The first thought that entered Beregond's mind was that that wasn't right.
In fact, that wasn't right at all.
He was on a shore. He didn't know how he got there and he couldn't afford to understand what had happened anyway. He just stared dumbly at the darkened sky, aware that there was hail bucketing down around him and a wind so violent that it sounded like howling.
What was more surprising was that he didn't feel wetness or cold. In fact, he felt nothing, like his entire body had grown numb.
Suddenly, a crashing sound reached his ears above the cawing of sea-gulls. Beregond turned to the source of the sound, and what he saw proved both impressive and terrifying all at once: a great eagle-shaped cloud coming out of the west, its pinions spreading to the north and south.
Another crashing sound followed and Beregond looked upwards again. To his amazement, he could now see several /real/eagles flying high above, bearing lightning beneath their wings.
They were Manwe's eagles. Beregond was sure of it, even though he couldn't understand why they were there.
Then thunder echoed between the sea and the clouds, and Beregond felt it as if it reverberated through his very core.
A great sense of foreboding seized him and he was aware he had to act quickly if he wanted to prevent something terrible from happening. He tried to will himself to run but, for some reason, his body was moving on its own accord. Indeed, it seemed as though he was walking, but he wasn't sure of that either, because he couldn't feel his legs actually touching the ground.
Nevertheless, at the next moment, he found himself in a city with buildings made out of white marble. And though Beregond had never seen that city before, he was certain it should be familiar to him.
A woman passed by him and Beregond tried to address her and ask where he was and what was happening, but no words came out of his lips. He tried to turn around and speak to her again, but it was of no use; his body still moved on.
Then lightning started to fall. Every time that the darkness was obliterated by those brief flashes of light, Beregond could easily hear the screams of men getting slain, but he walked on. In fact, he walked on even when he headed to the direction of a fiery bolt that crashed a couple of miles away from him; even when a large groaning sound came out of the depths of the earth, a sign that the ground was shaking violently.
Even when he reached a mighty temple whose large dome was flaming, broken asunder.
No... it couldn't be.
But when he reached to the inside of the temple and witnessed people paying respect to a man who looked fair but felt foul, Beregond could only admit that his suspicions were true. He /was/in the Island of Numenor.
The question was: how?
He looked at his surroundings fearfully, feeling like a pilgrim in an unholy land; no one seemed to notice Beregond though. They simply remained standing in the centre of the great hall where a circle with symbols was etched on the ground, praying to their new god, Sauron, and asking him to offer them immortality.
But Beregond's heart was truly filled with horror and disgust when two old men dragged a young boy forward and cut his throat without so much as a second thought. The image of a dead Bergil penetrated the soldier's mind and he had to look away as soon as the floor was covered in blood.
And yet... there was another feeling that proved even stronger at that moment. With his curiosity prevailing, he drifted his gaze back at the centre of the hall and looked carefully at the circle.
It was an array; very much like the one back at Durinas's hideout, to be exact. Outraged, Beregond opened his lips in the hopes of making the fools stop, but he never got the chance. A great roar reached his ears, almost deafening him.
He knew what that sound was.
The waves were coming.
Beregond did the only thing he /could/do. His body complying once again, he ran as fast as his feet could carry him to the highest point of the Island. He didn't dare to look back, for he knew that he would only see the terrible sea-green cloak which would cover the Island forever in darkness.
The climb was difficult, but he finally reached the peak. However, the last thing he saw were the five corners of the island.
And then the great wave towered over him.
Come on, wake up!
Beregond was happy to obey that voice that seemed to have sounded out of nowhere. He mentally yanked himself away from that horrific dream and opened his eyes to see a familiar face hovering over him.
"Havoc?" Beregond looked around just to make sure he wasn't still dreaming.
He wasn't; he was in his office, lying on the couch. Even so, he could hardly breathe, and his heart was beating wildly as though he had been running. He winced when he noticed Havoc's concerned look, but he couldn't really blame the second lieutenant. It must have been shocking for him to walk in and find the Gondorian in such a state.
"Nightmare," Beregond finally offered as an explanation. He sat up and smiled faintly in an attempt to play down matters.
"I kind of noticed that," Havoc said. He picked up a glass of water he had on the small table nearby and gave it to Beregond. "Here."
Beregond took the glass with a brief"Thanks"... then emptied the contents on his head.
Havoc blinked. "I gave it to you so you would drink it."
"This works just fine too," Beregond said. He shook his head to rid the excess water off his hair. "What time is it?"
"Close to nine o' clock," Havoc answered. "And time for me to take you to Syndow."
"Is Falman here?" Beregond asked.
"He's already waiting in the car."
"Oh." There was a small pause. "Then we should go, I guess."
Still, Beregond didn't stand up.
Havoc's voice was so soft at that moment that Beregond locked his eyes on the lieutenant.
"Are you okay?" Havoc asked, his concern once again clear on his features.
But Beregond didn't answer. He just averted his gaze, hoping that Havoc would take the hint and drop the subject.
Havoc didn't - or rather, he decided to ignore it.
"Does it have to do with what happened at the Colonel's office yesterday?"
The Gondorian's tension must have been quite evident, because Havoc's next words were: "Falman told me about it."
Beregond realised that there was no point in evading the question anymore, so he nodded. Havoc sighed and was about to say something, but Beregond didn't let him.
"We /should /go," he reminded the second lieutenant.
Havoc looked at the Gondorian's eyes briefly. Beregond wasn't sure what the other man saw there, but it seemed to satisfy him enough to stand up and say: "Then let's go."
"And we will," Beregond said. "But we'll have to stop by from my house first."
Havoc frowned at this. "Why?"
"There's something that I want to get from there."
And Beregond left it at that.
As usual, the tribunal was buzzing with life that morning, and all officers and personnel were doing their best to keep up with the work they were handed. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done, because everyone was already exhausted - including Lieutenant Colonel Hughes and Scieszka.
That was why Maes sounded so tired when he answered the knock on the door of his office.
At that command, a tall, black-haired woman came in and nodded slightly in greeting. It was Sarah Abbot.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Lieutenant Colonel Hughes. The head librarian said that you had some files you wished to have stored at the library."
"Oh, yes, that's right," Maes said. He turned to his secretary. "Where did you put the files that you've already completed, Scieszka?"
The girl rubbed her eyes and straightened her back, a creaking sound emanating from her body after stooping over the documents for so long. "I have them over here, Sir," she said and handed Hughes a pile of folders.
"Good," Maes said and passed the files to Sarah. "Make sure they're placed in chronological order, please."
"I will." And with that, Sarah headed for the door.
However, it seemed Hughes was far from finished.
"Mrs. Abbot, there's also something else that I wanted to discuss with you."
"Oh?" Sarah said. She stopped on her tracks and looked at him quizzically.
"Yes," Hughes replied, looking quite serious. "I've noticed that your daughter and Elysia have become quite good friends. In fact, they play together almost every day. That brings me to the conclusion that..." and, in a flash, his eyes seemed to light up and sparkle,"you and Alice just have to come to my little girl's birthday! She's turning four, you know. Gracia will make the cake and Elysia already said she would blow the candles by herself! Isn't that the cutest thing you've ever heard?"
He didn't seem to notice how embarrassed Scieszka and Sarah looked while he still rambled on about Elysia's birthday. What was worse, it seemed that all his weariness had vanished into thin air, so there was no possible way to make the man /stop/.
In the end, it was Sarah who finally decided to put an end to this - as subtly as possible.
"Well, Lieutenant Colonel Hughes, Icould not possibly refuse an invitation like that," she said with a smile and quite careful with her choice of words. "However, if I'm to bring Alice on Elysia's birthday, then I should most definitely buy a present, too. That means Ihad better go back to work - the sooner I'm done with it, the sooner I'll go and get something."
Hughes stopped at once. "Of course, Ishouldn't be keeping you here! I hope work doesn't prove too difficult!"
"In this line of work, you just have to handle all kinds of challenges," Sarah said with a chuckle. "I'll come back later for the other files."
She was gone in an instant, doing her best not to seem as though she was /running away/.
Hughes just waved goodbye, the happy grin still plastered on his face. "What a charming lady. I wonder if Roy would have liked dating her..." he mused.
He suddenly slapped his forehead, because it was then that he realised something very important.
"I forgot the pictures!" he declared mournfully. Truly enough, he had on his pocket his most recent pictures of Elysia - but he had forgotten as of yet to show them to anyone else! He groaned, unable to believe that he could be so negligent.
But then he noticed Scieszka, who was once again stooped over her work, and his lips tugged to a grin again.
All wasn't lost yet.
He didn't have his chance to do anything though. At that moment, another one of his subordinates came in, holding a pack of files which was blackened and in a terrible condition all in all.
"Sir, we have a problem," he said. "This is what was saved from the files which contained the names of the criminals who were under death sentence and executed."
Maes frowned as he looked at the folders. "Man, the fire did quite the number on them. And I don't suppose there were any copies of those, right?"
Maes huffed slightly, dismayed by this turn of events. However, his features brightened when an idea formed in his mind.
"Go to the buildings of "Central Times". They keep a record of their printed newspapers, so there should be news of each conviction and execution there. Take someone with you and ask for Thaddeus Gray. He will be able to help you out."
"Will do, Sir," said the young soldier and walked out.
But Maes didn't resume with his work at once. Scratching the back of his neck, he turned again to Scieszka with athoughtful look.
"Wanna take five?"
"Right, go get yourself some tea to clear your head and bring some for me on your way back."
"Okay, Mr. Hughes," Scieszka said with a small smile, and she exited too.
Thus she gave Maes the chance to make his usual weekly call.
When the phone rang in his office, Roy suspected who it could be calling him. He picked up the receiver.
"This is Colonel Roy Mustang speaking."
"Hey, buddy! Swarmed in paperwork?"
Roy sighed, realising that he was right in his assumptions. "Yes, so I'd rather I carried on with it, or I will have to face the wrath of a certain lieutenant." He locked his gaze on the door in alarm, almost expecting Hawkeye to burst into the office and start shooting at him for loafing around like that.
"But I wanted to tell you about Elysia's birthday! Do you know that it's in a few days' time?"
"And phoning me for that is absolutely out of the question!" Roy exclaimed through gritted teeth.
"Now I'm hurt," Maes said in mock distress. "Then I guess I'll have to tell you some other time. Now I wanted to tell you something else: Guess who I ran into two days ago."
Roy rubbed his temples. "Just go ahead and say it, Maes."
"All right," Hughes said. "Fawcette."
Roy let out an exasperated huff. "That is hardly news, Hughes. I had already told you that Connors sent him to Central."
"That's not the news, Roy," Maes said, now quite serious. "I first bumped into him at the library and then at the tribunal. I don't think I need to tell you that he was looking for something."
"And I don't think I need to guess what that something is," Roy said. "This guy just doesn't give up."
"Bah, good luck, that's what I say,"Maes chuckled. "Beregond is safe."
"Still, I want you to keep an eye on Fawcette," Roy said. "You know his habit of creating what he can't find."
"Yeah, don't worry. It will be difficult though. I'm kinda drowning in paperwork myself."
"You'll think of something. You always do."
"I take that as a compliment," Maes said, his grin audible in his voice. "Speaking of which, what about Beregond?Is he still doing that research of his?"
Roy hesitated to answer for a moment, uncertain as to what to say.
"He's concluding it today," he replied in the end.
"I can tell you that: he's found something. But now I think he wishes he hadn't."
Havoc and Falman almost jumped at the sound of the loud sneeze that practically reverberated through the car.
"Whoa! What was that?!" Havoc exclaimed, looking only briefly at Beregond's direction - Havoc was driving, after all.
Beregond sniffed slightly and resumed with his staring back at the ceiling of the car. "Sorry. I think I'm getting down with something," he said.
"Really?" The lieutenant smiled knowingly and returned his gaze back on the road. "Or maybe your ears are just burning."
"What?" Clearly surprised, Beregond touched his ears apprehensively. "They're fine... I think."
"It's an expression," Falman said, laughing. "It means somebody is either thinking of or talking about you."
"But what does that have to do with me sneezing?" Beregond asked, raising an eyebrow.
"It's the same thing," Falman answered.
Beregond blinked. "So sneezing and burning ears aren't just considered symptoms of cold, they also mean you're the subject of gossip?"
"Well... yes," Falman said.
Beregond didn't speak for some time, obviously taking in what Falman said for a few moments. In the end, he laughed and waved his hand dismissively.
"Yeah, right. And I suppose when I got myself pneumonia when I was a kid meant that the whole city of Minas Tirith was buzzing about me."
Havoc and Falman didn't have anything to say to that. They merely shook their heads with a smile, for they were relieved to see that Beregond was back to his cheerful self.
On the other hand though... they weren't sure if that wasn't a façade so that Beregond could hide how troubled he had become since the day before.
Plus, they were both dying to find out what was in that large bag that was now next to Beregond's legs.
If Beregond noticed the looks the lieutenant and the warrant officer kept exchanging as they shared those thoughts, he didn't show it.
Soon enough, they had reached Syndow's mansion. Havoc parked the car and, once they were welcomed inside, the lieutenant said that he would wait at the foyer. However, Falman and Beregond, who had swung his bag over his shoulder in the meantime, continued onto Syndow's study.
The professor was already there, his pipe lingering in his mouth as always.
"You've arrived on time," he commented, a strange expression on his face. He pointed at several files on his desk."Here I have everything that's related to the tale of the Sunken City, from descriptions of it to theories about the fate of its inhabitants after it was destroyed." He rested his form on his cane and looked at the two soldiers. "So... from where do you wish us to begin?"
Surprisingly enough, Beregond shook his head.
"About that, Professor... I don't want to look at the documents anymore."
Syndow and Falman looked at the Gondorian, dumbfounded.
"You don't? Then how--?" Falman started.
"The professor has been more than just kind to share a family secret of his," Beregond explained, not letting Falman to continue. "It's time I returned that kindness with the same trust he showed me."
Falman understood. "Are you sure of this?" he asked simply.
"Then go ahead." And with that, Falman took a couple of steps backs and allowed Beregond some space.
"What is going on?" Syndow asked, quite puzzled.
"Professor Syndow," Beregond began,"Yesterday you showed us an illustration of a knight, who had on his breastplate the image of a tree and seven stars. And you also told us that that illustration was based on the ancient writings you showed us."
"Indeed, I said that."
Beregond straightened his back, looking back proudly at the elderly man. "What if I told you that that image of the tree and the stars belonged to my world as well?"
There was silence for several moments, during which Syndow looked at Beregond as though he was utterly mad.
"Your world?! " he exclaimed. "What in the bloody hell are you talking about?!"
"Professor Syndow, please, calm down,"Falman said, raising a hand in a gesture of peace. "Trust me, I realise that what the sergeant said just now sounds too incredible, but --"
"Too incredible?! Down right lunacy, that's what it sounds like!" Syndow interrupted angrily. "Have you come here to mock me with lies and tall tales?"
"Pedon na-erui thenid, golwen." (I only speak truth, professor)
Syndow froze as the words reached his ears. He stared incredulously at the Gondorian.
"That language..." he faltered. "It sounds a bit like... that text..."
But Beregond didn't answer this time. He simply grabbed his bag and emptied its contents on the floor.
The armour landed on the tiles with adeafening clank.
Syndow stared at the armour with jaw slackened, for the image of the tree and the seven stars was visible on the breastplate as clear as day.
"Yes," Beregond said, switching to the Amestrian Tongue and realising what was Syndow thinking. "The medallion, the armour and the language... just like that knight. And if you still have any doubts whether I mock you or not, Professor Syndow, speak to the man who found me on the streets more than nine months ago, dazed and frightened and wearing the very armour you see before you."
And without expecting an answer, Beregond opened the door of the study and beckoned Havoc to come inside. Havoc came in, not really understanding what he was needed for; that is, until Beregond asked him to tell Syndow of their first encounter.
Havoc did. And as soon as he was finished, Beregond turned to Syndow again.
"Now will you listen to what I have to say?" he asked.
Syndow could only nod his acquiescence in his clearly shaken state.
And so, Beregond told of /everything/, in the same manner that it was taught to him by his kin. From the creation of the world to the coming of the Elves; from the arrival to the Undying lands to the rebellion and their wish to return to their own homelands; from the coming of Men to their meeting and alliances with the Elves; from the tale of Beren and Luthien to the story of Earendil and Elwing; and from the foundation of Númenor and its downfall - and, finally, of those who survived.
"Nine ships there were: four for Elendil, and for Isildur three, and for Anarion two. They fled before the black gale out of the twilight of doom into the darkness of the world and, after many days, they were cast upon the shores of Middle-earth. Afterwards, Elendil and his sons founded kingdoms in Middle-earth; and though their lore and craft was but an echo of that which had been ere Sauron came to Numenor, it nevertheless seemed very great to the wild men of the world. And much is said in other lore of the deeds of the heirs of Elendil in the age that came after, and of their strife with Sauron that not yet was ended. For Sauron wasn't of mortal flesh; and though he was robbed now of that shape in which he had wrought so great an evil, so that he could never again appear fair to the eyes of Men, his spirit arose out of the deep and came back to Middle-earth, to the dark land of Mordor. There he wrought himself a new guise, an image of malice and hatred made visible.
"But these things come not into the tale of the Drowning of Numenor. The name of that land perished, and Men spoke ever after of Akallabeth the Downfallen, Atalante in the Elven Tongue."
And that was how Beregond ended his tale. None of the other people present in the study spoke for a long time after that. After all, though Falman and Havoc had heard bits and pieces of Beregond's story before, it was only now that they heard it in detail. As for Syndow, he just regarded the Gondorian with eyes wide open before he approached him and lightly touched Beregond's face.
"When I first looked at you, I thought you were different from the treasure hunters that usually walk through my door; that's why I decided to confide in you. But not even in my wildest dreams did Iever think that history would walk through my door in the flesh."
"Now you see why I wanted to look at those stories," Beregond said.
"Yes... yes, I do," Syndow said quite thoughtfully. He walked over to his desk and picked up a piece of paper, which he now showed to the soldiers.
"Was the Island of Numenor like this, Sergeant?"
Beregond only needed to take one brief look at the map before nodding. "Yes. Its five-cornered shape was unique."
"So those two islands were identical, in the same way Amestris and Middle-earth were meant to be identical," Falman said. He faced Beregond. "It's just like the way you suspected."
It was then that Beregond asked it.
"How sure are we that we're talking about two islands?"
Everyone looked at the Gondorian incredulously, unsure what to make of that question.
"The day that Numenor sank was marked in the memory of my people as the Great Change of the World, because not only it reminded us of our ancestors' downfall, but because the Valar, in their wrath, shifted our world's shape," Beregond explained. "The Undying Lands, which until then it was said that one was able to see them on a clear summer's day and had become the corrupted Men's desire in the hopes of gaining immortality, were taken from the Circles of the World and moved beyond the reach of the race of Men; all roads became bent.
"But now I have reasons to believe that this was only partly true. None of the surviving parties witnessed the actual sinking of Numenor. Their testimonies are based on seeing the great waves that pushed them to the shores of Middle-earth. And since no one's heard news from the Island or found it on their ventures to the sea again, it could be safely assumed that it had vanished underneath those waves."
"Wait a minute," Havoc said then. "Are you implying it didn't sink?"
"In a way... yes," Beregond said. At the next moment, he took out from underneath his shirt the pendant with the five-pointed star, showing it to everyone present. "I was holding on to this when I was brought here. Now look at this." He briefly scanned his surroundings for a marker and a sheet of tracing paper, and then took the map from Syndow's hands. Before Syndow could ask what Beregond wanted the map for, the Gondorian had already placed the sheet of tracing paper over the map and drew lines that connected all five corners of the island over it.
Forming in this way a /large/five-pointed star.
Syndow, Falman and Havoc could only stare at the marked star in astonishment.
"What if..." Beregond ultimately asked,"...the Undying Lands were not the only ones taken beyond the circle of my world?"
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