Chapter 9: Black Swans and... Wizards in Worm Holes!

The trip to Minas Tirith was very rewarding. The Weapon Smith offered Haldor to learn how to use heavy armor and how to increase his life energies for a very reasonable price. The lost merchant's Rare Goods shop had a better staff and a leather armor able to protect Haldor from stunning.

On his way back to the western part of Middle-Earth, Haldor meets a severely wounded man covered in dirt and blood... a woodsman, or maybe a lumberjack.

"Please, help!" shouts the man, pointing at the nearby forest. "Ben Cruthdar has become mad and is slaughtering everybody in my village!"

"I will go there and see what I can do..." replies Haldor.

Upon entering the village, Haldor is welcomed by a multitude of screams. The source of the problem seems to be a madman wielding a big axe and surrounded by a malignant gloomy aura. As the man approaches a pond, Haldor sees a white swan, swimming on the surface of the pond, become black because of the gloom and flying away with a gleam of madness in its eyes...

A lumberjack falls dead... and another one. Haldor has to hurry, or soon nobody will remain in this village except himself and that madman. He teleports quickly near the cursed lumberjack and bolts him to death.

"Thank you for saving me from that curse..." says the dying Ben Cruthdar. "I didn't want to harm the people in this village... it was all because of that curse. Now it has been lifted from me... and I can die in peace..."

The thankful remaining lumberjacks collect some gold and offer it as reward to Haldor. Now he can continue his journey... with a bigger purse.

Talking with the elves of Harlindon, Haldor learns about a strange hole in the beach near the bay of the Lhun. Many adventurers have disappeared inside that hole... and nobody ever came back! Maybe he will find more treasures in that place...

Haldor enters the strange hole... Inside it feels like a dungeon with walls made of sand. Near the entrance, a sandworm is crawling on a pile of bones and various items. Haldor dispatches the sandworm and examines the pile of items... and finds a pair of yellow boots. The Boots of Tom Bombadil... a nice find.

Suddenly, a huge sandworm crawls out of a wall. Haldor stands no chance against a creature this big... but fortunately, the worm doesn't care about his presence and continues digging through the sand walls. Following the worm seems to be the fastest way to progress inside this place... but Haldor has to be very careful as the unstable tunnels created by those sandworm burrowers tend to be very fragile and can easily collapse.

Going deep in the Sandworm Lair is very tedious. Worms of course, but also jellies, oozes and all types of vermin try to stop Haldor's progression. And suddenly stands in front of him the biggest worm he has ever seen... the Sandworm Queen. Haldor immediately tries to freeze her, but she seems to resist the freezing bolt! So fire blast, teleport away and mana/lightning bolts will do the job...

Once the Sandworm Queen is dead, Haldor grabs a dagger and starts to cut her heart out of her disgusting body. He doesn't know why... but he starts to devour the almost still beating heart. Suddenly, the knowledge of this old creature fills Haldor and he feels more talented, with increased abilities. Haldor increases his life energies again and maximizes his capacity to lighten his burden with Feather Wind.

Apart from the Heart of the Sandworm Queen, Haldor doesn't find anything interesting in the Sandworm Lair. Reluctant to spend more time in the sandy place, he teleports back to Angolwen... Inspecting the wands and staves shop, he finds the powerful Staff of Destruction in the list of items for sale. Having accumulated enough funds, he buys the precious artifact staff... Haldor feels powerful...

Chapter 8: An A-maze-ing Labyrinth

After spending some time in Angolwen, Haldor leaves and heads back east towards Bree. He was told by one of the mages to investigate a strange maze in the nearby vicinity: he should find more treasures in that forgotten place...

What a strange dungeon... long corridors, dead ends, traps, thieves and minotaurs. Time seems to pass at a strange rate too. Haldor can't say how long he has wandered inside the inextricable maze, killing monsters and gathering items, but it sure felt like a long time.

At the end of a corridor, deep in the maze, Haldor finds a large minotaur swinging a mighty axe.

"If you want to leave this place, you'll have to defeat me!" booms the Minotaur of the Labyrinth.

"This surely shouldn't take me long..." replies Haldor, rapidly freezing his opponent on the spot. A few bolt spells, and the only thing remaining of the stinky minotaur is a dusty steel helm.

"The Steel Helm of Hammerhand! What is such a powerful artifact doing in this dirty dungeon?"

Haldor picks up the heavy helm and inspects the surroundings. A strange teleporting circle stands at the end of the corridor... probably some shortcut to the surface. This should spare Haldor a trip to Angolwen...

Back to the surface, Haldor inspect his possessions. He has found many great armor parts: body armor, helms, gloves, boots... most of them heavy armor parts. Unfortunately, as soon as he puts them on, his hands start to fumble and his spells seem to fail! He will have to find a special trainer to help him use those armor parts properly. Maybe one exists in Bree...

Upon entering Bree, Haldor finds the town free of the storm cloud. The mages of Angolwen must have removed the spell once Urkis has been vanquished... A quick talk with the people of Bree tells Haldor that no trainer can be found in the town, but one lives in the city of Minas Tirith, south in Gondor. A good opportunity to pay a visit to that merchant he saved from the thieves and his "Rare Goods" shop...

Chapter 7: Into the Storm

A strange dark cloud seems to be looming above Bree, as Haldor approaches the town. Thunder and lightning strike the town, as Haldor gets greeted by an army of air elementals slaughtering the population. Cries of help everywhere... Haldor needs to hurry, or the town will be destroyed. For this fight, he needs to rely on his mana and fire spells, as his opponents are completely immune to lightning...

It takes Haldor a while, but the air elementals are finally dispatched.

"Did you kill them all? Are we safe now?" asks a hobbit, while getting out of a cellar.

"Seems so." replies Haldor. "Do you know where they came from and what they wanted?"

"I have heard rumours of a hidden town somewhere in the Blue Mountains inhabited by wise and powerful men. Maybe they will be able to help remove that cloud... if they exist."

Could these men be mages? Haldor wants to find out, and so leaves Bree for the mountains in the south west. Arriving near the bay of Lhun, not far from the Gray Havens, Haldor meets a novice mage.

"What is a novice mage doing in the wilderness?" asks Haldor.

"As you see me", replies the novice mage, "I want to be accepted by the elves of Angolwen and learn the secrets of the arcane."

"The elves of Angolwen? Who are they? Mages I presume?" asks Haldor.

"Powerful mages." agrees the novice mage. "They keep their magic talents secret in their town of Angolwen. Whoever wants to be taught has to pass a test and bring to the city a powerful magic artifact."

The hidden town of Angolwen. Mages. They should be able to fix the little problem set in Bree.

"I found this staff." says Haldor, showing Angmar's Fall. "Maybe it should be enough to pass your test."

"Let me see it... Indeed it is a powerful magic artifact. It should be enough to complete my quest."

"Then let's make a deal! I'll give you this staff, and in exchange you'll lead me to the town of Angolwen. You see, I also have a quest... A magical cloud has enveloped the town of Bree in the east, and I promised the people of that town to find a way to lift that spell. And I'm sure the elves of Angolwen could help me."

"This sounds fair." replies the novice mage. "Now follow me..."

The novice mage leads Haldor through the Blue Mountains. Finally, they arrive at the entrance of Angolwen. What an amazing town! A jewellery store, a potion shop, a scroll shop... and a store selling magical staves! Haldor even finds a yew staff of power in the shop to replace Angmar's Fall. Outside of the shops, a board tells the mages present this day that a practical lesson about the travel school of magic will be held soon. Haldor decides to attend that lesson and improves his teleporting abilities: controlled teleportation over small distances, teleportation of other people over small distances, teleportation over large distances... and even a spell to teleport back to the town of Angolwen from anywhere in the world!

After this helpful lesson, Haldor enquires a mage about how he could dispel a powerful spell.

"Dispel magic? You should ask the Circle of the Wise. They know the mightiest spells."

Haldor leaves the mage and goes to the west of the town. He finds a tall elven woman radiating incredible power through her white robe.

"Welcome to Angolwen, Archmage. I am Anliwen Noromiel, head of the Circle of the Wise. What may I do for you?"

"I require all the help I can get for the town of Bree." replies Haldor.

"We are aware of this problem. We have sent mages to dispel the magic cloud over that city, but they were unable to fulfil their task. The spell is too powerful. In order to remove it, you'll have to get rid of the source of the problem. And the source of the problem is named Urkis, the Tempest Mage. Urkis once was a mage of Angolwen, but he left a few years ago to specialize in the studies of the storms. No he lives on top of a tall peak in the Misty Mountains. If you are ready, we can send you there, but be careful... he is a very powerful mage."

"I am ready. I will not let the people of Bree down."

And in the blink of an eye, Haldor is magically transported on top of the highest peak he has ever seen, with storms raging above his head. Looking carefully, he finds the entrance of a cave.

The cave below the high peak is filled with lightning based creatures. Storm giants, storm drakes, air elementals... and Urkis, the High Tempest. Urkis proves to be a valiant opponent, immune to lightning as most of his minions, and surrounded by a stormy aura dealing constant damage around him. Flame attacks, mana attacks, and a bit of controlled teleportation, and Haldor manages to vanquish the Tempest Mage.

A voice suddenly resonates in Haldor's mind. "Congratulations, Archmage!" says the voice of Anliwen Noromiel. "Now Bree is freed from the looming spell."

From Urkis' remains, Haldor finds a strange rod. It appears to be a Rod of Recall, which allows the user to exit any dungeon in the world and rejoin the surface almost instantly. Haldor uses his newly learned spell and teleports back to Angolwen.

Chapter 6: Of Men, Hobbits and... a Willow

Bree. A muddy town filled with squalid people... Farmers, filthy street urchins, boil-covered wretches, pitiful-looking beggars, singing-happy drunks coming out of the taverns... and even dwarves. No, not dwarves... they have no beards and look more like children. People here call them halflings, but they prefer to be called hobbits. Strange folks...

Haldor checks the town's shops. Most of them have items of mediocre quality, but the shopkeepers provide correct prices for all the items he found on his way to Bree. Finally, Haldor finds the gem store.

"Aye." says the shopkeeper, talking about Aerimas. "The strange guy was here earlier, looking for some gems and selling the ones he found during his travels. If you're looking for him, he's probably hunting for some more gems in the Old Forest."

"You mean the forest of Ossiriand?" asks Haldor.

"Nobody calls this land Ossiriand for thousands of years, sir." replies the shopkeeper. "The forest west of Bree is called the Old Forest, and further west is the land of Eriador, where the Little Folk lives. Curious little people, but they make the best pipeweed in Middle-Earth!"

Haldor buys an agate before leaving and uses his new power to imbue his body armor to increase his stats. The old Forest seems to be a good place to gather more treasures, so he decides to go and check the place.

Rain. The cold rain chills Haldor's bones. The Old Forest is dark, thick, and filled with wild animals. Snakes, wolves and ants seem to have made the forest their homes. Haldor has to kill many of those to progress through the forest... but this helps improving his spells further. Now he's able to launch a powerful fire blast, burning many foes at the same time.

Aerimas cannot be found in the forest... and nobody else either. Haldor wonders why people told him to come here to find treasures... he cannot seem to find any. But deep in the forest, he meets an old willow tree... who strangely seems to be able to walk! Old Man Willow... some people told Haldor that it was the guardian of the Old Forest, and that he didn't like intruders much. Fortunately for Haldor, he doesn't like fire much either...

The only thing that remains from the now burnt Old Man Willow is his shield, Old Man Willow's Barkwood... and Haldor cannot even use it. What a disappointing place... Haldor leaves the forest without regret.

Chapter 5: Treasures

The few living beings encountered on his way outside of the forest told Haldor about a town west of his location. And about some caves below a ruined tower containing a lot of treasures. They warned him about all the undead infesting those caves, but now that he's one of them, it doesn't matter at all. His spells should be able to deal with all the enemies he's gonna meet.

Amon Sul. That's the name the people here give to this tower. Built during the Second Age by the kings of the West as a watch tower. Today is supposed to be the 48th Tuile of the 122nd year of the Fourth Age. Haldor is stunned... more than six thousand years have passed since Angband fell, ending what people name the First Age. All the people and places he knew have disappeared long ago, except maybe a couple of elves that survived all this time and decided to stay in Middle-Earth instead of taking the last boats to Valinor. Cirdan is one of them... maybe he'll visit his new home to the west someday, the Gray Havens. For now, what Haldor wants is fame for himself... and some good treasures could help him too.

Haldor enters the dark tunnels below Amon Sul. The atmosphere here really reminds him of the Paths of the Dead. Not very far from the entrance, he finds a room guarded by some skeleton warriors, mages and archers. Once the guardians are dead, he spots a small wooden chest in the corner of the room. Haldor opens it... and finds a beautiful golden belt inside. He identifies it as Goldenberry's Girdle of the Calm Waters, a belt that heightens his will, resistances and life energies regeneration capacities.

Deeper in the dungeon, Haldor meets a strange man, wearing blue magical robes. A mage? Haldor has encountered many mages in his life, but this man seems to have a different profession.

"I am Aerimas, and I'm an alchemist from Bree. I was looking for special gems in this place to sell to Bree's jewellery shop, but I'm afraid I got lost in this dungeon. I've set a recall portal not far from here, but I don't remember where it is. Can you help me find it again?"

"No problem." replies Haldor. "I will protect you."

The glowing blue aura of the alchemist's robe seems unfortunately to attract all creatures in the vicinity. Haldor has a hard time dispatching the various undead, rodents, worms and all sorts of underground creatures that cross his path, but finally he manages to lead the lone alchemist to his portal.

"Thank you, friend." says Aerimas. "I will reward you by teaching you how to imbue your armor with the power of gems. This should be very helpful to you. Now I'm going back to Bree. Farewell..."

"Wait!" shouts Haldor. "Bree? Is that the town west from here?"

"Yes." replies Aerimas. "If you come to Bree, maybe we'll meet again there..."

And with these words Aerimas is gone. Haldor feels more powerful again, and senses that the time has come to learn how to magically map the surroundings and make the burden of his possessions lighter. Further in the dungeon, Haldor finds a circular corridor and a door at the end... the entrance to a vault. The vault has very experienced skeleton mages guarding it... but Haldor knows that his mana/lightning combo should be able to destroy them. The treasures from the vault are quite disappointing, but Haldor finds a good ash staff of might to replace his old staff. More damage to his spells never hurts...

Now Haldor also knows how to confuse his enemies with his flame spell. The dungeon level he entered seems very humid, and any trace of light has disappeared. Behind a door, he finds a strangely shaped corridor. Suddenly, a skeleton with fire in his empty eyes appear.

"I sense it... you're not what you appear." says the skeleton. "You are one of us. I am the Shade of Angmar, and this is my realm. Come and rejoin the armies of my undead servants..."

"I'd rather kill you and take your staff..." replies Haldor, greedily looking at the skeleton's powerful glowing staff.

"Then so be it..."

And a powerful mana bolt surges from the Shade of Angmar's staff... Strangely, the skeleton appears to be a less powerful opponent... once he gets frozen by one of Haldor's spells. Then various bolt spells follow, and finally the Shade of Angmar gets destroyed.

"Now your staff is mine." says Haldor. Searching the Shade's hideout doesn't show any more treasures than that staff. Haldor leaves the Amon Sul dungeon and heads west, to the town of Bree.

Chapter 4: Rhudaur

Haldor continues his journey south to his homeland. Soon he reaches the river Mitheitel, and a bridge he's sure he never saw before. Just a few miles, and he will be able to see the forest of Rhudaur. And inside the forest, the city of Rhudor... his home.

Haldor already smells the scent of a good fire and roasted meat. And the hospitality of his people... maybe many years have passed since he died, and all the people he knew are probably dead too, but he knows he will be greeted with open arms. Now he's at the edge of the forest. In his memories, this was a part of the great forest of Ossiriand, where both elves and men used to live together before Morgoth started to corrupt all living things in Middle-Earth from his fortress of Angband.

A noise in the trees... Haldor carefully hides himself behind a large oak. Just in time to see three heavily armed trolls coming his way.

"Trolls! In the forest of Rhudaur! This can't be... they were supposed to be exterminated on the plain of Anfauglith when Morgoth fell that day." thinks Haldor, really starting to feel that many things did change during his forced absence.

After the trolls disappeared out of Haldor's sight, he started to hurry and went deeper in the forest. Something's definitely wrong... this is clearly not the forest he remembers. He should have reached his city now... And what he sees on top of a small hill confirms his doubts... Ruins... ruins of a city now buried in the forest. Nobody must have lived here for hundreds of years, if not thousands.

Haldor falls on his knees... if he still had eyes, he would probably cry. Now he's sure... nothing remains of his past life. He will have to make a new spot for himself in this world. Now he hears more noises in the surrounding forest... trolls again, this time heading deeper in the forest, to the east. Haldor follows them, and soon the forest becomes thicker. The trolls disappear through a small passageway in the trees.

This part of the forest is totally hostile. Rodents, wolves, giant worms, all types of wild animals, and of course... trolls.

Haldor looks on the ground and sees a tattered scrap of paper. Something is inscribed on it, perhaps a part of a diary entry... something about a glade and human remains.

"Excuse me, sir. I'm afraid I lost myself in this forest. Could you help me please?"

Haldor turns around an sees a woman wrapped in heavy plate armor, wielding a long sword... a paladin. She's seriously wounded and would probably not survive her next hostile encounter in the forest.

"My name is Xitha, and I've been separated from my company. They have set a recall portal somewhere in case we got lost in the forest. I will be able to rejoin them there".

"Lead on, my lady." replies Haldor. "I will protect you."

Fortunately, the recall portal stands very close to where Haldor met Xitha. A few bolts to dispel some bears and a forest troll, and the female paladin is lead to safety.

"Thank you very much, my friend. As a reward, I'm gonna teach you one of the chants of the sun paladins. It will grant you protection against physical attacks and spells. Now farewell!"

"Wait!" shouts Haldor. "Sun paladins? What are sun paladins?"

But Xitha has already crossed the portal and Haldor remains alone again. Continuing his progress in the troll-infested forest, he finds two more scraps of paper... parts of a diary, mentioning an old gigantic troll. A ruined building stands in this part of the forest. Haldor explores the building carefully, but finds nothing... except another scrap of paper, where the writer asks for help.

Now Haldor stands in the heart of the forest. The last scrap of paper he finds mentions the writer in a tree with the giant troll waiting at the bottom. Considering that nobody can currently be found near that tree, he supposes that the writer flew... or more probably got killed by the aforementioned troll.

And finally he sees him, the huge troll. Big, brawny, wielding a small tree trunk as a weapon.

"I am Bill, the Stone Troll, ruler of the Trollshaws. No human is allowed in my forest, and whoever enters it should be promptly killed!"

Haldor knows he'll have to get rid of the troll. His spells have grown quite powerful since he was awakened again, and even a big troll would be no match to his powers now. Freeze, mana bolt, lightning bolt, freeze... the giant mass of muscles drops dead.

Haldor searches the surroundings, but finds nothing except the poor belongings of Bill, the Stone Troll. Feeling discouraged, he turns back and leaves the forest...

Chapter 3: Rescue

Haldor contemplates the bleak land around him. To the north and the east, a chain of mountains which indeed resembles the Misty Mountains. The cavernous hillscape to the northwest could probably be Carn Dum. To the west, a large plain stands where once was the forest of Ossiriand. And to the south...

If Haldor still had a heart, it would beat very fast. No doubt about it... to the south he can distinguish the forest of Rhudaur. His homeland... Now he has a goal... return home and try to get accepted by his people.

On his way, Haldor finds a strange building. Upon inspecting the inside, he discovers a hidden trap door... and calls for help within. Haldor carefully opens the trap door and enters the dark tunnels below... and the trap door closes itself! Sounds like he's trapped inside...

The tunnels are really dark, and Haldor is wondering what nasty creatures he will find inside. Suddenly, something hits him from behind. Haldor turns around and sees... nothing. Before the dagger stabs him from behind, he turns around again and manages to distinguish a dark figure cloaked in invisibility. Haldor casts a mana bolt and a lightning bolt... and the cloaked figure falls on the ground. The twin daggers and the well-filled purse leaves no doubt: Haldor has entered a thieves' hideout!

A down staircase... and the cries for help become louder. Haldor descends carefully... and enters a huge room full of treasures!

"Welcome to the Assassin's Lair!" booms a man clothed in black. "I'm the Assassin Lord, and these are my men."

"Please help me! I will reward you for your help!" shouts a man chained to the wall. His clothes tell that he is a rich merchant, captured by the thieves for his rare goods. The Assassin Lord hits him in the face.

"Shut up!" roars the Assassin Lord. "You!" pointing at Haldor. "You seem to be powerful... you could join us and work for me. You could even make profit with us. If you refuse my offer... my men will kill you promptly. So what do you decide?"

"I will never join a bunch of assassins!" replies Haldor, as he prepares his freezing spell. The Assassin Lord is hit by the powerful spell and stops moving. Haldor knows he doesn't have much time... the Assassin Lord has to die quickly. Fire bolt, lightning bolt, mana bolt... and the Assassin Lord goes down. Now all the assassins scream in anger and rush to avenge their master. Haldor not only has to fight for his life but must also protect the merchant's life from the assassins' murderous frenzy.

After the last thief falls to the ground, a hidden staircase appears to the place where the Assassin Lord was standing.

"Come, here's the way out." says Haldor to the merchant.

"Thank you very much. I said I would reward you for your help. As you see me, I'm on my way to Minas Tirith to open a Rare Goods shop there. If you go to Minas Tirith, I will give you good prices for my wares there. And take this gold... you deserved it."

"Minas Tirith? I've never heard of that city before... Where can it be found?" asks Haldor. But the merchant is already gone... "Nevermind, I'll find that city when the time is right. But for now, let's go home."

Chapter 2: Paths of the Dead

Searching in the depths of his memories, Haldor remembered a place south of the Misty Mountains from the time he was learning magics in the East... a place that was feared by all living creatures, for it was said to be cursed and filled with all sorts of undead creatures. The Paths of the Dead was the name of that place. A quick look around tells Haldor that it had probably been resurrected deep in that dungeon, and it would probably be difficult to get out of the place "alive".

The room he's standing in has two doors in the south wall. Opening them reveals a dark passageway to the west. Rapidly, Haldor meets his first encounters in the dungeon... not the undead he was expecting, but mere mice, rats and worms. After a short while, Haldor felt more powerful: his magical energies had increased again, and he learned how to enlighten his way.

Now a staircase leading upwards appears in the hallway behind a corner. Where could that lead?

Another room on the level above. More rats. More corridors. If only Haldor had some means of magically mapping dungeon levels... But he knows this won't happen until he becomes much more powerful. And then the pain... a bolt of ice had been cast from a trap he didn't see until it was too late. Haldor didn't know undead could be damaged by ice, or even suffer pain... but somehow he's different from the basic undead roaming mindlessly the dungeons. He has his own will, and even his own memories.

The bolt of fire that hits Haldor in the back brings him back to the sad reality. He's wounded and lost in a hostile environment. The creature that stands behind him looks like a twisted clone of himself: a skeleton mage. Haldor quickly hides himself behind a corner and rests, waiting for his enemy to show up. And before the skeleton mage could react, Haldor puts him back to rest with a lightning bolt.

After taking a few stairs up, Haldor begins to feel that the dungeon has become even more dangerous. Now he has to fight skeleton warriors, mages, archers, even elite skeletons in every room and corridor he has to take. And the traps, more and more deadly, start to deal a lot more damage, reducing the energies that maintain his bones tight together to a very low amount...

Haldor is now cornered... skeleton warriors everywhere. With all his magical energies, he manages to kill all of them but two. He raises his staff in a desperate attack and manages to hit the first skeleton, wounding him. The skeleton's counterattack manages to drop Haldor's life energies to a critical level... he knows that he won't be able to survive another hit. He raises his staff again... and kills the wounded skeleton. Now the other skeleton warrior is on him and Haldor doesn't have a chance against such an enemy...

Suddenly, Haldor is sensing power through his bones again. It seems that the last battle had raised his experience to a new level. Not only can he sense the utility of the items in his backpack... but he thinks he can also condense the moisture in the air to cast powerful spells. Before the skeleton warrior destroys him with his sword, Haldor conjures a powerful ice bolt and freezes his opponent. With his now restored magical energies and more powerful lightning spell, it doesn't take him long to cover the floor with skeleton bones...

With his new spells, now including a powerful mana bolt, Haldor progresses nicely through the Paths of the Dead. One more staircase, and he can finally see the light at the end of the dark tunnels... The last room, and a last staircase leading to the surface of the world...

Haldor doesn't see the creature that's approaching yet... but the noise it makes leaves no doubt: it's big, and it's undead. Suddenly a huge skeleton appears... a Bone Giant. But this specific Bone Giant doesn't seem to be complete... maybe his master didn't have the time to finish it... or maybe he was killed by his own creation. Fortunately, this means that it didn't get enough life energies to be too much of a threat. A few mana and lightning bolts... and the huge creature is history.

Among the bony remains, Haldor finds a phial filled with darkness. A nice find: a quick look reveals that it's in fact the famous Phial of Undead, a light source that grants vision in the dark. With his new artifact, Haldor takes the final staircase and exits the Paths of the Dead...

A beautiful sunshine... The wind blows on his chilled bones... Haldor feels fine, and for a moment forgets that he's not a living being anymore. Now it's time to explore the surroundings... Maybe he'll find answers to his questions: how many time has passed since he died? what happened in the meantime? and what will he find in his homeland after all this time? And simply... what will he do now?

Chapter 1: Awakening

Haldor wakes up in a dark and sinister dungeon.

"So that's how the Halls of Mandos look like... I was expecting something much more interesting."

Before him stands a human clothed in black robes, or at least an entity in human form. Could that be Mandos himself?

"Oh yes! I've done it! The most powerful slave ever created! And it's... MINE!"

Something is clearly wrong... This can't be Mandos... And the place... It's not a hall, it looks more like a summoning circle in a dusty dungeon. Haldor can't move... stuck inside the circle made of powerful runes of protection. And now he contemplates what remains of his old self... a set of pathetic bones, brought back to "life" by black magic with some kind of consciousness, a remnant of his past life as he once was Haldor, the Easterling Mage. Silently, he listens to the demented necromancer that created the abominous monstruosity he had become...

"A powerful slave against my enemies! No one will stand against me now!"

"I'm not a slave! I am Haldor, Archmage of Rhudor!", Haldor responds to the necromancer. "Now release me!"

"You're nothing more than a set of animated bones, conjured here to serve me!", replies the dark hooded figure. "Now shut up, slave!"

The ritual must have weakened the necromancer's powers. As he turns around for a moment, Haldor notices a part of the summoning circle starting to fade. A chance to escape? Even without his old body, Haldor still feels the magical energies flowing through his bony remains. Maybe his old magical powers are still intact. Without a moment of doubt, he conjures a powerful fire bolt and aim it at the overconfident necromancer.

"No! This can't be! I am your master! You must obey me! I'll teach you obedience, slave!", shouts the necromancer, as he calls the horrible spell of Soul Rot.

Nimbly dodging the spell, Haldor replies with a lightning bolt... and the necromancer falls to his knees.

"Why did you do that? With your help, we would have been unstoppable and conquered the world!"

"I'm not interested.", replies Haldor. "And I will destroy you for making an undead out of me!"

"Nooo! Please spare me! I'm a poor necromancer who needs his undead slaves to survive in this cruel world", gurgles the necromancer, as his life starts to slip out of his body. "And you will need me anyway to survive too! In your current form, everything you will meet outside of this room will try to destroy you..."

"So what do you propose?", asks Haldor.

"Here, take this cloak. It is an enchanted cloak that will hide your true nature and make you look like a normal human."

Haldor looks at the black cloak which seems to radiate magical energies. As he puts it on, he feels his magical energies increase... a powerful cloak indeed. Looking at himself through one of the polished stones that form the walls of the room, he sees a man, vaguely resembling the old Haldor he once was, the cloak giving an illusion of a skinny body to everyone that would look at him now.

"Thank you for the gift... now you may die.", says Haldor without a trace of mercy in the voice.

"NOOOOO... *gurlgle*."

The necromancer dead, Haldor starts to think about what he should do now. The idea of spending the remaining of his time on Arda as an undead skeleton repulses him... but ending his unlife now in this forsaken dungeon is not the answer. Suicide has never been liked by the Gods, and would probably cost his place in the afterlife... and appearing as this pathetic set of bones in front of Mandos is not really what he's looking for right now. Maybe there's still something to accomplish in Middle-Earth after all, and he's gonna have time to think about his second death later...

Haldor looks more closely at the room he's currently standing in. Where could he possibly be? And a more important question... when? How long did he stay in limbo state before being awakened here instead of in the Halls of Mandos?

Prologue: War of Wrath

The sun rises again, and another battle is about to begin. For the past two days, the armies of Valinor had fought the forces of Morgoth that were spewing forth from the caverns of Anfauglith. The Balrogs had already fallen, now the legions of the Orcs are standing between the armies of the Light and the fortress of Angband.

All the recent victories had given Haldor a courage unknown to himself. The young mage knew that his limited talents would not weight much in the final outcome, but at least he was fighting against the forces of Evil, not like most Easterlings who decided to fight for the Enemy.

And his mentor, Eldorin, was on his side. The powerful Maia had taken a human shape, young, beautiful, and terrible at the same time. With his mighty spells alone, he could defeat an entire unit of a hundred Orcs in no time... Really, nothing could go wrong this day. Soon they would be standing at the entrance of the pits of Angband, and all the darkness would be dissipated...

Suddenly, the sound of the trumpets started to resonate in the sky, and it was the signal all were waiting for. Quickly, the legions of the Orcs perished, exterminated by the swords, bows and spells of the armies of the West. During the battle, Haldor got separated from Eldorin and the friends who were fighting with him. He had to retreat behind a hill after being chased by a dozen of Orcs to regain his magical energies. Using these energies, he could cast minor fire and lightning bolts to dispel the unfortunate Orcs that were stupid enough to attack him...

The top of the hill was a perfect spot to watch the progress of the battle. Looking around, Haldor could only see thousands and thousands of Orc corpses left behind by the armies of the Valar on the desolated plain of Anfauglith.

"Victory!" he shouted, watching the remaining Orc forces fleeing the field of battle.

Suddenly, from the fortress of Angband, came a terrible scream of fear and desperation. Could it be the Dark Lord himself, sensing that his end was coming? And as the scream was turning into a growl of anger, the sky started to become totally black above Morgoth's throne. Surely not a good omen...

And then they came... the great winged dragons with their devastating powers. Fire drakes, storm drakes, all breathing fire and lightning in front of them. Their assault was so brutal that, for a moment, Haldor saw the armies on the plain retreat in front of the raging elements preceding the dragons.

Submerged by the epic battle on the plain of Anfauglith, and in the sky above the plain, Haldor didn't see the huge form coming his way before it was too late for hiding. A massive dragon covered in black scales appeared above him and started to speak:

"Your existance has come to an end, puny mortal. I will destroy you and anyone who will stand against my master, Morgoth, Lord of Darkness. For I am Ancalagon the Black, mightiest of the dragonkind. Now prepare to die..."

Haldor knew he would have to use all he had learned during his training with Eldorin to have a chance of surviving the fight with the dragon. While dodging the first breath, he called for the element of fire and projected a bolt at the massive form...

"Silly mortal, your pesky spells are useless against me!", roared the dragon.

Indeed, the powers of the Flame, Lightning and even Corrosive Vapor were helpless against a creature that seemed to resist all the elements. After spending almost all his magical energies, Haldor could only hope that Eldorin had sensed his fight with the dragon and would come to the rescue... Using his minor teleportation abilities, Haldor managed to avoid the deadly breaths and claws for a while, but the outcome was unavoidable. As his magical energies got finally depleted, he raised his staff high and rushed at the dragon in a final assault.

The dragon's attack in response was brutal and painful. With all the strength of his claws, he threw Haldor to the bottom of the hill. In a last flash of consciousness, Haldor felt the warmth of the Valar enveloping him, as he sensed the aura of Eldorin taking him away from Ancalagon's wrath.

The spell of major teleportation had brought Eldorin back with Haldor's broken body to the camp where most of Haldor's friends had retreated from the dragons. Seeing all the interrogating faces surrounding him, Eldorin could only reply by a negative sign with his head...

In a final effort, Haldor opened his eyes:

"Is Ancalagon dead? Did we vanquish Morgoth?"

"Yes, my friend, the battle is over and the darkness is gone." replied Eldorin.

"Now I can die in peace. The Halls of Mandos are awaiting for me, and perhaps we gonna see each other again in Valinor..."

And with these words, Haldor dies...

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