedly to the others. "Z-man must be using his Chikorita to lead the way!"
Gimli gave a quiet oath. "So we're close then?" he asked hopefully.
"Closer than we've been," replied Tanith. "The staircase winds around the mountains like a snake. But at least he's on the same staircase as we are."
"And at least we're on the right track," finished CBY. "Let's hurry, then. I'd rather not we go too far into this land if we didn't have to. What comes after the stairs anyways?"
"Um..." Tanith tried to recall the novels. "There was the Watchers of the path, and some tunnel..." She suddenly trailed off, her eyes widening in the dark as she recalled the next chapter of the tale.
Shelob's lair. Oh no. Why did it have to be *spiders*?
Written by Tanith 12-02-2002 07:52 PM
As the group in the shadow of Cirith Ungol continued along the Winding Stairs, the darkness surrounding them began to lessen; but it was not a welcome light that greeted them, but a deep bloody red hue that flashed across the skies. It was impossible to tell whether a dreadful morning were indeed coming to that place of shadow, or whether they saw only the flame of some great violence of Sauron in the torment of Gorgoroth beyond.
Still far ahead, and still high above, stood perhaps the very crown of this bitter road. There, against the sullen redness of the eastern sky a cleft was outlined in the topmost ridge, narrow, deep-cloven between two black shoulders. On either shoulder was a horn of stone; the one upon the left of which was tall and slender. In it burned a red light, or else the red light in the land beyond was shining through a hole.
"A black tower," Legolas said as he pointed to the horn above the outer pass. "This way is guarded."
"I guess it was too much to ask for that we'd have an easy way in," sighed CBY. "Though I think that we've been very lucky so far not to have met any real resistance. Unless Sauron's really stupid, all of the roadways into Mordor would be watched, and we just happened to pick a less watched one."
Tanith remained silent, still thinking about large spiders and her renegade friend. There the group rested for a moment, as they silently assuaged their hunger and thirst after their exertions. Then they passed on, up the long ravine between the piers and columns of torn and weathered rock. Some way ahead, a mile or so, was a great grey wall, a last huge upthrusting mass of mountain-stone. Darker it loomed, and steadily it rose as they approached, until it towered up high above them. Deep shadow lay before its feet, and in the midst of it could be seen the opening of a cave.
"Ugh! What is that smell?" Gimli finally blurted as he wrinkled his nose. "It's been getting worse and worse for the last stretch of road."
"The lovely fragrance of Mordor," muttered CBY to himself. He, like the others, was breathing shallowly, as if to keep from inhaling as much of that awful stench as possible.
Legolas looked positively ill. "It is the odor of decay, as if filth unnameable were piled and hoarded in the dark within." He looked at the cave as if it were a living monster before him. "What is this place?"
"Torech Ungol... Shelob's Lair," Tanith replied reluctantly as she looked up from her database. She wasn't sure what reactions she would receive from the elf and dwarf upon learning of the sole occupant of the cave, but nor did she want the others to enter unprepared. Or unwilling.
"Shelob..." Legolas looked thoughtful, insofar as an elf could look thoughtful while keeping from gagging. "That name seems familiar to me, though I do not recall the tale." Bright eyes fixed on Tanith. "What does the lore of your land say of Shelob?"
Calling up the relevant passage from the novels, Tanith began to recite what little information she had on the creature:
"...an evil thing in spider-form, even such as once of old had lived in the Land of the Elves in the West that is now under the Sea. How Shelob came there, flying from ruin, no tale tells, for out of the Dark Years few tales have come. But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dur; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness.
"Far and wide her lesser broods, bastards of the miserable mates, her own offspring, that she slew, spread from glen to glen, from the Ephel Durath to the eastern hills, to Dol Guldur and the fastness of Mirkwood. But none could rival her, Shelob the Great, last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world."
There was silence.
"Well," Gimli spoke up at last, trying to lighten the tension. "One would think that we are fortunate to have an elf so familiar with the slaying of the spiders of Mirkwood. This Shelob is naught to the likes of us."
Legolas looked even paler than before. "It is perilous to dismiss the dark offspring of Ungoliant the Maia, the despoiler of the Two Trees of Valinor," he chided weakly.
CBY merely drew his lightsaber, with a flick of his wrist, extending its bright blade. "It doesn't matter to me," he said in an odd voice. "My... our fates lie in that lair. And the fate of Middle Earth." With that, he took the first step into the dark cave.
Tanith looked anxiously at the other two and was torn between wanting their companionship into the darkness and wanting them to be safe outside. Gimli seemed to understand the reticence in her gaze, and coughed to gain her attention.
"Let it not be said that a dwarf shall refuse to enter a cave, even if it be of Mordor's foulest lair," he declared, then shot a look at the elf behind him. "But no one would think less of thee, Master Elf, if you would remain here to... guard the door." For once there was not the usual irony in the voice of the dwarf, but rather a kind sympathy.
Legolas shook his head slowly. "Nay, Master Gimli," he said slowly, "I will not abandon this company nor its goal... though I fear I would be of less use thither."
With that, the three followed into the cave. Immediately, black stifling darkness descended upon them, as if a hungry beast that made to devour all light. The faint glow of CBY's lightsaber did not reach a mere inch away from the blade, nor the glowing rings of Eos' markings.
The air was still, stagnant, heavy, and sound fell dead -- a black vapour wrought of veritable darkness itself that, as it was breathed, brought blindness not only to the eyes but to the mind, so that even the memory of colors and of forms and of any light faded out of thought. Night always had been, and always would be, and night as all.
"Uh... Tanith?" came the voice of CBY as if from far away, even though the light of his blade shown but a short distance away, "I seem to sense many passageways here, but I can't distinguish them out. There's something here that's blocking my senses." He coughed lightly. "Some light would help."
Blindly, in the dark, Tanith rifled through her subspace pocket. "In the... lore... the ringbearer passed through by the light of Earendil, held within a phial that was the gift of the Lady of Lothlorien. I don't have anything of level of magical power, but I hope that technology would do as well."
A sudden light pierced the darkness, illuminating a large area around the company. They all blinked by the sudden brightness in the gloom, before their eyes adjusted once more. In her hand, Tanith held an omni-directional light beacon. Its rays seemed to struggle forth into the gloom, as if fighting off the oppressive darkness by sheer power, before being suddenly cut off a short distance away.
"That's not just a flashlight, is it?" asked CBY as he looked at the device.
"It's a space-station docking beacon emitter," said Tanith wryly, "at nearly half power too." She shook her head. "At least there won't be any orcs down here to be alerted by the light."
CBY goggled at the device. Only the two offworlders knew just how much energy had been expended in creating that dim light in but the doorstep of Shelob's dark lair. They were brought out of their marveling by the voice of Gimli the dwarf, who, being closer to the ground, first noticed the marks in the dusty floor of the cave.
Footprints. It could not be aught else. And among the various tracks of strangely shaped feet, most likely made by orcs, there were the faint but unmistakable prints of a pair of sneakers. Right alonside the spidery prints that Legolas recognized to be the tracks of Gollum.
"Well, that certainly makes things easier," remarked CBY.
The group hurried on down the twisting maze of tunnels in the cave. Often, they would brush by a lingering cobweb, its ghostly grey tendrils bringing goosebumps to flesh where they touched it. At length they passed by a great, dark void that seemed to reach down into the earth, and out of it came a reek so foul, and a sense of lurking malice so intense, that they all reeled.
"Up," coughed Tanith as she tried not to lose the contents of her stomach. "Run up! Quickly!"
Half stumbling, they passed by the dreadful opening. And suddenly it was easier to move, as if some hostile will for the moment had released them. They came to a halt at a forking path just beyond that perilous corridor, panting from the close call.
"What... what devilry was that?" demanded Gimli. No one answered the rhetorical question. The dwarf switched tracks as he calmed down. "Where is our path now?" he asked, looking around for the tracks.
Legolas suddenly became still, and his head tilted as if heeding some unheard sound. "I... I hear a voice," he whispered softly, "a human voice. It is not too far away."
The others immediately quieted, and strained to hear the sound as well. Tanith and CBY suddenly rushed toward the voice, having heard its faint echoes in the nearby caves:
Written by Tanith 12-03-2002 07:55 PM
The voice had come from nearby. It did not take long for the two human seekers to find the chamber it came from, illuminated faintly by an unnatural light. In haste did they spring toward the mouth of the chamber, ready to face the monster within.
But fortune was not with them. Just as CBY and Tanith rounded the corridor into the chamber, a mighty gust of foul poisonous air met them square in the face. Blinded and choking from the wave of darkness, they stumbled and fell to the ground, carried into the chamber by the momentum of their rush.
Were it not for the meager filters that had protected their breaths, that would have been the last that their eyes beheld light. Now, gasping from the effects of the putrid breath, they vainly fought to regain their breath.
As she prayed that her Quickening to hasten her recovery, Tanith sweeped her eyes across the chamber before her in a single glance, pale-lit by the beacon in her hand. She saw her long looked for friend, Z-man, lying a short ways away, a single spider-spun cord wound about him about the waist. He laid deathly pale upon the ground, with no signs of being either alive or dead.
Before him protectively stood two of his pokemon, Kadabra and Chikorita, both alert yet strained. The many scorch marks and cut marks in the chamber attested to their struggles. Not too far away from her and CBY, lay the still form of Houndour; deathly still in a manner alike to his master.
And in the center of the chamber was Shelob in all her horror. Great horns she had, and behind her short stalk-like neck was her huge swollen body, a vast bloated bag, swaying and sagging between her legs. Her legs were bent, with great knobbed joints high above her back, and hairs that stuck out like stell spines, and at each leg's end there was a claw.
She stood facing the Houndour that she had undoubted just felled. And now, the baleful eyes fixed upon the two humans, monstrous and abominable, bestial and yet filled with purpose. They glittered from within, a flame kindled in some deep pit of evil thought, and with hideous delight in gloating over their prey trapped beyand all hope of escape.
Tanith swallowed, half to catch her breath and half out of fear. But in the moment it had taken for her to sweep eyes over the room, something suddenly flew by above her head.
Abruptly, of the baleful eyes that had fixed upon her went out, pierced by an elven-crafted arrow. Legolas and Gimli had entered the room behind the two humans, and their tardiness had save them from the poisonous breath that their companions had caught by chance.
With a roar, Gimli ran straight to the huge bulk of Shelob, swinging his mighty axe with all his strength upon her foot. Another arrow flew forth, this time aimed for the center her head.
But Shelob was not as dragons are, no softer spot had she save only her eyes. Knobbed and pitted with corruption was her age-old hide, but ever thickened from within with layer on layer of evil growth.
The axe-blade scored it with a dreadful gash, but those hideous folds could not be pierced by any strength of men, not though Elf or Dwarf should forge the steel or the hand of Beren or Turin wield it. And the arrow glanced harmlessless from her crown.
Enraged, Shelob turned her wrath upon the dwarf who was all but beneath her bulk. She heaved up the great bag of her belly high above Gimli's head. Poison frothed and bubbled from the wound, and she made to drive her huge bulk down upon him.
But another swift arrow claimed her attention from sealing Gimli's fate. Another great baleful eye went dark. Even as Gimli sputtered from the putrid corruption that came so close to him, Shelob moved with surprising speed toward Legolas.
Seeing his own peril, Legolas fired another arrow at the approaching spider and dove out of the the way. But neither the arrow nor the spider found their mark, for both were seized by an unseen force and thrown, slamming heavily into the cavern walls.
Two razor sharp leaves followed their prone forms. One sliced harmlessly along Shelob's bulk, and one scored a long gash upon the shoulder of the dazed elf. In the short reprieve that Shelob's inattention had bought them, Z-man's two remaining pokemon had recovered enough to attack once more. But their attacks were indiscriminant of friend or foe, and rained down upon all equally.
The force of Kadabra's telekinetic blow had thrown Legolas perilously close to Shelob; and combined with the oppressive poison of Shelob's presence, rendered the elf unconscious. Just as Shelob leaped toward him with a cry of triumph, another cry of challenge overrode her shriek.
With speed born of the Force, CBY was suddenly between her and her prey. The flash of his lightsaber lanced across her face, leaving a deep scorch wound across it. For while no man could wield a blade forged of elf or dwarf with enough force to pierce Shelob's hide; the hot cutting blade of a lightsaber was beyond the need for force.
Another flash. Another gash. Behind the steady brightness of the lightsaber blade, CBY's eyes were steeled with the knowledge of his own fate.
Meanwhile, Tanith decided that the aid from Z-man's pokemon was not aid that they needed. She reached for one of her own pokeballs, and in a flash, her Scizor stood before her.
"Tachi, Eos," she called them. "Take out Z-man's two other pokemon there. I don't want them to interfere in this."
Trusting her pokemon to be able to fight on their own initiative, she pulled out her blaster and turned back to the fight between CBY and Shelob. Already, the great spider was riddled with the scorch-marks of the lightsaber. Great gaping wounds lay upon her, and green poisonous ooze poured from the wounds.
But CBY was not faring well either, standing so close to the foul fumes and poisonous airs of the wounded spider. His eyes watered and his breath came in short gasps; unnatural sweat glistened across his brow, and a slight tremor could be seen in his limbs.
Aiming carefully at the eyes furthest away from CBY, she fired at Shelob's monstrous form. Not all of them hit, but she did succeed in putting out two more great baleful eyes. Moreover, the distraction that she brought allowed CBY to score several more vital hits upon the beast, including one that almost... almost succeeded in bisecting her head.
Meanwhile, Tachi the Scizor rushed his opponents with his artificially boosted speed. At just below the speed of sound, he made a Slash at the undefended Chikorita, followed by an even faster Quick Attack.
Kadabra tried to freeze the blurring form of their attacker, but found himself on the end of a Bite attack from Eos, who had sprung out of the shadows on the end of a Faint Attack. Ignoring Kadabra's psionic counterattacks, Eos made another Faint Attack, using the shadows cast in the dark chamber to his fullest advantage.
Pausing briefly from her attempts to blind more of Shelob's great eyes, Tanith took in the state of her friend's wayward pokemon. She could tell they were at the end of their strength, and did not wish to see them suffer even more for the folly of their master. Pulling out a pair of pokeballs adapted from Mewtwo's design, made especially to contain trained pokemon, she captured the failing Kadabra and Chikorita, as well as the still fallen Houndour.
Turning back, her eyes widened in horror as she realized that Shelob had backed CBY into a corner with her great black bulk. His back was pressed to the cavern walls, and his eyes held a bleak resignation.
Shelob's great limbs quivered, and she sprung forth in one last desperate bid of anger and vengeance, with only the malevolent intent to rend and kill. CBY met the charge head on, his lightsaber bright before him.
There was a horrible flash, and a sound of searing flesh. Tanith gasped into her hand as her stomach churned in nausea and horror. For even as the lightsaber pierce deep and far into Shelob's putrid flesh, bisecting the black beast in twain... so did the great fangs of Shelob sink deep into the shoulder of her slayer, dripping with foul black venom.
For an eternal moment they remained there, both slayer and slain, locked in a macabre embrace of death. Then, as if in slow motion, the great Shelob collapsed, her long spindly legs twitching once more before falling still. CBY, too, collapsed to the ground, convulsing in pain from the venom within him. A trickle of blood bubbled from the corner of his mouth, from where he had bitten through his lip to keep from screaming from the agony.
"Yeo..." Tanith could barely choke out the name and she finally broke through her horrified paralysis. Rushing to his side, she pulled him from where he was half buried under the black venomous form. The light in his eyes flickered, and she knew with a falling sense of doom that there was nothing she could do for him, nor time to bring him to safety.
A strangled gasp tore from CBY's tortured throat. Leaning down with tears in her eyes, Tanith attended to the last words of her fallen companion.
Written by Yeoman 12-03-2002 08:18 PM
CBY: Tell Bilbo.. I'm sorry.
CBY: And... tell my tale to those who ask. Tell it truely, the evil deeds, along with the good, and let me be judged acordingly. And lastly... tell Christine I... wish.. I could.. be.. there...
With that, the form of the former Chaos Bringer slowly vanished into a slight twinkling. Leaving only his garment's and weapon's behind.
And the rest was scilence.
Written by Manuel 12-04-2002 07:27 AM
At last the distant sounds, distorted by rock formations of varying density and miles of tunnels, at last resolved themselves. They were the sounds of battle being waged in these caves. Many people fighting some sort of massive creature. More than that he couldn't tell yet. The smells in the cave were slightly more putrid as he progressed.
He sped up his pace a little, still cautiious. The image in his mind of what was going on in that room sharpened as he drew closer, and the sounds grew less and less distorted by refraction, until was a perfect picture. By this time the battle was over, having not taken very long. The panting breaths of exertion and wounds echoed out. The smells of blood, sweat, fear, poisons, and death. The massive smell of what was like bad breath multiplied by several orders of magnitude dominated these all.
Light, too, spilled out of the chamber where this battle had taken place. Impossibly, light streamed forth, despite the horrid soul-oppressing darkness. Some light was powerful enough to pierce it. He flipped his googles back up onto his forehead, and let his eyes beyond the light.
He knew these people. The sounds thier bodies made were familiar, distantly. Thier smells, too. He smelled a woman, which was bizarre in this nightmarish land that he had be hurled to. It was a scent that he knew, but couldn't place. Their voices gave them away when they started talking.
Fellow supers? What in the name of goodness and mercy are they doing here?
He did not approach stealthed, for fear of frightening them by appearing suddenly. The smell was getting truly horrid, so he put a gas mask on, fishing it out of his pouch and securing fitting it to his face. It cut off his sense of smell instantly, letting through nothing but stale, lifeless, clean filtered air. Deliberately making a little noise so as to be heard coming a ways off, entered the room slowly.
He entered to a scene of horror. What looked like a huge, mangled insect lay near one wall in the chamber, split in two by some weapon that had burned through many layers of it's tissue. The woman was kneeling next to someone laying on the ground. Another person was cocooned in spiderwebs. What he swore looked like an Elf from fantasy fiction was slumped unconsciously against a rock. A short, stocky beared figure was coughing, leaning on a battleaxe. There were two very odd creatures who were wandering around the room aimlessly. They looked too cute to be real, like a children's cartoon come to life... if it weren't for dust and splatters of foul blood that covered them.
The man said his last words and vanished, and the woman looked up to see him, as did creature with the axe and the strange cute creatures. He knew that he himself, clad all in menacing black with a mask, carrying an imposing weapon, must have looked like an enemy or some kind of monster himself. The woman had a blaster in hand, but looked a bit undecided as to what to do. The bearded man, judging by the way his physiological signs had changed, was ready to charge him, axe swinging.
Wishing he'd thought to put his HHV Rifle away first, he let it dip, pointing at the ground, raising his other hand away from himself, palm spread, trying to be as non-threatening as possible.
Written by Tanith 12-04-2002 09:43 PM
Black costume. Mask. Modern weaponry.
I don't like the looks of this.
There was no doubt in Tanith's mind that here was yet another traveler from outside of Middle Earth. Someone who had either worked around the Andromeda's teleportation blocks or had been a denizen of the Black Land since before they came. Someone who had either specifically tracked them down to this pit of darkness, or had stumbled upon them by chance out of all the vast lands of Mordor and the vast labyrinthine tunnels of Shelob's lair.
None of those possibilities boded well for them. If he had tracked them, then above all other possibilities was the chance that he too was a seeker of the One Ring. If he had come by chance... she did not trust any twist of fortune that Mordor might bring.
Even as thoughts of doubt and foreboding flashed across Tanith's mind, Gimli's roar of challenge rang in her ears, and he rushed the newcomer. Knowing full well that the dwarf would be no match for a modern gun, she rose to her feet to stop him.
But her words died upon the tongue, unneeded in light of what happened next. In a flash of pure darkness, something dropped down from one of the myriad small tunnels that lay near the roof of the chamber. A black round shape with eight spindly legs, that landed between the newcomer and the dwarf. A great spider, lesser than the mighty form of Shelob but deadly nonetheless, shrieked in hunger at Gimli, who barely pulled halt to his charge into the monster's maw.
Another shriek from above; another black spider landed atop the first, clambering quickly down and advancing upon the other morsel close to it. And then another, in quick succession, adding its hungry shrieks to that of its sisters.
Lifting her blaster once more, Tanith suddenly heard a scrabbling sound behind her, a gurgling that caused a sense of forboding to wash across her heart. She whirled around, and saw the dripping maw of yet another spider hovering a mere foot above the still unconscious form of Legolas.
Without needing to think about it, she fired at its face, and was gratified to see the hideous creature flail back, its entire face marred by the scoring of the blaster fire. Another blast struck it dead in the center of its body, and scored a deep gaping wound upon it. The beast shuddered, and crumpled to the ground.
So. These are not half as durable as Shelob was, nor has large. They must be her latest brood, still too young to be much of a threat... except in numbers and in hunger.
Filing away the reflections of her mind, Tanith hurried to the prone elf. Out of the corner of her eye, she noted that her pokemon had taken up the defense of the likewise still unconscious Z-man. A quick scan with her suit sensors showed that the quick healing of the elves had already done its work on Legolas; and the only malady that remained in him was a mild concussion that was already fading. With a quick application of her own sorcerous abilities, she quickened that healing, until he stirred and opened his eyes.
"We need to get out of here," she said to him urgently. "We can't let these spiderlings succeed in holing us inside this deathtrap. Get Z-man, and start moving out the way we came. Whatever you do, keep moving. The rest of us will be just behind you."
So saying, she pushed the light beacon into his hand and pushed him toward the direction that Z-man lay. Lifting her blaster once more, she fended off several more spiders that had dropped from the roof. Already, the chamber was fast filling with great black spiders. The stranger had been forced back out the corridor whence he emerged, and she could hear the sound of gunfire from beyond the bustling black forms.
Gimli was in his element, his axe cleaving the flesh of these lesser monsters with far more ease than its former efforts to scratch the hide of Shelob. But he was only one; and they were many; and the ever increasing number of bodies began to close in around him, cutting him off from his allies.
"Clear the way for us, Eos," Tanith commanded the Umbreon. Then she called to her Scizor, "Tachi, get Gimli out of there! Go supersonic!"
Legolas had picked up Z-man in one arm, and was making his way out of the chamber. Eos ran before him, using his Confusion Ray to clear the path. Behind him, Tanith fired another round of blasts at the spiders that sought to pursue them.
Meanwhile, there was a loud BOOM in the room as a metallic blur swepted into the midst of the spiders. The shockwave of Tachi's wings sent the spiders flying back, and the canny Scizor took the chance to seize Gimli in his clamps and soar above the black bodies that surrounded them, zooming out of the chamber at nigh the speed of sound.
As she ran on, Tanith attempted to contact the Andromeda. "Rommie? You there? We have Z. I need that emergency teleport to Mt. Doom for our... for myself, Legolas, Gimli, Z, and my pokemon. Please hurry!"
But to her consternation, the response from the Andromeda came back filled with static, and she could barely make out the words therein.
"...can't...schhkkkkt...... metaphyzzzzzkk..interphrerrkkzzz... above groukkkkzzz..."
But the words were enough for her to understand the message, and she called to Legolas and Eos moving before her: "Head up! Try to find high ground! We need to get out of these tunnels!"
And so the group slowly made their way up the twisting maze of corridors that was the lair of the great spider, occassionally blasting back the rush of an oncoming spawn of Shelob. Several times, they had to backtrack or take long detours when the enemy became too overwhelming. But in the end, they could feel a light breeze of fresh air in the dark corridors, air that was of Mordor and yet welcome to that dread darkness nonetheless. The sounds of their pursuers fell ever more faintly behind them. With lifted hearts, they sought with ever quickened steps for the source of that breeze.
Suddenly, Legolas halted abruptly, and those that were behind him were hard pressed to keep from crashing into him. When they had regained their balance, Legolas had already lowered Z-man to the ground, and was examining the opening to the corridor before them.
As he approached it, they saw a greyness which the light of the beacon did not pierce and did not illuminate, as if were a shadow that being cast by no light, no light could dissipate. Across the width and height of the tunnel a vast web was spun, densely-woven and greaty spun, with each thread as thick as rope.
"This way is closed to us," murmured Legolas as he studied the webs, "and I fear that the web of Shelob reaches far and wide."
"Cobwebs! Is that all? Have at 'em! Down with them!" cried Gimli as he wrenched himself free from Tachi's grasp. He hefted this trusty axe and hurled himself at the great web.
But the the thread that he struck did not break. It gave a little and then sprang back like a plucked bowstring, turning the blade and tossing up both sword and arm. Three times Gimli struck with all his force, three times too did Tachi the Scizor made to Slash the web. At last, one single cord of all the countless cords snapped and twisted, curling and whipping though the air as if alive. One end of it lashed at Gimli's hand, and he jumped back in startlement, glaring at the cord.
"What of the bright blade that CBY w--where is CBY?" asked Legolas as he suddenly realized that they were missing a member of their party. With his former state of unconsciousness and their subsequent hurried flight, he had not noticed the missing member before.
Tanith too remembered of the lightsaber that she had picked up from CBY's fallen form. But a casual glance showed that the poison from Shelob's fatal wound had eroded its handle as if a corrossive acid.
She looked sadly at Legolas. "He is gone," she whispered, "slain even as he slew the mighty daughter of Ungoliant."
There was a short silence born of sadness. And then Tanith recalled the way that the hobbits had won their way past the web in the book, and she recalled of her words with CBY on the night before they left Rivendell. With bittersweet memories, she reached into her subspace pocket.
"Gimli," she called to the dwarf, "use this." She held out to him Bilbo's sword, Sting, which glowed faintly blue in the semi-light. "It is the elven blade Bilbo gave to CBY's keeping before our journey began. There were webs of horror in the dark ravines of Beleriand where it was forged. Perhaps it will aid us now."
And it did. With each wide sweeping stroke of Sting's blue light, drawn swiftly across a ladder of close-strung cords, the bitter eddge shore through them like a scythe through grass. The strands leaped and writhed, then hung loose; and a great rent was made. Stroke after storke Gimli dealt, until at last all the web within his reach was shattered, and the upper portion blew and swayed like a loose veil in the incoming wind. The trap was broken.
Written by Tanith 12-04-2002 09:47 PM
Suddenly, before the company could move on, a small dark shape shot out of the shadows, straight for Z-man's unconscious form, its nimble fingers flying toward his pockets. A deep hiss betrayed the identity of their attacker as the creature alighted upon its prey.
Legolas was the first to react. With quick elven reflexes, he grabbed the slight form of Gollum. There was a struggle, as Gollum alternated between attempts to slither out of the elf's grasp, and attempts to cling to Z-man's form. Finally, Legolas picked up the creature bodily and slammed him against the cave wall.
The small sound, that of metal upon rock, echoed loudly to the ears of all within the chamber. All eyes fixed on the small golden band that fell from Gollum's clutches, that he had in turned plucked from Z-man's pocket.
The One Ring.
As Tanith stared at the ring, glittering despite the darkness of the cave, conflicting thoughts tumbled through her mind.
I could end this now. It would be so easy: pick it up and bring it outside and beam right to Mt. Doom... Or perhaps somewhere more secure. It won't be a threat to Middle Earth anymore if I take it away from this dimension. Even Sauron's power does not reach beyond the Void... Why need to... destroy... such a... powerful artifact...
But even as she began to take a step toward the ring, a painful burning sensation sprang up upon her chest. Her hands flew up to her neck, where underneath her gelsuit lay the Medallion given her by Eriond. Immediately, her mind cleared, and she could perceive that her thoughts had not wholly been of her own.
Ah no! That was so close. It's worse than Loki's Dagger... far more subtle.
Swallowing at the close call, she took a cautious step back, as if putting distance before herself and the Ring would quiet its seductive call. Her hands fell upon her pokeballs, ready to recall Tachi and Eos should they approach the Ring. But as her hand alighted upon one of the extra pokeballs tha she had brought along, the reason for its presence suddenly sprang into her mind.
We need a ringbearer now. But there's no one here that I'd rather let hold of that... thing. Ai, it was far easier when Z had it; ironically, an unconscious ringbearer would be the easiest to have around. If only we could destroy it here... let us see if the doubters back home are right. Let's pray that heat alone, equivalent to that within a volcano, is enough to destroy it.
With that, she took out the pokeball, and pressed the button. "I choose you, Lavan."
"Mag-mar." With a red flash, a large Magmar stood before her, his searing flames bringing sudden warmth to the darkness of the room.
Using her mental powers to shield the Magmar's thoughts as much as possible from outside intervention, Tanith spoke to him: "See if you can't melt that ring, Lavan."
Lavan the Magmar took a ponderous step toward the Ring, leaned down his great bulk and picked it up. With hands that burned as lava in the centers of the Earth, he closed his fingers into a great fist. Heat poured off from the pokemon in great waves -- heat so powerful that all within the room backed away from him. At length, the Magmar opened his hand once more. In his palm, the One Ring still glittered, whole and unscathed.
Tanith sighed in disappointment. "Guess heat alone won't do it," she muttered quietly to herself.
Before she could recall the Magmar, though, a faint screeching made it to the ears of the company, a sound that became ever louder at an alarmingly increasing rate.
Gimli swore. "How many of those foul creatures are there?!" he demanded rhetorically.
Legolas gave a grim smile as he restrained Gollum's latest attempts at struggling once more. "In Mirkwood, there may be two scores of great spiders spawned of a single brood," the Prince of Mirkwood informed him. "I suspect one such as Shelob the Great, mother of all the great spiders that plague the land, would have offspring far greater in number."
"That comforts me not at all, Legolas," muttered Tanith, readying her blaster once more.
"I suggest we hasten to depart these tunnels," Legolas continued. He eyed Z-man's body dubiously, laden as he was with the still-struggling Gollum.
"Whatever toxin that Shelob paralyzed him with still has not worn off yet, but at least it's not fatal," said Tanith as she followed his gaze. "Tachi, carry Z for now, please. Let's get out of here."
The Scizor picked up Z-man and hastened to follow the others out through the now cleared corridor. Occassionally, Tanith would turn and fire a few blasts down into the dark tunnels behind them, not caring what or where it hit, so long as it bought them some more precious time.
Finally, after a time too long to bear, the company finally emerged from the caves. To them, the dank Mordor air was for the first time a thing that brought relief instead of despair. Tanith turned as she saw that all had made it well clear of the exit. Holding a hand out toward the black opening in the earth, she gathered her Will and spoke a single Word of Power.
With a groaning rumble, the rock and earth around the opening crumbled inwards upon itself. Shrieks of pain and outrage could be heard within, before buried as well beneath the clash of stone.
But they did not stop. New shrieks came from around them. Some yet far off, and some that were disturbingly close. Legolas peered out upon the dimly lit ground, and called out a warning.
"More broodlings! They come!" he cried. "Alas! the Great Spider has many exits from her lair!"
"A few moments are all we need," said Tanith. "Eos, Jolteon form! Try and keep those things away from us!"
The dark pokemon suddenly blurred, his ringed pelt rising into golden spikes. Lightning crackled around his slight form as he faced the first of the spiders that rounded the rocks. Eos let loose a Thundershock attack, sending a sweep of electricity over the approaching creatures, sending them flying back from the impact, to crash twitching onto the ground.
Tanith, in the meantime, activated her communicator once more. "Rommie? Can you read me now?"
"I read you," came the clear reply.
Tanith repeated her request from earlier in the cave, adding Gollum and Lavan the Magmar onto the roster of those need to be teleported. As she remember the stranger that had shown up unbidden in the depths of Shelob's Lair, she added: "You can keep the teleportation blocks around Mordor down after beaming us there, Rommie. But keep the area around Mt. Doom jammed. There was an extradimensional stranger in the caves behind us; I don't know what he's here for, and I've not the time to find out. I don't want any more surprises on top of Mt. Doom... Oh, and keep an sensor out for that stranger if he comes out of these caves, wouldya?"
"Acknowledged," came the reply from the Andromeda. "I am lowering the teleport interdiction and commencing teleport."
With that, the world around the company dissolved into shimmering sparkles.
Written by Manuel 12-05-2002 12:29 AM
It hadn't come as much of a shock when the others abandoned him, carving their own way out of the tunnels away from him, looking to thier own survival. Still, when the swarming spiders forced him out into the tunnel, and no help was offered to him, hatred swelled up and burned inside him. The same hatred that he felt for rogue superhumans. He had little desire to fight it down, even though he knew it was totally irrational.
He had hastily jammed his HHV rifle into it's sling case on his back, pulling out him MP5 and getting to work. The extendable shoulder and hip braces of the rifle still stuck out, awkwardly slowing him down. This was a nightmare beyond imagining. He couldn't count the number of them that were in the tunnels, seemingly having appeared out of the very rock itself. He gave each one a single shell in the braincase, and they shuddered and died. The bodes of thier comrades didn't seem to slow them down much, and after moments he watched in horror as they grabbed and tore apart thier own kind. 30 shells in a clip went *very* fast, and each time he switched they nearly surged and tore him apart.
The creatures back him town the corridor further, into a small intersection. More were coming from the other two directions, and he climbed onto a large rock in the tunnel while squeezing off one round after another. It was absurd. Another clip ran out, he let it fall away and jammed a new one in. More of the hell-spawned bugs poured out of the choked tunnels, like a scene out of some Sci-Fi nightmare. He remember watching Aliens as a child, somehow reminded of how he had thought that he sympathized with the Marines, outnumbered and overhwhelmed.
Feh. Colonial Marines had nothing on him now.
The sheer number of spiders that had thier gaze affixed on him at any one time made it utterly impossible for him to disappear. Even ninja-stealth needed something to work with. A shadow. Cover. Dust. A smoke bomb. But the choking, black darkness that had returned when the Rumblers left, taking thier light with them, didn't deter the spiders at all. Their horrible eyes say like it was noon day, so it seemed to him. He pushed hard mentally, trying to do the vanishing trick. It didn't happen. He kept trying and trying anyway.
Thier progress was slowed by the sheer number of bodies that built up in the three corridors connecting the small intersection pocket, and the fact that many of them were slowed or stopped by thier brethern turning to rip apart thier own dead. That let him pick off the ones that were going directly for him, and gave him scant moments to reload and catch his breath.
His hand was hurting, and his knees. The adrenaline of combat only lasted a short time, and this nightmare was 10 minutes and counting. The utter fury and clarity at the beginning had long since worn away, and it became a sickening, repetitive slaughter, wearing away at his nerves and stamina. He didn't have the fantasy-hero endurance of what the people on this world must have possessed... he was only in excellent shape for a normal man. Fighting at this intensity was exhausting him.
At time came soon when he reached for another MP5 clip and found only air. For a moment his hand hovered above the empty tactical vest pocket, unsure of what to do. Then it flew to his sidearm, drawing the Colt forth. It uttered low, loud blasts, different from the rapid popping of the automatic. It hurt his hands even more to fire, lacking the refinement of the other weapon and having twice the kick. It's magazines were short, and after another minute, they were all gone.
He let it fall among them. They grabbed it, as they had the MP5, trying to consume it, but only breaking thier teeth on the metal.
He slapped a finger on his field radio, cursing himself for not thinking of it earlier, and pressed the mayday button. It started blinking, broadcasting what to the Dallas PD would have been a simple distress call followed by his GPS coordinates. There was no GPS here, so just a short bark of data as it looked for one would have to do. Hopefully, somebody on this damed world would pick it up. There had to be more offworlders than just the Rumblers and him, and some of them had to be of the that weren't content to leave him to die in this hellhole.
He unslung the HHV Rifle from his shoulder, pressing the braces against his body and priming it. It loaded a shell into the chamber, filling it with gas. The earplugs on his headset snapped tight, and the world went silent.
It was a silent, dark place of nothing but horrible smells, the tactile feel of air currents and bodies moving, and the featureless shapes that his radar sense showed him which he fired the first HHV shell into.
Another person standing in those caves without ear protection would have been instantly defeaned, likely suffering permanent hearing loss as well. The projectile carved a line of ionized air as it traveled through the bodies of a dozen, two dozen spiders in a row, instantly pulping them from the hydrostatic shock. Thier bodies exploded from the pressure wave. He felt the rush of air and the thundercrack that accompanied the HHV's discharge. It was sometimes referred to as a "lightning gun" by civiilians, though no lightning was ever that straight a line.
The forms writhed, pained by the immense sound and stunned at the destruction he'd caused. They hesitated, struck with fear for the first time. That gave a chance to prime the chamber again, and fire again. Another dozen of them splattered into chunks, and the very walls of the cave network trembled as the shell pierced the cavern's stone and continued traveling for some distance through the mountain before finallly stopping deep within it.
The HHV wasn't designed for close-quarters fighting, its rate of fire was slow, unbearably slow for what he needed. Every time he fired it it, his teeth felt like they were rattling in his jaw, and he felt the secondary shockwave through his whole body, refracted back at him by the cavern walls. The spiders, frightened at first, renewed thier assault, pausing only in shock every time the HHV fired.
It only held 12 rounds. That was 8 more round than any encounter with a rogue superhuman had ever needed in his lifetime. The cave shook more each time he discharge it, as if the whole mountainside wanted to come apart. He wondered if any of the shells had traveled far enough to exit the mountain. Maybe one of them had burst out of a cliffside, carrying just enough momentum left to smash the skull of one of those that had abandoned him to this place. Then it was empty. He cursed at it, shrieking, and hurled it at the nearest one. It's jaw broke as it attempted to eat the weapon, and it's siblings feasted on it.
He pulled out the small compact flamethrower unit stored in his butt-pack. It was only slightly bigger than a pistol, and didn't have much capacity. Didn't matter, since there was precious little oxygen here anyway, and he didn't feel like he was going to live very long.
For the love of Christ and all that's holy, please, somebody find me. Answer my damn distress beacon.
He swept it in an arc, setting the cavern floor ablaze in a ring around the boulder he stood on, the only gap being the wall that his back was to, in a corner of the three-way intersection. Spiders caught fire and burned, dying in horrible agony. A little light seemed to penetrate the darkness from the fire, and for a moment while it burned brightest he could almost see a few of the horrid shapes that lurked just outside the ring of burning corpses. They waited outside it, determined, not willing to give any quarter. It wouldn't last long, and his gear wasn't fireproof. He supposed he could try to dash though, burning a clear path in front of himself. But that would only end in ruin when he stumbled and fell on a flaming body, or caught fire himself and eventually panicked. He was amazed that he hadn't panicked already, and some corner of his mind felt proud of the fact.
The throng of creatures swelled closer, ready to rush him every time the fire began to die down. He reknewed it then, and sent blasts of fire into the openings of each corridor, kiling many more out there. But it used up the oxygen faster and faster. A light on his mask flashed red, and switched over to it's onboard oxygen supply, no longer able to draw anything from the air. The fire died, at last, and his flame unit only squirted gasoline uselessly.
They poured at him. He let the unit fall, and pulled out his last weapon, save for his grenades and his knife. The former he dared not use, not wanting to collapse the cave and kill himself. The latter would have been less than useless. He carried no smoke grenades either, otherwise this entire nasty business would have been avoided from the start. Trying to use flash-bangs in this darkness would have been a waste of the few seconds of life he had left.
He pulled out his sonic stunner. It was more like a tuning fork with a handle than a gun, and a blunt square battery back. He flicked it on, setting it to wide-angle, and pressed the trigger.
The stunner did it's job, wailing ultrasonics at the spiders. They shuddered violently, tortured at the horrific noise. By now, they were probably all permanently deaf from the previous discharges of the HHV. The stunner, though, was designed to set off all the pain nerves in a target, blasting thier neurons in such a way as to send them into agony. It was like pepper spray, multiplied exponentially.
They did not flee as he hoped, inside only thrashing wildly where they stood. He thought for a moment to make his escape with it on, dodging between them, but the pain wasn't as effective as he'd hoped. Stepping near one caused it to swipe reflexively at him, and despite his radar sense he very nearly had his leg ripped off.
The stunner's battery wouldn't last long. When it was done, he was done. The only choice left would be to eat a grenade and take a few with him, or just let them feast.
He prayed again that somebody would find him, somehow, and then he crouched, ready spring and flee wildly through the thrashing forms, ready to take his chances and try to live. It was the only faint hope he had left, other than a swift death and a sweet afterlife. He suspected the latter was coming in but moments.
Written by Tanith 12-05-2002 01:40 PM
If a Ship Mind could be said to have eyes within itself, then Rommie's would have been fixed in fascination upon her own sensor readings. Even as the Andromeda had transported Tanith's company to the brink of the crater of Mt. Doom, its sensors had picked up a faint blip from still within the labyrinthine tunnels that the team had just emerged from.
An analysis of the signal, faint though it was through the many layer of thick rock and foul air of Mordor, came to her with the speed of electrons and more. And what she had found was indeed something of a contradiction.
The dimensional signature of the signal and its source was definitely of the make of the 3.0 Earth. But how could it have gotten there, to Middle Earth of all places, without the knowledge of PaDT? For aside from their monopoly, there were few sources indeed that even dealt with cross-dimensional travels on that world.
Sending a message to the PaDT headquarters on Khazan and on Earth 2.0, where they would be quickly and efficiently referred to the proper authorities on Earth 3.0, Rommie returned the focus of her sensors once more to the signal.
It was a distress signal, that much was clear, and she could detect many other life-forms converging upon the source. But her transporter systems could not pierce the darkness of Shelob's Lair to be brought to bear upon the bearer of the signal... not without collapsing the whole network of tunnels and endangering the selfsame target of the beam.
But the Andromeda's dilemma was suddenly solved when an explosion rocketed through the side of the caverns. Then another. Now, her sensors could more easily read the happenings within the caves.
For a billionth of a microsecond, a long time for a Mind, Rommie hesitated. For certainly a deizen of 3.0, which lacked any form of ultratech, to nonetheless bear such devastating weapons... the possibilities did not bode well.
And yet... aside from the artillery fire, she did not sense any obvious usage of powers from the human. No touch of magic or the warping of probability; no emission of psionics, or even excessive physical might.
And he was tiring. Her sensors, now with a clear path down into the darkness, could tell that easily enough. His ordinance was finite, and still yet the creatures of the caverns came upon him in ever increasing number.
Her choice made, Rommie alerted the remaining crewmembers within her walls. Serra would be the first to examine the man, she decided. There was little chance that the man could overpower the demigoddess, and she could very easily determine his allegiance, be it friend, foe, or neutral. And if he was not foe, then Kasumi would undoubtedly look after his stay until Tanith returned. Or perhaps Silverfox, if Kasumi was still busy looking after Mei.
Upon receiving acknowledgements from the rest of the crew to the news of a new arrival, Rommie activated her teleporters once more. She easily isolated the human from his arachnid pursuers, and in mid-transport relieve him of his ordinance. The weapons she materilazed in the holding areas, and the human into the infirmary.
Watching through her internal sensors for a few moments more to ensure that the man did not pose a threat to herself or hers, Rommie turned her attention down planetside once more. Things were getting interesting.
Written by Yeoman 12-05-2002 01:45 PM
ZY: Hey Hey! The Yeo is back! What all'd I miss?
Written by Tanith 12-05-2002 01:48 PM
Written by Yeoman 12-05-2002 01:51 PM
(In the infermery)
ZY: Well, he doesn't look like anything special. Hey, almost dead guy, friend or foe?