Aragorn and Legolas have woken something that had better been left asleep in the shadows of old. Now it hunts them. It is fast, evil, immortal...and hungry. Will darkness reign over light?
A/N: NO CHARACTER DEATH!. Written for the Teitho Challenge "Boo!" but never posted. If you possess the Soundtrack of the Fellowship, listen to song number 7 "A knife in the dark" while reading. I think it suits the story perfectly. Are you scared now? No? Read, and you will be...
"There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them" (Andre Gide)
- Mine does...
It was darker than it should have been, the trees in the forest almost invisible, the blackness of the night turned into something unnatural. Something menacing. Evil.
The moon was veiled by heavy clouds, the stars imprisoned by the blanket of darkness that had spread over this part of the world.
It was cold. The water that clung to the feeble leaves turned white and silvery in seconds. The ground was frozen, the little stream that should have gurgled merrily in its bed was long dead and buried in a chilly grave of ice and frost.
No flowers blossomed, no birds sang, no living being dared to venture to this place. The forest cowered before it. The trees tried to hide behind each other, their roots going deep into the earth to hold them in place, their leaves small and weak. No life lived long in this woods. Only death and evil could live there.
Their breaths were coming in shallow gasps, their lungs too exhausted to work properly anymore. Sweat clung to their foreheads and dripped into their eyes, their hair plastered to their pale faces, their clothing trailing behind them as they went.
Tired legs that were barely able to carry their bodies through the forest were stumbling onwards, tripping over roots and boulders. Weapons that were useless against that which hunted them were stripped to their backs. Cloaks tangled into thorny bushes and were carelessly ripped free, arms were scratched at tree trunks, but the two running beings did not care.
They were not simply running. They were fleeing.
Since the fall of this unholy and sombre night they had ran through the woods, passing trees and shrubs, jumping over fallen logs, evading low hanging branches. Never had they stopped. Not once had they dared to look back over their shoulders. But although they had not turned once, they both knew that it was still there. That it was still following their trail and that it would catch them should they dare to stop.
And it was coming closer, as it was faster than they were. They could not hide, they could not escape and they could not fight it, they had tried. The only thing they could do was run. Flee from the shadow that haunted them, that threatened them, wanted to hurt them and then...kill them.
His lungs were burning in his chest and every breath he took seemed to send fiery tendrils through his body. The air he inhaled was so cold that it was almost frozen and his throat was aching like it had never done before. It almost felt as if the very air was solid but shattered, as if he was breathing icy shards that sliced through his flesh every time he tried to breathe.
But he had no choice. Hurting legs that screamed from exhaustion and abuse carried him forwards, his feet long since numbed from the cold and the strain he had forced them through. His strong shoulders and his back which carried his pack and sword were hurting from the constant pressure that he put on it, the muscles spasming from time to time, their flesh torn and hard from the constant running. It was almost too much for him to bear any longer.
For hours Aragorn had run through the night, neither stopping or slowing his pace, his gaze directed at the hidden way before him, his eyes trying to find the obstacles that lay in the shadow, that would make him trip and fall. Which would mean his untimely end.
Raising his hand and wiping the sweat out of his eyes and concentrating on his balance as he did so, he shot a quick look to his left, where his friend was running alongside him.
Aragorn knew that Legolas could run faster than this. The elf was holding back to give his friend a chance of survival, and they both knew it. As an elf, the prince was able to run longer and faster than the human, his elven strength and his own stubbornness supporting him.
LegolasÂ´ face was even paler than usual, his skin almost as white as his fair hair that trailed behind him where it was not clinging to his skin. That his friend was sweating worried the ranger, as the archer was no one who exhausted lightly and sweating was very unusual, even in battle.
The green tunic and cloak that the prince were wearing were torn in many places, the once clean fabric now stained with mud and blood. The injury his friend had sustained was not serious, but still, in a situation such as this, even the slightest wound could cause trouble.
His face was stern, the startling blue eyes fixed on the path before them, a frown marring the otherwise fair face. Tension and concern had buried deep lines into the face, something that the man had never seen before. It spoke of the danger that they were in, of the possibility that they would not escape it. Not this time.
As if sensing the human's gaze, Legolas turned his head and when their eyes met, no smile graced his features as it usually did. There was no reason to smile. And it cost too much energy to do so. Energy that they needed to survive this night.
Turning his head back to the blackness that lay before him, Aragorn concentrated on his ragged breathing and quickened his pace. Legolas would keep up with him, he knew, and for the shortest of moments he wished that his friend would just use his elven strength and run as fast as he could. As fast and as far away from this place as his strong legs would carry him, never looking back, saving his own life and not wasting it for him.
But he knew that the elf would not do that. Because he himself would not do it either.
If they had to die tonight, they would die side by side.
And as brave and heroic that might have sounded every other time, in this dark and cold night, it made his heart freeze and his mind scream out in pure fear. If they died in this forest, it would be neither a quick, nor a merciful death.
It would make sure of that.
He did not want to die. Not like this, not there. Not with Legolas watching it. And therefore he ran on, his feet moving faster than they had ever done, his breathing ragged and painful, the aches in his body lingering under the surface, banned from his conscious thought. If he gave in and his barriers would fall, he himself would not be able to rise again.
But he was tired, so tired already and the night had only just begun.
He more sensed than saw it, but with his muscles tired from the constant movement and his mind so focused on the road ahead, even his elven reflexes could not prevent it. With wide eyes he watched as Aragorn stumbled over a tree root that was hidden in the darkness that reigned, his foot catching on the hard and frozen wood, his arms reaching out to support his tumbling body.
In a tangle of clothing and limbs he fell, his body crashing to the hard ground mercilessly and then he lay still, unmoving. Carried from his own momentum, Legolas ran a few paces further until he willed his legs to stop and turn around to his fallen friend.
"Aragorn, get up!" Reaching his friend's side he seized the man's shoulders and brought him to an upright position, not caring whether the ranger was injured or not. They had no time for trivialities such as being hurt.
"Run, Aragorn, you have to run." The prince could feel the heavy breathing of the man, the tremors that ran through his body. The exhaustion the human was feeling was nearly tangible, the very air around him speaking of tiredness and pain.
But to his utter relief, the ranger only nodded, steadied his legs under him...and ran.
It took another hour for Legolas to sense the change in his friend. It had begun as a slight stumble, a small irregularity in the ranger's step, another rhythm in the footsteps that the elf heard. Now, it was a limp in the human's step. A heavy limp that got worse with every step he took.
The prince cursed under his breath, he had none spared to do it aloud. He could already sense it behind them. It got closer, its presence making his skin crawl and his heart beat in fear. No, not fear, sheer panic. If it reached them their fate would be settled and it was no fate he wished to encounter.
The creature which was following them, hunting them through these woods, knew neither mercy nor pity. It was soulless, menacing, evil. It was the incarnation of all that the free beings in Middle-Earth feared, a shadow born from legend, a nightmare from the past, a living demon. A hunter. A predator.
The darkness engulfed it, hid it and embraced it, muffled its steps and covered its path. Where it was, the blackness became deeper, the shadows darker, the air colder. Trees bent under its stare, boulders crumbled as it passed, where light had been, darkness would be, warmth turned to coldness and life to death. Or worth.
Its breath made the flowers whither, where it tread no grass would grow, the light that was would never be again, it was darkness and shadow, its was the opposite to all that was good and bright, fair and alive. It was fast, it was silent and it was...hungry.
It had been asleep for millennia, bound to the forest and buried deep in the shadow of that which never a living soul should enter. Powers older than the elves had battled against it, had fought hard and long, but never beaten it. It could not be defeated, it could not be killed, it could not die. The great ones of old had hurt it, wounded it and finally captured it, imprisoned it for the ages to come.
The light was its enemy, the shadow the ally. It hated the sun as the fire despised the water, it was the antithesis to life itself. The night gave it strength, the coldness was its protection, it feasted on fear.
The great ones of old had battled during the night, but when the morning had come they had been able to restrain it. The light of Arnor had weakened it, had penetrated the shadows it feasted on, had lifted the power giving darkness.
They had woken it, they had battled it and lost. Now, they ran, for they could do nothing else. Although, they knew that they could never outran it.
The light was their only hope. Dawn was their aim. But they both knew that they were far from morning.
Legolas turned his head while he ran and glanced to the ranger who was running beside him. The man's face had become even paler, the dark hair contrasting starkly against the white skin. His breathing was laboured and the elf could clearly see that Aragorn was in pain, as he flinched slightly every time he moved his injured leg.
How could he have gone on for so long without LegolasÂ´ noticing that something was amiss? It must have happened as the man had tripped over the root and fallen to the ground. Worry etched its way into the elf's thoughts. There had just been no time to check his friend over. They had no time. Time was denied to them.
If they stopped, they would die.
But if Aragorn was injured, if he had hurt his leg or ankle, and if the pain and exhaustion the wound was causing was catching up with the human, if he slowed in his pace, if...
No. The prince redirected his gaze at the dark and cold path before him. There was no "if". They would go on. As long as they ran, they had a chance. As long as they moved, they would live. Another step meant another moment to live and that was all that mattered.
Sensing his friend stumble slightly beside him, the elf closed his eyes briefly. As much as he wished to stop and help Aragorn, he could not. There was nothing he could do. Nothing. But what made his heart bleed in pain was not the fact that he was not able to help the man, it was the fact that Aragorn knew it too. And that his friend knew that he almost certainly would not make it now. Not with this injury.
Pain. His ankle was sending hot waves of pain through his leg and hip and every time he put pressure on his foot, the pain shot through him, making him gasp. How long he already ran with the sprained ankle, he did not know. It did not matter. It was either running, or dying.
Ducking under a low hanging branch that appeared out of nowhere, Aragorn swallowed and tried to direct his thoughts to something different than the pain he felt. Twigs and thorns were clawing at his cloak, roots seemed to tangle around his feet, boulders lay in his way and fallen logs barred his path.
It was almost as if the forest was plotting against them. With his breath turning into white mist before his face and his moving body only a shadow in the night itself, the ranger jumped over another of such a fallen log, landing on his injured leg as the wood moved unsteadily under his weight. A soft gasp of pain escaped his lips, but there was no time to rest.
Biting his lip hard and tasting his own blood, Aragorn suppressed the pain that raced through him and ran on. He could not stop and he knew that he would not as long as Legolas was still beside him, because if he stopped, the elf would do the same. The prince would not let him suffer their inevitable fate alone.
Caging his pain in a corner of his mind, the man ignored his discomfort and the fear which mounted in his mind and forced his body to obey him a bit longer. Just a bit longer. Long enough for Legolas to get to safety.
Passing ancient trees, running over dead leaves and broken twigs, the friends ran on through the starless night, trying to escape their fate, the shadow which hunted them still behind them. It had not come closer yet, but both knew that it was only a matter of time until the darkness would reach them, when their own life giving light would be captured by darkness and then finally, be cold and gone.
His senses which had alerted the elf to the evil so many hours ago, which had saved his life numerous times and which had warned him of the danger they were in, was sending a ringing signal through LegolasÂ´ mind. Something was not right. Danger was near. But, it was not coming from behind them, it was coming from...
"Aragorn!" His voice was sounding alarmed and frightened in his own ears as he cried out for the man. Knowing that the ranger's momentum would inevitably carry him forward another few feet, the elf reached out with his hand and grabbed his friend's arm, yanking the human to a stop.
The abrupt halt made the man stumble and gasp, his body being thrown forward and his injured leg buckling under him. Legolas moved closer to his friend, encircling the ranger's waist with his strong arms, his own injured arm which had been hurt by the evil that chased them burning with pain.
The elf's actions came not a moment too soon. One more step, and the exhausted ranger would have done one step too much. Breathing heavily, their muscles trembling from the strain, their chests heaving, the friends stared into the deep black chasm that lay before them.
It was too deep to climb and spread to both sides into the complete darkness. There was no way to know how far it stretched.
Straining his eyes, Legolas tried to penetrate the inky blackness before him. After a few seconds, his face lit imperceptive. "Aragorn, we can jump it. It is not that wide."
The sight of the bottomless chasm had send waves of fear through his body, making his legs go weak and his heart turn cold. Standing at the edge of it alone gave the creature enough time to catch up to them, they could not tarry any longer.
Giving his friend a reassuring squeeze of his shoulder, the elf asked worriedly: "Will you make it?"
He would not leave his friend behind. Never. If the human was not able to jump over the chasm with his injured leg, then Legolas would not leave him alone in the night to await the beast and his gruesome end.
The man nodded weakly, the hair falling into his eyes. The prince could not see his face, but he felt the ranger's shoulders straiten and his head lifting. Taking this as a sign that his friend was willing and able to make the jump, Legolas felt his worry lift a bit. Once they had reached the other side safely, they would go on. Running, meant living.
Moving away from his friend, the prince measured the width of the chasm, took a few steps back and then sprinted to the edge of it, letting his slim body fly through the air, over the blackness and into the unknown.
Aragorn saw how his friend sallied through the cold night air, his body almost lost to his eyes, the blond hair trailing after the slender body, the green of the tunic melting into the shadows of the night.
He wished him luck. All the luck that he could get. Because his own luck had run out.
His ankle hurt with a vengeance, his leg trembled under him, the weight he put on it too much for it to bear. His breathing was not only laboured, he felt as if his lungs had been squeezed together into a tight ball, the air he forced into them burning, only intensifying the taste of copper in his throat and mouth.
Every time he inhaled, a sharp pain erupted in his side, just under his ribs and no matter how often he had tried to regulate his breathing, his body was tired and his mind had not the strength anymore to make it obey.
For quite a while he had now known that he would not make it. No matter how near daylight and life might be away, he would not make it. It had just been a matter of time until his body would surrender to his human weaknesses, to his weakness of mind. He was afraid to die. Never before in all his life had he felt like this, petrified, weak, helpless and guilty.
His death was certain since the day he had been born. Living meant dying. It was the circle of life itself and never had he been afraid of the death. Of dying, yes, but not the death.
But Legolas, he was an elf. An immortal, born to see the change of the world, to witness the birth of the stars and the victory of light over shadow. He was not meant to die.
And Aragorn would make sure that darkness would not reign over light.
Watching his friend land safely at the other side of the chasm, the man took a deep breath. It was time. Time to die. But oh, how he wished it was not so. And how he wished he would not fear it so much.
Legolas felt his feet land firmly on the frosty ground. The chasm had not been as wide as he had thought, which made his heart beat faster in a flicker of hope. Aragorn could make the jump, even injured as he was. He was a warrior after all and a very skilled and determined one at that.
Turning on his heels swiftly, the elf looked at his friend and stretched out his arm: "Come, Aragorn, hurry. Jump!"