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Author's Chapter Notes:
Written for tolkien_weekly's Water Challenge.
Thirst Dreaming Sal(i)vation Anticipation Frustration
– fighting and losing, losing terribly, a sea of smoke and fire – lightning vivid, a hammer shattering the dark – and bodies falling all around, the smash of iron and thunder, her ears assailed by screams –
– the Dark Lord on his knees, terrible in defeat –
– she took to wing. Not her huge, ragged wings that blotted out the stars, but wings soft and dark, mere tissues of skin. They were fighting and falling. She darted through the broken night.
Finally silence fell. Still she trembled in her lair. She was so thirsty.
Blood dripped through rent iron, puddling on ruined stone.
For so long, she lived off the blood of the battle: droplets spilt on stained stone, spattered across ruined walls. She fluttered between broken and rusting spires. The pits lay open, all but the deepest, and everywhere was treacherous: an upheaval of jagged slabs and gaping vaults and the corpses of the dishonoured dead. It was all frozen, all frosted over beneath that terrible white starlight: there was snow and the blood was black ice on the ground.
She licked it liquid, her tongue lapping fearfully at cold stone and metal. Sleeping, she dreamt of warm bodies and red fountains.
She heard their heartbeats first.
It had been so long. So long enduring in a frozen tyranny of silence. Flapping among starlit shadows, she heard pounding, drumlike through dark air, and thought at once of armies. In panic, she fled for the rusting iron of her lair.
She clung trembling to a spike. Slowly, so slowly, the drums approached...
Two of them. Only two. She heard their hearts and their footsteps, soft on feathered hoarfrost. She heard the hiss of their exhalation freezing on their lips. She heard the roar of red rivers pumping through narrow channels, and she salivated.
From black wells of shadow to star-frosted perches she fluttered, drawn irresistibly after heart-drums. Fearfully, thirstily, on silent wings: following wisps of body heat, of animal scent, traces of disturbed dark. Such creatures there had been before... penned up in the vaults, stinking herds of them... bleeding and wailing and breeding brutal children for the Lord’s flesh-and-bone hosts...
She remembered luring them to Him, those creatures. She had been mighty then.
One of them crouched below her, alone. Black ropes of hair fell away from its white neck. She saw herself falling ravenously upon it, flesh tearing, spilling scarlet lakes.
Her perch was icy under her claws. She dropped without a second thought. Her meal awaited below: blood, so much warm blood, liquid and lappable, sweet from the source, the first in a hundred revolutions of the stars. So thirsty, so very thirsty. The dark rushed up around her. She fell –
– and found herself drowning in a lake of cloth.
It smelled maddeningly of meat. She struggled wildly against dryness, screaming her fury and fear.
The prison’s soft folds fell open; she hurled herself blind into the Sickle’s brilliance. The words flew after her: “So it was only a bat!”