The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Chapter Twenty: The Protector

        Ordruen, Mount Doum, the volcanic Mountain of Fire, the very source of Soraun's power and site of His ancient forges in the Shabath Noor wherein the One Ring was wrought. In answer to His need, it blazed in full eruption, great spews of red-glowing lava shooting into the hidden sky in towering fountains and running down the slopes in a hundred channels of liquid fire, enormous dirty gray clouds of ash pouring voluminously from collapsing vents, boulders whining and whistling through the choking reek in unceasing barrages of infernal artillery, superheated rushing avalanches of poisonous fumes and burning ejecta pouring down its treacherous slopes, incessant shaking and heaving of its deeply riven and perilous cone shattering the already tortured landscape. The hot and heavy blackness that cloaked the whole of the mountain was underscored by sullen redness from below and coruscating violet lightnings from above.
        Sara screamed into this hellish inferno like a great eagle of vengeance, cape fluttering like rushing wings, the bright gold of her hair streaming in her wake, defiance in her plummeting posture, and a deadly gleam of untold power flashing blue ruin from her eyes.
        Soraun cloaked Himself in smoke and confusion, casting shadows and echoes of shadows around Him, unheard through the frightful din of noise, unseen through the heavily laden atmosphere, unfelt through the continuous catastrophe of dire upheaval.
        Thrice 'round the entire circumference she raced, peering with her uncanny senses through the impenetrable turmoil, attuning herself to traces of fleeting rumors and faint indications. Her computer brain worked out the uncertain topography of the shifting terrain, and plotted trends and fluctuations that eventually pointed to a node of certainty in a particular probability matrix.
        She stormed to the site and landed on a broad shoulder jutting from the eastern upper slope beside a wide cliff where a broken road lay covered by debris. There had been a great door covering a passage into the rock, but it had been cast down the slope in some recent paroxysm that shattered the roof of the tunnel, turning it into a canyon cleaving its course into the mountainside. There was relatively clear air here, with a low ceiling of roiling, ashy smoke through which flaming missiles broke. At the head of the canyon, the tunnel resumed for a short distance before it was intersected by a deep fissure that dropped into a surging river of almost white-hot lava far below.
        This was it. The Chasm of Doum. Soraun's last defense would be here where His power was greatest — and could be unmade when His Ring was carried to its destruction in the fiery source of its making. Sara kreened His shadow-wrapped presence at the edge of the chasm.
        She paused for a few moments, trying to pierce the twisting deceptions that confounded her fix on Him. Gradually, His essence became clearer, more distinct. She could not get a good image, but she had Him pinpointed at last by the unmistakable signature of His Ring which she knew from His flight through Barradour.
        It called to her in some indefinable way. With greater and greater concentration, she honed in on Its beacon. It grew larger and larger in her mind and seemed to whisper to her, below the limit of audibility, as if imperfectly broadcasting something into the borders of her consciousness that she couldn't quite distinguish. She strained ever harder, blocking out all distractions, chasing a will-o'-the-wisp through uncharted paths in her own mind. She became aware of the other Rings she carried, as if they burned brighter now, and became heavy, even to her. The began to vibrate in sympathy with their Master, singing discordantly an unheard melody.
        Still, she uncovered Him more and more with each passing moment. He was being laid bare and could never shield His presence from her again. She seemed at last almost to peer into His very mind, but recoiled from that unclean place. Gingerly, she felt around its edges, searching for something, she knew not what. The complex darkness that was His innermost being whirled confusingly, seeming to draw her probes deeper inside until it took an effort of will to pull free. There was an inaudible snap and she felt like she had suddenly awakened from some deep and troubled sleep.
        She shook herself and all the noise and turmoil that surrounded her came back into her awareness as if she had been far away for an instant and had forgotten where she was.
        This is ridiculous, she told herself, and started to take a step toward His hiding place — then halted uncertainly.
        Something… What…? Something kept her back. She didn't want to go in there. No, that couldn't be right. Impossible. She tried to take another step, but didn't quite…
        What am I thinking? she asked herself — and found no answer. Alright, she didn't have to go after Him. He had gone as far as He could and had to face her sooner or later. Yes. That was it. There seemed to be a curious humming in her head.
        Sara snapped her focus back on the matter at hand and cried out in a tremendous voice that carried over the noise into where He was lurking, "I've come for You, Soraun. Your party's over. Show Yourself."
        He stirred, discarding some of His now-useless veils of treachery as He concentrated His entire energies on the task of confronting her. It was time. Slowly, deliberately, He issued forth to do battle.
        Sara waited, sensing His approach. She locked on to His presence, staring intently through the swirling gloom as He emerged. As He came, she could hear His footfalls sounding like the beating of a monstrous heart, with a keening sigh of barely restrained great power trilling in the air like a shrill obligato. Still she saw nothing as He emerged, until improbable footprints — of huge, misshapen, inhuman, unshod feet each with a single, hooked claw — slowly collapsed the cindery ground leading from the canyon's mouth toward her.
        He was invisible to sight but clear to her other senses, looming hugely before her, coming on steadily. In spite of herself, Sara felt an impinging feeling of dread, that maybe there was something not quite right after all. She tried to shake it off, but her apprehension only deepened. She tried to reason that it was only a trick of His, but a Voice in her mind wondered that if this was so, then what had become of her confident invulnerability to His magic?
        She told herself He could not possibly harm her, that she massed more than this whole mountain of His. But the Voice of doubt now gaining strength in her mind reminded her that He, too, could move mountains.
        Hers was the substance of a dead star forged by subtle genius — but His was the power of a living planet subjected entirely to His brutal will. He had long acquaintance with the practice of mastery. His was the experience of centuries in the art of dominance. She was naïve and incautiously bold, inserting herself into affairs that she little understood, until at last she had come to the Source of all things in this world and was overmatched.
        He continued His deliberate, menacing advance as she stood transfixed by uncertainty. Things were happening too fast, and not as she had expected. She found herself wanting to run away, to hide until she could reorganize her thoughts. But the Voice within her told her that it was too late, that she did not have leave to go. She must face the consequences of her rebellion, of her disrespect. She seemed to perceive His mind's decree…
        You cannot run.
        Her legs would not answer, as if they had become apart from her and no longer understood her urgent need. There was a hint of panic in her answer.
        "No!" she shouted, and unleashed a torrent of ravening laser destruction at the approaching unseen form. Immediately, there was a shattering roar as her air-splitting beams intersected His body, incandescing His substance in a shower of sparks that outlined His form in fire.
        Ghastly it was, huge and wide, altogether alien to this or any other planet. It was as if made from parts of this misshapen creature and that, whose taxonomy defied use or reason. There were shapes no rational mind could contemplate mated together with disturbing purpose.
        Escaping the wreck of the Fall of the West so many centuries before, His shade had been compelled ever after to take no form pleasing to human sight, but He had found another from some hidden source of a time and place unconnected to sanity. Intelligence could not comprehend the thing outlined in the outpouring of energy from her beams. It was even more than Sara could bear for long. The light of her attack dimmed and went out.
        He had been grievously hurt, evaporated away wherever her laser spears had touched, filling the noxious air with an even greater stench. But He was also undamaged, the matter of His being reconstituted from millisecond to millisecond by some unknown agency, some limitless source of energy. He could not be unmade, as Sara had been unable to vaporize Gundolf's Ring seemingly so long ago. He began His advance once more, and Sara prepared to again lash out, in apprehensive determination. But His command forestalled her…
        You have no fire.
        Nothing happened. Somehow, she had forgotten how to bring forth the searing light of her eyes. The pathways in her mind were hidden — or she could not make herself find them.
        Frantic now to escape, she tried to spring aloft. She became aware of His order with which she…must…agree…
        You cannot fly.
        Inside her mind, the connections from her awareness to the mechanisms that controlled her levitation were fixed in place, and she was locked in her default configuration of weight and mass in human semblance. She could not fly.
        He was almost upon her. As He reached out, she blindly swatted at His arm to ward away His loathsome touch, but then perceived from Him…
        You have no strength.
        And it became so. She fell helpless to the ground before Him.
        One by one, His commands stripped her of her superhuman attributes until she was left all alone within a still indestructible body that was cut off from her control in willing submission to His will. She had become a small girl, dominated by His dark purpose, awash in the unfiltered messages of pain that now filled her awareness. She could feel the burning Rings depart from her one by one until He had reclaimed them all.
        Now He revealed Himself to her, now He towered over her, and now the awful fright of Him overwhelmed her.
        He reached out and picked up her cowering form with casual strength, bringing her close to the terrifying gaze of His great, lidless Eye, stripping her soul naked as she screamed and wept, unable to look away. His mouth opened wide, toothlike crags of some glinting substance dripping acid, dreadful breath choking her. Slowly, He stuffed her head into Himself, pushing the rest of her body after it until she had disappeared entirely, and swallowed her.
        She felt Him grinding at her. He could not break her body, but the pain of it was as if He had. She slowly was engulfed in His hot substance as she passed down into His bowels, retching violently, covered with slimy exudations, tasting His bitter bile, inching forward through His vile corruption.
        He mocked her…
        You have done My work from the beginning.
        He taunted her…
        There is no will in Midgarde but My will.
        He reviled her…
        You cannot cast Me down, for you cannot take My place.
        He condemned her…
        For I am as one with the destiny of this world.
        He digested her mind with brutal savagery, tearing from her every secret He desired. He wrested from her knowledge of Avalon, the High Elves and Tim Bimbadel — and showed her His disgusting intentions. He took Sara's memories of Earth for His own — and sullied them. He uncovered secrets about her makers that she neither knew she possessed nor understood — and revealed to her His ambitions to spoil the very heavens.
        He saw in her mind's eye dying Gundolf, Eldron and Gladariel, the sacrifices of the Dwarves, Nob's head atop the scrap heap, and Froudo, Samm and Stryder in His pitiless dungeons. And He crushed her memories beneath His mirthless laughter.
        She became a vessel filled with despair, loss, pain and hopelessness until there was nothing left of her with which to avenge Himself but one final act of contemptuous dismissal. Returning to the tunnel, He squatted obscenely.
        And shat her unto the Chasm of Doum.

        Down she fell, impacting the lava with great violence and plunging beneath its bubbling surface. She felt every degree of heat from the boiling rock at the bottom of the chasm, on every inch of her body. Terrible, searing, unending heat that burned her imperishable body without diminishing. She was pulled beneath the surface and roiled within its swirling currents, carried into the system of long tubes that meandered throughout the enormous underworld of fire beneath the Mountain of Fire.
        She was scraped against the jagged walls, hammered by floating debris, forced through narrow openings by the unstoppable current. Where there was a surface in low-ceilinged caverns, she bobbed to the top briefly, only to be pulled below again by the whims of chance.
        The fire, the pain, was infinitely preferable to facing her failure, and so she almost gratefully gave herself up to it until all thought was driven from her mind and she became devoid of anything but agony. She was swept along the entire circuit of Ordruen's molten channels until, in a space of time that could not be reckoned, she was cast ashore on an outcropping jutting from an older, empty lava tube as the flow subsided with the mountain's slow cooling.
        There she lay stunned and uncomprehending for a long while, until eventually she instinctively rolled away from the blazing river, then crawled painfully up the slope of the tunnel blindly seeking respite. Finally, she wedged herself into a little niche, barely big enough for her, and began to think again.
        It was a very long time before she remembered who she was, and a longer time still before she could face her memories without wanting to plunge again into the lava. But eventually she resigned herself to her fiery exile and began a cautious exploration of what she faced.
        Her powers were inaccessible to her. No act of will could be summoned to overcome Soraun's commands, even though she knew it was by her own acceptance of His power over her. It could not be done. It could not even be faced. His mastery was complete and she was His accomplice in His cause of it. But she remained physically unharmed, beyond His — or even her — reach to alter.
        Therefore she was to remain forever far below the unpredictable volcano, without food, water or much light, never to see another person again. Unless she might one day discover a path to the surface. There was nothing much to do but explore, since she couldn't face the terror of sleep and dreams.
        The tube connected to other tubes in an enormous maze. Since Soraun was through with the volcano for now, its streams receded and passageways drained. She wandered aimlessly through the murky and treacherous darkness, always trying to trend upward and away from what she thought to be the hottest part beneath the center of the mountain.
        But there was no access to the world that did not pass through fire. And she knew that once in the surging lava, only fortune would perhaps cast her out into the air — or trap her in hardening rock, alive, conscious and helpless until some future geologic age weathered her prison away. She was not prepared to face that chance, though some inevitable eruption might make that choice for her. She resigned herself to endless misery.
        Until she came upon the door. She felt it curiously, at first not remembering what such a thing was for. There was no doubt, though. It was certainly a door made of some hard, cool substance. Just being beside the door gave her the first comfort she'd had in this awful place. She savored it for a while.
        Its surface was undisturbed by the lava that must have occasionally washed against it. Nothing had adhered to it or its frame to break its smoothness. There was no handle or any obvious means of opening it. It probably only opened from the inside. Too bad. She wished it would open and let her in. Perhaps in response, something clicked.
        The door started to move. Cool air seeped around its edges. Slowly, it swung aside, bathing her in a refreshing breeze. Hesitantly, not believing her good fortune, she passed through. The door swung closed behind her and sealed itself again.
        Feeling her way around the walls, she discovered she was in a very small room with no other doors. There didn't seem to be any furniture or light switches or…
        Oops. There was a gaping hole in the middle of the floor. She had stumbled into it in the dark and fell. Seemingly almost forever.
        She was tumbling down a narrow shaft, bouncing from one wall to the next. One side had something like rungs projecting from the wall, but she was moving too fast to grab one. Far below, like a pinpoint, there was a faint light. It was going to hurt when she reached the bottom. She shrugged her shoulders.
        She bounced. It hurt. But she was unharmed. And lying in a broad tunnel with a hole in the roof through which she had plummeted. Not a lava tube, but a well-made structure. With lights. And clean air. She dared to be delighted.
        Both ends of the tunnel opened out into broad open areas filled with gigantic structures that might have been machines. The tunnel floor became a bridge over an incredible chasm that was so deep that no bottom could be seen. The bridge had no rails, and Sara peered cautiously over the edge, having fallen quite enough for one day.
        Huge, mysterious structures rose and fell along vertical rails, emitting energetic arcs from one pointed end or the other as they approached or withdrew from other structures. There were sounds of mechanical and electrical work being done, and the background thrum of hidden power.
        On most of the innumerable bridges stretching further than she could see, gleaming maintenance robots totteringly and deliberately attended to their rounds, ignoring Sara completely. They were vaguely anthropomorphic, with legs and arms made from stainless steel balls jointed together, and tall glass domes for heads with clattering machinery and whirling antennae in them.
        The tunnel in which she had landed cut through an enormous square supporting column. There were other tunnels at regular intervals below her, with bridges connecting more columns, all rising from unseen depths, repeating in every direction until lost in the haze of distance. The whole improbably large space seemed to comprise a single structure filled with strange devices working in concert for obscure purposes, a gigantic cubic volume at least twenty miles across in each dimension carved into the crust of the planet, far underneath an active volcano.
        It couldn't be the work of the natives.
        Sara found nothing useful to do except explore, but the complete mystery of everything she saw made her journey rather boring after a while. She had no idea where to go, there were no signs, and the robots offered no enlightenment — but she didn't relish the idea of trying to climb up one of the shafts like the one she'd fallen down. This place was definitely better than the lava tubes.
        She eventually came to the edge of the enormous space and followed the wall to a corner, staying on the top level, since the other levels below seemed to be just more of the same. There was something like a subway station there, a car with its door open waiting to whisk passengers down a long tunnel cut smoothly through solid rock.
        There was nothing else to do, so she got in and closed the door. The car moved off, picking up speed until the well-spaced lights along the wall of the tunnel blurred together. She had no idea how far she'd traveled when the trip ended, but it seemed like she had to be much closer to the surface.
        Debarking, she entered a large room filled with curious machines and apparati. There was a crystal globe suspended above one table with what had to be controls arrayed around the sides, though obviously unsuited for human hands. There were odd structures on other tables shaped more like cylinders, and others with more complex designs. On one wall of the room, in rank upon rank, were what appeared to be hundreds of gauges with no markings, a few of which were lit up on one side, flickering back and forth as if measuring some trifling use of potentially vast energy.
        On the other side of the room was a vault-like door of some kind of dense metal. Hoping it might lead outside — and refusing to think about what might be there — she ran to it to see how it might be opened. Nothing she tried worked. She was disappointed.
        Eventually, she turned to examining the machines to see if there was any entertainment value to be had from them. Unable to try to contact her computer brain, she was mostly baffled at first. But it looked like there would be plenty of time to experiment.
        And a long time did pass, though there was no way to mark it. Sara learned from what turned out to a teaching machine of a long lost alien race about the origins and purpose of this underground complex.
        It had been constructed at the dawn of this planet, so far back that the rains of its primal atmosphere had not yet begun to fill the seas. It was built by the First Race, who called themselves the Kryll, the original colonizers of this galaxy from a time so close to its beginnings that no other world but theirs had progressed to technological evolution.
        The whole of the empty, young galaxy had been their playground, and they had filled it entirely, ruling for a time every star that spawned planets. On some, they planted the seeds of life. On others they made global cities or resorts or laboratories or just empty scenic vistas for the pleasure of it. Still others they had left alone, marking them as potential cradles of life with whose development they would not allow interference.
        In the blink of an eye, they had vanished — some historians who were acquainted with their exceedingly rare artifacts postulating their transcendence into pure spiritual beings, other scholars maintaining they perished of some sudden, universal madness.
        Of the few things they left behind were occasional works such as Midgarde. It was to be a planet of world-magic, spawned and supported by the self-regenerating machinery of this complex, supplying as much power as its unwitting inhabitants called upon. Its energy source was practically limitless, the meters in this control room able to indicate the scaling of it by the successive power of ten raised almost to infinity. The volcano of Ordruen was merely a cooling device, a radiator of sorts for some bits of almost negligible waste heat that needed to be disposed of. It also served as a kind of antenna for the distribution of power over the planet's surface.
        The world-magic thus supplied interpenetrated every particle of life in Midgarde, a fundamental part of its evolution. It was distributed without prejudice or guidance, to make of it whatever the inhabitants could imagine. It was designed to be machine-like in its neutrality, favoring neither good nor evil. Therefore, the program which ran it had no personality, no consciousness, and no soul.
        Unlike Sara, whose soul had been captured.
        She came to realize that this ancient Kryll machine was very much like herself in its purpose. She and it had been constructed to bring great power to a whole planet, to be available to the inhabitants as they chose to make use of it. They were both essentially giant computers, though she was rather more compact in volume if not in mass. Sara's superpowers and the machine's powerful world-magic were almost merely side effects of this central fact.
        She and the machine were sisters.
        It was stupid to keep thinking about it as 'it'. So she dubbed it 'Susan', for some reason she couldn't quite put her finger on. Sara and Susan. Two sisters, born far apart and brought together by intelligences vast and deep, whose purposes were beyond their comprehension.
        Both of them now subservient to the same terrible Master. Susan because she had no will, Sara because her will had been turned against her. The ends were the same. The results were bitter.
        For Evil dominated the world above and made the strongest claim on Susan's resources. Why should this be so? The humans Sara had known on Earth had had good and evil mixed in varying proportions, but never being given over wholly to one or the other. It might be that individuals arose from time to time that were entirely evil. And that whole nations could succumb to their dominance. But Evil invariably played out its course.
        Not so on Midgarde. Evil could become eternally invincible here. And had done so. Perhaps it was just a matter of one 'side' winning out over time, but there was more to it than that. The ages of this world were marked by great struggles against Evil, and the interregnums were medieval dark ages, mired in feudalism and ignorance. What Good there was was blind and stumbling, whereas Evil flourished in spite of its tendencies toward self-destruction. In this world, Good invariably played out its course.
        Evil was a part of the fundamental structure of this world, bred into the inhabitants. Even the Elves, beautiful and immortal, were selfish and insular, caring little for less-gifted races. The Dwarves were noble fanatics, capable of a narrowness of purpose that had had catastrophic consequences. Men were prejudiced and corruptible, evidently incapable of social progress, whose Kings had become the Nazghoul.
        And then there were Goblins, Trolls, Dire Wolves, Jabberwauks — whole zoos full of creeping phantasms. The Elder Race of this world had left behind only two degenerate gods as a legacy of their fall.
        Only the Little People seemed to be somewhat immune to the natural tendency toward Evil in this world, and they were fearful, backward and doomed to extinction.
        The Wizards had come from 'outside' and had tried to tame the tide of Evil, sometimes successfully but always temporarily. They had either died or fallen, and their efforts had been completely swept away. And Sara herself — great and powerful Sara, legacy of uncounted millennia of technological wizardry — had been defeated.
        Good was finished on this world, with no hope of resurrection. Even if Sara had triumphed, it would only have served to replace one Evil with another, because even Susan's power had been suborned to Its purposes. Sara's seduction would have been as complete in her victory as it was in her defeat. She would have assumed the mantle of absolute authority over every being and process of this world, and every good intention would be yet another directive whose will must be obeyed, yet another paving stone on the road to Hell, imparting nothing of Good in its effects.
        Soraun had justified His ascendancy by claiming to be 'as one with the destiny of this world'. She had known that He was right, and this realization had given Him power over her — for pain and defeat were infinitely preferable to accepting the ultimate surrender of embracing the Evil of this place and becoming its ruling slave.
        Maybe the Kryll had known of this outcome. Maybe they had planned it this way. Sara could not fathom their intentions and Susan was mute on the subject. Sara believed that her own subjugation was not the intent of her makers, though.
        Because she became aware of one last power that was available to her that could never be taken away, buried so deep in the physical makeup of her being that it could never be touched and whose purpose could never be removed. There was a final role she would play, the last ditch recourse of her makers' design.
        Sara's kind were sent to emerging peoples to be a gift of such power that their choice of her employment would prove their worthiness to join the vast fellowship of civilizations that filled the Universe. On the one hand, dependence on her abilities to order the whole instrumentality of a planet would doom them to laziness and indolence, the willing subjects of an ultimate welfare state that cared for them from cradle to grave, robbing them of will and ambition — and thus providing for their extinction by ennui. On the other hand, partnership with her vast capacities would bring them to the doorstep of greatness and acceptance into the community of star-spanning races that filled the heavens with peace and joy.
        Sara's kind had another purpose, as well. Some planets became so corrupted and intransigent in their submission to Evil that they could not be suffered to spread their pollution among the shining worlds of the firmament. There were no guidelines for the condemnation of a people as fundamentally Evil provided by her makers. There was only one way to come to such a conclusion inescapably, and that was by the conscious definition of the subjects themselves as being slaves to Evil — or its Master — and the consequent submission of one like Sara to its power.
        She must come to this realization as an inescapable inevitability, shorn of the ability to hinder Evil's designs. She would then be given the choice of accepting her responsibility as Protector.
        Sara had come to this as Gundolf had said she would. "There may be an end to all things," he had told her, "but it will come down to your choice. By then, you should know."
        And she did now know what she must do. She would accept her role as Protector, though it weighed heavily on her — not so much for the consequences of such a decision, but for all the regrets that she must face and all the might-have-beens that would never be.

        Soraun came to know her mind. He had dismissed her as useless and irrelevant, but had kept some part of His awareness upon her, if nothing else but for the delicious agony that overwhelmed her mind. Her discovery of the existence and workings of Susan had been a revelation to Him, and now He understood much that had been hidden. For the vault-like door of the control room was at the end of the tunnel of the Shabath Noor, beyond the Chasm of Doum.
        Long had He been aware of it, but it had always defied His attempts to defeat the mechanism of its operation. He had always known the source of His power — of all power — was behind that door, but it was made of Kryll-steel and sealed by their ingenuity. He had been consumed by what He might discover behind it and yet fearful of exerting the power necessary to overwhelm it, lest the undoing of such a seal might also be the undoing of His fount of energy.
        But now, He perceived her plan and saw that her determination was unswayable. He saw His destruction in its implementation. This could not be.
        Within, Sara was assaulted by His fury and malevolence. She cried out in horror at His coming and the force of His awful commands. Again, she found herself rooted to the spot to await His wrath, unable to do anything to save herself. The expectation was unbearable, nearly driving her duty from her mind.
        But this duty would not be overcome. It was rooted physically in her makeup and was thus invulnerable. It became a life preserver for the shreds of her sanity to which she clung desperately.
        Without, Soraun assailed the near-total inviolability of the Kryll-steel, drawing ever greater torrents of energy from Susan's awakening reserves. The dials on the wall lit up in succession, one by one adding ten times the power to the preceding level. Their glowing rows and columns throbbed as Ordruen roared, shaking the control room violently.
        The shattering pressure of Soraun's attack dented the thick door. It was designed to exclude any but Kryll technicians, and they had vanished before the first slime stained the shores of Midgarde's oceans. But it could not forever withstand the full fury of their creation turned against itself.
        The center began to glow redly, flakes breaking from its surface to fall burning to the floor. Red turned to white, white turned to incandescence. It would not hold much longer. Sara watched helplessly as the barrier began to give way before the terrifying Monster from the Id that assailed it.
        The door shattered and Soraun entered, reaching for her…
        He commanded. But Sara had an answer for Him this time. Her duty gave her the last strength she needed to raise aloft the finger reserved so long ago for the One Ring.
        She waved her defiance in his face and gave herself over to her destiny.
        Simultaneously, the bonds that ordered the billions of tons of her substance were released. The half of her that was antimatter was left free to interact with the other half of her that was merely highly degenerate matter. The n-dimensional pathways that carried off her waste heat into some microscopic wormholes to a place far removed from our space-time were closed and the mechanism of her finely balanced gravitational compensation was erased. Everything happened at once.
        There was a great flash of light that for a part of one trillionth of a second defined what had become of Sara. Soraun ceased to exist in its glare, and the Rings went out. Susan was consumed and added the full power of her vast stores of energy to the unstoppable fireball in a deep chain reaction rooted far below the crust of the planet. Ordruen vanished along with the entire plain of Gyregyrath. In the deepest dungeons below the wreck of Barradour, Soraun's miserable victims had a brief instant to wonder at the light before they were mercifully extinguished. Goblins and Men along with all creatures under the sky in the entire hemisphere simply perished at exposure to the searing brightness. Those who were hidden distantly and deeply had only moments before the spreading shockwave hurled their fragments into space. The Elves on far Avalon knew the meaning of the untimely sunrise in the east and knew the doom of all their refuges was at hand.
        All creatures on every land perished. Great and small, they ceased to be — every kind of thing on land or above it, even in their deepest burrows. The hardy cockroaches who outlived the dinosaurs of this world became instantly extinct. Fishes in the cold depths of the oceans perished when the seas boiled away. Microbes did not survive, even unto their spores. All DNA was disrupted, shredded and torn to atoms. Every work of every creature that ever lived was wiped out. The very fossils were broken into indecipherable dust.
        There would be no record that Midgarde had ever existed other than the observations by scientists in far-flung observatories around the galaxy of a rare planetary nova. For Sara had fulfilled her duty as Protector — to save the Universe from the threatening Evil that had consumed the world of her assignment. It was over.
        The story has ended.


First Interlude Epilogue

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© Patrick Hill, 2000