Ӧin followed Fili as he led the way into Dol Guldur. The oppressive darkness seemed to whisper in his ears. Dark thoughts trailed through his mind, calling at him, mocking him. The shadow was loathe to release its great prisoner.

And Gandalf the Grey was great.

He held power – greater than any Ӧin had ever seen. The air itself rumbled with it, swirling around him. Yet, he remained hidden.

Gandalf the Grey knew Middle Earth well. For years, he wandered the world, and he knew its people.

They judged – sometimes falsely – him, seeing his beard, seeing the wrinkles in his face.

Many thought he had lost his fearsome strength. If they even knew of it in the first place. Ӧin had heard stories of people mistaking Gandalf for a "vagabond" or another ridiculous commoner.

Those who knew him knew differently. His strength was disguised, clever and hidden. Gandalf did not draw upon it often, but one could see it in the way he walked and fought. He felt the creaking of age in his bones, but his power stopped its effects.

For Gandalf was a great Istar. He used his power sparingly, traveling among those he protected, never too good to talk to them. Yes, sometimes he was cryptic, but one with that much power had to be.

It was terrible to see him slumped across the iron cage, trapped and helpless. Ӧin knew his strength was not all measured in his staff. That was folly and foolish.

Though not an easy feat, a staff could be separated from a Maia.

Gandalf had been overpowered by the shadow. And now, he and his three companions travelled inside of it?

They had not been detected?

Or – or was the enemy sitting in shadow, waiting for them to lay out their plans and fall before him, stumble upon him.

The dwarves penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness**

The stillness was overpowering, draining his awareness, lulling him into a sense of security. Nothing moved but they.

It was almost as if the darkness wished for them to escape with their intended goal – and to escape alive.

What did they leave with?

They left with a staff – Gandalf's staff. Perhaps, the darkness knew that Gandalf would be saved – if not by dwarves, then by the other Maia.

Gandalf had said that the darkness was Sauron. In the last age, Sauron did not skulk in the shadows. He could be biding time, trying to grow stronger.

Sauron could not wish for a direct confrontation before he was ready to fill the land with impenetrable darkness.

And the elf.

The maiden had saved the elf they had come for. Ӧin was no fool. He saw that the elf had no normal glow. Perhaps Sauron wished for the elf to leave because the elf was already poisoned by shadow.

Elves always had been weak creatures. If they had been stronger, then orcs wouldn't exist.

The maid planned to return the elf to Mirkwood – to lay one of Sauron's servants on the stones before Thranduil.

From there – the elf could kill him.

And had the maid not called him a prince?

If Thranduil was dead, then the elf taken by shadow would rule over one of the three elven realms.

Sauron would have power he had never had before and knowledge that had never been searched for.

With that power, darkness would rule, bringing night and stillness and black.

And the stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at Ӧin with a vengeful aspect. **

However, it also called to him. He could be great – strong. Not even a dragon would dare to stand before him in defiance.

There was a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart.**

Ӧin stared into it, into the black, into the unknown. Everything could be his – if only he stepped forward.

Then he remembered the elf.

The elf – Legolas – had seemed stoic and proud – arrogant and foolish as all elves but still strong.

He was a fearsome warrior that could shoot down orcs with both bow and blade. They fell before him with ease, and his knives were sharp. A few times, he had caught a glimpse of the elf while in the barrels.

He had seen the blood falling from his blade and the accuracy of the arrows whizzing past his head.

And the elf fell into shadow. Ӧin could see it in his form – the tense muscles. Weak or not, he was not the same elf as he had been.

At the best, Legolas had been touched by the darkness – only touched – something solvable.

However, the shadows would not willingly lose the elf – not unless he was under their control.

The maiden hadn't understood it – but she was too close to the elf to understand. She wanted him to be sane too much to see any affliction of his mind.

He refused to be as weak as the flighty creature.

The elf had been tempted before. Now, the same monster called out to Ӧin.

He lived then before Ӧin; he lived as much as he had ever lived – a shadow of splendid appearances, of frightful realities; a shadow darker than the shadow of the night.**

Legolas had been surrounded by the same darkness he was. And he gave in.

Ӧin straightened his shoulders.

Let it never be said that dwarves were weaker than elves – in mind or brute strength.

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Tauriel bent over the broken form of her companion and friend. He was still – lost to unconscious – deep in a dreamless sleep. His eyes were closed – which, although not unexpected – was rather disconcerting.

She wished she had better means to heal him, but it was hard enough to even wrap the deeper cuts. Looking at the bandages on his wrists, she thanked the Valor that she did not have to staunch any wound bleeding as heavily as those would have.

In that respect, she was lucky.

The fact that Legolas tried to kill himself – that was not so lucky. Tauriel did not dare to think what his mind would be like.

However, Legolas had recognized her. She knew the Prince's family had not recognized him before they sailed. They had only stared – straight through him, blank gaze unforgiving and solemn.

Legolas' had seen her! That brought her great joy for Legolas' gaze had meant that his soul was not insane.

His mind was, perhaps, mad, but his soul was intelligent.**

And the mind could be healed. Yes, it would take time, but they had yéni to fix it.

Perhaps, there would be silence once more. Legolas could disappear for months – again. But he was strong.

He would get through it!

The dark would not win!

Tauriel knew that all was not lost. The bleeding was slowing – the wound was not life-threatening. Legolas was strong enough to make it.

And Tauriel would help him in any way she could.

After all, he was her friend, her companion, her prince.

And she would never betray him.

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Mithrandir looked at the elf lying on the stones. He could see the maiden – Tauriel – and how she looked upon her fallen comrade with joy. She thought he could heal.

Gandalf hoped it was true.

His posture and pale face spoke of shadows.

His elven glow was nearly gone.

Mithrandir worried that it was too late for the elf.

However, he had recognized Tauriel. That was a good sign.

The princeling was strong. Gandalf knew he had great strength with what he had previously overcome.

He only hoped that this was not too great a trial for the young elf.

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Hey, guys! I'm really sorry for the long wait. I also apologize for the short chapter. It was either post this or be unable to post until Tuesday. I chose to post this.

I compete in gymnastics (Level 8!) and Feb. is my busiest month. I have to train 16-20 hours every week as well as compete every weekend this month. Add in school and homework… not much free time.

Disclaimer: I don't own LotR or the Hobbit!