Buffy decided that she wanted to verify what she had seen in her vision, so she immediately headed north towards Angband. If Willow could only see me now, thought the Slayer as she began her journey. Willow had learned the art of astral projection while living in England but she didnÂ’t protect her body from any creepy crawlers that might invade it like Buffy had done. All and all, this was the quickest means of traveling that Buffy was able to do on her own. Nothing compared to it.

In no time, at all Buffy saw the Engrin Mountains looming before her. In the foreground stood the three peaks of Thangorodrim. It was exactly as she had seen it in her dream. A feeling of satisfaction encompassed her. She wasn’t crazy. She found herself exploring that region more thoroughly than when she was with Salmar. Not Angband per se but the entire northern region that she had never seen before. She did recognize Nan Dungortheb from the air and the great road that was built by the dwarves long ago. The same one on which she had met Drór and the other dwarves a year ago. She went as far as Ered Luin before turning and heading west towards the shores of Middle-earth.

As she passed Thangorodrim, she descended even lower and noticed a great many people about a large elongated lake out of which four streams sprang. She knew that had to be Lake Mithrim from the looks of it as she had studied the maps of ThingolÂ’s numerous times. She had never seen it before with her own two eyes. That entire area seemed to be covered in mist or fog. Very much like London in modern times. Buffy descended even lower so that she was level with the treetops. She could make out every minute detail of their homes, livestock and people. It was amazing. Even stranger was the fact that some of these people seemed to notice her. A few of them were pointing up in her direction making Buffy turn to see if someone was behind her. There wasnÂ’t anybody in sight. This made her slightly uncomfortable so she once again soared higher above the ground.

She increased her speed and continued west. When she reached the shores of Middle-earth she felt compelled to continue on. She decided that she wanted to see if she could find the Blessed Realm Valinor that the elves went on and on about in Doriath. Maybe she could even see the Valar themselves. She had no idea of how far that place was; only that it was due west of Beleriand.

Buffy’s journey continued even as nightfall came and went. She felt neither exhaustion nor hunger. Despite the frigid temperatures of that region, she felt no cold. She was content… and determined. It was many days into her trip when she noticed a mass exodus of people wandering through the wickedly cold region of Helcaraxë. These pilgrims seemed quite miserable and the conditions of the road were horrible to say the least. Even though the area was still shrouded in mists, she could clearly see the people attempting to fight off the bitter winds from the north; trudging along with their belongings on the very dangerous and icy road. Buffy wondered what would make these people go to such lengths to apparently reach Middle-earth. And were these people from Valinor or some other land that the elves of Menegroth didn’t know about? These were questions that Buffy wondered about as she continued west.

Her days and nights ran together, but at last she came upon a mystical region that she believed to be Valinor. She could sense great magics about that place and was reluctant to proceed any further. The entire area seemed to be enmeshed in shadows of bewilderment. Instinctively, she knew that if she continued on some alarm system would be activated by The Powers. She didnÂ’t know if she was allowed to enter that place so she remained where she was. Her eyes were able to pierce through the shadows and she saw many islands set out before the largest mountain that she had ever seen in her life. Much greater in elevation than even the Alps. As she lowered her eyes she could make out the smooth, steep black walls of rock that rose from the depths of the sea to form the foundation of that magnificent land. The land of perpetual spring. In Valinor the grass stays green year round and the weather is perfect at all times. No illness visits that place which is cloaked in deep magics.

The longer that Buffy stayed there, the more she yearned to break through The Powers mystical barrier. She had no idea of what the ramifications of that would be so she reluctantly turned around and proceeded back the way she had come. After several days of traveling she came upon those elves again. It was snowing and very cold when she passed over them during the night. Many fires were lit and there were thousands of small tents erected on the icy plain. Under the cover of darkness, Buffy descended lower than ever before wanting to get a good look at these people and maybe, just maybe she could overhear what they were up to.

Many men stood guard throughout the night. She wasn’t going to burst through anyone’s tent so she figured she would check out the guards. She thought that the mists would help to conceal her fey. What did she know? She was now at ground level. She was startled when she came face to face with a golden haired elf wearing a black fur cloak. It was quite obvious that he could see her. They both remained there for a moment in shocked disbelief. He was trembling from the cold and Buffy’s heart was filled with pity for him and his people. She experienced this weird sense of déjà vu. Buffy was mesmerized by his deep gray eyes. They spoke not one word to each other. When she heard someone coming from behind the elf, she decided to make a hasty retreat.

Instead of traversing through Beleriand, Buffy decided to follow the coastline south. She wanted to see the Falas where the people of Círdan dwelt. While Buffy did not physically experience the variation in climate as she traveled, she had a good sense of the weather being much warmer at the Falas than, say, Helcaraxë. Actually, it looked like spring was in the air. Great fields of wild flowers could be seen and even though she was in spirit form her senses still worked. She could smell the sweet fragrance of the flowers bursting in a myriad of colors.

Soon she was back at the mystical pool. She was anxious to find Mablung and tell him about her little adventure and the newcomers who were approaching Middle-earth. Newly embodied, she crawled out of the pool drenched to the bone. She twisted the water out of her clothing the best she could before slipping on her sandals and made a beeline back to The House.

Many of the people looked at Buffy with wonderment in their eyes. Apparently Mablung had told them about her newfound abilities. Buffy didn’t think it was such a big deal, but evidently it was to the elves. Unfortunately Mablung was not there when she arrived. He had been invited on a hunting trip and would not be back for a couple of days. Instead she passed the time with Orchal. “Long you have been gone, Bellaseth,” he had said to her after she had changed her clothes.

“Long?” queried the Slayer. “How long?” she asked apprehensively.

“You have been gone for over one year,” he replied.

“What? A year?” she exclaimed. “How’s that possible? I mean, it didn’t seem that long to me. Maybe a couple of weeks or something, but a whole year?!”

“Perhaps your fey travels more slowly than perceived,” suggested Orchal. “That is an ability that I do not possess so I can speculate no further.”

Buffy began calculating the time in her mind. “A year plus the six months that I slept from Nestor’s Draught… That means that… wait a minute…” Buffy wasn’t the greatest at doing math problems in her head, but by all accounts, she was now twenty-seven years old. She had missed two birthdays! To her, it seemed like yesterday when she arrived in Middle-earth and now it was two years later.

Mablung returned three days later. He had explained to her about his inability to wait for her by the pool due to the magicÂ’s of Ulmo. After several months, he had returned to Menegroth to explain to Thingol and Melian about BuffyÂ’s newfound skill. For some reason Buffy wished that he hadnÂ’t shared the news of her new ability with anyone. But what was done was done. They remained in Ossir exploring that land until the following spring. Spring coincided with winter in BuffyÂ’s time, meaning she now celebrated her twenty-eighth birthday as well.

By the time they returned to Menegroth, everyone treated Buffy differently and she hated that. Her new powers suggested that she was indeed one of the Ainur but Buffy blew that off. In her modern world, mortals have learned many great skills that one could easily confuse for being works of someone with a higher power. Take Willow for example. She was someone who had the ability to open portals and cast very powerful spells. And she was far from being some type of god.

As the days turned into weeks Buffy became more and more restless. She concluded that this was one of the side effects from astral projection. She was no longer content living within the Halls of Thingol. It seemed that it was closing in on her, becoming smaller and smaller in spite of its size. Even though it was a place of great beauty, it seemed to her to become more like a tomb with every passing day. A tomb that was squelching all happiness from her soul. More and more of her time was spent in the woods of Neldoreth or Region. She yearned for a more normal existence. And living under ThingolÂ’s roof wasnÂ’t cutting it any more.

It was during one summer day while wandering along the bank of the Esgalduin with Mablung that the Slayer heard a familiar tune being sung.

“Do you hear that?” she asked Mablung. He nodded as they went to investigate. Much to Buffy’s surprise she saw a cart being pulled by a pony. It was the Dwarves! Buffy hadn’t seen them since the war.

“Hail Buffy,” greeted Drór as his wagon came to a halt.

“Hey Drór,” she said as she approached his wagon. “It’s good to see you again.” She introduced Mablung to the dwarf and his companions. She still referred to the others by the color of their cloaks much to their delight. “The elves call me Bellaseth now,” she informed them.

“It is good to see that you have made a home for yourself here,” remarked purple-cloaked dwarf.

“Well, kinda.” Buffy then revealed that she was no longer content living underground. She longed for her own space. A home to call her own.

Drór laughed in a gruntingly fashion. “It is funny you should say that. You have been in my thoughts of late,” he began as the sound of more ponies could be heard going clippity-clop down the stone road. Drór held up his wrist and showed that he was still wearing the watch Buffy gave him. “I have never repaid you for your kind gift.”

“You don’t owe me anything Drór. You guys gave me a ride to Eglador. That was my payment to you,” she said with a chuckle.

“No. We dwarves have learned much from studying this instrument that you call a ‘watch’. We have labored unceasingly in duplicating this device and have finally mastered the craft of time keeping. We owe much gratitude to you Buff… ah, Bellaseth. We have come to Eglador to repay our debt to you.” Buffy attempted to protest, but Drór would hear none of it. “So you desire a house then. We dwarves will see to it that it is the most worthy house in Beleriand.” They were joined by six additional carts of dwarves who brought along a lot of supplies.

Buffy looked at Mablung. They were both totally stunned. “What do you think?” she asked her beloved.

He smiled. “It should be close to Thingol in case we are needed. I know your fondness for Neldoreth, but I think that our home should be located in Region. There is that spot where you like to bathe in the sun… ”

“That’s perfect,” she interjected. “Do we need to get Thingol’s permission or something? I don’t know how this works.”

“No. Let us show the Naugrim where we wish to dwell.” Mablung grabbed her hand and they led the dwarves to one of their favorite spots in the forest. They discussed certain features that they would like to have in their home. Every girl has in her mind’s eye what her dream home would be like and Buffy was no exception. At first she thought maybe something small. Like her home in Sunnydale. But the dwarves insisted that it should be large; something worthy of two powerful warriors.

They walked through the woods until it opened up to a great meadow that covered about five acres. It was a beautiful sight and very private. Buffy was specific about one thing – she didn’t want the house made from stone. Instead she wanted it to be constructed from brick. Everyone agreed to accommodate her. A few hours later the dwarves began their work. Many of the elves volunteered to help in the building of Buffy and Mablung’s dream house.

It was a few days later when Buffy and Mablung received yet another pleasant surprise – a visit from Beleg from the north marches. It had been quite a while since they had last seen each other.

“Hey Beleg,” said Buffy as she gave him a hug. “It’s been a long while,” she continued. “What brings you to our soon to be humble abode?”

Beleg cast a glance at the foundation of the soon to be mansion. “Humble?” he queried with a chuckle. “I daresay it is anything but… ”

“Only the best for my Bella,” chimed in Mablung as he put his arm around the Slayer. “What news do you bring my friend? For my heart tells me that something troubles you.”

“Alas! You speak truly Mablung. The strangest thing happened to me about a fortnight ago. I was out on patrol when I came upon Dúros, son of Mudol, an old friend of mine.” Buffy looked at Mablung, who nodded his head indicating that he recognized the person that Beleg was speaking about. “He seemed rather anomalous to me. I knew that something was not right with him. Before I knew it, his face became distorted, his eyes turned yellow, he sprouted fangs and leapt at me whilst atop my steed. He tried to bite me!”

“You mean he’s a vampire?” asked Buffy.

“What else could he be? I have seen them when we have patrolled before Bellaseth. But I have never encountered someone I know with this ailment,” stated Beleg.

“It is no ailment,” said Mablung. “Dúros is most certainly dead. You have encountered the demon that has taken his body. Do not forget that.”

“Did you stake him?” asked Buffy.

“Alas! No,” he replied in a sorrowful tone. “I beat him off me and when I pulled out my bow, he fled. Dúros could not forget how accurate I am with my weapon.”

“Does he still dwell within the forest of Brethil?” questioned Mablung.

“Indeed. I recall when Thingol asked us to have our people remove themselves within the confines of the Great Wood that Dúros refused the summons. He told me that he did not fear the creatures of Bauglir… There are many people in that village. I was reluctant to attack them without Bella. This is definitely a task that requires the skill of the Slayer. For all I know, all of them could be vampires.”

“Chances are he left a few unharmed.” Beleg looked at Buffy with a doubtful expression. “Vamps gotta feed, don’t they? They’re gonna keep some alive for that purpose.”

“Let us inform the King about this situation,” stated Mablung. “With his leave, we will hunt Dúros and any other of his kin that have been turned.” Immediately the threesome headed to Menegroth where they informed Thingol of the situation in Brethil. He gave his consent for them to hunt down this newly discovered menace.

Buffy went to her chambers to collect some weapons. She brought her scythe, crossbow and a handful of stakes that she had whittled soon after her arrival in Middle-earth. She placed her tools of the trade into her duffel bag along with a spare set of clothes. Mablung soon entered her room.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“Almost.” Buffy pulled out a small wooden box that Galadhon had made for her a while back. She opened the box and pulled out the crucifix that Angel gave her. She turned to Mablung. “I want you to have this,” she said as she clasped it about his neck. “This has saved my butt a few times. But now I want you to have it. It’ll protect you. If any vamp gets too close, this will stop ‘em. I don’t know what I would do if something happened to you.” She placed her hand on the cross and softly said a prayer of protection.

Mablung placed his hand over hers. “That is a priceless gift, my love. Are you sure you wish to part with it?”

“Oh yeah.” She smiled at him. “I don’t think I’ll need it any more.”

“I will cherish it always.” He kissed her softly on the lips before departing the Halls of Thingol.

They met with Beleg at the corral where their horses were and soon began their trek to Brethil. They headed south-west following the flow of the Esgalduin. Just south of the convergence of Esgalduin and the River Sirion there was a bridge that crossed the Great River (Sirion) leading into Western Beleriand. Brethil was still somewhat north from this area, but the bridge was the only place where they could safely cross the river on horseback. They were very close to the borders of Doriath. The western border of Doriath was Nivrim, the great oak forest; where the trees made the redwoods of California look like toothpicks. It was a narrow land that was under the domain of Túreb, the chief marchwarden of western Doriath.

Túreb’s camp was located just south of the River Teiglin, which ran in an easterly direction until it met Sirion. It was impossible to cross Teiglin at this point as its banks were too steep. Buffy was delighted to meet yet another warrior of Doriath. He did not fight with her in the war but led a separate troop to attack the forces of Bauglir in the vicinity of his home. Túreb was a kind fellow very much like all the other elves Buffy had met. He was not as tall as Beleg or Mablung and he had this flaming red hair that made him look absolutely stunning. Buffy had never seen hair like that before. He detested evil more than anything else in this world and had a reputation for his fiery temper. Once he was angered, you better watch out.

Túreb and his people named their dwelling place Taurost (forest-town). There were a lot more homes here than on the northern marches of Doriath where Beleg lived. Just outside of Taurost were the fields in which livestock grazed and wheat and other food products were grown. It was a nice set up. Very… normal. Here the children played and music and dancing were prevalent. The aroma of cooking meat and fresh baked bread reminded Buffy of home like never before. It was a happy place. And safe. Buffy was glad that she had finally come here. The people happily welcomed them and fed them until they thought they would burst. A hot bath was the perfect ending to that perfect day.

The trio got up before dawn the following morning. Túreb and some of his men wanted to join them in hunting down the vampires. After saying farewell to the others, they made their way west along Teiglin until they reached the fords that allowed them passage into Brethil. Brethil was still claimed as part of Thingol’s lands but it was not under the Girdle of Enchantment. A dirt road meandered through the towering birch trees leading to the village that once was and hopefully still is the home of Dúros.

It was late afternoon when they arrived outside the village. There were about one hundred homes of various shapes and sizes scattered throughout that region. The sun, which was already beginning to set in the west gave one the illusion that nightfall had come early to this place. The group discussed their plan of attack.

“We must determine how many vampires actually reside here,” said Mablung. “There are only ten of us versus how many of them, I wonder… ”

“Let me scout out the village, Mablung,” suggested Túreb. “If Beleg goes Dúros will surely know that we are on to him. If Bellaseth goes, well, let us face the facts, she is a Vampire Slayer. That would be a dead give away… ”

“No pun intended, huh Túreb?” joked Buffy. “He’s right though.”

“I have been to these parts many times. Dúros will not suspect that I know about his… transformation.” It seemed quite clear that Túreb was the best man for the job. He would also take his number two man, Sador, who was extremely loyal to his chief.

“Do not engage the enemy,” instructed Mablung. “You are to scout out his location and then report back to me. Sound your horn, Sador, if you find yourselves in a perilous situation. We will wait here. If you are not back in twenty minutes we will all enter the village and search for you. Be very careful.”

“Do not say or do anything that may indicate that you are aware of their plight,” added Beleg. “Tread carefully.”

Everyone looked at Buffy waiting for her instructions. “Oh,” she said as all eyes were on her. “Wait a minute.” She reached in her duffel bag and pulled out two stakes. “Take these. Just in case.” She tossed a stake to each of them. “Nail ‘em in the heart with that or cut off their head; that’s the easiest way to kill ‘em.” Mablung and Beleg looked aghast that she would encourage them to start a fight. “ItÂ’s for defensive purposes only,” she replied off their looks. “Just be careful and donÂ’t get bitÂ… or die.” Buffy was anxious to engage the enemy. It had been a while since she had had a good old-fashioned brawl. Just like the old days.

A few minutes later, Túreb and Sador disappeared. Buffy and the others led their horses further away from the village and off the beaten path, tethering them to some trees. And then they waited. Time seemed to be moving so slowly. It always does when you’re on the cusp of a battle. Buffy nervously twirled her stake through her fingers. Her scythe hung from her waist by means of a belt that was wrought by Elmo. It was similar to a scabbard yet not really as the shape was quite unique. One clasp needed to be undone for her to access the weapon. It was actually a very clever design.

They continued waiting. After twenty minutes had passed they decided that they would move on to Plan B: separate into pairs and enter the village from the north, west, south and east. That way they would hopefully come across their missing friends. Plan B was about to be set in motion when Túreb and Sador returned with a woman who was in near hysterics. They explained to the rest of the group how the woman’s baby was taken from her as an offering to Daehir, the head honcho of the vampires in their little community. The woman herself had not been bitten. She told them that many of the people were turned to vampires and others were taken captive at Daehir’s fortress on the north side of town. Tonight they would be performing the annual Transformation Ritual. The ‘feasts’ were something that they had started two years ago. This would be the third one to take place in Brethil. There were several elves that were eagerly waiting to be turned. “I do not understand why an elf would willingly want to become a demon,” said Túreb. “We have already been given the gift of immortality.”

“It’s about power, Túreb,” Buffy answered. “When they come back as a vampire, they’re much stronger than they were before. And more wicked. They may have the memories of their former self, but believe me, they’re not the same person any more… Did you guys find their lair?”

“Yes,” replied Sador. “One cannot miss it. It is the only dwelling that is fortified with a fence of sharp poles.”

“Tell me you’re joking Sador!” exclaimed Buffy with a laugh. “Cause that’s only gonna make it easier to kill them.”

“I jest you not, Dagnir,” he responded. “You will soon see for yourself.”

“So when is this Ritual supposed to take place?” Buffy queried the woman.

“At midnight, as they always do,” answered the woman.

“Handel, may we go back to your home and discuss our strategy there?” asked Túreb. “I do not think it is wise for us to be out in the open where the enemy can set their eyes upon us.”

“Of course. All that I ask is that you bring my baby back to me… in one piece… and not as a vampire,” she answered as she blew her nose into a handkerchief.

“We will do our best, lady,” he replied solemnly. The group made their way to Handel’s house, which was, situated a couple of blocks southeast of Daehir’s compound. They walked as casually as they could through the near empty streets. Those that were still outdoors were hastily retreating into their homes before the darkness could completely overtake them. Buffy looked from house to house and noticed that the occupants had their curtains drawn. Their silhouettes could faintly be seen by the illumination of the oil lamps that burned within.

They asked numerous questions regarding The Ritual. Handel told them that the Ritual lasts three days. Daehir starts the festivities off by a Bloodletting ceremony in which they feed on all the young children that their minions were able to capture. Daehir himself had a preference for infants. He called them his ‘delicate morselsÂ’. According to Handel, Daehir and his emissaries had entered their town over two years ago. At first, they did not recognize the demons’ true nature. That came in time. Daehir established friendships with the villagers and was soon invited to most of their homes for various feasts and celebrations. Then began the disappearances. First it was a person here or there and then whole families would disappear. Gradually, more and more people vanished and some returned but wereÂ… different. Other elves were brought into town from other places and given the homes that were vacated by the previous owners. Some of these were in league with Daehir, some were not. A lot of men were taken into captivity as slaves but many were allowed to go free in order to breed; in return they had to give up their first-born child to the emissaries of Daehir.

“Should we wait until this… Blood-Letting Ceremony begins or shall we strike before then?” inquired Beleg.

“That is a good question, Beleg,” replied Mablung. “Tell me Handel, where exactly do they perform this Ritual?”

“Oh,” she answered weakly. “The actual Blood-Letting ceremony is done in the courtyard of that main house of Daehir’s. One can hear the pleas for help from the captives.” Her eyes welled with tears once again. Handel tried to distract herself by making some tea for the people now congregated in her kitchen. “It is a warning, you see. The cries of the victims are a way of cowering those that have not yet been changed.” Handel paused as she poured tea into the many cups that adorned her tabletop. “All the victims are bound together and brought before Daehir in the courtyard,” she continued. “Daehir allows his minions to choose the captive of their choice. Some are immediately attacked while others are taken away… what atrocities the evil ones commit… ” she shuddered. “I cannot even imagine.”

“Waiting could have disastrous results,” answered Túreb. “My heart tells me that we should attack swiftly.”

“I disagree,” replied Mablung. “You are at times hasty in your decisions, Túreb. If we attack the demons whilst in their fortress, they may slaughter all the prisoners. I feel it is best to wait until they are brought outdoors. That shall make it easier for us to save them… ”

“I agree with Mablung,” added Beleg. “It will be much easier to retrieve the prisoners while outside. What say you Bella?”

“I agree.” She cast a glance at Mablung and winked. “We’ll wait.” She took sip of tea. “But something tells me that this is gonna be a long night.”

After many long hours of waiting, BuffyÂ’s restlessness could not be quelled any longer. She departed HandelÂ’s house with her party, all wearing their cloaks with their hoods drawn up. They made every attempt to conceal their weapons and identities, especially BuffyÂ’s. They broke apart into teams of two; each heading in a different direction. Buffy had obviously teamed up with Mablung. They took their positions on the east side of the wooden spike fence. There were many oil lamps hung from tree limbs within the compound as well as torches that were lit in the courtyard. This they could make out by peering through the cracks in the fence.

“How stupid can they be?” Buffy whispered to Mablung. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of vampires using wooden stakes for security purposes before. And all those torches… they’re just asking for it.”

“Keep in mind that none of us knew how to kill a vampire until you came along,” said Mablung. “Perhaps they think that we have no idea of what they are and how to kill them.”

“You make a good point,” Buffy said softly. “Maybe that’s why I’m so attracted to you – you’re not only handsome but smart too.” Mablung laughed quietly and kissed her on the hand. Buffy had to stay focused. They were in surveillance mode not romantic mode.

It was nearly midnight and Buffy’s patience was reaching its limit. A moment later they heard the sound of a horn being blown followed by the rhythmic beating of drums. “It looks like the party’s starting,” she whispered. The front doors of the main house opened and many of Daehir’s minions exited the fortress with the prisoner’s in tow. “There’s no sense in waiting any more, Mablung.” She eyed the wall that was about twenty feet tall. “I can jump their fence easily enough. Let’s teach these bastards a lesson about using sharp pointy poles for fortification purposes. If any try to escape, throw them on their own stakes.”

“What shall I do? I cannot scale that wall,” asked Mablung.

“Wait for my sign,” she answered as she gave him a quick kiss on the forehead. She easily leapt over the wall and was now inside the compound. Peering from behind a tree, Buffy surveyed the positions of the guards. She noticed that there were only two gatekeepers and ten vampires that oversaw the captives. The captive’s hands and feet were bound by ropes and all were tethered together. But there were no little children or babies among them. Buffy counted thirty prisoners. She was shocked that the vampire’s numbers were so small, but than again they weren’t expecting any type of attack.

The house resembled a lodge in BuffyÂ’s eyes. It had what the elves referred to as the main house with two wings on either side. The entire structure was constructed from wood and stood two stories high. The windows were covered by thick black drapes that prevented her from seeing inside. Not even the glow from the lamps could be seen through that fabric. The courtyard was positioned between the wings and was covered in grass with some scattered bare patches of earth. There was no concrete or brick. In the center of the courtyard was a large stone statue of a vampire (Buffy assumed it was Daehir) feeding on a young female elf. It was the only thing made from stone that Buffy could see. The minions and prisoners were gathered in front of the statue facing the house with their backs toward the main gate. It was time for her to make her move.

She pulled her stake out of the back of her breeches and stealthily approached the vampire guards at the gate. Mablung waited anxiously for some sign that Buffy was alright. It came only moments later. She got behind one, covered his mouth and twisted his neck. A loud cracking sound indicated that she broke it. She clung to his limp form as she rammed a stake through his heart. Poof! He was dusted. The second one turned to face her and before he could shout a warning to his brethren, Buffy pounced on top of him, covered his mouth and rammed her stake through his heart.

With the two gatekeepers dead, Buffy went to the wall where Mablung was on the other side. “Hey,” she whispered. “Get the others and meet me at the front gate. And hurry.” Buffy went back to the front gate and waited fretfully for the others. She was thankful that there were so many trees as it obscured the view from the windows and the courtyard. As she waited, the temptation to set the whole damn place on fire came to mind but she knew that there were innocent lives at stake. The children had to be imprisoned somewhere within the walls of the house itself.

After several minutes the guys were finally assembled at the main gate. Buffy undid the latch, let them in, and carefully locked it back up.

“Is it wise to lock us in this place with all those vampires?” asked Sador with much concern.

“We don’t want to make it obvious that we breached their wall. I can’t believe they don’t know we’re here yet. Only two guards… ” Buffy was interrupted by the sound of a loud blast from a horn.

“It looks like our presence has been discovered,” chimed in Beleg as he armed his bow.

“Weapons out,” barked Mablung as everyone complied. The vampires charged at them. The front doors of the main house sprung open and out came another dozen or so of the enemy. Some of them were clad in mail making it even more difficult to slay them.

“Free the prisoners and kill all the vamps,” spat out Buffy as she swung her scythe with such force that the vampire that rushed at her was sliced into two before exploding into dust. “I’m going in. Cover me,” the Slayer uttered to Beleg.

Beleg pulled one of the oil lamps from a branch of one of the trees with his sword. He speedily removed the top, dunked his arrow in the burning oil, and sent a flaming projectile at an approaching vamp. The string of BelegÂ’s bow was humming as he continued to launch his flaming projectiles at the enemy. He was killing the vampires faster than anyone. Beleg killed nine of them himself. He was very proficient with his weapon.

“Way to go Cúthalion!” remarked Buffy as she was flung to the ground by a silver-haired vampire. Mablung extracted his revenge on that vamp by putting a stake through his heart.

“Are you alright?” Beleg asked as he helped her to her feet. She nodded as she picked up her scythe that fell from her hand. “Now you see how I have earned my surname,” he added with a wink. Cúthalion meant ‘Strongbow’ in the elvish tongue.

Mablung quickly pulled out his sword and began hacking at the vampires that surrounded the hostages. A couple of Túreb’s men had joined him. They were cutting the ropes that bound the prisoner’s. Buffy was unable to get near the front doors of the house which was now protected by a number of additional guards.

Some of the prisoners escaped through the main gate that was now thrown wide open. Some of them joined the elves and Buffy in the sortie. It didnÂ’t take them long to realize how to kill the enemy. They used branches from the trees as stakes and torches and burning oil lamps as well. But what she loved to see the most was the elves using DaehirÂ’s own sharp poles as a weapon. Seeing them impaled on their own device seemed just in BuffyÂ’s eyes. Some of them went a bit extreme and foolishly threw some of the lamps through the windows of DaehirÂ’s lair much to BuffyÂ’s displeasure. They did not give much thought to those who were still trapped inside. The prisoners were seeking vengeance against their tormentors.

Buffy noticed that Túreb was now engaged in a one on one fight with the elven vampire named Dúros; they were dueling with swords. Dúros mocked Túreb with his words attempting to throw him off his game. It was having the opposite effect. Túreb was on the offensive and kept making Dúros back step until he was close to the fortified wall. Dúros was highly skilled at the art of dueling and Túreb never really got a chance to go in for the kill. Túreb mustered his strength and kicked out Dúros’ left knee sending his reeling to the ground in pain. With his sword, Túreb swept a lamp off of a bough and as it dangled from the tip of his sword he laughed heartily as he smashed the flaming oil lamp into the side of DúrosÂ’ head. Dúros, still on his knees, let out a cry as the burning liquid trickled down his face before he exploded into a pile of dust.

When the situation seemed to be somewhat under control, Buffy attempted to get into the front doors of the house. There she was greeted by seven vamps. She began sparring with the guys.

“Is that any way to treat a guest?” she asked as she gave one a roundhouse kick, which sent him flying into the wall. “You really should have Daehir teach you some manners. It’ll take you far in life… NOT!” She swung her scythe and took off his head. One of the vamps jumped on her back and tried to choke her. Buffy merely fell backwards on top of the demon. She could feel him pulling out her own stake out of the back of her breeches. “Hey,” she yelled. “Get your filthy hands outta my pants!” She did a reverse head butt on the beast beneath her, leaving them both momentarily stunned. With his hands clinging to her loosely, she was able to do a backwards roll, grabbing her stake from his hand in the process. “Party’s over!” she declared as she thrust her stake into his chest.

“I shall make you into mincemeat warrior-maiden,” another vamp exclaimed as he raised his sword over his head.

“I bet you say that to all the girls,” she said condescendingly. He cried out angrily as he came at her. Buffy used the handle of her scythe to block the blow. She was able to block it and force her opponent against the outside wall of the house. She had him pinned. She followed that up with a knee to the groin, which weakened her enemy considerably. She pulled her weapon away from him as he slid down the wall. “Sleep tight!” she said as she dusted him too.

Buffy was now getting assistance from Mablung and Beleg who were vehemently fighting the vampires with her. This little diversion gave her the opportunity to slip through the front doors unnoticed. There she was met by elves, not vampires. These had to be the ones who wanted to be turned. Buffy wasn’t about to kill an elf. As far as she was concerned, she was going to follow the same protocol she does with humans – no killing. But that doesn’t mean she won’t kick their butts. The Slayer began fighting with the handful of elves that were blocking her way.

“Kill her,” one of them yelled out. Buffy used her scythe only as a means of blocking their blows. Her fists were her weapons of choice in this scenario. It did not take her long to incapacitate the evil elves. Only one was not knocked out cold. After witnessing how quickly she was able to take out the others, he surrendered.

“I do not want to die,” he pleaded. “Please! I beg for mercy.” He tossed his weapon aside and got down on his knees. “I now see the folly of my choice to join with the vampire Daehir. Please, do not kill me. I will make amends for the evil I have wrought.”

Buffy looked at the elf for a moment contemplating what to do. She wasnÂ’t going to kill him. That thought never crossed her mind. But he was the only elf that she hadnÂ’t knocked out and he gave her the impression that he might help her.

“What’s your name?” she finally asked.

“I am called Úrion,” he stammered.

“Okay Úrion. Let me tell you what I’m gonna do.” Buffy didn’t have much time as the smoke from the fires were beginning to fill the hallway. “I’ll spare you death if you can get all the prisoners out of here, alive and unharmed. I know there are children hidden somewhere within this fortress. Get them to my friends outside. All of them…”

“I will mistress. I will,” he groveled at her feet. “Thank you. Thank you.”

“And Úrion, if you play me… I’ll kill you.” She would never back that last part up. They were merely words but she wanted him to think that she wouldn’t hesitate to kill him if he didn’t follow her orders.

“Yes, mistress… I know where they are,” he replied.

“Then I suggest that you move quickly before this place burns to the ground.” He retreated down the hallway and disappeared into the thickening smoke. Buffy turned down hallway after hallway attempting to locate Daehir or any other hostages. She explored the entire first floor and discovered nobody hidden within the chambers so she climbed up the staircase to the second floor.

She hit pay dirt! Off the corridor on the second floor were a series of rooms that were known by the inhabitants as the Quarters. This was DaehirÂ’s sanctuary where he plotted his evil deeds on the people of the village. Buffy entered the first room, then the second. When she kicked in the third door she beheld Daehir in all his malicious glory. He had been peeping through the window watching the melee that was transpiring in the courtyard below.

Without looking at her he said, “What gives you the right to enter my domain and take what is rightfully mine?”

“This isn’t your domain,” she shot out. “Brethil is part of Thingol’s realm, not yours or Melkor Bauglir’s. You have no claim to any of its people, property… anything.”

He turned around and was still in the form of an elf, not a vampire much to BuffyÂ’s surprise. His lips were a deep red indicating to Buffy that he had recently fed. He scowled at her.

“How dare you interrupt my Tribute… ” he sneered.

Buffy interrupted him. “Tribute? Looks more like a dead man’s party to me. I assumed I was invited but the invitation must have got lost in the mail.” she snickered back. “You know, you can’t really trust the postal system around here… ”

“Silence!” he bellowed. “How dare you come into my halls and attempt to disparage me, Daehir, Lord of Shadow.” He narrowed his menacing eyes at her. “You shall pay for your insolence, girl.”

“So what are you gonna do? Tear out my entrails? Beat me to a bloody pulp?” she asked in a taunting manner.

His ire grew with her words of mockery. “I am going to kill you.”

“If I could only count the number times I’ve been told that by some stupid creature of the night,” she said, continuing to taunt him. “Yet here I am. Talk is cheap Daehir. You can talk the talk, but it’s all about walking the walk.” She tossed her scythe and stake to the floor. “I’ll even make it easier for you,” she continued holding up her empty hands. “No weapons. Let’s see what you’re made of.”

He continued to sneer at her as his face distorted and his incisors lengthened. He was armed. “I am going to tear you limb from limb.” He leapt at her and they began their skirmish as clouds of smoke began to roll into the room. Daehir got a lucky strike in, which sent Buffy flying across the room into a table that broke upon impact. Her lower back throbbed from the collision. As she lay on the floor, Daehir swept down on her and punched her several times in the face, shouting, “You are weak, girl. You are no match for me… ”

Buffy regained her composure and jumped back to her feet. “Let’s see about that,” she said breathlessly as she kicked him across the room. The smoke was becoming denser and it was starting to affect her ability to breathe. Daehir quickly got back to his feet and raced towards her again. Buffy threw a punch at him but he somersaulted over her and landed with a thud behind her. He grabbed her in a chokehold. Buffy instinctively grabbed at his powerful arms gasping for air. She opened her mouth and sunk her own teeth into his flesh drawing blood. He let out an ear-piercing scream and threw Buffy across the room.

As she wiped her mouth she sarcastically shouted, “You can dish it out, but you sure can’t take it!”

“You bitch!” he winced. “You will pay… ”

“Well c’mon then… Collect your tribute.” Buffy jumped across the room in one swift motion. She began pummeling him once again when she heard her name being called over and over. It was Mablung. She could hear him coughing as he neared the chamber. “Your time’s almost up,” she spat out as she gave him a roundhouse kick that sent him sailing across the room, hitting a wooden box on the floor. When the box was jarred the cries of a baby were aroused from within it. The baby’s been in the room the whole time, thought Buffy.

Daehir saw Buffy’s reaction to the cries and immediately snatched the infant from the confines of the box. “One more step and the child dies,” he threatened as he held the infant before his chest. Buffy remained frozen. Mablung had now made his way into the room. “Stop right there elf,” demanded Daehir as he edged closer to one of the windows. “Drop your weapon.” Mablung looked at Buffy who nodded, and he placed his weapon on the floor. Unbeknownst to Daehir, Mablung still had his stake concealed beneath his cloak. “Get back,” Daehir instructed. They complied. “This is not over by any means, girl,” he spat out as he tossed the infant across the room and leapt through the glass plane window. Buffy jumped across the room catching the child gently in her arms.

“Take him and get out of here,” she said through the thickening haze.

“What about you?” asked Mablung.

“I’m gonna kill me a vampire lord.” She hurriedly picked her weapons off the floor and jumped out of the second story window. She immediately picked up Daehir’s trail from the courtyard. He was already running through the gate of the fortress when Buffy caught up with him. She leapt through the air and landed squarely on his back, sending them both to the ground. She rolled him over wanting to see the fear in his eyes because his time was now up. “It’s over,” she said as she sat on him and pinned his arms down with her folded legs. “Now I’m gonna give you your tribute… ”

“It will never be over,” he laughed as he struggled to free himself. “You will pay, girl. Mark my words. This is only the beginning… ”

“You know what Daehir?” She mocked him with a beaming smile. “You bore me.” With that said, she stuck her stake deep into his heart. His countenance was one of pain in that split moment before turning to dust. But the strangest thing happened after he was slain. His spirit lingered above Buffy. She could clearly see every aspect of his being. She immediately got to her feet. He spoke not one word, but glared at her for a few moments before soaring off the ground and heading north towards Angband.

“That was astounding,” said Túreb enthusiastically as he approached Buffy who still stood there absolutely taken aback by what she had just witnessed. “Bella? Bella?” He shook her until she came back to her senses. “What is troubling you Bella? You should be rejoicing now that all of the vampires are vanquished.”

“Did you see him?” she asked as the others began to assemble around her. “Did any of you see him?”

“Who do you speak of?” asked Mablung.

“Daehir. I saw him… ”

“Yes,” cut in Túreb. “I saw you kill him only a few moments ago… ”

Buffy’s frustration was mounting. “No Túreb. His fey lingered here before taking off north… ” She pointed towards the north indicating the direction in which she had seen his spirit departing.

“What are you saying?” asked Mablung who was clutching the baby in his arms.

“I’m saying that Daehir isn’t your ordinary blood-sucking fiend… He’s one of the Ainur,” she said uneasily.

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