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Gathering her cloak, standing straight as best she could in her grief, fair Yavanna walked away from the place of death, Ezellohar the Green Mound, which would now be barren forever, as a place that will ever bear the shock and shadow of a terrible wrong.

The dithering of her kinsmen in their grief and horror and confusion was as idle chatter in her ears, and were she to stand there any longer, she would surpass her sister Nienna even in weeping, and create a new sea in darkness. With her hood about her face to dim her radiance, Yavanna walked on the soft grass, feeling with her feet through the darkness, to the city of Tirion.

The city was quiet and empty now, for nearly all its people had attended the ill-fated feast. The pale lights of Varda, cool and remote, were her only guide. Even upon the paving stones, little flowers and delicate mosses rose up where she had tread.

There was one lantern of oil burning in one window. One resident of the shining city who would be most likely to disdain the feast, preferring the company of his books and his instruments of study.

There were those who feared and disdained Sérelókë, dreaded a darkness within him and had named him the resting dragon, waiting only for some bait to rouse him from his affable appearance. Though he wore the raiment of the Firstborn of Ilúvatar, he himself was of the Ainur in kind, a Maia born from the first thought of Eru. He had sung his part in the Great Music; and by all accounts a faithful servant he remained. Yet he seemed to show no particular allegiance to any one of the Valar; in his love of lore he perhaps hearkened most closely to Aulë. Sérelókë was one who loved above all the solving of mysteries and puzzles and the delving of secrets. He was known for his keen observance and foresight, and was not reticent about displaying his knowledge, to the degree that he had more than once been told to piss off, after the manner of the Valar.

But Yavanna had taken the measure of him, and it seemed to her that he had been made to lie in wait for his time of need. As there had been no crime before in Aman, Sérelókë had yet to find his true calling - and now perhaps his hour had come.

She knocked upon his door, and he admitted her to his humble, cluttered abode with all courtesy. “My lady Kementári,” he said in his deep voice, bowing low. “I anticipated your coming. Please, be seated.” As she did so, he offered her a cup of golden wine. The mice that lived in his stacks of scrolls gamboled about her feet.

“You foresaw that I would seek your counsel?”

“As soon as I perceived that our beloved Trees have been murdered, I expected you would come to me. All the Valar loved Laurelin and Telperion, but to you the grief is sharpest, as a mother would mourn her children. You would tire fastest of the dithering of Manwë, and you would not wait for a pompous pronouncement from Mandos. You remember that my judgment has been correct in past matters. I foresaw that freeing Melkor from the Void would come to no good, which is hardly to my credit as most idiots could have done that. Things would have been a good deal simpler in the affair of the luminous rabbit if you had come to me, would they not? But this is a matter close to your heart. Your beloved creations have been cruelly destroyed. You would seek justice through channels the others might not. Therefore: me.”

Yavanna stared at him, at the strange fire of his sea-grey eyes, and found no malicious design there, merely the workings of his mind, cunning as any of her husband’s craft. “How did you know? Laurelin and Telperion are dead, or as good as, yes - how did you perceive this?”

“With all due respect, my Lady,” Sérelókë said, rolling his eyes. “It’s dark.”

“Oh.” She cast her gaze downward, and the floral pattern of his rug worn by pacing came alive and gave off a sweet summery scent.

“Let us waste no more time,” Sérelókë said, tossing an odd collection of his possessions into a leathern bag. “I must examine the Trees as they are now, and hope most dearly that great oaf Tulkas has not yet trampled all the sensitive evidence into oblivion.”

“May I accompany you? I . . . would prefer to be with them.”

“Of course, as long as you hinder me not,” Sérelókë said brusquely. “Perhaps you can intercede for me should your kinsfolk cast aspersions on my methods.”

Yavanna should take great offense. She did take great offense. But her pride was as nothing to her desire for understanding.

It was a sad and somber gathering that flanked the sides of the Ezellohar, and much doubt and wonder and murmurings were there among those present as Sérelókë gave only the most cursory bow to Manwë before scrambling up the hill to the blackened silent stalks that had so recently been so full of life-giving light.

“You take strange counsel, my sister,” said Manwë.

“These are times when much of our wisdom has failed us,” Yavanna said. “I will take counsel where I please, and I will deem worthy that which brings us justice, and no other.”

As for Sérelókë himself, he took no further notice of any discussion about him. On his knees he crawled about the withered roots, and on his toes he reached among the blackened branches. Budless-twig and death-charred leaf he gathered, running them through his fingers. He gave a little cry that sounded nearly triumphant as he pressed his face to a splitted seam in silver Telperion’s bark, and gathered up a fell, unwholesome-smelling black substance into a little crystal vial. As he examined the corpse of Laurelin the golden, he bent his knees in a most difficult pose, digging patiently with the nails of his fingers until he withdrew something near-invisible, exclaiming at it in shock and wonder.

Of all those gathered, Yavanna it was who watched him most intently, both fascinated and repelled, for Sérelókë showed nothing of grief or anger. He searched for secrets hidden in the dead Trees with something akin to the craftsman’s pleasure she oft espied on her husband’s face. Murder seemed to enhance his interest in all things, and she could not help but find it a bit unwholesome.

Delicately Sérelókë bore that small object into the palm of his hand, until he could lay it securely in a scrap of parchment upon the marred earth. This he moved slowly as he knelt upon the ground, placing it between his knees, and then he bent himself back and drew from his bag of wonders his viol, situated it properly upon his shoulder, and began to play.

The theme of the Music that he played at first was his own, a very slight variation and harmony on the theme of Ilúvatar, a fantasia at best - if a few of the Valar remembered it, as they must, they made no apparent notice. What Sérelókë cared to notice was the curious resonance of the object. Or the lack thereof. Then Sérelókë cast his glance warily around at the others, and began to play a different theme: the one first raised by Melkor.

That got the expected response from the Valar - anger and suspicion. In Sérelókë’s own estimation, judged only on its merits as music, it really was not so bad as all that and it contained many features of interest. As a composer, Melkor was puerile yet, but not wholly incompetent.

More to Sérelókë’s interest was the way this motif excited only a tiny bit of resonance from the little shed scrap of a chitinous claw to which he played. Not so much as he might have expected. He played Melkor’s theme in greater volume, with greater passion, still working to stir this object harder, and still got only an indifferent trembling. At last two of his viol’s strings snapped and stung him in the face. “O behold!” he cried, and he bore a mien of unaccountable pleasure, for clearly it had given him new insight.

He turned his gaze again to the little sample of black ooze he’d captured in the crystal vial, and regarded it carefully. He was tempted to taste it. He refrained, only just. To confirm his growing suspicion, he took the tree-tap from his bag and applied it to a serrated wound in Laurelin’s husk. He drew nothing, even after long labour. The result, when he found a similar piercing on Telperion, was the same. Neither of the trees had left a single drop of sap; they’d been drained so completely they may as well have been dead for an Age. For the first time since Yavanna Kemantári had knocked upon his door, Sérelókë felt a glimmer of fear - and also of wild delight, for this was a new form of danger.

“This is not a creature of Aman,” Sérelókë said, standing up and gathering his precious samples. “Oh, the wounds were made by a common spear, could have been wielded by anyone - not that they were wielded by just anyone, of course, not with that level of force. But it was not the penetration of the bark that proved mortal, it was a double attack. Once the incisions were made, their sap was drained, violently and rapidly, by a creature with a nearly endless appetite, and the ability to suck all of the life force out of living wood at a very rapid speed, which I believe you will find in no honest animal of Eru’s design. Even that might not have meant instant death, such as we find here. No, the death blows were administered by the replacement of the wholesome sap with a foul and deadly venom --” and here Sérelókë held up his ominous crystal vial - “that does not exist in our realm. I have tested enough of every plant, every fungus, every secretion of every animal to be found in Valinor to be certain I know their warp and woof, and I can assure you this substance does not originate here--”

“So tell us then,” Tulkas said, muscling his way into the circle, “what are we seeking? What can you find that I could not?”

Sérelókë eyed him with a cool disdain. “Everything that you could not find, with your noise and your bluster and your easily blinded eyes. That could be many things. Were you not waylaid by dark clouds?”

“I was,” Tulkas said, sulking.

“Even so,” Sérelókë said, almost conciliatory. “You are not a bright light yourself, but I don’t think you’re to blame. I expected no less.”

“You dare?” Tulkas roared, hand upon his massive sword, advancing upon Sérelókë.

“Oh please,” Sérelókë said, waving his hand dismissively. “You could kill me easily, but does anyone here think that would be a good outcome? I meant no insult. You have your function and I have mine. You failed in your pursuit of a creature designed to be able to blind you.”

“Designed by whom?” Tulkas demanded.

“Designed by no one,” Sérelókë said. “If my theory is correct.”

“And by No One, you mean . . .?” said Yavanna.

“I am not a theologian,” Sérelókë said. “I do not have to be. I was created at the same time as all of you, and the reality of Ilúvatar is as obvious to me as my own existence. But there are, indeed, things that were not created in that time, nor in the future time, as the Children are. We are, however, looking at evidence of the existence of a being that has its ultimate origins in the time before the Music, which none of us remember. And you will not find such creatures in Aman. You will find them in the depths of space, in the great Void that is their home, and in the lands which we have neglected, being so comfortable in our safe little paradise.”

“You blaspheme,” said Manwë gravely.

“I tell what I see,” said Sérelókë stubbornly. “I do not lie.”

All the gathered host looked to Manwë. After a time, after Manwë had lost himself in thought, he finally said, “He does not lie.”

Sérelókë sighed in exasperation. “I do thank you for admitting that. Now, my Lord, if I have your leave, I will set out upon the Lady Yavanna’s quest, to succeed where Tulkas and Oromë failed. I don’t suppose I might hope that you might send your great eagles to my rescue should I need it?”

“There is no precedent for that,” Manwë said.

“Well, there won’t be if no one ever starts it,” Sérelókë said sullenly. He was already weary of this banter. He had to return to his apartments in Tirion to prepare his experiments, his potions and antidotes and his own simulations of the silken threads he had found upon the Trees and mentioned to no one. There was no time to lose - the murderer of the Trees could be halfway to the Eastern Lands by now (or more than halfway, if the accomplice was whom he suspected).

When at last his research and preparation were done, Sérelókë rode out swiftly, upon a borrowed horse from the hunt of Oromë. He could cover a great deal of ground that way, many leagues before the horse would begin to shy away in entirely justified terror. Sérelókë himself had to speak to his own worried heart more than once, for the foe he would face was fearsome in aspect, if his deductions were correct. As usual, he was certain they were.

The night was everlasting now that the shimmering, changing lights of the Trees were dimmed forever, and Sérelókë could only reckon time by the pale points of Varda’s stars. As he rode into the darkness, even those most trustworthy of guides began to fail him, as veils of a fell black mist hid them from time to time, drifting across the sky like heavy, opaque shadows. These clouds did not behave like normal darkness, for light could not vanquish or diminish them, and even Sérelókë’s eyes were sometimes briefly deceived.

It was the fear of his steed in the gathering gloom that at last alerted him he was close to his quarry. Sérelókë sent the worthy animal along by the way they’d come, trusting in the horse’s ability to find safety, which should surely match his own gift for finding danger.

He was in a sort of narrow valley, with brooding and beetling cliffs pressing in on all sides. He had no cover, and could be seen from nearly anywhere above. This was, perhaps, the most dangerous moment in his quest. Sérelókë clenched his hand around the hilt of his sword, and tugged at the straps of the pack he bore on his back, and over his eyes he placed the spectacles of his own devising, a chemical syncretized from the secretions of the firefly and the phosphorescent tiny creatures of the sea-surf, and a crystal that captured a hint of the light of a single star that he’d found in the refuse-heap of Fëanáro’s forge. There, with his own source of light that responded to his body heat, there was less chance of being taken by surprise, the one thing that he must not allow to happen.

There it was. A single silken strand, strung across the path at about the height of his knees. If Sérelókë hadn’t seen it and had blundered into it, he could have been caught before he even realised what it was. He knew without touching that it would be sticky and strong and linked to a network of fine threads that tracked directly to the sensitive nerves of the being that had made it. He stood still for a moment, calming himself, reaching out in his mind with the fire that burned within him and all his kindred - but not, he knew, within the cold-blooded creature he sought.

Sérelókë was grateful then for all his studies, for something he knew, or at least suspected of this being who lay in wait in clouds of impenetrable darkness. Waves of malice poured from the shadows, battering him with loathing, but he stood firm, conceiving the shape this monster had taken in his mind until he could almost see it as with his eyes. Fascination battled with an inconvenient but unavoidable terror. Fascination rose victorious. The silken strand of web-thread confirmed the theory that his studies had suggested, and also an idea he had conceived without certainty -- but there was no longer any doubt.

And Sérelókë was glad that he was not defenseless. He was of the Ainur, though of a lesser nature than the mighty Valar, and he too could choose the shape of his flesh, or to walk unseen in none at all. He had the power of seeing through many veils, and of shaping small things from his thought into being. This creature too had power, though it was no wholesome thing, and she - yes, it was a she, Ungweliántë, the Gloomweaver. He had her Name - or at least, a name. Perhaps there were no true names in the dimension she hailed from. He could not count on having that power over her.

He tuned his senses to the sloping walls of stone and earth, and the cracks and caves within. He was on the edge of the known lands of Aman and perilously close to the paths toward the unknown country of the East. Something moved and waited in the shadows - something vast, and swollen with the light it had devoured. Eyes were watching him. He could feel it. Well, now was the time to know, or perhaps perish without knowing. He was not even entirely sure that he could perish, not as such, but he was sure his essence could be damaged, shifted, twisted. Whispers had come to him of terrible things done to creatures in the dark, by one who longed above all to make his own beings to serve him - but would never have the power of bringing forth true life.

Sérelókë was certain that the shadow that watched and waited in the darkness was in some form of contact with this Mighty One, but to what degree he did not know. The longer he paused, the greater the danger of knowledge escaping or coming too late. And so deep into the hallways of his own mind he delved, grand tunnels and palaces of his own devising and design - some dark as the night beneath the world, some lit with radiant starlight and the sound of the Music preserved in every possible permutation. But never entirely free of Melkor's theme, no, never again until the world was remade.

And when Melkor's theme resounded, even in the mind, dark things came forth. The question was, at whose bidding? Had the wanton devouring of the life force of the Trees and their cruel poisoning been a single act of some simple if monstrous animal acting only to feed her own bottomless instinctual hunger? Or had it been part of a greater design, the first thread of a web of violence and deceit that would cover all Arda in blood?

Faster than light from Varda's own stars was Sérelókë's thought, and yet he feared that darkness could move faster - for does light not always arrive only to find that darkness has been there before it? And does darkness always not lie in wait, for the faintest flicker of doubt within the flame?

Very well. Dangerous times call for dangerous measures. Sérelókë's thought took the shape of creatures long studied, in both form and essence, and as he thought, his raiment of fleshly seeming, his hröa, shimmered and changed through shape after shape, each new change stealthier and yet riskier than the last.

The massive bulk, the monstrous hulking thing in the shadows somewhere above him, squatting on her vast silvery web, nonetheless had instincts that could be played upon. With no small amount of fiercely repressed horror, Sérelókë shaped himself into the most dangerous form possible in his precise situation, much weaker and more vulnerable than any that he had yet worn. A male spider he appeared, a shrunken and pitiable starveling creature, with no purpose but to mate once and then be devoured. And in this guise, with trembling foreleg, he plucked upon the trip wire that would announce his presence to his "bride" and offer her his only courting gift: his pedipalps swollen with seed, and his own brittle, spindly body to be her wedding feast.

Sérelókë presented himself in this shape to the glittering clusters of multifaceted eyes that studied him from the surrounding darkness with a ravening malice.

And then Ungoliant came forth from her veiled bower, where her massive bulk occupied a lightless cave. She took the form of the greatest spider who had ever crawled forth upon the earth, or ever would in the ages to come. Swollen and massive she was from her gorging feast upon the life force of the Trees and even the starlit waters of the Wells of Varda, and her hideous bulk was as a massive mountain blocking the dim twilight of the sky. Yet even such a princely meal could sustain her but little, and she had begun to shrink and hunger again, and she slavered black drool of Unlight from her massive, sharp jaws.

And Sérelókë cowered, as a true spider suitor might, and although his fear in that moment was deep and piercing and the most intense he had ever known, in truth there was no shame in it, for although he could not yet know this, even the mightiest of the Valar - He Who Ariseth in Might - the terrible Melkor himself, had whimpered like a rabbit at the sight of Ungoliant in her bloated power, and been grateful indeed that he was not of a race fleshly enough to be capable of self-soiling.

As she emerged from her bolthole of light-draining unlight, she brought darkness with her, and it enveloped Sérelókë too as he carried out his frightened, hopeful courtship dance, balanced upon the sticky strands of her web. She was immense and could crush him easily; her sharp beaked jaws could snap him in half with a thought. Yet his courage could not fail him now, there was still greater danger to endure before he could enact his plan and spring his trap. He trembled and waved his forelegs. He had shaped his body well and true enough to even produce the chemical scent that signalled his desire and appealed to hers.

She seemed to hesitate a little, in surprise. She had expected food, but her prey was offering other attractions. And he was so small a morsel that his little spindly form was perhaps less compelling to her appetite than a larger, fleshier creature might have been. Sérelókë knew her erotic interest, such as it was, would be quickly exhausted, so he had very little time to prepare the fulfillment of his deceit.

So carefully then did Sérelókë bide his time and play his part, crawling over her massive body with a grateful eagerness as Ungoliant heaved her huge bulk half upwards, showing him her repellent, swollen abdomen where the secrets of her pleasure waited. Lest he forget nothing, he must pass by her cruel black beak and her venomous mandibles to get there. He was well aware that once he had seeded her, he was expendable. Among the spider folk, it was considered meet and proper for a male to give his life in the act, for he had no other purpose. And if he kept his fleshly form in that shape too long, it might begin to shape his thought.

Already he was entirely too pleased by the horned, chitinous bends of her spiked, hairy legs, thick and strong and long enough to meet in wicked points above her back when she stood flat on all eight clawed and dangerous feet, sticky with the specialized hairs upon hairs that gripped and clutched and enabled her to climb high on the mountain walls to observe her prey from above, and to move far, far too fast for a monster of her size. Already the intricate joins of her legs beneath her cephalothorax began to entice him in truth. Already Sérelókë's deceitful seduction was beginning to rebound upon himself, and if he did not shift soon, he would be taken in by it nearly as fully as herself. With far worse consequences for him.

So quickly he came to her and climbed, and twined his spindly legs around her mighty ones, and sought out the secret inner coils of her two hidden spermatheca. She would only allow him to have at one, of course. With a distanced fascination, from far within his mind palace - which was beginning to take on a distinctly web-like aspect - Sérelókë felt his own desire rising, now horrifyingly sincere. Well had he prepared, his trembling pedipalps thick and swollen with gathered seed, and with reverence he approached her inviting slits, breathing in the miasma of her lust.

Carefully he caressed her with his forelegs from thorax to her spinnerets, venturing forth his brittle jaws to attempt to taste her. In this form, he lacked a tongue, but he had long ago learned to improvise with what equipment he had to hand, or to claw, or to mandible. She was intoxicating, her scent so keen he could imagine her flavour as he attempted to pleasure her.

He'd break, he'd drain himself, he'd break off part of himself inside her, he'd give everything he had and was and thought. The edges of her epigastric plates opened easily for him as he mounted and ventured inside, bending his pedipalp painfully to be sure to coat her inside freely, make sure she took it all and kept it, holding it dear long after he was gone to bring to life her huge clutch of eggs, a thousand children to carry on the web of life. A terrible, draining ecstasy wracked him as he thrust, all eight limbs clenched and aching.

For a glorious, terrible instant he thought he was lost - locked this way, joined to her even unto death, as her body heaved in a slow, rhythmic convulsion. And a terrible thought struck him, that it might all be for naught. "Stupid!" he chided himself. "There's always something!"

"My lady," he gasped aloud in his best approximation of the way to use a spider's mouth to speak.

"You've pleased me, my slave," she said. "But you shall please me more when I devour you, as you promised."

Oh, excellent, Sérelókë thought. All was not lost. She could speak.

With one final twitch, he nearly lost himself for a moment in sharp agony as his one of his two sensitive pedipalps snapped off inside her. The pain was blinding, but so was the relief, for now he was free.

Her belly was bared to him, her huge long legs splayed and wanton - and everything between them exposed, the soft flesh of her abdomen, the tempting orifice of her epigyne, that most secret of spaces, and the sensitive ruffles of her epigastric furrow, sensitive joints of her cephalothorax.

With the last of his true resolve, Sérelókë began to sing - his own theme, his own contribution to the Harmony of Ilúvatar. He rose in fire, he rose in light, and rebuilt his own preferred form in splendour that made Ungoliant cringe beneath him as the Secret Fire blinded her eight shimmering eyes for just a moment, made her legs twitch in pain as Sérelókë began his song of conquest.

He chanted a song of light in darkness, deduction's breakthroughs with their sharpness,
Bringing light to starless caverns, where the hiding hunter ravens
Pure joy of thought, clear observations,
beyond the veil of mere sensations,
to Elvenesse and sundering seas, beyond the lazy guess of ease,
Of impossibilities eliminated, the elegance of truth,
That traps all lies and bares all deeds forsooth,

And with his light he counterwove and trapped up all her silver threads. In his command now were the very strands of her web, and as she quivered in sudden shock, each sticky thread now bound her - leg by leg by leg by leg by leg by leg by leg by leg, to the canyon wall and to the corner where she was wont to crouch and wait.

In her rage she spewed black venom, narrowly missing her captor, and in her harsh clicking voice she had a song of her own with which to counter his.

She sang a song of prey long killed
Bottomless hunger, never filled
Darkness unending, lightless space
The crunch of an empty carapace,
Crumbling bone and darkling bower
All things meant only to devour
Horrid cravings, never rested
Until all things are at last digested.

But he had the upper hand now, and the intricate weave of her web moved to Sérelókë's command now, holding her tight and splayed with their sticky, unbreakable bonds.

He sang a song of truth's revealing,
Strong against her dark concealing
Drawing on his inner votive
Pulling forth method and motive
With his fire-whip tickling her shell
There was naught she would not tell.

With a practiced, artisanal cruelty, Sérelókë teased his long fingers along the moistened edge of the spermatheca where he'd so recently just penetrated her - felt her whole abdomen quiver in its lingering sensitivity, lightly pushed into to feel the broken stalk of his own snapped pedipalp - which he mourned not, for in his preferred form, only one member of generation was expected.

He gave her a stinging slap over it, and she hissed loudly, legs quivering.

"Did you act alone? Do not think to deceive me!"

She hissed louder in her rage, and her cruel eyes glimmered like deadly jewels in the light of Sérelókë's aura. "If thou wouldst force me to speak, thou must work harder!"

Oh, he thought, this is indeed something new in Aman, for Sérelókë realised that he was indeed causing her pain, and she did not despise it entirely - oh full of hate she was indeed, swollen with it, full of hate for all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small that dared to have a purpose beyond dying in darkness between her jaws and on her web. But caught up now in her own web, mastered by a clever rival, she too woke to something new. Doubtless it only made her anticipation sweeter, to prolong the moment when she would win free and bind him in turn and drain him dry in the darkness.

With his thought he fashioned again a little whip of light, a small toy indeed compared to the cruel weapons that would later be seen in Arda Marred, but sufficient for Sérelókë's purposes when applied with a threatening flick to the delicate joints where Ungoliant's legs met her body.

With each stroke, ever slightly increasing, she hissed and vomited forth a little bit of unlight. Sérelókë longed to trap it in a bottle and test it, to truly confirm his theory, but he had to simply keep it a working hypothesis. For he was all but certain that her poisonous unlight had once been light - silver and gold, dimming and brightening in turn by the hours of the day, the glorious fruit of Yavanna's beloved brother and sister Trees.

With a harder flicker at her sensitive openings, Sérelókë leaned in as close as he dared, seeking for signs of expression on her monstrous countenance as she shuddered in her cruel surrender - oh yes, it was hinted, now he could see that the turn of her antennae, the prickling rise of all her stiff hairs - she wanted him, she wanted the exquisite sufferings he was causing her. She writhed until her bonds creaked, but she had made them herself, and they were not like to break unless she fought much, much harder.

"Speak!" he commanded as he brought the whip down again and again, in carefully-placed criss-crossing strokes, not quite as hard as he dared, and perhaps not quite as hard as she would like. "You did not act alone. I know you did not. The Valar know who they would accuse. I keep my own counsel."

He brought the flat of his hand across an already-welted stretch of exoskeleton, and then dragged his nails over a small wound, in a biting caress. She spat poison at him, and tried to thrust her sharp jaws closer still when he danced away easily.

"You like this," he said in a low voice, pitched deep as a predatory growl, near enough to make her forget that he was still barely a quarter of her size even in his Elvenlike form. One of her slits still stretched open, unfilled, and Sérelókë wondered if she would even feel it, should he take her with the fleshly member he could ill afford to lose. It spoke to his rage to solve that case that he was nonetheless tempted sore, and not only because that organ of his hröa was quite awake and experiencing great interest.

The curiosity of his taste remained, and her epigyne called to him, the subtle ruffles slick and ready, and, desperate to sample a new taste with his regained tongue, he teased her with a gamahuching flicker and suck, biting softly around the edges.

She bucked and shuddered in her bonds, startled at the new sensation.

Let it not be said that the courage of the Maiar failed this day. Even as Ungoliant snapped and thrashed and tried in vain to aim for him with her sharp, poisoned claws, he dared that liberty with the bold, leaking tip of his less prudent head. Ungoliant gasped, and she sucked half the air from the valley with it, making Sérelókë's head briefly swim with the alien tightness of her and the alluring horror of the act.

His whip flicked at her face. Her claws desperately tried to reach his back.

"Who? Who do you serve?" he demanded, his eloquence tempered by physical exertion. "Oh. OH!" he cried. "Of course. You serve no one. Not even I. Although part of you may long for a master for a night, you will devour all in the end. No one commands you for long. Someone offered you a deal, yes? Oh yes."

She convulsed in a violent ecstasy as he struck her belly harder and harder with each thrust, as he reached up with his hands and bent as many of her legs as he could catch wide up and apart. "I was promised nourishment to slake my hunger," she said. "I was promised light to devour, as much as I could stomach, until none remained. I was promised land for myself and all my spawn, full of prey and hiding places. And I shall have them, yea, my kind shall fill all the lands east of the sea with their webs."

Sérelókë laughed then, cold and clear, as he withdrew suddenly, and stood before her half-clothed and unafraid. "Ah, the Valar were correct then. Well, a still gem reflects the right light twice a day. I admit, it was the motive I was lacking. You won't be offended if I say I once suspected Fëanáro - oh yes, his little souvenir snow-globes are pretty enough as mere images of the Trees’ light. How much more valuable would they become, if the source were destroyed and his toys were all that remained?"

Ungoliant laughed harshly. "As if a mere Elf would dare. As if a Child of Ilúvatar could have done what I have done."

"I overreached with reason," Sérelókë admitted. "I always want things to be more clever than they are. So speak. Give me the name."

With all his force left, of his fading strength, he placed a boot on her weeping wound, and pressed her hard and until she hissed and squealed. "Mor--"

"No, he's not called that yet, is he? I want his true name."

He pressed still, and with both his hands he gave it, a sadistic pleasure, and she cried out at least in a voice strangely high and thin, "Melkorrrrrrrrrr!"

“Ah yes,” Sérelókë said. For all that he might have rejoiced in triumph, there was some disappointment in him, for he had hoped for answer less obvious. Nonetheless, glad he was to have truth, and foreknowledge of where at last his game might lead him. “Thank you for the final proof . . . my dear.” He gave her one, two last hard glancing blows and drew away, laughing, preparing to step away.

But Ungoliant had one last trick up her own sleeve, and with a thrust of her pointed abdomen, she aimed a jet of spider silk at him, to catch and bind him and crush him to her. For a moment he quailed, and gave a terrified cry as he realised that she meant to keep him. Until she tired of him.

Yet there was hope, for to Sérelókë’s shout came an answering shriek, a high, sharp keening sound from the air.

Through the narrow valley came the mighty eagle soaring, the tips of his wings nearly clipping the walls as he swept down, and he broke the strand of spider thread with his great beak. Sérelókë just barely managed to grab onto him, above the spearlike talon that had nearly gutted him, and wrapped himself around the eagle’s foot.

The great windlord Thorondor he was, friend and messenger to Manwë, and in truth he was glad to be able to give aid and succour where needed, and even he could not suppress horror at the sight of the foe that Sérelókë had left behind him, splayed and bound.

“Formenos!” Sérelókë cried, shouting above the wind, for even Manwë could not silence the sharpness of his tongue. “Take me to Formenos! We might get there in time! Hurry!”

“That I shall not do,” Thorondor said. “My lord Manwë bid me bring you back to Ezellohar, and I gainsay him not.”

“Someone will die if you do not, you stupid bird,” Sérelókë roared. “Even now, it may be too late to prevent a dark deed, the likes of which has never before stained this land. We must at least try!”

Thorondor screeched and executed a flying maneuver intended to make his passenger rue giving him insult.

“On your head be it,” Sérelókë said, and in his wrath he was terrible to behold, even sitting in an ungraceful fashion in an eagle’s grip. “Am I your passenger or your prisoner?”

"You are baggage," Thorondor muttered, with great difficulty for his mighty beak was not shaped to speak with subtlety. “I hope this does not become an expectation. And I wish thou would clothe thyself completely.”

Ah yes. Sérelókë was feeling the wind there. “Why? I am not shamed to be made in the image of Eru.”

“I don’t believe Eru doth walk around letting it all hang out.”

“If it please thee,” said Sérelókë sullenly.

The roar of the landscape beyond filled the awkward silence. They were not going to Formenos, and Sérelókë was sorely grieved, though he concealed it. Of what use was his wit, if he could not use it to prevent terrible acts, only to describe the truth of them after the time for hope had passed? Yet it was out of his hands now, and his regret was fleeting.

“If I regret any aspect of my deed, it is this,” Sérelókë said to the howling wind. “Truly, a good and true-hearted Dom would never leave his thrall bound and alone. Even such as she.”

“Perhaps you are not a truly good one,” Thorondor said, banking just a little too sharply on purpose.

“I am well-versed in the craft and I am skillful,” Sérelókë said sullenly. “If I ever give just cause to doubt that, may I--”

“Are you about to swear an oath?” Thorondor demanded. “Swear an oath and I shall drop thee, see if I don’t.”

“Fine, no oath,” said Sérelókë, holding on a little tighter nonetheless. “Perhaps I am not so truly pure of heart. I may be on the side of the Valar, but think you not for one moment that I am one of them.”