I suppose you've heard by now--Durin's Bane was a Balrog, and Mithrandir has slain it. I wish I had been there to see such a battle. Must have been quite the sight. It wouldn't be the first time I saw the Balrog in battle, though... For over a thousand years this story has gone untold. There was no need to dishearten the free people of Middle-Earth with word of yet another deathless Maiar enemy (though had I known of Balin's expedition I would have warned him--and it has weighed heavily on me). Further would it be folly to alert Sauron to the existence of a possible ally or pawn. In hindsight, it seems likely that he knew. The fault, in any case, was not mine. For over a thousand years this story has gone untold, yet I remember every detail. I was not the sole survivor, nor am I deserving of any great praise. I'm the only one left who can tell the whole tale as it happened, so listen, if you will. As I recall, it started in Tharbad, back in T.A. 1981. Since the disintegration of Arnor most of the regular traffic had dwindled out, leaving Tharbad a rough-and-tumble frontier town, only nominally controlled by the South Kingdom. For a few weeks I'd been telling wild tales of encounters with dragons and giant panthers in exchange for drinks. A travelling theatre troupe was also in town--"Oropher's Whimsy", I think they called themselves, although the irony seemed lost on the Edain. The only one of them I had much interaction with was a young Sinda named Galasdhil. He was a cocky bastard and I didn't much like him. Hs magic and his acting were both second-rate. Apparently his mother was half- Vanya; he'd inherited the blonde hair and superior attitude all at a stroke. That whole morning he'd been chattering on annoyingly while I tried to pry useful notes out of a new arrival. Vorondil "The Hunter" was the son of Steward Pelendur of Gondor. Next in line for the position, he was out trying to make a name for himself before being stuck with responsibilities. From what I'd heard, he was actually pretty good. He carried a horn from some beast he'd killed in Rhûn and oiled it as he talked. It was slightly distracting. "...Of course, the learned men of Gondor hold that the Lingwilóki is in fact a myth. After all, I've never killed one." "Despite that flawless logic, Dúnadan, I'm afraid you're wrong. Besides that, even the meekest dragon would make short work of you. They're not docile livestock out of the South, you know." Galasdhil sat back with a smug look. Rather than tell him exactly how he'd fare against one of Melkor's firedrakes, I surreptitiously started the hem of his robe smouldering. Then something caught my attention. I don't think any of us had noticed when the dwarf entered. He certainly wasn't much to look at. As soon as he started tossing my name around, though, my ears perked up and I waved him over. Taking on an officious stance, he pulled a sealed scroll out of his satchel. "You are Tevildo, I presume?" he said in Westron. "You presume correctly. What can I do for you?" I recognized his accent--I'd had much to do with the dwarves of Khazad-dûm over the years and owed them a few favours. Handing me the scroll, he introduced himself. "Courier Eikin, Hands of the King. Your assistance is requested. Please." He gestured toward the scroll, which I opened and quickly skimmed. I hadn't seen an official letter of marque for quite some time. It granted me and 'parties to be determined' free travel and hunting rights... within Khazad-dûm. Most peculiar. What specifically caught my eye was the signature. "King Náin." Vorondil, looking over my shoulder, immediately recognized the letter for what it was. "Surely you intend to include me? What is the quarry? When do we begin?" The dwarf looked at me questioningly, and I nodded. "An unknown creature has appeared within our realm. It has so far resisted all attempts to kill it or drive it out. Civilian casualties have been high. King Náin has heard Tevildo's reputation for dealing efficiently with this sort of thing. Our orthodox methods being ineffective in this situation, he is asked to assemble a team and attempt to destroy this creature." He seemed almost relieved to address this stiff little speech to someone other than me. "What of Durin?" I asked. The dwarf cast his eyes down. This was answer enough. "I don't understand," Galasdhil interjected while stomping out the fire. "What sort of creature? Why is it after dwarves?" "It is nothing we have seen before. Like the shadow of a man, with a great sword and flail. At times its eyes seem to smoulder with anger. It first appeared in the deep mines beneath Caradhras. We don't think it entered through the gates." I was unsure of what the messenger had described, but I could see Vorondil was not. His eyes had lit up like beacons and his hands trembled slightly. "I, for one, will not be left out of this. My blade is yours." Drawing his longsword, 'Shear', he laid it across the bar before us. It was easy enough to tell what he was thinking--that this was the Witch-King of Angmar making another play. If he could defeat the enemy that had eluded Eärnur, his name would become legend in Gondor. "I haven't been in the mercenary business for some time, Master Nogoth. What is being offered?" I probably would have lent a hand for free, but there was no reason not to see what was on the table. "I have been instructed to tell you that if you are successful in destroying the creature or ejecting it from our realm, Náin is prepared to be most generous. He said you would know what that meant." Indeed I did. That was sufficient. "How long do I have to prepare and gather a team?" "Time is of the essence. No more than ten days." Galasdhil, who had thus far been uncharacteristically (and thankfully) mostly silent, asked, "Who in their right mind would agree to help you?" This was an apparent jab at Vorondil, but it gave me an ugly though. "Oh, you'll be coming along. I'd hate to go into action without YOUR special talents. We've certainly heard enough about them." Thus caught by his own boastfulness, he said nothing. Figuring out who else to bring wasn't difficult. At first, the prospect of facing an unknown foe in uncertain circumstances brought the Alchemist of Scary to mind. For a few years I'd rented a space down the road from him, and we'd worked well together. Unfortunately, he was getting on in years and would balk at speedy travel. "Archmage," he'd say, "I did not live this long to go gallivanting across the countryside to my likely end. Thank you but no." I'd recently heard of a big, brutish fellow who lived just west of the Gap of Calenardhon. According to rumours, he had slain a hill-troll with his bare hands, among other feats. There was time enough to get word to him. Back during the resistance against the Númenóreans, I'd gained enormous respect for a Sinda named Tesica. She was one of the few survivors of that struggle whose whereabouts I still knew. She dwelt in the Eryn Vorn, one of the few isolated corners of the ancient woodlands that we'd managed to save. Her manner was thoughtful, icy, and viciously effective. I hired another of the actors to fetch her by boat, if she'd come. Vorondil insisted on renting Eikin a room while we waited. Although the courier promised us supplies when we arrived at Hadhodrond, I made certain preparations myself, cobbling together some flares and magical wards from what was on hand. Five days on, Tesica arrived. She was as I remembered her--hair cut short like a boy's, poker-faced, pale and serious. Strangely enough, she had no comment for me. No word had come yet from the barbarian of Calenardhon, but at Eikin's insistence we set out anyway. Each of us was geared in a different fashion. Vorondil bore his recurved bow and sword, and wore a long hauberk of maille embellished with silver spaulders. As of old, Tesica was dressed in horn and boiled leather scale, hard as oak but light. Along with her sabre she now carried a rod; perhaps she'd learned a trick or two since we last met. I couldn't help but think that much of Galasdhil's gear was pilfered from the prop wagon. He's purchased one or two pieces in town, but they only served to increase the impression of patchwork. I of course brought my customary maille and an Elven blade. Something told me, though, that this wouldn't come down to swordplay. As we rowed through the Swanfleet Marshes, heading toward the Sirannon, I discussed the mission with Tesica. Her odd silence of before had given way to a pensive scrutiny of the horizon. Surprisingly, she wasn't expecting any great amount of compensation. She also didn't think highly of our chances. I was unsure of why she was coming but wasn't about to question it. "I was never comfortable underground, you realize," she murmured, her eyes following the watercourse up to the mountains. It was a lie, of course, but she was making conversation and I played along. "I'm sorry; perhaps we can request a change of venue. Doubt it, though... in my experience, ghostly creatures are like Lindon sherry. Neither travels well." "If your fighting skills haven't improved more than your humour, we're done for." I grimaced. "No reason to worry. You haven't gotten rusty, cloistered in your forest, have you?" "You haven't gotten rusty running your mouth in taverns, have you?" Tesica had never been overly subtle. "The young one's going to be a liability, you know." "It hasn't escaped my attention, but I wasn't depending on his skills. Better that he first see combat with us than with no-one competent." "Your benevolence knows no bounds." She snorted and turned to the tiller, effectively ending the conversation. A chilly breeze blew past and I tightened my cloak. Arriving at the landing nearest to West-Gate, we were quickly ushered inside and instructed to report immediately to the Sixth Deep. Apparently the messenger's haste was warranted. After a few hours of rushed travel through side passages, we took a cable lift down quite a way and marched on. Armed companies of dwarves were rushing about, apparently in the midst of a fighting withdrawal. The King's Bodyguard, easily distinguished by the massive build of its soldiers and the lethal look of their armaments, passed just by us. Náin was there, the only time I saw him as King. He lifted one hand in an archaic Indrafang salute. The others may have accepted it as simply that, but it silently communicated something Náin knew I would find useful. The ring on his hand--Durin's Dwarf-ring--had not been taken when the old King fell. The enemy was NOT a Nazgûl. I barely had a chance to return the salute before they had passed. Eikin, our guide, hurried off after them without a word to us. That was alright; we could already hear the direction of the battle. Galasdhil slowed, but Vorondil's prodding spurred him to keep up. As we rounded a corner, we caught sight of it. A seemingly vast shadow filled the hall, framing a darker man-shaped space. It wielded a long black blade, like a shard of midnight, and was striking here and there into a squad of dwarves. Their large shields were only marginally effective. From where I stood, it was impossible to tell whether the strokes of their axes had any effect on it. I heard Galasdhil fumbling around with something, but it wasn't until I heard him casting that I knew what he was up to. It was clearly a panic move. Only Vorondil had yet drawn his weapon and we had no plan of action. I must admit, I was a little surprised that he was able to get a fireball off with his nerves so shaken. It whistled through the air and hit the creature square in its back. A roar and blast of hot air knocked many of the sturdy dwarves flat. Galasdhil's exultant yell died in his throat as the creature, now wreathed in flames, turned to face us. He was too young to recognise it but he could clearly tell that he'd made a grave error. "Oh. Oh, damn it all," Tesica muttered. She, on the other hand, knew a Balrog when she saw one. We were screwed. I'd only seen a Balrog in action once before, when from far off I witnessed the Battle of Nan-tathren. Salmar's landing force had been overwhelmed in an early (and, as it turned out, isolated) victory for Morgoth. The sight of Lungorthin's pale flames flaring as he slaughtered Elves was quite enough to convince me to leave the War of Wrath to the hosts of the Valar. To be fair, that was two Ages ago, before I'd learned most of my tricks. I was with able companions and we'd come well-armed. It still took a great amount of willpower, I'll admit, not to run. Vorondil was the first of us to act. Readying his bow, he sent a quick succession of arrows at the Balrog. Tesica threw a flare past the demon's face, trying to distract it long enough for the dwarves to regroup. Not many of them were moving, though. These were not favourable circumstances. The retreating companies had had the right idea. Summoning an obscuring mist as best I was able, I ran into the fray. The Balrog's whip, now aflame, narrowly missed me as it snapped a warrior's arm clean off. It turned and crushed two other dwarves underfoot, giving me just enough time to grab the last obvious survivor and drag him back. He was pointing insistently toward a side wall. Luckily, the others were still in sight and I waved them over. My artificial weather had done some good, at least. The Balrog was trampling around among the bodies, apparently making sure the dwarves were all dead before it dealt with us. We set the dwarf, seemingly none the worse for wear, on his feet and he led us through a concealed archway. Once we were all clear he reached into a hole in the passage wall and yanked hard on something. With a thunderous crash, several massive stone blocks slid down to block the arch. For now, we were safe. "Thanks for bailing me out, friend," the dwarf said. "Likewise. I'm Tevildo. Heard you guys were having some sort of infestation problem. I had no idea it was such a nasty problem, though." The dwarf nodded. "This is beyond our expertise. I'd heard that help had been sent for, but I didn't really expect that anyone would come. Have you dealt with anything like this before?" Tesica and I looked at each other while Vorondil shrugged. Galasdhil coughed uncomfortably. "Not... quite anything like this, no," I answered, as the dwarf led us through access passages. "We're still willing to tackle the problem," Vorondil added, prompting a look of disbelief from Galasdhil. "I am Vorondil, son of Pelendur, Steward of Gondor, and I have not failed a hunt yet." The dwarf paused and bowed. "Fránir Longbeard, at your service and your family's." We went on for some time, discussing possible tactics and stratagems while making our way steadily upward. Now that I knew what our foe was, I had a fairly good idea of how to neutralize it. Stopping in 56th West for food and other necessities, I asked around until someone found a detailed set of charts. There I found our next destination: the Hall of Airs. It was by now evacuated, it lay on the other side of the dwarves' defensive line, and most importantly it opened onto one of the largest voids under the mountains. The major drawback to my plan was all the heavy lifting. Not knowing what we'd find in the hall, it was necessary to move sacks of gravel, heavy cutting tools, and a coil of sturdy steel cable up a vertical ventilation shaft barely wide enough to accommodate one of us at a time. Fránir fit like a cork in a bottleneck. Carved rungs made the climbing easier but the hauling-up of materiel infinitely more annoying. Finally, we and all our supplies were on the right level, and only a short distance from the Hall. We got down to work. While Fránir and I cut the railing from the edge of the void, the other cleared a large space in the centre of the hall. We then had the laborious task of driving eye-rings into the stone, just below the drop-off, and also into a massive stone block that apparently served as a ceremonial dais and altar. It was painfully clear while this went on that we were the only ones making noise in this part of the city, and that the Balrog was not more than a few miles distant. Under the circumstances we might have been forgiven for rushing, but Fránir was making sure the work was sound. If this trap failed we would have no sure escape. Finally we were ready to set the snare. It took the combined efforts of all three elves to levitate the block off the edge and hang it from the rings. I silently promised myself that if Galasdhil dropped it prematurely, he'd follow it into the abyss. It actually went off without a hitch, though. The rings creaked but held. Fránir attached one end of the cable to the block and laid the rest of it in a wide loop with a sliding link. We then spread the gravel to obscure the trap. There was as yet no sign of the Balrog. "So..." Vorondil said. "What now? Just wait for it to randomly wander this way?" I shrugged and tossed a chair down the spiral staircase at the end of the hall. It would have to enter that way or through the corridor to the north. The passage we'd entered from, to the northwest, had been blocked except for the tiny access tunnel. There was still no hint of an approach from either direction. We tentatively ate a meal, ready for a fight at a moment's notice. Every now and then we threw stuff down the stairs or hallway and yelled. It made us feel a bit better to be active than simply waiting, even though we had already produced about as much noise preparing the chamber as we were likely to ever make. We had no way of knowing it wouldn't simply ignore the racket. That was a weak point in the plan that we hadn't considered beforehand. You might not know it if you haven't seen combat personally-- it's the waiting that's the worst. When the fight actually begins you tend to go numb and just do what you have to. Not knowing when the attack will come, having to remain just on the edge of readiness; it's mentally gruelling. Vorondil was showing his impatience. While the more experienced of us bided our time and even Galasdhil was holding his position in a recess near the north entrance, Vorondil began pacing after a few hours and shouting occasional challenges. Finally he put his horn to his lips and blew one clear blast. In the confines of the hall, the echoes were deafening. Before he could even lower his horn the Balrog was upon us. It burst from the north entrance like lightning. I've never seen anything move so fast. Without even turning its head it lashed out at Galasdhil's alcove and kept coming. The trap would never work if it just bowled us all over with a charge, so as I dove out of the way, kicking up a spray of gravel, I attempted to reach into its mind and daze it. My hope was to slow it down enough that the others could deal with it. I was totally unprepared for the magical backlash, immediate and overwhelming. It felt like the part of my fëa which came in contact with the demon was turned inside out and set aflame. I blacked out. I came to after only a few seconds, but the scene was very different. Tesica and Galasdhil lay motionless on the floor. Fránir was missing. The Balrog loomed over Vorondil, who was still on his feet, sword raised. I expected that would be the end of him. The dark blade sliced the air over his head, flames playing along its improbable length. Vorondil dodged the blow and struck back with Shear. He parried the next attack and moved in to press the advantage. He was actually holding his own. Tesica wasn't dead. She tried to stand, but judging from the divot in her helm she'd taken a heck of a blow to the head and was most likely not going to be in peak form for awhile. There was no telling how much time Vorondil could buy us; he was deflecting blows that would have crushed an ordinary man by the impact alone. That scene will forever remain etched in my memory--the Balrog sheathed in flame and shadow, towering over the Hunter but unable to daunt him. An image of one light in the darkness, of Fingolfin's last battle flashed through my head. The result would have inevitably been the same; Shear finally snapped a foot from the hilt and Vorondil stumbled. But Tesica was back on her feet. "Hey!" she shouted, conjuring a jet of frost to draw the monster's attention. It turned from Vorondil, clearly not considering him a threat unarmed, and stepped toward her. "You're no match for my magic, demon," she said, throwing down a ward in front of her. It was laughably insufficient to hedge out a creature as powerful as this, and it knew it. In two purposeful strides it approached and stepped over the ward. As it did, Tesica sprang backward. I heard a hammer strike steel. With a shocking quickness the cable leapt from the floor and caught the Balrog around its thighs. I had worried that perhaps the cable would melt, or pass through its body--but needlessly. Its legs were yanked from under it and in the blink of an eye the weight of the block had dragged it off the edge. Suddenly I could move, although the pain in my head remained. I ran to the brink and peered over. Fránir hung there, suspended by his belt from one of the rings. He was looking down as intently as I was, watching the glow of our enemy be swallowed by the darkness. Finally, and very faintly, we heard the echoes of a splash. I hauled up the dwarf, cursing all the while. "What was that? This... was supposed to be a dry void! All that for nothing..." He shrugged. "One of the deep reservoirs must have been breached. There was a lot of property damage in the months before you came." Vorondil shuffled over and peered down. "Might the fall have killed it anyway?" "Doubtful," I replied. "We'll find out soon enough, either way." It was then that I noticed the odd angle of Vorondil's arm. Clearly, it was broken, and probably also dislocated at the shoulder. This would be his last hunt for some time. He was up, but not Galasdhil. Tesica was checking him for injuries when I walked over. It looked as though the Balrog's stroke had fallen across his shield, which saved him from the blade but not its force. His ribs were cracked on the left side. It would be a painful awakening. So that was where things stood: half the original party incapacitated, alive only by rare luck (and Vorondil's audacity), and no sign that we'd even wounded the demon. On the positive side, Fránir was built like a rock and had no fear. Our plan had more or less gone as planned--the fault wasn't ours. Most significant in my mind was that the Balrog could be tricked. A new scheme was already coming to mind. If we couldn't drop the creature to its doom, perhaps we could drop its doom to it... There was of course no way for us to unblock the passages, so we were stuck going back down the access shaft. I wasn't sure at first how the wounded were going to climb down; Galasdhil was experiencing a lot of pain whenever he lifted his left arm. Vorondil, his arm splinted and in a sling, simply leaned back against the wall and walked down the rungs. With some coaxing Galasdhil was able to do the same. Soon our wounds were being tended by the dwarves of 56th West and I was able to relax with a mug of willow-bark tea for my splitting headache. They'd set me up in a small room with a cot, for me to "review charts". I actually just wanted time to rest my thoughts and consider options. If I decided to leave, I could hardly be blamed. This was clearly an enemy beyond my experience and out of my league. The great army of Khazad-dûm was unable to do anything but contain it; our meagre strength was laughable in comparison. Tesica entered without knocking. She sat by the coal stove and looked at me, her gaze showing nothing. "Well," I said. "Are you going to pursue this further?" I nodded. "Might as well, I guess. Somebody has to deal with this mess." "And that's us, because...?" "Honestly, I doubt anyone else would come, especially if we told them what it was. Facing a Balrog is suicidal." "My, you really know how to build morale, don't you?" She smirked, her face returning to its customary impassive expression in half a second. She was a hard one to read. "Look, you can leave if you want. I was wrong to bring you all here. It's not your fight." "So why is it yours?" Closing my eyes for a moment, I responded. "I tell myself that I owe the House of Durin for their help back in the War, but I don't think that's it. I don't know. Something feels right about being here now..." "Perhaps you just have a latent death wish." I shook my head. "Been there. It's not all it's made out to be." Again the momentary half-smile, and again it vanished "So, what's your next fool-proof plan?" "First of all, I'm sending Galasdhil and Vorondil home. I think Galasdhil has learned his lesson. If you're wise you'll probably leave too." "I don't put down a book halfway through. I'm looking forward the ending." I held back from asking whose ending it would be. "In that case... here. Take a look at this." I pointed to one particular schematic. It was of the highest galleries, those nearest the surface. She leaned next to me to examine the architectural details, close enough that I'd have felt the body heat had she been anyone else. Tesica didn't squander resources. "If you're thinking what I think you're thinking, it will take a hell of a lot of manpower." I shrugged. "We're in the middle of the dwarven realm, and we're saving their butts. Chances are, they'll oblige." For a moment she was silent. "If we win... what then? What are your plans?" That caught me a bit off-guard. I hadn't seen Tesica in years, and before that our acquaintance had strictly been as co- combatants. Not sure how to answer, I redirected the question. "What plans do you have? Are you intent on lurking in the Eryn Vorn forever? That's an old victory (if you can call it that). I'm surprised you haven't put your mind to other matters." It probably sounded harsher than I'd intended. She stiffened up, and for a second I though she was going to walk out. "Sometimes... you hold on to what you have." Well, that perplexed me. I've never been one to sit still, and I've never understood it in other people. There was something else going on here, though... Despite the coal stove, it was cold in my room that night. The next morning I awoke to Vorondil in a rage. He'd noticed that the broken halves of Shear were missing. Having seen his cool stand against the Balrog, I found these one-armed gesticulations and shouts to be highly amusing. As it turned out Fránir had sent it off to be repaired and re-tempered. Once this was explained Vorondil calmed down immediately, only to explode again when I ordered him home. One poke in his injured arm convinced him that I was correct to do so. His departure could wait until we had set the next plan into motion, but fighting was out of the question. "Besides," I told him, "someone needs to see Galasdhil out of here." It was the same line I fed the young Elf to save his pride. Despite his infuriating ineffectiveness, I regretted bringing him into this sort of danger. My own awakening to battle had been particularly traumatic, with most of my people killed as I watched. Galasdhil might as well get out before he had to see anyone else die. As I expected, Fránir was not at all pleased with the new plan. I promised Elven aid in repairing all damage and the return of materials used, but he still doubted that his higher-ups would go for it. I insisted we proceed, with or without approval. The group of us set out east, taking command of the Blackhammer Masons at Second Deep, 23rd. I'd already sent an order by messenger owl for Kharduz's forge at 8th Hall to begin shaping all their available mithril into chains, and requisition the same from any other smithy that was still functioning. I wanted our next battleground prepared as soon as possible. The only remaining variable was the Balrog's whereabouts. Although travel time was less than a day, word was waiting for us when we arrived at 8th. Smoke was fouling the air in some of the deep shafts at North End--a coal seam down near the mine levels had apparently been lit. This was near where the monster had first emerged, and, more importantly, it was behind the defensive line that had been established. That gave us the likeliest spot to execute our plans: Baraz 12th High Gallery. We dispatched the Masons there along with an old stone surveyor whose eye for faults and load-bearing capacity would be crucial to their work. At the same time I sent word to units in the area to try to confine the creature in the mine area as long as possible, away from populated areas and just close enough to our new trap. That was about the best we could do at the moment... now we had to wait. Eighth Hall in those days was quite a sight. It had all the quaint bustle of a rustic village, houses and shops, all set in a vast cavernous space with massive pillars and buttresses. I suppose it is easier from a planning perspective to simply delve a chamber then built in it, rather excavating room-by-room according to an indelible floor plan. It also allows more flexibility, I suppose, but it really does nothing for my Elvish tastes. If an Elf wants a broom closet, you can rest assured he'll be hanging brooms there for the next thousand years, but that's neither here nor there. It would be a few days before the gallery and the chains would be ready. Tesica dropped out of sight, no doubt entertaining herself in the tunnels and caverns alone. I took the time to personally oversee the smithy work with my old colleague Kharduz. Shear had already been completed; aside from an inch-wide band of eye-catching black coloration, there was no sign it had ever been broken. The dwarves had also applied a differential tempering process that would hopefully keep it in one piece in the future. Vorondil was relieved to have it back. Apparently he thought it would end up looking like two billets stuck together with paste. With that business done, he and Galasdhil left for the East-Gate. Vorondil was about to blow his horn in farewell, but I stopped him. The memory of the Balrog's sudden entrance was still fresh. Galasdhil said nothing to me as they set out. Aside from the water, it seemed like we'd almost been too lucky last time, and I was fully expecting some sort of calamity. There were no reports of collapsing ceilings, though, and the Balrog didn't suddenly appear on the doorstep. I worried that the all-important mithril chains wouldn't be ready on schedule, but this also turned out to be no problem. Just after the surveyor returned and declared the stonework complete, a generous supply of chain arrived from forges up on 4th. Some of it was a bit thinner than I was comfortable with, but it would have to do. On cue as always, Tesica reappeared as Fránir and I arranged for porters and an escort party. Our destination was one of the most northerly habitable parts of Hadhodrond, as well as the nearest to the surface. By now we'd walked so many subterranean dwarf-roads that it seemed quite normal--at first, anyway. All at once, it felt like we were in very different territory, though the road hadn't changed its characteristics or direction. I knew the boundary we had crossed. If you've travelled the Redhorn Pass, chances are you've at least felt the malign watchfulness of Caradhras. Imagine how much more intense that sensation would be inside the mountain itself. It appeared the dwarves could also feel it, as they tightened their formation and marched faster. The air took on a hazy character from the coal fire but the chill draft from the ventilation shafts kept it from getting too bad. The appearance of Baraz 12th High caught me off-guard. It was vast and empty, the lamps filled but as yet unlit. I don't know whether it was simply new, or disliked, or too remote from the rest of the realm; in appearance it was more like the Moria of today than a part of the living Dwarf-kingdom. While Fránir and the dwarves set the trap I spoke to the mountain. In actuality I had no real hopes of accomplishing anything useful, but it couldn't hurt to try. I whispered to it of the glory of the halls within it, now threatened by the Balrog's rampage. I told it to weigh the presence of some lowly Dwarves, easily intimidated, against that of a demon with power comparable to Caradhras itself. As I conjured images of the wretched vermin that were a Balrog's preferred company, there was a change in the air. Despite the enormous resistance it seemed I had at least been noticed. To what end, I didn't yet know. All was in place. The trap looked more or less like a spiderweb of chains, the ends fixed around the eight central pillars. The entire apparatus could be dropped from the ceiling by a trip line. Running the perimeter of the webbed section was a hooked chain that would (hopefully) travel freely through the links in one direction but catch when pulled the other way. Tesica called it the "drawstring", which was as accurate a description of its purpose as any. The workers were more than happy to leave, judging by their haste in packing up. Once again it was just Tesica, Fránir, and myself. This time Tesica chose to draw our quarry by magical means. Sitting on the floor, humming discordantly, she extended her awareness down into the deepest regions of the dwarf-mines. Judging by the terrible backlash I'd experienced while trying to daze the Balrog, it probably had sufficient magical defences to detect and backtrack the intrusion. When it arrived, all we had to do was draw it into place, drop the snare on it, and tighten the drawstring. Despite the simplicity of the plan I was feeling unusually jittery. The Balrog was just too big and nasty to mix it up with at close quarters. One mistake and that would be that. All too soon we felt it, a palpable blackness distinct from the looming presence of Caradhras. Each of us took positions in the lee of different pillars to mask our numbers and so it couldn't charge again. That didn't seem its plan this time, though. It advanced slowly, allowing its shadow to fill the end of the gallery before it stepped into full sight. If anything it appeared even darker and more imposing than before. This time it bore its whip in hand. I remained behind my pillar to think for a moment. That turned out to be a poor idea. Tesica shouted a warning and I dove back, only narrowly escaping the burning thongs of the whip as they wrapped around the column. It cracked and toppled forward in a cloud of dust. If our plan was going to work, I had to change the Balrog's tactic in a hurry. The Blackhammer Masons, you see, had weakened the central columns at top and base and entirely separated those at the chamber's edge from the ceiling. Losing any more pillars prematurely could royally screw us up. It looked like I would have to take an active hand. With my face near the floor I told Caradhras, "now. Now, if ever." Then I stepped out to face it. It must have been a laughable sight, me standing off against the demon. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Fránir staring quizzically, as if to say, "What is in your head?" I didn't even bother drawing my sword--if it came to that I was doomed already. My staff was all I needed. As if recognizing me, flames spread from its weapon and enveloped it wholly. It didn't like me, apparently. The whip came hurtling down the gallery, fire licking from the thongs. Intuition hit me first. With a quick snap of the staff I knocked the whip aside. It fell dead and smoking. The Balrog roared, a hoarse crackling sound, and swung at me again. Once more I struck it down and laughed mockingly. To be sure, I was pleased that I'd thought of countering the magic of the whip rather than taking on the overwhelming potency of its wielder, but the laughter was just bait. Even just dealing with the weapon was draining and I needed strength for my next trick. Luckily, the Balrog was now advancing on me. Its dark corona blotted out the far wall. Lamps were snuffed out as it passed. Turning to run was among the easiest things I've ever done. A faint vibration passed through the floor, neither my nor the Balrog's handiwork. It was followed by another, then another in quick succession. A tremendous thunderstorm was strafing the mountainside with lightning. When I conjure the weather, it usually takes a moment to stir the airs and it never seems to work quite properly underground. But now, the mountain was providing all I needed. I turned and put out the call. At first it was unclear what had happened, the glare was so bright. An after-image in greens and reds appeared behind my eyelids: shafts of light arcing from the ceiling and pillars through the demon's contorted form. Tesica was shouting something--I couldn't tell what--so I moved toward the sound as best I was able. Someone ran past me. There was a crash of chain and then the thud of several heavy blows. Leaning against a column, I wasted no time extending my sight. I hate missing the vital parts of a fight. Somehow the Balrog was past me, caught in the net of mithril. Tesica hung onto the drawstring tenaciously even though she was getting tossed around like a doll. Fránir was battering at whatever extremities he could reach with the mattock end of his axe. I cursed. The plan had been for us to a retreat a safe distance out of the hall while the beast's struggles brought the ceiling down. It might have the strength to break the chains if all else were equal, but the weakened pillars would hopefully give out first. Neither Tesica nor Fránir showed any signs of breaking off, though. I yelled for them to fall back. Just then the Balrog somehow forced one of its arms through the net and grabbed the dwarf. As I ran to help, Tesica smote the wrist with her sabre, which bent and fell from her grasp. Fránir was thrown to the ground where he lay unmoving. She finally jumped back, and I was able to grab her and start moving. Fránir was clearly dead. The Balrog lunged toward us, crashing to the floor almost immediately as the chains drew up taut. It heaved up again, straining against its bonds. Here was the test. The chains made an awful groan; I think I heard one link actually snap, just before three pillars splintered and gave way. Dust and rubble flew everywhere. It was imperative that we get out of the gallery immediately. What my ranger-sight hadn't at first shown me, though, was that Tesica's leg was shattered. "Put me down", she was saying, "Leave." There was no chance of that. The passage the demon had entered through was just a couple of hundred yards away. I'd counted out the Balrog, though. Smarter than it looked. It must have turned its efforts the other way, for two pillars suddenly fell nearly on top of us. I tried to turn and drag Tesica around the debris, but the monster's thrashing was wrecking everything. There was an ear-splitting crack from overhead. At that point there seemed no chance of getting out alive. Tesica had other plans, though--she struck me with something and I found myself next to an alcove in the north wall. That trick was new to me. I'm still a little unsure what had happened. The flames of the Balrog surged up as Tesica raised one hand to hurl some spell against it, and then the ceiling fell. That is the last I saw of either of them. The collapse must have started at the centre of the chamber and spread outward. All I could see, though, was a mass of flying stone where the hall had been an instant before. My armour and magic deflected the worst of it, and luckily the larger slabs avoided me, but I was most certainly buried. I won't go into the intense discomfort of being pinned by rocks on all sides, or the difficulties I had working my legs free while simultaneously keeping the rocks levitated off my head. At least there was air--piercingly cold air from above, just breathable through the dust. That was my lifeline. At length I found the fissure and crept inch by inch through the stone, then the ice, and finally lay exposed to the sun on Caradhras' side. That moment stays with me: battered almost to nothing, bloodied, grubby and exhausted beyond anything you are likely to know, still in danger of a frozen death... It was the thought of Tesica that finally forced me to move again. If I'd survived the battle and cave-in only to die in the snow, when we met in Mandos she most certainly would kill me. Again. With no better method of descent (and needing the extra insulation), I turned my skin to bark--several thicknesses on the hands--and simply clawed my way down the glacier, rueing the exercise I'd need to regain the dexterity lost in my fingers. The Mirrormere far below gave me a point of reference to make for. Beyond its black waters a slow procession of tiny figures wound down Dimrill Dale from the East-Gate. I hadn't even considered it an option, but someone had ordered an evacuation. They couldn't have known how our fight in Baraz 12th High would go. Had we been called in purely as a diversionary tactic? If so, I suppose I can't blame Náin for it, given the circumstances. We'd put up a hell of a fight either way. Of course, it became apparent later that the Balrog had somehow survived. It appeared unexpectedly in 8th Hall later that week. That area had not yet been evacuated, and apparently old Kharduz and many others had died, defenceless. Náin is said to have fallen heroically soon after, during a rearguard action. I took no further hand in the matter. A creature that can survive having a thousand tons of stone and ice dropped on its head is entirely beyond my abilities. To this day I still have excruciating headaches, a lingering side effect of the misguided daze spell. Though the Balrog survived that final encounter, Tesica never emerged to walk under the trees again. Often I think of her, and what she represented to me: a furious ally, a scale against which to measure myself. I have never been as serious nor as effective as her, and I doubt I ever will. More than once I've found myself roaming her woods in the years since, among the silent fisher-folk whose ancestors fought alongside us to save that ragged spit of land. I even surprised myself with the brutal way I killed some Dunlending bandits who were settling a bit too close. I never saw Galasdhil again. By the time I returned west of the Hithaeglir (after a painful convalescence in Lothlórien) he'd taken his final voyage past the Havens. Word has it he was replaced in Oropher's Whimsy by a charismatic Fallohide. I ran into Vorondil many years later, when he was serving as Steward of the South Kingdom. He'd grown some patience in the interim and was doing a fine job, as I saw it. By way of thanks and apology I laid a minor enchantment on his horn, which he still carried at the time, such that it would summon aid rather than enemies so long as he remained within his borders. Whether he appreciated the double humour I cannot say. His descendant Belecthor II certainly picked up on it. So now the Balrog is dead, and my tale told. Assuming we win this war the Dwarves will undoubtedly try to repopulate their ancient city (though it may take another coming of Durin to make it so). You can be sure I'll be standing alongside them. There's a hall beneath Caradhras I promised to repair, and in it lie the bones of two who deserve a better burial. One might assume that several hundred pounds of mithril chain, paid several times over by their loss, could also be retrieved. That is a hypothetical matter, though, and not one which particularly motivates me. (And if you believe that, I may have an Anduin Bridge to sell you...)