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Toxicity

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Mairon stared blankly out at the desolation of Mordor, stretching outwards into the horizon, a bleak, cratered landscape where little stirred. From his view in the tower, he could just make out the pale flames of torches dotting the valley of Udûn, hundreds of orc-camps crowded side by side in the endless dark. The hot dusty wind fluttered through his hair, and there was moisture in it, coming up from the south. Good, they needed the rain. Orcs did not require much to subsist, but they could not go without entirely, and Núrn was late in their harvest this season. They should have grain aplenty soon enough. There was this and more to think about, all the moving parts of his vast dominion, working together like gears in a great machine. But as his gaze drifted along the rugged mountains and down across the plateau, a repeating mosaic of the same muted shades of grays and browns, he could dwell only on how much this land reminded him of the aftermath of the War. Perhaps it was his curse to live here and be reminded of it day after day, to smell him in the breeze and yet see only that which brought about his end. If he could only keep his eyes closed, maybe it would be bearable. Instead he just let his vision lose focus, becoming a lifeless blur before a lifeless face. Allowing his perception of time to fall away, like a thin shawl slipping off his shoulders, he sat undisturbed and unmoving, silhouetted by the faint orange glow of the fuming cone of Orodruin in the distance. None of his servants important enough to have direct contact with him, even the Nazgûl, ever dared attempt to rouse him from these states when they occurred.

When finally he stirred, Mairon looked out upon the exact same view he had left, but now the air was heavy and held a chill that crept quickly through his light robes. Six months had passed; the sea had brought rains to Núrn, the wheat seeded and was reaped, it was delivered and ground and baked and long since devoured by the famished orcs. Quietly he stood, limbs stiff and aching, and descended the steep stone stairs from the high tower. Upon seeing their master his loyal guards snapped to, straightening their backs, lifting their chins, and lining up to make a path for their lord, while the handful of thralls under their supervision scrambled to get back to work repairing a crumbling section of wall. Mairon took no notice of them, his deep amber eyes roving back and forth as if in a trance. He passed them by, and with a relieved sigh the men, gaunt and unshaven, slouched once more. The crack of a whip, once, twice, three times, sent them back into action, frantically laying bricks and mortar as Mairon continued to amble down the twisting halls, guided by little more than muscle memory. In front of a large wooden door he stopped, staring into it vacantly. Within a few seconds a guard appeared, and seeing his lord waiting, retrieved the key from his belt and pushed open the door with some effort. He bowed low and stepped back. Without acknowledgement, Mairon shuffled into the wide room, making his way to a large wardrobe against the far wall. With cold fingers, he pulled the tarnished gold handle and was met with a cloud of stale air. He paid it no heed, glassy gaze scanning the contents of the wardrobe. Gently he tugged towards him an old cloak, trimmed and lined with thick mottled fur from a breed of beast that had not walked the earth for over three thousand years. Though its deep crimson was now faded, it was in surprisingly fair condition given its age, as were the other garments on the rack next to it.

Like he had so many countless times before, Mairon wrapped the cloak around himself and felt life seep back into his tired bones. He stood there, face buried in the musty fur, breathing in the scent of him that lingered still, the memory of that old life of his. If he could just keep his eyes closed… maybe he could pretend. Perception returned to him slowly, and he became painfully aware of the absence of warmth in this place. He had lived in worse, but here, being alone made everything colder than ice. Picking himself up, he breathed deeply, letting the frigid air fill his lungs, and strode out of the room. Mordor did not sleep, neither could he. Until the next time, that is. This old thing would fall apart someday, he knew.

He needed a vacation. Somewhere new. An island, maybe. He hadn’t been to one of those in a long time. It would do him good to get away for a while. This place was toxic, even to him sometimes.