Categories > Books > Lord of the Rings

Finding Ways

by Griever 1 review

Gandalf's little tiff with the Balrog has more far-reaching consequences than anticipated, which becomes apparent during the battle for Isengard.

Category: Lord of the Rings - Rating: R - Genres: Crossover,Drama,Fantasy - Characters: Merry,Pippin,Saruman - Warnings: [V] [?] - Published: 2009-09-10 - Updated: 2009-09-10 - 3376 words - Complete

0Unrated
There was once a place, somewhere divorced from conventional space and time.

A place of darkness.

A place where scorching heat and endless sand existed side by side with freezing cold and sky-tearing spires.

A place called many things, all of them dark and foreboding.

It wasn't false advertising either.

Once upon thought and time, the mockery of sky stretching overhead was pierced by a brilliant starburst. It tore through its fabric as the tip of a white-hot fireplace poker would easily burn and pierce through stretched canvas, and even trailed flickers and sparks of fire and brimstone in its wake.

Then again, perhaps that last part was not as noteworthy in this demesne as it would have been in almost any other.

And as the point of glowing light fell, separating from one of ash and crimson and a darkness well suited to these surrounds, a pair of embers in the depths came alight. They were not, cosmically speaking, old embers. But they were ones of guile and determination. Of ferocity and animal cunning.

As he always had, their owner had found a way.

---
Finding ways
a LotR-mangling by Griever
---

From on high, Saruman watched, in growing anger and dread.

This should not have been happening. They were too slow to act, too set in their ways - it was their nature, and it would doom them.

Except that things were not going according to plan.

First had been Theoden getting free of his influence, but that had been something he'd planned for. Something he'd made contingencies for. The Uruk-hai raiders would be enough to smoke him and those simpering rats of his out of their hole ...

But this? Fangorn's guardians simply did not deliberate this quickly. He knew this better than most, from past dealings. His actions here, even starting to cut Fangorn down for his own ends, should not have gotten this sort of reaction until much later.

Would have, could have, should have ...

Saruman slammed his staff into the parapet's floor in sheer, helpless frustration at the sight.

And down from Fangorn Forest, with loping, deceptively fast stride, came the Ents.

The creaking of living wood could be heard, even over the din of the forges and spawn pits of Isengard, even far at the top of the Orthanc. Gnarled limbs hauled husk-bodies over the outer wall, or took up stones larger than those siege engines would throw and cast them against the divide. It happened too quickly, too unexpectedly, from a direction thought safe, and so a defense at the wall had not been within the realm of possibility.

An Ents' very skin was as armor. Axe and sword cut at it, but unless they could hack at one and the same spot, this did precious little. Standing as tall as ancient oaks, rooting themselves in place step after step, toppling one was equally difficult a proposition.

They came against the defenders of Isengard straight on, more a force of nature than a force of arms, and just as destructive and uncompromising as a mudslide or avalanche.

Still, even though they were many, even though they were immensely strong, the defenders were _multitudes_.

From the pits they came, the streams of armored warriors, casting themselves against the tree-folk with single-minded viciousness, rage, and fanaticism. Here and there, among this tide of flesh and metal, an Ent would waver and slow, and sometimes topple to then be swarmed by them as ants would swarm their prey.

It was a pitched battle, yet difficult to evaluate with having no real set lines. The Ents, while powerful, were as rocks in the surf. Eventually, and given enough force ... given enough _time_ ... Saruman estimated that it would be possible to bring them all to their doom.

But they were not stupid, he also knew. He had walked with them, once upon a time, before he had found his true purpose in this world. Even if this were impulse, they would know that against a sufficiently large force, they would not prevail ... and the spawning pits of the Uruk-hai gave Saruman just such a force. They would only need to be marshaled correctly.

It was around the time that realization set in when he noticed a group of the attackers separating from the main host, such as it was, and making for the dam.

*

The steady, echoing footfalls of Treebeard the Ent were already impressive when he was merely strolling along.

Charging through Isengard, the sound and sensation of them was downright booming as well as unique. Not that the fact was much of a consolation to the two hobbits sat atop said moving piece of scenery. Given a different set of circumstances, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took would have welcomed being the first two of their kind in a long while, or perhaps even the first overall, to travel this way.

Theoretically.

Certainly, when asked about such a hypothetical situation around a fireplace, sipping from foam-topped mugs filled with ale, they would have expressed boundless enthusiasm towards adventure of this or any other kind.

Reality is not without its twists of humor.

Still, and at the very least, they had gotten to Isengard. They had even brought an army to its walls, breaking the Ents out of their deliberations and being at least party to spurring them into action against Saruman's excesses.

They had done quite a bit more with their lives than they'd ever imagined they would, and yet, it was somewhat difficult to keep that in perspective when riding a towering hulk of living wood through walls of stone and forests of flesh wielding lethal and quite sharp and pointy steel ...

Or at least they seemed as forests. Mishappened, gnarled, and on occasion quite filthy forests of Orc and Uruk-hai alike.

Treebeard waded through these as if they were naught but a knees-deep puddle or brook.

Living wood though he may have been, said wood was also old. It had weathered the elements and the shifting of seasons for longer than human or hobbit memory could reach, longer perhaps than human or hobbit history had managed to chronicle. Year after year. Decade after decade.

Yes, living wood he and his ilk may have been, but this wood was as stone. Blade did not cut it, indeed, the iron and steel of Uruk and Orc sword was lucky to even scratch it. Arrowheads and spears fared little better, in that some stuck, but for all that one might have achieved better results in attempting to stab one of the monstrous tusked beasts of the South with sewing needles.

Even axes would, for the most part, merely chip slivers from the top layer of weathered, ancient, granite-like 'skin'.

All the while, the Ents trampled, and swung, and cast about themselves with the ferocity of a natural disaster. In a way, that was exactly what they were.

The wrath of the land given shape.

Form.

And impetus.

Yes, some were felled. With so many enemies all around them, and on their home ground, this was inevitable.

Here, one had been tripped up through use of the ropes normally employed to haul materiel to and from the depths of Isengard's forge-caverns. Laced with strands of metal, anchored well enough to support in excess several tons of stone and steel, they entangled the Ent's legs and let its own momentum bring it down as a result. Immediately, the defenders swarmed it, as ants would a greater, stronger, but ultimately doomed foe. Axes slammed down repeatedly.

Here another swung about, maddened by pain, its body ablaze where bladders filled with oil had burst against its skin and hurled torches had set said oil alight.

Some. Not all. Not most. Not even many.

But some.

Still, even with that, they fought on. This was more than war, more than revenge. This was a crusade.

And the Ents would have the raging torrents of a released Isen join them. The great river that had been dammed off would, should that dam be removed, wash the land clean of this filth.

So the Ents climbed.

Few, yes, but those raging within Isengard's walls did well in keeping the attention of Saruman's forces elsewhere while their comrades' great strides took them closer and closer to the crude construction of dead wood and stone that diverted the Isen's natural flow.

And in this uneven, rocky terrain, they had the clear advantage over any pursuit. Even the Worgs, those great slavering wolven beasts used as mounts by the Orcs, did not traverse such difficult ground with such casual ease.

Soon, they neared their goal.

Soon, they leaned down to scoop into their arms boulders from the mountainside.

Soon, they made ready to cast ...

And Treebeard turned, startled surprise evident in his features to the two hobbits riding atop his shoulder, as cries rang out over the din of battle.

No.

They were not cries.

They were not roars.

They were screams of pure agony.

On the mountainside, a veritable conflagration raged. A storm of baleful flame, loosed to roar and roll across stone and hungrily engulf all else.

The herald call of something terrible.

*

Such a pitiful sight he imagined he made.

So far removed from what he had once been.

He could see it in the black, hateful eyes of these things.

Tall, yes, and of impressive stature, but draped in ruined, pitted remains of once impressive armor.

All that he could collect that had not been so frozen as to shatter at the slightest of touches, or so charred as to collapse into ash at the same. The cuirass and gauntlet were the two pieces that had been left relatively intact, even as their steel had been made into a patchwork of deep rents and gouges.

But that was alright.

For this, they would be more than enough.

He had been weak after his arrival. Bereft of not only the first source of his power - something he'd grown used to over his time in exile - but also of much of the one that had replaced it soon after. Oh, he still had the means ... but drawing on that was no longer an option. And for much the same reason as his inability to call to the Heart.

Degrees of separation. Barriers of reality.

It was frustrating to be reduced to merely ... _this_.

It was also something he'd been faced with once before.

So he had watched.

Studied.

Biding his time, shaping his power.

Until finally, and opportune time had come, and he was satisfied enough with his own progress to make his move.

Flame was easy.

Not trivial, no, but easy all the same.

It lived.

It consumed.

All it needed to thrive was a spark and enough fuel. He could provide both. Did provide both to begin with.

Will ... now that was more difficult, but again, he'd had time to watch. Time to study.

And the flames that still flickered in the burnt husks of those first offerings had released more than enough life for him to weave ...

Or not.

He did not weave. He was not nearly skilled enough, not nearly subtle enough to weave.

He stabbed.

It was both simpler and demanded less attention than any try at establishing firm control, and he did not require firm control. Gazing down on the battle taking place in the lowlands, he merely stoked its already blazing rage. The minds of these subhuman creatures were simple things, driven by impulse and instinct for the most part. Certainly, those were most prevalent in them in the midst of a struggle.

Homicidal impulse.

All he required was a little time. This would grant him just that.

Just enough to firmly grasp the distilled force of centuries lived that had been released by the deaths of those tree-beings.

So grasp it he did, and when he had done so, he went about bending it to his will.

*

Battle is already barely controlled chaos, that tends to degenerate into uncontrolled chaos given the slightest of chances.

This was not.

It had gone far, far past mere 'chaos' as Orc turned on Orc, and Uruk on Uruk, turning what had been a city once and a battlefield not moments ago into a slaughterhouse.

Taking natural instinct and amplifying it to a ridiculous degree, the influence was far from subtle. To Saruman, it was as blatantly plain as the sun overhead, and equally difficult to affect for the simple reason that it _lingered_. Rip one mind from its grasp, and it simply waited to turned to another, making any effort he could extend towards returning his army to some vague semblance of order into futility.

Or perhaps it had been futile to begin with. One the first blows had been struck, even with nothing to spur them on, the throng of Orcs and Uruk-hai would likely still have turned upon itself out of sheer distrust and paranoia.

And that had been before ...

Before Saruman felt the insidious hand of his unknown foe over Isengard once more, this time stabbing deep into its bowels.

The earth itself seemed to let out a strangled cry, and the Ents which had not moments ago been tearing body-strewn swathes through an army tearing its own guts out ground to a halt, momentarily halted by a combination of force and dread.

Even the White Wizard was taken aback, and for but a moment, he felt his ambition pierced by naked fear.

Slivers of white shone through tears and chunks of missing flesh, and bone reached upwards from muddied and bloodied earth as the recently slain and the long buried dragged themselves from where they lay, jealous and yearning for life.

The dead had risen once more, and sought to add to their number, and the nagging realization of just what the taint within the power of that recent firestorm had been bloomed into understanding in Saruman's mind.

Necromancy.

"Sauron," the White muttered, knuckles grasping at his staff so tightly they looked to be as lifeless as marble. "No, this is not his power ..."

Far afield, and coming closer, flames sprung up again and again, writhing as living things as they sought out ancient wood and tore life from its grasp.

The sight did not relieve Saruman one bit.

Not one bit at all.

*

He hurt, more than he had ever hurt before, left arm alive with pain, every breath sending daggers of it through his chest, while his right was a mass of blisters and charred raw meat.

"Oh, Merry ... poor, poor Merry ..."

The flames had struck Treebeard low, but they'd not moved at all like fire was supposed to, splashing instead of crawling, setting the Ent ablaze but not staying there to fuel the fires they'd started.

They'd seared flesh, sending Peregrin Took recoiling, making his grip not simply slip, but ... melt away ...

Pippin felt the bile come up through his throat at the memory of skin simply slipping away beneath his palm, melting away.

It was the cruelest or irony that this had saved his life, sending him to tumble painfully to the ground below even as the Ent toppled.

Not so, Merry.

Glassy eyes stared back at Pippin from underneath the husk that had once been Treebeard the Ent, from a face half-stripped of skin and bubbling flesh.

Stifling a scream, Pippin forced himself back to his feet, and forced himself to look away from what had once been his friend.

He was looking at the sky. A sky. It was thick with foul smoke, but the blue beyond was still as clear as it had been back in the Shire. Back during better, simpler days, when the principal worry was whether or not they'd have enough pipe-weed to last them through an afternoon of cloud-watching before they headed off to the tavern.

Wait.

Wasn't he standing just a moment ago.

For that matter, wasn't he supposed to be in pain?

With a sudden flash of clarity, he felt the muddy ground at his back, and realized he could not draw breath.

Then a shadow fell upon him, looming, with baleful eyes glaring down, and a voice as the pit itself spoke.

"A halfing ..." darkly, so darkly amused and disdainful at the same time. "Good riddance."

A foot shod in an iron boot was raised.

Then lowered with a sick, wet crack.

Pippin knew no more.

*

The sheer arrogance of it was galling.

Whatever this ... this abomination was, it was utterly barbaric. The shape of a man, his skin, what showed of it from beneath ragged clothes and mangled pieces of armor, pale as ash, and eyes burning with a fell light from the depths of some similarly maligned helm. In one hand, it held a flanged mace, its surface as scarred and pitted as that of the armor, and the flanges twisted and rusted, chipped and broken. The burning light of its eyes was mirrored by that set into the back of the one gauntlet it wore, on its left arm, which seeped like-tinted mists into the air.

For one who could see beyond that which mortals perceived, though, it went beyond simply that.

It was less a person than it was a force, and wrapped around it were both death and life, struggling against one-another grotesquely, violently, and in blatant spiteful disregard for the natural order of things.

Saruman was such a one, but he had faced things equally vile in his time alive and prior.

How it had managed to enter the Orthanc, he did not know. The ancient tower was all but indestructible, and entrance could, to his knowledge, not be forced. On the other hand, his image of its depths had become murky, torn, and without cohesion.

Regardless, it would still heed him. That was all that mattered.

"You challenge me here, barbarian? In my place of power? You hubris is staggering," he spoke, setting himself, and hurling said power at the intruder.

It hit, and sheer physical force was the least of it. Even that on its own would have been enough to shatter granite, twist iron, and rend anything less asunder.

Metal groaned, flesh strained ...

Against all expectation and reason, where there should have been a smear of what had been steel and flesh once, the abomination yet stood.

But beyond the mere physical, power still clashed.

The encompassing miasma of life and death struggled against searing white light, which burned away at any part of it that was touched. Crisp and clear, pure power flowed against one that should not be, stripping it away with contemptuous ease. But the miasma was like a hydra, weaving and twisting, its many heads difficult to strike even when in pain.

If nothing else, it had on its side the sheer stubborn bloody-mindedness of a categorical refusal to lie down and die. The overwhelming will to survive and overcome.

It was frustrating, trying, and exhausting ...

... but it was still torn apart. Burned. Eradicated bit by ethereal bit.

It would merely take more time to take care of it than it would otherwise.

Then the echoing footfall of an armored boot against the Orthanc's floor sounded.

Then another.

Then another.

Step by step, the distance was becoming less and less, until finally ...

"It's not as special as you might think, wizard," the abomination spoke, raising its great mace.

The blow was one that would have shattered granite, twisted iron, and rent anything less asunder. It was also ridiculously swift for a weapon that size, wielded by a man so large, indoors. It caved the White Wizard's chest in, slamming him against one of the inner walls and breaking the ethereal clash with complete and utter contempt. That Saruman was still alive was a testament to his power and resilience.

He did not survive the second.

Outside, in Isengard, among the bodies of the broken both shambling and not, the carnage stilled.

Stopped.

The silence was total and complete.

"You will listen to me now."
A voice boomed, as much through the air from the raggedly armored man standing atop the high balcony of the Orthanc as through the heads of those below. "I am your Overlord."

Evil had found a way.

*
END finding ways
*
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