STRONG WARNINGS!!!: Beware of violence and graphic descriptions of death in this chapter, as well as some rather disturbing images created by my twisted brain. Hide the kids away- gore and much! Angst ahead. Chapter rated R or maybe higher.
Author Notes: Kill me I deserve it - I can't believe my writer's block lasted this long and I probably lost most, if not all of my readers. I'm sorry- that's all I can really say. I've been having some rough times, to say the least and this story is more personal to me than most of you probably think. If absolutely anyone out there is still reading this, then I have no sufficient words of gratitude. This is a long chapter to make it up to you- if there's any way I could actually do that.
This whole thing goes for Minka! My very good friend and constant support!
IMPORTANT: Answers forthcoming on this chapter! To refresh your memory, an extremely short summary:
There is a voice inside of Legolas, torturing him, haunting him for months- never giving him rest. Slowly it has been gaining on his will, converting his thoughts into twisted versions of what they once were. Legolas slowly began to see the world in grey and black- seeing even his friends as enemies...he fought with Aragorn once, with Gimli more recently- nobody knew how to help him if he did not fight for himself...but how could Legolas fight against his mind and feelings? In the last chapter he began to see reason in what the voice told him-and that leads to dangerous paths...
Chapter 28: Child of Obscurity
They rode; their pace harsh and unrelenting, and many mortals stumbled in weariness when their limited time of rest would come. They passed town after deserted town- an army of ghosts on their shadow- the oathbreakers- following Aragorn to find eternal peace in the fulfillment of their promise. Legolas did not tire, nor did he rest, as he found more and more of his thoughts being led to one common destination:
The King of Men... he mused, as he allowed his eyes to search for the familiar shape of his friend So regal is he, that already he seems above all of us...impertinent, so far from Kingdom or Crown and already he leads these mortals...he dares to call himself 'my' leader...
((You are no man...))
((And yet I follow him...))
((Why do it? What compels you to trail behind him like a servant?))
((I know not...))
((Are you obligated to?))
((Why follow and not lead? Why cower?))
((He's a good leader. Aragorn is- he is- my friend...?))
((Is that a question or a statement?))
((He is- he- I believe he is-))
((Do not follow him))
((Why should you?))
On one day they passed Tarlang's Neck and came into Lamedon; and the Shadow Host pressed behind and fear went on before them. That is where they rode now, nearing a darkness that would threaten to swallow them whole.
"The Storm of Mordor," Legolas whispered to himself "The air is stale and oppressive...dark times draw closer."
"You state the obvious," came a sudden voice behind Legolas, and the Elf turned to meet the eyes of Gimli who studied him in exchange. "What are you not stating?"
Legolas looked down at the dwarf, turning back around on the saddle without a second thought. "Are you implying something, master dwarf?" He asked politely- coldly- not really caring.
((Why care for this creature's opinion? Why care about anything at all?))
((You learn fast, little prince. There is no need for care.))
((What is it I learn? My own worth?))
((Listen to the shadows of this places...they call to you...))
Indeed they seemed to call, and Legolas found the whispers were not unpleasant.
"Aye, I believe I am," Gimli muttered, answering his earlier inquiry "You are not yourself."
"You claim to know who I am?" he said lightly, focusing his gaze ahead into the shadows, finding that his eyes were once again drawn towards Aragorn- anger arose in him, when the man didn't even turn, when he must surely feel his gaze, but he clenched it down.
"Perhaps he can't make that claim," interrupted another voice, and Legolas turned mild eyes to Elladan, who now rode alongside them "But I can."
"Can you now?" Legolas smiled tightly, and shook his head "interesting..."
"Legolas?" Elladan said softer now- softly enough to almost be drowned out by the terrible noise of their host "What has befallen you?"
((I am not forced to explain anything))
Legolas did not answer him immediately- was not planning in answering at all- but words left his lips without permission- words that did not reflect his currents thoughts and that brought memories of a time when he had known true fear. "Shadow and flame." He said it clearly- both dwarf and half-Elf heard it- yet the voice was broken, beaten down- almost separated from the proud being that sat in front of them.
"Legolas, stop your horse-we need to talk." Elladan realized it was the wrong thing to say when Legolas' gaze focused on him - the blue crystals reflecting pure ice- screaming at him with no words...
He ordered you- he thinks he's above you- he thinks he knows you...
((I don't even know me))
"You shall never address me such again," the Prince said simply. Not a request but a simple statement of a fact, then he urged his horse onwards, speeding away from Elladan's wide eyes. The half-Elf's blood froze in his veins at the words...at the threat...at the promise.
((You have just sealed your fate, you realize?))
((You made a promise, a pact.))
((I have done it willingly.))
((Will you break it?))
((I will not. There is my honour on the line. He has insulted me, doubted me.))
((Then shall Elrond grieve the loss of a son? The betrayal of his kin?))
Eyes straying forward again, ignoring Gimli's repeated attempts to get him to explain what had just transpired, his gaze once again landed on the familiar shape looming ahead
((Perhaps he shall have to grieve more than one.))
Legolas paid no mind to the faint whisper of despair that came with his thoughts beneath the dark shadows of the Storm of Mordor as they entered the town of Calembel upon Ciril, where the sun went down like blood and refused to rise once more. No dawn came after their halt on this place- and the shadows, indeed, seemed to swallow them whole.
((I shall die a traitor)) Legolas thought calmly, hours later, as he sat by himself on top of a rock near the camp site. ((I shall kill my friends...I must- how can I not? They are no friends! They dare rise above me- they see themselves above me! How dare they? How dare they overlook me? They are but mortals- below me even if they were not...))
((You believe this?)) The voice asked calmly, and this time- the voice sounded exactly like his voice, no tone he could not recognize it. The voice was his now and he could admit it.
((A Prince of my people and yet they treat me like a child! A child! How dare they? How can I not kill them? I must prove it to them; to all of them- just whom they are mocking...a warrior they mock...they trust me not. Aragorn calls himself a King of man, sees himself above me- even Gimli does! They dare to show me distrust...))
A whisper outside his mind interrupted him, and his startled eyes opened to look around.
((There are voices in the air... )) Legolas thought, as the cold touch of fear threatened to reach him in the dark. The company was taking a break in the town, and he found himself some feet away from the group- resting, breathing in the loneliness and the peace that it brought him. But the shadows were growing heavy around him- and the silence became voices. His mind taken away from Elladan, from death and dishonor - Legolas was sure now he could hear...calls...whispers...screams!
"The Child has come" A cold hand touched him- touched his face- froze him under its hold. "The Lord has won!"
Chants of screams and laughter surrounded him, and Legolas was helpless under the touch of an invisible hand "Look at him..."
"The Child is here"
"The Ring is ours"
"It shall be mine..."
"The Eye can see you"
"The Child is afraid"
"The Lord is joyful!"
"Look into his eyes..."
Legolas' breathing became ragged, as he tried to fight off the invisible hold- but it was hopeless. Cold fingers gripped his face, tore at him, touched his body, his face, his hair...invisible fingers danced on his skin as he felt panic setting in. Suddenly there was silence again, and Legolas fell to his knees, exhausted, looking around as if waking from a nightmare.
((Was I asleep? Was it a nightmare, chasing me here?))
"Feel the change, ..." a clear voice cooed in his ear suddenly, and he jumped- eyes wide. While he felt his heart rate's speed back up, he searched the darkness for the source of the whisper. Nothing again- but it had certainly not been his imagination.
The group stood away from him- even the ghostly army could be seen with them. Away from him-far, far...further than he could reach, it seemed...
"Do you feel it, child of darkness?" The voice was soft spoken...and deathly. Legolas jumped up from his kneeling position, unconsciously grabbing one of his long knives from its scabbard as he observed the darkness warily. There was laughter, and suddenly he was not alone once more. The shadows seemed to form shapes- looming over him, around him- everywhere-
((What is this sorcery? Who speaks?)) He wanted to scream, but his voice was frozen- there were no assailants to fight off, nor a presence to be felt. There was nothing but the voices and the shadows...
((Hush now, princeling)) His own voice said calmly- speaking from some far away corner in his frightened mind ((Hear them...listen to the shadows...))
"The Child is scared!" Screamed a different voice, and Legolas felt his hands turning numb- heard the fall of his knife to the ground as his eyes focused on one particular shadow- one that seemed to surround him- to try to crush him...he was helpless, defenseless...transfixed by the play of shadows...
"He hears us! He can hear us!"
"More than that...he listens!"
"The Lord has won!"
"An Elf to play with...an Elf for us!"
"Who is there?" His own voice came out faint- no strength left behind it...he felt a paralyzing fear- there was no room for rational thoughts...the voices were calling him, were speaking to him, shattering everything else...he had but to listen.
"He answers us!" They cried- and the sounds were joyful, and frightening. "He can hear us- at last! He denies us no further! He speaks to us! The Child of Darkness has awakened!"
"What is this?" he whispered to no one in particular- searching to see beyond the shadows. He no longer could see the group a few feet away- he could not see them! There was only darkness, only shadow...!
"Little one..." The voice was inside his head no longer- was his any longer- but the possessive hiss could be well recognized- could it have materialized in these nightmarish shadows? Could his own mind become another being- another enemy?
"By the Valar!" Legolas screamed, his eyes wide, his limbs shaking- brought back from his trance by the all too real feeling of a hand tilting his face up.
Blinking he stared, and saw just the shadows around him, felt his skin bruise beneath the gentle hold on his face. He was shaking, eyes wide- but he could not move away...
The hand ran over his face, bruising its path through his skin- it hurt! It hurt him badly! The whispers and the screams continued, as some twisted song to accompany the panic. His breathing was too fast, but it did nothing to muffle their voices...
"The Child is frightened!"
"The Child is helpless!"
"The Child belongs to darkness now..."
"Nay..." He choked out- but they heard him not
"The Child can fight no longer!"
"Nay!" he screamed out, and felt the hands on his face tighten, felt blood on his face- felt the burning pain.
"Legolas!" his captor called to him, and he blinked again- the shadows remaining...
Suddenly the knife was on his hand- never had it been dropped to the ground- and his paralyzed limbs could be moved again. With the hands still on him, he did the only thing he could do against the bruising hold that held him captive...
The knife pierced through flesh, as Legolas watched, spellbound, the slow appearance of blood that followed the shocked cry from his captor. There were hands on him again, but he could not fight them anymore, as he watched blood welling from the wound he had just caused. The whispers of the shadows sounded gleeful as he listened.
"He has fallen!"
"He is ours..."
The hands on him were bruising him- but he welcomed the pain. Welcome the feel...of anything...
The knife...is...where is...?
He looked down in a daze, and found the knife buried in his own shoulder, blood dripping down his body. The voices screamed in his ear as he succumbed slowly to a more profound darkness than the one that surrounded him already.
Aragorn held the limp body of his friend in his grasp, as Elrohir gently cleaned the wound on the archer's shoulder. Confusion welled in the ranger's mind- and despair more profound than any he thought he could know.
His friend seemed long gone now- Legolas had seemingly succumbed, at last.
"Darkness has claimed him." A voice announced suddenly, voicing his thoughts, and the ranger looked up to meet the troubled gaze of Elladan "I believe he could fight it no longer- I see no other explanation for this."
The human sighed, not knowing how to come into the prince's defense. Indeed- the Elf apparently had loss his battle, and the Ranger didn't know what this could mean- didn't know what they were to do now...
Surely not...kill him...? The human shuddered at the thought, and held the unconscious body a little tighter to himself.
An unlikely voice spoke up then, and broke the tense silence of the group. "You think very little of him," said Gimli "if you think this stubborn Elf would surrender so easily-without a fight..."
"You can hardly say he did not fight, Gimli," Aragorn interrupted sadly "But he has been struggling since Moria...the further we go, the further he falls...and now...you did not see him just now..."
Aragorn thought back to the empty look in those familiar blue eyes, to the cold, clammy skin of the Elf as he had stood there, as if paralyzed, staring into nothing with a knife on his hand. When Aragorn had found him like this he had been worried at the lack of response- at the empty look- but his calls were ignored by the Elf, or perhaps not even heard.
Legolas had been somewhere else...had seemingly been unaware that Aragorn had taken his face in his hands, that Aragorn had been calling his name. The Ranger never saw it coming, when suddenly Legolas was yelling out denials and then lifted the knife in his hand- his eyes never clearing - pushed the man away violently with the wooden handle before burying the blade into his own shoulder. Legolas had looked down then, and his blue eyes had apparently focused briefly on the blood, before collapsing into the Ranger's arms.
The blank expression had never changed- not even in pain when the knife was buried into his shoulder. No, Aragorn held no other explanation besides saying that Legolas had finally succumbed to the weight of the shadow that haunted him.
"He has not given up," Gimli said confidently. The man's gaze lifted to meet the eyes of the dwarf as he spoke next "I know he has not."
Elladan and Elrohir remained in silence, but Aragorn could see their doubts showing on their troubled eyes. When the younger twin was done bandaging the Prince's shoulder he sat back, and searched Aragorn's gaze.
"We have to move, Estel- War does not wait for anyone," He said gently, before his gaze lowered to the pale face of Legolas and his eyes softened "What do we do?"
There was a short silence, then Elladan crouched down next to Aragorn, and began to gently put Legolas' tunic back on. "We go forward," he said resolutely "and we take him with us- he is no threat."
Aragorn mechanically helped his foster brother with the tunic, nodding his head as he did, ignoring the slight hesitance his brother's voice had held.
"Of course he is no threat!" the dwarf chuckled mirthlessly "He is just one skinny Elf,"
Aragorn grinned faintly, while the twins remained impassive. "Are you quite sure he won't harm us?" Elrohir spoke softly, and all eyes turned to him "can we control him? He has harmed himself already...could have killed himself even, had he but buried the knife lower."
Aragorn stood from his seat, lifting the slender frame of Legolas easily into his arms "He will wake soon and he will not wake alone in these shadows. I could never do that to him-and neither could any of you. Let us continue our path towards Pelargir-with him." His statement was final and firm. Nobody questioned the decision further- nobody dared to- as they moved towards their horses, ignoring the questioning looks the other men directed towards the unconscious Elf in Aragorn's arms.
One would think unconsciousness would be best for a worn out soul- and one would be wrong. How could Legolas escape the shadows while trapped inside his own fogged mind? The whispers were relentless as he lay there- unable to fight back and walk away- trapped in a nightmare that could well be reality...
"Legolas," The commanding voice of his father boomed, and he whirled around, watching the King of the Northern Elves staring at him with ice on his gaze "Look where your weak heart has led you...is this all you can contribute to the world- only shadow and grief? Look around! Look around and tell me- what good is this all for?"
Afraid. Legolas was afraid to look, to face the shadows- what would he find? He could not do as his father bid him, and yet the anger in those eyes was growing, as he stood there, unable to obey a direct command.
"Father this is not of my making..." He tried to explain, but his words went unheard. His mouth moved he knew he had spoken the words...yet the world, the very air around him seemed to swallow them.
"Look around!" His father said softly, menacingly, in a tone Legolas had only heard him use when talking of the vile creatures of Mordor. "Can you bring yourself to do that, boy? To see what you have done?"
Was this even his father? Legolas wondered, as he stood rooted to the spot, unable to look away from his father's gaze. Suddenly those eyes were no longer blue, they swirled and changed, and all became confusing. What was blue became black and where his father was, stood nothing. Hands guided him, moved, him around, forced him to open his eyes and face the world without his consent.
"Look around..." A deathly whisper in his ear, a simple command that this time-he could not refuse. Like it held a life of its own, his gaze moved and took in the decay and destruction that surrounded him.
His eyes widened, and he opened his mouth to scream, to cry out. Instead there was not a sound, and the shadows that danced around him came closer, moving like flying creatures until they were inside of him, inside his mouth, gagging him and forcing their will on his body. He felt possessed, as his head moved from one side to the other, taking in the grotesque scene.
He stood on the front steps of the palace of Mirkwood-green plants and trees had seemingly melted, leaving pools of slime in the grounds of the town. The houses and surrounding trees burned in dark fire, and all around him the dead bodies of friends lay decomposing. Pools of blood surrounding the corpses gave them a touch of colour that contrasted horribly with their pale skin and dried hairs. Some were barely recognizable as Elves- some were mere skeletons. Others lay there, eyes open and unseeing, all turned in his direction as he stood there- the only one standing. A hand landed suddenly on his shoulder as he watched, heavy and cold, and he could not turn around to see to whom it belonged.
"Do you like what you see?" A voice hissed in his ear, "What you have done?"
"I have done nothing..." To even get the words out took more effort than he expected, almost more than he could handle.
"Nay?" The voice laughed, and its sounds was chillingly familiar "Look closer..."
And in one of the bodies there was a knife buried to the hilt in its throat- the head almost completely separated from the body. The mouth was opened in a silent scream, as the grey eyes stared at him dully. No life in them-a glazed fear frozen for eternity. The face of that body was decomposed almost beyond recognition- but he could identify the features nonetheless, as he could say to what house the clothes the corpse wore belonged to. He recognized the carved knife the body held.
"Elladan...!" He whispered brokenly, wanting to go to his friend and make sure this wasn't real "Elladan..."
"Aye, 'tis the oldest twin of Elrond...surely you remember slaughtering him?" the voice cooed, as Legolas' blood ran cold in his veins "Surely you remember your promise to him?"
"Not a promise..." The prince choked out, and the hand on his shoulder squeezed tighter.
Abruptly he was staring at his own face- hard and unforgiving, and he was facing Elladan's incredulous eyes as an oath filled the air around them.
"You shall never address me such again," Legolas' voice declared loudly.
And then he was back- Elladan's corpse rooting in front of his eyes. "I would dare say you meant that as an oath...I bet Elladan believes that as well." Laughed the voice of his captor "now, would you look at that?"
Cold fingers gripped his chin, and he was turned away from one proud son of Elrond, only to be faced with the other one. Elrohir was not decomposing yet, his features pale and clearly frozen in a grimace of anguish. A gaping wound was where his chest should be, and Legolas felt his stomach churn.
"He tried to defend his brother, ..." the low voice said disapprovingly "against his own best friend..."
"It was not me," Legolas sobbed, breath catching "I would never..."
"Oh, but you would...you did..." The prince looked down to find his clothes covered in fresh blood- red, bright, blood- "he never saw it coming..."
Legolas closed his eyes, only to quickly reopen them in shock when he felt a stabbing pain on his shoulder. "Aragorn gave a mighty fight," came the whisper, "even managed to injure your shoulder before you killed him..."
Legolas felt his body turning around, walking towards the inside of the palace. His steps echoed clearly in the empty hallways as he walked, with no will of his own, towards the throne room. The voice was a constant with every step he took "You punished him for it, though..."
The great door of the room burst open- and there was Aragorn. Legolas fell to his knees and retched, wide eyes filling with tears while his breath came in sobs of despair. The icy hand was on him again- lifting his face and forcing to look. The man sat at the throne, a golden crown well placed on his head, which was on the ground. The headless body was surrounded by a sea of blood, marked with sword wounds of enough depth to make the body seem separated- as if cut into pieces. Images danced in front of his eyes- distant memories of the hoarse screams of his friend as Legolas ran him through with a sword- over and over- never lethal wounds, never finishing him off, until the sword was placed at the neck of the man, and...
Legolas retched again, felt invisible arms lifting him from the ground, holding him steady.
"Now, now...this is what you wanted, is it not? To be the last one standing- to be the strong one...you proved your superiority to all of them...Princeling..."
His vision went white when a wave of agony ran through his body, making every muscle tremble beneath its wake. The Elf fell to the ground, barely able to hold his weight while the agony subsided- his gasps for breath muffled by a laugh from the figure behind him. While the pain became a dull ache, Legolas held his breath until his lungs burned for air- and let it out in a rush when he realized that he regained the control over his limbs...but where could he run to, in this destroyed place? Who would help him? - Crystalline tears ran down his face in burning rivers as he thought of all the corpses...Elladan, Elrohir, Aragorn- had that been Haldir ran through with a sword? Had the skeleton with the clothes of Rivendell been Elrond or Glorfindel?
"Don't weep now, little one...you'll show them weakness? You never know if they may be watching you still..."
"Be Silent! Just...do not talk...shut up..." Legolas screamed- his voice breaking while horrible images ran through his head-he lifted his gaze slowly to meet his own eyes in the figure in front of him "What did you make me do...?"
"I made you open your eyes..." The voice answered softly- the same voice that was with him since Moria...the same voice that had become such a part of himself over time, that it was frightening. The tone was soothing now, and an alien hand that looked like his came down to touch his face gently- it was freezing cold. "I helped you to see what they did to you- to see just how alone you were..."
"I am alone now, " Legolas hissed, fury and despair intertwining in him on a dangerous mixture "How is that helping me? How did you help me at all? You haunted me for months...tormented my mind, my body...drove away my friends...and look at them now..."
"They are at your feet now," His look-alike laughed, standing up and walking away from him "Just like you wanted."
"I did not-"
"Do not waste your breath on me, little one-," The other said "I know your thoughts, your feelings- I know you better than you have ever known yourself. I know you as the scared child you are beneath the layers, and the masks...I know you without any of them to protect you..." he pointed at the rooting corpse of his once-best friend, but Legolas refused to look "I know you, child...and you wish to know me- do you not? You wish to see who hides wearing your face?"
Legolas met the blue orbs that observed him, and shakily stood from the ground on legs that threatened not to support his weight- "You are not I," he whispered dangerously "just as I thought...yet you always denied..."
"And you believed me? Above yourself? Does that not show you how insecure you are- how easily manipulated? They all used you, little one-you know it well- that is why you slaughtered them all in cold blood,"
"You slaughtered them!" Legolas yelled, trying to lurch himself at the leering figure, but he was easily sidestepped, and the shock combined with the confusion and anguish made his body heavy.
"Oh, poor child..." The other whispered, "I did nothing but give you the strength you lacked! You remember their murders, do you not? You remember their screams of betrayal and pain? You remember the satisfaction?"
And he did! Oh Valar, he did remember all of that- remembered and relived it second after second- horrid scenes dancing in front of his gaze. This nightmarish world turned and whirled before his eyes, to find himself once again covered in fresh blood, standing above the bodies of so many familiar faces...
"Legolas?" He looked up and met blue eyes of ice that had somehow escaped from a mirror "Do you want your answers?"
The Elf looked around where he stood -eyes weary and filled with tears- friends and family slaughtered, home burned to ashes...his world shred to pieces- he had no strength left, and he sat on the floor, uncaring for the blood that seeped through his clothes, uncaring of the pain that came from his injured shoulder...just...uncaring...
And it was so that the Prince of the Elves made a decision. Lifting his gaze and meeting those of his tormentor, he smiled slowly- a twisted, deranged smile. "Nay," His voice echoed in this place- and slowly, one by one the horrible images began to fade into blackness "From you- I want nothing further."
Aragorn was exhausted to say the least. Even while his foster brothers had repeatedly offered to help, he had rode with Legolas' unconscious form for hours on end, continuously struggling with the distraught body that at times tried to escape his hold, and at times burrowed closer to his embrace. The Ranger sighed, careful not to disturb his friend as he brushed a strand of blond hair away from the closed eyes. He was not used to this- not used to having Legolas in his arms, helpless and unreachable- was not used to not knowing what he could do to help his friend. Now when the company was giving the horses some time to recover from their unrelenting pace he could feel the whole of the situation taking its toll on him.
"Estel," came the voice to his right and he turned slowly to meet Elrohir's eyes "There are decisions to be made."
The man sighed; nodding his head while his eyes strayed back to the now still form of the Prince of Mirkwood. Face strikingly pale, features drawn and troubled- the Elf seemed beyond anyone's help. "I know," he said simply "but the decision does not become any easier."
The younger twin nodded in silence, taking a seat next to his foster brother while looking at his prostrated friend with pained eyes "I could ride back-" the half-Elf announced suddenly "I could ride back towards Rivendell with him, perhaps bring him to my father..."
Aragorn was already shaking his head when his brother's voice faded away "The path is far too long and hazardous for you to ride it alone, much less caring for Legolas- who could still wake up in the ride and try to head back here. Besides...Elladan and I both need you here..." the human stated calmly, then hesitating upon the words he lowered his voice "I need Legolas here as well."
Elrohir didn't answer, seemingly lost in thought as he stared into the horizon- the look reminded Aragorn of the empty look in Legolas' eyes and the memory brought back the feeling of despair, the anger and the helplessness of the entire situation. He screwed his eyes shut, fist clenching with the urge to do something, to fight against whatever was haunting Legolas, to beat everything ahead of them and just be able to breath, to live in peace...just to finally be able to see hope for all of them. Yet the future was as dim as the very lights of Mordor from his point of view.
Sudden movement made him snap his eyes back open and he stared, incredulous, into the open eyes of Legolas, who was staring back intently.
To be continued.