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shell and bone

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He comes under the cover of night, a beacon of light in the thick darkness of a day long past its end. His golden hair glimmers under the light of the moon even underneath the fuliginous veil he wears, and his long robes drag behind him as he not so much walks, but saunters towards her.

He is glorious, undoubtedly.

An image of the splendour of eras past, shining bright amidst the mortals he claims to love; it’s not hard to see how he ascended so swiftly, how he tricked even the immortal elven-lords into adoring him—there is a glow, a weight to his presence that demands reverence, demands worship.

It’s formidable and more frightening than she could ever have imagined. Ethereal in the way all things heavenly are—terrifying.

His eyes are fixed on her as he walks, slow and not without menace, a predator approaching a certain prey. Trying to hold his molten gaze is impossible, though that does not stop her from trying, and she watches as his lips curve into a smile every time she fails.

It is the first time they’ll speak without the looming presence of the coward and weakling who calls himself her husband and her king.

“My Queen,” He says once he stands near enough to be heard, his power almost tangible in the air around them from this distance. His voice is warm and soft, and the golden ring on his finger shines brighter than she would have thought possible.

She does not know how to address him.

“Uncommon to see you lurking without the company of your pet, o Lord of the Earth,” She says instead, contempt dripping through her tone. Ineffective if the way he smiles once again is any indication.

“Pet! My Lady, that is too strong a word, don’t you think? We have kept many a beast more pleasant than Man—We would hardly do them shame with such comparison!” His voice is mocking, his clear disregard for the King catching her by surprise, as expected as it might have been.

The amusement she feels is too sudden to be contained and it’s matched by the pleased glow of his eyes when she glances at them.

“How very daring! Your Lordship could be thrown back into the dungeons were I to report his words to the King.” The threat is empty, no more than a jest in the eyes of someone of his power, but it feels right in her tongue so she delivers it regardless, fully aware her status does not permit such accusations to be thrown around free of consequence.

“We would not believe Our Queen enough of a fool to be unaware that her words carry no weight and hold no power in this court. Mistakes We might have made in the past, but Our judgement has always been solid in this one aspect—the brightness of Our favoured ones. Lady Míriel would not underestimate Our grasp on the hearts of Men or overestimate her own importance.” He lowers his eyes, almost as if in respect, and lifts a hand to his chest before looking up once more.

The brightness of Our favoured ones, he had said and the words ring in her mind, their meaning beyond her, tangled in distrust and curiosity.

“Words of poison disguised as pleasantries and flattery!” She exclaims at last, a frown working its way on her face. “It is useless, Zigûr—whatever might you seek, I will not give. And if it is in my power to withhold it, so I shall.”

“We seek nothing, Righteous Queen, but the friendship of a kindred soul.” He says, standing to his full height once more, and she fights the instinct to step back from the sheer force of his gaze.

She laughs, empty and false: “Kindred? We are nothing alike, fiend, and do not insult me by presuming us to be. So here I repeat to you, the words the Doomed Craftsman said to your master at his door: Begone!”

“Bold words! Though far from wrong, We must agree: there are few similarities between yourself and Us,” He answers, the edge of laughter in his voice. “We are close to a God amidst those around Us, eternal and more powerful than even thought can conceive. We have served the holiest and most powerful of beings on his plane, We have killed far many greater than you and fought wars older than the race of Men. We will fight many more, and We will win many of them. We were there at the beginning of this world and it was Our voice that wove the threads of the Earths beneath your feet—We will be there at World’s End too, to witness the last breath of the Second Born, the last drop of blood of the First Born, to hear the Silence of Eternity as it falls upon Arda Marred.” Each word seems to make him greater, more powerful until the air cracks around them with his might. She can’t help but let her eyes widen in fear she cannot contain as she steps back and once more, physically pushed away by the glow of the Wizard’s strength. “No, Queen-Usurped, we are little alike.” He says and at once, all his power returns to its vessel, leaving the air around them empty and lacking, and her heartbeat ringing loud in the now silent halls.

“But I do believe we could be,” His glowing gaze sharpens, focuses on her with an intensity even his greater form had lacked and she steps back again just as he steps forward.

A shimmer of golden thickens with each pace taken, magic of a subtler kind changing the very shape of him with each move he makes. It leaves her, not frightened anymore, but staring agape as his veil dissolves into sand, quickly blown away by a gust of wind and a new face stares her down just as her back hits the wall.

That the sight of him, stripped of personality, was always a wonder is no secret—many of the Faithful have guessed, possibly not incorrectly, that it was the Wizard’s beauty that blinded the King, allowed a monster into the courts of Anadûnê. His appearance always matched his origins: celestial, otherworldly, divine.

To all that, she agreed, as all creatures capable of sight would. There was never any doubt that this was the very being who swayed the elven lords of Eregion to his favour, who talked his way into the Smith Lord’s heart and bed, who lead him to his demise.

Now, however, he seemed beyond even that.

Every aspect of him seemed to glow—from the bronze of his skin to the silver of his hair, brows and lashes, all seemingly dipped in moonlight. The lines of his robes change with him, accommodating curves that had not been there before, the lines of his face turning softer and more familiar until she gasps at the sight, back hitting the wall just as the golden sand vanishes from the air.

“What an interesting shape your dreams conjure, o Queen of Sorrows!” He laughs, sharpness gone from his teeth and gold gone from his eyes. “We always thought you ambitious, but Avradî Gimilnitîr? The Holy Queen herself? We salute you, for we are much more similar than We first thought! To chase the highest of Avalôi!” The face of her dreams turns to her, expression dipped in amusement as shame burns in her belly. “Your kind might think of blasphemy, Queen Ours, but worry not—We, of all beings, are nothing if not understanding of your wants and needs. Power is, after all, more than worth lusting after.”

The Holy Queen’s image walks until they are but a breath apart, smile still spread on full lips and a burning need that reflects her own in those impossible blue eyes.

“Sacrilegious monster,” She says, but her voice is weak and unimposing and Elentári laughs, well-earned arrogance mixed with a soft depth that leaves her breathless.

“We are merely the shape of your desires, dear one," A teasing smile. "We can give you so much—,” She whispers against her hair, gentle to the point she can imagine the words flowing with the wind. “so, so much. What is righteously yours and beyond. All you can imagine, shall you have. Is a kingdom what you seek? We shall give yours back,” Long fingers trail her arm, leaving goosebumps in their wake. “Or is revenge what you want, perhaps?” The tip of her nose grazes the line of her jaw, impossibly warm setting her skin ablaze. “Power, then?” Lips, soft against her throat. “Ah, but why choose! One as ambitious as yourself!” Teeth, scratching at her neck. “We will give you all of the above and more!” The heavy embroidery of robes pressed tight against the lightness of her sleepwear. “All We need is a word, dearest Queen of the West, Our beautiful Zimra-an-Adûn.”

It hits her as a wave would: all her fire, all her spirit, everything that had been sucked away by Pharazôn seemingly relit by the sharpness and certainty of soft words, by the flicker of flames against her flesh.

A sudden anger boils in her chest and she pushes the Holy Queen’s image back, abrupt but certain, stares into fake blue eyes sprinkled with surprise and sees that face that lies beneath it, sees the creature for what it is—one of the Powers, older than the world itself, beautiful and terrifying, genderless and eternal.

Míriel pushes forward, meeting her lips to the theirs with a strength she did not know herself to have, kissing them as she would the Lady of her dreams, as she would have, hadhad  not smothered her own spirit to leave room for another’s.

The Enemy pushes against her, responding to her kiss in kind and she whimpers against the press of their body against hers, the power that surges through them and into her just before they pull apart.

“We need a word, Tar-Míriel.” They say, a wash of silver sand taking away the shape of her Queen of Stars, silvers giving way to golden as they assume another form with a step back. The use of her name makes her shiver, and she feels it again, the burst of power brought on by their proximity as it lights up her veins.

Míriel takes a deep breath, resolution settling itself inside her with all the strength of the Earth’s core.

“Yes,” She says, chin raised high as she stares down at the monster who will be her salvation, “The word is yes, Lord of Mordor.”

A sharp smile spreads on their face and a ring of darkness pulses around them in a heartbeat. It's a different shape to his almost familia power, a deja-vu of a feeling that makes her knees nearly give out under her with its might. She’s sure the rest of the palace must have felt it, but the Zigûr seems unconcerned, slitted eyes shining red and focused on her as they extend a hand in the air, the gold of his ring sucking every other source of light around them.

“Nine for mortal Men,” They whisper, and in the palm of their hand a new shape manifests—another ring, she realises, intricate looking and as red as the blood that courses through her veins.

Instinct takes over as she reaches for it, drawn by its light in a way she had never found herself to be, and the Zigûr takes advantage of that to grab a hold of her hand.

“This was made with the help of someone very dear to me,” Their voice seems almost soft, their hold on her hand almost gentle as they lift the ring to the light, examining with near nostalgia. “The most powerful of the Nine,” They take one look at her index finger and her wedding ring dissolves into dust. “As you shall be the best of them.” They say, turning to look at her, through her, as they slip the ring onto her finger. “Take care of it, Queen Míriel.”

Another wave hits her as they step away, throwing her back with its strength. A new surge of power rises inside her, coursing through her body with reckless abandon and so overwhelming she feels as if she’s being swallowed by it, losing herself to it. 

It's maddening, the sensation of something forein running through one's veins, chaining itself into one's spirit, and she hears herself whimpering, crying out in a way that seems as if it were a painful reconstruction of her past. 

Not again, she begs. 

Not again, she realises.

Never again, she decides.  

She lost herself once before, lost her agency to an outside power, one much lesser than this. 

She refuses to let it happen again. 

A scream makes its way out her throat as a fire lights anew inside her, pushing her to fight back.

And fight back she does, pushing her entire being against this foreign might, crashing her very self against it again and again, until she feels it cowering before the force of her nature.

It kneels before her—she swallows it whole.

The energy it releases inside her makes her feel as if she might burst at the seams.

Míriel smiles, looking up at the delighted eyes of her new Maker.

“Queen of the West,” They say, their sharp teeth evident in their own smile. They do not offer her a hand—she does not need it.

“Not Queen,” Her voice is a different kind of breathless now, the voice of a creature born anew. She rises to her feet, staring her patron Maia in the eyes. “I have been a Queen, if not on my own right. I did not enjoy the experience,” Their eyes shine brighter with each word out of her mouth, the eyes of a craftsman whose creation met their standards. “I would much like to see what being a King feels like, now.”

“Ha! Very well!” They laugh, a hand to their chest in deference she knows to be mocking, but that nevertheless feels far more respectful than any she has ever received before. “Then, King you shall be. My very own Witch-King.” They say and she feels a sigh accompany the shivers that run through her.

“Yours, then.” She says, and bows; it’s not nearly as humiliating as she would’ve thought. Bowing comes easy when accompanied by respect, it seems.

“As your first gift, I shall give you this—,” A word in a language she does not speak and cannot understand, and a shadow comes through the window, swift and silent. “A companion.”

The shadow walks towards their creator, bowing with a grace unlike any other before rising again to its full height.

“This is Khamûl of the Easterlings,” Zigûr says, a tone of fondness in their voice. “Your second in command; one of the brightest stars of the East.” Khamûl’s dark eyes are set ablaze by the words, pride and defiance alike. There is a scar running across their left eye, but that is all she can see from their face. “She will take you from here when the time comes.”

“Not now?” She asks, but doesn’t turn her gaze from Khamûl’s, enjoying the depth she finds in them, the low hum of energy kept under control she feels emanating from her.

“Not now.” Another cloud of gold, another shape-shift. Their regular façade now, the one that shows its face to the King and Court, beautiful and tame compared to the sights she’s seen thus far. “For now, we all play our parts. Khamûl will see that you know what needs knowing.” They say, a flicker of annoyance crossing their features as they turn away from Míriel, a hand grasping Khamûl’s shoulder in a way that makes her stand prouder before they start their walk back towards the path they came from. “For now, We have some vermin to indulge. But soon. Soon—” Another surge of energy, the strongest of all, but gone too fast to be felt as anything but a tremor of the Earth.

“—the Fall will come.” Khamûl finishes, accent thick and voice smooth as she bows at the Wizard’s distancing back before turning her eyes to Míriel once more. “And we will rise, o King.” A spark of electricity runs through Míriel at the confidence of her voice, the glow of her eyes and she bows as well.

“So we will.” She says, finally looking over to the Zigûr's departing back. “We will raise a new world. And those who did us harm will pay.” Pharazôn’s haughty face flashes through her mind, and she sneers before letting out a bark of laughter wholly unbefitting of royalty.

She will steal everything back from him, or destroy it all trying.