It was dark, darker than he could ever remember it being. Even in the Long Night the stars had still shone overhead, the lanterns of the Noldor had lit the way. Even in the deepest caves of Arda, where slime-drenched creatures moved without ever knowing the sun, even there there was a promise of light, a whisper in his mind that beyond these miles of rock the sun still shone, the world still existed.
Not here. Here there was nothing, and never had been anything, and never would be. There was just him, a single, fragile elf, alone in the darkest night imaginable.
Or not alone. Behind him, from unimaginable distances and just over his shoulder, a voice whispered in the darkness. "The coward?"
The elf turned, seeking the source of the voice, seeking anything, but there was nothing to see. "Where are you?" he called, his voice trembling.
The voice was still behind him, and laughed a laugh of unsurpassed cruelty. "I am everywhere," it replied, and the echoes returned from infinitely distant, infinitely claustrophobic walls: everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.
"Where am I?" the elf asked, and, "Who are you?"
This time the echoes came first, faint and growing stronger as they reverberated until the voice said, so close now, "The Everlasting Dark."
The elf gasped, and there was no echo. Cúma, the Everlasting Dark, the ultimate Void beyond all time and space, from which the Dark Lord would return at the End of Days to destroy utterly the World That Is, overthrowing at the last the work of Ilúvatar. Now he knew whose the voice was, what power held him here: "Morgoth," he whispered, and the returning echoes spoke other names: Melkor, Bauglir, Moringotto.
The laugh came again, not so close, but at last in a definite location: behind him. The elf whirled to see at last a light, not far from where he stood. There, framed by the light of a thousand burning cities, or a million ruined stars, stood Morgoth Bauglir, Dark Enemy of the World, clad in darkest iron and armed with his great weapon, Grond the king-slayer.
The elf reached for his sword with his right hand, desperate to defend himself, but found neither sword nor hand replied. He lifted his arm, incredulous, to stare at the stump of his wrist, and a drop of blood fell from it, followed by another, and then an endless torrent of scarlet flooded from where his hand should be.
The red tide poured across the void, filling the air with its sickly scent, and spread itself out as a long tongue to the very feet of the Dark Lord. As the elf watched, Morgoth lifted an armoured foot and placed it firmly on the crimson carpet before him. The elf watched, unable to move as the greatest of enemies planted himself firmly at last on solid ground, the ground the elf had provided.
"Thank you," the Enemy said, hefting his mace and nodding a mocking acknowledgement. "Thank you for showing me the way." Then, like a war machine, like a monster, like a demigod on the rampage, he charged.
The elf turned away and ran into the darkness, running from the enemy of his people and his world, running to he knew not where. His feet made no sound, and Morgoth's heavy footfalls, so close behind, sent back no echo, and yet there was an echo, an echo of a word unsaid by a voice that was not. Without a thought the elf turned towards it, running so very fast now, straining his ears to catch the soft wind blowing from nowhere as it whispered to him, calling him onwards, summoning him. Dafydd...
"Dafydd!" A sudden voice, more real than any sound he had heard in this endless void, filling his ears from right behind him, cutting between him and the Dark Lord. Stopping, the elf turned to behold a shadow ringed with brilliant light, a huge, formless shape that blocked out the sight of Morgoth's approach. As the sound of the rogue Vala's boots died away, fading back into nothingness, the shadow resolved itself into a face surrounded by jet black hair, a face leaning over him in concern, a face he knew -- and loved.
"Connie," Dafydd croaked, awakening fully and letting the memory of the oncoming evil dissipate. Above him, Constance smiled.
"It's nice to have you back with us," she said, reaching down to caress his cheek, her voice strangely hoarse. Dafydd could see the marks of tears on her face, and wondered why for a moment. Then he looked past her, down the length of the grey cover of his bed, and knew that not everything had been a dream. Lying on the blanket, wrapped in bandages, the stump of his right hand brought all his missing memories rushing back.
He didn't want to face them. Constance's face began to fade once again into darkness as he slipped back into restless sleep, but even as he heard the Dark Lord's footsteps echo once more through his mind, there was a sharp pain in his cheek, snapping him back awake.
His eyes opened just in time to see Constance's hand descending again, to feel the slap strike the other side of his face. As he stared up at the other Agent, hurt and bewildered, she scowled down in reply. "We've spent most of the past week patching you up," she said, her voice full of anger. "Don't make me undo that just to keep you awake."
Dafydd nodded dumbly, too shocked to speak. It had taken a week to fix him up? He'd been unconscious for a week? He thought back to the Celebrian mission, found his voice and asked, had to ask even though it tore at his throat, "How bad was it?"
Constance tried to keep glaring at him, he knew she tried, but she couldn't do it. "You..." She stopped, her voice shaking, bit her lip hard, and then, all in a rush, blurted out, "Dafydd, you were dead"
Dafydd stared at her, numb, not knowing what to think. Constance held herself up for a second, but then her composure broke down completely. With a sob, she flung herself at him, throwing her arms around his neck and crushing him against the bed with her body. Dafydd lifted his arms, realising how weak he was but not caring, and wrapped them around the sobbing woman. "Shh, shh," he said, doing his best to be comforting. "It's all right now. I'm here. Connie, I'm here..."
Constance's arms drew tighter around him as she buried her face against his shoulder, her hair spilling across the two of them. "I'd lost you!" she wailed. "I'd lost you and I couldn't get you back! I thought I'd lost you forever!"
"Oh, Connie." Holding the woman close, Dafydd closed his eyes, exhausted but with no desire to sleep. "Connie -- Constance -- I'm here. I'm alive. I'm all right. See?"
Keeping her grip on him as if he were likely to run off and get himself killed again at any moment, Constance Sims lifted her head to look into Dafydd's eyes. "You won't... do it again, will you?" she asked in a wavering voice.
Dafydd shook his head carefully. "I promise I won't," he said. "Never again."
She blinked rapidly, trying to clear the tears from her eyes without having to untangle her arms from around Dafydd. "Good," she whispered, and then crushed her lips against his in the most intense kiss Dafydd had ever known. Responding with as much energy as he could muster, he pulled the woman closer with his good arm, feeling the warmth of her body against his even through the blanket. When she finally lifted her head away from his, blinking slightly, Dafydd smiled up at her.
"I love you."
"I love you," Constance replied shyly, and then looked down. "Um. I should move," she said, with a hint of embarrassment.
"There's no need," Dafydd said, trying to keep the fear from his voice. If she left, would the Void be back? He didn't know, and didn't want to find out. "You need to tell me what happened, after all."
Constance contemplated his face, and then nodded. Lifting her arms from around his neck -- Dafydd couldn't suppress a sigh of disappointment -- she climbed down from his bed and then lifted the covers on the left side. Dafydd blinked as she sat down on the edge of the mattress and leant down to untie her shoes. "Move over," the Assassin said in a peremptory tone.
Dafydd did so, and then watched in increasing puzzlement as she lay down at his side -- quite a feat in the narrow bed -- and tugged the covers over them both. Wrapping his left arm around her shoulders, he felt her lean in against him. "Um... not that I mind, but... what is this?"
Looking into his eyes, Constance smiled and hugged him close to her. "It's a long story," she explained, "and I didn't want to have to sit in that horrible Medical-issue chair, so I thought I'd get comfortable. Are you sure you don't mind?" The question was delivered in an innocent tone, but Dafydd could see a hint of worry in her eyes, as if she wasn't sure whether he'd object...
He wiped away her doubts with a soft kiss to her lips, and smiled gently. "Not in the slightest," he assured her. "Now, if you could start with me blowing myself up, I think we can take it from there."
Constance threw herself backwards away from him and dove behind a rock. Lifting her head for less than half a second, she had a brief glimpse of Dafydd standing at the heart of an inferno as the full power of Sairalindë's ring was unleashed, and then...
The explosion shook the cavern to its roots, but Constance's rock was secure. She covered her head with her hands, but she could hear the fragments of stone flying past. Then the light - visible even through closed eyelids - faded, and there was just the patter of pebbles falling from the ceiling, accompanied by the deeper and far more disconcerting creaking of the cavern's structure as it settled. That, and the cries of dying orcs. Constance sat up carefully, opened her eyes, and looked around. "Well," she said aloud, "I'm impressed."
The woman brushed at her shoulder and winced. Moving the fabric exposed the fact that dozens of tiny splinters of stone had stabbed through and into her skin. "That's going to be messy to clean up," she muttered. "I hope those rocks were clean." She turned her head as far as she could and cringed to see the tattered state of the back of her shirt, and the numerous small drops of blood now forming on her back. "Dafydd," she called, "I think I need to go to Medical. I..." She paused, listening. The last of the orcs had succumbed to its injuries, and the wrecked cave was silent. "Dafydd?" she asked in a small voice.
There was no reply. Forgetting the sharp pain in her back, Constance climbed to her feet and scanned the cavern. "Dafydd!" she shouted. "Answer-- oh, that's never going to work." She glanced down at the rock she had been behind, getting her bearings. "He was... there." She swallowed hard. 'There' was the largest pile of rubble in the cave, and it seemed to be shifting as she watched. As fast as she could, she made her way towards it, sometimes jogging, but mostly stumbling or crawling over the shattered rocks that had been the ceiling. The fallen stones tore at her hands as she pulled them away from the pile, and the unstable heap shifted alarmingly above her. Then she saw an incredible sight. The bottom of the rubble pile was not on the floor. Instead, it was supported on a milky-coloured opaque egg, some kind of force field. Reaching out, Constance tried to touch it, but her hand slid through the surface without meeting any resistance. Inside was empty space and then... hair.
The mottled, shifting surface of the egg seemed to flicker, and Constance became alarmingly aware of the immense weight of rock supported by it. She took a deep breath. "I really hope that's you in there, Dafydd," she muttered. Reaching into her backpack, she pulled out her Remote Activator and set it to 112-ΣQN, the utterly incomprehensible code forPPC HQ (Medical Department). Holding it in her right hand, she steeled herself and then dove forwards. She passed through the egg without feeling it and found herself in utter darkness, flattened against what seemed to be an intact humanoid. That was all she had time to register before pressing the Activator's button. The portal opened horizontally, on the floor beneath the two, and they fell through onto the white floor of the Medical Department.
The breath knocked out of her, Constance just lay there as the egg flickered a few more times and then vanished without a trace, the last vestige of the Ring of Sairalindë's powers gone. Then, in the harsh light, she looked down at a face twisted with agony. It was Dafydd, sure enough, his eyes open and staring past her, but there was no spark of life in them. He was dead.
Constance didn't know how long she lay there, her tears soaking her lover's still form. Eventually there came a gentle hand on her back. "Ecthcuthe me, Nurthe Thimth," a voice said, "but ith there anything we can do to help?"
Constance bit her lip hard, wiped her eyes vigorously, and attempted to sit up. Only the aforementioned hand stopped her from falling over again, and she looked up through blurred eyes at a pre-blurred face. "Igor?" she asked uncertainly.
"That'th me, Nurthe Thimth," Igor said encouragingly. "Doctor Fitthgerald athked me to come and thee what wath going on." He looked from her to Dafydd's body. "I can't bring thith one back," he said to her, "if that'th what you were wondering. He'th an elf, and I've never had any luck with them."
Constance shook her head wordlessly, and turned her head to look at Dafydd for herself. She burst into tears again. He seemed to be fine - in better shape than she was, even - except for two things. The first was that horrifying expression, those dead, dead eyes. The second was his right hand, or rather, was the cauterised stump where his right hand should have been. Constance Sims cried, and cried, and eventually slept.
When she awoke she was in a cool white bed, staring up at a complicated array of brightly-coloured rods and distorted shapes. It took her a moment to realise that it was a mobile, with small cardboard animals from various continuums, hanging from the ceiling above her bed.
"It's supposed to be soothing," a woman's voice said from off to the side, and Constance turned her head to see Doctor McKay sitting on the chair left there for visitors. "I can't see it, myself, but the Doc insists."
"Marian," Constance said wearily. "Is... no. I know that already."
Marian McKay nodded sadly. "There was nothing we could do," she said softly. "Some sort of magical shock, horrifyingly powerful... it burnt his nervous system out completely. There's nothing left, Constance."
Constance closed her eyes for a moment. "I loved him," she said sadly, "and he loved me. That story... I knew it was dangerous." She glanced at Marian. "He volunteered to come," she said. "If he hadn't... I don't know what would have happened. But it could hardly be worse than this."
Marian nodded sympathetically. "We've kept his body intact," she said carefully. "Eldarin hroar tend to crumble to dust if not looked after properly. Would you like to see him?"
Constance shook her head, and then nodded quickly. "I think so," she said. "I... no. There's something I have to do, first."
Marian looked at her worriedly. "Constance," she said, "you're a Nurse. You know how badly you were injured. Your back..."
"Just scratches," Constance said dismissively. "This is important."
"Scratches?" Marian shook her head sharply. "At least three of those splinters were scraping your spine, Agent Sims. If we didn't have the technology we do, you'd very likely be paralysed by now. As it is, you're still in bandages."
"... oh." Raising an arm, Constance lifted the collar of what she now realised was a medical gown, not her uniform, and peered down inside it. Sure enough, she was bandaged from her shoulders to her waist. "So that's why I can hardly breathe," she murmured. "Isn't this a little excessive?"
"No," Marian said firmly. "You were in a great deal of risk. How you managed to operate like that has most of the Department baffled. You're not fit to be doing anything."
Constance closed her eyes. "All right," she acquiesced. "I'll stay put for a while. But tell me when I'm healed, all right?"
Marian smiled. "I knew you'd see reason," she said. "Just have another sleep, Nurse Sims; you'll feel better soon."
When the woman had gone, Constance lay still for a minute or so, and then snorted. "You don't know me at all, then," she said. Struggling into a sitting position, she pulled the gown over her head and threw it to the floor, before unravelling the bandages - a slow, tedious job, especially since she was working from the same angle. Eventually she was done, and craned her head to look down her back. Her skin was covered with tiny scars, presumably where the splinters of rock had gone in, but it seemed intact. She shook her head. "Can't fool me, Marian," she muttered. "I've been doing this longer than you." She looked down at herself and laughed quietly. "Maybe I'd better get dressed, though. Don't want anyone coming in and seeing me like this."
Her uniform and backpack, it turned out, were in the small cupboard by the bed - exactly where uniforms of invalid Agents were always kept. Once she was mostly clothed, she took the opportunity to hold her shirt up to the light. "That... is quite a mess," she said to herself. "I'll have to get a new one, there's no way I can patch this." Then she laughed at herself and pulled it on. "Like I'm going on any more missions." Her pack she left in the cupboard, but from it she pulled the Remote Activator. Taking a breath, she pointed it at the wall, opened a portal, and stepped through.
The cave was exactly how she had left it, except that the rubble pile in the centre had collapsed completely. Getting her bearings, she made her way across to what had been the orc-king's throne. There were two figures on it. One, the king himself, was relatively unscathed - he seemed to have been killed by an extremely large rock to the head. The other figure was Celebrian. Constance remembered her standing up during the reading of the charge list, turning to look at the disturbance, and as a result she had been facing directly into the explosion that Dafydd's ring had become. She was thrown back onto the orc-king's lap, her spine snapped in at least two places, her ribcage crushed and her skin burnt away. Her head was thrown back, and on her face was an expression of pure agony. Constance smiled grimly.
"You deserve this, and worse," she said. "For what you've done, I hope the Sons of Fëanor pursue you through Mandos forever." She turned away, preparing to open the portal again, and then... froze. "Ye Valar," she whispered into the silence of the cave. "The Sons of Fëanor... Mandos... could it actually be?" She stared into empty space for a moment, and then grabbed her RA. "I hope I'm right," she said as she flicked the rings and switches into position. "I really, really hope." Then she pressed the button and stepped through the blue doorway into...
A grey room, its walls made of solid stone. Against one wall stood a pair of carven thrones, cold and dark and empty. High on the walls were wrought iron sconces, their black cages supporting crystals burning with cold blue fire. It was a room filled with the musty air of an unopened tomb. And that made the IKEA desk with swivel chair all the more incongruous.
Námo Mandos drummed his fingers on the false pine surface, staring at the two sheets of paper in front of him. "Vairë," he called, "has Vána been down recently?"
"I don't think so, dear," the Weaver replied from her loom on the far side of the room. "She's busy with, I don't know, spring or something."
"I thought it was summer," Námo murmured. "All right, what about Tulkas? It might be his idea of a joke..."
"Off hunting with Oromë," Vairë said. "What's the matter?"
"A filing mistake," Námo said exasperatedly. "You remember that last Fëanorian boy?"
"The one you prophesied would never return to Valinor?" Vairë recalled. "Yes, I do. When did he arrive?"
Námo laughed shortly. "About an hour ago. I don't think anyone's noticed him yet, but three of his brothers are dangerously close by."
"Well, maybe you just made a mistake," Vaire suggested, ignoring her husband's withering look. "It happens. Have one of the Maiar bring him in and ask what's going on."
"And look like we don't know?" The Doomsman shook his head. "I'll go and talk to Manwë, I suppose. I can't imagine-"
There was a flare of blue light, and a mortal woman dressed in black stepped out of a doorway which had not been there a moment before, and was gone a moment later. She looked around quickly and then folded her arms, glaring at Námo. "Are you Mandos?"
Námo blinked. "I am known by that name," he said, taking refuge in formality. "What brings you here, Child of Ilúvatar?"
The woman snorted. "Ilúvatar, nothing. I'm not one of your docile humans. I'm from-- is something funny?" She swung around to glower at Vairë, who had started giggling.
"No, no, not at all," the Weaver replied. "Just something I saw on the loom. Haleth," she added in an undertone, and Námo couldn't help smiling at the memory of the thoroughly non-docile mortal woman.
"Very funny," the newcomer snapped, and then rounded on Námo again. "My name's Constance, and you have my boyfriend. Give him back."
"... oh, I see." Námo shook his head. "Child, I know you have the hair for it, but you're no Lúthien. You can't charm me with song the way she did."
Constance leant forward on the desk, grinning ferally. "I don't intend to," she said.
The corridors were grey, but the elf wasn't sure if that was their natural colour or just the haze in his mind. He wasn't sure where he was, or where he had been before. All he remembered was a very bright light, and then this stillness, greyness, blessed peace. He rather liked it, in fact, although there was something about the colour scheme that put him on edge.
He was leaning against a stone column that stretched to the ceiling, staring into nothingness, when a voice came from his right-hand side. "Maglor?" it said. "Is it really you?"
The elf blinked, disturbed at how strange and yet familiar the voice sounded. Turning, he looked at the red-haired speaker. "I'm not sure," he said frankly. "Who are you?"
The other elf looked taken aback. "Maedhros," he said, "I'm Maedhros. I... what happened to your hand?"
The elf blinked and looked down at his right hand. It wasn't there. "I don't..." He froze. A voice spoke in his mind, asking how he could be there but unseen. "I'm here to help," he told the dragon-- dragon?
Maedhros grabbed his arm with his own single hand. "Steady, now, brother," he said reassuringly. "We all have some trouble for a while after we get here. You remember now?"
"Dragons," the elf -- Maglor? -- gasped. "I remember dragons. Gold and bronze and brown and blue and green, all aloft." He shook his head sharply. "I don't know what's going on!"
"I dare not, Elrond," the young elven maid said, and Maglor knew she should not be there. "If I destroy the Ring now, the power would be released onto this earth. The Ring must be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom."
"That is enough!" the strange-looking elf next to Maglor shouted, and then they were storming out to--
Maglor clutched at his head. "There's too much," he moaned. "I can't, I can't, I can't have done all this. It didn't happen."
Maedhros looked around frantically. "Fingon!" he called to his passing friend. "Find Lady Nienna - my brother is gravely ill!"
Maglor gasped, and--
"Get out! Get out! The power of Tolkien compels you!" The ground shook with terrible fury, and the very soil of Arda seemed to writhe in torment as it disgorged a strange-looking woman. Climbing to his feet, Maglor kicked her. "Shut up and listen, or we hurt you some more."
The elf sobbed and sank to the floor, his brother at his side. As he wept, he felt a new presence in the corridor, and then gentle hands were touching his and he looked up into deep grey eyes.
"Hush, now," Nienna the Weeper said softly, "and remember."
Maglor looked at the sheet of paper in his hand, and then up at the black-haired mortal woman. "Hi. Would you be, uh, Constant Sims?" He frowned at the paper when the woman blinked.
"Ah, no. Constance Sims, possibly. And you are... Daffy-something-someone."
"No," Maglor murmured. "I'm... I'm..."
Constance had her arms around him, supporting him, comforting him. "I love you, Dafydd," she murmured, "or Maglor, or whoever you are."
"Dafydd," he heard himself say. "I'm Dafydd. Maglor... is a long time ago."
Maglor slumped, and Dafydd Illian opened his eyes. "Is that who I am?" he asked the Weeper. She nodded silently, and then looked past him.
"You can take him now," she said, and Dafydd turned to see a tall man in dark robes, a staff in his hand - Námo Mandos. "She's found a good one."
"So has he," Námo replied, and held out a hand to Dafydd. The elf climbed stiffly to his feet, and the Vala said, "Please don't get killed again. I've had enough of your girlfriend screaming at me to last several eternities." He winced. "I don't think it's even possible to do that with a Ring of Power." Then he sighed. "I don't know why I'm telling you this, it's not like you'll even remember..." The Doomsman snapped his fingers, and then...
"What?" Dafydd asked, tightening his arms around Constance. "What happened next?"
"She appeared in the middle of Doctor Fitzgerald's office and insisted that you weren't dead any more," a voice said from behind his back, and Constance hid her face against his shoulder. "It appears she was right. Nurse Sims, is getting in bed with the patients really a good idea?"
Constance lifted her head weakly. "Sorry, Marian," she said. Then she felt Dafydd's hand move on her back and shook her head. "No, actually, I'm not sorry. This is exactly where I want to be." She crushed her lips against Dafydd's in a fierce kiss, pressing in close to him. When she broke away, she looked up at Marian McKay defiantly.
The other woman laughed quietly. "At least you're sure," she said. "All right, you can stay here until he's fit to be released. I suppose we can make you responsible for checking that." She paused for a moment, and then added, "Please don't make too much of a mess doing so."
Constance laughed, kissed Dafydd again, and was happy.