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The humans arrived sooner that she had expected. In fact, it turned out that she and her allies had reached her home in the nick of time.
She gave the orcs the outlines of her plan and left them to wait in ambush, and she hurried towards the western entrance to block the lateral tunnels. Not a moment too late, as she discovered. Having reached the furthest western tunnel, the vibrations told her that the humans were already inside. And there were quite a lot of them, it seemed. She didn't like it. Curse them!
She then started to work as fast as she could. From west to east, she closed all the branching passages. Centuries ago she had put rocks of different sizes throughout the tunnels and cavities in them, in case some passages must be blocked; now came the moment for that, and she used them. There was one tunnel in whose vicinity she had no rocks, so she blocked that one with webs. In order to hinder humans' progress, she placed rocks on two locations in the main tunnel too – but in these cases, she didn't block the way completely. She didn't want to stop the humans, only to slow them down.
In the end, she made a web on the beginning of the tunnel leading towards her main hall. She could finally rest; that was the last tunnel she had to block. Unless the humans decided to waste their time and energy to remove the obstacles – and she hoped they wouldn't do that – they would have no other choice but to go in the straight line towards the eastern exit.
She remained sitting behind newly woven web. She was only six or seven feet distant from the main tunnel, but invisible in the darkness behind the dense web. She grinned; the humans would have no clue how close to her they would pass.
She now only had to wait their passing... and then to start the action.
Walking dragged on enough that they had to light spare torches, and they refilled their oil-lamps. Although reserve supplies meant additional burdens to carry, they had a lot of both torches and oil. Faramir wasn't sure how long the journey through the dark would last, and in the end they'd have to return – which meant more hours in the darkness of the tunnel. If they happened to remain without light, he knew they would be lost.
They were twice slowed down by the piles of rocks, so they lost some time to clear their way. And although he wanted to reach the exit as soon as possible, he gave the order to stop after the second such interruption; they needed some rest and a meal. After about half an hour they went on.
"This begins to feel like an eternity," grumbled Haldar.
"Well, the hobbits said that the tunnel was long, yes," said Faramir, doing his best not to sound equally irritated. It wasn't easy to maintain the same high level of concentration and caution all the time. They had to be ready to start the fight at any moment – if the spider suddenly appeared from the dark – but all those hours in which nothing was happening dulled their conscience and senses from time to time. Darkness and nothing but darkness, silence and nothing but the sound of their own steps. Everything was empty.
And yet, he knew they were not alone. Somewhere in this underground lived a deadly creature. Webs and bones they occasionally saw reminded them of that fact. His nerves were tense to the point of breaking.
Minutes and hours were passing, and he lost all sense of time and distance covered. He profoundly hoped they were near the end of this accursed tunnel; the travelling became really long and he was already sick of it. Everything drove him mad – stench, webs, corpses remains, slime on the ground and lateral walls. He had never had problems with small closed spaces before, but now, after hours and hours in the tunnel, it became almost unbearable – he had the feeling that the walls were closing in around them and that he couldn't breathe.
Thinking about all of it, he realized that there was so much more courage in the hobbits than anyone could ever imagine. Because there were forty of them now, they had safety in numbers, they were each other's support, and yet, this was very far from a pleasant walk. The two little hobbits must have felt so much worse. His admiration for them suddenly grew to the sky.
They passed by a few more branching tunnels. But each time they lit the openings and looked inside, they realized they couldn't enter either of them. All of them were blocked by huge stones, too heavy for them to move. Only one tunnel was the exception – that one was closed by a web.
Faramir approached it and observed carefully. The web in which his glove was caught was an older remnant; what he was looking at now was quite obviously a new creation, and it was so thick and dense that it looked opaque. It was perfectly clear that nobody could set himself free from this, no matter how strong. Maybe only a troll, he speculated.
Then he considered another option. Could the swords do any damage?, he wondered. In truth, he doubted it, but he wanted to check; otherwise, he would never know. And if his sword remained caught... they did have the way to free it, after all. So he decided to try.
"Well, let's see..." he muttered and brandished his sword. Just as he expected, his blade entangled into thick threads, not causing them much damage. Another ranger tried to break the web with the hammer, but he, too, managed to make just one move – after which the hammer remained stuck.
"At least we learned something new," Haldar said surly. "Now we know that we cannot destroy it this way either."
The web was soon burned away, and Faramir looked at the darkness in front of him. He couldn't pierce it with his gaze, and he wanted to check at least first few yards. Holding his sword, he stepped forward, while few rangers immediately backed him up. But after only a few steps they had to halt again – there was another web in front of them. A few moments later they burned it down, but their way was blocked again – by the third one.
"We go back to the main tunnel," Faramir said after a few moments of thinking. "We could burn this one too, but as things are unfolding, there could be more obstacles behind it. And we must move on. I want to go out before nightfall."
They went on, and Faramir noticed Haldar's frowning.
"Hmmm..." Captain looked worried. "All the lateral tunnels are blocked. It is almost as if... as if someone wants us to walk in a straight line, directing our steps."
Faramir looked at him. It could have been a coincidence... however, some inner feeling told him not to believe that type of a coincidence. Haldar could very easily be right. He turned to the others. "We go further. Double your caution."
They walked on, and Faramir began to think that they would need the whole day to reach the exit. He didn't like it at all; night scouting of Mordor would be too dangerous and it was out of the question. But the thought of spending the night in the tunnel drove him frayed at his last nerve. He prayed it would not come to that.
"Hm, I think the smell is worse again," said Haldar in some moment. Having considered it, Faramir thought it might be true, but in the overall stench he just could not be sure.
"Maybe it is because of this web, maybe they smell stronger," said the soldier walking next to the left tunnel wall. Right now they were passing by a lateral tunnel, and just like all the previous ones, this one was not passable either; it was blocked by a dense web.
"Possibly," Faramir replied, a little suspicious. There was nothing he could be sure about in this lair, and everything seemed dangerous. But he could do about it, and they continued.
However, they passed only about a hundred feet more when they felt the new change – and this time it was so expressed that they knew they were not wrong. The air was becoming fresher. And they didn't just smell it; they could also see the change. A grey dot appeared in the long lasting unbroken blackness.
"We are close to the exit!" exclaimed Faramir, although even as he was saying the words he realized that the announcement was totally unnecessary. You are so silly. As if they don't see it themselves, he thought. But the fact that they had finally reached the end made him so happy that he just had to utter it aloud immediately.
And so they passed through the whole mountain, but didn't find the spider. One did not need to be very wise to come to a conclusion. It either hides in some of the blocked lateral tunnels, or it went to Mordor. In both cases they faced a difficult and perilous searching, and he couldn't decide which option he liked less.
The bright spot became bigger with every step, turning from dot into circle.
"Draw your swords."
The humans passed through the main tunnel while she was on the spot she had taken earlier, hidden behind the web. And as they were going further, she knew that it was most important to pick the right moment. If she broke the net and entered the main tunnel too early, they could hear her and attack her. Which she wanted to avoid. Judging by vibrations of their steps, there were nearly fifty. No less then forty, for sure. She didn't want to risk an unnecessary fight.
She wasn't happy at all discovering there were so many. Although there were about twice as many orcs, uncertainty began to gnaw her and she wasn't sure any more that it was enough. But now she couldn't change it. She brought as many orcs as it was possible; she now knew that she would be late if she had searched further, and in that case she couldn't realize her plan at all. She could only hope that the orcs would inflict serious losses to Gondorians – serious enough that she can finish the remaining ones.
She flattened herself to the ground, picking up even the weakest vibrations that way, and judging the attenuation of the smell of the humans. When she thought they were at least a hundred feet away, she quickly tore the web with her claws and entered the main tunnel. She was not totally silent in doing it, but she hoped they were far enough not to hear her. She thought that only the sounds could betray her, but was not afraid of being seen. Even if some of the humans looked back, she believed her black shape would blend with the gloom of the tunnel, especially because of the distance.
She followed the humans for a while; they were relatively close to the exit now, as it seemed to her, and she concluded this could be the moment and the place to start the action. She grinned. A shadow over her plan was the number of humans – greater than she expected – but generally, she was pleased by how the situation unfolded so far. Now was the moment to block their retreat route.
In fact, the main obstacle that would truly make their escape impossible she would set when she returned towards the tunnel branching to her cave. That was her plan from the beginning. What she was doing right now – the idea that came only a little while ago – she didn't have to do it. But she loved the idea, and she wanted to do it. The result would be multiple. A few men in her web would mean additional meals for the following period, and would also mean fewer men fighting orcs. There was one more reason – it would be fun. And because, even though her time for the action was limited, she did have just enough time for weaving the web.
She delighted in advance; she imagined the humans running into the net and trying to set themselves free... unsuccessfully, of course. No one could escape from her webs. She grinned wider, and started to weave.
The name that evoked horror in all the inhabitants of Middle-earth.
Even more in the inhabitants of Gondor, because it was their country that bordered the land of the Dark lord.
But most of all, in those Gondorians living in Minas Tirith and Ithilien, because they watched that border every single day – the watched the grey, dark slopes of the mountains, above which even darker clouds hovered.
Faramir and the Rangers were a part of that last group. They had resided in the shadow of Mordor all the time and watched those sights every day. And although all of them were hardened soldiers, looking at the darkness of Mordor was not a pleasant view even for them.
Mordor. A name for terror, evil, dark and death. For thousands of years.
Faramir observed the opening they had approached. Daylight from the outside was grey and obscured, and it was obvious the night was near. But he was content that it was not completely dark yet.
And when they pass through that opening, they'd be in Mordor.
Even if this was an ordinary trip in the middle of the sunny day – and it wasn't very probable that anybody would undertake trips to Mordor any time soon – he assumed he would feel... well, weird, at the very least. And maybe a little discomfort, too. Because even now, when Sauron and most of his huge army were destroyed, Mordor was not a nice place at all and didn't evoke pleasant emotions.
Most of Sauron's army. Yes, that was the key word. Not all of it. Although there seemed to be no orcs in Ithilien anymore, one could assume that some still dwelled in Mordor. Some? A few? Many? He just could not know. And the latest events meant that the orcs were not the only creatures of the dark that had survived. Because this quest was not a sightseeing trip; this was going to battle.
As they neared the exit, they slowed down. They had to be very careful, in case there were any threats on the other side. When they were close, he looked back to his men. "Look out for a while, straight into the light, so that your eyes get adapted to it", he said. "We will wait a little bit, and only then we go out." He didn't want the day light to blind them.
Faramir looked out. Mordor. For now, he couldn't see much because the walls of the tunnel still constrained his field of view. He only managed to see a part of the terrain closest to the exit, which was stony and more or less flat.
Soon he judged their eyes had adapted enough. Three more steps, and the first row was only a foot away from the exit. All of them had swords in their hands. He could now see a little more: the terrain was flat, and in the distance it rose slightly. Everything was silent and he didn't see anyone. But they had to check the sides and the slope above the tunnel, which was impossible from the inside; they had to go out and look left, right and up. So he made the next step and entered Mordor.
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