Disclaimer: I don't own any recognizable characters, those all belong to Tolkien. Bow to the Tolkien, the Tolkien is genius.

Part 1

The sun filtered through the dense canopy of the forest illuminating the animals walking slowly through the undergrowth. They went casually about their business, ignoring the lone elf who walked silently in their midst. His golden hair and emerald-green tunic blended in perfectly with his surroundings until he was almost impossible to see among the trees. He smiled at the serenity of his surroundings and paused to listen to the sounds of the forest around him.

His reverie was interrupted by a shout from behind him and he turned to see two more elves dropped out of the trees in front of him. He smiled as they slowly stood up, brushing their long hair out of their eyes.

"Meldiron, Alyan what are you doing out here?" He smiled at the friends before him, until he noticed the serious looks on their faces. "What's wrong?"

"Thranduil sent us," Alyan said simply.

"He said to tell you that you are late for the council meeting today, Legolas," Meldiron finished quietly.

Legolas looked form elf to another. "Are you sure the council meeting is now?" he asked in disbelief. He was sure Thranduil had told him it was after dinner, yet it was still early afternoon.

"The council requested the meeting be pushed up shortly after you left this morning," Alyan said as the trio began the long walk back to the palace.

"But why?" Legolas asked, picking up the pace slightly. "What reason could they possibly have? The meeting has been scheduled for months."

Meldiron shrugged. "I'm sorry, Legolas. But we're only guards. We only know what Thranduil told us."

Legolas nodded and continued walking in silence, thinking over what he had been told. He couldn't understand why the council would move up the meeting, but he also knew they must have had a good reason because they were not known to do things on a whim.

As the palace came into sight Legolas resisted the urge to sprint the last stretch; he knew it would look worse if the Prince of Mirkwood showed up to a special council meeting flushed and out of breath. Instead he stilled his breathing and concentrated on settling his racing heart. He knew his father was probably furious with him for leaving the palace. Legolas was supposed to have been checking supplies all morning, but the shipment had been delayed by orc attacks so he had had the entire day to himself and had chosen to spend it wandering through the forest. It had been awhile since he had been able to wander freely without any obligations, not since the last time he had been in Rivendell visiting with Aragorn in fact. He smiled, remembering that Aragorn was due to arrive in Mirkwood within the week, and stopped as he realized that he was already outside the council chambers. He nodded briefly to Meldiron and Alyan before taking a deep breath and entering the room.

Legolas tried not to flush as the chamber instantly quieted and all eyes turned to stare at the prince. The silence was soon broken, however, as King Thranduil stood up to address his son.

"Glad you could join us, Prince Legolas," Thranduil said calmly, his tone clearly saying that they would talk about this later. Legolas nodded slightly towards the council members before taking his seat next to his father, hoping his face wasn't as red as it felt. Thranduil nodded to an elder council member at the far end of the table before sitting back down.

"Thank you, your Majesties," the elf said with a slight bow. "I'm sorry about the sudden change of this meeting but it was necessary for the news I'm about to tell." The elf paused for a moment to let his words sink in before continuing.

"As I'm sure you're all painfully aware, part of our fair forest have fallen into darkness. Fearsome creatures now room these woods, including giant spiders and wargs." Legolas nodded absently with the others. Everyone in Mirkwood knew of this, but it wasn't anything new and it certainly didn't warrant a special council meeting.

Apparently Thranduil was thinking the same thing his son was. "Could you please get to the point?" The King said suddenly, looking the older elf in the eye. "We were told you had some serious new to report but so far all we've heard is what is common knowledge to every else in these woods." The other council members murmured their agreement and the elder elf bowed slightly.

"Forgive me, my lord," he said respectfully. "I was just giving some background information for your benefit but I see it is not needed. As you know I have been sifting through the reports that the scouts bring back, paying careful attention to any hints of spider attacks or dwarven invasions or what you. However, I received a new report that requires our attention immediately before all of Mirkwood is overrun."

"Overrun by whom?" a younger council member asked suddenly, the uncertainty evident in his voice.

"Not whom," the elder elf said gravely. "But what. According to the report I received the scouts have been disappearing from their posts at night only to be found dead the next morning completely drained of blood. Whatever this creature is, it is fast as an elf and just as strong and the attacks only occur at night."

"Which is why you asked the council meeting to be moved up," Legolas said. "You were afraid the creature would…"

"Yes," the elder council member said simply. "Since the creature seems to be nocturnal, I was afraid the creature would somehow overhear any plans we might make at this meeting should it have been held later. From what I understand it's cunning and smart; I wouldn't be surprised if it could understand us."

"You're not suggesting that this creature is a member of one of the high races," another council member said with disbelief from across the table.

"No, of course not," the elder elf said. "However, reports seem to indicate that it is similar to an orc, but derived from humans instead." Legolas pondered the elf's words as the room erupted into chaos. Each council member stood up from the table as they strived to be heard over each other. Only Legolas and Thranduil kept their composure and their seats. Legolas looked over at his father and tried not to grimace as he saw the elf king's face darken in anger. He had never actually seen his father lose his temper at the council meetings, but they say there is a first time for everything.

"Please," Thranduil said as calmly as he could. "Sit down before I'm forced to call in guards to restrain you. If we're going to solve this problem we need to at least act civilized." The council members looked at each other, the embarrassment evident on their faces, before sitting down slowly. Thranduil nodded once before continuing, "First, we need to verify these reports. I don't want to send an entire contingent out without know what's there."

The other elves nodded, thinking over what Thranduil had said, but were otherwise silent. Finally Legolas spoke up. "If you'll permit me, my lord," he said, looking at Thranduil. "Let me take a small party out to investigate. We'll pretend to be hunters so the creature doesn't suspect anything and we'll see if there is any truth to these claims."

Thranduil thought about it for a moment. He knew what Legolas said made sense, but he wished it wasn't his only son who would have to go. He wasn't going to give his councilors a reason to doubt his son, though. If Legolas was going to become king someday they needed to know that they could trust him to do anything for the elves of Mirkwood. Finally, he nodded his assent.

"Permission granted, Prince Legolas," Thranduil said, standing up to signal the end of the meeting. The other elves followed suite. "Gather your best men. You ride out in the morning. This meeting is finished. We'll reconvene when Prince Legolas returns and formulate a plan based on his findings."

The council members nodded and bowed to the two royals before calmly exiting the chamber. Legolas glanced over at his father and sighed inwardly; he was in for it now. He moved over to stand in front of the elf king as the last council member exited and Thranduil sat back down in his chair, massaging his temples absently.

"Adar," Legolas began calmly. "Let me just-" Thranduil held his hand up and Legolas stopped as his father slowly shook his head.

"I don't want to hear it right now, Legolas," Thranduil said. "This news, if it is true, will be devastating to Mirkwood and our people. And, whether it's true or not, it only gives me more reason to not let you go out without an armed guard. Do you realize that I had no idea where to find you after you took off this morning? Did you even think about telling me about the delayed shipments? Imagine my surprise when Calamir came into my chambers this morning to apologize for not coming sooner with the report of the orc raids. I, of course, had no idea what he was talking about and then he tells me that you left early this morning after being informed that the shipments would not arrive for at least a week. What if I had needed you? What if there had been an accident?"

Thranduil's voice was raised at this point and he paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. Legolas remained motionless, his face an unreadable mask. In a way he knew his deserved his father's anger, but he also felt his father was overreacting.

"Father," he said slowly, choosing his words carefully. "I only went to talk a walk through the woods. Nothing happened while I was gone and I needed a break from the palace. Everything is fine."

"No, Legolas," Thranduil said with a sigh. "Everything is not fine. You're a prince and you can't just decide to take a break from your responsibilities. And you shouldn't be out by yourself either! Too much rests on your shoulders for you to be careless."

"I am not careless," Legolas said with more force than he intended. "I know my responsibilities but I will not be babied and I will not stay in the palace forever. That's not who I am! I need to escape sometimes and I am an experienced warrior, I can take care of myself."

Thranduil snorted. "You cannot know what the future holds and you cannot know that you will always be fine by yourself! And as your king and your father you will listen to me and abide by my rules. If I tell you to take an armed escort with you then you will! And you will not leave the palace without telling me and taking and escort with you. Do you not realize how important you are? Or do you not care about the future of Mirkwood?"

"Don't," Legolas said softly, trying to remain stoic. "Don't put that on me. I love these woods and her people, that's why I leave by myself. I need to enjoy what goodness remains while I can." He paused for a moment to gather his emotions before looking up at his father again. "If you'll permit me, sire, I need to get ready for tomorrow." With that he bowed low to the elven king and walked stiffly out of the room, resisting the urge to turn around and yell at his father.

Thranduil sighed as the doors closed behind his son. He knew he shouldn't have lost it, but the thought of a new type of orc, one obviously superior to a normal one, unnerved him. The consequences of such a creature being loose in Mirkwood would be devastating, not to mention the question about who created such a monster. He was worried about his son, but he also knew Legolas was right. He couldn't keep his locked away in the palace and he was a very skilled warrior. He just wished that Legolas understood how Thranduil felt every time he left on his worn. Maybe then he would listen to him and take an escort with him when he left. The elven king laughed darkly and stood up from his seat.

"And maybe someday orcs will learn how to fly," he said quietly before quickly exiting the darkening chamber.

XXXXXXXXXX

Legolas smiled slightly as he gazed out at the night sky, one leg dangling inside his room the other resting on the sill of the open window. Thranduil hated when he sat like that, but it made him feel better to know that he could defy his father without him knowing; besides the fact that the window was his favorite place to sit and think.

The prince had already set up the fake hunting party for the next day and was glad that both Meldiron and Alyan were able to accompany him. As two of his best friends he was looking forward to being able to actually spend time with them outside of the palace. True, they were hunting and unknown human-orc thing, but it was still better than normal.

Legolas' mind began to wander as he thought about what he was leaving to do. He didn't like not knowing what he was after, but he also knew that that was that whole point of a scouting party. And he enjoyed the challenge of hunting a monster, and the one described by the council seemed overly challenging. But he knew they were exaggerating. Being all alone in the dark parts of the woods the scouts probably got frightened or lazy and a spider got them. Spiders were common in Mirkwood now and it wouldn't surprise the prince at all if they were dealing with a new species or something.

He sighed at the thought of traveling into the dark realms, but he knew he had to do it and with that in mind he climbed slowly down from the window sill and went to sleep. His dreams permeated with thoughts of spiders and his friend Aragorn.

XXXXXXXXXX

"We are all ready, Prince Legolas, whenever you are," Meldiron said with mock formality, bowing overly low to the prince.

"Will you stop it, Meldiron?" Legolas said with a laugh, nudging his horse past him. "Let us go before it gets too light out!" With that he motioned for the rest of the guards to follow him and out they went leaving Meldiron to grab his horse and gallop to catch up.

Legolas and Alyan laughed as Meldiron trotted up next to them, an indignant look on his face. Alyan nudged the other elf gently causing him to break out in a smile.

"You know, Legolas," Meldiron said calmly. "I was only trying to be polite."

"Since when are you polite?" Alyan asked skeptically. "You are usually the one instigating the trouble and playing practical jokes on our poor, innocent prince."

"Poor innocent prince?" Legolas asked in disbelief. "I vividly remember it was me who got you both in trouble with Calamir over a broken cask of wine."

"Don't remind me!" Meldiron said in mock agony. "We spent over two weeks in that cellar as punishment." Legolas and Alyan laughed at the look on their friend's face, the sound echoing merrily through the trees.

Soon, however, the laughter was cut short as the party entered the dark section of the Mirkwood. The elves glanced around warily, peering into the trees for any sign of movement, but they saw nothing of any significance. It was unnerving for the elves to not see signs of life in their woods and Legolas shivered slightly at the vast emptiness around them.

"Keep moving," Legolas said quietly, motioning to the party to keep up. "We'll stop up here at this clearing and get our bearings." The elves moved forward cautiously, keenly aware of the darkness pressing in around them and the danger lurking everywhere.

When they reached the clearing the elves dismounted warily, keeping their weapons close at hand. Legolas motioned them into a group in the center of the clearing with half of the elves facing prince. Even so, their sharp elven hearing could easily hear the plan Legolas laid out for them.

"Our first priority is to find one of the remaining scouts," he said as quietly as possible. "If we can find him then hopefully we can get a clearer account of what we're searching for and maybe some clue as to its whereabouts."