Beta: Aranel

Rating: T

Warning: Horror, angst, AU.

Disclaimer: Characters and their world belong to Tolkien. I'm only playing.

Note: Written for Spook Me challenge at LJ for Halloween.

My Prompt was Snake with two secret prompts...

"Aragorn, where do you think you are going?" Elrond had asked as he saw the man readying his horse.

"To visit Legolas. I do want to surprise him," Aragorn had replied, smiling.

"I would not counsel you to do that – not this time. Or, if you must, at least have the twins along," Elrond had advised his adopted son.

"But I would rather meet him alone. You know how Elladan and Elrohir will never let me out of their sight," Aragorn had tried to make his case.

"At least they will keep you safe. Both of them know what is hidden in the dark, but you do not. I do not wish to hear that you were hurt." Elrond had sighed heavily.

"What is hidden in the dark?" Aragorn had asked. He could not recall his father so tense or so worried over his welfare.

"Evil, pure evil," Elrond had replied.

And that had been it. Needless to say, Aragorn was not keen on heeding his father's advice. Now, he dismounted from his trusted horse. He was along the fringes of Mirkwood now, and there had been nothing of any danger close to what his father had seemed to suggest. True, there were the usual serpents and wild beasts. He thought he heard some orcs as well, but he had seen nothing. He had barely even met spiders. Evil. What evil could possibly be around?

"Have you actually seen it?" Aragorn had asked his father some time later.

Elrond's expression had changed to something quite incomprehensible. He looked up from the parchment he had been studying, his gaze troubled and distant.

"No, I have not," he had answered at last. "But from the accounts of those few who lived to tell the tale and vowed never to return to Mirkwood, I would not wish to."

"I need to see it for myself before judging," Aragorn had told his father, crossing his arms.

"You are going to your doom, Aragorn. I do not wish to be responsible for your death," Elrond had told him with concern.

Whatever his father had told him did not make any sense. If there were some form of evil, surely he would have spoken plainly about it. What could be lurking in the dark? Aragorn knew of the spiders and the orcs and their cruel ways. What could be worse that even his father was afraid of?

But Aragorn knew that his father was always rather too protective. If the Lord of Imladris had his way, Aragorn would never have had crossed paths with anything more dangerous than a fly. Perhaps not even a fly; Aragorn was sure that even that would amount to danger in his father's books.

He had been journeying in Mirkwood for a good two days, and there had been nothing he could not handle. Indeed, to somewhat allay his father's concerns, he had decided to leave three days later than he had originally planned. Not that it really made much of a difference since he had made up for it by riding harder.

Still, the weather was good and the forests, in spite of the darkness present, were beautiful in their Fall colors. Every so often, the leaves would drift slowly down in their strange dances. Suddenly Aragorn tensed. It was too quiet.

"What did you see?" Aragorn had asked Elrond as he readied his horse for the long journey. "In your vision, did I return alive? What did you foresee?"

"I saw that you were hurt," Elrond had replied and turned to face the young man, "Is it not enough for you?"

Aragorn had shook his head and looked away. It was not enough for him; he needed to see it with his own eyes to believe. Besides, getting hurt was far too banal.

"And yet you plan to leave…" Elrond had called towards him as he packed the last of his provisions.

"I will return, father. Have no fear. You did not see me dead," Aragorn had reminded the elf, smiling.

Whatever happened, this was still the one who had raised him all these years, but now, it was time he recognized that Aragorn could take care of himself too. He mounted his horse. Elrond had hesitated but made no move to stop him. And then he rode off.

Aragorn crouched lower instinctively toward his horse. They were moving at a slow walk now but they were making too much noise. A breeze riffled through the trees but Aragorn's frown remained etched on his brow as he scanned the horizon. Nothing. He glanced toward the sky. It was late in the evening and the dark clouds seemed foreboding. Time to find shelter.

Elrond barely turned as the twins approached. He could sense their concern and they glanced toward the forests into which Aragorn had so recently left.

"Adar, did you tell him?" Elrohir asked.

Elrond said nothing.

"I believe he tried but did not succeed in stopping him," Glorfindel replied as he walked toward them. "What could have caused the man not to believe our words?" he asked pointedly, looking directly at the twins. "What have you been telling your brother?"

"We did not say anything…" The twins answered both at once.

Elrond turned, only to see their far too innocent faces.

"Sometimes I find it hard to believe you," Glorfindel scowled and walked away.

A brief smile broke through on Elrond's features. Shaking his head, he left the clearing. There was nothing more he could do.

Aragorn hummed softly as he set up camp. He was still a fair distance from Thranduil's caverns and he was already growing weary from the journey. The wind was chilly and not at all pleasant, and it was all he could do to start a fire.

Leaning against the trunk of a tree, he pulled a blanket over himself. Sleep came easily enough.

"What did we do wrong this time?" Elladan asked as he lay back, relaxing in the grass and the bright sunshine.

Elrohir laughed lightly. "Possibly everything, as always", he replied. "You know how ada is. Even if I agree with him. That human should have let us follow along."

Elladan sighed. "One day, we won't be there for him."

A shuffle came from the fire and Aragorn jumped wide awake.

It was a dragon, like in Erestor's books, and yet it was also a snake. Squamous cells. Dark. Possibly green. How did any of that matter? It was almost luminous in the firelight, and it swooped down at him.

Weren't beasts supposed to fear the fire? Where had it come from? Whatever was he supposed to do now.

The creature hissed at him.

Was this some nightmare? No, he was awake now.

The dragon, snake, whatever, why would it want to kill him. Aragorn was sure he wouldn't make much good food. And this creature was...huge. Aragorn wasn't sure he had seen its tail yet. Did it have a tail? Maybe. Wait, that was... No, duck!

How had that thing managed to lunge at him? Aragorn tried to scramble to some cover. It was as though he was paralyzed. No, that didn't make any sense. Was he panicking? No, of course not!

Evil, pure evil.

No, really. It was just one of those strange creatures. Didn't Mirkwood have lots of them?

His senses were all suddenly heightened, every inch of him tense. Even those hair behind his neck were bristling in fear, no, anticipation, no, what was that? Run. Yes, that would make sense. That thing could breathe fire. No, that was impossible. No, couldn't be. Wait, it had. That was why that other tree was burnt. Wasn't he there just a moment earlier?

Those flames had almost touched him!

What did he do to incur its wrath? Couldn't it die yet? Aragorn was too far from anything that could be used as a weapon. And what would even work against this creature of such size?

Aragorn ran just as the creature lunged again. He could feel its teeth grazing his skin. Too close. Far too close. He dashed into the trees, pushing the stray branches out of his way.

He was far too afraid to turn back and face it.