Hangs head in complete and utter shame I truly am embarrassed. This chapter was kind of hard to write, but that was NO REASON for me to fall off the face of the earth. I'M SORRY! I promise, I'll be back haunting your every waking moment with insane reviews soon! Honest! apologetic shrooms

THIS CHAP IS DEDICATED TO ELEGANT ARROW (I have all fake fingers now. Thank Elbereth for modern technology! I swear, you will have an ulcer from all my insane reviews as soon as I can manage it. I'm SO sorry!) SKYE12 (you deserve like a Sam-of-the-Year award. hands potato Okay, now it's official!) and SHIRE ELF! (I felt so bad about updating, I just posted this. I bet it's a billion times worse than if I'd sent it to you. Don't take it the wrong way, I was just so annoyed with myself I posted the second I was done. Heh, let's hope to spellchecker! bites nails)

Chapter Five

Silver Glass

"Sam, I..." Frodo choked on his own words, swaying where he stood and clawing as if for dear life at the chain around his neck. Sam numbly wrapped an arm around his hyperventilating friend's waist, supporting him shakily whilst trying to seize the ringbearer's frenzied hands. Frodo's eyes rolled, part of him fighting the Ring and but most of him fighting Sam.

"Mr. Frodo, please," Sam begged hoarsely, watching in despair and fear as Frodo snarled and panted.

"Let go," he hissed. "It's mine... mine... I need it... need..." Sam weakly shook his shoulders, fighting not to collapse himself.

"Please Sam!" voice growing hysterical now. "I'm so tired... just for a moment... tired, yes... sleep, preciou-" Frodo's eyes began to roll, as his desperate hand found his prize and weakly batted Sam's away.

"Frodo, no, just, just hold on a little bit longer," Sam pleaded. "We, we can rest here, for a while." Sam slowly drew Frodo's longing fingers from the Ring. The nearly undone hobbit whimpered. Sam felt something hot splatter on his hand.

Blood dribbled between Frodo's teeth, his throat grated raw by suppressed coughing.

Sam stared at the blood, and listened to Frodo splutter and cough, horrible memories of a certain Fate plaguing his mind.

Frodo moaned and pitched forward, partly sprawling on the biting lava rocks before Sam caught him by the shoulders. Frodo starred sightlessly at the sky, fumbling with the chain at his neck, before Sam grasped his hands again. Frodo hissed softly, his eyes clouding over.

Sam collapsed next to him, drawing his friend's head into his lap even as he lost consciousness. He saw Destiny's Muse beckon at him with one graceful hand, and two tired to argue, Sam followed her pale, bitter blue eyes into darkness.

For a moment, Sam thought he was still awake. The scenery hadn't changed, Mordor lay mocking him in every direction, draining the strength from his heart. The poisonous fumes still tainted the air, the rocky ground still burning his feet.

However, Sam was reassured of his dreaming when he turned around to see himself and Frodo passed out against a large ashen boulder. Just... as they were when Sam had fallen asleep.

Sam had a very bad feeling about all this. He glanced around apprehensively, surveying that the glaring sun was slightly lower in the sky then before. Alright, this was the very /very/ near future than.

Could-be Frodo was speaking, his face deathly pale, blue veins visible through his skin. Sam's heart skipped a beat and he staggered closer. But he was too late. He never heard Frodo's last words, but somehow be knew, deep in the most ominous corner of his heart, that the one true ounce of Frodo that remained within his hollowed husk had just said goodbye. And Sam hadn't heard.

In a flash of painful light, he saw Destiny's Muse glaring at him, before his soul was gripped by an iron fist, and premonitions chased each other frantically through his head.

Whatever those words had been, they were the last Frodo of the Shire would ever speak. His eyes dimmed, and slid out of focus, and his two last tears slipped slowly down his deathly pale face. And when Sam stared numbly at them, he saw two drops of blood, red and horrible and final, the death of his Frodo Baggins.

Shire Frodo never actually saw the Shire again. All he had wished for was to get what he'd once had back. He didn't want unending riches, or awesome power. He didn't want anything grand or majestic. He just wanted back what had been taken from him. He only wanted what was rightfully his, nothing more. But fate had stolen his life from him bit by bit, starting when he was only twelve years old, until so much was gone, his soul had nothing to hold itself up with, and finally collapsed, a shattering of silvery dust.

Frodo of the Shire was never buried. He was never laid down to peaceful sleep and dreams of white shores. The Ring stole even that from him, forcing his beaten body to keep going even after his soul was dead. His spirit still haunts the very land that finally killed him. If one was to enter the ruined land of Mordor whole ages later, after the War of the Rings had long ago become a collection of battle histories, bedtime stories and great songs, all together in the pages of a slowly crumbling red book, even then a lost soul would still linger sadly there, chained forever to earth by his shadows.

The only memorial Frodo of the Shire would ever have was a single flower. Hardly even that, more of a weed, with wide, sweet-smelling healing leaves and small white buds like the stars he had lost. This single athelas plant, the only dot of green in a black, ruined land, rustles softly with the dusty winds and volcanic rumbles atop a jagged red rock under the beating sun. And when one listens very carefully to its soft swishing on a deadened breeze, you can just barely hear Frodo's voice, the only sweet thing in all the bleeding heart of Mordor. You can just barely hear him speaking with a ghostly memory of Sam, or a cousin, or some other loved one lost forever to him. You can just barely hear him lamenting a thousand "what ifs" and "could haves", crying without tears as he remembers all those times which were, in the end, the very last. If only he had known, that last day with his parents, that last day with Bilbo, that last gang-up with Merry against Pippin, that last march with the fellowship, that last day in the Shire... if he had known, before the end of all things came, he would have said goodbye.

And then the wind will die like so many others things had in the Black Land, and the leaves' rustling will stop, and Frodo's ghost will turn away and continue his eternal wandering, asking why yet another time, and wishing along with so many other things that tears would come.

Not all who wander are lost. . .

Sam's body jerked harshly from his nightmare, and he found himself staring with stinging eyes at the tiny figure curled up at his side. Sam finally forced himself to blink and keep living, and when his eyes focused through his shock he saw that the two drops of blood were gone, replaced by two salty, bitter tears. Frodo's dulled and hardened eyes glared out at the world with accusation, asking desperately if this was all there ever was. The life had gone from him.

But Sam saw with a suffocating, drowning feeling of sorrow, that the dead hobbit still breathed, slowly and methodically, clearly an instinct of the body and not a desire of the mind. Sam realized, that even as Destiny's Muse had shown him the next Fate, that Fate had become a reality. The Ring had won, before they ever really had a chance. Frodo was worse than dead.

Sam collapsed, sobbing, feeling his own life and will being drained out his eyes, mixed with his tears, as he steadily grew weaker and weaker.

"Do you see now, Samwise Gamgee?" a low voice, both sinister and soothing at the same time, reached out to his dying soul through the mist. A gentle yet prickling hand cupped his chin and raised his limp head, until Sam Gamgee and Destiny's Muse were each gazing at the other, hopeless brown eyes to unfocused grayish blue. The Muse's eyes exactly mirrored the lost ringbearer's, dimmed and unfocused and lightless. Dead.

"Do you see, Samwise?" she repeated, gesturing gracefully at the shadowy, surreal reality that now pulsed for the first time around the weakened hobbit. Sam noticed fuzzily that everything gleamed silver.

"He is gone," she purred, pointing a clawed finger at a silvery figure lying prone on the ground. "Or very nearly." A very weak light shivered about Frodo's outline, and Sam could just barely discern by this light the pale, nearly translucent colors tainting the silver, the only things still linking Frodo to the land of the living and keeping him from the world of silver glass.

"There is no hope for him, Samwise, and neither for you. Look, Sam, he has given up. He has left you, in the end. Forsaken you." Sam groaned in despair, letting his exhausted eyes fall closed. "There is no hope remaining, Samwise Gamgee. Nothing is left for you. Only death."

Sam felt the last of his strength seeping from his heart. He gave into the Muse's subduing touch, sinking slowly into the pain numbing flames.

"Surrender, halfling."

Sam nodded.

And quite suddenly, the comforting flames were gone, the song was gone, and Sam was falling through a great darkness of nothing. He jerked his head up with a startled gasp as he plummeted downward, staring in shocked terror at the sight rocketing away from him as he roared downward.

Destiny's Muse laughed derisively down at him, her voice like a thousand ringwraiths shrieking in mockery, as she held Sam's limp body by the neck in a vice-like grip. Sam gaped at the apparition in numb panic, where she stood triumphant with the misleading ring of once-comforting flames surrounding her like a sick wreath of victory. Frodo's dead blue eyes were gone from her face, replaced by two horrible, leering Eyes of Sauron, sneering at Sam as he fell.

Sam screamed.

And all too suddenly, his decent into darkness was rudely interrupted by a very solid stone floor. With a painful /thump!/ Sam landed with an impact that by all rights should have snapped his neck, yet the stunned hobbit only felt one thrill of pain before everything numbed again.

Sam rose to his feet shakily, staring apprehensively around his prison. It was very small, and filled with a thick, tantalizing fog that obscured his vision and confused him. He pressed his hand into one of the four sadly doorless walls, and found it to be disappointingly solid and very cold. Sam frowned and shivered with exasperation and not a little fear. He had no idea where he was, how he'd gotten there, and only an extremely vague recollection of what had occurred before he'd landed in this frightening cell. But most importantly, he had NO idea how he was going to get /out/.

A soft sound behind him made Sam whirl around, breathing hard and exploding with nerves. He wasn't alone in this prison after all.

A muffled whimper seeped through the darkness, and Sam edged toward the sound, not sure if he should be frightened or relieved there was another here. But the fog swirled and puffed around him maddeningly, disorienting the confused hobbit and echoing the soft sobs of the walls.

Finally, with a frustrated yell, Sam flung himself towards the sound, stumbling through the mists blindly, until suddenly he froze in his tracks, with two frightened and teary blue eyes staring at him only inches from his face.

Sam yelped and fell over backwards, thoroughly startled. Yet even as he pushed himself up on his elbows, the fog flooded back, obscuring the figure crouched before him. Sam waited, panting for breath, lying prone on his back and staring into the fog where he'd last seen his fellow prisoner. Sam had the most dreadful premonition of who it would be.

Sam's waiting was soon rewarded. Frodo's ghostly pale face and haunted sapphire orbs hesitantly materialized through the mist, gaping at Sam with horrified disbelief.

"Sam?" he rasped finally, after several minutes of staring had flitted by. He edged closer, timidly extending a hand to haul Sam to his feet. Sam accepted the help, yet didn't say anything, too apprehensive of when this fate would turn on him to be trusting.

The half-dead looking Frodo grasped Sam by the elbows, searching his face for any sign of scheming or betrayal. Finding none, he shook his head slowly, staring at Sam as though begging his friend to wake him up.

"Sam, what are you doing here?" he whispered eventually, denial etched all over his gaunt face.

Sam couldn't take the suspense anymore. "Which fate are you?" he asked shakily, bracing himself for the swirling color strands that would undoubtedly rush at him at any moment. "Please, hurry an' show me what horrors you will, but don't go confusin' me any more, I just want ta wake up."

Frodo was looking very confused.

"Fate?" he asked. "What do you mea-" His eyes suddenly went huge, his pupils contracting until the blue of his eyes was so intense Sam was unnerved.

Frodo gaped at him, shaking his head and shivering. By this point, Sam wasn't sure he could get any more confused.

"Shire?" Frodo whispered, his voice wavering out of control. All right, so Sam could get more confused. Frodo kept going. "Ringwraith? Rivendel?"

Realization hit Sam like a ton of bricks, causing him to blink slowly several times. Frodo was quavering fit to die.

"Gollum?" he choked. He didn't seem able to continue.

"Barad-dur," Sam breathed, still deeply shocked. Frodo flinched.

"Orcs," Sam finished, his breath suddenly running short. Frodo stumbled backward, already panting desperately.

"Elbereth," Sam gasped, numbed with understanding. "you're. . . it was. . . you're not a fate...?"

Frodo shook his head, staring into eternity. "No," he murmured.

Sam felt his heart leap into his throat, gagging him as he choked, "But then you're..."

Frodo dropped to his knees, hanging his head in shame. "I'm what's left of me," the beaten hobbit whispered, in a broken voice like the dead. "We're in the shadow world, Sam."

Sam's brain was jammed. Memories, like sheets of ice, pelted into Sam's heart as he remembered everything Destiny's Muse had shown him, had told him, had broken his will with. He remembered her words, "Valar wishes you to see," and was filled with such a raging anger at the Ring's lies that a veil of blood curtained his eyes for several moments.

When Sam could finally see again, Frodo was staring at him, glaring at what Sam's being here represented, while clenching and unclenching bloody fingers, raw from clawing at the walls of his prison. A fierce new determination lit his tired eyes, and a harshness Sam had never seen in Frodo before pulsed all around the resolved hobbit.

"It won't have you," Frodo hissed, and with a soft scream of pain, he vanished, the fog swirling frantically to take his place.

"WAIT!" Sam hollered, suddenly terrified of the dark place he was in. "Don't leave me here! Come back!" He stared around himself fearfully, scanning desperately for movement. A motion to his left caught his eye, and Sam spun around, swiping the fog from his path as he searched for the creator of the movement, praying it was Frodo.

For a moment, Sam thought it was. A hobbit stepped out of the mists, staring at Sam much like Frodo had done, full of shock and disbelief. He had long, slightly greasy black hair, and pale blue eyes that were currently gazing at Sam with shame and immense sorrow.

"Fat hobbit," he mumbled, his eyes screaming in apology. "Sam, I-I'm so sorry..."

Sam felt his stomach drop so fast he swayed dizzily. No, it, it COULDN'T be...

"Smeagol?" Sam rasped.

A single tear dripped down the forever trapped hobbit's face as he faded hopelessly back into the fog.

Sam sunk to his knees, fully terrified. He had never felt so completely alone.

Sam never knew how long he lay there, wrapped in the mists of ringdreams and heartbreak, shivering with the thousands of understandings a hobbit never should have come to. All Sam knew was he was lost in the same dark place that Frodo feared above all others.

Suddenly, Sam was furious.

He thought of everything the ring had done to him, and the million things more it had done to his master, and all the hurt and bloodshed and death it had caused, and remembered all its sweet lies, and how it had spoke of the Valar, and such a wild rage coursed through Sam's veins he nearly burst. Hobbits were never made to hold so much anger.

The mists turned red and condensed to blood, splashing and sloshing all around him, and Sam remembered the black blood that had beaded on his hand when he had tried to strike the Ring's horrible apparition. He quivered all over, a vein pulsing in his temple, and visions flashed before his eyes.

He saw an ancient looking celebration, that might have been a birthday party, being enjoyed by hobbit-like creatures, with slightly larger ears and wilder characteristics. This image melted smoothly into that fateful eleventy-first birthday, and a chillingly familiar greasy-haired hobbit transformed freakishly into Frodo Baggins, an invisible band of gold entwining itself around the two, unbeknownst to both.

He saw a creature with two horrible, scaly black bony wings jabbed harshly from its bleeding shoulder blades. Its long tangled red hair cascaded down its back, and its whole body glowed with an eternal fire, held in only barely by its ash and smoke skin. But when it suddenly jerked its head to stare at Sam, all the fire contained within the creature exploded and gleamed from behind its pupil-less eyes. Sam looked into its scared and mutilated face, and thought it might have been a girl once.

He saw a beautiful, abandoned ruin, overrun with vines and ivy of many years. Strange shadows flitted all about the crumbling stone, cast by nothing but the whispers born by the wind. Sam recognized the Last Homely House.

He saw Merry and Pippin running through a cornfield, arms overflowing with undoubtedly stolen vegetables, laughing as if nothing had ever been wrong, or would ever be wrong again. Two other innocent looking hobbits Sam didn't immediately recognize followed the first two, one slightly plump and the other's black curls bobbing around his face...

Sam's eyes burst open in an explosion of tears he didn't even fully understand.

One last and worst vision flashed before his open eyes, an apparition so horrible, the image made Sam's heart beat so hard it surely must have broken a rib.

The Ring's horrible, black apparition had the present-time, dying Frodo caught in an iron grip by the throat, her talons digging deep into his pale flesh, streaks of blood pooling around the chain at his neck.

She sneered victoriously at Sam, even as Frodo's unfocused eyes sought to make eye contact with him as well, and with one last laugh and choking moan from her captive, the Ring let Sam go, with a crack like a whip.

The black and red image faded blearily back into the hazy land of Mordor, and Sam was once again lying on the barren, rocky ground, a poisonous breeze stinging his nose, Frodo's ice-cold head in his lap.

Frodo's eyes were open, but Sam could hardly tell; they were as dull and gray as his exhausted eyelids. The sparkle of life was completely gone from them. His hand was clutched around the band of evil at his throat, and Sam knew, this was only Frodo's body. Frodo the hobbit was dying in the mists of ringdreams at the hands of that trinket, all so the Ring would release the last friend the world hadn't ripped away from him.

Sam would have been surprised, if he had had the time to notice, that he wasn't crying. He didn't shed a single tear. A bitter resolve had filled him and would never leave, and whether that was for the worse or the better, no one will ever know, especially not Sam. The Ring has a way of stealing even the soul from a body without the brain ever knowing. And living without knowing is an awful price to pay.

Sam's eyes focused like a hawk's on the chain around Frodo's neck, a half- formed plan pulsing in his heart, even as his brain screamed at him no. Voices from times past, now little more than echoing reverberations of a heart breaking, shivered on the air around him, little ghosts of a lost childhood.

/"Don't trust your head, it's not the best part of you."/

With the speed of wild desperateness, Sam's hand shot down, seized the Ring from Frodo's slavish embrace, and plunged it onto his finger. Frodo shrieked and bucked, his eyes focusing for one feral second, before he lay still. His eyelids drifted half-closed, as he floated between bodily death and the loss of his soul.

Sam plummeted, with nauseating speed, through infinite swirling mists and shadows of a thousand things corrupted and claimed, his initial scream accompanied by the soft shattering of silver glass. Sam's innocence had died.

And with a second, quickly numbed pain at impact, Sam was back in the shadow world, a beacon of gold gleaming on his hand.

The Ring's Muse didn't seem to notice him at first, although It did gleam brighter for a moment as another lost life was added to It's growing collection. However, presently it seemed too preoccupied with the twitching hobbit writhing in its claws.

Sam hesitated out of exhaustion more than anything else, breathing hard, the Ring still gleaming on his finger. Apparently, the physical gold band wasn't what killed its bearers. It was the apparition that came with it.

Suddenly, with a blinding flash of light and the sound of great feathered wings beating, Frodo's spirit glowed a brilliant silver, broken only by his equally brilliant sapphire eyes, which burst open without warning. Frodo stopped twisting and struggling for breath, but not due to a relinquished grasp at his throat. In fact, he didn't breath at all. He just raised a brilliantly silver hand to his eyes and stared at it, transfixed by the deep cracks spreading steadily across it.

The Ring laughed.

The flapping sound of wings grew louder. In a second dizzying flash of light, the deep, empty black of destiny was broken for a moment, rips in the strange walls revealing the pulsing color strands of the could-be, past and lost realities beyond it. The gaping holes in reality encircled the struggling pair below, and Sam nervously found himself surrounded.

Behind each gateway shimmered one of the Nine Fates, seven of which Sam recognized, each one freakishly calm and watching with detached composure the scene at the center of Destiny, the triumph of the Ring over Its bearer.

Frodo, the present time Frodo, who was soon to become history, made an astonished, rasping sound, causing Sam to startle and whirl back to face him, any worry about the Fates instantly forgotten.

Frodo's unnaturally blue eyes locked with his, staring out of his silvery face, and he whispered in a ghostly, echoing voice made unreal by its utterance without the exhale of air. His eyes were huge and suddenly full of recognition, as though he hadn't truly seen Sam in at least several weeks. The fog that had obscured and twisted his vision before was gone, and again he murmured the same soft question that Sam was becoming entirely too use to hearing.

"Sam?"

A light touch on his hand made Sam nearly burst an artery. The Gollum-like Frodo, eyes luminous in the silvery light of its original, squatted beside him, staring up at Sam while one emancipated finger unconsciously stroked the Ring. Sam stared back, and as though suddenly aware of its actions, the Fate jerked its hand away, and with stunned realization, turned to fix the Ring's Muse with an unnerving, hateful glare.

Sam slowly and fearfully turned his head back to the colorful rips in the walls, to find, as he knew he would, each Fate staring at him in fearful remembrance. Each creepily different pair of eyes were wide, brimming with recognition of the hobbit who carried a million different ill-fated tales on his shoulders.

The Fates snapped harshly from their ring-induced trances, and released from their dark nonexistence, they began drifting out of their each respective reality. With specter-like stares and soft fluid movements, they floated, one by one, over to Sam, the little mortal that had tossed everything they knew into chaos.

The Gollum-like Frodo watched Sam with cat-eyed scrutiny as Maznak, with a gaping wound in his chest and a fearful glassiness about his eyes, slinked up to stand at Sam's left shoulder like a waiting wildcat. Sam stared at him with subdued fright, and nearly screamed when Maznak turned white, unseeing eyes on him. But the halfling-orc didn't snarl, nor glare, nor do anything threatening. Instead, Maznak's lips curled back over his pointed teeth, and he gave Sam the closest thing to a smile his mutilated face could offer. Sam felt his heart break as Maznak hefted up his overly-large, rusty sword one last time, and prepared to die a second death for him.

Not existing in a Reality in which death prowled, Maznak could not die.

Sam realized what he had done. He had given these May-be's, Memories and Could-Have-Been's hope that never existed. He had given them a tiny glimpse of life beyond what the Ring's treachery produced. He had turned them against their creator. And now they rallied behind him.

Frodo from Rivendel, more memory than maybe, stepped forward next, staring with no small amount of fear at the two other fates at Sam's side, but with an equal amount of grim, yet unknowing resolve set behind his eyes. Sam gaped at this Fate, whom had at one time seemed so hardened, and who now appeared so innocent. The Fate gazed back at him, tears streaming down his face, as he pulled a freshly polished Sting from his belt, and turned to glare through his tears at the Ring.

Sam glanced that way too, and saw the real, silver Frodo gaping at his past self in shock.

And they all came, every last one, dragging up with them horrible memories and reopened wounds. The tortured Frodo dragged himself forward next, teetering as though on the very verge of death, the rusty chains still manacled to his broken wrists clanking along the ground. Maznak rasped horribly, but was the first to catch the Fate as it fell.

Even the wraith Frodo stood behind Sam, ironically pulling a miniature, Morgul dagger from his black robes and hissing at his captor. Sam noticed this fate was careful to only use its right arm.

The Fate Sam had just seen came next, so vague Sam had barely even seen him before. The ghost Fate wisped over to his side like a heat haze, rustling the clothes of the fates around him as if a gentle wind embraced his figure. The other Fates grew strangely still as the Ghost joined them.

Next came two Fates Sam didn't recognize. They came forward hesitantly, obviously following the other Fates lead but not having the faintest idea why, having never met Sam. The first he instantly feared, although for what reason, he couldn't say. Its eyes were icy blue, emotionless, infinitely deep and cold. Yet one, single tear quivered in the corner of its right eye, one last tear that had never dropped. The air around it buzzed and pulsed with sick, twisted power and mad, uncontrollable insanity. And when its commanding, crushing personage caught the light right, Sam could just see lives upon lives worth of blood on its hands, pooled most thickly around the ring on its finger.

Sam realized his heart hadn't beat in several seconds, and the real Ring encompassing his own finger seemed to twitch. The other Fates grew completely silent and watched this new Fate with just as much apprehension as Sam.

The Could-be Dark Lord stood next to the littlest ringwraith, but didn't draw a weapon as the others had done. Sam gulped.

The Ninth Fate, Sam saw, was still hesitating just outside its doorway, the only visible part of him being his grayish-blue eyes, reflecting the silver light in a thousand shimmering stars of heartbreak. It didn't come closer.

Instead, the first Fate Sam had ever seen stepped forward, a projection of Frodo Sam had almost forgotten. As Sam felt his insides shred themselves, the lost Frodo of the Shire came up directly in front of him. Sam stared into this Fate's innocent, forget-me-not blue eyes, and asked himself why it had to be them.

Shire Frodo cried softly and caught Sam in a fierce embrace, the very last before all things were lost. Then the lost Fate pulled away, sobbing, and Frodo Baggins of the Shire and Samwise Gamgee never made eye contact again.

An eerie, unnatural voice broke the moment which had lasted an eternity. In reality, the Nine Fates had taken their places behind Sam in less than two seconds.

"Sam, look out!"

Sam whirled around to see two furious, burning eyes of Sauron bearing down on him in a wild craze of flame and blood. Sam screamed and leapt backward, closing his eyes and expecting white-hot daggers to pierce his heart any minute.

But they never did. Sam cracked open his eyes to see Maznak tearing at the Apparition's neck with his teeth, the Ring rearing back in rage. With a cracking flash of heat and a snarling scream, Maznak was thrown back against an invisible, black wall, a sickening crunch echoing around the room as his hand was shattered.

The crumbling, gleaming silver form of the real, dying Frodo teetered on his knees on the ground, staring at the scene around him in shock and wild fright, even as his hands cracked into shards.

Sam bolted, just nearly dodging a wild dagger-clawed swipe as the Ring's Muse fell, lunging around to face him with blind ferocity. Barad-dur Frodo, his face completely white and eyes screaming in agony, lay convulsing on the ground behind It, the chain from one of his wrists wrapped around the Apparition's foot.

As one would swat a fly, the Ring reached back one paw-like hand and slashed the Fate brutally across the face. Blackish red blood spurted, and the tormented Barad-dur Frodo died, his eyes forever locked in twin reflections of anguish.

Opposite the battle, Maznak, who had just managed to wobble to his feet, shrieked and fell also, identical slashes ripped across his own face.

The Ring kicked the corpse from Its foot, the emptiness of Its body slowly glowing with flames as its anger erupted. In the form of frantic wildfire, the Muse whipped across the distance between It and Sam, leaving a trail of ash in Its wake. Before Sam even realized It had him again, the Ring caught his face in two tongues of flame, quickly burning his skin bloody.

Sam shrieked in unbearable pain and bucked, kicking the Apparition in the gut. That second was all that was needed; soon Sam, oblivious of his wounds, was dashing toward the shattering Frodo again, and the Tenth Nazgul had his dagger through the Muse's heart from behind, Rivendel Frodo's sword through Its heart from the front.

Unfortunately, neither the Ring nor Sauron had ever had a heart worth its beating, and in a moment the Apparition had the Nazgul limp on the ground, the Fate's drained power seeping into the Rivendel Fate like poison. Rivendel Frodo writhed on the floor, clutching his left arm in mind-numbing pain, until in a sickening shower of blood, his shoulder burst like strained ice. Both Fates, bound together by cruel destiny, lay shivering and dying side by side, each suffering both their own and the other's pains.

Sam was nearly at his master's side, coughing slightly on the silvery dust drifting upward through the air, the nauseating sounds of battle shrieking around him no more than a slightly unnerving whisper. Once he felt razors slice the back of his shirt, but Gollum Frodo had leapt clean over his head to collide with the Ring's Muse before It could drag him back. Sam never even looked back to see the wasted hobbit die.

Sam was currently dropping to his knees, skidding the last few feet between him and the nearly disintegrated spirit. Frodo was hardly even recognizable, his glowing blue eyes the only part of his figure not obscured by horrible, jagged cracks.

The Ring, crazed by rage and powered by insane ferocity, lunged before a word could leave Sam's mouth. It pounced like a horrible cat-like demon, digging It's claws into the silvery Frodo's shoulders as it bowled him over backwards. Frodo's shoulders splintered terribly, littering shards of silver glass everywhere.

Sam froze as the Muse held what was left of his best friend from behind, one flaming dagger poised at his throat.

"Don't move, halfling."

Both hobbits didn't budge. Behind the Apparition, the three remaining Fates hesitated, edging slowly closer.

"Fools," the Ring was hissing. "Fools, to even think you could concur me." It almost gently dug the dagger into Frodo's throat. He squeaked once, before falling silent.

"There is no hope, neither for you nor all the rest of Middle Earth. This one is mine, and in his undoing I shall claim both your souls." The Ring laughed, a haunting, mesmerizing sound. Frodo's overbright eyes rolled. Sam sensed the Ring's poison hollowing his master out from the inside. Frodo was quavering, the gaping holes in his soul shattering more uncontrollably now.

The Ring kept purring, the subduing sound of Its song softly lulling Frodo into an endless sleep. His head swayed on his shoulders, before falling forward on the knife, with a sickening slice.

Sam rasped, but it was too late. The Ring's poison poured into his friend's heart, pushing his blood from his veins, so the silvery-red liquid oozed from his neck to splatter on the floor.

"You see, /Sam/," the Ring whispered mockingly to the dumbfounded hobbit. "This is all that remains of your strong master. Soon, his Soul will snap under my power, and I will bend his Fate to my will." It grinned viciously, blood dripping from Its fangs. "I don't believe you've met the Eight Fate?"

The Ring beckoned to the Fates hovering behind It, and as though drawn forward by some unfightable power, the Three drifted closer, only one not faltering slightly as it fruitlessly fought the Ring's call.

The Ring's horrible sneering smile broadened, as the ominous Fate in the center of the three reached It first. Sam felt his heart pump freakishly rapidly, before seemingly contracting and skipping a beat.

The could-be Lord of the Rings had watched the entire battle in detached confusion, the blue chips of ice that were his eyes snapping about the room brutally. Deep, deep within the Fate's semi-existent heart, the representation of that single tear which quivered in the Dark Lord's eye screamed and cried, begging his pleas to reach his brain. Begging the dominant life force to remember Samwise Gamgee.

But now, with the added power of the Ring's soft, tempting song in his head, Frodo was muffled under a thousand cold layers of hate and corruption, to cry softly for his failure in the deepest recess of his heart. The Dark Lord stepped forward, power pulsing around him like heat waves, to stand beside the pure evil which had given him his dominance.

The semi-conscious Frodo, drooping in the Ring's claws, moaned softly as the horrible Fate drew nearer. The single tear in the Lord of the Rings' eye quivered almost as if it would fall, as the smothered Frodo deep within shrieked anew, and the most terrible Fate hesitated, only seconds away from Being. The present-time Frodo was nearly lost.

Sam would never know how close the world came to falling.

Whether the oppressed and subdued Frodo would have broken free of his corrupted prison or not, will never be known. Shire Frodo, with eyes as wide as saucers, slowly but deliberately wrapped his fingers around the Dark Lord's throat, and watched in stunned terror as he strangled the life from the other Fate's chest.

As the may-be Lord of the Ring's dropped dead, and Frodo of the Shire stumbled back, the Ghost Fate of Mordor smiled. The Seventh Fate had shimmered, no more real than a hazy moorage, throughout the entire shift in Destiny, powerless to change anything and no longer trying. He sighed softly, tilting his head back, and in the next moment, he was gone, a thin wisp of milky smoke wafting upward.

The Ring screamed. It was a sound like all nine Nazgul shrieking their malice at once, a horrible, grating wail that every creature that breathed felt, in that moment, deep in their heart. It was a scream of wild rage and disappointment, a cry that tore into Sam's ears and ripped right down to his heart, the fearful memory of its utterance forever leaving its mark on Sam's soul. Suddenly, the little hobbit knew what fear was made of.

Frodo Baggins, the real, exhausted, present-time Frodo Baggins, was staring at Sam with a million and one emotions teeming within his unnaturally bright eyes. The Ring, in its rage, had thrown Frodo to the ground, and now he was just barely supporting himself on all fours. Sam, numbed by the Ring's continuous scream, stared blearily back, an icy dread freezing his blood even as he fought to understand.

In the same airy, supernatural voice, Frodo whispered, "I'm sorry Sam, for what I'll do." Pearly, silver tears that Mordor could never drain poured from his eyes. "I'm sorry I couldn't save us both." And with that, the soul of Frodo Baggins exploded in a thousand sharp, tiny shards, before his best friend's eyes. The fragments of who Frodo had been ricocheted all about Destiny like quick, silver birds, until Sam could see nothing but everything he'd lost.

The Ring's scream reached a crescendo and stopped as suddenly as it had begun, the bitter silence hurting Sam's ears as much as the shriek had done. The Apparition crouched, bristling, on all fours, staring at him with brutal, animalistic eyes, blood dripping in rivulets from countless cuts etched into Its skin, sliced there by the shards of Frodo's soul. Sam noticed, but couldn't care less, that he hadn't even been scratched. Frodo was dead. He had failed his master, and even more importantly, his best friend. That was all that mattered. The Ring was right. There was no hope.

Shire Frodo was sprawled on the ground, gasping for air and shivering uncontrollably. He raised his eyes one final time to whisper goodbye, but Sam never looked his way. Frodo of the Shire died thinking Sam had forgotten him. Killing another had broken his innocence. Shire Frodo, already lost to the world, was now lost to Destiny.

The Ring, still in a fit of murderous rage at the loss of its Fate, rounded on Sam, and now without a single Fate to protect him, nor the will to fight, Sam allowed it to pin him to the ground.

"I may have lost the other one," it hissed wildly in his ear. "But I have still your broken will. You, Samwise Gamgee, will break, just as your master before you, and /you/ will lead the world to ruin!"

And in a second no longer than a missed beat in time, Sam saw, shimmering into could-be reality, another Fate, but this one with worn brown eyes and filthy blonde hair, tears of blood oozing from his eyes.

Sam wondered what dreams had haunted Frodo's sleep.

The Ring brandished another flaming dagger at the hobbit's throat. "Let us start by murdering the bodily remains of your dear friend, shall we?"

Sam's eyes went huge.

So did the Apparition's. After a moment of delayed shock, it shrieked again, but this time in pain. Even as Sam's hands flew upward to clasp his ears, he caught sight of a small, dark figure stumbling backward, a bloodied shard of Frodo's soul clasped tightly in one shaking hand.

The Ring tore around, blood spurting from its chest, to rip apart Its attacker from the inside out. In one mind-boggling, spinning swipe, It slashed the figure across the neck. Weakened, the being staggered, swaying into a shaft of light cast by one of the rips in Destiny.

Sam felt his jaw drop, and his heart leap into his lungs. The Ninth Fate had come forward at last.

The Ring crouched, baring saber fangs, Its merciless Eyes of Sauron gleaming, before springing into the air and crashing into the shuddering Fate with bloodthirsty vengeance.

Frodo stabbed a saber of his lost soul through the Ring's neck.

And with one bellow of pure rage and despair, that would ring in Sam's ears until his dying day, the Ring's Apparition vanished, with a crack like snapped bones.

Then there was silence.

Sam lay, comatose, for an eternity or a second. He never knew which. But there was a space in time, if such a concept even exists in Destiny, in which Sam didn't move, didn't think, didn't breath. Or at least, the stunned hobbit had absolutely no memory of doing so afterward.

Floating between Being and Nonexistence can be disorienting.

Sam was watching a quivering reflection of light dance dreamily across a black nothingness, probably cast there by the pulsing rips in reality. Slowly, he became aware of a soft touch on his shoulder, causing him to blink numbly and role over onto his back.

The Ninth Fate was kneeling beside him, staring at him with a mixture of fright, concern, and haunting confusion swirling into a blank neutral behind his grayish blue eyes. The Could-be Frodo didn't say anything, just watched him slightly blankly.

As Sam's mind slowly began to work again, he noticed the May-be was very pale, and haunted looking. His eyes were bitter, subdued, despairing, and ever so vaguely, Sam could see the silvery tears pouring down the Fate's face, tributes to sorrow only visible in Destiny. In reality, Mordor had drained those tears long ago.

Sam's brain was processing faster now. He noticed many partly healed wounds scarring the Fate's pale skin, jagged reminders of his hardships that would never grant him peaceful forget. For a moment, Sam could have sworn he heard seagulls calling and the soft lullaby of the tides, brought in by the wind that caressed the Fate's dark hair. But the moment Sam tried to listen closer, the strange mirage was gone.

The Ninth Fate moved, Frodo's eyes jerking from his trance. Only then did Sam notice the Fate's hand.

The triumphing shard of silver glass gleaming between Frodo's fingers, casting a silvery glow all about the Fate. In the pearly surface shimmered dull reflections of the other eight Fates, wavering in and out of focus. The silver light of the shard was fading, and the Fate's outline was growing more solid, more real. The bit of glass, now almost clear but for the reflections swimming on its surface, seemed to fade and melt, all at once, until all that was remaining in its place was a bleeding, four fingered hand.

Sam realized he was breathing very fast. The Fate blinked, his eyes fixed on Sam, with a clear focus Sam only now realized the other Fate's had lacked.

Frodo extended his horribly scarred hand, and hauled Sam to his feet, an action so ordinary Sam shivered. The Fate's blood gleamed on his hand like melted rubies.

"Thank you," Frodo whispered softly.

And the Ninth Fate drifted resignedly into the future, while a semi- conscious Sam floated slowly back to the present.

When Sam awoke, it was with Frodo's hand clasped in his own, and the Ring lying quietly on the ground between them.

SO, how confused are you now? Don't worry, you're sorta supposed to be. Like, if you weren't, I'd get kinda worried you had like mind reading powers. Geez, reading my mind, that would give you a headache. shudder Anyway, one more chap after this, and nice pretty EXPLANATION chap. No, there actually is an ounce of reason behind all this! [insert unbelieving gasps]

I just really wanted to say THANK YOU to all the people who stuck with me through this. This was my first real shot at serious writing, and all your support has meant so much to me I won't even go into or I'd be sitting here babbling your praise all night! It's your reviews that keep me going (how many times have we heard that?) and I really appreciate all your help. YOU GUYS ROCK SO HARD! tear THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR EVERYTHNG!

Rabidsamfan: hee hee, I am a confusing one. :D That idea could have been one long AU huh? Frodo would have been dead just from loss of blood by the end of that one. Frodo!Muse brandishes sniper Heh... oh, and as for where the ring went, I'll probably say next chap. Thank you so much! shrrom!

Laurajslr: I LOVE to ramble! Valar, have you ever SEEN one of my reviews? I'm lucky I'm not in a physco ward! random voice in background screams, "YOU ARE YOU MENTAL CASE!" Woah, I was like doing a wild jig of glee after that review. Thank you sooo much! shroomies!

ShireElf: I AM SOO SORRY! I just felt so guilty! So I posted the second I finished. Lord, my grammar is gonna be bad. cringe BUT THANKS FOR ALL YOUR HELP! This chap is just gonna have to deal with being the stinky non- ShireElf-proofread one. home depot of SHROOMS!!

Calenor: sobs STOP! It's too awful! Poor Aragorn! blows nose Isn't talking with random characters in reviews fun though? Good stuff! Wow, I made people cry! tissues for all Thank you to Mordor and back I love you! well, not like that, but here's a Niagara falls of shrooms!

Skye12: sniff the SECOND I have time to review YOU WILL BE TWITCHING ON THE GROUND FROM HOW LONG IT'S GONNA BE! I am so sorry! You deserve like all the reviews in the world! we are not worthy, we are not worthy!

Sami: blushes This fic isn't that good. Its just a whole lotta insanity and Frodo torture. But thank you SOO much for the review, yours is the one I kept reading to make myself keep going! hug and shrooms!

Linriel: hands box of tissues and SHROOMS I think your happier NOT knowing how many things I broke while frolicking about after your review. I can't believe I'm making people cry! :D Lol, guys never understand ANY THING except food and things like that. THANK YOU SOO MUCH FOR PRETTY REVIEW! stroke stroke... pretty review!

Evil Vampire Lady: falls over laughing you don't know HOW HARD you had me laughing. "I'm begenning to think Sam is in a coma. I mean he has been dreamin for two whole chapters." rolls around laughing I was like in stitches for days! tear Yea, I dunno why I gave the Muse Frodo's eyes, I guess just cause his eyes ARE the coolest ever. tosses Frodo another shroom. He's liking the attention Aw, the dreaded Frodo with Chainsaw scenario. Never good. displays duck tape around middle I did self surgery! Lol, thank you SOO MUCH for the reviewie! shrooms!

Elijahs-gurl: :D glad you like it! Heh heh, I didn't exactly update soon, but I promise I'll get better! halo Thank you!! shroomies!

Iorhael: Heh, my reviews can be searches for right word UNIQUE! Lol, actually, a ton of peeps got real annoyed by them, so I'm trying to break the habit gestures at gagged Frodo Pip Merry and Sam muses THANK YOU SO MUCH THO! As soon as I can find your story you disappeared off my author alerts list! Damnable fanfic! grumble you will have so many reviews you'll beg for sanity! MUAW HA HA! ahem Cause your story rocks beyond measure. glares at fanfic.net Stupid site grumble THANK YOU SOO MUCH YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND HOW ESTATIC I WAS WHEN YOU REVIEWED! Like, a site-famous author reviewing for ME! squeezed Frodo until his eyes bulge I was like literally bouncing off the walls! THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH! shrooms shrooms shrooms!

LemonHobbit: THANK! YOU! SO! MUCH! I loved your review! Heh heh, I hardly ever made any sense. I'll try to clear everything up next chap. Hope I wasn't too confusing this chapter... heh heh :-S