Well, I didn't stay away very long (this place is an addiction, I swear). I'm going ahead and posting this, even though the alerts are still wonky. I'll just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best. Consider this a little interlude, an exploration of an utterly implausible relationship that I began to think about after a few of my readers commented that they'd really like to see a Sauron romance. I wasn't sure that was possible, but I definitely wanted to find out.
One additional note: any Beauty and the Beast/Phantom of the Opera/Hades and Persephone references/parallels are purely intentional. ;-)
They found the body lying face down near the bank of a small stream. Lately the band of orcs had become braver, venturing further into the lower glades of the region Men called Ithilien. However, none of them had actually seen one...until now.
"Don't smell right," declared Sarthang, wide nostrils wrinkling as he pushed at the inert form with one grubby bare toe.
"Course not -- it's dead," Balthuk replied, circling around the taller orc and squinting at their unexpected discovery. If it hadn't been dead too long, it might make good eating.
"Think I don't know what dead smells like? I don't smell dead here...but it don't smell like a Man."
Balthuk let out a short, harsh laugh. "Like you've smelled a Man before. You've never even been in Man-country before."
Sarthang gave his companion a sneer. "Lot you know. Captain sent me out with you just because he knew you wouldn't last an hour out here on your own. I seen plenty of Men, living and dead, and this one don't smell like any of 'em."
The third member of their scouting party, a smaller gray-skinned tracker, made a disgusted noise as he knelt next to the body. "It's not a Man. It's a female."
That comment made the other two abruptly abandon their argument and push their way over to the huddled figure they'd found. The tracker orc snarled at them but then beat a hasty retreat as he appeared to measure their mass against his. Balthuk reached out with a grimy black-nailed hand and grasped the body by its shoulder, then turned it over on its back.
Sure enough, it was a female, face waxy and bloodless, gray eyes staring sightlessly up into the night sky. Her dark hair fell away from one cheek, exposing a delicate, pointed ear tip.
Balthuk swore. "Bloody hell -- it's an Elf!"
"What's it doing here?" Sarthang asked, backing away slightly. Even dead, the she-Elf seemed to trouble him.
"How the hell would I know?" growled Balthuk. "None of these tree-bangers been seen in this part of the world for -- " He broke off, then shrugged. "It's not supposed to be here, no how."
"But it is," Sarthang pointed out.
Balthuk scowled at him. Master of the obvious, that was Sarthang.
Meanwhile, the tracker orc -- Balthuk had never caught his name, not that it mattered with a snaga like that -- had crept back to the limp body of the dead Elf and had pressed his nose almost up to her immobile face. Balthuk couldn't see how the tracker could stand to have the stink of an Elf that close to his face, but he supposed the snaga spent most of his life inhaling unpleasant smells.
"Found a girlfriend?" laughed Sarthang. "Gonna buy her perfume?"
The tracker orc made a flapping motion with one of his hands. "Shut up, you."
Both Balthuk and Sarthang bristled. Had that little piece of walking refuse just told them to shut up? However, any recriminations that might have arisen from that spectacular piece of effrontery were effectively forestalled when the snaga added, "She's not dead."
The two larger orcs both gave him a startled look, then glared down at the dead Elf. Well, the maybe not-dead Elf.
"She looks dead," Balthuk said.
Sarthang prodded her with his toe again. That action should have left some dirt on her pale-gray gown, but the Elvish fabric appeared to resist such besmirchment. The gown was damp, but not dripping; apparently she had lain on the riverbank here for some time. Her body shook slightly from the impact of Sarthang's foot, but otherwise she showed no reaction. "Feels dead, too," he said.
The tracker orc shrugged. "Maybe, but my nose don't lie. She ain't dead. Breathing's odd...slow, like. And I can barely smell the blood moving in her veins, but it's flowing."
"Then how can she be staring at us like that?" Balthuk demanded, and squatted down by the comatose Elf female. He waved a hand across the oddly glazed eyes, but she still looked up into the darkness without moving.
"Don't know," said the snaga with a shrug.
"Some Elvish trick, no doubt," Sarthang said. "I heard somewhere they go into trances or something...don't ever sleep or die."
"Oh, they die, if you stick 'em," said Balthuk. "No doubt of that." Repressing a shudder, he reached out and passed his hand over the she-Elf's eyes once more, this time to close them. That odd, white-ringed stare had begun to give him the creeps. He worried that maybe her eyes wouldn't stay shut, that her lids would fly open again immediately, but his fears were allayed somewhat when he saw that for now at least they seemed disposed to stay closed. Her lashes made a pair of sooty lines against her pale skin.
"So what now?" asked Sarthang. "Kill her? Leave her here?"
Balthuk thought for a moment. It was tempting to just stick a knife in her and abandon her here to slowly bleed out -- not that it appeared she would even feel it. But they had their orders, and if word got out that they'd left what might have been an Elvish spy behind in Ithilien, there'd be hell to pay.
"Nah," he said after a pause. "Orders are to report anything unusual. I'd say a half-dead Elvish female counts as unusual. Better take her back to the bosses." Let them figure out what to do with her, he thought. Although sympathy was a foreign emotion to him, he couldn't help feeling a rare flicker of pity as he stared down at the she-Elf's huddled body. He knew he sure as hell wouldn't want to be handed over to the Nazgûl lord who commanded Minas Morgul. But it was there she must go.
And a slog that would be, carrying her back across the land they had just crossed, miles of fen and hill and stream. At least on this outing they hadn't run afoul of any Men. Balthuk hoped their luck would hold until they got back into safer territory.
Still, no reason he should take the load on himself. "Pick her up," he instructed Sarthang, who made a snarling noise of disgust but did as he was told. He bent down and gathered up the she-Elf, slinging her over one shoulder like a sack of meal. The tracker orc watched this procedure with the faintest look of satisfaction on his lumpish features, as if he were glad that for once his small size actually benefited him. Certainly he wouldn't be asked to share in their burden.
Sarthang straightened, giving Balthuk an evil glare. No doubt having the elf stink that close to his nose had put him off his humor. But he said nothing, and Balthuk grinned a little.
"All right, boys," he growled. "Move out."
It had been many, many years since the Lord of the Nazgûl felt surprised by anything, but he couldn't help experiencing a mild sense of astonishment as he looked down at the unconscious form of the Elf woman the orc captain had laid at his feet before he backed away hastily, looking as if he very much wanted to be elsewhere. Even Mordor's servants had a difficult time coming face to face with the lord of the Morgul Vale.
The she-Elf had been found next to one of the innumerable streams that crisscrossed Ithilien and which branched off from the River Anduin, but that did nothing to explain how she had gotten there in the first place. Elves occasionally had been spotted this far south, but always the yellow-haired sylvan folk of Lorien and Mirkwood. This female, by her coloring, appeared to be one of the accursed Elves who dwelt far to the north in Imladris.
He considered her immobile body, the facial features somehow closed in on themselves, but not slack the way a mortal woman's would have been in such an unconscious state. Of course she was beautiful -- he had never heard of an Elf who was not -- but such things had long since lost their power to move him. Although he had ascertained for himself that she in fact lived, she had not stirred since being brought here, nor had she apparently exhibited any signs of life during the rough journey from the northern marches of Ithilien to the Morgul Vale. Her ambiguous state, neither truly living or dead, had obviously disturbed the orcs who discovered her. The Lord of the Nazgûl, however, had a long acquaintance with existence in such a twilight world.
Alone now in his private chambers within Minas Morgul, he knelt next to her, reaching out with an invisible hand to touch her forehead. Still she did not move, not even here, as she was examined by a being who most certainly have made her quail in terror had she been conscious. He knew that the Elves had a way of transporting themselves into a waking dream, but he also knew that this peculiar state did not preclude returning to the real world when an outside threat or other stimulus intruded. Perhaps -- for whatever reason -- she had retreated into so deep a shock that nothing in this world would ever reach her again.
Of course she could not be considered a threat. But she was still an anomaly, and as such should be reported. He stood then, going to the palantír where it sat on a dais of black marble in the center of the room. Reaching out, he placed his hands on the cold, darkly gleaming orb, and waited.
Sometimes the contact came immediately. On other occasions the Dark Lord preferred to keep his servant waiting. Notions such as impatience or annoyance had little to do with the Lord of the Nazgûl. He merely stood there in the dark tower, the she-Elf's gown an incongruous blur of light at the corner of his vision, until Sauron deigned to reply.
Time passed. Then came the familiar deep voice in his thoughts. You summoned me?
My lord, all is well here on the western borders of your kingdom, but a matter of some mystery has come up.
A slight sense of irritation in the mental voice of the Dark Lord. What is it?
An Elf, your Majesty.
And what is so unusual about the existence of one of the cursed Eldar? Do they not still inhabit Middle Earth?
The Nazgûl lord hesitated. He was as far beyond any fears of retaliation or punishment as he was beyond love or mercy, but the long years had taught him to treat his master with care, lest he invite unwanted scrutiny. Of course, my lord, but this one was found in Ithilien, far from any others of her kin. She lies as if dead, but her spirit has not yet left her body. I seek your counsel.
A long pause, followed by a flicker of cool amusement. So you require my advice as to what you should do with one elleth? Surely she is not too formidable a foe for you, my lord of Angmar.
Of course not, my lord, but as with all things, I would request your permission before I dispose of her. Surely that would be the simplest thing, to simply plunge a blade into her heart, to set her soul free from the inert body in which it was trapped. Then the matter of whether or not she were a spy would be made academic.
Again a lull, as the Dark Lord seemed to consider the matter. I think not. Bring her to me, so that I may inspect her for myself. Perhaps I can think of a way to rouse her.
The Ringwraith inclined his head. So it will be done, my lord. I fly to Barad Dûr directly. With that, the Lord of the Nazgûl raised his hands from the palantír, then went to the she-Elf and retrieved her, lifting her with as much ease and as little care as he would a bundle of discarded rags. From there he descended the long staircase in his tower, heading toward the separate building where the Ringwraiths' flying beasts were housed. It would not do, after all, to keep the Dark Lord waiting. Rarely these days did such amusements cross his path, and no doubt he looked forward to bending his will upon the Elven female.
If he had been human any longer, the Lord of the Nazgûl might have troubled himself over her fate. As it was, he only felt a certain distant relief that very soon she would no longer be his concern.
In Barad Dûr, orders were given, and preparations made. A chamber that hadn't been used in tens of years was opened once more, with fresh bedding laid out and a fire kindled to life in the black marble hearth. The slaves who were set to these tasks may have whispered amongst themselves as to who could possibly be occupying these rooms, but such matters were far beneath the Dark Lord's attention.
Perhaps the Lord of the Nazgûl, who had delivered his unlikely package to the Mouth of Sauron, the Dark Lord's de facto steward, might have been surprised to learn that the Elf woman was not destined for one of Barad Dûr's innumerable dungeons, but instead one of the rarely used guest chambers Sauron had used in the past to house visiting emissaries from his subject kingdoms to the south and east. Then again, perhaps not. The Nazgûl lord was not the sort to be startled by much. In any case, he had already gone, duty discharged, and the reason for his unscheduled journey to the heart of the Dark Lord's domain safely ensconced in the suite which had been prepared for her.
The massive bed dwarfed her slender form as she lay there, the pale oval of her face seeming to float within the masses of her dark hair. Hangings of gaudy gold and scarlet and black only served to heighten the contrast between the Elf woman and her surroundings.
He did not recognize her; he had not expected to. Those who had made war upon him in the past would have been her male brethren, since Elven women as a rule did not take up arms. But he saw in her aspect and her coloring all that proclaimed her to be a distant descendant of Luthíen, or at least one of the Noldor who still sheltered in Imladris.
Drawing closer, he reached out a gloved hand to push a lock of hair away from her white throat. These days he preferred to retain a corporeal form; although his right hand continually ached from the loss of its ring finger, that constant painful reminder of his great misfortune was still preferable to the vague unsettled feeling which overcame him whenever he spent too long a time in the world of the spirits.
When he spoke, it was in the language of her people. "Awake, lost one. I desire to have speech with you."
Still she did not stir, but Sauron thought he saw a tiny pulse beat in her throat, the smallest flicker of the eyes beneath their fragile lids. Only faint hints at life, but still more than she had shown before.
Smiling beneath his hood, Sauron waited. Soon enough she would return to the world. He did not think she would much enjoy that waking.
Warm light trembled at the edges of her vision. Lithiníel became conscious suddenly of the smoothness of clean linens against her skin, the weight of cocooning bedclothes surrounding her body.
Her eyes fluttered open. At first the blackness of her unconscious state seemed little relieved by the opening of her eyelids, but she then noticed that the dull orange light she'd sensed emanated from an enormous hearth across the room, where a fire burned low but did little to illuminate the darkness of the room where she lay.
But she was warm, and comfortable, and safe. Perhaps it had all been just a black dream, a nightmare born of her despair. Someone must have found her and rescued her, brought her back to Imladris.
She sat up then, grasping the coverlets with fingers that felt numbed from long inactivity. Something about the sheets didn't seem quite right; they were slightly rough linen, not the smooth silk she'd always slept on in the home she had shared with her parents. And the thick bed coverings felt too heavy, again as if made from materials not used by Elrond's people. The air smelled odd as well, the scent of wood from the hearth overlaid by a strange acrid odor that she couldn't identify.
Her eyes began to adjust to the dimness, and she made out the shapes of furniture heavy against the walls. Likewise, the bed hangings began to take on shape and form, the brocade with its glinting pattern of sinuous serpentine shapes utterly alien. Where in Middle Earth was she?
Suddenly she noticed a dark shape standing a few feet away from where she lay. Her gaze had probably passed over it once or twice, thinking it only a shadow cast by the uncertain light of the fire. But then she saw it shift slightly. A deep voice came to her, speaking in pure Quenya with an archaic accent she couldn't place. "You wake."
Although the words were not threatening, something about the stranger's voice caused a wave of dread to flow over her. The skin lifted at the back of her neck. Perhaps it was merely the shock of waking in a strange place, only to find a mysterious figure standing watch over her. Still, she did not wish for him to think her fearful. So she asked, "Where am I?"
"What is your name?"
The lack of a reply, the offering of a question instead, did nothing to reassure her. Names were powerful, but she saw no reason not to give her first name, the one her father had bestowed upon her when she entered this world. "Lithiníel."
The dark shape moved slightly, as if turning toward her. "You come from Imladris."
A statement, not an inquiry. Still, anyone with a grasp of the language as good as his would certainly have no trouble identifying her origins. "That is true," she admitted. "May I know who offers me this hospitality? I confess, I don't recall how I came here -- "
"You lay as if dead, yet I was able to detect a breath of life within you," he said, and took a few steps toward the bed. Still Lithiníel could make out no details of his appearance, save that he seemed to wear a long robe with a hood that drooped low to hide his face. He paused, as if loath to come any closer. "You are a long way from home."
Somehow she sensed that, felt the wrongness about her surroundings even though she couldn't say exactly why. Certainly the bed was comfortable enough, the furnishings lavish...if foreign. Straining her eyes against the darkness, she looked at the being who spoke to her in the formal tongue of her people but who she somehow guessed did not number one of the Eldar. "How far?" she asked, wishing as she did so that her voice sounded stronger, not so weak and faint. How long had it been, she wondered, since she fled in agony of spirit from the serenity of Imladris, a serenity at the time she had thought mocked her pain?
The hood tilted slightly as he appeared to study her face. "All the way to Mordor."
At first the phrase made no sense. It was a horrible jest, a cruel jab, meant to wound but certainly not to be taken seriously. How could this warm firelit room be anywhere near the Land of Shadow? Surely if she had fallen into the hands of the Enemy, she would have been taken straightway to one of the Dark Tower's innumerable prison cells or torture chambers?
"If your answer was meant in jest, I must say I do not find the humor in it," Lithiníel said at last, forcing her voice to a calmness she certainly did not feel. How she wished she could see something of her captor!
"To be sure, I do not usually find the truth particularly amusing," he replied, the inflection in his deep voice suggesting that he was, in fact, somewhat amused by her reaction. "In any case, my reply was not meant to be taken in such a fashion. You lie in Barad Dûr, in a guest chamber that has housed great princes of Harad and Rhûn. It seemed the most fitting place for you."
"Then it seems I must thank you for your hospitality," she managed, unsure as to how she could possibly reply to that statement. To be held in Barad Dûr, stronghold of evil in these latter days -- and to find it no more threatening than a room in a strange inn!
"You are most welcome," he said gravely, although Lithiníel thought she still detected an undercurrent of mirth in his voice. It seemed as if he cocked his head to one side; at least, she fancied she spied a movement of the black-against-black shadow of his form somewhere near the place where his head should be. Whoever he was, he possessed a height greater than anyone she had ever seen, even the tall sons of Elrond.
But that thought-path led only to pain. Lithiníel touched the embroidered coverlet, feeling the roughness of the woolen crewel threadwork against her fingertips, but said nothing.
Her captor went on, "You were found on a riverbank by some of my scouts, who delivered you to my captain, the lord of Morgul Vale. From thence you were brought here."
At first the meaning of his words didn't quite connect. Then Lithiníel felt a rush of cold wash over her, as if she had just fallen into the chill waters of the Bruinen in midwinter. "Your -- your captain?" she stammered.
This time there was no mistaking the small half-bow the shadowy figure gave her. "I see I have been remiss in making my introduction. I am the lord of Barad Dûr, Sauron, whom your people have called Gorthaur in the past."
Her insides felt as if they had congealed into ice. Surely this couldn't be real -- this had to be some fever dream, or some hallucination brought on by despair. That her foolhardy behavior had brought her to this pass -- no, it was unthinkable
Would that I had died in the currents of the Anduin! she thought. Elbereth, let this be only a nightmare...
"By your silence, I would presume that this news does little to reassure you," he said. "And yet, do my actions not prove that I mean you no harm?"
To anyone else, Lithiníel might have said yes. After all, it was not the usual practice of evil beings to go to the trouble of putting up their victims in luxurious bedchambers, merely to torture or kill them later. But this was Sauron the Deceiver, the Lord of Lies -- she knew he might simply be toying with her, giving her a sense of false hope of survival so that her despair would be all the greater when he at last revealed his true self and banished her to the dungeons or torture chambers.
As to that, she reflected, since I already sought to end my life, the Lord of Mordor might have found the wrong victim for that sort of game. Death would only be a release for me...
"I do not know," she admitted at last. "You will forgive me if I say that your reputation does not lend itself to such good deeds as rescuing stranded travelers."
Then he did laugh, a sound startling in its unexpectedness. She would not have thought the Lord of Barad Dûr capable of genuine amusement. Perhaps he was merely laughing at her, but she could not detect any malice in his tone.
Again he made one of those half-bows, a gesture that seemed to mock her even though all she could truly see was another shift of darkness against darkness. "Your honesty does you credit, Lithiníel. I hope that you will be honest with me when I ask you how you came to be washed ashore on a tributary of the Anduin, far from your home and kin."
That question made her close her eyes. In retrospect her actions seemed tinged with madness, and she couldn't imagine telling this shadowy form, this Dark Lord who spoke to her in mahogany tones from the fire-tinged darkness, of the impetuous chain of events that had led her here. When she spoke, her own voice was rough with bitterness and self-derision. "If I told you, you would think me a fool."
"I would think you a greater fool if you did not tell me," he replied, and although she thought she still heard that faint hidden laugh within his words, they had gained an edge of warning. He would not be crossed, this Lord of Mordor.
Lithiníel sighed. Really, did it matter what he thought of her? Her scant century had seemed to weigh more heavily on her with each passing day, but that span of time made her little more than a child in the world of her people and even less to one such as Sauron, who had seen the birth of the world. Let him think her rash and stupid and self-pitying. Perhaps her actions would disgust him, and he would make the end that the Great River somehow couldn't.
Still, she hesitated before speaking. In her heart she knew that there was no way to explain the thoughts that had consumed her, the bitter ache that had led her to cast herself into the waters of the Anduin.
"I was raised in Imladris, as you guessed, my lord." Lithiníel did not know whether that was a proper form of address for Sauron, but she certainly didn't possess the courage to call him by his name. "Although the community has dwindled in these latter days, still Lord Elrond has gathered many of the Eldar there. But I am sure this is already known to you."
The shadow shifted. "Of course."
Of course. She wondered then how much he knew of her people, of their comings and goings, the slow exodus to the West. "I am my parents' only child," she went on, marveling at how calm she now sounded. Perhaps it was only because she had resolved to tell the tale as if it had happened to someone else. So much easier then to distance herself from all that had occurred. "Some said that they were overindulgent, that I had a fiery nature which was held little in check. I will not presume to say whether those observers were correct or not." Lifting her chin, Lithiníel stared at the hooded shape that stood there like the night made flesh. How in all of Middle Earth could she tell him the truth of her heart? But she feared to hand him any lies -- surely Sauron the Deceiver would recognize a falsehood like an old friend. "It came to pass that I grew to care for Elladan, Lord Elrond's son. I will not enumerate his qualities now -- no doubt you care little to hear them."
Sauron made no reply. Taking his silence as tacit agreement, Lithiníel said, "Finally I found the courage to tell him of my feelings. To my dismay, I found they were not returned."
How cold, how clear her tone as she said that! Even as the words left her lips, Lithiníel recalled the pain of that day, the look of sorrow which had passed over Elladan's handsome features as he tried to explain to her that he could not allow himself to be with any woman, that he had taken a vow to avenge his mother's torment by raiding against the orcs of the Misty Mountains until the day Mordor finally fell.
Her face burned now as she recalled how she had tried to plead with him, to tell him that even for the Eldar the world was a chancy place, and they should try to seize their happiness when they could. Lithiníel hoped the dim light in the room would be enough to conceal her flushed cheeks as she dredged up those bitter memories, but who knew how keen the Dark Lord's eyes might be?
Elladan had not listened to her pleas. That very night he had ridden forth into the wild once again; no one in Imladris paid his departure much mind, as he had done much the same for countless years already. The only thing of note about his disappearance was that he had left alone, and not in the company of his brother, as he was usually wont to do. Lithiníel knew, however, that this time he had left because he did not want to be around her. The days passed, and still he did not return.
Although Lithiníel had tried to hide her torment of spirit, it did not take very long for her parents to realize something was amiss. When she had finally confessed, they were both shocked and disquieted -- very rarely did one of the Eldar develop feelings for another without those feelings being reciprocated -- but at length they decided that perhaps the best thing for her would be a change of scenery.
Some limited travel still took place between the Elves of Imladris and their brethren in Mirkwood and Lothlorien; indeed, Lithiníel possessed distant cousins, relations of her mother, in Caras Galadon, where the Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn dwelled. So it was in her mother's company that Lithiníel departed Imladris, taking the southern route in the warmth of an early spring. They arrived some time later in Lorien, and her relatives took them in, rejoicing in their company.
But Lithiníel found no peace of heart under the mallorns, or in the society of the sylvan elves. She took to walking alone, brooding bitterly over her wayward heart and the way she had flung herself at Elladan's head. And it was in the midst of these dark ruminations that she finally realized it would be better to not live at all rather than continue in such pain. From that bleak epiphany she went on to plan how best to end things -- sometimes one of the Eldar might will himself to die, but somehow that hadn't seemed like quite a dramatic enough gesture.
Finally she stole out one night, and took from its mooring place one of the small, elegant boats the Galadhrim used to navigate the upper reaches of the Anduin. She knew the Great River grew treacherous, and descended in a great waterfall before continuing its southern course. All the better. Let the boat be broken upon the falls, and her body with it.
"But that is not what happened," the Dark Lord said as she hesitated, the words that had flooded from her lips suddenly stilled.
Lithiníel felt a shiver run through her, and replied, "No, apparently not. I had retreated far within myself, to a place where the outer world no longer touched me. Somehow the boat must have survived the falls, and continued down the river. I have no knowledge of that, or of where I finally came to rest." She looked up at him then, not sure whether she should be grateful that she could not make out the features beneath the deep cowled hood. "But I heard a voice in the darkness, and somehow made my way back to the world of the living."
"It was my voice you heard," he said. "It would not do to have your spirit wandering so far away."
If he thought she would thank him for that, then he was sorely mistaken. Better to have let her soul slip its bonds from the flesh that held it here in Middle Earth -- especially if she had lived, only to become the Dark Lord's prisoner.
"Truly you are powerful," she said, and again found herself surprised by the mocking edge that had entered her voice. Perhaps some part of her merely wished to provoke him into making an end of things.
But he refused to be baited. "Yes," he replied simply.
All this time he had stood still, listening to her tale, but at last he moved forward until he stood next to the bed where she lay, so close that the edge of one dragging sleeve brushed against her coverlet. Lithiníel shivered once more.
He remained there for a moment, regarding her in silence. Then he said, "But you are weary, and need to rest. We will speak further on the morrow."
She opened her lips to say that no, she didn't feel at all fatigued, but even as she did so an odd languor came over her, a lassitude that spread from her shoulders and back all the way down to the tips of her fingers and toes. Blackness washed over her, and she at last sank into the oblivion she had sought.