Glorfindel felt it before he saw it. The very air itself shuddered around it, as if its presence overwhelmed even the foundations of Arda. It scorched the air Glorfindel breathed. It cleaved the rock upon which he stood.
And then he saw.
Fire, and at its heart, a shadow. A roar was in his ears, and when he raised his sword before him – the sword his father had given him; the sword his father had commissioned from Fëanor's forges against all dislikes and family feuds – it wavered before him, the air rippling from the heat.
Glorfindel had long since learned that war did not make heroes. His first glimpse of what these weapons could do – had in truth been crafted to do – had been at the havens of Alqualondë. Gentle, red-tinted waves had lapped against the quay, and rivulets of blood had dried in the streets. Where once fish had been gutted and sold, now the corpses of Teleri lay, eyes as lifeless and cold as that of butchered animals, their bodies slashed open by the weapons he had dreamed to raise against the dark enemy's forces.
He had thought himself worldly and grown, but that was the day he truly grew up – the day he realized that there was nothing honorable in bringing death. For what did it matter that he was one of the heartbroken latecomers to the slaughter? Slaughter it was, and ever after his thoughts revolved around the image of lifeless bodies drenched with blood, left in heaps by the wayside like offal
He bore the memory like a brand on his soul. It tore at him, for the memory was a question in truth. Would I? Had he arrived earlier, would he not have acted as his people had done and, for the first time in his life, raised his sword in hate against a Quendë?
There was no answer for him. Not while they crossed the Helcaraxë; not while his friend, his king became a stranger to him, Turgon's heart sinking beneath the cruel ice together with that last glimpse of the pale locks of his wife. And there was no answer later, though ever after he carried the brand on his heart until the day when Tarnin Austa brought death instead of song.
Yet when the demon out of Thangorodrim stepped towards him, with the fear and the scorching heat it also, at long last, brought the answer Glorfindel had sought. He saw his death in the creature's eyes, and knew that what he would have done mattered not. What mattered – the only thing that truly mattered – was what he did.
He did not bar the demon's path for glory or for honor, though he had wept when news came to him of Finrod's noble death, loving and cursing him for it at the same time. Yet now that he swung at the demon, his lashes singed by the heat, he did not think of honor, or if they would sing of him after his death. He thought of his friend's daughter, his love for her as fierce as his sword, of loyal Tuor who had single-handedly felled five lesser demons of fire with his axe, and little Eärendil, small fists curled tightly into his mother's tresses, mute with dread at what no child should be forced to see.
The child he would never have.
His armor grew so hot that he imagined it must have started to glow like metal in the forges, yet he could not see it anymore. He pushed his sword into the body of the demon, cutting through shadow, cutting through flame until he reached its core and it screamed, and when they fell, Glorfindel felt no pain, though the metal of his armor melted into his burned skin.
He no longer wondered what would have been. He had found his answer at last.