July 2010: This story has gone untouched for seven years. At this point, I am not sure if it will be continued. As I look at the author's notes in each chapter, I feel enormous pride: the patient, generous help and guidance I have received on this story from so many excellent authors is staggering. I cannot help feeling truly privileged.

The time that has elapsed is not an issue; completing the story is a motivator on its own and speaks for continuing the task I once started. I would also be pleased to complete a story that has had so much help from so many authors, for which, again, my deepest and sincerest thanks.

Reasons that speak against continuing the story are twofold: as I look at the story, it feels too movie-thriven. While it was going to wander off to more literary paths, novelizing a story already told wasn't my intention. Another reason is that while this story waited for updates, I started another one, "Broken," for which I inadvertently planned almost the same ending. The stories are different in tone and execution, not to mention champion in different ratings and genres, but their outcome will be the same.

For now, I leave the story status as in-progress. I also take the opportunity to express my cordial thanks to everyone who has reviewed and followed the story over the years!

Disclaimer: The characters within belong to J.R.R. Tolkien and New Line Cinema. This is nonprofit fan fiction. No copyright infringement intended.

Introduction: They formed the Fellowship of the Ring; they held the fate of all Middle-earth in their hands. It was on top of Amon Hen that things became critical.

Notes: The story is an AU based on both the book- and the movieverse. The first three chapters are mainly narrative and rewrite the original works; the later chapters are AU and more dialogue-based.

One by One, They Will Fall

by Salysha

Chapter 1: Touched by the Darkness

It was Gandalf's death that drove them over the edge. He was the only one who truly understood the evil lurking in the One Ring. When he was gone, fallen to his fiery grave in the Mines of Moria, there were none left to protect the Fellowship from the malice of the Ring. They were righteous men, the best of the best among their respective races, but they could not fight the power of the One Ring.

At the Council of Elrond in Rivendell, Frodo had not been certain whether he had made the right choice by offering to take the Ring to be cast into the fires of Mount Doom. His uncertainty lessened a great deal when Lord Elrond approved his decision and several skilled warriors, along with Gandalf and his hobbit friends, vowed to protect him and to aid his cause. The Fellowship of the Ring was formed and thus set off to its destination.

For forty days, they journeyed across the Misty Mountains. The first one to be enchanted by the Ring's evil powers was Boromir. After picking it up from the snow where Frodo had dropped it, he simply held it by its chain and wondered at its beauty. The Ring kept faintly whispering his name, promising him the safety of his people and possession of all worldly goods. Aragorn spoke, breaking Boromir out of his reverie.

"Boromir! Return the Ring to Frodo," commanded Aragorn.

Only the three of them were there together; all others were already far ahead. The halfling notwithstanding, there was only one man standing between Boromir and the tempting Ring. The temptation was cruel, but honor won and Boromir handed the Ring to its bearer, pretending nonchalance.

"I would not keep it," replied Boromir. His narrowed eyes contradicted the even tone.

The men's gazes met and, for a moment, Aragorn's eyes reflected something close to understanding. Then the moment was broken, and the unease and the sense of rivalry returned. The incidence worried Frodo, and thereon, he watched Boromir closely. If he had suspicions of the Man's susceptibility, he did not speak them aloud.

The appearance of Saruman's winged spies forced them to head to the pass of Caradhras, only to be stopped by the icy winds and avalanches Saruman sent to defeat them. The Fellowship was in relatively good spirits, considering the circumstances, until the decision of passing through Moria was made. It was the choice that sealed their fate. Gandalf must have sensed that, somehow, for never again did even the faintest smile cross his lips.

In Moria, they defeated the orcs, and later the goblins. The Ring was cunning; it whispered to them when the silence became too great a burden to bear. It waited until they were too weary to resist its dark temptation. In the heat of the battle, too, it was always there, suggesting and seducing. The Ring soon discovered that its bearer was the most resilient of them all. Instead, it turned to the strongest warriors in the Fellowship: it focused its evil charm on Aragorn and Boromir.

Aragorn was keeping watch the night that the Ring attacked him. The day had been toilsome, and they had moved ahead sluggishly. Gandalf's hesitation about the route had been more unnerving than he had let show. It was not like the wizard to appear so lost and indecisive, and Aragorn suspected that it had, in fact, been Gimli, whose instincts had found them the way and a refuge for the night. The Company was getting nervous, and the darkness of Moria obviously disheartened Frodo and the other hobbits.

Suddenly, a strange thought came to him: what if he had the Ring? Would it not solve their problems; would it not make the suffering of the little Ring-bearer unnecessary? He chuckled at himself; the hard day was starting to affect his thinking. Another similar idea took his fancy, and he grew worried. Something was amiss, or else he would not be plagued by such foolish thoughts.

Are they foolish? someone whispered to him. Are you not the king's heir; is the Ring not rightfully yours? Suggestions filled Aragorn's mind and lulled him to sweet daydreams, even though he realized in his heart that this was the Ring's evil doing. The thoughts were... pleasant, and furthermore, they made a point. It was his Ring...

Shocked at himself, Aragorn tried to block out the intrusive calls and focus on anything else. The ill thoughts must be abandoned. He quickly found that this could not be accomplished, no matter how hard he tried, and the voices did not leave him. He did not call for help; how could he have? He just sat on his post, trembling slightly, feeling almost physical pain from trying to block out such powerful calls. It continued for what seemed like ages and then...

"Aragorn?" Boromir had awoken and was looking at him in inquiry.

The voices disappeared as though they had been struck. Aragorn's eyes fluttered and he would have sighed out of relief, had it not been for Boromir watching him. "Go back to sleep," he said gruffly.

"I would rather not. It is my time to watch," replied Boromir with a smirk. The conceited smile irritated Aragorn, and he would have replied with a warning glare, but only this time, he wrapped up in his bedroll and was asleep in an instant. He did not dream—nor was he tempted again during that night.

Unbeknownst to Aragorn, he was left alone because the Ring had another victim to torment. During his watch, Boromir sat on a stone, as expressions of pain and hesitation switched back and forth on his face...

The Ring-calls continued to hunt Aragorn and Boromir night and day. The warriors tried to ignore them and keep the whispering voices out of their heads, but with little success. It seemed only a matter of time until the first one would fall.

On the outside, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Inside, the temptation burned within both men. Alarmed by the Caradhras incident, Frodo kept a close watch on Boromir. While the Gondorian gave occasional uneasy glances at him, Frodo could not detect anything alarming. Yet a little voice kept nagging inside his head, telling him he was missing something crucial. He did not realize Boromir was not the only one tempted by the Ring.

Something happened then, something that momentarily broke the Ring's power: they lost Gandalf in a battle on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Aragorn, who had begun to fall into darkness, woke with a start. He fiercely forced the others out of the mines, slaying any goblins that dared block their way. Boromir was stupefied, and the Ring remained silent for a while for fear of driving him away. The Ring did not care, for it had found new victims.

Legolas remained unwavering to an inexperienced eye, but in reality, he was shocked. It was the first time during this journey his psychic barriers fell and the whispers invaded his thoughts. The Ring did not promise him the power it had tempted the Men with; instead, he was somehow convinced that abandoning the mission would be for the good of Mirkwood, that his beloved homeland would become the Greenwood it had once been.

He did not understand whence these feelings emerged, but nonetheless, chose to shrug them off. The thoughts stayed there and created new illusions of what good would come, should he follow the call. Suddenly very afraid, he forcibly blocked the calls invading his subconscious mind, but it was too late: he had already been touched by the darkness. Thereon, the darkness would always be his companion, urging him to yield to temptation.

Gimli the Dwarf was more fortunate. He had been shocked by the deaths of Gandalf and his cousin Balin. He had faced the ruined state of Khazad-dûm, once so full of life, and now only ashes and dust. Yet, for some reason, the Ring did not assault him as fiercely as it did Legolas or the Men. He, too, felt the Ring calling him, but not with such intensity.

The hobbits were shaken and, moreover, they felt alone. Gandalf was the only one they had known in the Fellowship. He may not have been the entertaining, old, firework-casting wizard they had thought him to be, but they had at least known him to an extent.

Merry and Pippin sought comfort in each other, while Sam and Frodo kept to themselves. Frodo felt the Ring suffocating him; it drained his life. He began to stumble forward blindly and when Aragorn called him, he just gazed at him with eyes full of sorrow. Aragorn's voice was sharp and commanding, and his eyes bore into Frodo's with almost violent intensity. It was then that Frodo realized that Aragorn, too, would be seduced by the Ring.

That realization made a deep cut to his soul: he would be betrayed by the one who had sworn to protect his life even at the cost of his own. Gandalf was gone, Boromir was losing the battle, and Aragorn—though he seemed to be in his right mind at the moment—would fall. Legolas, Gimli, and his friends seemed untouched, but too much was at stake for him to rely on that. Careful not to reveal his emotional hurt, Frodo waited for the rest of the Company to catch up with him.

The journey continued in low spirits. A deafening silence hung between them. It gave Frodo time to think, although he had already made up his mind. He would continue the quest alone when he could. He had no other choice. Fortunately, he could not hear Sauron's wicked laughter or see the Eye blaze more brightly than ever.

To Be Continued...

Huge thanks to all my betas: Architeuchtis for excellent proofreading and suggestions which made me want to develop the fic further; Kitty-Rose for coming to my help and doing the check-up beta'ing; al (alliwantisanelfforchristmas) for yet another proofreading and bunch of stylistic advice.

Published August 19, 2002. Revised September 2003. Revised 2010.