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“Where is he?” yelled a dwarrow, his voice a low growl that promised violence. It was a voice of many belonging to his beloved children. They had flooded the main hall, demanding explanations he could not provide. He wished he could – oh, how he wished -, but how could he explain something of which he did not have full knowledge?

They had put him in quite the spot, one he had no idea how to escape.

“I have told you all, time and again, that he has left!” he hollered in response, an almost panicked edge to his tone. “And he’s not coming back!”

He’d hoped his shouting would improve the situation some. However, much to his dismay, his attempt at being assertive only caused more of a racket. Even more of his dwarrows were yelling now, sending insults and offenses in his general direction.

He did not know what else to do, what else to tell them. There wasn’t anything left to reveal. All he’d known he’d transmitted to his children, but it had not been enough. They wanted, needed, to know more - and he wanted to tell them, to satiate their thirst for understanding -, but how could he explain what he didn’t know?

Some would say that he could always lie, but he could never do such thing, not to his children, and especially when he had not been the one to cause the problem in the first place. But, even if it hadn’t been his fault, his children surely seemed to think he was the culprit - or one of them at least. It was like a stab to the heart, to be mistrusted and treated thusly by those he’d created so lovingly.

Curse you, Erú,’ he thought, struggling to keep his furious scowl at bay. He didn’t want his dwarves to think he was mad at them, after all, even if they were livid themselves. ‘I had such hope in you, such faith… We all did! Why did you do this, Maker? Why do this to us?’

“How could he do this?” a dwarrowdam shouted, her mithril voice ringing clear above all others. Her question mirrored his own thoughts so well that he barely repressed his bitter smile. How could he, indeed.

“We are forsaken!” wailed another dam, collapsing to the floor in her despair. The dwarrows around her immediately went to her aid, pulling her up until she stood again.

“What are we to do?” cried a Dwarrow, his familiar voice that of a king. The voice stung him so deeply that he had to close his eyes for a moment in order to regain composure. It was so typical of him to want a solution instead of an explanation…

“I assure you, we will find a w-“

“Aulë!” called a voice, one that had him turning toward it in a flash. His wife ran to him, her curls bouncing wildly after her. Her eyes were wide, her brows scrunched together, and her jaw shut so tightly, he wondered if it hurt.

“Yavanna?” he called back, taking a few steps toward her. “What’s happened?”

“You need to come at once,” she declared, stopping mere inches in front of him. “I think I know where Erú went,” she whispered, leaning toward him conspiratorially. “You are not going to like this.”

Mahal’s brows scrunched in together as his suspicion grew, but he nodded nonetheless. He turned around to face his children, telling them to stay where they were, and then followed his wife down the passages he knew so well.

They ended up in the war room where all the other Valar were already waiting for him. Manwë stood, his arms crossed on his chest and shoulders tense. He sported a fearsome scowl, the one of a leader who feared for his people. Varda stood at his side, tapping her foot in distress.

Looking at the table, he saw Ulmo, gripping the table-top with such might that his knuckles were white. Aulë gulped. Seeing the Lord of the Seas in Valinor was a very rare occasion, but it was seldom met with celebration. His presence often meant bad tidings were coming, but no one needed him there in order to be aware of the severity of their predicament.

Behind him was Nienna, who was weeping freely. Aulë half feared she would flood the room with her sorrow, but he also knew she had more control than that. Those were tears of fear, and they let her weep, for she cried the tears they had not the time to shed.

Vána was also present, sitting beside Oromë. He had one of his arrows in his hands, fiddling anxiously with it, and she had her head on his shoulder, gazing distractedly at the feathers on its end.

Mandos sat on the other end of the room, isolated from the rest of them except his wife. He had a tendency to do that, to remain at a distance from his kin. Vairë was beside him, clutching her tapestries tightly in her hands, an unfocused look of confusion and horror in her eyes.

“If we’re all here,” Manwë started, raising an impatient brow. “We have grave matters at hand. We mustn’t dawdle.”

“Where are the others?” inquired Yavanna, an edge of panic disturbing the usual calm lilt of her voice. “I told you to gather everyone!”

“We tried,” Oromë replied, not lifting his gaze to look at the Green Lady, “but they couldn’t come. Some had to stay behind to control the Elves.”

“They are the First Children of Ilúvatar,” Nienna sobbed, placing her hands over her heart. “Of course they weep!”

“Not only do they weep, they revolt and attack,” Varda countered, her eyes wild with anger. “I feared the Dwarves would be the ones to protest so fervently, but even they are calmer than the Elves!”

Mahal did not even try and keep irony from slipping into his tone. “If only they’d heard their Elbereth Gilthoniel speak in such a manner....” Yavanna frowned up at him and Varda shot him a cold glare.

“Can we please focus on the matter at hand, if ye would be so kind?” shouted Ulmo, his voice low and raspy.

“I would certainly appreciate it,” drawled Mandos, a sigh following his comment.

“Good. Let’s get on with it, then,” Manwë ordered with his most assertive voice. The Valar around the room quieted – even Nienna ceased her weeping – and all looked at him expectantly. The King of the Valar brought a hand to his temples to massage them, sighing deeply as he did so. “Yavanna, you gathered us all here. Please do begin.”

Yavanna nodded, her expression that of mithril. Aulë wondered briefly at how gold could look so cold, and how such a contrast could be so beautiful. “I believe I know where Erú went,” she declared, and he saw her swallowing through a thick knot in her throat.

“That much we’ve gathered,” Mandos interrupted, rolling his eyes, those lifeless white orbs. It chilled Aulë to his core. “Please be direct,” he demanded impatiently.

Yavanna glared at him. “If only you hadn’t interrupted me, I would have already told you,” she countered, raising her brows pointedly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Vána conceal a smirk.

“As I was saying..,” his wife resumed, “I was with my Hobbits this morning, along with my sister, and we noticed something strange.”

“We had more than twice the number of Hobbits we had in the pastures yesterday and many of them were terrified,” continued Vána, standing up to join her sister’s side. “Those who were terrified reported a completely different reality than those who had been here for longer.”

“How so?” Manwë inquired, his head tilting to the side. Varda seemed to be a mix of confusion and intrigue, though she only showed in the way she leaned closer.

“They told us that Sauron had come to the Shire and enslaved the Hobbits, but such has never happened,” Yavanna responded.

“We then noticed that some of the souls which had been there yesterday were no longer in the pastures. When we inquired their families – some of them the newcomers – they replied that the Orcs hadn’t killed them yet,” Vána added, crossing her arms.

“But how could that be?” Mahal asked incredulously, confusion etched onto his features.

“No!” Vairë suddenly yelled. Her husband was at her side in an instant, his hands on her shoulders comfortingly.

“What is it, my love?” Mandos asked, his tone gentle. Those changes in demeanour always confused Aulë, driving him to utter speechlessness.

“Erú… He..,” she stuttered, her face pale and terrified. Mandos placed a tender hand on her cheek, and she looked at him. She swallowed thickly and looked away then. “He…”

And like that, Mandos’s eyes widened, his jaw dropping in shock. He let his wife go and stumbled backwards until he hit the wall. Both were panting, a panicked cloud hovering above them.

And then Ulmo’s eyes widened as well, as well as Oromë’s and Manwë’s. Varda grabbed at her husband’s clothes in her despair, and Nienna took to weeping all over again.

Aulë was confused for a moment, but a warm hand on his arm drew his attention. He looked at his wife, the fire to his forge, her green eyes boring into his own, and he knew.

Brows scrunched and gaping, Aulë’s stance faltered. The sisters reached out to him, holding him up. ‘It can’t be,’ he thought to himself, dread freezing his body solid. He repeated his thought aloud, staring blankly at the floor.

The Valar remained still in their spots for a while, with no sound to be heard other than their panicked breaths and Nienna’s wailing. When the Lady of Mercy had ceased her sobbing to sporadic sniffles, a single voice spoke in the midst of the silence.

“What do we do now?”