Disclaimer: All rights to any of the original "Lord of the Rings" characters and places belong to the Tolkien estate and I humbly bow to the genius of J.R.R.Tolkien. I promise to return all his characters, when this story is done, to the state in which I received them. All other characters and actions represented in this story are my creation and I hereby claim them as mine, so please do not touch them without my permission.

Summary: Needing a respite from the toils of daily life, our heroes choose to sojourn to the wilds of Northern Ithilien for a little relaxation, and perhaps some hunting. But there is evil in those woods, and unbeknownst to them, a dark adventure is about to occur. Features Legolas, Gimli, Faramir, Eowyn, Arwen and Aragorn.

A/N: While I love visiting FanFiction.net, I find it is just not as much fun if I'm not involved. I've missed you all, and as promised, I am back with a new story. I hope it does not disappoint as I'm really very nervous about publishing it. This will be rather lengthy, I think, and it will involve a lot of character issues that are forced to come out in our heroes as darkness descends on them. I am using the first few chapters for this thing I call Character Development™ (™ stolen from JastaElf – hoping she doesn't miss it). Bare with me. This story takes place twelve years after the War of the Ring, so things have changed a bit from where Tolkien left these folks. Allow me to flesh in a bit of their lives as this story begins. I will try to make it fun. And I promise the futures for all of our friends will be grim (no one gets short shrift in this one).

Since I will be taking on some of their personal issues, and I consider this an adult fiction, do not be surprised when sexual activity comes up. No, I will not be writing a slash fic, but sex is a factor in this story and it does come up on an occasion or two (or maybe three). Any attempt to describe sexual matter will be done with as much tact as I can muster. I have tried to leave openings available for interpretation, and if you enjoy letting your mind wander in those areas, feel free, roam away! But I also respect those who don't enjoy fics with sexual content, so I am leaving room for interpretation without getting too caught up in explicit detail (at least I hope I am).

Please note: Just a warning before we begin. This will be a bloody story and originally I had rated it R (though truthfully I put it there as a precautionary measure more than the thought that it merited that rating). However, in light of the changes made by ff.net on September 12, I have decided to change my rating to PG-13. I do not agree with the new policy to eliminate NC-17 stories (seems rather uptight to me), and therefore, in protest, I am changing my rating. A PG-13 rating means that if you are under 13 you should not be reading this without an adult's supervision. And if you are under 13 and capable of reading it, then bully for you for being sharp enough to understand and appreciate these words. I seriously doubt this is the kind of fiction that could be fully enjoyed by anyone without an astute mind. This story is categorized as Horror. Turn away if gory stuff makes you ill. Don't say you weren't warned. Okay? Here we go

The Hunting Trip

Prologue: Cruel Death

The elf ran with all the speed his legs could carry. His light feet, accustomed to moving noiselessly, could not help but make a splosh splosh sound as he ran over the boggy ground. Yet despite his noise, he barely made a sound when compared to the splashes and thuds of the heavy feet that pursued him. And even before that, the swift crash through the brush of the wolfhounds came as they barked and growled out their charge. They were closing in on him, and the elf sobbed while making a valiant effort to kick up his energy and flee.

He wished he were among the trees. He would have stood a chance for escape had he been. For the beasts that chased him did not have his fleet talents there. Their prowess was not among limb and branch. But the elf was not in the forest. Their mission had been in the northwestern reaches of their land, in the regions that touched the Nindalf. No trees grew there, though they could be seen on the horizon ahead. His only chance, he knew, was to make it to those plains. His path would lead him there, if only he could hang on long enough. So far, he was ahead, but the dogs showed no signs of tiring and would soon be on him.

He was running for his life, having witnessed already the deaths of his companions. Yet he knew not why this was happening. Their mission was to be peaceful. No more enemies were there to be found in these parts. At least, there were not supposed to be. But most apparently, that was not true.

Believing all was well, they had left with barely any weapons – only a bow for shooting game if their food ran out and a short knife to be used for skinning. And those were now left behind at their camp, laying beside his dead comrades, their throats slit and blood pooling about them. Not that the weapons would have done much good even if they had been warned of the need. Neither he nor his friends were warriors. They were not graced with skills to kill, only those of rudimentary survival in the wilds. He should not need further than this. These grounds were safe. He should not be running in fear for his life!

Glancing back, his heart beat fiercely. He trudged and tripped through the muck, knowing there were no hiding places for him here. And even if there were, there was no time for him to hide his tracks. They would find him and they would kill him, just as they had done with the others, though he was unsure why.

In the dark he saw the glade ahead, the outline of its form making a deeper shade against the pitch of midnight. He did his best to hurry his steps as salvation was there. Trees! If he could only make it to the trees. Aside from their knives, he did not think the Men carried other weapons. If he could make it to the trees, away from the dogs, he might escape.

The forest was just ahead, and he forced all his energy into this last attempt to flee. He could hear his labored breath grow louder with his fatigue and his heart beat ever faster in his search for relief. Only a few hundred yards more did it stand. But in his blind pursuit to run, his senses were unfocused to all things but those behind him. He did not see the creature come at him from the sky until she was upon him.

Razor-sharp talons dug into his shoulders and he cried out at the unexpected pain. Wings and beak flapped about his face and his arms flailed out to push the creature away. But she pursued, fighting him with predatory instinct. A night flyer, she had learned long ago how to overcome her prey and with animal knowledge and no sense of wrong in her action, she plunged sharp claws into the elf's face, knowing the vulnerability of that region. The elf screamed out as vicious nails penetrated his eye socket, blinding him with blood and pain. He fell hard, rolling in the sodden earth, twisting to free himself from the bird. He struck the creature hard and was released from its grasp, but too late. His fate was sealed. The hounds gained on him, and he knew his life was forfeit. And yet, he still fought, regaining his feet, sobbing his regret as he righted himself, plodding on, forcing his body further.

It was a surprise to him when the first fell beast dropped him with its leap. He had expected the dogs to nip at his legs, to trip him up. He never expected they would have energy enough to make such a bold move. He was exhausted, his energy spent, and he had hoped, at least, that the wolfhounds would be too. He did not know their drive would be encouraged by his fear and the smell of his blood.

The first dog's attack took his hands as he rolled to his back and pushed away at the animal. The jagged fangs were vying for his throat and he pushed his arms up in defense. A second beast leaped at his belly, launching its teeth at the soft tissue of his groin. Curling up in response, he fought back, kicking and thrashing, but a third, fourth and fifth creature leaped into the fray and he had no way left to fight. And lastly, the sixth wolfhound found its mark, diving into his neck and ripping the artery within it. Blood gushed out as the fatal wound was inflicted, and all the dogs plunged into his flesh, refreshed by their lust. Landing knife-like canines into muscle tissue, the taste of blood sent the beasts into a ravenous fury, each mauling harder at the taste of raw meat. The snarls of their attack mixed with his screams, and the noise was a symphony of gruesome horror.

The footfalls of men could be heard breaking through the marshy soil, beckoned by the cries of death and destruction. Calling out to the hounds to cease their attack, the men hurried to the place of attack. But it had been too long since the dogs had been fed meat. They growled out their answer. Their lust for blood was undiminished by their lack of full bellies. They would have their meal. The men's calls would be damned!

A kick sent a yelp from the snarling lips of one creature. A thrown off dog, and then another in turn, was followed by the hollow thud and cry as a fourth dog's ribs crushed against a harsh rock. The sound was enough to make the other canine beasts take notice, and they at last saw the ferocious anger of their masters' glare. Snarling and simultaneously whimpering, they drew back, relinquishing their prey to the men who kept them.

A bloody mask was all that was left of the elf's face. One half of his face was a mass of gore. The single remaining eye showed fading light. Sucking sounds rasped from his lips as his last gasps entered and exited his lungs. Entrails lay exposed beside his body, curled and ripped on the ground and they led back to his torn belly as the opened cavity filled with garnet blood. He was dying. A crimson pool sullied the mud beneath his head and a thickening trail of it dripped from the corner of his mouth.

The Men looked down on the dying creature and scowled. The dogs backed away, seeing their masters' anger, knowing they had gone too far in their hunt. A screech from above indicated the arrival of their companion hunter. An arm was flung out, and the wings of a large grey owl swooped down upon it, landing noiselessly on the human perch.

A voice was heard by the elf as all his senses dimmed. "She will be angry with this," the voice said. "We should have waited before killing the other two." The words were hollow to the elf. His spirit was ascending and the sounds became more and more distant and vague as he slowly died.

"We could not have overpowered them," came another voice. "We know little of their race. She never warned us. You can see they were strong. This one nearly outran us. Had we not killed them, this easily could have become a disaster. We did what was right."

"And now we have three dead Elves to show for it! Not even one live one to present for her use! What good is that to her? I dare say she will not have kind words for us!" shouted the first.

"So what do we do? Hide the evidence? Pretend this never happened?"

"No! She will read us and know. Better to face her wrath. And perhaps she can find some use here in this," said the first, pulling up the head of the dying elf by a scruff of hair.

"So we will bring her the bodies?"

"Just the one. That is all of what she asked. But you are right in one way, my brother," said the first slowly.

"How is that?"

"We need to hide the evidence. There were three here. There may well be others. And we will need another if she is to go on. But all in its time. We do not need to find retribution for this deed. Not now. We should hasten to keep our presence here short. My fear is for later. Bad enough it is that we should have to explain this to her tonight. Mother will not be pleased with us"