Part X: There's No Place Like Home

Glorfindel was teaching Estel how to fence, and Faith joined the lessons. It gave her something to do while she waited for Gandalf to return. He and Bilbo had left Imladris three weeks ago. It should take them about a month to reach the Shire, so if he started on the return journey right away, it would still be five weeks before she saw him again. If Faith had had a calendar, she'd have been marking off the days on it. It wasn't that she wasn't enjoying her stay in Imladris. It was a beautiful place, and Glorfindel was providing her with a wonderful distraction, but there was a sameness to all the days here that got very boring after a while.

Glorfindel wasn't her only distraction. Estel was always fun to be around. As a student in the use of the sword he was always surprising her with how quickly he learned, and he brought a youthful exuberance to everything he did: something that was generally lacking in the Eldar. For all their laugher, songs and dancing, they always gave the impression of great age. There was no urgency to anything they did. Faith sometimes got the impression that they considered "soon" to be any time in the next century or so. The reforging of her sword was something that had taken place at a breakneck pace for them.

Word came to Faith one morning that visitors had arrived. At first she was afraid that it might be Gandalf, back early for some reason, because any reason that had him returning this quickly couldn't be good. She quickly learned that this was not the case. A party of Dúnedain had arrived in Imladris.

Faith was a little surprised when Elrond summoned her, just before lunch. Glorfindel led her to an elegant courtyard with a fountain, shaded by blossoming apple trees. Elrond was there, with half a dozen men. Most of them were tall, fit, and dark haired. One of them might have been dark haired when he was younger, but now his hair was mostly grey. She had been around the Eldar so much that at first he looked old to her, but his back was straight, and his movements were sure. He didn't have the ancient appearance of Gandalf. He was really no more than middle aged. She decided that the word "distinguished" fitted him perfectly. She thought that Giles might look much like this man, if he grew his hair a foot, and dressed like someone out of a Robin Hood movie.

"Faith, I would like to introduce you to Dírhael," said Elrond.

The man inclined his head in a slight bow to her. "Lady Faith."

Faith bowed in turn, no more than he had, "Faith, at your service," she said, repeating the phrase that Bilbo had first taught her many months ago, but now she knew what it meant.

"And I am at yours," said Dírhael. "Lord Elrond tells me that you may be able to help us with a problem." He sounded a little doubtful.

"What sort of problem?" asked Faith.

"There is an evil creature in the woods, north of here," said Dírhael. "It has killed several people, some of them among the finest of our Rangers. We have been hunting it for weeks, but every time we get close, it slips away from us. We came to Imladris, hoping that the Eldar could help us eliminate this threat from the Western lands."

"What sort of creature is it?" asked Faith.

"I can not say, for certain, for none who have seen it, have lived to describe it," said Dírhael. "From its spoor, we know it is large. It walks sometimes on two legs, sometimes on four. Its hind feet are the length of my forearm, with three toes, each with a claw as long as my finger at the end of it. Its fore feet are half that size, but their claws are larger. It is taller than a man, even when walking on all fours."

"That's a lot of description, for something that no one's seen." Faith didn't say that it also sounded a lot like something she had seen.

"It was plain, to even a novice tracker," said Dírhael, his doubts about Faith's ability to help him plain in the tone of his voice.

"I'm not much for the tracking," said Faith. "I let others handle that. I'm the girl who kills it after the trackers have found it."

That comment got derisive laughter from most of the men who were present. It was a sound that Faith knew well. Once upon a time, it would have led to men with broken bones, lying bleeding on the floor. Now, she usually settled for bruising them. She looked toward Elrond, this was his house after all, and they were his guests. She saw him give her a slight nod in response.

Three seconds later, every man who had laughed was lying on the floor, groaning in pain. Dírhael, and one other, were still on their feet. They had backed away from the conflict, without entering it, but the other man had drawn his sword as he pulled back, into a purely defensive position.

Faith looked him in the eyes, as she drew her sword. "Want to give me a try, boy?"

"Faith," said Elrond, with a note of warning in his voice.

Faith glanced aside at him. "I know, no bloodshed." She turned her attention back to the man, and smiled. "Just a little playing." Faith passed her sword across into her left hand, and gave the man a Neoesque "Come and get it." gesture with her right. She saw a look of determination come into his eyes, and he attacked her.

Faith parried his attack easily. She knocked his sword down, grasped his wrist with her free right hand, and pulled him toward her. Her sword came up and stopped, just short of his throat. "You lose."

His hand opened, dropping his sword. "After what you did to the others, I thought I might."

"But you tried anyway," said Faith as she released him.

"Sometimes, that is all that you can do," said the man.

"I like you. What's your name?"

"Calrohn, Lady Faith."

"Just 'Faith' will do." She looked to Dírhael, who hadn't moved since the fight had begun. "Satisfied?"

"My apologies, Lady Faith. Lord Elrond told me that you were a capable warrior; I should not have doubted his word."

"I believe that Faith and Glorfindel will be quite helpful to you, in tracking and disposing of this creature," said Elrond.

They spent some time discussing their plans over lunch. Dírhael intended to set out early the next morning, which was fine with Faith. It wasn't like she had a lot she had to pack. The group broke up after lunch, with most of the men going off to the rooms that had been prepared for them. Faith told Dírhael that it was time for Estel's fencing lesson, and Glorfindel invited him to come along. Dírhael accepted the invitation quickly, and there was a look of anticipation about him that Faith found puzzling. He seemed very eager to see a child's lesson. Glorfindel wasn't the least bit surprised by his quick acceptance though.

Estel was already waiting for them in the fencing salle, and the reason for Glorfindel's invitation, and Dírhael's quick acceptance became instantly clear to Faith. "Grandfather!" cried Estel, and he launched himself toward Dírhael.

Dírhael caught the boy as he jumped into his arms "Ooof! You've grown, lad! I can't believe how strong you're getting!" He set Estel back down on the ground, after giving him a powerful hug.

"Faith and Glorfindel have been teaching me the sword, Grandfather, and Faith is also teaching me unarmed combat!"

Dírhael gave Faith a look. "Unarmed combat?"

Faith shrugged. "Sometimes, you don't have a sword, or a knife, or any other weapons. All you've got is yourself. If you know what to do with it, that's all you need."

Faith awoke before dawn, left Glorfindel sleeping in her bed, and packed up the things she would need for this demon hunt. She had obtained several Eldar gowns that she would not be bringing with her, though now she did have several changes of underwear that went into her pack. She considered leaving her keys, and her phone behind, but they had become like good luck talismans to her, and so they went into their accustomed places in her pockets.

Estel and Gilraen saw them off at first light the next morning. Faith was back on the pony that Beorn had leant her, and feeling rather small, surrounded by the men and Glorfindel, who were all riding horses. She had wondered if she should have borrowed a horse from Elrond's stables, but Glorfindel had assured her that her sturdy little pony would be well suited to the trails that they would be following.

It became apparent within a day that Glorfindel was right. The men and Eldar on their horses often had to duck under branches that Faith rode under with clearance to spare, and the twisty paths they followed never gave the horses a chance to move faster than a walk. Faith's pony had no trouble keeping up with them. Indeed, at times, it seemed quite impatient with the slow pace being set by the horses.

They travelled north for two days, before they reached the area where the creature they were hunting had last been reported. They quartered the area, looking for any sign of it. It didn't take long to find its trail, but after following it for a few miles they lost it again. It just seemed to stop. Dírhael estimated that the trail left by the creature was about a week old. They spread out again, searching for any sign. Faith wasn't much of a tracker, so she stuck close to Glorfindel, trusting his eyes, and millennia of experience.

They found, and lost the trail again several times over the next few days, but each time they seemed to be closer. The creature was moving in a north-easterly direction. Near sundown on the fifth day, they picked up the trail again. This time Dírhael and the other trackers agreed that the spoor was only a few hours old. They were close, but they didn't have enough daylight to pursue it. Faith wanted to continue.

"It is foolish, to try to hunt this creature at night," said Calrohn.

"I do my best hunting in the dark," said Faith.

"But you do not have the skill to track this beast," said Dírhael. "Especially in the dark."

"I'm getting better," said Faith. "There is a moon tonight; I can see just fine. Glorfindel has taught me a lot this week, and we're close enough that I don't need to see its tracks. I can feel it."

"And she will not be alone," said Glorfindel. "The Eldar also have sharp eyes in the dark."

Faith and Glorfindel tracked the demon through the night. Faith was sure that it was a demon now. She had been feeling its presence growing for the last few days, a growing knot in her gut as they had closed in on it, made all the sharper by not having sensed a demon since she had arrived in Middle Earth. Neither the Orcs, Wargs, nor Troll had affected her the way this thing was.

The knot wasn't just caused by what she was feeling. The more she saw of this thing's tracks, the more she knew that she had seen tracks just like them before.

Faith looked through a gap in the brush that she had been crawling through, toward the sound of something up ahead. She saw the demon. "Oh fuck!" She had been hoping against hope that she'd been wrong. That the size of the thing, and the footprints it left had just been a coincidence, but now there was no denying it. The demon looked something like a small, furry, tailless, tyrannosaurus-rex. Small for a tyrannosaurus, anyway, it still stood six feet tall at its haunches.

Its front legs were larger than a T-rex's as well. When moving slowly it walked on all fours, but it could rise up onto its powerful hind legs for a quick sprint after prey. Its head made up a third of its length, and that head had a huge mouth, full of very sharp teeth.

It was an Unpronounceable Demon. That wasn't its real name, of course. Its real name was full of clicks and whistles, and far too many consonants to be pronounceable by Faith, but Andrew could produce an acceptable approximation of it. At least he claimed it was acceptable, and she hadn't bothered to check to see if he was right.

Glorfindel looked surprised by her outburst. "Do you not think we can kill this beast?" he asked.

"Oh, I can kill it, all right," said Faith. "I've killed one of these before. About six months ago."

"Six months? But that is when you came to Middle Earth."

Faith saw dawning comprehension on Glorfindel's face. "Exactly. And it was one of this thing's cousins that sent me here." Faith tried to climb to her feet. "Well, it's been nice knowing you. Give my regards to Gandalf when he gets back, and tell him 'thank you,' for all the help he's given me."

Glorfindel grabbed her arm to hold her down. "You don't mean to fight this creature alone?"

"That's precisely what I mean to do," said Faith. "If it happens again, I don't want to see anyone else banished from their home."

"There must be some other way. Attack it from a distance, with arrows."

"That might work, if we had brought along a bow, but we didn't. And by the time we go to get one, this thing will have moved on, and it might have killed someone else."

"I am not letting you face this creature alone!"

"Fine," said Faith. "But it's my kill. You can help distract it."

Faith and Glorfindel's argument hadn't gone unnoticed by the demon. It had turned its head in their direction, and sniffed the air. Luckily, they were downwind from it, so it didn't catch their scent. Unfortunately there was enough of a breeze to bring its scent to them. Faith had forgotten how badly these things stank.

The demon was moving toward them now, with a malevolent glow in its eyes. It didn't need to smell them to know they were there. It had heard them, and that was enough. Faith and Glorfindel both knew that it was useless to try to stay hidden, so they rose from behind the bushes that were concealing them, and moved out into the open. They both drew their swords and separated, a bit. Far enough apart that the demon couldn't attack them both at once, but close enough to support each other.

The demon didn't hesitate. It rose up and charged toward them. Its mouth opened wide and it roared, showing rows of razor sharp teeth, and slime dripped from its lower jaw.

It charged straight at Glorfindel, seeming to consider him either the greatest threat, or the better meal, Faith didn't know, or care, which. Glorfindel held his ground until the last instant before he danced aside, while slashing at the demon with his sword. He struck its shoulder with a glancing blow, drawing blood, but not enough to seriously wound the beast. It turned its head to follow him, trying to get its jaws into striking distance, but Glorfindel moved too quickly.

The demon's turn opened up its flank to Faith, and she struck, sinking the tip of her blade between the creature's ribs. The creature screamed, and continued its turn, nearly pulling Faith's sword from her hand as it spun completely around. It roared again, spraying Faith with its slimy saliva. Faith tried to slice her sword up through its throat, but the demon pulled back too quickly, and she only nicked its chin.

Glorfindel hadn't been holding back. He attacked the demon from behind, striking at the backs of the demon's legs in order to hamstring it. The demon stumbled forward, just as Faith brought her sword back down. She drove her blade between its jaws, up through its palate, and into its brain.

Faith felt an intense deja-vu as the vortex began to form. She felt the electricity jolt through her body. "Stay back!" she yelled at Glorfindel, who had started toward her. The portal swelled, and enveloped her.

This time she was ready for it, and she managed to land on her feet on a slush covered hard surface. She inhaled, and smelt something foul burning, garbage, and automobile exhaust. She could hear the noise of traffic. She looked around and saw that she was in a dark alley, dimly lit by a yellow sodium lamp at the far end of it. It was a familiar location; one she had last seen six months ago. It seemed strange that there was still slush and snow on the ground. She looked closer, and saw the trail of the demon, and a single line of bootprints following it. Her bootprints, still fresh in the snow. She had returned to the same night that she had left this place.

The Unpronounceable Demon was a charred, smoking husk: the source of most of the foul stench in the air. It smelled worse than burning Orc. Faith looked at her sword, covered by its blood and slime. She used some snow, and crumpled up newspaper from a pile of garbage to clean the blade, and dried it by wiping it on her pant leg before returning it to its scabbard.

Faith saw that sky was starting to brighten with the approaching sunrise when she got clear of the alley, so she knew that some hours had passed while she'd been away. She found her motorcycle right where she'd left it. No one had touched it. Her sword slid into the holster mounted beside the seat. She picked up her helmet and gloves off the seat, and put them on. Normally she preferred not to wear the helmet, but in it protected her from the cold wind of the autumn weather. It was nearly time to put the bike away for the winter. Either that, or transfer to someplace warmer; she thought that Vegas might be nice, this time of year. She got on her bike, put her key into the ignition, and turned it. The engine roared to life.

Faith pushed the bike forward off its stand, and goosed the throttle, spinning the bike around to face the other way. She gave it a bit more gas, and the bike leapt forward. Faith steered it toward the local Council office.

Robin was not going to believe this after-action report.