Chapter 2

By: Dragonaia

A/N: Just to make something clear, because my beta brought it up, it's been twenty years since the SR was first summoned onto Arda. That's why he's got a few more of his faculties than expected.

Fëalhûn both enjoyed and detested the Spirit Realm. On the one hand, there were plenty of souls to devour, and little competition from Archon creatures for resources in this place. On the other hand, it was very boring… and quiet… and isolated. He hadn't seen a Slaugh in weeks. Granted, he'd already eaten most of the ones in the Isengard territory already, but surely there had to be enough of them to have repopulated the vacant region by now. At least when the old human sub-creature summoned him there was something new to observe, something new to do.

He wasn't sure why he obeyed the sub-creature. The compulsion to obey was almost automatic. He did not have the presence of mind to refuse the summons and he had come to dread his return to the blackness of the Void. He may not have remembered much of his life before the sub-creature, but what he did remember was a jumble of painful sensations: hunger, fury, and helplessness. Even thinking of it made his body ache with the memory, although more than twenty years had passed to dull the strength of it.

Now there was this mission to track the nine undead creatures. He thrilled with excitement, though he was careful not to show it. He would finally be permitted out of sight of the dark tower. There was something almost familiar about tracking the Undead. And while stalking these creatures wasn't challenging, it was providing him with a wealth of new experiences.

The landscape around him changed and rolled from towering woods, to cloudy mountains, to verdant fields, and despite his orders, he often took breaks to feed and to explore these new environments. He was never in any danger of loosing his quarry. While walking in the Spirit Realm, time ceased to exist and did not flow in its normal, defined course. He could spend hours examining an unusual structure or an interesting natural feature, only to slip back into a patch of shadows in the physical realm with little to no time having passed. The Nazgûl, or the Ring-Wraiths, as the sub-creature had named them, paid no attention to his presence, and Fëalhûn came to suspect that they did not even sense him. Of course, they were not truly undead, as Fëalhûn knew the definition, because while they were demi-present in the Spirit Realm, they could not fully enter it, and had never truly died. He wasn't sure how he knew that, but he did. Something kept them bound at the point of death, but they had never crossed the threshold. He suspected it had something to do with the jewelled bands of metal they wore around their fingers, but he could not be sure. In any case, because he was fully dead and already designed for maximum stealth against all those who were not alive, they had trouble detecting his presence, and he wouldn't have it any other way. A tactical part of him wished he knew more about those he pursued, because if it ever came down to combat with these nine, he was unsure of the results.

Several weeks had passed since his mission began and Fëalhûn was returning from a recent hunting trip. Pickings in this area were slim as they were a long way away from the nearest roads, but he had managed to snag himself two wolf-like Archons, their spirits wailing pitifully as they were drawn down into his gullet. In the eerie luminescence, swirling fog, and twisted landscape of the underworld, Fëalhûn studied the panorama before him over the edge of the sheer escarpment he'd pulled himself up in order to observe the local terrain. As he examined the topography, the wraith's mind drifted over the events of the last three and a half months.

At first Fëalhûn had been uneasy about leaving his known territories around the Tower of Isengard, but he rapidly accustomed himself to life on the road. The sub-creature had encouraged him to retrieve some sort of ring, a plain band of gold to be exact. The instructions he'd received weren't very specific on where he would find this piece of jewellery, just that he should follow the Black Riders, and they would lead him to it.

At least the Nazgûl knew where they were going, even if he didn't. There had come a time when the group had reached a patch of fertile woods and farmlands and the Riders had decided to separate. This left Fëalhûn with a problem, the first one he'd ever solved in what he could remember of his life. But a long-dormant part of him had acted with decisiveness and took control, instructing the wraith to follow the leader of the group, the one the sub-creature had named the Witch-King. The Undead scanned the roads in their search, riding past squat earthen dwellings buried within hills that Fëalhûn had explored eagerly whenever he got the chance. Soon the Nazgûl had regrouped outside a human village, going so far as to ride down both gate and gatekeeper to enter the walls. Fëalhûn shrugged at their unsubtle entrance and lack of refinement and took that opportunity to shift to the Spirit Realm and explore the town in more detail. It was a human settlement, just like any other, but the sight of a place so familiar was comforting. Memories returned to him of a time before the madness and the Void, but they were vague and unformed, just impressions really. At least he now had a few memories to draw on.

After feeding well on the wealth of residual souls, he morphed back to the physical world to watch the events taking place within an inn from a distant rooftop. He was not concerned, he could not sense anything within the room, but apparently these Ring-wraiths couldn't. He watched with amusement as down and feathers were sprinkled from the open windows. What an interesting turn of events…

After that disastrous failure, the furious Black Riders had spread out along the roads and eastward, into the surrounding countryside. It looked like they were trying to cut off someone's escape route, but he was not sure. The wraiths did not speak aloud, but instead shared a kind of telepathy amongst each other, the whispers of which Fëalhûn could barely detect, let alone translate. When they did make noise it was the intimidating thunder of hooves, or an ear-piercing screech that made even Fëalhûn cringe in pain. He wouldn't want to be the Riders' prey whenever they caught up with them.

The scenery below his latest perch was quite beautiful, and yet mournful at the same time. A ruined building was nestled atop a high moor, the broken stones wretched and yet gleaming in the warped lights of the underworld. Fëalhûn felt an inexplicable kinship with the forgotten, broken relic, and he began to memorize its every contour, burning the image into his mind. He was so focused on the building that he actually noticed something he might have otherwise overlooked. A light was shining from a small hollow below its foundations. He couldn't determine what sort of light source it was from at this distance of course, flames were frozen in this realm though they still cast light, but it piqued his interest enough that he decided to take a closer look. The building was in the general direction the Witch-king had been headed last anyway.

He leapt from the cliff and spread his ruined wings with his claws, allowing himself to drift through the thin air and swirling mists of the Spirit Realm in the direction of the ruins. He could only glide so far, and before long his cloven feet brushed earth and he was forced to walk the rest of the way. Fëalhûn descended a low hill and crossed a patch of rocks into a streambed, the ethereal waters passing over his head as he plunged beneath the surface of the water. In the Spirit Realm, water had neither heft nor lift, and stood as thin as air. In some cases that trait was useful because it was faster to walk than to swim, but in this instance it was just irritating. After a few minutes searching for an appropriate place to climb out, he scrambled up an embankment and emerged from the creek, looking back at the ghostly water. A small river like this would have been enough to dissuade most vampires, but he had seen for himself that the Ring-wraiths were unaffected by the passage of water. Something about that felt odd to him, he just couldn't place the source.

The hike to the building was straightforward enough, and even the climb up the steep faces of the incline was easier once he found a small footpath that wound its way among the rocks. Fëalhûn soon gained the edge of the cavity, and his efforts were rewarded with a quaint campfire scene. A small blaze was frozen in an attractive pattern, pale light spilling over a scattering of objects along the cavern floor. Bedrolls were arranged around the circle of rocks that held the stationary flames, and a messy arrangement of cooking implements, backpacks, clothing, and other personal belongings were littered about. The only thing that struck Fëalhûn as out of the ordinary about the whole arrangement was that everything seemed undersized, tiny even, as if were meant for the hands of children. The wraith was ensnared by his own curiosity, and confident now with his ability to track and detect the Ring-wraiths, he decided that a more in-depth investigation was in order.

He glanced around the area before spotting the emergence point he was looking for. There were two methods he knew of for entering the Physical Realm. The first was to project his spirit into a corpse and harness control of the matter, forcing it to change to his typical form and shape under pure strength of will. The second approach was to find a planar gate and propel his essence through it. He preferred the second, subtler method, though he was too practical to be selective about it. Nestled just inside a corner of rock was the patch of swirling energy he was looking for. It was the perfect choice, close enough that even if the perspective of the Physical Realm was shifted drastically he would still be able to find the campsite, and far enough away that the potential subjects of his interest would not notice the burst of light that accompanied his manifestation. Checking his energy reserves one last time, Fëalhûn stepped into the portal and launched himself into the living world.

A surreptitious analysis of his surroundings told him that he had been successful in his efforts. He had not been spotted. So far in this adventure he had done very well at remaining unseen, by both his quarry and the mortals. He could do without an active manhunt, thank you very much. The flickering orange glow of a fire caught his eye and he turned his head in that direction, the low, warm buzz of conversation soothing his ears after months spent without the sound of human speech. Moving with practiced stealth, Fëalhûn crept to a mound of fallen stone and peeked over it, taking in the charming little scene.

There were four undersized, beardless and curly-haired men residing inside the pleasant halo of light cast by their small campfire underneath the sheltering overhang of rock. The dark-haired member of the group was asleep and curled up on his bedroll, while his three fairer constituents were sitting around their cooking, eating and discussing the various merits of food. Fëalhûn regarded the quartet with interest. He may have thought them children at first, but it now appeared that they were simply diminutive men. After nearly fifteen minutes of observing the little mortals, Fëalhûn idly wondered how long anyone could debate the appropriate technique of frying sausages. He supposed the conversation was lost on him because he didn't require food and couldn't eat even if he wanted to. But they were a merry group, those members who were awake, and the wraith basked in the sunny camaraderie they exuded. Fëalhûn mournfully contemplated what would happen if he were to reveal himself so that he could enjoy the presence of these small folk, but he was under no illusions. Most likely they would run away from him, screaming all the way.

There was a stirring on the blankets nearby, and Fëalhûn ducked a little as the sleeping man awoke and sat up to look over at his comrades by the campfire.

"What are you doing!" the dark-haired one exclaimed. This startled the wraith. They had seemed like such light-hearted folk, but the fear in this one's eyes hinted at something completely different.

"Tomatoes, sausages, nice crispy bacon," one of his companions replied blithely.

"We saved some for you, Mr. Frodo," the heaviest one supplied, offering a plate of food.

The dark-haired man leapt to his feet and ran over to the fire pit. "Put it out, you fools! Put it out!" He stamped his over-large and very hairy foot onto the coals, attempting to smother them.

"Oh, that's nice!" the third midget protested his actions. "Ash on my tomatoes!"

Then there was a piercing shriek that Fëalhûn recognized as the hunting call with deep regret, and was surprised to see the short men recognized too. The Ring-wraiths had spent the better part of three and a half months hunting down these little mortals? The Nazgûl were either grossly incompetent, or there was something special about these midgets that he had yet to see. He genuinely hoped it was the later. He was enjoying himself, and was not looking forward to returning to Isengard.

The four men froze with terror a moment, before their dark-haired leader called out and began to push them up a short passage, leading to the ruins above. The wraith trailed in the shadows behind them, anticipating the events to come. Each one of the men carried a short sword, but Fëalhûn knew that would not get them far. He was not sure what the true strength of the Nine was, but he knew they were certainly stronger than these four. Once in the open space above, the four put their backs to one another and drew their weapons. Their fear was palpable. These were not warriors.

Only seven of the Nine were present, Fëalhûn noted, and he watched angrily as they swatted away the dark-haired man's defenders. The wraith was not certain what was so special about the little man, but he expected he was about to find out. Faced with the towering presence of the Witch-king, the dark-haired man dropped his sword and stumbled backwards, tripping over the debris-strewn paving stones.

The Wraiths called in their strange half-language, as if trying to summon the object of their quest. At their words, the little man reached into the interior pocket of his vest and drew out a small, golden trinket. Fëalhûn's sharp eyes picked it out easily in the cold moonlight. The Black Captain saw this too, and advanced on the small mortal, drawing a wicked knife in the process.

A compulsion pressed into Fëalhûn's mind, words coming unbidden. They whispered in to his mind. "Take the Ring. Bring it to me, my good servant. Do it quickly." Fëalhûn recognized the voice of the sub-creature, but was powerless to disobey. That didn't stop him from deeply resenting the order.

The small man poised the ring above his left index finger, and hesitated before putting the band on. He vanished from sight. If Fëalhûn could blink, he would have. The mortal was still there, he could smell it, but he couldn't see it. The Witch-king was unfazed by this turn of events, stretching out his hand as if to take something that was offered to him. That's when the answer occurred to him. If the rings the Dark Riders wore kept them alive and in the physical world, perhaps this disappearance wasn't true invisibility at all. Perhaps it was a capability similar to his. He allowed his gaze to shift, to attune to the frequency of spirits, tweaking it back and forth between the realms of the living and the dead until he settled on an in-between, pocket dimension of sorts. There, now he could see the mortal.

The Black Riders looked very different on this planar alignment. Instead of black, they were clothed in ghostly white, their eyes sunken black pits beneath their gaudy crowns. The mortal looked the same, only even more confused and frightened than before. His arm was being pulled forward without his consent as the Rider extended his hand for the ring gleaming on the midget's finger. With a mighty effort of will the small mortal yanked his hand back, shielding the object from view. The Witch-king drew back in anger at his defiance before jabbing the little man with his blade. There was a howl of intense pain.

A battle cry rang through the air and an average-sized scruffy looking human clad in black leather jumped into the fray, swinging a sword and a burning brand in the Nazgûl's faces. As his tall compatriot held the undead off, the midget pulled the ring from his finger with a groan of agony and popped back into view. Fëalhûn allowed his vision to shift back to the physical realm.

"Frodo!" the stocky midget cried, rushing to his friend's side.

"Oh, Sam," the leader muttered, clutching onto the other for support.

Deciding there would never be a better opportunity to seize the demanding sub-creature's trophy, Fëalhûn slipped from the shadows he had drawn around his form and reached for the object. The two small men could only gape on in shock as the wraith simply bent down and scooped the ring up in his heavy, pointed talons. The combatants behind him were so engaged they hadn't even noticed his presence yet.

Fëalhûn studied the object in his palm. Yes, now he knew why it was so valuable. There was a presence residing inside it, a powerful one, or at least a piece of it. It exuded evil in a steady torrent that must hammer into the mortals around it. He was surprised he hadn't sensed it before. But even as he slipped the ring over a talon-tip to test the fit, he knew that he would remain unaffected. It was one of the advantages of being as very dead as he was. The two little men gaped as the ring cleared about an inch on his talon, and would go no further, and yet he still remained visible. Fëalhûn gave a careless shrug, flicked the ring in the air like a coin, and slipped it into the wrappings around his right arm. He could not transition to the Spirit Realm with a physical object in his possession without loosing it, so he would have to travel the distance back to Isengard the hard way. If he was fast it shouldn't take him more than a week.

"You!" a fell voice interrupted his contemplation. "You are Saruman's creature! You will give us the master's prize!" The opponents had frozen upon sight of him, even the human grinding to a halt to gape at the blue-skinned horror in their midst.

Fëalhûn did not reply, seizing up the injured midget. It was a long journey and he would require sustenance before long. This one was already dying; it wouldn't hurt to take a nip before moving on. He lowered his cowl in preparation to feed. The stocky midget's eyes widened as a scream strangled in his throat. Fëalhûn did not possess a bottom jaw. The flesh from below his top set of teeth had been melted away, revealing a row of strait teeth, a set of razor fangs, and an open gullet into the horrific undead flesh.

The wraith began to siphon off the spirit of the dying man, the streams of spiritual energy visible even to those who could not normally see such things. But something was wrong. Fëalhûn went to raise his cowl and stop his meal, but found he could not. For every measure of energy he took, he gave back a little to his victim in return. How was that possible? The mortal was still being drained, but he was somehow able to absorb a small amount of his offender's energy. Fëalhûn was confused. The little mortal had not shown any spectacular abilities beforehand, and he was fairly sure he would have noticed them by now, so what… That's when the answer occurred to him. The Nazgûl-inflicted wound must have something to do with it. He allowed his eyesight to adjust, like he'd done earlier. Yes, he was right again. The human's presence was beginning to shift to the Spectral Realm. Not a lot, but significant enough that he was beginning to pick up some Archon-like abilities. That still left him just as trapped, knowing the answer for it or not.

There was nothing for it; he would have to break the contact. An infinitesimally tiny part of him cringed at the thought of tearing the little mortal's head off, though he logged it away as a viable option if the circumstances turned dire enough. The only other option he could think of was to satiate the mortal's newly awakened soul hunger. A flicker of movement caught his attention, and Fëalhûn noted the Ring-wraith advancing on him. Thinking fast, the blue wraith chose the swifter of the two solutions, and sent a strong wave of soul energy back over the impromptu connection he'd forged with the mortal. What he hadn't expected was the backlash from the overflow. The power filled the mortal, strengthening it, and washed back the excess into the wraith. Vibrant, alive, mortal energy hit him like a tidal wave, untouched by death, clearing away some of the cobwebs from his much abused mind. The delicate threads from spells used to control his memory were torn apart, and a rush of unexpected information filled his head. Memories, old and new, of both the wizard's efforts to tame him, and forgotten glimpses of that time before the Void were now available for his perusal. A burning rage filled him, a thunderous fury so overwhelming that it made him want to scream and howl and kill. He felt his eyes begin to flare, and registered the small mortals' whimpers of terror as the dark ice within his eyes was cracked and dispelled, and the true, furiously blazing light of his spirit spilled forth, bright flames white-blue in their intensity.

His talons clenched in the air as if he was experiencing pain, and his hooves gouged into the stones beneath his feet. He felt, rather than heard the Nazgûl advance, and lashed out with his powerful claws, catching the wraith around its middle and tossing it high over his head to slam into a nearby wall. The tall human started a little at this movement before rejoining the battle. Knowing that physically confronting these creatures was fairly useless, Fëalhûn made use of some of his more impressive skills, firing telekinetic blasts to knock them off-guard and allowing the human the chance to set them ablaze. The seven Black Riders were swiftly routed between the efforts of man and monster, and retreated away from the ruined construction and its current inhabitants, their robes still aflame.

Fëalhûn felt the sub-creature he now remembered was named 'Saruman' screaming in the back of his mind, but he ignored the words. The human he'd assisted was eyeing him warily, but the wraith was in no mood to cross blades with the mortal. Looking back to the group of stunted men, Fëalhûn began to move in their direction, trying to be as calm and un-threatening as possible given his physical appearance. He knelt down before the injured mortal, reached into his wrist-bindings, and offered back the ring. The others stared at him as if he was insane, but Fëalhûn paid them no heed. Saruman's howls of protest rang throughout his head, but he swiftly shut them out and severed the last magical connection remaining between him and the powerful sub-creature. He did not require it any longer.

The human ground its teeth in pain, but stretched forth its hand and accepted the offered bit of jewellery. His fingers wrapped around the scrap of gold in a show of possession before he pushed it back into his vest pocket.

Nodding his satisfaction, and a little of his thanks in regards to his freedom, Fëalhûn stood and turned to leave. He could no longer abide the tense atmosphere, and exerting himself so much had made him hungry.

"Wait," the mortal called out as his fellows gathered around him. "Who are you?"

The blue wraith stopped and looked back over his shoulder at the little human. "My name is Raziel," came the answer unbidden from the vicinity of his throat, and he dissolved into the Spectral Realm.