Disclaimer: Tolkien's Estate owns some of these bits. Henson Productions own some of the others. I own none of them, except for the random wormholes. And even they are iffy. No infringement is intended.

Notes: Well, it had to be done. I do note that, though basing most of this on the books, I tweaked distances and times. I hatehatehate writing descriptions of Middle Earth. I've done it too much, before. Hope it's enjoyed.

Rating: Eh. PG.

The Ring, the Wormhole, and the Leviathan

by Ana Lyssie Cotton

Wormholes are curious things. They traverse time and space and the myriad dimensions which constitute the physical universe. Linking one side to another is never a simple matter. Sometimes, a person could travel for days, yet arrive minutes before they'd left. (Hyperspace is similar--unless taken to a separate dimension, one arrives before one leaves. Causes great havoc with airports and the like) Objects travel strangely through wormholes. Biological matter fractures as the energies flux. Unless, of course, you are astronaut John Crichton, and then you tend to be perfectly fine even if you're only wearing a space suit. This effect also transfers to anyone traveling with you. Wormholes *like* John Crichton.

But non-biological matter merely falls through without so much as a scratch. Even things as small as rings fare perfectly well. Asteroids fair all right, so do derelict spaceships.

And so it came to pass that the third age of Middle Earth was coming to a close. The War of the Ring was nearly over before it had begun, and Sauron ruled from his dark tower of Barad-Dur with an increasingly harsh hand. But something then happened which no one intended. As the ring of power was brought to its origins in Mount Doom to be destroyed, a wormhole opened, and a tiny creature who very few would miss stumbled into it. He was supposed to fall into the volcano. The ring was supposed to be melted down into its component molecules.

Fate (and the ring) had other plans.


"Aeryn, look, I'm sure Chiana--" Commander John Robert Crichton threw up his hands as his companion rolled her eyes. "Fine. Don't take my word for it. I'll let her stay hidden while you stalk around all pissy."

"Oh, and you don't think I deserve to be pissy?" Aeryn Sun demanded. Her dark eyes flashed indignantly. "She scratched my prowler--again!"

"Aeryn, it's the second prowler--" Ok, maybe that wasn't a good argument. Aeryn's first prowler had crashed when he had hit it in his module. And then Aeryn had died. Yeah. Bad argument. He scrapped it, and continued in a different vein. I'm sure she--"

"You're sure of a lot of things, Crichton." Getting irritated with this conversation, she shouldered past him and stalked back towards the cargo deck. "Why don't you take that surety and go frell yourself."

"Look, Aeryn--Aeryn!" But the sebacean woman was gone, following the curve in the corridor almost faster than his eyes could follow. "Fine. Great." He mimed a punch at the wall. "You do that, Aeryn. I'll go... take a cold shower." Still mumbling, the human continued on his way to his original destination.

When he had fallen through a wormhole, Commander Crichton had suddenly found himself in an alien world hundreds of thousands of light years from his native planet, Earth. The beings here were all different, and wildly varied. He'd once muttered that it was like being at a science fiction convention. But these costumes were real. And the people inhabiting them sometimes had completely contrary ideas and desires to what he would expect from a human in makeup. Take Aeryn, for instance, he occasionally forgot that under that lovely human-looking exterior beat a heart of nearly cold stone. Of course, she'd been through hell over the last two or so cycles. Loving him, then watching his clone die. And now loving him again--and wasn't that frelled? She was also pregnant, and didn't know who the child belonged to. Heck, even longer than that, since he'd screwed her life as soon as they met, almost four cycles before. It probably was enough to screw a human woman in the head. Aeryn merely repressed herself into a psychotic break.

Chiana reminded him of his sisters when they were teens--always trying to get him into trouble... But it was more than that. She had rebelled against her own culture, and wouldn't conform to anyone else's. She liked being different, liked surviving on her wits. And he had to admire her for that.

Even if he sometimes wanted to kill her.

But then D'Argo would kill him. And the luxian wouldn't be swift about it, either. He'd take his time and do it the right way. John shuddered. Perhaps he should think about something else.

"Commander Crichton!" Pilot's voice was insistent and almost panicked.

"Yo, Pilot. What's up?"

"There is a wormhole forming--inside Moya!"

"That's impossible," the startled astronaut replied.

"I don't care--Crichton, it could tear us--" Pilot's voice cut off into a scream of pain.

Crichton took off at a run, "Pilot, where is it?" he called, hoping the creature linked with the living ship would be able to tell him before things got really bad.

A scream was his reply.

"Frell. D'Argo?"

"I'm in Command, John. The sensors say it's opened on Tier 13, hammond-side."

"Right. On my way. Aeryn?"

"I'm going to Pilot's. Chiana's following you," the ex-Peacekeeper's voice was cool with efficiency. "I can't find Rygel."

"Not a surprise. Sparky?" When there was no response from the deposed ruler of Hyneria, Crichton shook his head, "Buckwheat, whatever you're doing, drop it, and get to Command. Now."

"I do not need his help, Crichton," D'Argo objected.

"I know. But it would be good to know where everyone is. Granny, you stay put in the kitchen. Sikozu?"

John wasn't sure what he thought of Sikozu. She seemed like a nice kid, except for her strange fascination with Scorpius, the scarran/sebacean hybrid who'd been chasing John ever since he could remember. Now he was a member of Moya's crew, slowly becoming an almost useful one.

"I am with Scorpius, do you require our assistance?"

"No. Better stay there." He paused as he came to the corridor that contained the wormhole. "Hang on, I'm almost---whoa. Dude." For a moment, the pop-culture-spouting man was left speechless. In front of him was a tiny wormhole, a pinpoint of gravitational density and irresistable force. "Right. I'm here. It's very small."

"Smaller than advertised, like a lot of things," Chiana said from his left. Her voice was sly.

He shot her a look. "Now, Pilot never said it was huge."

She merely smirked at him, then directed the tip of her pistol at the tiny pulsing light. "So. What do we do now?"

"Not sure." Consideringly, John reached out and poked a finger at the dot of wormhole. It rippled, but didn't do anything else for a moment. Then it flared, and something fell out of it, clinking as it hit the decking. Then the wormhole simply disappeared. "Hrm."

"Well, that was easy."

"Yeah. Hey, Pip, did you hear something fall out?"

"There's a ring on the floor. Looks like it's gold."

Crichton looked at the circular object at his feet and slowly nodded, "That seem wierd to you?" The look she gave him spoke volumes. "Okay. What do you think we should do with it, then?"

"We could sell it." She shrugged, "Maybe buy some more foodstuffs."

He glanced at her, "You're all heart, Pip. Feelin' guilty about Aeryn's prowler?"

"Never. I just..." she twitched her shoulders again, "I'm tired of food cubes. That's all."

"A ring?" The voice in question was accompanied by the whirring sound of a hoverchair--or, in this case, a thronesled. "It should, of course, belong to me. As Dominar, I was given everything--"

"Uh-uh, Sparky," Crichton interrupted Rygel. "I think that it belongs to Moya. Speaking of--Hey, Pilot?"

"Ye-es, Commander?"

"How you and Moya doin'?"

"We're... recovering. Moya is still in some pain, but it may be only residual gravitational stress."


"Crichton," Aeryn's voice cut in, "Pilot looks worse than he sounds. We should probably not attempt starburst for several arns."

"Right, right. You hear that, Pilot?"

"I do, Commander. And while I would agree, I'm afraid the approaching Command Carrier requires that we starburst. Immediately." The strain in Pilot's voice intensified, "Please be advised this will be a short, stressful, jump."

"Right. Everyone hang on to your cookies." Crichton instructed.

He didn't have a chance for anything more. The ship lurched into starburst. For a moment, he worried that they wouldn't have enough momentum to ride out the wave and would simply get stuck there. It had happened before, and only luck (and the help of an extra-dimensional being) had seen them out the other side. And he had vomited. A lot. John didn't like vomiting.

Unfortunately, thanks to the whole alienness of his experiences in the Uncharted Territories, he ended up doing a lot of it.

Moments later, they came back out of starburst. John looked at the ring he'd picked up, and shook his head. "Pilot, we safe?"

"I believe so, commander. And now, Moya and I must rest."

"You do that, Pilot. You've earned it."

"So," Chiana said, eyeing the circlet of gold in his hand. "Now what?"

"Dunno, Pip. Let's head back to Command and see what's up outside. Find out what Captain D'Argo wants to do. Make sure we're safe."

"Now that, that's a good plan."


"And I still say that *I* should be given this ring. I am, after all, Dominar to over 6 million subjects." Rygel said, his voice belling with pomposity. Sometimes, he reminded John of the overpaid board of directors at IASA. Men who didn't really give a crap about space, but saw the appointments as advancement to their careers. They didn't care about exploring the vast unknown, they didn't understand science. It just looked good on their resume when they went to run for senator.

"No, Sparky, we've been over this. The ring belongs to Moya and Pilot."

"But they'll never be able to wear it. And I will!"

It was the same objection he'd been raising for over an hour. It didn't seem to matter to him that only he and John were left arguing, as they walked to Pilot's den. Wondering if he could simply throw the hynerian off Moya at some point, John rubbed the spot between his eyes. The headache he'd been worried he'd get had appeared in full bloom.

"Rygel? Just let it go. Or I will shove you in an airlock until you stop yapping at me."

"Oh! Crichton, you miserable human, you wouldn't dare!"

"Try me." He shook a finger at the retreating thronesled. "And don't come bothering me for at least ten arns."

When the corridor was blessedly silent, Crichton let out a breath and then continued on his way. For a few moments, he thought of nothing. And then the thought intruded: he'd been poking at the wormhole, why shouldn't he keep the ring? He frowned. No. That wouldn't be fair to Pilot and Moya. The two of them had suffered the worst. They deserved the worthless little bauble.

The little voice within seemed to be miffed, and didn't reply to that.

Which was just as well, since John had no intention of listening.


"Commander, I do not believe--"

"It's all right, Pilot. Think of it--well, you could use it and buy something for Moya. Maybe some new nutrients, or a spaceshipwash. Do they do those out here? After 50,000 light years, you get a lemon-scented wax?"

Pilot regarded him, tilting his head to the side. "Moya and I agree, Commander. You keep this ring."

"You know what? I'll keep it, maybe I'll buy you guys that wash." John felt he was being really agreeable. After all, he'd offered it a few times to Pilot and Moya, and if they didn't want it, it was his. He pulled the ring out of his pocket. "But for now, I'll wear it. Otherwise, it might disappear." He slid the ring on.

"Commander!" Pilot straightened, staring right at him--no, through him.

And the colours--John blinked around himself. Things were brighter, clearer. As if cut from glass now instead of carbon and biological detritus. The reds and golds shimmered, and he stared at them, fascinated.

"Officer Sun, Commander Crichton has disappeared."

"No, I haven't." John objected, "Pilot, I'm right here!"


Suddenly making two and two equal five, John yanked the ring off of his finger. The colours stopped coruscating and became their normal dull selves. "Can you see me now, Pilot?"

"Yes. I do not understand, Commander. What happened?"

"It's this ring." John turned it over in his hand, then looked up at Pilot. "I don't know how it works, but I could... I could see things I normally can't." He eyed the crustacean's claw-like hands. "It won't fit you..." He stopped, thinking.


John turned, "Hey, Aeryn."

She paused in the doorway, eyeing him warily. "You're giving me the same look you gave me when we were near Dam-ba-dah, Crichton. I don't like it."

"I want to try a little experiment." He held out the ring on his flattened palm. "Put this on."

"No." She crossed her arms, "A microt ago, Pilot says you disappeared, you obviously haven't. What's going on?"

"Look, just put the ring on, Aeryn. Then I'll explain."

"Are you completely fahrbot, Crichton?"

"Maybe. Look--no, fine. I'll put it on." Suiting actions to words, he did. He was ready for the colours this time. And Aeryn--it was as if some inner light shown at him, turning her features from merely attractive to warmly beautiful.

And she had her pulse pistol out, pointed everywhere at once, "Pilot?"

"It is what happened before, Officer Sun."

John pulled the ring off. "It's this ring. It makes me invisible."

"That," the sebacean replied caustically, "Is stupid." She re-holstered her pistol. "What's really happening?"

"No, I'm serious. The ring makes me invisible."

"It's a ring, Crichton, it can't make you invisible."

"It can if it's magic."

"Oh, and you expect me to believe in magic, now?"

"No, I expect--look, Aeryn, I put the ring on I disappeared, I took it off I reappeared. This isn't, thank god, rocket science."

"It's magic, then." She snorted, "You're insane."

"Yes. We already know this."

"Is this a private party, or can anyone join?" Chiana's voice came from the doorway. She sounded mocking and amused.

"Come on in, Pip. See the ring that fell from the wormhole. And the idiot putting it on and disappearing," John finished in a mutter.

"Ooh. An invisibility ring. I thought you were giving it to Pilot and Moya?"

"They didn't want it." Crichton considered, "Hey, Pilot?"

"Yes, Commander?" he sounded wary.

"Are you willing to try something?"

"Try, Commander?"

"Call it an experiment." He wandered back to the throne-like console which housed the crustacean-like alien. He held out the ring. "Can I try putting this on you?"

"It won't fit, Commander."

"I know. I just want to test a theory."

Pilot gave a sigh. "Very well, Commander." He held out a claw.

With care, John maneuvered the ring onto the tip of the claw. For a moment, it looked as though it wouldn't fit. And then it grew, sliding quickly to the base of the first knuckle. Pilot flickered and disappeared. And then with a strange groan, everything disappeared.

"Frell. Crichton, what have you done?"

"Aeryn, don't move."

"I wans't planning to."


"I can't, I can't see. Anything but the stars. My God, Crichton, the stars!"

"John!" D'Argo's voice came from nowhere. "What's going on?"

"Stay where you are, D, there's--hang on." John could still feel the claw, intellectually, it still had to be there. But he couldn't see it. Couldn't see anything but the stars around them. With a quick tug, he pulled on the ring. For a moment it resisted, then it slid off with a popping noise.

And the interior of Moya came back. Aeryn and Chiana hadn't moved except to pull their weapons. Pilot was frozen, eyes staring wildly. As soon as they re-appeared, he seemed to relax slightly.

"That's better," John said. He raised the ring and smiled at Aeryn. "I told you it made people invisible."


"Okay, people. Here's the skinny." Crichton looked around at the others. They had all congregated in Pilot's den, even Noranti. The strange old woman was perched on the lip of Pilot's pit, Aeryn next to her. Rygel was hovering, Sikozu was hanging sideways from a stanchion, Chiana was flittering around, although she kept giving D'Argo little looks. The luxian himself was standing in the middle of the floor, arms crossed. "This," he held up the golden circlet that had caused the furor. "Is the One Ring. A thing of legend and myth, it was created by the Dark Lord, Sauron. He was defeated in the Third Age by a combination of wit, skill, and sheer luck. The One Ring was thought to have been destroyed in Mount Doom--where it was made--along with Gollum." He paused, frowning thoughtfully. "Instead, I think Gollum and the ring fell into a wormhole. Gollum didn't survive the journey, but the ring has."

"Nice fairy story, Crichton," D'Argo said.

"Exactly. On Earth, the One Ring and its exploits are a series of books. Stories of a mythical place called Middle Earth. It shouldn't exist. But you have all seen the power--you all saw everything disappear." He considered. "It must have something to do with Moya being living, and through her bond to Pilot. And no one ever sees intestines, and we are inside, so we must be considered 'part of' her... Hrrm. I wonder if you could ask Frodo's mitochondria if they see each other when he wears the ring?"


"Oh. Right. Sorry. The magical nature of the ring means that when a biological creature puts it on, it disappears. It does other things, but I'm not really sure what. Tolkien was never all that clear about it." He shoved the thing into his pocket. "The thing is, bad things occur around the ring. So, Pilot, if you and Moya wouldn't mind steering us close to a sun, I'd like to dump it. As soon as possible."

"Crichton, I do not see why we can't keep the ring."

"No, Sparky, you wouldn't." John shook his head. "Just... trust me, guys, we can't keep it."

Later, John was never sure how they all ended up convincing him to take a pod from Moya, so they could all be there to watch the demise of the ring. He was to regret it, of course. It was like the psycho field trip from Hell High.

"Okay, you know, I know why you're here," He pointed at Sikozu as Aeryn took the pod out of Moya's docking bay. He gestured at Scorpius. "But why him?"

"Perhaps I wanted a vacation, John." The leather-clad gimp-masked scarran/sebacean half-breed replied. He smiled. "I found the phenomenon of the ship and all in it disappearing to be, shall we say, fascinating."

"I'm sure you did." John glanced at Aeryn. "Why can't I kill him?"

"Because you promised."


"Can I fly?"

"No, Pip. You can't."

"Awww, but I never get to--"

"You apparently do, otherwise Aeryn's prowler wouldn't be scratched."

She pouted at him. Aeryn growled.

"I still say--"

"No, Sparky, you don't get to keep the ring."

"As Dominar, I--"

"NO!" The others all shouted, tired of his continued prattling on the subject.

John wasn't really surprised, the ring would love Rygel. And if Tolkien had been correct, it exerted its influence to make people want it. He frowned, which was why he'd been thinking of keeping it, earlier. So he was just as susceptible. Surreptitiously, he looked at D'Argo and Aeryn. They seemed immune, for now. But either Scorpius or Sikozu could easily succumb to it. And he didn't want to think about the possibilities of Scorpy with a magic ring. It was simply best to dump it in the approaching sun.

On cue, his nerves began to tingle, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. "Oh, hell."

The wormhole which suddenly appeared in front of them swallowed them up and burped.


Perhaps it was the John Crichton Proximity Effect, but surprisingly, they all made it through the wormhole intact. Even the pod (which was partially biological, being part of Moya)was fine, until they hit the atmosphere of the planet they were falling toward. There were bad metallic screeches, and John wondered if only he could hear the near-human cry of pain as they tore through the stratosphere. Aeryn had her hands full keeping them from simply flipping over and breaking up. By the time they hit the forest, they were slower, but not by much. The jolt sent them all tumbling, and John dimly noticed the wall before it knocked him unconscious.

Arns later, after he and Aeryn had crawled all over the pod, John tossed another component onto the fractured decking and then kicked it. "It's all mush. Frelling fucking god-damned mush!"

"I take it you can't fix it," D'Argo said from where he lounged on the pod's bunk. Chiana sat next to him, keeping him steady while Noranti worked her healing mojo to keep the luxian from dying. He'd fractured a bone, tearing himself up internally. Luckily, the pod still contained some of the plant samples Zhaan had taken from an asteroid nearly two cycles before, and he wasn't bleeding anymore. (And John didn't want to think about Zhaan right now. The delvian priestess would have been useful in this situation) But he was in pain. Scorpius and Sikozu seemed to be having some low-voiced conversation, but John couldn't worry about what they were doing at the moment. Rygel was still unconscious, but that was because he'd fallen asleep after berating them all for his ill treatment. And the pod was frelled.

Aeryn pulled herself up out of the interior compartment, and growled, "There's rotten Keedva meat down there. Where is Rygel? I plan to introduce him to my boot."

"Whoa, not yet, Sunshine."

"Rotten," Noranti said, "Is the best way to eat Keedva."

"Yeah. Right. Don't wanna know how you know that, Granny."

"Wait." Chiana jerked to attention. "There's something coming."

"She's right." Aeryn pulled her pulse pistol and moved quickly to the gaping tear in the side of the pod. "Crichton, follow me. The rest of you, stay here and keep quiet."

"What she said." Moving after the ex-Peacekeeper as quickly as he could, John was in time to see her disappear into the forest foliage. He followed her, and found himself inside something that could be considered beautiful. If, say, one wasn't worried about getting an arrow through the throat. Or a bullet. Or a pulse blast. It would be a pulse blast, and it would seriously damage the nice coat he was wearing. Aeryn had found the coat at an abandoned Peacekeeper outpost. It was like a present, in a way. And it had survived a lot of battles.

They crept silently along until Aeryn raised a hand. John halted, and made sure that he had a clear shot to cover her. Then they waited.

And waited.

Suddenly, Crichton had a thought. "Hey. Aeryn."

She shot him a glare.

"Look, I think--"

He stopped talking as people melted out of the forest, surrounding them in a ring. There were at least a dozen, all fair-haired and slim, sexless, their bows held neatly, the arrows nocked and tightly pulled. Their ears slightly pointed. Elves. They *had* to be elves.


"Ho! Wait!" John jerked to his feet and waved his arms, "Is this a shoot first and ask questions later moment? 'Cause I hate those. They're stupid, and people usually end up dead or with a grudge against each other for years and years."

The elves eyed him, then looked at Aeryn, who was still trying to decide which to shoot first.

"Aeryn, put your gun down."


"Just do it, or they'll fill us full of arrows, and we won't find out if that child you're carrying is a girl, boy, or sebacean/scarran hybrid."

"Don't even joke about such things," she snapped. But she slowly lowered her pistol and then holstered it.

"You are wise," One of the elves said. They *had* to be elves, Crichton decided. They had pointy ears. And he doubted that vulcans were on Middle Earth. If this was Middle Earth. Given the way that wormhole had pretty much flown them its own way, he was betting it was. "And you will lead us to the rest of your companions, and then explain yourselves."

"Uh, right. Look, can you tell me where we are?"

"You are on the edges of Lothlorien."

"Hrm. Ok. And what age are we in?"

"The Fourth."

"Right. Good." John considered.

"Your companions." The elf prompted.

"Oh. Right. C'mon down." He strode back towards the pod, trying to remember those long ago D&D sessions. Except those weren't usually Middle Earth. But even then, it might help. And he couldn't remember all of the appendices to the Lord of the Rings. Damn, Tolkien had been thorough, though. He frowned. "The War of the Ring, how long ago was that?"

"Nearly five hundred of your human years."

He glanced at the elf and observed, "You're very talkative."

"And you are dressed strangely and arrived in an even stranger manner." The elf replied with dry irony.

"Yeah. About that... Well, it can wait. Hey, Pip! Don't shoot, these're the good guys." A thought occurred to John, and he looked back at the elf, "You don't still have the fortress at Dol Goldur, do you?"

"What know you of the fortress of the dark sorceror?"

"Oh. Damn. Well, I suppose that means we can't lock leather boy up there." Leaving the puzzled elf to try and translate that, he strode into the pod, "Hey, D, these people can probably help. Don't know if they will of course. But we need to--Noranti, put down the gourd."

"But I like this gourd. Besides, elves. Pah!"

"Wait. You know elves?"

"A few, here and there." She eyed him, for a moment her gaze completely cognizant and amused. "You didn't think you were the only person to travel all over the cosmos to strange places, did you?"

"Well, no, but--" He broke off and shook his head. "We can talk about this later. C'mon, people, let's show them we're peaceful and happy."

The others just looked at him.

"Okay, that we are... at least sometimes boring?"

"Crichton," D'Argo said as he hoisted himself out of the bunk with Chiana's help. "You are as irritating now as you were four cycles ago."

"I love you, too, man." He clapped his hands. "Now, out. C'mon! We can't keep these boys waiting, they might decide to shoot us."

"And whose fault would that be?" Aeryn muttered as she passed him with the last of the food and medical supplies in a carryall.

"Hey, that was some flyin' there, darlin'."

"Frell you, Crichton."

"Yes, please."

She rolled her eyes and turned again, ignoring anything else he might have said to help D'Argo out through the rip in the pod.


"So," Crichton finished, "We have the One Ring, and I don't know about you, but I'm sure that's a bad thing for Middle Earth."

The elves had stopped looking bored early on, and now seemed to be skeptical more than anything else. The one called Haldir spoke, his voice calm and low. "If, as you say, you have the One Ring, how is that possible? It was destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom."

"Look, Robin Hood, I don't know how it's possible. I simply know that this ring fell out of a wormhole into our hands, and then we were trying to destroy it and fell into our own wormhole, and now we're here." John pulled the ring from his pocket. "You can even test it, if you want."

They drew back, and Haldir shook his head, eyes dark, "That is impossible. And yet it is real."

"Yeah. It's like getting a hot fudge sundae with no-fat frozen ice milk and sugar-free hot fudge."

Aeryn sighed. "Crichton."

"Yes, honey?"

"Don't confuse the elves with pointless anachronistic references." She said, in English.

He eyed her. "You've been reading the dictionary Dad gave you."

She shrugged, but her eyes were slightly pleased. He felt a surge of pride. This was *his* girl, and she was learning strange words! And doing well, too. But that was beside the point. Shoving the whole tangle of emotions aside, he looked at the elves, "I'm not even sure you can destroy the ring."

"We tried once, we shall try again."

Something niggled at the back of John's brain, but he couldn't remember what. He shrugged, "I'm just sayin', it made a wormhole for itself once--wait, twice. It could do it again."

"Not without Sauron there to give it power and thought," one of the other elves objected. "And he perished as the Ring fell, during the battle of the Black Gate." The elf flicked his hair over his shoulder, "And besides, we have more knowledge than we did then. Perhaps we can simply use it for ourselves."

"Bzzzt! Wrong answer, Einstein." Crichton snapped. "This ring is corrupting, and it is imbued with Sauron's power, correct?"

"That was the theory." Haldir agreed. He glanced at the other elf, and frowned, "And Gandalf was he who decided such. Sad that he has left Middle Earth for the west."

"Yeah. Sad about that. Can we take the ring to Mordor and dump it in Mount Doom again?"

"Crichton, you just said--"

"Yes, Aeryn, I did. But at least it won't be in our hands."

Haldir nodded, "You are correct. I have no idea what will happen to it after that."

"Perhaps you could stick a note in the history books, or something. Mention that people should be on the lookout for the ring again. Five hundred year cycle, that sort of thing."

"A fine plan." The elf pondered for a moment. "We should, I believe, also get word to the King of Gondor. He should have this information, as well."

"Might I make a suggestion?" It was the first time Scorpius had spoken for arns.

Without even a flicker of telepathy, Aeryn, John, D'Argo, and Haldir all said, "No."

They all looked at each other. John grinned. "Sorry, Scorp, you've been voted off the Council. Besides, I don't think you'll be able to add much to this."

"Only because you will not trust him!" Sikozu spurted, jumping to her feet, and glaring at them all, her hands on her hips. "He could prove invaluable, and you simply shut him up and ignore him."

"Sputnik, I don't even want to contemplate leather-boy getting his hands on the ring. So sit down and shut the frell up."

"If this Scorpius has an idea, it would be as well for us to hear it," one of the elves interjected. He studied the sleeve of his forest-garb, and smiled vaguely. "After all, he is such a strange mixture of human and goblin. Perhaps he could be useful."

John waved a hand, "No, and we're not getting into his ancestry, either. We are not spending the next 20 arns talking about what we should do, when we know what we should do. Haldir, has Minas Morgul been cleaned up yet?"

"It still houses foul things. They crept back nearly a hundred human years ago."

"Damn. That means there might be--hey, did any Nazgul end up destroyed after the Witch-King died?"

"The Nazgul have been playing least in sight since the end of the war."

"Hrm. Well..." John paused, then looked at his companions, and did some counting. "Ah, frell. Hey, Haldir, can we leave Sputnik and Scorpy with you?"


"You sure?"

"I am," the elf shuddered, "Certain. To keep such as Scorpius in the Golden Forest of the Lady would be a blasphemy."

"Yeah, yeah it--oh, hey. You said something about a dark sorcerer?" At Haldir's confused look, John added, "Dol Goldur."

"Oh. There have been rumours--Dol Goldur has always been a dark place, and our kin in Mirkwood believe that a necromancer has started up there."

"What, again? Don't you elves ever, like, raize places so this doesn't continually happen?"


"That's dumb."

"Crichton." D'Argo's voice was rumbly, which meant he was kind of irritated. "Have you considered that *I* am the captain, here?"

"Yes, D, I have. And this isn't Moya, and this ring needs to be destroyed. But, on principle, what would you do?"

"What wouldn't D'Argo do?" Chiana muttered.

"You." Rygel hissed.

"Shut your frelling face, ya crankhead."

"Oh, yes, your looseness."

"Hey, kids! No bickering until this council of war is finished."

"John, as much as it pains me to admit it, I think the ring should be destroyed. And then we should go home." There was sarcasm in D'Argo's tone. "If, that is, you have any frelling clue how we do that."

"I don't know yet, D'Argo. If we get the ring destroyed, and fix the pod, I think I can get us a wormhole home."

"You think."

John faced him fully. "Yes. I think. And that's about all we have right now, because this isn't something that's even partially inside what I was trained for! I'm supposed to be flying in space cataloguing asteroids and stars and theoretical astro-physical phenomenon, not tromping through wood and dale with a sword because some idiot in charge of the universe decided that *I* was the one who could destroy a magic ring!"

"Er, Crichton?"

"What is it, Pip?"

"You can calm down now."

"Oh. Right." He glanced at the elves. "So. About that lembas. Is it tasty?"

"I have a better question," D'Argo said. "Do our weapons still work?"

"Let's find out," Aeryn unholstered her pulse pistol and aimed it up into the air. It shot off, the energy ball splashing upwards and disintegrating part of the forest canopy. "Yes."

"Next question." John said, noting the elves looked a little disturbed.

"Can we not simply destroy the ring with a pulse blast?" Sikozu demanded. When they all stared at her, she snorted, "And you have not even considered it, have you."

"Well, no..." John started, then he looked at Aeryn.

The ex-Peacekeeper gestured to the ground at their feet with her pulse pistol. John dropped the ring. She fired. The blast splattered around the ring, and the ground shook, and the wind blew through the trees swiftly. "Nope, Sputnik," John said as he leaned over and picked up the still intact ring. "It doesn't work like that."

"It never does." She grumbled.


"Hey, Crichton?"

John looked up from re-packing the last of the gear from the pod. He'd added some of the lembas bread Haldir had given them. "What's up?"

"These elves, do they, y'know... have sex?"

He blinked, then shook his head, suddenly having a horrible vision of the elves all dying off because of sexual hi-jinks. "No, Chiana, you can't go frelling half the elf population."

"Aw, why not?" She pouted.

"Because they'll die. Trust me, you just can't."

"You're never any fun."

"That's right. Just think of me as No-Fun Crichton."

She tilted her head, "Why would they die?"

"I don't remember the whole reason, but Tolkien had specific laws and rules about his elves. They couldn't do casual sex, it would completely frell them over. So. No sex with the elves, Pip."

"Oh, well. There's always these humans he keeps mentioning."

"Or the Nazgul," John muttered.


Haldir and some of his warriors saw them off. "You undertake a great journey, my friends."

"Yeah, yeah," John raised a hand. "No speeches. Just keep the pod from getting scavenged. And try to make sure that no one follows us." He eyed the boats they were to take and sighed. "And, please tell me these are easier than kayaks."


"Never mind."

Haldir chuckled, "I shall see you ere the ring is destroyed, and you come to retrieve your craft and return home."

"And Dorothy clicks her heels. Why can't it ever be that easy? Why don't I get red ruby slippers?"

"Chricton, stop whining."

"Yes, Captain D'Argo."

They divided up. John, Aeryn and Noranti in the first canoe; D'Argo, Chiana and Rygel; and then Scorpius and Sikozu. It seemed the best arrangements they could do. John dipped his oar in and pushed off, sculling the water slightly to steady them into the main stream of the current. Luckily, they shouldn't have to do too much rowing. Not unless they were really in a hurry. Aeryn had the map Haldir had given them, and was perusing it with interest.

"Farewell!" Haldir called.

Chiana waved to him, blowing kisses to the assembled elves on the bank.

The great river Anduin was swift and deep, and the current took them quickly away from the woods of Lorien. John wondered if he should have felt wonder being there. But he had seen so much since joining Moya's crew. Perhaps he'd seen it all, and there really was no new sensation. Then Aeryn glanced at him, eyes lost in thought, and he knew there was.

Aeryn met his eyes, and something in them said she was thinking similar thoughts. He shifted, but didn't break the look.

"Hey, Johnny," Chiana called from her perch at the front of the boat. "Can we go faster?"

"No, Pip. I think we'll leave the muscle-work for later. Haldir mentioned rapids."

"Yes." Aeryn looked forwards again, her voice oddly muffled. "We should reach them in about four arns, if I've calculated distance and speed correctly."


Two days saw them nearly to the falls of Rauros where they would have to walk the boats around a circuitous switchback trail and then continue down the river. It had been decided to simply take the ring down, take the pass of Cirith Ungol, and enter Mordor secretly. That night as they were camping, John found Aeryn and dragged her off. Walking under the moonlight, he shivered. "I can't do this."

"What can't you do?"

"The ring. Aeryn, it's scary, but I can feel it like a weight." He sighed. "I thought the books were just myth, or stupid, or exagerated, and now I feel as though I've had to blow up little children. It's not... It's not fair." He looked sideways at her. "Why do *I* have to be the Chosen One, the guy with all the power? I'm not a hero like my dad, Aeryn. I don't want this."

She was silent for a moment, then reached up and cupped his face with her hands. "Then don't be the One, John."


"Give me the ring."

Crichton suddenly felt there were more meanings to that phrase than he wanted to contemplate. A hundred thousand things that neither of them could say now, or might never say. And it truly wasn't fair. But it felt right, too. "Don't tell anyone."

She snorted. "That I took your ring?"

"Yes," he half-bantered as he removed the chain from his neck and held it out to her. It dangled between them for a moment, then her hands took the delicate chain and slid it over her own head. With a few adjustments, both ring and chain were undetectable. John felt oddly bereft, as if part of him were gone. But the ring was gone, the weight--he heaved a sigh. "I love you."

"I love you, too. Now let's get back to the others before Scorpius--"

"Frell him." He caught her hand and pulled her close, noting that she didn't try to get away. His arms slid around her. "I'm sure we can think of much better things to do than listen to them all complain of the heat, damp, cold, fire, smoke, food..."

"Mmm. So we can." She whispered against his lips.


The next afternoon they stood on the bank above the falls. It was sand up to a point, and then massive slabs of rocks took over. The line between river and bank was more obscured here, and there were jagged edges on some of the slabs which attested to the water running over them, at times. Looking down over the falls was almost like standing on the cliffs in Hawaii. John was bouncing around, entranced by the massive grandeur of the huge falls. "Whoooo! Wouldn't want to go over one of them in a barrel!"

"Crichton, stop playing around!"

He turned and flashed a grin at Aeryn, "Oh, come on, don't you want to dance on top of the falls, darlin'?"



"Crichton!" D'Argo's voice was less pleased. "If you are ready to continue on our journey anytime soon, now would be the time."

"Aww. All right." Skipping back along the rocks, John flung his arms out. "I love this!" He mis-stepped, foot coming down on a slab that tilted. He flailed a moment, then regained his balance. Shooting them all a cocky smile, he yelled, "Bet you thought I was--oh, FRELL!" The rock, angry at the abuse it was receiving from Peacekeeper regulation boots (including titatnium-tipped cleats for difficult terrain), cracked in half.

Crichton could see the others moving as he fell sideways, tumbling, trying desparately to not land on the wrong side of the rock.

Sadly, he wasn't quite that nimble. When he hit the water, he had less than a foot before shooting out over the massive height. For a moment, he could see the rest of the river, boiling up from the basin of the pool below him. And then he wasn't seeing anything, having closed his eyes. His last thought as he tumbled down through the air was of Aeryn.

"CRICHTON!" Aeryn's frantic scream echoed across the pool of Parth Galen, she flung herself towards the boulders, desparate to reach them. Something large grabbed her around the waist. She struggled, beating at D'Argo's shoulder and tentacles. "Let me go!"

"He's gone, Aeryn! John's gone!" The deep voice cracked, and he dropped her to throw his head back and shriek angrily in ancient luxian. Aeryn landed heavily on her knees, and heaved one sob before jerking to her feet.

"Can't be." Chiana's voice was dazed, and she reached out and touched Aeryn, as if unsure the sebacean were real. "Can't be."

Aeryn touched her hand, then moved away and stalked to the boulders. Unshed tears were in her eyes, burning to be released, along with the emotions that danced around inside. Some of them demanded she let them loose, that she scream, as D'Argo was, that she beat on things, that she throw herself after him. She did none of them. Instead, after one look over the edge, she turned back. "We will make our way to the bottom of the falls and find his body."

"Officer Sun," Scorpius began.

"If you do not help, I shall kill you right now, making certain of your death by stripping the skin from your bones and leaving them to bleach in the sun." She interrupted him.

He nodded, "I was merely going to suggest that we leave one of the boats behind."

"No. We will need one to transport his body."


Aeryn fingered the grip of her pulse pistol. "Sikozu?"

"Yes, Aeryn?"

"Keep Scorpius away from me, or I will kill him even if we do need him." For now.

The Kalish nodded once, then took Scorpius and they began securing their meager belongings in the boats for ease of transportation down the track.


"No, D'Argo. Not now."

"He could be alive."

She choked on something that might have been a sob. "From that height?"

"It is John Crichton, Aeryn. And if I've learned one thing while hanging around him it's that he has the lives of a ro'knar."

She sniffed, then nodded. "Down the track."


It was a grueling several arns hoisting and moving the boats. By the time they were halfway, even Rygel was wishing he had gone over the falls. It had to have been less painful. Maybe. At the base, D'Argo set Sikozu and Rygel to making camp and the rest began the search for the body.

When night fell, they still hadn't found a thing. Aeryn refused to consider that they might not ever. Rygel was stupid enough to attempt to push the issue. It took Sikozu three arns to coax the dominar out from under the tree.

Aeryn didn't sleep that night. Instead, she watched the stars, and considered her options. Neither she nor John had told the others that she had the ring. Until now, it hadn't seemed to matter. When they got to Mount Doom, she would have simply thrown it in. Now... Now, the task seemed strangely less certain. And unlike John, Scorpius wouldn't hesitate to kill her for the power. And John... Crichton had wanted the ring to be destroyed, at all costs.

He had left *her* with the task.

Decision made, she quietly slipped out of the bedroll and packed what she required. Then she softly recorded a message for the others on John's tape recorder and left it on her pillow.


"D'Argo. By the time you're awake enough to hear this, I shall be quite long gone. I cannot face the thought of finding John's body, and so I have gone back to the elves. I need to be alone. I need solitude, and--ask Rygel. Perhaps, one day, you will all understand what John and I had. I have one request. When you recover Crichton's body, please continue his quest. Destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom. Good-bye."

Captain (or General, depending on where you were from) Ka D'Argo had always hated having to deal with the aftermath of death. Moreso when he was doing it alone. Aeryn's message was fairly clear, though. And it would be the betrayal of a man he considered closer than a friend to not follow her request.

It didn't mean he had to like it. Or be happy.

The searchers spent the day traveling down the river by boat, with scouts on both sides to call if they saw something. With only six of them left, three were in a boat, towing the other two.

When they stopped for a mid-afternoon meal (at Rygel's insistance, and D'Argo really needed the break anyway. Not that he would admit it), they discovered Chiana was missing.

"She followed Aeryn." Noranti said, shaking her head as she looked into the river.

"Well, we cannot go back for her," Sikozu announced. "If she wishes to stay behind, that is her fault."

D'Argo found himself slowly nodding. "I do not want to leave her. But if she is with Aeryn, she is fine. And we must find Crichton, and the ring. It must be destroyed."

"Yes. The ring." Scorpius said, his eyes gazing vaguely at nothing.

Standing, the luxian stretched, then settled his shoulders. "Come on. Let's go."

Every so often, they came across ancient statues or pieces of statues. Over-hangs which might once have been the berths for barges. D'Argo could feel the part of him that had enjoyed Arnessk wanting to stop and look at them. To poke at them, study them, find out what they were, who had built them, and why. But it wasn't something they had time to do, and so he never mentioned them. Instead, he worried about Scorpius.

If the creature wanted the ring, he would attempt to take it. And D'Argo would have to stop him. At least he would be able to bring Aeryn good news.


By mid-day, Aeryn was beginning to regret having left the others. The land was treacherous, partially swampy, partially scrubby forest. It was also strangely humid. But her reasoning still stood. Perhaps she could simply have left Scorpius staked out somewhere. And then she realised that the itchy feeling between her shoulderblades was real. Quickly scanning the trees, she found one that was perfect for her needs and made her way towards it, ducking behind and then waiting.

She didn't have long to wait before the person following her came slipping through the shadows, gait oddly rocking.

Aeryn waited until she had stepped past her before speaking. "Hello, Chiana."

The nebari girl jumped, then whirled and looked at her. "I could--couldn't let you go alone." Unshed tears gleamed in the nebari girl's eyes.

"So, you're following me. To see the elves. Are you sure it isn't just so you can frell them all?"

Chiana shook her head and gulped, "No. Because we're not going to the elves, are we."

"Why would you say that?"

"Because Crichton gave you the ring two days ago." She snorted at Aeryn's startled look, "You two weren't the only ones who wanted to get away. And, no, no one else was there. And no one else knows. Do you think I'm frelling idiotic?"


"Fine. Whatever." Chiana made an angry swipe at her eyes, then shook her head. "You'll need help."

"What makes you think that?" Deciding she didn't care, Aeryn started walking again, her legs and feet moving mechanically as she assessed the terrain and wondered how long it would be before Chiana was bored and left her alone.

"Because you will." Settling into her own version of a loping stride, Chiana suddenly giggled. "And then we'll be famous. Do you think there's a reward for destroying the ring?"

Aeryn rolled her eyes, "No, Chiana, I don't think there is."

"Sad. Still..."

Deciding that not paying attention would make the girl go away faster, Aeryn concentrated on that. Putting one foot in front of the other, gauging distance, watching the sun. She was hoping they could make the road soon. Or something more than marsh. Ithilien couldn't really be that far from them. And from there, Minas Morgul. Aeryn had briefly toyed with simply going through Minas Morgul, but that seemed like a bad idea. Besides, the stair to Cirith Ungol couldn't be that bad. Could it?


It was like waking up from a really really bad dream into a nightmare. He hated doing that. There were voices, and he was soaking wet, and cold, and the voices were all arguing, if their tones were any indication. And. Dude. It was *so* unfair. Here he was, John Crichton, Astronaut, Master of the Universe, and he fell off a waterfall. How dumb was that?

Pretty frelling stupid, all right.

He was moving, he decided. Being moved, maybe. The world was wriggling around him, and the voices kept coming in and out, like waves. Or maybe they were just walking around him, ignoring him, and he had a concussion.

And. Oh, yeah. That was his body. His shoulder wasn't sitting right again, and his left knee felt as if someone had whacked it with a car.

"--should take him to the king!"

Apparently, his translator microbes were finally back to working. They'd gone on strike due to the extreme treatment of the falls, the river, and then being trussed up on a pole. He was on a pole. Hanging so that his ass was practically hitting the road. John Crichton prided himself on having a nice ass. If it got scarred, that could be detrimental to his status. He tried to shift, so this wasn't so, and every muscle protested.

"He's awake!"

The entire procession stopped, and John opened his eyes. There were people around him, some sort of soldiers, since they were wearing chainmail and surcoats. "Um. Hi." He croaked.

An older man shifted to look at him, and nodded, "You speak our language?"

"I don't think so."

The man nodded, "And yet we understand each other. Interesting. Your accent is not familiar, the same for your clothing. Where do you come from?"

"I fell from the star, I fell ve-ry far..." John stopped singing off-key, and coughed. "Not from around here. Um. North. Past Lothlorien."

"Ah." The man wasn't convinced.

"Look, uh, could you let me walk? Or even just lay down? I hurt. And, um, this whole hanging experience is just not good."

The man gestured, and John found himself falling onto the ground. "Ow." But they were cutting his hands and feet free, and he flexed these experimentally before slowly standing. "Oh. Oh, this feels bad. But it's better than the last time I got shot. Or bitten. Or beaten. Or, hell, even better than the Aurora Chair, and I'll stop talking." Then a thought occured to him.

Checking quickly, John discovered his pulse pistol was gone. "Oh, no. Um, guys, when you found me, was there this sort of, hand-held thingie, shaped kinda like this?" He sketched the shape of his beloved Wynona in the air.

"Yes. It is with the rest of your weapons in one of our packs."

"Oh. Good." Wynona was all right. "Could I have them back?"

"Not until you have spoken to our king."

"King. King... Right. That wouldn't be, uhm, a descendant of Elessar, would it?"

The soldier snorted, "You are strange."

"Thanks, I get that a lot. I'm John Crichton, by the way. And you are?"

"Captain Kelson." The man answered. He made a gesture, "Come, we must continue on our way if we are to make Minas Tirith by nightfall."

"Nightfall? Wow. Hey, how close to Osgiliath was I when you pulled me from the river?"

"At it," the man replied dryly. "You rammed one of our sluice gates."

"Ow." That explained the knee, then. The shoulder was wrenched when he tried to catch himself going over the falls. It suddenly occured to him that he wasn't surprised that he'd survived a fall that should have killed him. And then a journey down-river which should have drowned him. He shook his head. "I have got to stop trying to die."

The captain shot him a look, then shook his head. "This way, John Crichton."


John spent the remaining journey trying to stay on his feet. He would have liked to gawk at things and people and places, but he really didn't have the energy. And he was worried about the others. Aeryn must be completely insanely frantic about where he was. And D'Argo probably was also upset. And Chiana. Scorpy was probably irritated that he would never learn the secret to wormholes now. As for Sikozu, John doubted she cared, one way or the other. Noranti and Rygel probably missed him. Maybe.

These thoughts kept him on his feet as they crossed field and stream and finally went through a series of gates. The city of Minas Tirith rose up from across a wide strip of field, and John gawked. "Wow."

So he could be impressed.

It was a massive edifice, rising nearly half a mile into the sky, concentric inter-locking circles of white stone.

Once in the city, they wended their way up and up and up. And John began wondering if they'd drag him if he collapsed. Finally, when he was certain he couldn't go any further, they came out into a massive courtyard. A tall white tree sat in the midst of a pool, and he tiredly recognised one more of Tolkien's favourite symbols.

The captain led him past the pool and sat him down on a bench outside of the doors. "If you will wait here."

"Yeah. Can't promise I'll be awake, though." John ran a hand over his face and gave a massive yawn. "Really tired." He told the empty courtyard. He eyed the tree. "Should sleep. Soon. Want Wynona back. Miss her. Miss Aeryn." He slid lower and lower until he was slumped.

A snore came from his half-open mouth, and he occasionally mumbled unintelligeably.

That was how the guard who came to fetch him found him. Unwisely, the young man poked John in the shoulder. And found himself flat on the ground, with the suddenly awake stranger sitting on his chest.

"Oh! Sorry." Awkwardly, John got up, wincing as his knee tried to collapse. "I'm a bit jumpy."

"Sir." The poor kid scrambled to his feet and straightened stiffly, then winced. "The king wishes to see you."

"Lead on, MacDuff."

The kid gave him a blink, then turned and led the way, apparently determined to ignore the madman.

Inside the doors was a massive hall, with a slightly raised dais at the end. Upon it sat a man in a rather boringly wooden chair. He stood as the kid led John up, and the captain came to stand to his right, but not on the dais. When they got there, John executed a half-bow.

"You are the man known as John Crichton."

"Yup. And you are?"

"I am King Eglaurion."

"Cool." John looked him in the eye, and waited as the other man assessed him.

"You seem a strange man, but a good one. Tell me, John Crichton, what brings you to Gondor?"

"The Anduin."

A smile flashed from the man, and his eyes lit up an electric blue. "Surely there is more to it than that?"

"Nope. I'm kind of a tourist, really. Look, I was traveling with some friends, and we kinda got separated on the river. Is there any way to send people to find them and bring them here?"

"I'll see what we can do."

"Cool. Thanks." John paused, then shifted awkwardly, "Was there something more? I'm about to pass out on my feet here, and I should really see if my knee is as bad as I think it is."

"Intriguing. You know much, yet say little." The king inclined his head. "Take this man to a room so that he may rest."

"And food?"

"And food. Perhaps a little wine, and some other clothing while his is laundered."

"Cool. Thanks. Um. Could I have my weapons back?"

"I'm afraid not, for the moment."

"Gotcha." John smiled. "Nice doin' business with you, king. Let's do lunch."



Aeryn slogged through the muck and mud of the Went-wang, and cursed in several languages under her breath. It had looked so much smaller on the map. She hated this sort of terrain. Had hated it even when she was a Peacekeeper. The training had been more grueling, of course. And there had been no encouragement from comrades. Only the furious yells of her squadron leader as they fell and got up, fell and didn't get up. Ahead of her, Chiana paused and poked at the ground again. She looked back, "I think we're nearly to the end of this."

"That can not be too soon."

The girl nodded, then giggled, "We'll need a bath after this."

Oh, little sebacean sand gods. A bath would be like heaven. Or one of John Crichton's kisses. "I don't think we'll get one."

"Ugh. All of this muck has gotten places--well, it's gotten places."


They left it at that, and shortly, Aeryn found the ground was less boggy and more sound. Within an arn they were walking on hard-packed earth. By nightfall, they had reached the road south.

Aeryn considered going on. She was driving herself beyond her own limits, and she knew it. She had to, she wanted this over and done with. And Crichton was gone. And she also knew that her body could take this kind of damage, and still work. She was a Peacekeeper, after all. Ex or not. Chiana, on the other hand, could not. And the nebari girl was showing signs that the toil was getting to her. She was almost listless when they stopped for an evening meal of lembas and water.

"We should go on."

Tipping her head back, Aeryn eyed the stars slowly appearing. "We'll wait until full dark. The moon is almost full."

"Good." Chiana stretched, then yawned. "I'm going to nap. Wake me when it's time to go."

"You do that," Aeryn said softly. She finished another bite of lembas, and considered how much was left. When she'd planned this, she hadn't been considering another person. Between them, they would have barely enough to get them into Mordor, much less to Mount Doom. And that was if they kept up this grueling pace. There had to be a faster way into the land.

Sudden sound echoed in the darkening night air, and Aeryn listened for a moment, then moved. She clapped a hand over Chiana's mouth and the nebari girl awoke instantly. "There's something coming."

A nod, and then the two of them were moving swiftly and quietly back into the forest. Aeryn loosened her pulse pistol's grip and pulled it out. With approval, she saw Chiana pull her tiny blaster. They waited in the dark, watching the southern direction of the road.

Eventually, a figure appeared, atop an animal. It was moving swiftly, the beat of its hooves the sounds which had come to them on the still air.

But it was slowing, the closer it came, and Aeryn suddenly recalled something John had said while they were on the river. It was about the Nazgul, enemies of the men of the West. Fell creatures that Sauron had created by twisting their use of the nine rings given to mortal men. Eight were still around, still waiting for their master to rise again. And they would stop at nothing to re-take the ring. Could this rider be one of them?

Not that it mattered. Aeryn suddenly decided that the beast this person was riding could be useful. It obviously covered more ground than a woman walking did. She waited until it was abreast, and then fired.

The pulse blast took the rider in the shoulder, and he tumbled from the saddle. His beast reared, but Chiana was quicker, darting out and grabbing the suddenly dangling reins. She held on and began talking to the creature in nebari, an oddly liquid language--at least, if one heard it without translator microbes. Since the horse wasn't nebari, it didn't understand the words. But the tone was calming, and it quieted down.

Aeryn approached the man she had shot and nudged him over on his back. He was alive, but unconscious. It looked like the armour he had been wearing had shielded most of the blast. She bent and checked the wound and found it quite minor. She'd taken worse as a five year old from her instructors.

Quickly, she holstered her pulse pistol, then sorted out the man's weapons, uncovering several knives and a large sword. He also had a pouch of food that would add to their supply. They might actually live to see the river again. She shoved two of the knives into her boot-tops carefully, handed the others to Chiana, and tossed the man's sword into the underbrush. Then she tied him up, but not too tightly that he couldn't eventually get loose, and dragged him into the trees on the other side of the road.

When she returned, Chiana was already mounted, carefully controlling the beast with words and rein.

"Do you know how to ride?"

"No." Chiana shifted, and the horse side-stepped. "Do you?"

"It wasn't covered in Peacekeeper training."

"Well. It can't be that hard, can it? I mean, I got up here. You can, too."

Aeryn suited the words to action, and swung herself up behind Chiana. She shifted, trying to get comfortable. "Perhaps I should be the one driving."

"No. No, I think I've sort of got the hang of this."

"Sort of?"

"Yeah. Hang on!"

Before Aeryn could raise any other objections, Chiana let out a war-cry, and kicked a heel into the horse's flank. It started, then took off, heading south. The wind whipped her hair back from her head, and she considered braiding it up and out of the way, the next time they stopped.

Which could be never, with the way the beast was moving with Chiana's encouragement and occasional whoops.

"Chiana!" She called through the wind.


"We're trying to be stealthy about this."

"Yes, and we're riding a giant animal, Aeryn. Somehow, I don't think this is very stealthy."

She had a point. Still. "Could you yell a little softer?"

"No. But I won't do it anymore, if you'd like."


The girl looked back at her, and grinned. "Just you hang on there, missy. I'll show you a ride like you've never seen. Whoo!"


It took them very little time to reach the Ithilien forest (hard to miss, since it was huge and green...). They had discovered that the horse seemed to take care of itself, although it tired more easily after that first wild ride. Twice, they had to hide while riders went past. Once, going south, the second party larger, and heading north. None of them noticed the lone horse and his two riders.

They stopped at midday, and Aeryn made Chiana sleep. After a few arns, they continued on. Chiana tried to object, to have *her* sleep, and she refused. She was a Peacekeeper, she was trained for this sort of deprivation.

Rebellious, but unable to do anything more, Chiana took the lead and they walked for a short while before riding again. At sundown they came to a crossroads. Aeryn eyed the statue for a moment, then nodded. "We go east from here."

They turned and continued on.

"Hey, Aeryn..."

"Yes, Chiana?"

"Do you... do you really think Crichton's dead?"

They were silent, then Aeryn shifted, "I don't know anymore."

"Because, y'know, it's Crichton, if anyone... anyone could survive that fall."

"It would be him. Yes." For a moment, Aeryn relaxed into the rhythmic motion of the horse's plodding, then she straightened. "It doesn't matter."

"We have a ring to destroy. Right."

They were silent, then Chiana looked back at her again. "So, we really need to climb that stair and kill the spider, huh?"




The spider had been something Crichton had remembered from the books. Haldir had confirmed that Shelob still existed. The elves had tried to destroy her once or twice, and failed. Aeryn was hoping that a direct attack with a pulse pistol would kill her. A giant spider seemed almost boring after some of the things she'd seen with Crichton around.

Still, that was a worry for the next day.


On the other side of the river, D'Argo and his band of un-merry aliens had discovered that they didn't like boating. But they did find travel by water swifter. There had been no sign of Crichton's body, and D'Argo was beginning to wonder if they had missed it. Or, and this was stretching things, John had survived. For the thousandth time, the man had the most insane luck.

That night as they stopped for a meal, Scorpius came to talk to him.

"General D'Argo."

He silently looked at the half-breed.

"It occurs to me to wonder if, possibly, we are simply being too hopeful. It is highly possible that John Crichton's body has long ago passed into the sea at the end of this river. If there is one."

"OR, it may be that John is alive and injured." D'Argo suggested calmly.

"That had occured to me, too. The human has the luck many associate with me. The universe, Ka D'Argo, would be a sadder place without John Crichton."

"So it would."

"Ka D'Argo, I know you don't trust me. But I really do have Crichton's best interests in mind. And I think we should continue on through the night."

"I had already planned to."

"Good." Scorpius smiled, "I'm so glad to work with you, D'Argo. I feel that we are gaining a greater understanding of each other."

"And I am not glad."

"No. Still, that can be dealt with. Eventually."

For a moment, the two eyed each other. D'Argo almost smiled, but didn't feel like giving this enemy the satisfaction. For he knew, without any doubts, that Scorpius would kill him if given the chance. All of them save John would perish at the half-breed's whim. But for now, they would work together.

In the morning, they were confronted with the appearance of a city on the horizon. D'Argo decided they could risk making their way there. After all, if someone had found John, that would be the place. Most likely. He considered, and wondered if John--even dead--would require rescuing. Perhaps they would harvest his body for organs or tissue, or decide he was edible. Crichton would have that sort of luck.

By mid-morning, they were there. And were met by a troop of men in armour and embroidered shirts. "You are Ka D'Argo, are you not?" The one in the lead said, addressing the very very tall luxian before him.

"Who wants to know?"

"By order of King Eglaurion, we are here to meet the companions of John Crichton and escort them to Minas Tirith where they may rejoin their comrade."


"Crichton said to tell you everything was 'A-Okay'." The man added, looking slightly strained to speak the strange words.

"He is alive, then. Good. I had thought as much." Noranti walked up to the man and patted his shoulder. "And you are wonderfully buff. Do you work out a lot? I like a man with muscles."

The man suddenly looked completely uncomfortable, and shot D'Argo a pleading look. The luxian merely nodded, "Lead the way to Minas Tirith, my friend."

"I am captain Kelson. My men and I escorted Crichton to the king, and are now performing the same duty with yourselves." The man nodded, "You are fewer than Crichton had said."

"Two of our number went back to stay with the elves," D'Argo said. "We believed Crichton to be dead, and they were..."

"Much saddened, indeed. Much saddened." Noranti sighed, then seemed to brighten. "Tell me, young man, have you ever tried chilnak?"

"Noranti." D'Argo said sternly. "You will not poison these people."

"It's not a poison." she objected. "It's a restorative. Honestly, you would think it never did you any good!"

"I seem to recall removing every internal organ when I puked after eating chilnak."

"Just because you don't appreciate how clean that made you...!"

The captain was eyeing them both. He shook his head, "No. Thank you, ma'am."


The reunion in the city was less enthusiastic than it might have been. D'Argo was the first to hug John, and so had to tell him that Aeryn had left. John, being John, realised that Aeryn had continued on with their original plan. And she was alone, with only Chiana for backup.



The resultant hug and back-slap was ended when captain Kelson coughed. "If you gentlemen would follow us, there is an audience with the king scheduled."

"Sure. Right."



D'Argo eyed their escort, then leaned in and hissed, "Where's the ring?"

"Safe. They searched me when they pulled me out, but it's safe." He winked, "I had a *really* good hiding place."

For a moment, D'Argo considered the possibilities, then he yelped. "OH! John, tell me you did not store it with your mivoncks!"

Crichton was completely innocent, as he replied. "It seemed a good idea at the time, D'Argo. Besides, Aeryn--"

"I do NOT want to know."

"You sure, good buddy? Maybe Chi--"

"You'd better not be going where I think you're going."

"No. Right. No. So, how was that river, real big and cold, eh?"


The king was gracious and kind and asked them oddly pointed questions, but got nothing back, even Noranti was adept at not mentioning their real reason for being there. John idly made sure that a messenger would be sent to Lothlorien, but that would take several days. He was suddenly forseeing a lot of downtime and boredom in Minas Tirith. And he wanted to act, needed something to do. Because Aeryn was doing what he would have. He could feel it, like she was there, telling him. His mission had been to destroy the ring. And he had given it into her keeping. With him dead, it was now her task. And then it hit him.

"Hey. King Eglaurion. Have you guys ever been able to clear up Minas Morgul?"

"Sadly, no." The King shook his head gravely, then half-smiled. "You are thinking of something, Sir John?"

"Just John. And. Yeah. I have a plan."

"Oh, frell," D'Argo muttered.

"Shut up, D. This is a fabulous plan. You need it cleaned up, I'd like to not be bored for a week. And, hey, I'm pretty good at making explosives, so, I'm your man. I figure, we waltz right into Minas Morgul, and, BAM! blow it up. How's that sound to you, King?"

"He has a plan." Sikozu clapped a hand over her eyes. "This is not going to end well."

"Does it ever?" asked Scorpius mildly. He patted her shoulder. "Child, I have seen John Crichton escape from worse circumstances. The falls, for instance."

"Yes." She muttered. "That's what I'm afraid of."

The king tilted his head to the side. "Blow it up?"

"Yeah. Uh, make it burn? Melt the rocks?"

"Like a volcano going off."

"But more controlled, less lava."

"It... What would you require?" And what are you hiding?

But John ignored the unspoken question. "Um. I don't know yet. Could I have a look at the armoury, see what you've got--have you guys discovered gun powder yet?"

"Gun powder?"

"Yeah. Powder, add some fire, and it goes boom."

"I... I believe a few of the alchemists may have discovered something similar."

"Great. Good. I need to talk to them, find out what they can get me."


"Just me and D, for now. I might need Sikozu."

"But you will need none of my men."


"Very well, I shall have the alchemists informed that you wish some of their time."


Later that evening, John cornered D'Argo in the courtyard. "D, there's something you really need to know."

"Oh, really, John?"

"Yes. Look, D'Argo, you can't tell *anyone* this. At all. Kill yourself if you have to."


John glanced around at the open field, then leaned close and whispered, "The girls aren't in Lorien. They've gone to Mordor to destroy the ring."

"But you have the ring." D'Argo pointed out.

"Uh-uh." Checking, John gestured to his chest, "I gave it to Aeryn the day before the falls."

"What? Why?" Suddenly, D'Argo grabbed John by the lapels. "You idiot! You frelling idiot! You had this all planned, didn't you!" He shook the human, whose feet were dangling in the air, kicking.

"No, I--D'Argo, put me--ow--down!"

"You sent the two women we love into the deadliest danger you could think of. And you're telling me you didn't PLAN this?!"

"Really. I didn't."

For a moment, the two men eyed each other. Then D'Argo slowly lowered John to the ground. He looked up at the stars, contemplating them silently.

John straightened his collar, and winced. "That's some grip you got there, man."

"If she dies, you are a dead man."

"I know, I know."

"And you really didn't plan this."

"No. Do you think I would? I would have been sending *AERYN* to her near-death, man. You think I could do that?"


"Oh, that hurts, man, that hurts."

The luxian shook his head. "Remember. You will die."

"Yeah. I know," John answered testily. "Now go sleep, or something. I need to go talk to Agamemnon."


"Aeryn." Chiana twitched her shoulder, nudging the woman awake.


"It's all right."

Feeling strange, Aeryn shook her head. "I did not mean to fall asleep." She straightened, feeling sore and abused muscles complain.

Chiana glanced back at her, "We're at the stair, Aeryn. And... And we can't take the horse any further." She swallowed, then looked back in front of her. "It's very... steep."

"Afraid of heights?" Aeryn dismounted, her joints creaking and snapping. She unstrapped the pack from the saddle and slung it over her shoulders then got out of the way as Chiana sprang down, shaking her head as she landed.


"Good." Aeryn moved and stepped onto the first crevice. "I'll go first."

"All right. And if you fall?"

"I won't."

They climbed. It was exhausting and grueling and before an arn was up, they were both soaked in sweat and covered in dirt and rock dust. Chiana had one nasty slash on her left hand from a jagged edge, and Aeryn had scratched her arm at some point and not noticed it. And still they climbed. Until they could climb no more. As there was simply no place to stop, they continued until they came to a small ledge. And there they collapsed.

"Looked easier... from down there."

Aeryn stirred and glanced at Chiana, "Easy as climbing the rock of Baraltia in training excercises."

"Oh. Right."

"Or running from the Peacekeepers and the nebari."

A grin lightened Chiana's lips. "Or being kicked out and still surviving."

"We've both... survived."

"Yeah. But will we survive this?"

"We have to." Aeryn said simply. She slowly turned over and prepared to continue the climb. "John would have wanted us to."


When they finally reached the top, Aeryn decreed a rest period. Chiana fell into an exhausted sleep while the ex-Peacekeeper kept watch. The sun rose eventually, and she watched the pinks and purples and golds and blues scythe out from behind her. It reminded her of the sunrises on Earth. Jack Crichton had dragged her out bed to see one, once. He'd been as excited as his son got sometimes. They had stood in the back garden of their borrowed house and simply watched in silence, though.

"It's beautiful." Her voice had been full of wonder and a little sadness.

"He loves you," Jack had replied softly.

Aeryn had not pretended to misunderstand. "He has a funny way of showing it." She would not cry. Not even in front of the man who was John's father.

"Give him time, Aeryn Sun." He glanced at her, and smiled. And the smile was John's, too, but more sad.

She had given him time. And her heart, soul, body, mind--a sob escaped her, and she leaned forwards, her forehead resting on her knees. This was ridiculous. He could still be alive. He *had* to be alive, she decided fiercely. It was Crichton, after all, and she had learned long ago to never under-estimate him.


"Go back to sleep, Chiana."

The nebari girl unwound from her ball, and yawned. "Nah. I'm good. You need sleep?"

Swiping a hand at her eyes, Aeryn shook her head.

"Then let's eat and go."

Silently, then, they shared the second to last lembas piece. A swift drink of the stale water, and then they stood and began walking down the crack that opened behind them. For a time, the crack slowly grew wider, until it was large enough that Aeryn could have parked her prowler within. The light began to fade, then, and Aeryn stopped to fish the torch she'd taken from the pod out. Once it was flicked on, they continued. A smell began to reach them on the breeze. Staleness, and death.

Chiana made a sniffling noise, then stopped. "There's dead people down there."

"A giant spider lives here, Chiana. I'd be worried if there weren't."

The nebari nodded, her hair glowing in the half-light. "Then we should be watching for her, shouldn't we."

Aeryn pulled out her pulse pistol. "Be careful, and don't get caught if there's any webbing."

"How's your chakan oil?"


"Good." Even without looking, Aeryn could tell the girl shivered. And then she giggled. "Almost like walking the caves back home. Except... No people chasing me."


Taking her cue, Chiana remained silent. The cave grew mustier and darker, and shortly they began to see whispy strands of spider silk. Aeryn was careful to touch none of them. When it was too close to not touch, she began hacking at it with one of the knives she had taken. Chiana carried the torch.

Finally, they came to a completely blocked tunnel, and there were two openings. Aeryn eyed the one on the left, and found it to be a smallish cavern with no exit. It was full of corpses, some half-rotting, some nothing but bones. A few were more recent. She gave a small nod of satisfaction, and turned back to find Chiana facing the other opening.

"Um. A-aeryn?"

"I see it, Chiana." She raised her pistol, and sighted at the bloated monstrosity that was watching so calmly.

"C-can I shoot it?"


They fired simultaneously, Aeryn's shot took out one side of the cluster of eyes. Chiana's hit the mandibles which began chittering rapidly. The creature darted forward, half-blinded and now angered by pain. Aeryn began rapidly firing, each shot connecting and doing some sort of damage. Chiana's weren't quite so good, but they still hit the thing. And then it was upon them, and Aeryn found herself running backwards into the larder while Chiana went further down the corridor. For a moment, the spider hesitated.

And then it turned and lunged at Chiana.

The nebari girl shrieked and continued to fire wildly as Aeryn came back out and took out its back legs, joint by joint. Then she started on the left side, her pulse blasts carving chunks of spider meat out. But now, the thing was half-dragging itself, but still menacing and powerful. Chiana got in another shot, and this one took out the other side of its eyes.

An awful scream filled the air, and the monster tried to scramble out, to get away from these two efficient predators. But they followed it, firing until the cartridge in Chiana's gun was emptied. And then she hacked at it with her two knives as Aeryn continued firing.

By the time they were done, there were bits of spider strewn over a large area. Chiana was covered in the dark sticky blood, and Aeryn even had a few splatters.

The spider, however, was dead. With a wet, pulpy sound, Aeryn stamped down on the body a few more times. Then she looked at Chiana. "We should continue onwards."

"Yeah." Sucking in a loud breath, she giggled. "That was the draddest."

"I take you to the nicest places," Aeryn confirmed.

They both grinned. Aeryn dug in the shoulderpack and handed Chiana a new oil cartridge. "Here. We may need this."

With another grin, they turned and continued through the tunnels, finally reaching the other side.


John Crichton had a goal in life. It was a small goal, but it was a goal nonetheless. Simply stated, he wanted to live to see Aeryn again. After that, he didn't care. Well, he did, but not as much as he might once have. Just to hold the woman he loved and see her smile, and he'd be content. He didn't have to run the universe, or save the world. But he was going to do that anyway. At least, on a small scale.

Currently, he was planning to blow something up. That was normally Aeryn's job, but Crichton was feeling more than adequate. He had to wonder, of course, why the king seemed so willing to go along with it.

Several technical discussions had ensued with the alchemists and he now had the makings for a very nice large explosion. If applied correctly, it should bring down the whole of Minas Morgul. John liked that idea. Liked being able to hurt the bad guy, while Aeryn toiled in a land that was said to be full of pain and death.

Knowing Aeryn, she was fine.

He still wasn't happy with his solution, though, and continued assembling everyone so that, by the next day, they were ready to go.

A small troop of King Eglaurion's guards were going with them.

Scorpius and Sikozu had briefly pondered staying behind, but John vetoed that by noting that they could come across a way back to Moya. And he didn't want to have to make a detour on the way get Aeryn and Chiana in Lothlorien.

The king returned their weapons and few belongings, gave a final word and then retired to his tower. They set out under bright blue skies and brilliantly white clouds. With a score of horses, they quickly traveled the distance to Osgiliath and crossed the great river. By mid-afternoon, they were at the cross-roads. John eyed the light. "Hey, Kelson."


"Will we make Minas Morgul while it's still light?"

"Most assuredly."


The sun had crept closer to the western horizon when they arrived at the outskirts of the fields around Minas Morgul. John eyed the massive structure, and wondered if it would be as easy as he'd thought this would. It had to be easier than blowing up a command carrier. Had to be.

"Right, D?"

"What, Crichton?"

"It has to be easier than destroying a command carrier."

D'Argo shook his head, "We do not have Aeryn or Crais or Talyn. I think it might be harder."

"You," John stabbed a finger at him, "Are no help. Scorp!"

"What is it, John?"

"I need you to help me get these explosives laid."


"Yeah. You're expendable. D'Argo's not."

The leather-clad figure chuckled, "Come now, John. Didn't you promise Aeryn Sun that no harm would come to me?"

"Don't talk to me of promises, just get your ass in gear and help me set up explosives." Turning to Kelson, John gestured, "We'll be back eventually. Don't try and follow us unless, well," He glanced at D'Argo. "Take care of Aeryn for me."

"You can take care of her yourself."

"Right. Right."

With care, John dismounted then took up the saddle bags. Scorpy took the two from Noranti's horse. There were hopefully enough explosives to bring the tower down, if not the entire structure. It was bigger than he'd thought it would be. Almost as big as Minas Tirith.

There weren't guards on the gate, and they slipped in easily. Traversing the halls, they found an abandoned city, deserted except for the occasional dustball and a large quantity of shifting sand.

Near the top they found a few bones, but nothing more. Crichton looked at it all, and stopped to look out a window at the city below. "It's empty."

"Obviously." Scorpius joined him. "Such a beautiful city. And yet, they want it destroyed. Believe it to be inhabited, in fact." He looked sideways at John. "But you think differently, don't you."

"Yeah. The king was a little too eager. I did some checking, but nothing was conclusive. Seeing this..." He let his voice trail off as he thought. Oddly, it was like standing and chatting with Harvey. But more dangerous, since this one could actually kill him. It was like playing with a tiger. You could never be quite sure that it simply wouldn't open its mouth and bite your head off.

"And yet, you came here. Tell me, John. Where is the ring?"

Absently, he patted his chest, "Safe."

"Hrm. I think not. I think, John Crichton, that you are playing an even deeper game than the king of Gondor."

"Scorp, you think bath soap plays games."

The hybrid made an irritated sound and left the window to stride across the room. John ignored him and continued looking out at the twilight. Then he straightened. "There's something happening."

But that was the last thing he said for several arns. Because as the sun dipped below the horizon, the city awoke. Not in stages, not at once, and not with anything that could be considered alive. But they were there, intermittant and yet real. Or not real. Crichton didn't try touching them, and the things avoided the two of them. Ghosts might have been one term. But there was more to them. They talked to each other in high-pitched shrieks that tore at the heart and soul. After ten minutes, John felt as if a hundred thousand people had died, the weight of the world pressing all around him.


He looked up at Scorpius and slowly nodded. They got to work, laying a few charges in that room, and then continuing down, setting the small packs against the structural posts and points. At the bottom, they took all of the strands of carefully twisted wire and combined them into one whole. And then they tugged the one long piece out with them. In the courtyard, they had to splice in a last wire.

Outside the gates, they stood there, looking up. Then John looked at Scorpius. "We're still too close."

"I will stay, and light the fuse."


"And still, you do not trust me."


For a moment, they glared at one another, then John shrugged, "There's an alcove over there. It should provide enough cover."


John flashed a death's head grin. "I don't bite, Scorp, but we're about to get very close."


Scorpius pulled himself into the tiny crevice. Aiming at the end of the cord, John fired. Wynona sang loud and bright in the night, and the fuse lit up, a tiny little fire that quickly began traversing the courtyard and causeway. Quickly, John holstered the gun and ducked into the alcove. He put his hands over his ears and waited.

Given sufficient fuel, an explosion's only stopping point is the impetus and the thrust of the original matter. If there is shrapnel, probabilities change as the shrapnel spreads out and rebounds. In the case of Minas Morgul, there was shrapnel to be had. And the structural damage of nearly 7 centuries. The stones were old, so old, they tried to resist, but they gave. And as the explosions shattered the night air in quick succession, the high black tower slowly toppled towards the courtyard below. An unearthly screaming joined the noise of stone and mortar disintegrating. For miles and miles, hands were clapped over ears as the sound went on and on until it passed into a register unheard by most.


"What the frell?!" Chiana threw herself at Aeryn, knocking them both to the ground when the first explosions shook the very air around them. The loud concussive booms continued for a time, joined by an eerie shrieking. Within a few moments, she realised that the explosions weren't nearby and rolled off of Aeryn to gaze back over Mordor. From somewhere near the pass of Cirith Ungol came the bright light and flash of something burning and exploding. "Drad."


The two looked at each other, and began laughing. It had to be Crichton. He was the only one who could possibly have done something like that. The only one who would have wanted to. He was alive. It was exultant laughter. They quickly sobered, and Aeryn stood, dusting herself off. "We should go."

Ahead of them loomed the silent cone of Mount Doom. It hadn't taken them long to get close to it. From John's description, Aeryn had thought it would take days and days. The land of Mordor was empty of life, and the sand listless and dry as dust. They were nearly out of water, but they both figured they would make it back to the border before it became a problem.

While the stars wheeled above them, they dragged themselves up the slope, picking up more scratches and scrapes. And bruises, as one or two slopes were nothing but shale which crumbled at the least excuse. The dust raised choked them both, but they kept on. One thought in both of their heads: destroy the ring.

It didn't matter, after a while, which of them was in front. Exhaustion was colouring everything, and the dust made only posture the way to tell the difference between the two. They could have been sisters.

And then the entrance was simply in front of them, a huge gaping maw which they stared at before entering. Aeryn realised she had lost the torch, so they groped blindly for a few feet. And then a reddish light began filtering around them and the heat began to rise. Within another microt, they were suddenly in a huge carved-out chamber, lava bubbling far below.

Chiana giggled, then whooped. "We made it! Yeah!"

Moving to the edge, Aeryn eyed the lava, then pulled the chain from around her neck. For a moment, she sensed something tugging, whispering, demanding. But Aeryn Sun was not some wilting flower. She had watched her lover die at least twice, and she would hold the promise of the earlier explosion. He was alive. The ring would have no hold on her. She tossed the chain, the metal glittering as it fell.

An instant before the tiny speck landed in the lava, there was a blue flash of light.

The volcano gave a warning rumble, and Aeryn turned, "Let's get the frell out of here."

"Right." Grabbing Aeryn's hand, Chiana tugged. For a short time they were walking. And then the mountain gurgled, and they began to run. For some reason, Chiana was giggling.

On the slope they tumbled and stumbled and fell as many times as they jumped the fissures which began to appear. Neither were burned, luckily, and they were nearly off the slope when the mountain erupted, lava spewing upwards, smoke and ash falling and burning. They picked up speed and momentum, and ran.

With luck, they made it back across the empty river, and watched from the bank as the lava flowed into it and slowly began to cool, piling in some places like molasses.


The next morning dawned bright and cold, and Crichton was awakened by one of the camp guards. "Sir John--"

"Yeah?" He'd stopped trying to get them to call him 'sir'. They seemed to like it.

"There are visitors for you and your comrades."


After checking to make sure he had his pants on (pants being a very important thing to have on if one were about to walk out into a camp full of people), John went out of his tent. Standing near to the fallen-over statue they'd chosen to camp by were Aeryn and Chiana. They were bleeding and battered, covered in a reddish silt that reminded him of vacations in Australia. "Girls!"

"We are not 'girls' Crichton," Aeryn snapped. Then she smiled, "It is good to see you."

"You, too." For a moment, their eyes feasted on each other.

Chiana giggled, "Told you he wasn't dead!" She gave a whoop and tackled John.

He oofed and swung her around in an arc, "How're ya, Pip?"

"Good, now that we've found you." She kissed his cheek. "Is D'Argo around?"

"Chiana! Aeryn!"

The answer to the nebari girl's question stole her from John and hugged her tightly.

Aeryn took the moment to slide an arm around John. "I'm going to kill you later," She said, her tone conversational.

"Will it be a little death?" John asked, his tone hopeful and lascivious.

She eyed him sideways, then released him and accepted the hug D'Argo gave her.

There were carefully edited explanations all around, and then John asked the very nice captain Kelson if they could have some horses to go back to Lorien on.

"I'm afraid, sir, that the king's orders were very specific."

"Oh?" Aeryn was fingering her pulse pistol, and John found himself shifting ever so slightly.

"Yes. He requested that you be brought back to Minas Tirith." The captain looked oddly uncomfortable.

"We're prisoners, then. Great, we're used to that." John said caustically.

"No! You're honoured guests."

"So, we can leave any time."

"Well, no..."

As if sensing the logic bind, the man sighed, "I am sorry, Crichton, but you simply must come back with us."

"I don't think so."

Noting that everyone was prepared, John pointed a finger at Kelson. "You can tell him he was cool, but we have other things to do. So we're going home."

Home. For just a moment, John was overwhelmed with longing for home. For the way it had been four cycles ago, before he'd fallen through a wormhole. And then it was gone. Because he had Aeryn now, and they had a future together. They had to.

Kelson was obviously reluctant to use force to stop them. His shoulders slumped, and he waved a hand. "Fine. Take the horses." He looked up and met John's eyes. "Good journey to you."

"We'll send you a telegram."


It took five days to ride back up the Great River Anduin to Lothlorien. They encountered no one, and the food lasted them until they were nearly there. Haldir was waiting for them at the edge of the forest. "Do you bring good news? Your time was short."

"Yes. The ring has been destroyed."

There had been an argument at one point, when the others found out that John hadn't told them Aeryn had the ring. Scorpius, especially, seemed irritated and unhappy. And John had wondered if leatherface would have attacked her for it.

"So quickly?" The elf raised one eyebrow.

"There wasn't much to get in the way," Aeryn replied.

"I have good news for you as well, then." The elf gestured, and something that should have been a tree, and wasn't, came striding towards them. "Treebeard and his Ents have fixed your contraption."

"ENTS! Coool!" John wasn't really thinking as he bounced over to the walking tree. "So. Dude."


"Hrruum. You are hasty, young master Crichton."

"Yeah, yeah. Hey, Aeryn, this is an Ent. He's a frelling talking tree, darlin'. Isn't it cool?"

"Yes, Crichton, I'm sure it is. Haldir, did you say the pod was fixed?"

"Indeed, m'lady."

"Chiana, get everyone else on board. I shall corral Crichton."

"Good luck."


"I still say we should have stayed for a bit. I could have talked for arns with the Ent."

"No, John, we need to go home."

Crichton made a face, but nodded. "Try a little to hammond-side."

Within a short amount of time, they were flying through yet another wormhole. This time the ride was a little rough, but not as bad as falling through the atmosphere had been. And then they popped out.

"You're back!" Pilot's voice was filled with relief.

"Yup. Pilot, we are."

"How are you and Moya, Pilot?" D'Argo asked.

"We are doing well, and are happy to see you. Was your quest successful?"

"You could say that." The luxian glanced over his shoulder at the recumbant figure of John Crichton, lashed to the bunk with strips of leather. "Have the docking bay ready."

"It is, captain. Welcome home, crew."

"Yeah," Crichton muttered, "Welcome home."


Author's note: I apologise if the ending seems rushed. But I've already done some Middle Earth stuff, and my brain was tired of it. I simply wanted it to end, so it did. Sorry. Hope you at least liked most of it, though.