*smiles and walks up to the mic* Hey everyone. It's nice to see you all here. I see a lot of old faces out there. It's nice to see you all return. I also see a few new-comers in the crowd. *waves* If you'd be so kind as to sign our guestbook on your way out (found under that little purple review button), we would love to extend our thanks for joining us today.

Now, our schedule is going to be slightly different this time. If you'd all open your programs to the first page I'll explain. We're on a little bit of a time-frame this time, so in light of that the updates will be coming more often, falling on Sundays and Thursdays instead of the normal Sunday nights.

Also, the curriculum we will be using is a little different as well but we'll still be sticking to the usual angst and drama, with just a touch of action thrown in for all of you adventurers out there. Now, if you'll pay close attention to the fine print I'd like to remind everyone that this is a non-profit organization so all donations are tax-deductible (and also not allowed to be accepted). Also, our staff would like me to state once again that we are not directly affiliated with Sir J.R.R. Tolkien. Sadly he has passed on to the great White Tower in the sky. Also, we do not own any part of the land known as Middle-Earth or any of its inhabitants. We simply gather here to express our appreciation for said make-believe world.

Alrighty now, that's certainly more than enough out of me. If you'd all proceed onto the story we can get this show going. Remember, we're all here to have a good time!

*smiles as all the people move on to the story*

*whispers* Are they gone? Good. *rubs jaw* You know, I didn't really want this job in the first place. But I was desperate and now I'm stuck here, smiling to these idiots and doing the same old routine over and over and... what? *turns around* *blinks at all the readers that didn't move on*

Oops.

In other matters, I will once again be using elvish because... yes. And here are a few words of which I use too often to want to translate every time. Look well, for you will need to know them. Adar - Father, Ada - Dad or Daddy, mellon - friend, nin - my, caun - prince. Got it? You better.

"Lingering Shadows"

Chapter 1 - Friend

The Man crept nearly soundlessly through the dense, dark trees of Mirkwood. His senses were alive, tingling with apprehension, straining for the slightest notion of his quarry. A twig snapped at his right some ways away. He didn't even blink at the sound, for he knew his prey would not make such noise.

For it is not in the nature of elves.

The Man stood still as stone, sensing the woods around him, feeling the life that sped through the underbrush, scurrying away from this new foe. Men did not often come to the dark forest of Mirkwood -- very few ever came back alive.

But this Man was not afraid. He knew nothing could touch him here.

A soft hiss floated to his ears; a smile spread over his weather-beaten face. So his elf played games with him? He started to creep forward again, moving slightly to the left, working his way through the thick leaves, slipping past the poisonous vines that threatened to ensnare him, skirting the brambles with barbs like the sharpest steel. He would not loose his target again. Not this time. He would catch his wayward elf and then who would play the games?

A crimson-dyed feather flitted down from the treetops above him and he looked slowly up. Nothing met his eyes but the green of leaves swaying in the wind. Another hiss sounded, this time to his right. But he continued left, deeper into the dark woods, away from his quarry.

He could almost see the confusion on his elf's fair face. Why was he still going left? Surely he had heard him...

'Good,' He thought. 'Let him stay there and wonder.' And so the Man kept going, away from his prize, searching for the path that lay only in his mind's eye. He spotted a familiar rock formation, placed there himself some months ago on a similar failed hunt. He turned right, sinking ankle-deep into a murky tainted pool of water and walked on through the wetness. Then he saw the twigs tied in an 'x' to the base of a briar bush, untouched after all this time. He turned right again and then he saw the tree.

It was ancient, probably older even than the Man's prey, its base twisted to an unnatural shape, its branches forming steps to the top. The Man grasped the lowest branch, his fingers slipping in the slimy moss that coated the dying bark. He slowly hoisted himself to the seat, far less graceful than any creature native to these woods, and began to climb.

The branches thinned around these trees -- a sickness that had stolen their dense strength, caused by the pool at their feet. He could see into the treetops around him for some ways, see the leaves that shuddered violently, see the dark squirrels that fought for what little food could be found, see the slim form of his elf balanced delicately in a tree. No hold steadied the fair being on the high perch; nothing but his own grace prevented him from the devastating fall.

When finally the Man reached the highest branch that would hold his weight he sat, steadying himself against the slick base, and pulled his bow from its place at his back. Next came the arrow from his quiver, unadorned, its feather's dyed a dark crimson. But there was no tip.

This arrow, made for this moment, was blunted, its wooden tip round so as not to kill. Because the Man did not want his prey dead -- no, he would have his elf alive, so that it may see the look on his face when he declared triumph over the Eldar. At last.

The arrow was designed specifically to catch the elf off guard; to knock him from his arrogant perch high in the trees and send him to the ground where the Man would find him, stunned and helpless. He notched the arrow and peered through the darkness to the place where his quarry sat, unknowingly waiting for his downfall.

He let loose the arrow. He saw it hit, and the Elf fall.

As quickly as he could he climbed back down from the tree, nearly slipping and falling to his own doom in his haste. He retraced his path through the water, past the 'x', and past the stones to the base of the tree where his quarry had finally met his doom.

But the Elf was not there.

The Man searched around frantically. Surely even an Elf could not recover from such a fall so quickly. He searched the ground for any signs of his prey. But there were none; not even his arrow waited for him.

Suddenly the trees around him shook, their leaves quivering though no breeze blew. The Man left the trees then, retracing his original path; the one that had started the hunt, back towards the squared clearing. He peered around a moss covered tree, his quick eyes taking in the camp.

Travel bags sat open and disheveled around the clearing, forest-hued clothes hung drying on a low branch, a fire smoldered in its circle of stones. But the Elf was not there.

The Man straightened and walked fearlessly into the clearing, his eyes glowing in anger. Where was the Elf? He thought for sure he had caught him this time. The Man walked casually through the camp, staring at the objects around him. He grabbed a piece of the elven waybread that sat on an upturned log and started chewing on a corner, brooding over his failure once again.

His eyes caught the sight of a bow sitting carelessly against a dark tree trunk. He reached over and picked it up, inspecting the elvish work. The bow was flawless, right down to its taut string, made, more than likely, from the elf's own blonde tresses. The curved spine was expertly shaped from the finest wood and carved with a delicate, detailed montage that told a story in its beauty. The Man's fingertips gently grazed that silver emblem on the tip of the bow.

The twisted-leaf design of the royal house of Mirkwood.

"Very well, my prince," The man said quietly, his words rustling through the still clearing. "You have beaten me once again, but I assure you it will be your last."

Before the words had left his mouth an arrow flew from the woods and pinned his sleeve to the dark tree that the bow had lain against. It was unadorned, its feather's dyed crimson.

"You grow far too cocky, Adan." A soft, melodic voice hissed from behind him. "You will never beat me." (... , Human.")

"I will defeat you one day, prince. You can count on it." The royal title left his tongue as a curse as he turned to face the Silvan prince.

"When?" The Eldar asked, smirking at the human. "Before or after you pull your own arrow from your sleeve?" The Man looked down at his trapped arm and growled, then yanked his arm from the tree, tearing the sleeve.

Both men looked at the torn material, then at the arrow still protruding from the tree trunk. And then they laughed.

They laughed so hard that their sides began to ache and tears slipped from their eyes. They laughed so hard that they fell to the ground, rolling in the forest debris, clutching at their hurting stomachs. When the laughter finally subsided to soft giggles, they turned towards each other, gasping for breath.

"Just how many times are you going to humiliate me today, mellon?" The Man asked, wiping the tears from his face as he stood, pulling his friend with him.

"As many times as I can, Traice." Legolas laughed, brushing the dirt from his clothes then reaching to do the same for the Man. "As many times as I can."

***

The Man and the Elf walked carelessly through the dark trees of Mirkwood on their way back to the royal palace, creating their own paths, telling outrageous tales, trying to best the other in any way possible. The Man always lost, but he kept trying. The Elf smiled indulgently but never let him win.

There was over two thousand years difference in their ages, yet they were the best of friends. They had quite literally run into each other three years ago, in the year 2408 of the Third Age. The Elf had been chasing after a deer that had fled the wood and his arrows, the Man from something he said he could not remember, and they had been inseparable ever since.

In those three years -- a short time even to a mortal -- they had had many adventures together. Most within the borders of Mirkwood, some beyond. They fought bands of spiders together, tended each others' wounds, told each other their deepest secrets and desires.

Never in all the history of Mirkwood, even so far back when it had still been known as Greenwood the Great, had a friendship between an immortal and a mortal been so strong. The Man was even the first ever to live in the halls of the royal family. And though the Man, orphaned of nomad parents at a young age and having no village to call his own, had seemed wary of staying so deep in the heart of Elven territory, the prince assured him there was nothing for him to fear. The two were a mystery to all that lived in Mirkwood, but the people were indulgent to their young prince, knowing that the mortal would not be there long.

And they knew that a friendship as strong as theirs could not bring harm.

***

A woman, dark eyes seething with anger, paced at her window, staring out at the harsh lands that surrounded her palace home. The plains around the grand building were desolate and bleak, but they were hers to control and that was enough. She stopped suddenly and spun around to glare at the man that stood at attention behind her.

"Where is he?" She demanded of the uniform-clad man, her eyes smoldering, her dark hair billowing out behind her like a living cape of spun coal. "You told me he would be back by now. Why isn't he back?"

The man did not flinch under the harsh stare of the seething woman. "He has had more difficulty than we originally suspected, my queen, for your trophy is always guarded." He stated coolly. The scar that ran from his forehead, crossing over his thin lips on its path to his neck, tightened as he spoke. "But he has finally sent me a message. He seeks assistance, but says that with the aide of a few well trained men he will have your prize."

The woman turned around once again, staring out from her window at a dark building that lay at the base of the 5-story palace. "Send the men," she said, her hands clasped behind her back, the anger in her eyes replaced with an eagerness that would chill the fire of a Balrog. "I will have my treasure now. I have waited long enough."

To Be Continued...

Well, here we go again folks, another round of elf torture. My but we're sick creatures. Seriously, if Orlando Bloom ever read one of these stories (cuz let's face it, if it weren't for him, none of us would be here) he'd be scared out of his mind. Probably get a retraining order put out on all of us. Ah well.

Please review so that I know I am not alone in my sadistic love of elf torture!

Oh, and before I go I'd like to give a big big big thank you to my new beta - Ashley! *blows you kisses, but not those kinds of kisses* hehe. She's taken on a big job here and I greatly appreciate it. Though, I have my suspicions that she has ulterior motives. ;) And I may object to a few of her corrections. *cries* I want my commas back!

To my lovely reviewers from my last story who have hopefully come back for this one -

Twin - You are certainly welcome!

Autore - Well I'm glad you got your way.

Estel Elven Enchantress - I would never make you wait! Only... I might. Umm... ignore me.

Jasmine - Ha! Like any of my stories are allowed under the P or PG rating. You've got the wrong writer, sister! But I will do as you have requested.

cherryfearie - Do not be dismayed my dearling. I've read many a good story that did not receive nearly the amount of reviews it deserved. Frankly, I put mine in the category of 'what were you all thinking when you reviewed THAT?'. But then again, I am my own worst critic as they say.

Elenillor - Sadly, yes it did. :)

Lady Aqawandel - Oh of course. But the question is... who? Mwahahahaha *choke* Note to self, work on evil laugh.

wadeva - Your waiting may cease!

amarie - Ah, I see. You were being sneaky. Tell me, have you ever had the urge to call yourself 'precious'? *backs away slowly*

MG87 - Of course I do. Sundays people! Always Sundays! (and now Thursdays too.)

LalaithoftheBruinen - A Democrat eh? So that would make you the donkey right? Lol. Just kidding, just kidding! The beauty of our country is that donkeys and elephants can unite. If only under the structure of a sadistic story about torturing beautiful creatures. *grins*

Niniel28B - Goodness but that's a lot of reviews. And yes, I do see why you would wait. No cliffhangers. And by the by, Legolas's guard is not his brother, just his guard. His brother's name is Lindelen. And the evil king was not controlling his words per say in chapter 13, just his reactions to what the guard was saying so that he got the info he wanted. Now, I wonder how you will react to chapter 16. I think mayhap I need to find my bodyguards again. Yes.