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Akallabeth in August
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But Sauron was not of mortal flesh, and though he was robbed now of that shape in which he had wrought so great an evil, so that he could never again appear fair to the eyes of Men, yet his spirit arose out of the deep and passed as a shadow and a black wind over the sea, and came back to Middle-earth and to Mordor that was his home.

Into This Wild Abyss: On the Perilous Edge by Pandemonium_213

Mairon counted the ripples that spread across the calm backwater of the Anduin until the river's current swept them away. Then he picked up another stone from the neat pile by his side and tossed it in a high arc above the water. This time, just before the stone hit the surface, he sang. The stone sank, but the diamond-bright crown that marked its submergence froze, suspended in the sunlight. He sang another verse, and the crown crumpled while a small pillar of water slowly rose, forming a silver globe that hovered above the surface. He ceased his song, and the droplet fell back into the small bowl from which it arose, and ripples ran out toward the river again.

He cleared this throat, painful from the brief song. That must have been what they had done: the Valar had sung open the Gates of Arda and dragged Aman from the Circles of the World to…where? Another plane? Into which one of the thousands -- the millions -- of currents that flowed through the River of Time did they set Aman?

He picked up another stone, this one flat, so with a pained flick of his wrist he sent it skipping across the water. One…two...three...four...five...and then it sank. Not bad, he thought, pleased that he had regained some flexibility in his right arm.

He could scarcely believe the Valar had done it, but that had to be the answer. Opening the Gates of Arda so close to Imbar entailed tremendous risk: the whole of the world and every living thing on it could have been destroyed with just one dissonant chord. Yet the Guardians must have been so determined to turn back the Númenórean invasion and protect their cherished pleasance that they were willing to take such a risk.

Mairon wondered if the Valar had known what the consequence of their action would be -- that the proximity of the Gates would perturb the forces of the earth, triggering the cataclysmic explosion of Meneltarma that had destroyed the entire island. He had known that an eruption was imminent, and he had been prepared for that. What he had not expected was its magnitude.

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He had been alone in the temple sanctuary, lounging on his high seat and daydreaming that he sat on the throne of Númenor when he heard the first harmonies of the Guardians' voices, barely discernable at first but then swelling to a painful chorus between his ears. He felt the strange shifts in the earth's pull and the sense that Time itself had slowed. Then the shock waves of Meneltarma's eruption shook the entire structure. He sat paralyzed with fear while he watched the Altar of Everlasting Life crack and tumble down, and then the dome's metal panels screamed as the force of the collapsing walls tore them apart.

And what had he done? He had laughed. Actually laughed. He buried his face in scarred hands at the humiliating memory. He had witnessed Men and Elves do this in the face of terror: laughing madly at times that did not call for any sort of mirth. As the temple fell around him and all his carefully laid plans went awry, he had done this, too: he laughed three times at his reckless underestimation of the Valar. He snapped out of this madness when the black head of Melkor's statue crashed down beside his seat, barely missing him.

Mairon bolted from the temple, tearing off the layers of ceremonial robes that hindered his flight. He looked up at Meneltarma and saw the massive cloud that rose high into the sky, lightning streaking through it and huge stones hurtling from its roiling folds. The sides of the mountain were splitting to ooze molten rock. The lower part of cloud –- dark and dense -- slid down the slopes of the disintegrating mountain with frightening speed toward the Armenelos.

He ran through the streets with the crowds of the panicked Númenóreans fleeing the wrath of Meneltarma and the cloud that barreled toward the city. He held a piece of cloth torn from his thin shirt against his mouth to protect him from the hot ash that rained down on Armenelos. With the others, he fell to the ground when the earth lurched so violently that buildings were heaved off their foundations. He leapt to his feet, running again, but was brought up short, thrusting out his arms and rocking on the balls of his feet to catch his balance at the edge of a fissure that gaped open before him.

He watched with horror when a young woman who had been running ahead of him –- and who was carrying a wailing baby and pulling an elderly woman along by her hand -- dropped into the fissure, their screams swallowed in its fiery depths. He flung himself onto his belly, reaching down into the yawning crevasse in a vain effort to catch them. Hot vapors shot up, searing the skin of his hand and arm. He jerked his injured limb back.

He stumbled to his feet, now focused on his own survival rather than any misplaced compassion, but the fissure blocked his way. He ran along its edge until he found a narrower span. He backed away and then sprinted, launching himself across the abyss. Intense heat blasted from the depths, scorching his clothing and the skin beneath it. He cried out in pain, but he landed on his feet running.

A boulder hurled from the mountain crushed a cluster of women, old men and children to his left. He steeled his nerves and ran on, his lungs on fire from the ash in the air. Buildings and walls crumbled around him. Then the earth convulsed, and he was thrown into searing darkness.

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That was all he remembered until dim awareness found him being lifted out of the sea into a rocking boat and then hauled onto the deck of a ship. He had slipped in and out of dreams: nightmares of fire, ash and blood interspersed with happier ones from his past. Those were the most painful.

Gentle but firm hands were on him then. He thought he had perished, and that she had returned to him. But she would never be able to heal him. He turned from blue eyes that looked upon him with compassion, accusation but worst of all, deep disappointment. He was ashamed and tried to push her away. She could not heal him. No one could. He was beyond all healing and redemption. Nonetheless, he called her name before he fell back into blackness.

Mairon had awakened to find the ship's surgeon, the dark-haired man with the pointed chin -- the same man who had come to him to inquire about bodies to dissect -- tending him. The surgeon rubbed something into his burns and gave him an elixir of poppy, sending him into blissfully dreamless sleep where he had floated, oblivious to everything.

He had no idea how he had wound up in the sea. All that he knew was that he was still alive, if barely. The surgeon and the ship's captain –- a woman named Zamîn –- had questioned him, and he gave them answers that he was sure did not satisfy their curiosity about a severely burned Elf found clinging to wreckage in the sea. He had to escape the ship as soon as he was able.

Once again he congratulated himself on crafting such a resilient human form. With the aid of the Ring, he directed his will into tightening the hold on his body so that it did not die, although the effort it took to remain on this side of death had been tremendous. His broken bones knitted, and his skin healed, if imperfectly, enough that he had been able to steal a boat from the ship and row off into the night.

His healing was less than adequate. All his hair and eyebrows were burned off with no sign of re-growth. He had not yet summoned up the nerve to look at his face in a pool of still water, but he could tell by touch that the bones of his cheeks and nose were misshapen. His once fair skin that turned golden in the sunlight was now blue-grey, thanks to the silver ointment the surgeon had rubbed into his extensive burns to stave off infection.

He managed to row this far up the Anduin before beaching the boat on the eastern banks and setting up a makeshift camp. From there he had sent the summons and waited.

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He threw another stone into the water. His entire body ached, still sore from the insults visited upon it and compounded by rowing the stolen boat against the river's current. The healing incisions the surgeon had sliced into the rigid scars on his chest -- incisions that allowed him to breathe -- itched abominably, but he resisted scratching them. He shivered in the warm sunlight, and he thought he might have a fever again. Whatever the cause, he felt truly wretched.

The sun set behind the mountains across the river in the West, lighting the sky with a spectacular array of red, orange, and violet. The brilliant colors reminded him of the sunsets after Beleriand fell. With those beautiful sunsets would come unending winter for a season, maybe two, and with that, famine. He coughed, hacking phlegm from his damaged lungs, and he spat, tears in his eyes. The image of the young woman with her baby and the old woman –- her mother perhaps –- swam in the center of his vision. That was not what he had wanted.

Women, the young, the old of Númenor -– they were no threat to him; he had meant for them to be his subjects. All had been destroyed, and he was responsible for that. But not entirely responsible. Others were culpable, too. It was one thing to destroy an army or a fleet of ships bristling with weaponry. That was a goal of war. But to obliterate an entire people? People who were productive citizens? Or at worst, well-fed slaves? At least most would have lived out their lives out under his rule.

He coughed and spat again. This time, the phlegm was bloody. The Sindar had named him Gorthaur the Cruel. True enough, he had committed more than his share of atrocities in his quest for empire. But were the Guardians any less cruel for destroying an entire nation –- a nation that included the innocent? If the Valar had decided to take such measures to protect their pet humans –- the Elves –- and wall off their precious enclave by removing it from the rest of the world, then why should he show any shred of mercy to others?

"My lord?"

His back and muscles grumbled in pain, but his stiff skin screamed when he twisted around to look at the tall dark figure behind him. Two more shadows stepped to the tall one's side. Behind them, he saw horses and a litter with a half-dozen broad-shouldered orcs standing by it. He had been so lost in thought he had been unaware of them all, but he could not let them know that.

"What took you so bloody long?" he snapped, trying to rise.

The Lord of the Nazgûl was at his side; translucent hands helped him to his feet.

"We were delayed, my lord," his captain said. "The sunlight, you see, affects us."

Mairon sneered. "You are hopeless. All of you."

The other two Nazgûl flinched, but his dark captain ignored the insult. "We also were not sure that you actually were here, my lord. That is to say, physically present."

"Did you not receive my summons? I called to you again and again!"

"Yes, but..."

"But what?"

"We thought you had passed far to the East, my lord. You see, nearly a month ago, not long after the earth shook and the giant waves hit the shores, a black cloud streamed out of the West. Then the news came to Mordor that Númenor had been destroyed. We believed that your body had been perished in the disaster and that the storm we saw was you. So we traveled to the East until we became aware that you called to us from the West. We are surprised –- and delighted, of course," the Ringwraith added quickly, "to discover that you are still alive and whole."

"Although none too pretty." Mairon held out his grey hands, gnarled from the healing burns, but both his gold rings glinted in the red light of sunset. "You believed the storm was me? Truly? What was it like?"

"Dark. Murky without rain but full of lightning and thunder, as if it were brimming with wrath." His dark captain's eyes shone in the failing light.

"Brimming with wrath? You don't say! I rather like that: returning as a wrathful storm. Let's encourage that tale. And if any of you say otherwise," and he eyed each Ringwraith and orc, "your lives shall be forfeit or if life is a moot point, then you shall answer to me."

"Yes, Tar-Mairon."

"Do not call me that!" he almost shrieked but he checked the anger that threatened to swallow him whole. "Do not call me that," he repeated in as smooth a voice as he could muster with his raw throat. He did not wish to be admired; he wanted to be feared.

He hurled bolts of his will at them all, reaching into their minds to punish them for their incompetence, and to remind them that although he might appear weakened, he still possessed power. Nonetheless, the effort cost him; his heartbeat fluttered for a moment and then resumed its steady cadence. However, the pained expressions on the wraiths' pale faces and the guttural moans from the orcs informed him that he had achieved the desired effect.

In spite of the punishment he had inflicted on them, the solicitous Nazgûl supported him as he hobbled to the litter. Like an old mortal, he groaned while he lowered himself onto the hard wooden seat and winced from the pain that shot through his body when the burly uruks lifted the litter to their shoulders.

The sun had set, and the first stars glittered high above the peaks in the East. The orcs took up a marching song, its rhythm calming him. He had gazed into the abyss and had survived. Now he returned to his domain. He was proud that he could not be so easily destroyed and even with all the pain in his body, he felt invincible. He should take comfort in that, yet a profound weariness had taken hold of him, dragging him down into a strange ennui. From deep inside his mind, there came a counterpoint to his pride: I am tired, so tired. I wish I could end this. I wish...

He crushed the thought, rubbed the Ring on his left forefinger, and stared at the Mountains of Shadow looming ahead, welcoming him back to his land.

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This story gives a vigorous nod to Surgical Steel's Survivors of the Downfall and Sacrifice. Many thanks to Steel for allowing me to borrow these concepts and for the synergistic support.

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