Yes, that was a long wait. I really am sorry, but between graduating, working, then working some more, it's been busy. I will try to be better and quicker moving forward, but we all know how that's worked out for me previously.

To respond to some comments: yes, because of the arrival of Gandalf, it seems as though their attack on Isengard accomplished little except getting Theoden killed. However, in some ways I'm trying to write this story in what Percy would do, even if it isn't the best decision in retrospect. Also, this allows him to confront Saruman in this chapter, which will be very important in revealing some information that allows him to move forward.

Also, HEY! GUESS WHAT? I updated Chapters 1 and 2 a little bit to flesh out the Valar more and make Percy's entrance a bit smoother. I also updated Chapters 3 and 4 A LOT because they were dogshit, so now please please stop leaving reviews saying how dogshit they are. I know they were bad. They're better now. I'll keep trying to update some of those earlier chapters because wow yeah they're still really bad, and I didn't know all of the exact details of what the plot was gonna be.

Like always, I'm currently working on the coming chapters, so thanks for the patience.

Read on!

The geyser Percy had summoned to lift them skyward deposited them on the balcony overlooking the door to Orthanc, the watery carpet of Isengard extending outwards far below him. The sudden jolt and airborne nature of their trek seemed to unnerve Éomer, who glanced at the stone floor on which he stood and back over his shoulder at the water below several times. But he remained more composed than Percy had expected and was able to keep his lunch down, for which Percy was grateful.

As Percy's own boots touched the smooth stone surface of Orthanc, Percy took a moment to scan the battle happening around him.

Although I'm not sure if battle is the right word to describe the butt-kicking taking place right now… he thought, only a bit sardonically. For it was true that the tree-creatures were dismantling not only the remaining forces of Isengard and Mordor with hardly any effort, but also the very walls and foundations of the wizard's stronghold. The mighty creatures were hurt by nothing it seemed, although a single burned ent that wandered about in obvious discomfort proved the exception to Percy's observation.

But many men of Rohan were lost before the arrival of the walking trees and Gandalf, and it was these that weighed on his heart in those seconds of peering over the battlefield. He wondered if he should have delayed his charge several hours, or if he should have waited under the eves of the newly appeared forest in the hopes that the forces of Mordor and Isengard should slaughter the other…

But he realized that second guesses such as these were of no import in situations such as these. What was done was done, and there was nothing he could do about it at this point.

Éomer seemed to realize what was weighing on Percy's mind in those mere seconds of hesitation. "You did what any soldier might have done," the man said, his usually gruff voice only a bit thicker with almost-invisible emotion. "Now all that lies onward is the recompense of the wizard."

Percy nodded, steeling himself and locking his feelings away for at least the time being. Now was the time for action, for resolve. Self-doubt would do nothing but hinder the goal at hand.

For Saruman had to be done away with.

And so, with blades drawn, they emerged from the small room that housed the sally port from which they entered, finding themselves in a small hallway that probably ended in the round chamber that wound itself all the way up to the pinnacle of Orthanc. The hallway opened up into several dark rooms on either side, but they ventured past them without anything more than a glance inside.

"You've roamed these cursed halls before, I hear," began Éomer in a low voice that wouldn't carry far, even in the relative silence of the echoing stone halls. "Where is he likely to be?"

Percy thought for a moment. "He was at the very top of the tower before," he started in the same low voice. "It doesn't seem like his style to just hide or lock himself away, but I'm not exactly best buds with the guy so who knows."

"So do we make our way towards the top of the tower?"

He considered that. "No, if we get up to the top there's no way out—"

Unless I jump off the tower. Again. Which I don't think Éomer would be too stoked about.

"—But we can make for the central chamber and go from there."

Éomer nodded and then gestured forward. Percy took the queue and passed him, leading the way through the dark tower. Like his last time in Orthanc, Percy found himself wanting to peruse every room they passed—there were just too many odd, fantastic things he saw while poking his nose through the doorways. He could spend months here and not find everything there was to see.

Although, since he wasn't a child of Hephaestus or Athena, he'd probably get bored of it all within a day or two.

But they crept along, swords drawn and pointed forward, not stopping except to make sure the wizard wasn't in any of the rooms they passed. At last they wound up at the central chamber, although they seemed to be a floor or two above the base of it, since they had entered through a balcony window. It remained just as Percy remembered it from his previous visit there: a looming room that extended up hundreds of feet to the top of the tower. A staircase spiraled up the side of the tower, with rooms and passageways extending from the chamber and the staircase as it traveled upwards.

Looking around, Percy could sense nothing but an absolute stillness. Unseen fires and numerous wrought iron candlesticks lit the area, but nothing moved between the light and the shadows. Even the roar of the battle outside the fortress was almost undetectable; the only sound he could really hear was the rhythmic beat of his heart and the rough breathing of Éomer beside him.

"So," the man muttered, looking around at every possible opening with his sword gripped tightly in his hand, "now what?"

Percy frowned, uncertain. "I'm not sure, I don't think that—"

As if on cue, the doors to the central chamber started slamming shut with loud clangs that resounded around the chamber. The two jumped and whirled around, following the sounds and watching as every one of their possible exits was closed. Even the hallway they had just passed through was sealed off as a gate loudly shut behind them. At last, only a single gateway on the main floor below them remained open. In a flash of recognition, Percy realized that the open door led to the room where he had found (and then stolen) the palantír from during his first visit here.

That did nothing to ease his trepidation over the situation.

He sighed. "Does that answer your question?"

Éomer's gaze narrowed. "We would be walking straight into the wizard' clutches. No doubt he lies in wait there."

Percy clapped him on the back as he walked past, heading to the staircase that wound down to the main floor and the open door. "Welcome to my world."

Before he could walk too far forward, Éomer's gloved hand landed on his shoulder, stopping him. "We cannot simply walk into—"

"Yeah we can."

Without waiting for a response, Percy kept walking down the stairs and towards the open door. Their only way out led through Saruman, although Percy was by no means thrilled about that. As he walked, the words of Aragon resurfaced in his mind, spoken in reference to the dangers of even just speaking to the white wizard.

"Once he was as great as his fame made him," Aragorn had told him. "His knowledge was deep, his thought was subtle, and his hands marvelously skilled; and he had a power over the minds of others. The wise he could persuade, and the smaller folk he could daunt. That power he certainly still keeps. There are not many in Middle-earth that I should say were safe, if they were left alone to talk with him. Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel, perhaps, but very few others."

The words of Aragorn certainly threw up large red warning signs in his mind as he neared the chamber doors, and he was half-tempted to stuff his ears with candle wax as he had done to avoid the Sirens' tempting song in the Sea of Monsters.

Wait a minute. That's not an awful idea.

And with that thought, he stopped in his tracks, causing Éomer to nearly run into his back. Without a word, he veered off to the side of the room, where several tall candlesticks rose, giving light to the room. He extinguished one of the candles and attempted to mold the wax at the top into a lump; but finding that there wasn't enough warm wax at the top of the candle for that, he withdrew a neighboring candle from its stand and held it over another lit candle, rotating it until it began to soften enough to mold.

"What are you doing?" Éomer hissed under his breath.

"Saruman's most dangerous weapon is his voice, his words," Percy responded, his hands moving to shape the hot wax into several clumps that could be inserted into one's ears. If it wasn't for his being the son of the sea god, he had no doubts that the hot wax would have burned his hands many times over at this point, even though it was quickly cooling. "Better not to hear them. Here—stick these in your ears."

"I—what?" Éomer asked, confusion etched on his face.

"Take the wax and shove it in your ears," Percy responded somewhat impatiently, shoving the two clumps of wax into Éomer's gloved hands. "I don't want Saruman trying to talk you into doing something you shouldn't, or something like that. If you can't hear him, he can't do that."

Very little understanding appeared on the man's face. "And what about you? Won't he do the same thing to you?"

Percy dusted the now-dried wax from his hands. "Yeah, well, one of us has to try to wring some information out of him, and there's nothing that Saruman can offer me that I haven't already turned down. "

"We're not here to interrogate the wizard," Éomer responded with some force behind it. "We're here to kill him, to avenge my king and kinsmen and all whom he has had slaughtered in his malice."

"Yeah," Percy replied with equal force, meeting his gaze and ignoring the part within him that cried out against killing the wizard. "But he knows more about Sauron and the war than anyone else. That information could be valuable, so I have to try and get it."

Éomer clearly wanted to question Percy more, but the demigod continued speaking before he could ask anything else. "When we're in there, just stay behind me with your sword ready. If a fight starts, you can tear that wax out and go to town on the wizard, but until then keep that wax in. I'll direct you."

The confidence and authority in Percy's voice once more shut down any follow-up questions, and Éomer nodded and began to stuff the wax in his ears. When it was properly lodged in there, Percy gestured for him to follow, and then the two proceeded back towards the only open gate.

Alright, I guess we're doing this.

He shook his head, as if even he couldn't believe he was about to consult/fight one of the most dangerous people in Middle Earth with no backup except a wax-stuffed man thirsting for blood in his anger and grief. Then, putting on a confident expression, he appeared around the edge of the doorway and began to stride into the room.

He would say it was just as he remembered it from when he had been in the first time roughly two weeks previously, but the fact of the matter was he barely remembered it. In his haste to search Orthanc and even greater haste to leave it once he had snatched the palantír, the adventure seemed to blur together. Before him stood the now-empty pedestal that once held the palantír, and behind it on a very uncomfortable-looking twisted iron throne sat Saruman the White. There were other doors leading out of the room, one on either side of the pedestal, but both gates were closed. He vaguely remembered getting lost in the tower after snagging the palantír, and seeing as the door to the central chamber was literally right behind him, he figured he must have used one of the side doors that probably opened into twisting hallways.

As he walked into the room, Saruman didn't rise, but his hawkish eyes were fixated on Percy, and the unblinking stare seemed to burn through him. He stopped before he reached the pedestal, allowing a safe distance to remain between the two parties. Behind him, he could hear Éomer come to a halt directly behind his right shoulder. Both sides stood there silently for several moments, but at last Saruman spoke from where he was seated.

"Ah, here is the man who has drawn the unblinking attention of the Eye, who has so infuriated the Dark Lord. Welcome back to my humble abode, child."

Then his gaze fell upon Éomer. "And guest," he finished with an amused sneer on his face, lazily gesturing a hand toward Éomer, who hopefully couldn't hear the wizard's words. Saruman's voice was rich and melodic and seemed to resonate both throughout the room and within Percy, and he could see why the wizard could be such a skilled and dangerous orator. But there was a mocking undertone that wasn't well-hidden, an air of contempt that exuded from the voice.

As he stared at Saruman, the murderous urge he expected to feel when he finally came face-to-face with the wizard never materialized. He still knew that the wizard most likely had to die, and he wouldn't be too upset if he was the one to do it; but as he looked at Saruman, he found that he didn't particularly want to kill him at that moment. Percy spared a glance back at Éomer, who was staring at Saruman with such a rage and bloodlust as Percy hadn't seen before, but he hadn't attacked the wizard. Yet. Which was good. He thought. But wasn't sure.

He sighed, banging the flat of Riptide against his leg several times as he contemplated exactly how to respond. He knew talking with the wizard for a long time would be dangerous, so he decided to be blunt.

"Look, sir, I know this is the time when I'm supposed to, like, offer you mercy and a chance to surrender, which you would just turn down before fighting us. But this guy behind me"—and with this he jerked a thumb back toward Éomer—"would love nothing more than to put his sword through you. And, if I'm being honest, keeping you alive isn't exactly my highest priority right now."

Maybe excessive consumption of movies and bad cartoons had soiled Percy's mind, but he expected the wizard to launch into a tirade insulting him and calling him dumb before flaunting his own might. Instead, Saruman simply inclined his head and replied, "You're fighting for the wrong side, boy."

Percy paused, surprised by the response. "No… I'm pretty sure I know what I'm doing here."

That's a lie and you know it, his mind argued.

Saruman leaned forward in his throne slightly. "Perhaps you misunderstand me. I know you wish to defeat Sauron, but the path you have chosen to accomplish this goal will end in destruction and ruin."

He knew the dangers of listening, of indulging the wizard, but Saruman's voice was so sure, so confident, that his mind seemed to tell him that missing out on whatever information Saruman promised him would be so harmful to his quest. That being said, he wasn't sure what Saruman actually knew about the Fellowship's quest and what he thought he knew about the quest.

"What path are you talking about?"

The wizard chuckled, but there was no mirth in it. "You think you can hide information from me, the wisest in Middle Earth?"

"I mean, maybe a little," Percy muttered, but the wizard spoke over him as he continued.

"I have been watching you since you departed Rivendell, since you left Elrond's sphere of influence. Both through the palantír which you now know so much about"— and as he said that his eyes glittered cruelly and wrath shone on his face—"and through other methods."

Percy thought back to the strange birds that seemed to pursue them and remain near them during their trek from Rivendell to Moria, and he wondered if that was the only thing to which the wizard was referring.

"I know you departed with Gandalf and the man believed to be the heir to Gondor's throne, as well as the son of Gondor's steward, an elven and dwarven emissary, and four halflings—halflings that few in Middle Earth except myself know about, that not even the Power in the East knew about until I confided that information in him."

He paused for a moment, and when he resumed the room seemed to grow even quieter and gloomier, his voice all the more sinister. "I know the Ring came to the Shire, and that the halflings brought it to Rivendell. And for long, I believed the Ring to be in possession of the halflings as they set out on their quest. Now I know better."

Percy stopped suddenly. Wait, what?

Saruman laughed scornfully at his expression. "Do not act surprised; it is too late to hide this from me. For long the truth had evaded me and I pondered without end—why would Elrond the Wise entrust the Ring to a halfling, a weakling? Perhaps so that someone who could not wield it carried it powerless unto Gondor where a greater man could control its powers behind the safety of the White City's walls. Someone who could be stricken down if he moved out of line. Or perhaps Elrond had simply fallen into foolishness as had Gandalf."

There was another pause, and Saruman's gaze seemed to deepen and grow more concentrated. "Then I felt the tremor in the land by Moria's eastern gate, a tremor that quaked the land for leagues around until even this tower shook, and I was certain of the power of one in the Fellowship. Gandalf it was not, for he would not use such power; and neither the son of the steward nor the supposed heir to the throne of Gondor wielded such power. Then I knew that the suspicions of Sauron were confirmed: it was the boy who had supposedly been sent from the West who bore this power. Only he would have use of the Ring and the power to wield it, should he dare to take it up… and, perhaps this boy would be the only one who would dare to take it up."

Saruman's words seeped into his head, and suddenly he found himself very confused. Why didn't he take the Ring? He clearly had the power for it and the ability to use it—shouldn't he have taken it so that he could throw down Sauron quickly? No one else would have been able to use it as he could have. Then he would be able to do whatever he wanted—to get rid of all of the evil in this world and make everything perfect.

But while he thought, his gaze fell on the silver ring on his hand, the gift of Lady Galadriel in Lothlorien. His memory flickered back to the Golden Wood and the fair face of the Lady, and suddenly it felt as though a torrent of cool, refreshing water swept over his mind and washed the tempting thoughts, the lies of grandeur, out of his head. His mind cleared, and in that moment he remembered just how enticing the evil of the Ring was and how dangerous the voice of Saruman was. Every time the wizard opened his mouth, it felt as if he were talking to Drew Tanaka or Piper, for the wizard's words didn't seek to change his mind, but rather to convince his mind that it was he who had come up with the thought, not Saruman.

But now, as his gaze met with Saruman's once more, he found he wasn't sure whether to lie and declare his possession of the Ring, to confirm Saruman's suspicions and repeat the same lie he had told to Sauron through the palantír, or to deny it. Or, he thought, if he should even dare to converse with the wizard rather than try to kill him immediately, before Saruman's words could poison his mind.

But as he thought, one thing in particular didn't seem to add up. "But why did you send the Uruk-hai after the hobbits if you thought I had the Ring? Why did they carry the hobbits away when they could have taken me?"

"Is it not obvious?" Saruman answered with the same confidence he had gloated with throughout their entire conversation. "No amount of Uruk-hai would have been able to bring you in without either you dying or them. But if the halflings were brought to my feet, it was clear that you would follow close behind."

The way he phrased it sounded to Percy as if Saruman hadn't wanted the Uruk-hai to kill him, as if the wizard didn't want him dead. "And you wanted me here… why? For me or for the Ring?"

Saruman spread his arms wide, looking so very satisfied. "For both."

Percy scrunched his brow. "So you still want the Ring to beat Sauron, and you want me to… help you do that?"

"Cast your mind to the future, boy," the wizard continued dramatically. "We could topple Sauron from his dark throne. With the Ring, none could stand before me; with you as my lieutenant, our victory would arrive quickly.

This is beginning to sound way too much like Star Wars.

Percy's gaze narrowed. Saruman's offer actually sounded pretty good to him, although he knew part of that was the power within the wizard's voice. But it sounded too enticing. "I thought you were with Sauron—what happened to that?"

Saruman sneered with all the prideful self-assuredness of a fool declaring that two plus two equals five. "Sauron was a useful tool, a needed stepping stone to get the Ring. For long we conversed, and he grew to trust me as his greatest servant, providing me information. His plans, his intentions, his actions—all were given to me. All the while, I fed him information enough to avoid suspicion, but I searched for the Ring while he was left in the dark."

That didn't sound right to Percy, who was pretty sure that Saruman had been the tool in that partnership; but before he could comment on that, Saruman grew silent for a breath, as if composing exactly what he wanted to say.

When he continued speaking, it was once more with a deathly seriousness. "Middle Earth is marred and diminishing. The noble elves are fleeing westward, and those who stay have but a small influence that is growing ever more diluted. Gondor is weak, the bloodline of Numenor growing ever fainter. The dwarves lie hidden in halls of stone, and even their greatness fades. Sauron cannot bring Middle Earth back to its former glory. Nay, he will warp it and grind it under his blackened thumb, making it a bleaker echo of what it was, a dark place of sorcery and ruin that he can rule over as his master ruled in Utumno and Angband. Who can stop him but myself? Who can return Middle Earth to glory but myself?"

Percy made to respond, but Saruman (once again) continued on before he could do so. "The path you forge, on which you drag so many along, is destined for ruin. But if you give me the Ring, I can save Middle Earth and restore it. I and I alone am able to wield the Ring and wrest it from the control of its master, but you could join me and sit at my right hand, and between us Sauron would cower in fear."

Pieces began to click into place in Percy's mind, and he began to understand why Saruman sat before him now unarmed rather than ambushing Éomer and himself when they entered Orthanc, and why the Nazgûl had led an army of orcs against Isengard, when they had previously been allies. He had previously been aware of the possibility that Saruman would try to convince him to join Sauron, but he didn't expect an offer to join him in an assault against the Dark Lord.

Then the comment Sauron had made to him over the palantír made more sense as well. "You have allowed me to see that I only need one enemy to worry about, and Saruman has outlived his usefulness as a tool," Sauron had said.

That seemed to suggest that despite what Saruman thought, Sauron really had been the one pulling the strings the entire time. While Saruman probably had been able to hide some information from Sauron and the Nazgûl, he had not been using Sauron as a tool as he just claimed. Sauron eventually got wise about what the wizard was doing, about his independent search for the Ring and intentions to use it for himself, and that's when he must have sent the army to besiege Isengard and remove the threat of Saruman. Although Percy also doubted that Sauron would really label Saruman a threat.

And now there was a three-way struggle for power. Saruman and the powers of Isengard and the formidable powers the wizard himself possessed was one power; Percy and the other forces of the free peoples of Middle Earth, namely Gondor and Rohan, were another. Although they both seemed to be hopelessly outmatched by Sauron and his nearly limitless armies and power.

Then he realized that perhaps Sauron was just waiting for him to take out Saruman, to dispose of a now-useless tool. And if Percy died in the process, that was just all the better for Sauron.

With that thought, an idea popped into Percy's head that he completely and utterly reviled. Both Saruman and himself were so outmatched by Sauron that it made more sense if they were to join forces to try to take him down. But he thought about the man next to him, and the rest of Rohan. The wizard had just killed their king (which still made Percy want to stick Riptide through him); there was simply no possibility of cooperation.

While all these thoughts flew through his head at breakneck speed, Saruman just watched intently, as did Éomer at his side, seemingly curious at the break in visible conversation. He must have had a tempted look on his face, for Saruman's features lifted and a victorious, cruel smile began to break out on his face. But that look plummeted an instant later, when Percy shook his head, hopefully looking a lot more convinced than what he felt.

"No, the Ring can't be mastered by any but Sauron."

Saruman's upper lip curled. "Witless worm. You cannot deceive me, for I know the truth, and the Dark Lord suspects it as well. You seek to master the Ring yourself, which will be impossible for a man of such weakness as you. You can continue on your foolhardy quest with your weak companions and perish at the foot of Barad-dûr, returning the Ring to its master and dooming Middle Earth to the reign of Sauron forever. Or surrender the Ring to me and join me in toppling the Dark Lord."

"I don't intend to master the Ring!" he shot back more forcefully.

At this, Saruman's grip on the armrests of his metal throne tightened considerably, and he quickly pushed himself up to a standing position for the first time thus far in their conversation.

"What is your plan once you get to Minas Tirith?" Saruman continued with a rising, more violent, tone of voice. "Hide behind its white walls while you attempt to fully submit the Ring to your will? What then, should you succeed? Battle Sauron's countless thousands of orcs by yourself?"

When Percy didn't immediately respond, Saruman continued as he had done continuously throughout their conversation.

"I know the threat you faced in Moria. I knew of Durin's Bane long before Gandalf the Grey fell to shadow and ruin. Do you think that balrog is the last to roam the dark places of the world?"

Percy just stared, his stomach dropping as he remembered the fiery menace that nearly destroyed them. Were there more under Sauron's control?

His internal distress must have shown on his face, for Saruman continued on with traces of dark amusement in his voice. "Oh yes, long has Sauron delved and searched, looking for lost servants that have not heard their master's call in millennia. If you challenge Sauron, you will not simply be facing Sauron, but legions of nightmares and terrors, horrors of ages past. Are you so confident in your own prowess that you would face this alone?"

Percy's temper continued to rise quickly as the wizard continuously ignored what he said, and he shifted his stance and pointed Riptide at Saruman. As he did this, he was aware of Éomer also shifting into a battle stance, but they did not attack. Apparently realizing that his method of outreach wasn't succeeding particularly well at the moment, Saruman sat back down, and the anger on his face cooled considerably. When he spoke once more, it was in a softer, more enticing tone.

"I see in you a longing not for power but for peace, for an end to this. You are afraid of the power you hold, but indecisive because that power could finish this and leave you victorious. Let me help you. Give me the Ring and unburden yourself from its heavy weight."

Once more Percy felt the temptation that Saruman's voice held, the invitation to do as his voice commanded because it must be the better option.

Which is dumb, because I don't even have the stupid Ring where I can be tempted to give it to him.

"If you pursue this path, you will be delivering the Ring back into the hands of Sauron. Do you know what that entails, boy?" Saruman continued in the same cooperative tone. He spoke now as one informing, rather than one attacking.

"At this moment, Sauron is all but formless, a spirit confined to the Barad-dûr. He is the Eye, imprisoned in a fortress of his own construction. Just as his power intertwines with every dark brick, with every twisted spire in his stronghold, so too does that tower restrain him…But if he gains back his Ring, that which he has imbued with so much of his power and his essence, he will be complete once more. He will be able to take physical form such as he has lacked for millennia now, and none will be able to stand before him."

Percy swallowed, and the words of the wizard began to sink in. If they failed, if Frodo couldn't do it, then they were damning Middle Earth to destruction and ruin.

"That is why you must give me the Ring. Together we can bring peace to Middle Earth and prevent the Dark Lord from taking physical form once more.

He shook his head. "I can't do that."

The cooperative, mentoring facade of Saruman had vanished in an instant. Gone were the wise eyes, and in their stead was a gaze filled with madness and a greedy, hungry leer that adorned his now-gaunt face. It was an expression he had seen once before: on the face of Boromir as he tried to take the Ring. Percy could see the lust for power, for the Ring, that had consumed every facet of his being.

"Surrender the Ring to me now, you ignorant cur!" the wizard hissed.

"I don't have the Ring!" Percy shouted in return, all the frustrations of the conversation coming to a head at once.

He was breathing heavily now, both in anger and frustration, and the wrath that had consumed him as Saruman killed Théoden was starting to return. "I can't master it; you can't master it; only Sauron can master it! It responds to him and him alone! That's why the Ring must be destroyed!" he finished, so much pent-up frustration being released all at once as he let slip the most secretive of knowledge in a moment that got away from him.

Immediately he knew his mistake. He watched as Saruman's face froze in a visage of pure shock, as a thought that he was incapable of thinking became forced into his mind. His eyes widened and his mouth remained open and he did not move for several moments.

"You would not wield it… but destroy it…" he murmured, as if to himself. Then his eyes latched onto Percy's once more, and Percy could see that disbelief still etched on his face. Soon this disbelief morphed into disgusted amazement.

"What… what have you done?" he breathed, before continuing to murmur to himself for several seconds. During that time, the only words Percy was able to make out were "He knows," which sent his stomach plummeting.

But before he could dwell on that, the shock dropped from Saruman's face so quickly Percy would have missed it if he blinked. Almost instantaneously the wizard became so enraged that Percy wondered if it was indeed possible to be killed by a glance, Saruman being a wizard and all. Luckily the answer seemed to be no, but Percy had to dive to the side and tackle Éomer as Saruman snatched his staff in an instant and shot off a blast of fire at them.

Reacting in an instant, he dove to the side and tackled Éomer. The flames tickled his own heels as they fell through the air, but Éomer remained untouched. As soon as they hit the stone floor, Éomer ripped the wax out of his ears and scrambled to his feet, sword held out in preparation to fight.

"I can see your ability in battle is outdone only by your ability to anger dangerous enemies," muttered the Marshall of Rohan dryly as they awaited the wizard's next move.

"Yeah, welcome to my life," he muttered in return.

Hoisting himself up to his feet as quickly as he could, Percy tried to charge Saruman with Riptide, only to find himself cast to the side as if pulled by invisible strings as the wizard waved his staff that way. Éomer, too, found himself on the receiving end of a similar trick, as a thrust of his staff in that general direction sent the Marshall of Rohan cast backwards towards the now-closed gate to the room.

The only upside to that was it seemed Éomer had been affected by Saruman's staff-magic far more than Percy had, as if his being a demigod gave him some resistance to it. He quickly tucked that information in the back of his mind as he assessed his situation.

For a half-second, the two men shared a look that pretty clearly said, "How the hell are we supposed to kill the guy if we can't get close to him?"

Without waiting for an answer to come to him, Percy was sprinting back towards Saruman, who had launched a crackling bolt of energy at him from the bottom of his staff. Sliding underneath it, Percy jumped up in front of Saruman, Riptide already swinging at his midsection. As his sword moved through the air, he could hear Éomer running towards them, shouting.

Quicker than Percy's eyes could follow, Saruman batted Riptide aside, catching the flat of its blade on his staff, and followed it with a jab to Percy's knee that just barely missed his greave and dropped him to the marble floor once more. Éomer had similar luck, or a lack thereof, as he found his blade parried by the backtracking wizard's staff and once again was cast backwards.

"You think you can enter my own domain and challenge me?" Saruman said to them with derision in his voice and madness in his wide eyes. He spread his arms wide, which would have been a poor defensive decision from a fighting perspective, had not his two opponents been groaning on the ground at that moment. "Me—Saruman the Wise, Saruman of many colors, Saruman ring-maker, Saruman—"

"Ringmaker?" Percy grumbled from the floor, in no haste to stand. His leg felt numb and his knee looked like it was swelling up a bit, he was exhausted from fighting the previous few hours and literally controlling a whole-ass river, and his arms felt like lead. There was no water around to control, and he was pretty sure that if he tried to shake the earth again, it'd feel about as strong as a mildly obese person falling to the ground. All in all, he was running low on ideas.

His staff, whispered a thought in his mind. You must break his staff.

Saruman looked smug and inspected a ring on his hand. "The rings of power were forged only with the knowledge given to the elves by Sauron himself. But this ring I forged outside of his influence, without his aid, a task not done by others."

He's gone, Percy observed. Saruon's snared him so deeply that he can't see how much he's really being used.

"Sauron is using you," Percy croaked out. "You're not the puppetmaster, you're the puppet. You can't win."

The wizard's eyes glinted. "Oh?" he asked, as if amused by a delightfully wrong question.

This is going nowhere, he thought. Clearly talking to the wizard wasn't going to do anything productive at this point. He had wondered if Saruman would be more cooperative since he was in a position of power with both Percy and Éomer hurt, but that was apparently not the case.

"Your army's gone," he began, subtly maneuvering himself until he was kneeling, but in a position where he could spring forward if need be. "Sauron wants you dead and sent an army here to do it," he continued, catching Éomer's eye and hoping beyond hope that the man was receiving his message of "Do something!"

Éomer nodded almost imperceptibly.

"And you killed the king," Percy finished, his expression filled with the utmost loathing he could muster. "There's nowhere to go for you. You're a dead man walking."

Saruman's eyebrows slanted dangerously and he opened his mouth and raised his staff, looking as if he wanted to incinerate Percy with a thought, when something glinted in the air, spinning and reflecting the torch-light of the room like a deadly kaleidoscope. The wizard deftly spun and knocked the sword Éomer had hurled at him out of the air, before slashing his staff through the air like a man chopping wood. For a final time, Éomer was lifted as if by invisible strings and thrown back through the previously shut-doors, crumpling into a heap as he landed.

But as soon as the man had thrown his sword at Saruman, Percy sprang forward with Riptide outstretched. The wizard tried to recover and throw Percy back as he had done with Éomer, but Percy was too close for the staff to complete its motion, and he felt no effect from it.

Riptide sang through the air, and with a ping that pealed loudly in their ears, Saruman's metal staff was cloven in two, a short burst of extreme heat emanating from the staff as it was broken.

Before Saruman had a chance to properly gaze with horror at the broken steel in his grip, Percy had rapped the side of his head with the flat of his blade and kicked him away. With a cry and a muffled grunt, the wizard fell through the air, robe billowing around him, and landed hard on the cold floor. He laid there for a moment, before slowly bringing himself to a seated position while leaning against the foot of his iron throne. Blood was seeping from the side of his head and from numerous cuts on his face, each drop creating a crimson starburst as it fell upon his snowy robes.

Percy stepped forward and stood over the wizard. Riptide rested at his throat. The hand that wielded it twitched, wanting the blood that was so well-deserved. Inside Percy's head, a battle raged between two options. The wizard deserved death more than so many who had died, yet this was a man sitting defenseless before him. Never before had he killed so vindictively.

Eyes turned a deep, tempestuous green under pinched brows. His mind was a battleground, and he could not decide. His character was shouting at him to spare the wizard's life; all of his being pleaded for mercy.

His anger, however, called incessantly for blood, for justice. This was the pawn of Sauron, it argued, the mastermind of the destruction of so much of Rohan and Fangorn, the killer of the king. This man deserved to die.

Saruman's eyes glittered cruelly, and the blood dripping near them made the madness in them all the more stark. "I see the battle that rages in your eyes," he goaded. "Do it. Let your anger control you. Show the Valar that their pawn is unfit."

"Do it," he could imagine Sauron whispering in his head, "Show me what a fine servant you would make."

The noise in his head was now overwhelming as he glared down at the cloaked man. "I will not kill a defenseless man!"

The wizard chuckled, a taunting laugh that soon changed to cackling. "Weak. You are but a pathetic boy. A child."

Riptide dug a little deeper in Saruman's throat, drawing a single drop of blood that began to roll down his neck.

"Your blood is not mine to shed! Your life is not mine to take!"

"You're right," came the gruff, slightly strained voice of Éomer from behind him. Percy didn't let himself avert his gaze from the wizard for a moment, not even to watch as the Marshall of Rohan limped in. He heard his unsteady footsteps as they neared, and he could hear the pain that altered Éomer's voice slightly.

"It's mine," Éomer whispered.

Percy still stood between Saruman and Éomer. At that moment, as Percy looked down at the wizard at his feet, Saruman appeared so pitiful and broken that Percy almost felt pity for him. Here was an unspeakably powerful being that had fallen into ruin due to his own pride and lust for power. He didn't see a dangerous wizard, he saw a hurt old man. Part of him wanted to spare him from Éomer's blade, to make sure he wasn't killed.

But think of the countless innocent lives he has had slaughtered, whispered a venomous voice in his head.

Then Percy's heart hardened, and he cut it off from his brain. He didn't think. He didn't feel. He simply stood aside and let Éomer approach the wizard. All he could do was watch.

Éomer's blade fell.

White robes bled red.

"And so the wizard goes out with a whisper," murmured Percy with morbid curiosity. Blood began to pool around his feet, and he turned his gaze from the body.

He didn't bring himself to think, so disturbed was he by what had happened.

He didn't feel. He didn't allow himself to. He remained numb.

"Get the keys from him," he told Éomer flatly. "And grab what's left of his staff."

"And the ring he mentioned?" the man asked, eyes flitting from Percy to the hand of the wizard.

"Junk," Percy responded definitively. "Leave it."

Without another word, he turned and strode out of the room, leaving part of his conscience lying in the blood of the wizard that pooled on the floor.


For warriors who had just removed one of the bigger threats the free people of Middle Earth faced, Percy and Éomer exited the tower with considerably less pomp than would probably be acceptable. Instead, they emerged like two defeated men: beaten, bloody, grieving, and feeling as if they had still failed. When they exited the tower, they paused for a moment atop the tall flight of stairs that led to the main door to admire with grim interest the tree-creatures wreaking havoc throughout Isengard's ring.

"They're terrifying," Percy remarked flatly, needing few words to express how otherworldly they appeared in their destructive capabilities. "A pity they didn't get here an hour earlier."

Éomer grunted his agreement and made to depart; but apparently he thought better of it, for he quickly turned to face him. "And then what? Saruman would have remained hidden away in his tower, plotting and scheming more ways to bring pain to Middle Earth and death to Rohan. At least now the head is cut off the snake."

And with that, Éomer began to descend the stairs, wiping the blood from his blade as he did so, with Percy following close behind. They walked across the whole of Isengard, making their way to the gap in the wall Percy had made (although many more gaps were quickly forming due to the wrath of the trees that were still tearing at it like ants with a cake crumb), and towards Rohan's encampment, where even now cries of mourning sounded through the air.

Their walk through the ring of Isengard would have been particularly soggy, seeing as water several feet high pooled throughout the entire area, the remaining consequence of the loosing of the River Isen, but Percy had absentmindedly willed the water to flow away from them, resulting in a circle of dry land that moved with the duo's footsteps. Even if it had been a walk through standing water, it hardly could have been a more dreary trek.

Percy paid little attention to the trees that were wreaking havoc amid Isengard and hunting what few orcs remained; rather, his eyes were cast mainly at the ground in front of him as he considered what had transpired the previous hours.

Éomer, too, remained similarly morose. Now that the frantic thrill of battle had worn off, the adrenaline and rage that sustained him had given way to grief, and he limped slightly from the wounds Saruman had given him.

As they neared the gap in the wall, several shouts had gone up from the scouts keeping watch by the ring and on the outskirts of Rohan's encampment beyond. Soon enough, Erkenbrand approached them on his horse with a grim smile on his weathered face.

"Word has spread that you two had found your way into Orthanc with blood on your minds," he had said before shaking his head, seemingly mystified. "I see that not even Saruman in his own domain could stand before you, Stormbringer."

"Saruman fell to Éomer's blade," Percy responded with a polite nod.

Erkenbrand then brought his fist up to his chest and regarded Éomer with a deferential nod. "It is good to see you well, Éomer. Glad am I you could avenge your uncle."

Éomer nodded stiffly before speaking. "Where is he?"

Erkenbrand flinched a little, his gaze falling downwards for a moment before returning to normal. "At the encampment."

"But—" he continued suddenly, as Éomer began to move past him. "I advise you to stay here for a moment longer. Your cousin comes, as does Mithrandir. And your friends," he finished, speaking to Percy.

Éomer nodded his assent and, sure enough, it was not long before Gandalf began to draw near. He was atop Shadowfax, who carefully stepped through the water that still pooled up to the horse's knees. Seeing the majestic white steed move with such grace did not surprise him; what did surprise him, however, was the large tree walking at his side. The being was so tall that he had to crane his neck slightly to meet his ancient, unearthly green gaze.

He's gotta be at least fifteen feet tall!

Finding himself standing so close to the being filled him with something of a reverence. He could just feel the age and might of this creature, as if he had seen the rise and fall of empires and eras, and had possessed the power to play a role in that.

As the pair neared, Percy could see the relief on Gandalf's face, sunken amid the lines of worry that were slowly beginning to fade after a week of war and strategizing to prevent Rohan's destruction. However, he still looked mighty, mightier than he had before. While Gandalf the Grey was a kindly old soul, this Gandalf was one that could stand up to darkness unwaveringly.

And that thought struck him, because he still couldn't quite grasp the fact that Gandalf was still alive. For weeks after he had fallen, they had thought him dead. And he was… technically. But then, just as he had learned that Gandalf was alive, he had been able to talk to him for mere minutes before being sent back across Rohan's plains to fight for life at Helm's Deep. And now here he was again, and in his presence Percy was already starting to feel a fire inside him, and the darkness within began to ebb.

"Ah, look who decided to finally show up," Percy said lightheartedly, sharing a half smile with the wizard.

Before Gandalf could respond, the tree took a half-step forward (of course, a half-step for this being would be roughly five or six of Percy's steps) and bent down slightly, as if to get a closer look at Percy. Beside him, Éomer flinched a little but remained standing tall.

"Hoom hrum," it began in a voice so deep and earthy that Percy wouldn't have been surprised to hear that voice come from a Giant or a great cyclopes, "This is something…" and here he took a long, woody breath inwards, "that I have not seen before."

He breathed once more, and Percy felt a small bit of annoyance begin to grow as he realized how slow the thinking and talking process was for these beings. "And there are not many things… I have not seen before… Child of the Sea…"

Percy's brow scrunched. "You know who I am."

The creature straightened and inspected Percy in a new light, closing his eyes momentarily in such a fashion that it was clear to Percy to mean a shaking of the head. "I do not know who you are… But I know the land, and the land knows the sea. The land felt your coming, and the land felt as the power of the sea swept over it… And I felt the destruction you wrought… And now that I feel the Sea standing in front of me… I understand."

"You understand what?"

It took another deep breath. "Why the land feared your coming… and why your coming was yet needed."

Percy actively tried to keep his gaze from growing annoyed, but seeing as it seemed that no one in this entire world enjoyed speaking plainly and instead loved sharing vague riddles, he found the task rather difficult. But the piece about the land fearing him could be… problematic.

Gandalf cleared his throat. "As I was saying, Percy, this is Treebeard. He is an ent, a shepherd of the forest. For many ages has he walked these lands, guarding the trees."

Percy regarded the tree, the ent, in a new light at the words of Gandalf. If this was a guardian of the trees, and Saruman had chopped down the forests that apparently used to be here before…

Well, that explains why the ents are so ticked off right now.

He managed a bow to the ent, deciding he'd rather err on the side of caution than further angering it. "I am honored to meet you, oh Ancient One. I apologize for… whatever it was that made the land… erm, fear my coming."

The ent inclined its head—well, the part of its body that was probably kind of like its head. It was difficult for Percy to tell seeing as it was a tree, but the movement was between a half-shrug and a raising of the chin—

Not that this guy has a chin either…

—So he decided it was probably something like a human tilting its head.

"You are not like the land foretold, young one...We must talk at length… When there are less pressing matters."

Percy nodded, not really sure what to make of any of that. Meanwhile, Gandalf's face warmed and a half smile appeared on his lips. "I am glad to see you well, Percy. What you have done in the last week is nothing short of—"

"Stormbringer!" came a call, interrupting whatever Gandalf had been about to say, and Percy turned to see Théodred approaching on horseback, as well as other higher-ups in Rohan's kingdom, such as Elfhelm and Grimbold. The prince's eyes were red, although little grief was visible on his face. Close by them were the members of the Fellowship, bearing a mix of relieved and frustrated expressions on their faces, although he noted with some concern that Boromir was not with them.

Percy raised an eyebrow at the prince, wondering why Théodred had referred to him by a title, rather than a name as he had always done. It seemed… odd in some way, but he wasn't quite sure why. Chalking it up to the prince being sad, mad, and in charge of a lot of things, he politely nodded, encouraging him to go on.

Théodred's horse stopped near him, next to Gandalf and Treebeard, and everyone else stopped there as well, forming a small group opposite himself and Éomer. As the other men neared him, Percy noticed with some amusement how their wide eyes flitted to the circle of dry land surrounding Percy and Éomer, although they tried to hide it.

"The wizard?" asked the prince, who seemingly didn't care for this dry-land-in-water magic trick.

Percy blinked, suddenly remembering the items they had brought from the tower. "Oh, right," he remarked profoundly. "I think this is yours," he said to Gandalf, holding up the two remaining rods that used to be Saruman's staff and decidedly ignoring the looks of wonder that were cast upon him by all those present. Apparently he had been holding them at his side in such a way that they simply hadn't seen them before, which honestly he was too tired to think about much.

"And these—" Percy continued to Aragorn, holding up and jingling the ring of keys they had taken from Saruman's body, "—are yours."

Then he frowned. "At least I think so, line of succession and all that."

He tossed the ring of keys to Aragorn, who barely recovered from his surprise in time to catch them, although he bobbled them once or twice in the process.

Gandalf stared at Percy intently, mouth open slightly in surprise. But his eyes, though containing a glimmer of disbelief, were more clearly filled with concern and understanding, as if he understood the interior struggle Percy had endured and the guilt that he was trying to tamp down at that moment. When Percy met Gandalf's gaze and saw the empathy therein, he found he could not bring himself to maintain eye contact anymore and let his eyes instead fall upon the people there whom he didn't know.

"Percy," Aragorn began, gripping his upper arm, "How did this come to be?"

Before he could answer (or find an excusable way to avoid answering, seeing as he really didn't want to talk about that right now), Théodred interrupted.

"He's dead, then?" he asked, his voice gruff.

Percy nodded once. "His body's still in there, near one of the main chambers. So is another guy—that Wormblood or something—"

"Wormtongue," Éomer corrected with no emotion, referencing the man they had found in a hallway on their way out. It seemed as though Saruman had just recently slew him in his anger at what was happening around Isengard, as blood had still been seeping out of his body when they came across him. "The miserable man was slain by Saruman before we entered. A pitiful end for a pitiful person."

Théodred nodded. "That is good. A shame, my father let him live and leave Edoras unharmed, only for him to fight against him and run back to Saruman."

Percy stared, a bit surprised at the vitriol in Théodred's voice. Grief, he expected. Anger, too. But this was a hatred that seemed to consume him internally at that moment, and Percy was cautious, worried that it might lead the heir into rash action.

Gandalf seemed to feel similarly, for the shadow on his face deepened a bit, and he beheld Théodred with the same empathetic gaze he had aimed at Percy. "Théodred, I understand the grief you are enduring, but it does ill to you and your men to regret mercy. Do not criticize one of your father's last rulings."

Théodred turned to Gandalf with a hard look on his face, and Percy thought he was going to yell at him at first, but then his expression softened and he nodded. "Right you are again, Mithrandir."

Then he turned back to Percy and Éomer. "We will have much to discuss regarding what happened in the tower."

"Yes, we will," added Aragorn, wearing the same stern look that he often did when chastising Percy.

"But for now," the prince continued, "we must act. Men need to be stationed here to watch over Isengard, while the rest of us must return to Edoras to honor those who have fallen. Then we must look onward to the next battles—Rohan cannot be left unguarded."

"Respectfully, sire," Gandalf interrupted gently, using the honorific he had before only used for the king, "I hardly think a substantial guard will be necessary here, not where the ents stand guard."

The prince's eyes drifted briefly across the remains of Isengard, and a dry chuckle escaped his lips. "Too true. Nonetheless, some will be needed to remove the refuse from the tower and search its corridors."

Aragorn's hand drifted towards the key ring he had stowed on his belt. "The bodies of Saruman and Gríma should be removed and buried, but I do not think it wise to search through the secrets of Orthanc at this time; there are enough evils to deal with as is."

At the slight rebuke and subtle reminder that the tower was not property of Rohan, Théodred's gaze once more hardened slightly, but he nodded once. "So you say."

Then he turned to those around them. "We make to leave immediately!" he shouted in a commanding voice. "Elfhelm, Grimbold, Erkenbrand—with me! Much must be discussed."

Soon he turned back to Percy once more. "We will talk more as we ride."

It was clear this was not a request but an order, which prickled Percy's pride a little bit, but he let it go after remembering all that had happened in the previous few hours. Hell, even he had no small amount of trouble trying to remember all that had happened and to convince himself that it was all real. Right now, his brain was fuzzy, his limbs exhausted, and his mouth felt like sandpaper. He found that if he tried to focus on any one person for more than a few seconds, they began to blur around the edges, and their voices seemed to come from elsewhere.

As Théodred stalked away, the bustle around them only increased as people began to assemble into their respective éoreds and get everything situated. Commanders rallied their troops, and Percy realized that he would have to do the same thing with his men as well. He let his face fall into his hands, and he let out a long sigh. "I can't do this right now," he muttered.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Aragorn standing at his side, with the rest of the Fellowship milling around not far from him. "I know the after-effects of battles such as these," the man said to him with a knowing look. "When your mind screams out against your body and you regret all that you have done, and all that you have not done."

Then Aragorn gave him a reassuring smile. "But you have done more than anyone could have asked of you," he began, steering him away from the conversation and the many people around him. "Come—you must gather your men, but then you may rest. None will fault you for that. When you awake we shall talk more, hopefully before the prince interrogates you. Before I interrogate you, he finished with a side smile aimed at Percy.

Percy chuckled, relieved that he wouldn't have to relive everything quite yet, but then he turned to Gandalf.

"And where were you?" he asked before he realized that sounded a lot ruder than he intended. "If you don't mind me asking, of course," he hastily added.

A half-chuckle fell from Gandalf's lips. "I had thought the interrogations were to wait several hours," he responded, his face warm and reassuring. But then the gladness faltered on his face, and his expression turned more downcast. "There are many pieces at play right now, dear child, many evils I have attempted to lessen. I have done what I could, but still evil has advanced… although it would have advanced much further and neared its goal of swallowing up Middle Earth, had it not been for all of your efforts the past week."

Percy gazed all around him at the wreckage of Isengard, reflecting upon all the death that had happened here, at Helm's Deep, and throughout the rest of Rohan in the past week. Then he thought about how much worse it could have been, and that did little to reassure him.

"We were that close to losing it all?" he asked warily. "What happened?"

The smile returned to Gandalf's face. "That tale is too long, and I feel you would fall into slumber before I ever begin. We shall soon discuss where I have been and why I returned late to Orthanc, not to mention why I was absent at Helm's Deep, but not at this moment. More importantly, I want to talk about you. How are you doing, after all that you have endured?"

Personally, Percy thought it a little unfair that the wizard was able to so easily turn the conversation back to him after he had tried to pry answers from the wizards, but he guessed that was was what tended to happen when one interrogator was a teenager and the was a multi-millennia-old minor god.

But now, under Gandalf's piercing gaze, Percy fought the urge to squirm. He knew the wizard could see the darkness inside him, the unease resting like chains on his soul after the slaying of Saruman. He knew the effects of talking to Sauron, which he had tried so hard to overcome and mask in an attempt to out-maneuver the Dark Lord and keep going, were not so invisible as he wanted. More than anything, however, he wanted Gandalf's help. He wanted the wizard to dispel the darkness inside him and wash everything evil from him, but he was afraid of what it meant to unveil his conversations through the seeing-stone.

And deep inside him, that darkness wrangled with his intellect, trying to lie to him and tell him how much better it would be to remain unknown and unseen.

They'll cast you out, it hissed. They'll despise you. Besides, you're strong enough to bear it on your own. You don't need them.

Percy managed a bitter smile. "I feel you would fall into slumber before I ever begin," he replied, repeating the wizard's words back to him. "We need to talk… but I think my mind's too jumbled right now to do it."

Gandalf nodded with a knowing look. He seemed unsatisfied, but in a way that seemed to express certainty that this talk would eventually happen. "That is understandable. But before we depart, I think there is yet one thing that may improve your spirit."

Then the wizard's gaze flitted over Percy's shoulder, and the smile on his face grew. "Well, two things, really."

Percy turned to where the wizard's gaze was aimed and at once felt both an overwhelming sense of happiness and relief, and an overwhelming sense that he was in fact the world's most heartless asshole. For there, riding on a tree, was Pippin, looking as cocky and mischievous as ever as he stood on the being's shoulder, holding onto bark with one hand and waving wildly with his other hand. And, walking at the feet of the ent with Boromir next to him, was Merry who, compared to the Gondorian at his side, looked suspiciously taller than he should have.

Instantly his heart soared, and instantly he realized that for the last two weeks, the two hobbits had not crossed his mind nearly as often as they should have, especially the previous few days, and that made him feel awful.

But despite these feelings, he found that once he was charged by Merry and Pippin (whom the ent had lifted down to the ground) and he was embracing them both, much of that darkness had fallen from mind. Granted, part of that may have been because of how humorous it looked to watch Merry and Pippin trying to slosh across water that reached up to their chests before Percy willed it away from them, but as they reconnected and talked, he felt like a puzzle with several missing pieces, but one more piece had been returned to its place.

Then Percy heard the sound of a quick exhalation of breath, like the sound of someone trying to chuckle but not quite being able to manage to do it, and Percy looked over the hobbits' heads to see Boromir. The Gondorian met his eyes, and Percy saw a similar look of concern in them (which was a look he had been receiving more as of late, he realized), as well as a look of pride.

Standing up to greet him, he found himself and Boromir gripping each other's forearms in a manly embrace.

"That was a foolish thing to do," Boromir remarked, but soon his gaze lightened and a smile broke out on his face. "But you did well. With all of… this," he finished, vaguely gesturing to Isengard as a whole.

The compliment brought a slight smile to his face, but deep within himself he still felt off. But he didn't want that lingering bit of darkness inside of him to show in front of the Fellowship, so he managed a nod and forced his smile to widen ever so slightly.

"I did what I could, but I wish it wouldn't have happened the way it did."

Boromir nodded. "The loss of Théoden King is a grave loss indeed, both for Rohan and for Gondor as an ally. He was a good man."

"He trusted you," Legolas remarked at his side, locking Percy in his piercing gaze. "His last act was to follow you into battle, after he had given you rank among the éoherë. Do not underestimate that. He saw you for who you are, and he valued you."

Once more it struck him how sharp the elf's perception was. Legolas always seemed to know exactly what Percy was thinking and feeling, even when he himself didn't.

"Yeah, well look where that got him," Percy remarked bitterly.

"He made his choice, as you made yours," Aragorn reminded him. "The threat of Saruman and his forces are gone, the Nazgûl have been driven away, and Rohan stands victorious. Things would have turned out worse if not for what you did here today. Théoden died defending his people; do not rob him of that final glory."

Percy nodded weakly, letting those words seep into his brain. Then he gazed at those around him, once more taking in the fact that they had once again survived and were all still together, and that realization brought a true, albeit small smile to his face.

He nodded again, finding no words really could encapsulate what he was feeling. "Thanks," he said to all of them, realizing how lame it sounded once he said it. But he meant it. "For everything."

For a few moments they just stood there in a loose circle, not saying anything but simply indulging in the presence of the others and basking in the relief that one feels when recovering something that had been lost.

"So. Flight. That's a new trick," Boromir remarked dryly, breaking the silence

Amid the tension and overwhelming everything they had endured, that one sentence was enough to send Percy to his knees in laughter, resting a hand upon the ground to prevent him from falling over completely. Aragorn, too, was overtaken by laughter, and Gimli chuckled heartily as well. A small laugh even fell from Legolas's lips, though it was soon replaced by the fair, subtle smile and bright eyes that usually represented the extent of his visual happiness.

Merry and Pippin, however, looked around curiously, seemingly certain they must have misheard Boromir.

Percy regained his composure just enough to wipe a tear from his eye, but then he chuckled again and rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, I didn't really know that I could do that either. Everything just kind of… happened."

He shook his head again and held his hands out. "Okay, okay… so I may have lost control there for a minute. My bad."

Boromir snorted. "Regardless, they might have to re-route the road to Isengard after you so kindly put a large crater in it."

"Percy? Breaking roads again?" Pippin asked. "First at Rivendell, then at Moria, now here?" He wagged his finger at the demigod, which looked pretty funny to Percy seeing as he had a few feet on the hobbit. "This one's trouble, Strider. I say we just throw him at the road to Mordor, let him break that too, and prevent any more orcs from getting out."

"Wait-wait-wait," Merry interjected, holding up his hands. "Can we go back to the whole 'flight' thing?" he asked with narrowed eyes and raised eyebrows. "Are you saying Percy is able to fly, and he didn't just volunteer to fly the you-know-what into Mordor? Or flying us over those stupid mountains back by Moria?"

This, of course, raised no small amount of humorous and not-so-appropriate retorts from Percy and others, and soon the conversation had devolved into nonsensical quips between Percy and the two hobbits. This was interrupted not long after by Legolas, whose voice seemed to always be able to pierce through the noise of whatever was happening.

"Before the battle, I saw a mighty man stand in front of you. He stood taller than the Numenoreans of old, and there was a power in his presence," Legolas remarked, asking no question directly but expecting an answer in return.

A smile came to Percy's lips as he remembered it. "Yeah, that was my dad, god of the seas. Apparently I channeled enough of his domain that he was able to come for a few minutes, but that was a one-time trick I think. Although that earned me his blessing which allowed me to do… Well, that. What you just saw me do. The flight thing that I couldn't do earlier to fly you over the mountains, Merry."

The others stilled as he spoke, and Percy began to feel pretty bad about the crazy things he'd said the past few minutes that had absolutely no business being not only possible but true.

'I killed Saruman, I flew and blew up part of Isengard, my dad the god visited me.' Wow, my life is messed up. And so is their life for knowing me.

"Your—your father was here?" Boromir choked out. "How…"

It was then that he fell silent, seemingly contemplative. Then he looked back up with a soft smile. "That must have been nice. I am glad for you."

Percy thought back to the meeting and the warmth he felt, the sea he felt within him when talking to Poseidon, and he smiled in return. "It was nice. Now… Well, now I gotta just make sure I see him again."

Yeah, you big fat liar, the voice in his brain told him.

There was the sound of sloshing water by him, and he turned to see Tempest trudging through the water towards their group. With a widening smile, he caught the stallion fully in his gaze with a cocky smile on his face and his arms spread wide.

The horse was less than amused, as indicated by the roll of his eyes.

"You didn't die. Congratulations," Tempest remarked dryly, although Percy could sense the gladness in his voice and being.

Percy chuckled in an equally dry way as he walked up to Tempest to readjust the saddle straps that become loosened and off-kilter during the battle. "Okay, horse, I'm thrilled to see you too."

"Although do you have any idea how hard it is to maneuver around a battlefield when there's an army of trees walking all over like they own the place? Plus without a rider on my back no one thought I knew what I was—"

"Yeah, yeah," Percy replied good-naturedly, rolling his eyes. "I get it, you're the real victim here. Storming the tower? Ha, nothing compared to what you—"

Tempest huffed and stamped his hooves in the dirt. "That's really just not a fair card to play. If I just—"

"Uh, sir?" interrupted an approaching voice, and Percy turned to see Baldor walking towards him as well, his trident in the young man's grip. He allowed himself a small smile, seeing the man who had been loud in his doubts of Percy's ability—right before the demigod demonstrated the power of a god.

"Yes, Baldor?"

The young man jumped just enough to be visible, as if surprised that Percy knew and remembered his name, but he recovered quickly enough and held out the trident. "This washed up near the wall. I figured it was yours, for few others carry this kind of—erm—spear."

Percy gave him a warm nod, stepping forward and grabbing it.

"Also," the man continued. "All the men are assembled and ready to depart. We figured you would be too busy or preoccupied to prepare everything… Not that you couldn't do that, of course… We just really didn't want you to be too—"

Percy put a hand on the man's shoulder, feeling a little guilty that Baldor (and probably most of his men) were so intimidated by him and scared to offend him or do the wrong thing. "Thank you," he said, trying to convey how grateful he was for the literal rallying-of-the-troops Baldor had done both in the battle, and (apparently) right now in preparation for their departure. "You did well today."

The soldier swallowed uncomfortably, seemingly caught off-guard by that. Then he nodded quickly and gestured back towards the gap in the wall. "We're departing soon, I should—"

"I'll go with," Percy volunteered. "You can lead me back to the men, I need to be there when we leave anyway."

Baldor nodded again, as uncomfortable and intimidated as before, but he turned and began the trek back past the wall.

Percy looked back at the rest of the Fellowship. "I'll talk to you guys more later on. I gotta go and take care of a few things before we take off."

As they said their goodbyes, with the hobbits loudly whispering jokes about Percy's tardy nature, Percy rested a hand on Tempest's neck and followed Baldor back out of Isengard, willing a circle of dry land to appear under the man's feet and following his steps so that his feet stayed dry. Percy noted with some amusement as Baldor jumped when he looked down and noticed it, but when he looked back at the demigod, Percy made sure to raise a questioning eyebrow with a blank face.

"Come, now. Let's not mess with the boy," Tempest remarked.

You'd be the one to suggest this usually, Percy replied with a roll of his eyes.

But as they made their way out of Isengard and back into the midst of Rohan's forces, Percy noted just how somber the mood became. Amid the hustle of removing several thousand men from the area, little talking was heard.

It was the quietest loudness Percy had ever heard.

Amid the loudness, however, rose similar dirges to those he had heard when the king first fell. They were hauntingly beautiful, coming solely in the low voices of battle-hardened warriors, and he looked around in an attempt to find them. As he was searching, another familiar voice called his name, and Percy spied Erkenbrand nearing him atop a trotting horse. The man looked considerably more irritated than he had minutes before, when he had last been talking with Percy and the prince, but his expression lightened ever so slightly when Percy called back to him.

"Are your men ready to depart, Stormbringer?"

He didn't answer right away, with his head still peering above those around him in an attempt to spot the source of the music. "Where is he?" he asked.

Erkenbrand scrunched his brow but didn't speak, instead gesturing for them to follow him through the masses of men and horses. Soon, Percy could spot the makeshift dais where several shields were laid, upon which the body of Théoden lay. Lying on the ground by the feet of the king was his horse Snowmane, who had apparently been killed by the bolt of energy as his master was. Spears were jutting up from the earth around the dais, many flying banners of Rohan in the breeze, although they were hard to see amid the multitudes of people that now stood or knelt around the body. Some were chanting traditional songs of mourning, while others quietly paid their respects.

Without a word, Percy wearily walked up to the dais and maneuvered his way up through the crowd to get to the front (which was made much easier by the fact that as soon as men saw him, they stood aside with bows and reverential murmuring falling from their lips). When he reached the front and beheld the body of the king, he swallowed and tried to tamp down the emotion that surged through him. Here was a good man, a loyal king, who had entrusted to him command of many men and the protection of his homeland. This was a man who had died following Percy into battle. A man who shouldn't have died.

A man he should have saved.

His breastplate was melted and fused and charred where the blast had struck it, and Percy couldn't help but notice the burned skin that was creeping up towards the face of the king. His beard was singed, but even in death he appeared noble.

He took a knee, keeping his eyes upon the body of the fallen king. The king was dead, as was the man who had killed him, as were countless others on both sides.

So much death, and we're no closer to ending this than we were before, he thought in angered dismay.

"That's not true," Tempest responded. "Rohan lives to fight another day, and now they have both Gandalf and you to lead them alongside their rulers. Sauron will fear the riders of the Mark more than he ever has before."

Percy mulled that over, surprised to hear so serious and consoling of an answer come from his horse. I suppose so, but how do we proceed? Théodred seems like he'd rather exile me than lead alongside me, which I don't even think he can technically do since I'm not from Rohan. If there is division in Rohan's ranks, it'll be the death of us, and we still have to worry about Frodo and Sam succeeding in destroying the Ring. If they can't do that, what we do doesn't matter.

"But Sauron thinks you have the Ring, you said," Tempest countered. "Act like it. March for Gondor, like you planned to do originally. Play the role of a conquering warlord. Destroy orcs with insolence. Draw his forces towards you and free the road for Frodo. This is what you planned—it is a good plan. Do not let the king die in vain."

He nodded, rising to his feet. With one final look at the body of the king, he rested his hand on the side of Tempest's head, rubbing softly. "Well then I suppose we better get going. If I'm going to be a distraction, then I'm going to be the most freaking annoying distraction in the history of the world."

Percy caught Baldor's gaze. "Lead me to the men. We have a lot to plan."

There you go! Hopefully you all enjoyed that. A little boring compared to previous chapters, but it was all important stuff to the story. Like I said, there's a lot that still needs to be explained, but that will come in the next few chapters. Things are starting to pick up, and a lot more incredibly crucial things happened in that fight with Saruman than you probably realize (unless you have a very proficient knowledge of palantírs…). So get pumped! Because many things are now in motion that will really shake up the plot and lead to a lot of things that I know no one really expects!

Thanks for reading, leave a review if you so desire, and have a great day!