The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Chapter Eighteen: Nazghoul, Inc.

        There were no walls around Min-Ashtireth — or Haughz, as it was now called. They had been dismantled to provide material to build roads and factories and housing. The powerful world-magic of Midgarde had been turned to support the mandated doctrine of Progress, forcing the wholesale rise of new industries where there had been only a simple agrarian, essentially medieval way of life a decade before.
        Haughz was the center of the New Economy, a bustling city of commerce, manufacturing and trade. The busy riverfront docks were crowded with boats of every description, loading and unloading around the clock, in and out of tightly spaced warehouses lining the waterfront. Behind them were ranks of smoke-belching industrial buildings, surrounded by bleak rows of cheap housing, along with shops, eateries, public baths, sloppers, saloons, tea houses, fornicatoriums, gaming pits, Goblin stations, boozeries, vomitoriums, side shows, peeperies, worshops, apothecaries, tonsorilariums, safe houses, seweries, lockups, squealers, laundries, petit courts, assessmentors, sobering tanks and attitudinizers.
        The streets were packed with every manner of wagon, cart, truck, rickshaw, sedan chair, surrey, chariot, palanquin, rollbox, coach, travois, and dolly — pushed and pulled by horses, mules, oxen, engines, Goblins and Men from every corner of the world. Foot traffic inundated the spaces between conveyances, and occasional tides of pedestrians carried the irresolute to unknown destinations. Everybody seemed to be in a hurry, or at least wanted to appear to be. Nobody seemed to want to talk much out in the open, before eyes of uncertain scrutiny.
        Toward the center of the city, the buildings climbed upward amid wider avenues, some sporting new electric trolleys or even the occasional newfangled automobile. Offices hummed as clerks and secretaries, executives and middle managers, accountants and bookkeepers scurried to attend their burgeoning enterprises. The pace on the boulevards was no less frantic than in the outer environs, and conversation no less guarded.
        The city's incongruously well-scrubbed core was overrun with gigantic, obscure monuments, empty parks and brooding government buildings of dubious utility. One colossal skyscraper towered above all else, topped by a greenly-glowing transparent orb like a monstrous beacon of smug self-importance. Sara thought it a suitable lair for the Great and Powerful Wizard of Haughz. She had no idea where to even begin looking for the Nazghoul, but figured that confronting Soloman might flush them out.
        She landed on the sidewalk before the structure's imposing façade and pushed her way through a heavy glass door into the cool interior. It was deserted and impossibly quiet, her soft footsteps and rustling cape echoing almost imperceptibly from the polished green-veined granite walls, floor and ostentatiously high ceiling. There was an enormous uncluttered desk in front of the single, wide elevator shaft in the center of the lobby. Behind the desk was an elaborately coifed, coldly haughty, sweater-enhanced receptionist with nothing to do but ignore Sara, who was in no mood to be either patient or polite.
        "Is this where your Wizard hangs out?" Sara demanded.
        The receptionist slowly examined her fingernails for a moment, then turned her head ever so slightly, averting her eyes in the general direction of the river, and condescendingly announced, "Perhaps you'll be able to find a suitably…" she turned back to look at Sara, arching one eyebrow, "…inexpensive…" paused to select just the right disdainfully nuanced word, "…conjuror…" then sniffed in disdain, "…on Borghat Street." She dismissively went back to pretending Sara wasn't there.
        Sara snorted. "No, I think Soloman will do. Where is he?"
        After a suitable delay, the receptionist announced, "Mister Soloman does not receive…" she paused for emphasis, "…common visitors…" then added, "…without an appointment."
       "He'll see me," said Sara forcefully.
       The receptionist nodded almost imperceptibly at a large book in front of her. "I believe his schedule is quite full…" she glanced ever so briefly, "…this year…" and pretended to turn a page, "…or next."
       "Look, lady, I'm here to see Soloman, and I mean now," Sara said, "Right now."
       "I'm…" she closed her eyes and said, "…so sorry," as if she wasn't, then turned her attention to the empty space next to Sara.
        "Do you know who I am?"
        "Why don't you leave…" the receptionist hesitated ever so slightly, "…a card…" she glanced at the door, "…on your way out."
        "My name is Sara Corel and I was sent here by Gundolf to defeat the Nazghoul and take their Rings. But while I'm at it, I want to give your stinking Wizard a piece of my mind."
        "I'm sure…" the receptionist looked bored, "…that's quite interesting."
        "Do you know what these are?" said Sara, holding up her right hand with the Three.
        The receptionist glanced at them briefly, then looked Sara in the eye and said, "Plated?"
        "All right, that's enough," said Sara. She picked up the desk and hurled it completely across the lobby through a large plate glass window. The sounds of splintering wood and shattering glass filled the space with slowly dwindling echoes.
       Sara advanced on the still-seated woman, confronted her with feet planted widely, hands on hips, and ordered, "Soloman. Where is he? Tell me this instant — or I'll tear the building apart around your ears and look for him in the rubble."
        The receptionist seemed unperturbed. She gazed distastefully at the emblem on Sara's chest, as if just now remembering some insignificant detail. "Ah, yes…" she acknowledged, "…that Sara Corel. I believe Mr. Soloman will be expecting you in the Board Room." She went back to examining her nails.
        The elevator marked 'Express' opened its doors behind her. An immaculately liveried Goblin attendant motioned her inside, announcing, "Going up — top floor: Wizard's Suite, Board Room." As Sara entered, he closed the doors and muttered a word in Goblin.
        Sara looked at him sharply and replied in his own language, "So's your mother."
        The Goblin stiffened, eyes wide. He turned to Sara and growled, "Not you. Her."
        Sara couldn't help but smile. "You probably know her better than I do."
        The Goblin frowned, harrumphed, and turned back to his panel as the elevator reached the top floor. Another splendidly uniformed Goblin bowed as she stepped off and motioned her down a spacious hallway to the right where still another Goblin was opening a wide, ornate door.
       The Board Room was richly elegant, with thick, deep-red carpeting and darkly polished paneled walls. There was a conference table of considerable acreage surrounded by a dozen leather-upholstered chairs, and deeply set tall shuttered windows on three walls.
        An ancient but robust gentleman who must have been Soloman greeted her as she entered. He was dressed in a finely tailored white business suit, with a white shirt, white tie, white shoes and socks. His neatly trimmed full beard and carefully arranged flowing mane was gleamingly snow-colored as well. He looked like a cross between Colonel Sanders and Santa Claus, with the glad-handing charisma of a CEO for a major corporation.
        "Sara, my dear! I'm so very pleased to meet you at last. Please, do come in and sit down. You must be tired from all your travels. Can I get you anything?" He motioned and another Goblin appeared.
        "I don't want anything from you but some answers, buster. Do you know why I'm here?"
        With another wave of his hand, he dismissed the attendant, who closed the door behind him. "I believe I know why you think you are here. And I believe I can be of some assistance to you. I can imagine that you must have so many questions, since you have been on our world such a short time."
        "I've been here long enough to see some things that I don't like, and find out you're behind a lot of it."
        "Ah," he said, "you must have encountered some of our Progress initiatives. I must admit, some of the rapid changes have produced a certain amount of displacement. I would imagine every civilization faces some temporary unpleasantness during the course of moving to an industrial base, but I'm confident that things are improving everywhere."
        "Not in Muriah," Sara said, obviously struggling to restrain herself.
        The Wizard looked suitably somber. "Yes, I've been reading the wire dispatches. A tragic accident. I warned them about the dangers of their experimentation, but the Dwarves were always a stubborn lot. I, uh, understand that you might have been involved in some small way…?" His sentence dangled like an accusation.
        Sara looked stricken. "I… I didn't… I tried to stop it. I was there — for their Rings. Not for what happened."
        "I assume you were successful," he said, looking at the Three. "You have quite the collection already."
        He went on, "Nasty things, those Rings. Never had anything to do with them, myself — other than academically, of course. Their owners think they're so precious, they'll do anything to hold on to them. But you couldn't have known, I'm sure."
        "It was your so-called 'Progress' that brought this about," countered Sara. "They were making nuclear weapons for Soraun."
        "Is that what they told you?" He looked surprised. "Now, why would He want such bombs? Since the establishment of the Central Authority, there has been no more war. In fact, there's no conceivable need for war anymore. All I did was teach them some simple things, like electricity. What's so horrible about electricity?"
        "Don't try to confuse me," Sara said. "The Dwarves' Rings were under the influence of the One Ring. Their Kings were under Soraun's control."
        "That's not necessarily how it works, Sara. The use of the Rings is under control of the Central Authority. You may not believe this yet, but there's a great deal of autonomy for the various realms under our protection. The Dwarves had always been the master crafters and engineers of our world. Once set down the path of Science and Technology — and I must admit I had a hand in that — they were quite clever enough to develop such things on their own initiative.
        "Believe me, if I had been able to exercise such control over the Dwarves, they would have spent their time and resources on much more productive enterprises. No, this was their own doing, I'm afraid. We'll miss them, but what's done is done. In any event, their obsession with such power would have been their inevitable downfall soon enough. I'm sure you must have seen how they had poisoned themselves."
        Sara nodded dubiously, "The sickness. They knew they were dying, but they kept fighting anyway, even though they had to know they'd lose. They sacrificed so much. Why? They could have told me the Jabberwauk would set off the bomb, and I would have dealt with it first, before I got their stupid Rings. It was just so awful."
        "Don't be too hard on yourself, Sara. You were just doing what you probably thought was right. Which brings me to another point.
       "I must assume, since you now have the Three, that my old, dear friends Gundolf, Eldron and Gladariel are no longer with us."
        Sara nodded.
        He looked down for a moment, as if reluctant to broach a sensitive subject. "I know you have not been on our world very long. How is it you believe you know enough about us to involve yourself in our, uh, politics?"
        "Whoever sent me here gave me the identity and memories of… Well, I guess the original Sara Corel, from Earth. I read — I mean, she read — a story that's a lot like everything here — only, sorta mixed up a little. In the book, the good guys won and the One Ring was destroyed, along with Soraun."
        "Ah," he mused, "a Cosmic Inspiration Resonance. Fascinating. Albeit slightly flawed, it would seem." He added with a smile, "I take it I was not one of the 'good guys'."
        "You don't seem to be," Sara said evenly.
        "Your three friends and I go back a very long way. To a large extent, we were instrumental in developing this world. Obviously, we had our disagreements. Do you know that we have been mired in primitive feudalism for more than eight-thousand years? Yes, we've developed our world-magic to a high degree, but it remains inaccessible to most. A privileged few guard its secrets jealously, and dole out meager dollops to the masses.
        "Meanwhile, there is disease, ignorance, high infant mortality, war after war, famine, inequality, unceasing toil, shortened lives and universal suffering. There doesn't have to be. The Sara you were must come from a technological society whose history you surely know. Was Progress so bad there?"
        "Well, no," Sara said doubtfully, "I don't think so. But… I mean, Soraun — how can you make anything good come of teaming up with Him? He's a… A creep! You know, like evil and everything."
        He chuckled. "That's certainly what I would expect to hear from Gundolf. And, really, it's quite true. I'll concede that. But so what? He mostly stays in Maurdur these days and leaves the rest of us alone. Goblins and Men work together building roads, housing, industry, commerce. I'll grant you there's much to be done, and maybe our methods are sometimes troubling, but overall, things are slowly but surely getting better. Not worse.
        "I submit to you that the triumph of 'evil' has made the concept irrelevant. It's all quite relative, you know.
        "After all, Gundolf and his companions were not hunted down and killed after the War. They undoubtedly bore a heavy burden for their defeat. I can imagine how that must have preyed on their minds. Through the years, bitterness over the loss of their noble cause unmade their minds. Very understandable.
        "When, by some cosmic chance, you came along, perhaps he saw an instrument of his redemption. He was always the master strategist, and schemes came readily to his mind. With little to go on but a book from another life and sympathy for a dying man, there was no way for you to judge his plan's merits. There was no one to cast doubt upon his designs."
        Thoughtfully, Sara said, "Actually, Gwenafir wasn't exactly enthusiastic."
        "Gwenafir!" exclaimed Soloman. "You spoke with her? Oh, this is most remarkable! You've actually been to Avalon? And spoken with the High Elves?"
        "They weren't too friendly," she said cautiously.
        "I can imagine not, if you penetrated their security. They were always a haughty bunch, magical immortals who would not share their gifts. Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you how you found them."
        He looked thoughtful for a moment, making Sara feel as if she had violated some confidence.
        But then he said, "So, now that you have seen how Gundolf's designs have turned out thus far, maybe you should consider that there may be another side to this story."
        Reluctantly, Sara admitted to herself that the Wizard made a lot of sense. In the book, it was assumed that if Soraun won, everything would be horrible — in some unspecified way. Well, He'd won. And maybe things weren't like they were on Earth, but it certainly did seem that Soloman was trying his best to improve what he could. Who would want to live in the Dark Ages forever? And poor, mad Gundolf had orchestrated nothing but death, death, death — followed by annihilation.
        Soloman interrupted her thoughts. "I've scheduled a meeting with my Board of Directors to present some proposals to you which I hope you'll consider. They should be arriving soon."
        He strolled to a window and opened the shutters to peer down at the street far below, where nine black limousines were parading past the entrance to discharge their passengers one by one. A Goblin working party cleaning up glass and wood debris saluted each black shape as it passed into the lobby.
       Presumably, the receptionist would not be giving them a hard time.

        Soloman sat at the head of the conference table, with five Directors along one side, and four on the other with Sara, sitting to the Wizard's right. They wore expensive suits that fit them well — black on black, of course. Sara had expected crowns borne by unseen heads, with red flames for eyes, but Soloman explained to her that such antics were behind them, unnecessary since the end of the War. She could sense their Rings burning on their fingers.
        For they were the Nazghoul, Ringwielders, Black Horsemen, Generals of the Armies of Maurdur, Harbingers of Doom, Undead Minions of Soraun, Slaves of the One Ring. Now calmly discussing mergers and acquisitions, research and development, capitalization and infrastructure, profitability and cost/benefit analyses.
        They had once been Kings of Men. They had become Captains of Industry, wielding greater power than ever before. They looked no more — or less — evil than any other high-level executives.
        Soloman called the meeting to order. "Gentlemen, please allow me to introduce Sara Corel, a recent newcomer to our planet. She is a Gift to Midgarde from the unknown warders of the Cosmos. My extraplanetary studies — which, as you know, have brought us so much useful information in the cause of Progress — have revealed to me that such beings as she are bestowed upon many planets whose peoples have reached the threshold of potentially joining the vast fellowship of ancient and honorable civilizations throughout time and space.
        "They are made to resemble the beings they serve, and endowed with all their languages. Their guise is made to be familiar and reassuring, most often taken from a legendary figure of great portent.
        "In her short time with us, she has been suborned by Gundolf, visited hidden Avalon, wrested the Three from the dying hands of Gundolf, Eldron and Gladariel, conquered the Dwarves and then tried to save them from a holocaust ignited by a Jabberwauk, and come to us in wrath that passed into understanding.
        "How shall we now treat with this awesome Gift, this puissant instrumentality, this beautiful Sara?" His speech concluded, Soloman sat down to polite applause.
        For some time, the Directors shuffled through their supporting documents and consulted in whispers among themselves. Soloman smiled at Sara and reassuringly reached out to comfortingly squeeze her hand.
         "You have come to us," began one of the Board members, "as a strange visitor from another planet, one that is far advanced compared to our own present backwardness. With the memories you must bring of an age we can only hope for, you can tell us how your cities are organized, how we can modernize our distribution networks, and teach us how to improve our transportation and communication, finance and capitalization, energy and fabrication. What miracles we can accomplish together. Join with us, Sara. Help us to grow."
        Another addressed her, "You have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal Men, Goblins and even Wizards. With your keen senses, you can scour the world for those resources vital to our increasing industry. With such information, there will be no limit to our eventual prosperity. All Midgarde will bless you."
        "With the power," said a third, "to change the course of mighty rivers, the wastelands and deserts will bloom and bring about and end to famine and want. Navigation will be extended to places that are now unexplored wilderlands. Our civilization will spread and great benefit will come of your kindness. For this, we will be forever thankful."
        The fourth Director told her, "If you can, indeed, bend steel in your bare hands, then consider the great works we can together accomplish. We can erect lofty bridges across the natural barriers of our lands, promoting commerce and travel where it is not now possible. We can construct roads where none now dare to go, through precarious mountains and across trackless swamps. The benefits to our grateful nations will be astounding."
        "As a swift messenger who is," said the fifth in his turn, "faster than a speeding cannonball, you can link our entire planet with vital intelligence, alerting others to far-off calamities so that aid may be summoned. You will earn the gratitude of scores who will owe their lives to you."
        "As it is possible for you to leap tall buildings with a single bound," said Director number six, "so can you soar high above our world and beyond, bringing us the discoveries of new worlds, increasing our knowledge and understanding of the universe. Our scientists would salute you."
        "It is reported," said the next, looking up from a memo, "that you are more powerful than a loco-motive engine. With such overwhelming force, you can level whole mountains, fill in the low places of the land, create new islands in the midst of the seas, and dam unruly torrents to provide irrigation and electrical generation. To employ such energy in our service would win our utmost admiration."
        The penultimate Director told her, "Even more than all these mere menial tasks and accomplishments, the grace of your mild-mannered demeanor will fill us with hope and confidence."
        At last, the leader of them all directed the smooth competence of his personality toward Sara and told her, "All these things can be accomplished with you as our guide and inspiring spirit. Together with all the support and strength of every creature in Midgarde, a great and wonderful chapter of our history opens before us. We will rise from the ashes of war and the chains of barbarity into a future of brightness and success to someday take our place in the beckoning heavens."
        Soloman then concluded, "What do you say to our pleas, Sara? Will you favor us with your boundless talents? Will you lead us to that better place? Will you fulfill your destiny and ours?"
        In a murmuring susurration of entreaties, she heard, "Join us." "Come with us." "Be our light and compass." "Bless our land with your sweetness and mercy." "Help us in our need." "Know our love and respect." "Let us rejoice together." "Uplift our aspirations." "Multiply our wisdom."
        Sara's mind's eye beheld visions of wonders, as the relentless suggestions poured into her brain.
        Yes! It could be done. The world would be remade, there would be new ideas and grand plans for improvement after improvement. Growth, development and progress — no, Progress — would sweep all the old ways and unproductive throwbacks aside. And she could do it. They could do it. Between her boundless capabilities and their resources and peoples, nothing would be impossible.
        It was heady stuff.

        There was something else.
        Something that nagged at her, that wasn't right.
        A thought that wouldn't go away among the tumult of their flatteries and her own leaping imagination.
        The Little People.
        Lines of Little People, trudging down the lanes of their tiny village to their workhouse on the reeking road.
        Fear in the eyes of their leaders while mouthing how grateful they were.
        Hopelessness at the endlessness of their drab lives, or of the end that awaited them if they wavered in devotion.
        What was the meaning of Progress when it trapped the helpless? What was the point of expanding an economy of misery? Who benefited from all this unceasing labor?
        She understood now that this was the attack that she had not been expecting, and what Gundolf had meant about her 'confident invulnerability' extending to lies — and to hope.
        Sara held up her hand, stopping the mounting prayers. The Board Members sat back in their overstuffed chairs, with the self-satisfied smiles of sharks surrounding their prey.
        "Thanks for your really great presentation, guys," she said. "It was pretty interesting, that's for sure. I'm really very honored."
        The Nazghoul glanced smugly at each other around the table.
        "But I have a few questions," she went on, "that I don't really expect you to answer. Just some ideas I want to go over before I tell you what I want to do. That OK with you?"
        They serenely nodded their agreement
        "I think I get the big picture. With my help on some things, this whole place can be brought up to at least my old planet Earth's twentieth century in pretty short order. I mean, I got the horsepower and stuff, and you've all your people, plus a whole lot of magic mojo. So far so good."
        "You're exactly right, of course," purred Soloman. There was a murmur of agreement around the table.
        "What I don't really get is what the point is. I mean, who's gonna benefit from all this? Sure, a lot of roads and trains and buildings and all that are nice and everything. I suppose there'll be a big old baby boom all over the place to get more people for all the new cities and all that. But everything on this world flows in one direction. It all comes from the top, and that's the problem."
        "Now, Sara," said Soloman patiently, "of course there's some, ah, direction at this stage. That's necessary to get things started. All our people need guidance to help them on the path toward Progress. This will change as we reach more of our goals. The State will wither away, you'll see."
        "I don't really think so," she answered. "You know why? 'Cause where I come from, people make choices all the time about what to buy, where to live, how to act, who to believe. Maybe not all the time and not everywhere. But even in the worst imaginable dictatorships, it still comes down to what people will put up with.
        "There have been some awful evil times on my old planet. Some of the bad guys there did things that would probably make even your hair curl — and I don't even want to give you any ideas. All of the evil they did was based on the fact that they had too much power over people. But they eventually either got defeated, overthrown or just died after a while. That's not gonna happen here. Whatever else, your old pal Soraun and His buddies are likely to be permanent fixtures.
        "I know this is gonna sound kinda corny, but there isn't ever going to be any kind of basic freedom as long as your 'Central Authority' is around. Just the possibility that there might be would change everything, but that won't happen. Everybody will always have to do what they are told, and all the benefits flow only one way, too. To the top.
        "Freedom, even the tiniest bit, even its memory or the hope of it, is the only thing that keeps evil at bay, that eventually wears it down. Where there is the most freedom, there is the brightest achievement. As inefficient as all the unguided choices of a whole world might be, no central authority has ever been its equal. People who trade their freedom for security wind up with neither, and lose their souls in the bargain.
        "There's a saying that goes, 'Absolute power corrupts absolutely,' but in your case, this is absolute power that never goes away. The corruption is never-ending. There will never be any choices in a world of permanent fear, no matter how it might eventually glitter. And that looks like a pretty good definition of 'evil' to me.
        "Y'know, everything I've heard since I entered this room is based on lies, starting with the old Wizard, here, saying how pleased he was to meet me. Then he lied about the Dwarves, he lied about Gundolf, he lied about Soraun, and he lied about himself. He's good at it, too. Had me going, there.
        "Then each and every one of you lied to me by telling me what you figured I wanted to hear. It was phony baloney in a silk suit. I'm not buying it.
        "Do you want to know why? Because I ran into some of your folks whose clothes don't match, and never will. Who were uprooted and exploited by threatening to remove their 'protection' if they didn't go along. By gentle little people who are 'mighty grateful' for their lives but have lost their hope and their freedom.
        "If for nothing else, I don't like you for that. And I don't like you for what happened to the Dwarves. And for what happened to Gundolf and Eldron and the Lady Gladariel. And for the bleak and hopeless horror that you have made of Midgarde.
        "So here is my answer, 'gentlemen'. Go to Hell. And on your way out, I'll have your damned Rings."
        They were defeated. All of their wiles and subterfuges had been exposed as pitiful scrabblings, without substance or meaning. The awful, blazing glory of her truth was their certain downfall. It towered over them like a radiant angel that they could not bear. Her command to them was their doom and their inescapable destiny.
        The façades they had been clothed with melted and ran like cheap wax, revealing their hideous formlessness. In futile rage against the loosening of their substances, they poured forth the bitter hatred and fear of their whole energies upon her, closing in as the table flared with intolerable brightness and was consumed, its ashes blown away by a sudden gale of sweeping forces.
        The great building shuddered to its foundations, cracking and breaking away in huge chunks from its swaying, shrieking steel skeleton. Soloman hurried from the unendurable scene in the crumbling Board Room to scurry into the waiting express elevator. No Goblins were to be seen.
        As he started his downward plunge, the quaking tower shattered the supports for the giant, heavy, solid ball of crystal atop the roof. With ever-increasing momentum, it fell straight down, bursting every structure in its way like rotten cardboard until it caught up with the dropping elevator car, shattering its roof and carrying the remnants to the basement with Soloman, flat on his back, looking up at his death.
        "Rosebud," he muttered in his last seconds. None of his lies could save him.
        In the space above the disintegrating skyscraper where the Board Room had been, Sara endured the unimaginable onslaught of the failing Nazghoul as, one by one, their black and furious flames went out, leaving their Rings and a terrible sound of despair as they went to that place of eternal torment long prepared for them.
        All across the city and far beyond into every corner of the land that had been dominated by their now vanished presence, a great cry went up as some terrible pressure was lifted from every living being. As their Masters' works crumbled and their plans were unmade, their now directionless creatures howled in unrestrained madness at their unexpected release.
        Sara surveyed the damage, but was able to do little to check the myriad raging fires, calm the lawless mobs or stem the general panic. This day would end in a fall of dreadful night as long-repressed hatreds, longings, compulsions, fears, passions, excesses, hopes, jealousies, sicknesses and  hungers were given vent. Perhaps a new beginning could be formed by the survivors, perhaps not. Sara was not sanguine about the prospects, for all of Midgarde had been held too long in thrall.
        Around midnight, she finally abandoned the city to its fate and raced north to where she had left the Little People. In the deserted village she'd visited just this morning, she found only a few Goblins, now reverted to the savagery of their natural inclinations. They had looted and destroyed the tiny cottages and ransacked the workhouse and company store.  Now, under a tree by the side of the yellowed brick road, they were crunching the bones of their supper.
        Little Peoples' bones. Some of their leftovers were still clothed in brightly colored poly. Nob's dead eyes stared accusingly at her from his head atop a pile of scraps.
        Crying aloud in rage and horror, she vaporised the filthy band on the spot, sending a thick, greasy cloud into the night sky. Rising quickly with the awful, sinking realization that she was too late, she scanned the surrounding countryside for any that might have escaped. She spotted small groups hurrying west with as many belongings as they could carry, but whenever she approached, they cowered in abject fear, mewling pitiously, only to scramble on their way again as soon as she left them. They would have to fend for themselves, she thought, and would probably do as well as anybody else. She doubted eyes less keen than hers would ever spot them, for they had learned the stealthy ways of the hunted. She silently wished them luck. It was all she could do.
        All the Rings save one were hers, now. Only the middle finger of her left hand was still bare. She intended to show it to Soraun before night fell again.

Chapter Nineteen: The Land of Shadows

Table of Contents

© Patrick Hill, 2000