Author: LaurelinTheGolden1 PM
Buffy and the gang decide to wage war on The First and close all the remaining Hellmouths. With the aid of the mystical amulet, Buffy is transported to the First Age of Middle-earth where she encounters the Elves and Dwarves of the Eldar Days. SilmarillioRated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Drama - Buffy S. - Chapters: 126 - Words: 881,819 - Reviews: 69 - Favs: 48 - Follows: 28 - Updated: 05-10-10 - Published: 06-16-06 - Status: Complete - id: 2994210
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter One Hundred Twenty-Six: Judgment
Buffy's phantom arms remained tightly wrapped around Melkor despite the fact that their bodies were no more. Morgoth was shocked beyond belief, not truly comprehending what had just taken place. Those souls that were trapped within her, now sought their escape, speedily fleeing out of the French doors and into the night. They would not get too far.
"GO!" she shouted to Túrin, who remained frozen beside the bed, staring at the gleaming, black blade of Gurthang, which remained lodged in the thick feather mattress.
The Halls fiercely rumbled and shook. Chunks of the ceiling broke apart, raining down upon the lovely chamber.
Daeron flung open the bedroom door, holding onto the doorframe to steady his balance. "Túrin! Come on!" he screeched, anxious to depart Sussrúmnir as soon as possible.
The Adan shifted his gaze to the two spirits hovering just above the bed. Time seemed to be moving so slowly, yet so quickly at the same time. Coming back to his senses, he snatched the hilt of Gurthang, pulling it from the bed, before fleeing toward the doorway.
"Come on!" shouted the Elf again, as more of the ceiling crashed down onto the marble floor. Daeron reached out, grabbed Túrin by the arm, and pulled him toward the portal that the Valië had opened in the adjoining sitting room. Trying to protect their heads from the falling debris, the two hastily crossed the chamber as the whirling mass of energy began to shrink in size. The Slayer had begun to remove her magics from the rooms, desperate to direct them elsewhere. The two men dove into the portal, as the window snapped shut behind them. They both made it safely back to Mandos where they would be protected from the devastation that would soon come.
Like a rocket, Buffy and Morgoth shot out of Sussrúmnir, the power of their feys breaking through the roof of the ancient dwelling. For the first time in a very long time, she felt liberated - free, released from the bonds of her bodily form.
With their essences combined, she and Morgoth resembled a blue fireball, ringed in white. The blue color was from her essence, combined with the Flame Imperishable, of which she had gained mastery when the Fires shot through her and Melkor's adjoined bodies. The Fires formed a white light around them, a barrier, so that any that entered the ring, could not flee, unless it was the will of Eru Himself.
As they rose into the sky, the Slayer was able to look down upon her kingdom. The fiery lake boiled like lava, crashing over the shoreline in waves. The remnants of Sussrúmnir collapsed before her phantom eyes, the dust from the demolition of the mystical dwelling mixing with the thick plumes of grayish-black smoke that hung over the entire island.
Amidst the gloom, Morgoth's minions were running wild, crying out in fear, scrambling for cover from the mayhem that was taking place. They had no idea that things were about to get much worse, as many had forgotten the ancient lore, a lore that they had so eagerly twisted to their own device, forgetting the true words that were foretold ages ago.
The real Rapture was about to take place, but it would be very much unlike that which some theologians hadmisinterpreted from the Good Book, for the Holy had already been removed from Eä to the confines of Mandos, and their number was small, only one hundred and forty-four thousand, when compared to those that remained left behind in the world. Those evil doers in Folkvang were the first to experience the Rapture, their foul and malicious spirits driven from their bodies, forced to rise to the blue mass of fire, where they would be trapped within the ring until they faced the judgment of Ilúvatar in the Timeless Halls. Those feys that had escaped from Buffy's body were also overpowered, compelled to join their brethren in their new, temporary prison.
The higher the fiery blue orb rose, the larger it became, as more and more spirits joined the core forms of Buffy and Melkor.
Men (and women) - the ultra-wealthy, the powerful, the heads of mega corporations, those politicians and religious dictators that took pleasure in oppressing their fellow Man - the Elite they called themselves, felt that they were safe, housed deep below the earth in their fortresses of thick steel and concrete. Yet, they could not hide from their fate - for the power of the Allfather could reach far and wide, even to the deepest recesses of the earth.
Those horrible and despicable people sipped on their expensive wines, delighting in the fact that the population of the world was dwindling more quickly than they could've ever possibly imagined. The Elite had long made their preparations to take over the world, to dictate how each and every person should live, from what job they could do in the serfdom that would arise, to when and if they could marry and bring forth children. Things would have become much worse in the world than they already were, for these monsters would not be content until they controlled every aspect of one's life.
Never in a million years, did they think they would be subjected to a force that money could not buy, for they lived in the world of their own making, delusional and blinded by their greed and corrupt and distorted views.
In one such compound, many were congregated. Their enormous sanctuary (if you will) was located in the bowels of Brussels. One minute, those parasites of society were sipping their pricey, delectable wine from their fancy crystal flutes, the next, their glasses crashed to the floor, followed by their limp and lifeless forms. Their frightened spirits were forcefully expelled from their hröas, soaring upward toward the heavens to join the others of their ilk.
Episodes such as this were happening all over the world, but not only with the Elite. Millions upon millions of villains, including murderers, rapists, pedophiles and the like - any whose heart had been turned black with hate and malice, were thrust from their bodies, uniting with others of their kind.
Greater and greater in size the fireball became. People throughout the world could see the fiery mass climbing toward the heavens, bathing the lands below in a blue glow. Some had assumed it was something to do with the moon, having seen it turn from silver to red in days past. However, none could explain how or why this blue orb of fiery light appeared to be rising from the Earth. Such an event had never before been recorded in the annals of history. Those that witnessed the episode could only surmise that it was an act of God, since they could find no other rational explanation.
When the fireball of spirits passed through Ilmen into the Firmament, a loud booming sound could be heard all around the world, the sound reminiscent of a sonic boom, only a hundred times greater.
At that point, the fabric that had kept the other dimensions separated tore apart, allowing all the other planes of existence to merge into one on Arda, (including Valinor). Foul beasts, monsters, evil of all kinds that had been hidden from this world were now forced to enter it. Those nefarious beings assumed that their time had arrived, that they had been handed all of Eä as their feeding ground, to introduce their appalling brand of thralldom onto its inhabitants. But that was not to be the case. As the vile creatures entered into this realm, their essence, the very core of their being, was driven from their beastly forms, rising upward to the blue fireball from which the cries of despair of their fallen comrades could be heard.
So great in size the fireball of spirits had become that Buffy was finding it difficult to direct the group to the Timeless Halls. Ilúvatar, knowing this, sent out a group of Ainur from His Halls, to help guide the treacherous company to His throne to face judgment of their past deeds.
Seeing the other Valar and Maiar, the Vala Queen's friends of old, brought Buffy much comfort and joy. With the assistance of the Ainur, the fireball stayed on course, sailing across the pitch-black sky toward the Timeless Halls.
The closer they got to the throne of Ilúvatar, the more agitated the wicked spirits became. Their wailing shrieks were nearly driving the Slayer crazy, as the evil ones knew they would never again know peace. And, in her opinion, they didn't deserve it. If she had her way, she would punish them according to their deeds on earth - eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Yet, Eru had something else in mind, something far worse than any torturous act that the Slayer could devise (and that was saying something as Buffy had a knack for doling out horrific punishments).
Then she saw it: the splendor of the Timeless Halls, a beacon of light amidst the blackness of the Firmament. The sight took her phantom breath away, as it had been ages since she had last beheld the beauty of the Halls of Ilúvatar. No words could describe the magnificence of the Timeless Halls.
A number of Ainur had lined up outside the doors to Eru's dwelling, forming two lines so as to allow room for the massive blue orb to pass by. The aura of each Ainu radiated in varying shades of color, their beauty far greater than anything in the world beyond. Love, kindness and hope emitted from their essences, as these beings were the most devoted to Ilúvatar. They had refused to forsake the Allfather by departing His Halls in times past, desiring to bask in the holiness of His presence and to serve Him for all eternity.
The Ainur rejoiced upon seeing Luinil again. Her arrival meant that things were about to change, and that all the peoples of Arda would now get the opportunity to see the world as it should've been - pure and unsullied by the likes of Melkor Bauglir, the one Vala for which the Holy Ones had very little love.
The wicked went into a frenzy the instant they crossed the threshold of Eru's Halls. Ilúvatar, being all-powerful, forced each individual, whether Vala, Maia, Elf, Dwarf, Man, or combinations of any of those races, to see their dastardly deeds in life played out before their very eyes. This caused the blasphemous, in particular, the most anguish, as they had done everything in their power to denounce the existence of the Allfather. Over time, they had indoctrinated Man to believe that His existence was myth rather than fact. They had done a fine job of swaying people to their line of thinking, and those that hadn't been swayed were persecuted and subjected to cruel and inhumane punishments at the hands of the morally depraved.
Unfortunately, Buffy was forced to witness many of those people's past lives, the images playing out in her mind's eye, filling her with loathing and dread. Since most of these acts had transpired whilst she was not of the world, Eru wanted her to be privy to the heinous acts committed by the wicked.
When the massive fireball of spirits finally stopped, having come face-to-face with Ilúvatar, the Allfather raised his right hand, immediately stilling the voices of the depraved. Tears streamed down His fatherly face. No one's anguish was greater than Eru's at the choices His children had made. Though He gave to them the gift of free will, it hurt Him terribly to see how many had chosen to walk down the path of wickedness. Being Omnipotent, He spoke to each and every soul simultaneously, telling them of His disappointment in how they had led their lives on Earth.
The wicked made no response, but trembled in fear at what Eru had in store for them.
The Allfather then fixed his gaze on Melkor, who was frightened as much as the others were.
The evil Vala bowed his head in shame, as Ilúvatar was the only one that could make him feel that way. None could hide their true feelings from the Allfather, and his penetrating eyes could see through whatever façade one put up, perceiving their true feelings and thoughts.
"I am very disappointed in you, my son," He revealed with a heavy heart. "You were the first of my Children, the greatest of all the Ainur, yet you chose to use your gifts to spread evil throughout the world, marring the works of your brethren and subjugating my younger Children to follow your will. It pains me to see the path that you have chosen, Melkor. You have led all those here before my throne astray, to folly… " Ilúvatar stopped there, wanting His words to sink in with His eldest child.
With his head still bowed, Morgoth wept, not out of repentance, but out of fear. The Vala Lord feared Eru more than anyone else in the world, for who else had greater power than The One? Yet, to Melkor's amazement, his beloved spoke up in his defense.
"Forgive me, Father," interjected Luinil, "but with all due respect, your words are absurd."
The Allfather turned his solemn gaze to Buffy.
She then continued with, "How can you say that Melkor chose to be evil when that's the way you made him? You never intended for the world to be free from evil. You wanted your Children to have a choice - to have the free will to choose which path they wished to tread upon, that of evil or that of righteousness. How could one make that choice if evil didn't exist in the first place? It was your intention for Melkor to turn to the dark side since you're responsible for the creation and workings of everything that has come into being."
Morgoth lifted his head upon hearing her statement. He looked at his lover with a newfound respect, for she made a very good point.
"I have granted all my Children the gift of free will," countered the Allfather gently, "including the Ainur."
"Bullshit!" protested the Slayer. "Maybe your Children have a say-so in the mundane trivialities of day to day life, but when it comes to the big things - there's always been a higher force at work, a driving force behind one's decisions - and that's you, Father. It's always been you. All of our lives are predestined, as we all have our part to play in the big scheme of things." She snickered. "Hell, you knew we would have this conversation, didn't you? This is all a part of your plan."
If there was one thing that Buffy felt sure of, it was her belief in pre-destiny. Back in the First Age, she and Finrod had debated the topic on numerous occasions. The Noldo firmly believed in free will whereas the Slayer believed in pre-destiny. How else could one foresee events that would play out in ages to come? The gift of foresight was undoubtedly linked with that of predestination.
Now, Ilúvatar knew of the Vala Queen's long held belief in predestination, but could see that, deep down, hidden by her defiant nature, she still had lingering doubts, though she refused to say so in her stubbornness.
"I deem that you would agree, Maranwë that this conversation is long overdue. I will not deny that there are some people that are destined to do more in the world than others, that their lives have been predestined to a certain extent. However, it's the choices that they make in life that ultimately lead to their greatness, or folly, whichever the case may be."
Buffy looked incredulously at the Allfather.
Ilúvatar smiled in his amusement. Seeing the Valië stand up to him actually lessened the heaviness in his heart. She was actually the only Vala with the nerve to do so.
"As proof of my words, I shall give you a choice, my daughter. I will change both the fates of yourself and Melkor and allow you to return to Eä to rule, not only it, but also its people, as long as the world endures… "
Morgoth's ears immediately perked up when he heard that option. He deemed that his fate had been sealed and to hear that Eru was offering him the very thing that he so desperately wanted - he couldn't believe it. It was his wildest dream come true!
Luinil stared silently at the Allfather for a moment or two.
"Look onto the world, Luinil, and see what could be yours," He continued with a wave of His hand.
The Slayer looked down through the clear floor of the Timeless Halls. Her Vala eyes were able to penetrate the vastness of space, piercing the thick, dark clouds that covered all of Eä. At that moment, Ilúvatar stopped time on Earth, suspending everything within it while his favorite daughter got to glimpse events that would one day come to pass - if she chose to return to Arda.
She saw herself and Melkor in Valinor, which was even fairer than before as all the Children helped in its remaking. As the years appeared to roll by, her beloved would become disillusioned again, restless, seeking that which he already had. He would one day leave the Blessed Realm to explore the vastness of Arda, leaving Buffy behind and alone. In turn, she would seek solace and comfort in other men, starting a cycle that would bring wars into the world as her many lovers vied for her affection. It was a depressing sight, and something she would not allow to come to be.
She turned her mournful eyes back to the Allfather. "I am utterly spent and have no desire to return to my body or to Eä," she confessed.
"No!" whispered Melkor, shaking his ghostly head.
"It grieves me that you would so hastily forfeit the kingdom that you have rightly earned," declared Ilúvatar sadly.
"I am not a great ruler, nor would I like to be. I have passed the scepter on to my son, Olofin Tirion, the Drogyn, as he exemplifies what a true Lord should be."
"No easy task will it be for Olofinwë to govern the peoples in the world. Do you believe that he can handle the responsibilities that go along with the holding of the scepter?" inquired the Allfather.
"Absolutely. He's smart and patient, and can see the goodness in all creatures. He's a seasoned warrior and is not easily deceived."
"Melisse, this is our time," spoke up a shocked Melkor, unable to remain quiet any longer. "This is what we've always wanted."
Buffy shifted her gaze to Morgoth. "No, my love. It's what you've always wanted, not me." She looked back down on the world below, seeing that paradise would not always last on Arda. With a heavy sigh, she looked back at her beloved. "This is their time - our children's time - "
"What children?" he cried out angrily. "You've betrayed me, Melisse! You promised me an heir, a son - "
" - And we have one," she interjected. "Our child has already been born. Your blood and my blood are in the veins of one that already lives. He lives, Melkor! Our son lives!"
The Dark Lord looked apprehensively at his beloved.
"Luke, my sister's son… I mean, Dawn Summers, my so-called mortal sister," she said, correcting herself. "She was the vessel, the vessel that brought him to life." Buffy was slightly taken aback that Melkor hadn't seen the obvious. She had assumed he knew, but, apparently, by the look on his face, he was oblivious to the true nature of both Dawnie and Connor. "Luke's parents are our children. Connor's your son. And Dawn is in fact my daughter. Our bloodlines have united through those two beautiful mortal creatures - and Luke was born unto them, unto us. Your blood runs through his veins, as does mine. He's our heir! Our son! The Light. And believe me, he will make you proud, my Lord. Make no mistake about that."
"But I thought… " began a baffled Melkor, stunned by what he was hearing.
"No, my love, you thought wrong," she answered, gently caressing his face with her phantom hand. "I was never destined to carry another child for you. Luke is the one. Our legacy will live on through him, and Illyria. Don't forget our daughter. She's destined to become greater than ever before, and will bring forth many children. Take comfort in knowing that our children will carry on without us."
"Without us?" he queried in a mere whisper.
The Slayer nodded in reply. "Our time's over. You knew this day would one day come." She glanced at the Allfather, who sat solemnly upon his throne, watching his two mightiest children before him. Luinil looked back at Melkor. "Evil's reign has ended and will be banished from the world."
"No!" Morgoth whimpered. "I will not leave you. I promised that I would never leave you and I have no intention on breaking that vow - ever."
"There's no need, Melindo," she replied softly. "We're bound together, you and I. We have been since the beginning. Your fate is mine. I will be with you, to the end."
She leaned closer, placing her spectral forehead against his. They both shifted their eyes downward, looking at the world beneath them. Using what magics Buffy had left, she showed Melkor images of things to come in Arda, things that eased the Dark Lord's apprehension in regards to their impending fates.
Melkor smiled, wrapping his arms around his beloved. "It is easy to see why I fell in love with you, Melisse. You were always the only one for me."
"And you for me," she answered, clutching his ghostly form. "Show no weakness, my love. Let's go out with a bang, not a whimper."
Morgoth laughed, "Then we shall make such a bang that the world shan't ever forget Melkor Bauglir and Maranwë Luinil."
Buffy smiled at hearing Melkor call her by her true name. "That's the Melkor I know and love," she cooed. Feeling a sense of relief at having calmed Morgoth down, she turned her gaze to Ilúvatar. "Since I'm relinquishing any claims to the lordship of the world, I humbly request a couple of things in return, Father?"
"And what might they be?" asked Eru, not surprised by her comments.
"First, I would like for those that have died at my hands, or by my orders, to be given another chance, to have them be a part of the world again so that they can experience how Arda should've been."
"Those that have died are dead and cannot easily be brought back to life," answered the Allfather.
"But it can be done," she insisted. "And you have the power to do it."
"There is a price to pay for such a demand, Luinil," continued Ilúvatar.
"And I'm willing to pay it. You gave me the option of life and I choose to forfeit it. If my sacrifice isn't enough, then take into account all those going with me." She turned, scanning the millions of spirits trapped within the ring with her.
"It grieves me to think of the world without the Valië of Love in it," Eru replied with a heavy sigh. "However, if that is your prayer, then I will answer it."
"Thank you," she answered with a small smile. "And, Father," she added, more serious in tone, "a thousand years is just not enough time for the people to enjoy the beauty and bliss of what's to come. The humans will be granted immortality and will soon realize that a thousand years is fleeting. Please, I beg of you, give them more time before you test them again."
After a long pause, Ilúvatar gave a somber nod of His head. He would grant His Children one age of peace in the Heavenly Realm before He again, would test their faith.
Buffy immediately shifted her eyes back to Melkor. "It's time," she said softly. She could see the flicker of fear in Morgoth's eyes, as he tightened his grip around her waist. "Together, forever," she whispered.
She leaned in closer to give Morgoth a kiss.
"Farewell, my children," murmured Ilúvatar grimly.
The moment Buffy and Morgoth's phantom lips met, Eru sent them, along with all the wicked trapped within the ring, from His Halls. The blue orb rolled across the Firmament before blowing up in a huge explosion, obliterating all the souls trapped within the ring. And so ended the lives of Maranwë Luinil and Melkor Bauglir, two of the mightiest Valar, each an epitome of good and evil, that had ever walked the Earth, and all the evil beings that were bound to them.
By Eru Ilúvatar's design, all evil creatures were immediately written out of the Book of Life, with the exception of Morgoth, since his ties to Luinil were far too important to dismiss. No person on Earth, except for some of the Powers, which now included Olofin, would have any memory of the evildoers. While that punishment may have been seen as inadequate to some, the Allfather believed that wiping out all knowledge of the wicked from history would be beneficial to His Children in times to come. The wicked always reveled in the fact that the mere mention of their names instilled fear into the masses, even long after they had departed the world. No longer would their names or exploits survive in the Fifth Age and beyond. Only in the Diaries of Bellaseth Dagnir would their names appear, but those tomes would be kept housed, under heavy guard, in the vaults of Olofin's Halls, and only a select few would be granted permission to peruse them.
Now the destruction of all evil in the world caused disastrous results on Arda. The force of the explosion knocked the Earth off its axis, which, in turn, brought forth great cataclysmic events in the world. Eä shook ferociously, destroying the remaining cities in the world. Many of the mightiest mountain chains crumbled. Volcanoes erupted, spewing forth magma and poisonous gases miles high. The seas raged, drowning great expanses of land, while new lands rose from the ocean floor.
The waters violently shifted and whirled around the pinnacle of Meneltarma, which began to rise from the sea, as was foretold ages before. Not only did the entire island of Númenor break the waters' surface, but also new lands with it. A vast plain rose from the depths, which connected Western Middle-earth with Númenor, and Númenor to Tol Eressëa, and Tol Eressëa with Valinor.
Aman was now situated off the eastern coast of Canada, where Newfoundland had once stood (before the floods). A great bay separated it from Quebec, which, for the most part, still remained intact.
Every continent on Earth was affected, a few totally disappeared only to be replaced by newly risen lands, while others lost vast portions of their landmass.
For nearly fifteen minutes, the world shook uncontrollably, the winds howled and the seas lashed at the landscape. Then, as suddenly as it began, it stopped. A deafening silence followed.
From the Halls of Mandos where all were gathered, everyone listened intently. Deeming that the upheaval was over, many dared to leave the Halls to inspect what was left of Aman. With the Nauglamír around his neck, Olofin led an assembly of Valar, Maiar and Elves through the newly changed Blessed Realm. By the Light of the Silmaril, they saw the gloomy desolation of Valinor. The slain had vanished, their bodies no longer lying in heaps upon the once green grasses, which had wilted from the heat and tumults of war.
The group ventured further east, eager to look upon the city of Valimar. As they continued on their way, more of their kinsmen departed Mandos, the flickering light of their torches and silver light of their lamps dotting the barren landscape.
The many bells that had hung above the entrance of Valimar lay broken on the ground outside the once magnificent golden gates, which had been severely damaged during the final battle. The entire city lay in ruins, saddening those that had long dwelled there.
The Ring of Doom was no more; the mighty pillars that had once held up Máhanaxar were destroyed. The collapsed roof had demolished all the thrones of the Aratar.
Yet, on the mound, Ezellohar, still stood the Two Trees, Telperion and Laurelin. Many were surprised to see that Yavanna's greatest works had survived the terrible battle. Though the branches remained twisted and withered, looking very much like a skeleton reaching out toward the heavens, desperate for new life, the sight of them brought new hope to those that looked upon them. The Two Trees were the only things, other than the Halls of Mandos, that had endured the destruction of Valinor.
Olofin approached Telperion and gently touched one of its shriveled branches. So frail was the limb that it snapped when his hand made contact with it. Picking up the twig, he said to those gathered around him, "Soon Telperion will bloom again." He shifted his gaze to Laurelin. "And so will the Golden Tree. They will produce the first real Light to be seen in Arda since the beginning of Dagor Dagorath."
"My Lord! My Lord!" exclaimed a Maia scout in spirit form, having speedily returned from the region where the Pelóri had once stood.
"What news do you bring, Varno?" asked the new King.
"The eastern borders have changed, my Lord!" Varno answered excitedly. "A great stretch of land has risen from the waters. It stretches as far as the eye can see!"
Olofin forced a smile. "I deem that the world has gone through another Changing." He surveyed the landscape from atop Ezellohar. "There's much work to be done yet."
Unsure of how to proceed, Olofin shifted his gaze upwards, hoping to find answers. He knew that, as the newly appointed Lord of Arda, Ilúvatar would be there to guide him. Yet, he heard no all-knowing voice speaking consolatory words to his grief-stricken heart. The half-elf knew his mother had died. He had felt it the moment she perished. Though he knew death was what she had wanted, he already missed her terribly, and longed for her counsel in these most troubling of times.
It would not be long before he would hear from the Allfather, who was still dealing with His own grief at the demise of His favorite daughter and firstborn son.
Despite his anguish, Olofin ordered that his uncle release all the souls from Mandos, including those of the Naugrim and Halflings, who were not truly the Children of Ilúvatar, but would be granted a new, immortal life just the same.
Once all had assembled, filling all the plains with a sea of people, Eru made His presence known. From the heavens came a great and glorious Music, more beautiful than any melody ever heard on Earth before. The Great Theme permeated each person's fey, filling them with hope and gladness and inspiring them to lift their voices in song. The Ainur, Elves, Men, and even some of the Dwarves and Hobbits joined in, singing in harmony. Like long ago, only Námo and Ulmo refrained from singing, choosing to listen to the Music and lyrics, and seeing what the future held in store for the peoples of Middle-earth.
The Music revealed to each individual his or her part in the healing process and remaking of Eä. Visions of the future Heavenly Realm appeared in their minds, showing them what an unmarred Arda would look like. Without the likes of Melkor to create any discord with the melody, things would be much different this time around, as Arda would be perfect and far more beautiful than any had ever seen before. It would be Paradise on Earth.
When the Theme of Ilúvatar ended, all fell quiet. For a brief moment, those assembled had seen the Light, but now all was dark except for the torches and lamps carried by their fellows and the Silmaril that hung from Olofin's neck. There was an air of sadness amongst the people, as the visions were far lovelier than the desolate wastelands that now surrounded them.
Olofin then addressed the crowd. "For those who do not yet know of me, I am Olofinwë Tirion, the Drogon to some. I am the son of the benevolent Valië of Love and War, Maranwë Luinil, and Kanafinwë Makalaurë, the mighty Noldo from the House of Finwë. I am the newly appointed Lord of Eä, as the scepter has passed from Manwë Súlimo to the House of Luinil. To those of you that have been housed in Mandos for time untold and do not know wholly what has taken place - we are looking upon the aftermath of Dagor Dagorath, the Last of All Battles, a battle which has wrecked Arda from here to the Hither Lands."
There were rumblings amidst the crowd.
"Great have been our losses," he continued, "but in the end - good has triumphed over evil." Olofin's eyes scanned the hordes of people. "All evil has been ridden from the world thanks to the tireless efforts of my mother. Because of her love for us, the peoples of Arda, she has expelled every evil creature lurking in every dimension, pulling them from our world and taking them to the Firmament above.
"And knowing that she was bound to the greatest evil of all - Melkor Bauglir - "
Some in the crowd winced upon hearing Morgoth's name.
" - she has sacrificed herself so that we may live in peace."
Cries of anguish rose from the masses, disrupting Olofin's speech, as most did not know of Buffy's sacrifice.
"Do not despair, my friends," the King went on, putting aside his own grief. "Luinil was wiser than some here gave her credit for and understood that as long as she lived, so too would Melkor. By her noble sacrifice, we have been given a second chance, a chance to see the world as it should have been - free from all evil. We will never forget her honorable sacrifice, and shall commemorate this day from here on out, not seeing it as an end of what once was, but as a beginning of things that shall be. Let us have a moment of silence, to honor, not only Maranwë Luinil, but also the other goodly people that have perished in battle and are no longer with us." Olofin was speaking about the Ainur that had died, as he did not yet know that most would one day return to Valinor.
Everyone bowed his or her sorrowful heads, as silence fell across the plains.
After a minute or two, Olofin then continued. "Heavy are our hearts, but soon our sorrow will be turned into joy, for we must not forget to live." He let out a heavy sigh, shifting his gaze toward the heavens and the thick, black clouds that loomed overhead. The Lord of Arda then looked upon Telperion and Laurelin before addressing his people again. "The darkness that encompasses the world will remain for the next twelve years, blocking out the sun, moon and the stars."
Murmurings of apprehension erupted in the crowd.
"Fret not, my friends," he continued, "for we, in Valinor, will not suffer the dark much longer." Olofin turned his gaze to the Valar, who stood together on Ezellohar to Olofin's left. "Yavanna, please come forth."
The grief-stricken Valië mournfully approached the King.
"And Fëanáro, will you also join me?"
Fëanor, who stood to Olofin's right with the rest of his kin, gave a quick nod of his head. He crossed the withered grasses on the mound, clutching the box containing the two Silmarils in his hand.
The King smiled warmly when both the Elf and Vala Queen reached his side. "I deem the time has come for us to begin the healing process," announced Olofin, gesturing toward the Valië and the Noldo.
Gasps and whisperings broke out in the masses, as those that had lived long ago, during the Darkening of Valinor, had waited ages for this moment. Not only were they seeing Fëanor at long last, but they knew that inside the box he was carrying was housed the last two Silmarils.
Fëanor stepped before the Vala Queen, and dropped to one knee. "Forgive my insolence from long ago, my Lady, for I was consumed with both grief and pride. I am not the same man that I once was," proclaimed the son of Finwë. "Let us begin the Healing together, so that others may look upon the glorious works of Yavanna Kementári and Curufinwë Fëanáro." The Noldo then opened the lid of the box in his outstretched hands.
The Light of the Silmarils illuminated the Vala Queen's face. She smiled upon seeing the Jewels, the last two objects that contained the Holy Light of Telperion and Laurelin.
"Long have I waited for this moment, Fëanáro. It gladdens my heart that your treasures have endured the tumults of the world so that my Blessed Trees can once again bloom, cutting the Darkness with their Holy Light." She reached into the box and pulled out the first Silmaril. "I would be most honored if you would assist me with this task, son of Finwë."
"Gladly will I help you, my Lady," answered Fëanor, rising to his feet.
They walked over to Telperion, the eldest of the Two Trees, as the spectators looked on with bated breath.
Fëanor cracked open the first Silmaril, as Yavanna sang a song of power, using her magics to direct the Light to the deep roots of Telperion. And Nienna, as before, approached the tree in silence. She sat on her folded legs beside Yavanna and watered the roots with her tears. From the ground up, the bark began to turn white, as it came to life once again. Green shoots sprang from the newly healed boughs. Gradually, they grew in size. The newly formed leaves opened, appearing dark green on the surface while the bottom shimmered in silver. From each blossom fell his silvery dew, its intensity increasing as each bud opened, filling all of Aman with his radiance despite the lingering darkness above.
The people rejoiced at the sight. The Eldar started to sing an ancient song about the Trees of Valinor, while those that had never seen Telperion in bloom looked on in awe.
Once Telperion was alight, Fëanor, Yavanna and Nienna moved on to the younger Tree, following the same method as they had with the elder Tree. Laurelin then came to life. From the shoots sprang light green leaves, edged in gold. Clusters of horned-shaped flowers glowed like a yellow flame, her golden dews raining down from the buds, forming pools on the ground of her warm Light.
At the first commingling of the Light of the Two Trees, something strange happened that most were not expecting. Every one of Eru's Children (as well as the Dwarves and Hobbits) were transformed to appear the same age - thirty-three, including infants, toddlers and teens. The younger people were bestowed with the wisdom of their elders, so that they were not ignorant of the world and the things in it. This sudden turn of events shocked and dismayed many.
But Olofin soothed their fears by proclaiming, "With no death, there will be no new life and all that dwell in this Heavenly Realm shall live at the age when their bodies and minds are at their strongest."
And so the healing process began in Valinor on what became the first day of the First Year of the Fifth Age.
Soon afterwards, each person began his or her task in mending the world. All the Children participated, including those of Aulë and Buffy (the Naugrim and Periannath, respectively). They began their labors in Valinor first, as it would take many, many years for them to complete the Visions that Eru Ilúvatar had sent them.
Not forgetting the twenty percent of the population in Middle-earth and the Hither Lands that had survived the Wrecking of the World, Olofin sent out emissaries to bring those mighty people back to Aman where the Light of the Blessed Trees shone the brightest. While those hearty people loathed departing their homelands, they knew that with the world encased in darkness, they would not be able to provide enough sustenance for their families to last twelve long years. They were told that once the black clouds were gone, they could return to their homelands, and with the aid of their kinsmen in Valinor, the rebuilding in the Outer Lands would begin.
When twelve years had passed, the dark clouds finally dissipated, revealing the sun, moon and stars once again. In memory of Buffy, the star, Luinil became the most prominent star in the night sky, outshining all of Varda's other creations in times past.
Those souls obliterated by the Slayer's orders or by her hands then descended into Arda. Most were Ainur, including the Valkyries, Eönwë, Tulkas, Nessa, and Oromë. Yet some were also once mortal. Two significant people were Winifred Burkle and Angel, who was now human once again, an immortal human, but human nonetheless.
Yet there were a few that were reborn that refused to return to Middle-earth. The most prominent of those Valar were Manwë Súlimo, Varda Elbereth, and Menelwë Sargon. While they still lived, they remained removed from the world, choosing to dwell in the Timeless Halls with Eru Ilúvatar instead.
There was much joy in the Blessed Realm at the return of those righteous people, who gladly assisted their kinsmen with the rebuilding of the world.
As the years swiftly rolled by, it soon became clear that one individual found no joy or peace in the Heavenly Realm. Ulmo found it most difficult to let go of his sorrow, for he loved Buffy dearly and, with her dead, he was devoid of all happiness. For a while, he had attended the annual celebration marking the removal of all evil from the world by the Slayer's sacrifice, but, in time, he had even forgone attending the yearly festivities, despite the fact that they honored his one true love.
Long he stayed in his Halls at the bottom of the sea, thinking of times past and what the future held. The Lord of Waters knew that the bliss in Middle-earth would not last forever and that in the Year 2820, a new Dark Lord would arise in might, contesting the will of Olofin and the Valar, and convincing others to follow his wicked ways.
For years, Ulmo pored over Buffy's old Blue Diaries and the map of Beleriand from the First Age. He used both tools to figure out the exact moment when the Valië had entered Middle-earth, guised as the Slayer. If he could figure out the precise moment when she had arrived in Nan Dungortheb, then perhaps, when the next battle arose, he could put his theory to test and be there, waiting for her in those Dark Lands, and hopefully change everything that was to happen afterwards. It was a risky plan, but one that the Vala Lord felt was worthwhile.
Seated at his desk, Ulmo was jotting down notes from Buffy's Diary when there was a knock on his door.
"Come in," he said, hastily scrawling the last of his sentence.
In walked Salmar, his long, wet, silver hair slicked back from his face, a damp towel draped around his shoulders.
"Ah, Salmar, my friend," Ulmo said in greeting, his blue eyes twinkling with excitement at this servant's return. "I take it that you have completed your task."
"Yes, my Lord," answered the Maia, closing the door behind him.
"Good. Good," responded the beaming Lord of Waters, rising from his seat. "I daresay, this calls for a drink. Care to join me?"
The Maia gave an apprehensive nod of his head, as his Lord poured them each a glass of white wine. Salmar was having second thoughts about his Master's plan, and was looking for an opportunity to express his misgivings.
"It shan't be long now, my friend," continued Ulmo delightedly. "I will soon right the wrongs in the world."
Salmar shifted uneasily from foot to foot, seeing now his perfect opportunity to voice his opinion. "Forgive me if I am speaking out of turn, my Lord, but is it not wrong to contest the will of Ilúvatar? I deem that things are supposed to go according to His plan, not yours."
The Vala laughed upon hearing his servant's concern. Handing him his drink, he answered, "We all have our part to play, surely, and I am doing just that, my old friend, I am carrying out Ilúvatar's will." Ulmo returned to his seat behind his desk.
Feeling his courage rise, the Maia countered, "With all due respect, my Lord, you cannot change Bella's heart. As sad as it may be, she was bound to Melkor from the utter beginning. She always had a fickle heart and - "
Ulmo slammed his clenched fist on his desk, causing Salmar to jump with a start. The Maia's wine sloshed out of his glass and over his hand.
" - That's where you're wrong," barked the Lord of Waters, his narrowed eyes boring into his servant. "Luinil did not become bound to Melkor until they… copulated in this world, in Angband. That's when he marked her, and she him. That will not happen this time around."
Salmar busily wiped his hand dry on his towel, doing his best to avoid his Lord's penetrating gaze.
Ulmo sighed, leaned back in his chair, and took a sip of his drink to calm his frazzled nerves. He couldn't remember the last time he had slept, and feared that his insomnia was beginning to take its toll.
"Forgive my outburst, Salmar. I am weary and in need of rest," Ulmo apologized to his servant.
"I understand, my Lord, but I wish you would hear me out. As your friend, I ask that you reconsider this scheme of yours. I fear that you are blinded by your love for Luinil. Life goes on. She's in a better place… "
"She's dead, Salmar. Dead," interjected the Vala Lord, his voice riddled with sorrow. "She's not merely outside of Eä, dwelling with Ilúvatar in the Timeless Halls. She's dead. Gone." Ulmo's eyes welled with tears. "I cannot let go of my grief no matter how hard I try. I no longer find contentment in my domain, but remember the times when Luinil dwelt with me, here in my Halls. I see her face everywhere."
The Maia's brows shot up. Of course Ulmo saw Buffy everywhere, as his Lord's private rooms were filled with tapestries, paintings, statues and memorabilia of the Vala of Love and War. How could he end his mourning when his Halls were filled with reminders of her. However, Salmar was not about to suggest to the Vala Lord that he relinquish his treasures. That would most certainly be a foolish thing to do.
"Do you not think that Bella would be most… distressed by being brought back?" the Maia queried hesitantly.
Ulmo's eyes shifted from the papers scattered upon his desk to his servant. "It will be as before, Salmar. Bella will have no memories of the past, only that of the Slayer."
Before the Maia could voice his concerns further, the Vala Lord continued, "I think I need to rest, Salmar. I am spent and in need of sleep."
Thus ended Salmar's discussion with Ulmo. He dutifully left the chamber, wondering how his Master's plan would affect the world in days to come.
Ulmo rubbed his tired eyes, eager to go to bed. Though the Vala Lord intended on getting some sleep, he also planned to utilize that time of rest by entering the dreamscape to put his plan into motion. He rose from his chair and gingerly strode over to his bed, concentrating on the next part of his plot.
He lay down on his bed, clasping his hands together on his stomach. Closing his eyes, he took several deep breaths as he concentrated on the person's mind he wished to enter. Several minutes passed before he found himself in the most unpleasant of surroundings:
On a vast battlefield lay thousands of corpses. The smell of their decaying flesh was heavy on the air. The carrion fowl were already hungrily pecking at the rotting flesh of the slain. Fires had ravaged the terrain. Plumes of smoldering smoke still rose from parts of the field, leaving the entire landscape charred with a blackish hue. Dotted here and there were the remnants of once magnificent trees, their naked limbs twisted and scorched, hanging down in defeat, much like the armies strewn about the combat zone.
Ulmo made his way through the paths amidst the dead, noticing that the deceased were the Hildor and Eldar that would perish in the first war in Arda. Already, the one's mind which he had entered dreamt of this day, the day when he would rise in power, claiming the lordship of all the world.
A mournful howl of a lone wolf some distance away broke the silence. The Lord of Waters quickly turned, his eyes scanning the vast open plains in search of the animal, but his Vala eyes saw nothing but a sea of carcasses of Men and Elves.
Sighing heavily, he continued toward the menacing mountain chain towering over the carnage. Though he saw no one, he could feel a presence watching him closely.
He stopped when, at his feet, he saw a Númenorean banner, its singed cloth partially buried and stained with blood. It saddened the Vala Lord to see such bloodshed, especially those that had been mutilated by the enemy out of mere pleasure. He saw many of the mighty from the House of Elros in the immediate vicinity, a sight that brought him much anguish.
"No," he murmured to himself. "We shall do this on my terms."
Suddenly, Ulmo's surroundings changed. He found himself standing on the sandy shore beside a clear blue sea. A flock of gulls cried overhead as they flew toward the West. He lifted his gaze, following its path until the cries faded in the distance. He found the sound of the surf soothing, the smell of the salt refreshing.
"This is more like it," he sighed, content with this new setting.
Once again, he felt the looming presence of the individual whose dream he had entered. The Vala Lord could feel him approaching. Turning, he faced the man.
"What was that? What was that that I saw? How could such a massacre take place in our Heavenly Realm?" asked the alarmed man.
"Come now! I deem that you've been having that same dream for some time now. My heart tells me that you've been staging the war for years," answered Ulmo in that all-knowing voice of his.
"I don't know what you're talking about," answered the man, feigning innocence.
Ulmo took a few steps toward the tall, strapping, youthful-looking man. He then said, "You think you know… what's to come… what you are. You haven't even begun."
A wicked grin then came to the young man's face, his eyes glinting with malice. "That's where you're wrong, old man," he proclaimed with a sinister cackle. "I've already arrived." With a wave of the man's hand, Ulmo felt himself thrust out of the man's mind.
The Lord of Waters' eyes popped open, only to find himself in his bed at his Halls at the bottom of the sea. "It's begun," he muttered. With his heart racing, he leapt out of bed and dashed over to his armoire. He threw open the cabinet doors and popped open the hidden compartment. He reached in, grabbing the pouch wedged at the back of the drawer. With the object now in hand, he fled his Halls as quickly as he could…
Back in Valimar, the recipient of Ulmo's mind invasion awoke as well. He was breathing heavily, his body covered in a cold sweat. Turning toward the clock on the nightstand, he saw that it was two minutes past two in the morning.
"Shit," he grumbled, slipping out of bed. He glanced at the sleeping form of his lover as he reached for his pants.
His mind was racing as he pulled on his britches. The dreams that had haunted him for years had taken a sudden turn, for never before had Ulmo appeared in them. It now seemed painfully clear that the Lord of Waters was aware of his deepest and darkest thoughts. The time had arrived for him to make his move, to set his plans into motion, and to make the Valar pay for their misdeeds.
For the good-looking man had never gotten over the fact that he hadn't been granted the right to enjoy his youth, to experience the carefree days that the Eldar and Edain spoke of with such fondness. He went from infant to adult in a matter of seconds. How cruel of a thing that was done by Olofin and Mandos, two of the sorriest creatures to walk the Earth. Since they had taken from him what he so coveted, he would take from them something of equal value - the Two Trees, along with the bliss of the Heavenly Realm.
He pulled his tunic over his head, and with his powers of telepathy, he summoned his followers from all over Valinor. The time had arrived for them to start their war, something he had been planning for centuries.
The woman stirred awake when the man sat back down on the bed, pulling on his boots.
"Luke," she yawned, wiping the sleep out of her eyes. "Where… where are you going?"
The man glanced over his shoulder at his lover. "I've gotta go. Get back to my wife before she realizes I'm gone," he lied.
The woman narrowed her eyes. "You promised that you'd leave her, that we'd be together. Forever."
Luke sighed heavily, annoyed by the desperation in his lover's voice. Hadn't she realized that she was one of his many concubines?
"We will be together, Lalaith," he answered, making his way to her side.
She eased over, allowing Luke to sit beside her on the bed.
"You just have to be patient with me." He smiled warmly, attempting to reassure her. "I would think a daughter of Húrin would have a bit more patience," he continued, gently caressing her cheek.
"It's just that I love you so," she replied, throwing her arms around him.
Luke embraced her. "And I love you too."
"But you do not love me as you love Arien. It's because I'm only an immortal and she's a Maia, isn't it?" she whined.
"Yes, my love. You're right," answered Luke, stroking Lalaith's long dark hair. "I am the Wielder of the Light and who else would I want as my bride but she who can withstand the heat of the holiest of Fires."
He tightened his grip around the woman's waist, causing her to yelp.
"I am the Light!" proclaimed Luke with a hiss. "And the rightful heir of Melkor Bauglir and Maranwë Luinil. And you, my sweet, shall be the first to taste my wrath."
"Luke! NO!" she cried out, attempting to wrestle out of his hold.
The man snapped his lover's neck. With her body still pressed close to him, he added, "Yours is the first death of many to come." He let her limp body fall back onto the mattress.
Lalaith's wide, lifeless, grey eyes stared blankly into space, a single tear rolling down her flushed cheek.
"Whore!" spat Luke. He snickered as he took a few steps, then vanished from the chamber.
Luke then reappeared on Ezellohar, between the Two Trees. Already many of his followers had assembled there, their drawn weapons gleaming in the silver Light of Telperion. Two men from the group came forth, dragging along a lone figure, a black hood placed over the person's head, concealing the captive's identity. The cries of the individual were muffled, the prisoner having been gagged by Luke's co-conspirators.
As most of the people in Valinor lay nestled in their beds, sleeping, the greatest of many evils to come was about to take place.
Arien, blinded by her love for her husband, sprinted up the green slope of the mound to her beloved's side.
"Luke," she said breathlessly.
"You made it, Melisse," he said, giving her a quick peck on the lips. "I'm glad you came. I wouldn't want to do this without you."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," she answered, pulling a dagger from the sheath attached to her leg.
"Thanks, baby," Luke replied, taking the weapon from her hand, and turning his gaze to the cloaked figure before him. He gave a slight nod of his head.
One of his minions pulled off the hood, revealing a confused and horrified Dawn standing there. Cords bound both her arms and legs. A gag was stuffed into her mouth.
With tears streaming down her face, her bleary eyes looked beseechingly at her son. She struggled with her captors, as her muffled voice pleaded with her son to stop.
"I'm sorry, Mother," he said with a pout, tracing her jaw line with his blade. "But I need a little of your blood to open the Hellmouth." Luke paused, then cackled with glee. "Who the hell am I kidding? I need all your blood."
In one swift motion, he slit her throat from ear to ear. Blood spurted from the incision, bathing him and Arien with the warm, red liquid. Luke opened his mouth, drinking in her life force.
"Such power," he gasped. "The blood of Luinil is most delicious." He turned toward his wife, who was also catching the jets of blood in her mouth. Seeing Arien's blood splattered face turned him on. He grabbed hold of her waist, pulling her close, sharing a passionate kiss with his beloved.
Arien pulled out of the embrace, her chest heaving in excitement. "We have need for haste, my Lord," she said huskily. "Your mother's blood is not enough."
"How right you are, my sweet," he answered with a smile.
Luke then ran the blade of the dagger across his palm, allowing his blood to spill into the pool of Dawn's life force. When his stream made contact with his mother's blood, the earth began to rumble and shake.
"Glory be this day, my good fellows," he roared to his followers. "For the day has arrived when the world shall get its first taste of my wrath, and I, alone, will wield the Holy Light."
His people cheered in delight, banging their weapons against their shields.
The tremors woke the good people in Valimar and in the other cities of Aman. In confusion, they hurriedly leapt from their beds. Many darted out of their homes, searching for the cause of the commotion.
The earth began to split around the perimeter of Ezellohar. The minions of Luke that had not yet reached the apex of the hill sprinted up the slopes before the fissure completely surrounded the mound.
Ulmo speedily neared the scene in his swan-drawn chariot. The last of the amulets hung from around his neck, its mystical light already illuminating the Lord of Waters in a brilliance of white.
The enemy down below saw the sudden arrival of the Vala and sent a hail of arrows in his direction.
Luke merely watched with amusement.
The crevice had made its way around the entire mound.
"Ta-ta," he said with a sneer, waving to the Vala Lord.
Ulmo's jaw dropped when he saw all of Ezellohar sink into the earth. "No!" he cried from above the crater. He did not know that Luke had followed in Melkor's and Luinil's footsteps by creating a Hellmouth, or Hellmouths as it were. Desperate, the Vala Lord dove off the back of the vehicle, plummeting head-first into the gaping pit. This was not the way he had expected things to go. He uttered his spell nevertheless, hoping that his magics would put things back on course.
He lost sight of the Two Trees and the rest of Ezellohar as the light from the amulet blinded him. He then passed through a rippling vortex and then he saw it: not far ahead, a black mass amidst the light.
Bella! he thought to himself.
His heart thumped madly in his chest, eager to reach the dark cloud. The light from the amulet suddenly extinguished itself, horrifying Ulmo. He continued to mutter his spell, hoping that that alone would change things.
As he and Buffy neared each other, he reached out, straining to grab hold of her. But the black mass had formed a force field around her, something he was unable to penetrate. Instead, the light from both his and Buffy's amulets shone at once, causing both him and Luinil to stop in mid-air, but only for a moment. Ulmo then felt himself falling until he came crashing down onto the earth, knocking the wind out of him.
Moaning from the force of the impact, the Vala Lord tried to regain his bearings. He struggled to his feet, his eyes surveying his new surroundings. He found himself on the edge of a massive crater. Not too far a way, he saw a large sign wedged crookedly in the ground. It read: "Welcome to Cleveland."
"NOOOO!" he bellowed, falling to his knees.
He then heard Salmar's ominous words in his head: "Is it not wrong to contest the will of Ilúvatar? I deem that things are supposed to go according to His plan, not yours."
Ulmo wept, for his plan had failed. He was now stuck in Cleveland, Ohio in the Fourth Age. He wondered where his beloved was, if she was alright, and if, by some chance, his actions had changed the past.
Unfortunately for the Lord of Waters, things were going exactly according to Eru Ilúvatar's plan.
Buffy was brought back to the First Age in the same spot she always arrived in - Nan Dungortheb.
In her fighting stance, she surveyed the darkness that surrounded her, her side throbbing from the weapon in her duffel bag she had landed on. In an attempt to give herself some confidence, she quipped, "I don't think we're in Kansas any more... "
And there you have it. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you, dear reader, for giving my story a chance and reading it to the end. As you can see this story was designed to spin-off into two more stories, one where Buffy is brought back to the Second Age, and one about Luke's rise as the Dark Lord of Middle-earth in the Sixth Age. Perhaps one day I will revisit this world, but, for now, I want to take a break from Middle-earth to work on some other projects.
I'd like to give a special shout out of thanks to the following people for their assistance with some of the elvish translations: Ailinel, Fíriel, Gwendeth, Gilbrethil, and dirk_math.
I'd also like to thank my beta, Enki, who has proofed most of this story, but not all, (hint, hint), and who thinks that commas are way underused in modern literature and that unspecified pronouns are the work of the devil. (His words, not mine) Lol!!!