by Cassia and Siobhan

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Are you listening?
Sing it back...
I'm still running away.
I won't play your hide and seek game.
What a dizzy dance...
What a dizzy dance...

Jimmy Eat World

    Legolas stopped a fair piece up the tunnel, just beyond the bend and listened. He needed to know where they would take Aragorn.  He hated to leave his friend behind to his uncle’s warriors, but the human had been right: they had had no choice.  Leaning back against the cool, stone wall he listened.  Because once again, that was all he could do.
    He closed his eyes tightly shut as the sounds of the scuffle echoed down the hall to him.  The ranger was not going easily.  Legolas banged his head softly back against the rock behind him. The elves would just treat the human worse if he fought them, but he knew that under the same circumstances he would not go willing either.
    Shouts rang down the hall and he heard Aragorn cry out, followed by the sound of a body dropping hard to the floor.
    “Pick him up and bring him back.  Make sure he can’t get away this time,” the words of the captain floated to the elven ears. 
    “Oh, Strider.”  Legolas eased down to the floor and brought his knees up to his chest, “I’m sorry.”  The sound of the iron gate being slowly raised alerted the prince that he had better be on the move again, and quickly, if he hoped to keep his promise to his friend. 


    Aragorn woke to find two large elves quickly binding his hands together in front of him with rope.  He had put up quite a struggle, injuring one of their party and taking another elf out completely before they had overwhelmed him.  He kicked out at one of the warriors before him and was rewarded by a swift punch to his head from the other, causing sparks to dance before his eyes. An odd ringing echoed in his ears.
    “Damn human.”  The elf finished securing his wrists and kicked the ranger hard in the side.  A sickening pain shot through Aragorn’s awareness, clearing his mind momentarily as he painfully curled into a ball, trying to protect himself.
    “Don’t kill him Nynd.  If you do Doriflen will have you hanging in that room of his,” Amon spoke harshly to the elf.  He leaned down and grabbed Aragorn by the hair, jerking the human’s head back so the dark, pain-filled eyes were forced to focus on him.  “Don’t worry about your friend. As soon as we deliver you, we’ll go find him.”  The elf grinned wickedly at the man, letting go of his head with a hard shove.
    Aragorn’s head banged down against the stone floor, the rough rock cutting deeply into his temple.  He winced, unable to stifle the small cry the injury incurred.
    “Get him up,” Amon growled and turned, pushing through his men back towards the room where Doriflen waited for them.
    The human was drug roughly to a standing position and hauled back down the passage. Unable to get his feet underneath him, he cried out as his wounded leg twisted under the rough treatment.  His escorts merely laughed and turned into a small room, dragging their prisoner in with them.
    Doriflen stood in the center of the room, looking down into a gaping pit with a satisfied smile on his face.  He glanced up casually as his men entered, hauling the ranger with them.  His glee turned wicked and he motioned above their heads to a wooden bar suspended over the pit. 
    Two elves stripped the ranger to his waist, cutting his tunic from his body and hefted the human up so his feet were not touching the ground as Amon threaded a rope over the bar and looped it through Aragorn’s bonds.
    One look into the hole below him and the ranger panicked.  He lashed out with his feet, catching Amon in the chest and pushing the elf back against the far wall.  The two elves holding the struggling human fought to maintain control of the man without falling into the pit themselves. 
    The ranger’s frantic struggle stilled as the crack of a whip split the air. The fiery pain of a thin leather thong raced between Aragorn’s shoulder blades and he arched against his captors, crying out at the intensity of the touch.
    Amon stood from the side of the room and slowly approached the prisoner, anger flashing in his blue eyes.
    “Now behave yourself and let Amon finish, then you and I will have some time together - alone.” Doriflen laughed softly where he stood behind Aragorn.  “Won’t that be fun now?”  He spoke quietly as the warrior finished tying the ranger off to the bar.  He jerked the ropes taut, eliciting a soft groan from the man.
    “Let him go,” Amon growled at the elves holding the ranger. 
    Aragorn shut his eyes tightly shut and moaned as he was dropped, his weight catching on his wrists and lancing pain between his shoulders, tightening in a breath-stealing bind around his chest.
    A sharp blow to his midsection caused what little air left in his lungs to expel. He tried curling into himself unsuccessfully, trying to ease the pain from the blow and allow his diaphragm to breathe in.
    “Now, Amon,” Doriflen chastised the elf lightly, “that wasn’t very nice.”
    “Sorry, my lord,” the elf laughed cruelly.  “If you need any help with this whelp, please let us know.”  He motioned with his head to the entryway of the room and he and his men left.
    “Now where were we?”  Doriflen turned his attention back to the ranger, his grey eyes lighting on the man’s.  The twisted glee in their depths scared Aragorn more than anything he had endured so far.

    The human hung limply from his bonds. Red stripes decorated his back and arms, his clothing was shredded from the repeatedly searing kiss of the leather thongs. 
    Aragorn had stopped struggling long ago.  He concentrated only on breathing as the tip of the whip bit across his thigh. A small whimper escaped his lips but he did not open his eyes this time.  Consciousness was threatening to leave him.
    “Legolas.”  He whispered his friend’s name in a fevered semi-aware state. He had slipped into speaking elvish as the struggle to remain awake gripped his mind, “Legolas, where are you?”
    Doriflen slapped the handle of the whip against his leg as he walked around the ranger. “Your little friend isn’t here right now. Not just yet anyway. Are you still listening to me?” he asked, cracking the pommel of the whip hard against Aragorn’s split temple as the human allowed his head to fall forward.  The cruelty was rewarded with a soft moan but the ranger did not fight him or look up. 
    “Well I think our little session is over.” Doriflen had grown bored. He easily grew bored and his mind raced ahead to finding Legolas. He had quite a treat in store for the elf prince.  The smile that spread across his face banished all thought of the ranger that hung suspended before him.  “I need to go spend some quality time with my nephew.  I have something rather delightful in mind for him.” He refocused on Aragorn. “But don’t worry. I’ll come back and we can pick up where we left off.”  The insane elf’s laughter echoed off the rounded walls of the room, entering into Aragorn’s darkness and it seemed as though the pit beneath him swallowed him whole as he finally fell into unconsciousness.

    Legolas whirled around, his hands clenched tightly into fists since he had no other weapon... but there was no one there.  He let his breath out slowly and told himself he had to stop being so jumpy.  Thus far he had evaded the search parties looking for him, but he was no closer to finding out where his friend had been taken.  His every step was hampered and his every move anticipated before he got there like some sort of dizzy, off-kilter dance.  It was maddening.  Now he seemed to find himself alone in the strange, unknown passages, but the silence was almost more oppressive then when he had been able to hear his pursuers. 
    The prince’s keen eyes tried to pierce the darkness around him as he hesitated in an arched doorway, considering the path before him.  A series of archways dotted the hall, but there were no turn offs.  The air was getting warmer and denser, so he thought he must be descending deeper into the earth, although the floor did not slant.  Unfortunately, even Legolas could not see very far in the thick semi-gloom that seemed to cling to the passages like fog.  His own home had been turned into a weapon to ensnare him and it made the prince more than furious.
    Suddenly the chains that held up the gate set into the archway above his head gave with a clanging groan and the sharp, spiked iron rods rushed down at him.  The elf barely had time to jump forward.  The next instant he saw the gate set into the second archway, directly in front of him, crashing down as well.  Not willing to become trapped between the two like a rat in a cage for Doriflen’s amusement, Legolas sprung forward, throwing himself to the ground and rolling under the second gate before it slammed down into its groove, only seconds after he cleared it. 
    Springing to his feet easily once more, Legolas glanced back at the spear-pointed gates that could have killed him.  With a shiver he realized that Doriflen knew exactly where he was.  His uncle was playing with him.  He was forcing Legolas to go where he wanted him and there didn’t seem to be much the prince could do about it, except to not go anywhere.
    “I’m not going to play your game anymore, Doriflen, do you hear me?” Legolas shouted at the cold, empty walls, feeling sure that somehow his uncle could hear him.  “Come down here and face me or let us go!  I will play your twisted games no longer!”
    Before Legolas could draw another breath, the floor beneath his feet disappeared without warning as a trapdoor he had not realized was there fell away, sending him tumbling downwards.  The prince tried to catch himself, but the pit he found himself falling into was too large and the sides too far away for him to reach in time. 
    For a few moments the stomach-stealing jolt of dropping into nothingness took part of Legolas’ breath away as he fell straight down into empty darkness.  Seconds later he hit something slippery and slanted.  The elf banged down into it sharply, slithered a ways, rolled, and banged into it again, but it did not seem to slow his descent.  Rather, it seemed that he had fallen into a huge slide that twisted and curved downward at a sharp angle.  Legolas pressed his hands against the sides of the narrowing passage he found himself shooting down, but only managed to slow himself a little.  The friction tore at his hands and made them burn.  Above him the trapdoor slammed shut once more, locking with a bang and plunging his rapid descent into utter darkness.
    Moments later he spilled out the bottom of the drop and free fell the last part of the way, landing in a less than orderly fashion, although he got back on his feet quickly enough.  Straightening his tunic and holding his sore hands, Legolas found that he was still in the dark, in yet another area of tunnel work that was totally unfamiliar to him. 
    Legolas set his jaw.  Obviously, not moving wasn’t going to do the trick either, Doriflen seemed to know his home even better than he did and had everything planned out far too well for the prince’s liking. 
    Legolas walked cautiously through the dark, feeling the tunnel walls with his hands.  The rock was rough here, not at all like the tunnels that he was used to, or even the unfamiliar ones that he had been in earlier, and a strange smell clung close to the sides as though the very air had been burnt here at one time.  The elf's feet crunched on the gravely floor and he bent to touch it, wondering curiously what it was made of.  The ground was rough, hard and uneven as he brushed his fingers lightly across it.  His hand touched a wall immediately in front of him.  The obstruction startled him. He thought for sure he had been deposited in another one of the underground tunnels, but this passage, if passage it was, turned into a dead end.  Feeling his way along the length of the wall he followed the roughed stone in a complete circle.  He was not in a hall at all, but a large, circular chamber of some sort.  His fingers bumped the rim of a metal grate that sealed over a hole in the thick wall. The metal was hot to the touch and he jerked his hand back from it.  He was walled in and the only way out seemed to be hanging many feet above his head.  However, he doubted that even the way he came in would work as an exit, since the trapdoor was most likely not intended to open from the inside.
    A gnawing anxiety began to eat at the back of his mind; he should know this place.  Something about it struck a chord in his memory... but what?  Bending down again to the ground he kicked at an uneven spot, loosening the dirt, and grabbed the rock, bringing it close to his face to smell it.  The realization of where he was hit him full force, the fear of it dropping like lead into his stomach.  He breathed in deeply, testing the air; it was acrid, old and the stench of fire still lingered.  Frantically he searched for the chute he had dropped out of, trapdoor or no trapdoor - he was in a thermal vent. 
    The Forest River wasn’t the only thing that flowed beneath their feet here. Thranduil's palace had been built into a hill that was situated over a catacomb of thermal pools.  The pools were naturally occurring vents in the earth’s crust that allowed magma to spill to the surface in tiny, controlled amounts.  They were deep beneath the earth and had long ago been safely capped off by nature and the ingenuity of the elves.  However instead of sealing them over, the original builders had decided to utilize the natural heat that constantly rose from the pools.  They had built grates over the magma fissures that could be rolled back to allow the magma to seep into repositories located deep, deep within the bowels of the palace during the long winter months.  When the rooms were partially full, vents above the liquid earth allowed the heat to be drawn up into the castle.  At times the magma rooms were also used as waste receptacles, to burn unwanted or hard to dispose of rubbish.  Legolas was shocked to realize that that was exactly what he had fallen down, some sort of trash disposal.  Waste sent down the chutes was immediately destroyed when it touched the fiery pit.  Every so often teams were sent down to break the cooled magma up and carry it out.  The dense black material was put to many uses by the elves.  There was a crawlway that led to these vents from the main halls, near the cellar, but in all his years Legolas, partly because of his aversion to tight, dark places, had never been to the magma repositories, and he had no desire to be here now.  He needed to find the chute he had fallen from and try to get out and he needed to do so now.
    Fear shot through him as a low groaning rumble filled the room.  Warm, yellow light spilled in, followed by a wave of intense heat.  The elf turned to the far wall - the magma grate was ponderously rolling away, allowing the slow-moving, liquefied rock to enter the hollow that he was trapped in.
    Legolas pressed himself against the wall behind him and tried to calm his breathing. He needed to think clearly if he was going to get out of here alive. 
    Sweat beaded on his brow as the room instantly heated to well beyond comfortable and was edging towards intolerable. In minutes he would loose consciousness as the oxygen was heated beyond what his body could endure.  As the lava rolled slowly in, gaining speed as the grate opened more fully, Legolas was able to see his surroundings clearly, lit as they were by the fire that poured in behind him.  He turned and glanced above his head.  The edge of the chute, set into the wall, was directly above him, he could just barely grip it with his fingers if he stood on the tips of his toes.
    The fire hissed and spit behind him. He didn’t dare look back for fear of how close the lava was to his position.  Hooking his fingers on the edge of the smooth chute he pushed off the ground and vaulted up, pressing his feet against the roughened walls of the magma container.  He barely held his grip as the lava washed against the wall beneath him, throwing small particles of heated liquid rock up the side of the cavern.
    Slowly the elf walked his feet up the uneven wall, careful of every inch he moved - one misstep would be all it took and he would be unable to escape.  He could feel the sweat roll down his back between his shoulder blades, pooling at the base of his spine above his belt, stinging his injuries viciously.  He tried to blow the hair that matted against his face away from getting into his eyes.
    Within seconds he pulled his upper body into the chute and braced his feet against the sides of the sharply slanting circular tunnel, standing to a crouched position with his palms pressed flat against the interior rock.  The chute was incredibly slick and it was a struggle to remain where he was.  Climbing up would be even more difficult, besides the fact that it was an almost certain dead end. 
    Legolas eased one hand to his face and brushed the stray locks out of his eyes.  He glanced overhead and noted the vent grate in the ceiling of the chamber, directly above the pit.  The magma continued to rise. In most cases only a small amount was allowed in and then the grate was closed off. By the time the slow moving metal door had fallen back into place enough lava would have filled the pit to come just to the edge of the waste chute, any higher the magma would plug up the chute and it to would have to be cleaned out. But the grate wasn’t closing and the superheated liquid climbed ever higher.  Legolas had no doubt that his uncle intended to fill the pit and kill him here.
    He had one chance to survive and only one shot at it.  Crouching down on the edge of the chute he centered his thoughts on his objective and balanced himself, trying to block out the sounds of the rising lava.
    Legolas pushed off from the waste chute and jumped for the vent grating.  His fingers locked around the metal, hooking through the holes in the screen that covered the vent.  The metal was hot to the touch and burned the soft skin on his hands. He hissed in pain as he forced his fingers to tighten on the grate.  With his right hand he leaned out to the side of the metal plate and quickly unlatched the catch, his fingers clumsily pulling the pin from the bolted locking mechanism.  The door of the vent fell open inward, dropping Legolas dangerously close to the lava that was quickly approaching.  His shoulder wrenched as he caught his weight on the fingers of his left hand that still held tightly onto the grating and he cried out with the pain.
    Glancing down at his feet he could see the magma mere inches below his boots.  Using what strength he had left, the elf prince climbed hand over hand up the scorching metal grate and pressed himself inside the tight thermal vent.  It was hard to breathe in the small vertical shaft and the thermal winds that blew past him made him sweat, causing his singed palms to be slippery as he pressed them hard against the sides of the tight chute and climbed slowly up.  His back ached where it had been bruised and burned as he pressed against the rough stone chimney.
    For a few moments he had to battle back a swirl of suffocating panic as he remembered why he hated tiny enclosed places.  The feeling of being trapped was overwhelming.  But he knew that somewhere above, the vent had to open out into the palace... or at least so he hoped, and he clung to that.
    The magma hissed and spit below him barely, touching the opening of the thermal vent. The magma gate must have finally been closed for it rose no more, as though unwilling to chase him into the tiny crawl space.
    Light from the fiery rocks below him lit the shaft as he pushed slowly upward and he could see a vent that intersected his shaft, heading off to the left. It was only a few feet above his head; he could make it, he had to.  He pushed himself harder.  The promise of freedom from the thermal vent made him move too quickly and he lost his balance, sliding backwards down the hole before bracing himself once more and stopping his descent. It would be a long time before the magma at the base of the chute became cold enough to be stepped on. The hardening black surface he could see below him now was merely a deception, being less than an inch thick.  However, as it cooled the light in the shaft dimmed and Legolas began to panic anew.  If there was anything worse than being stuck in this miserable, suffocating little place, it was being stuck there in the dark. 
    He rested his head against the wall in front of him and breathed slowly, only allowing the hot air in as he needed to.  The burning oxygen scorched his lungs and the gases put off by the cooling magma choked him.  He had nearly reached the end of his strength and he still had not made it to the intersecting vent overhead.  Forcing himself to concentrate, the prince inched slowly upwards, keeping his hands and feet tightly braced and in contact with the rock face at all times.  Aragorn and his father were depending on him; he needed to get safely out or they were all dead.
    It seemed as if he had been climbing forever when the fingers of his left hand brushed the metal grate of the adjoining passage.  Undoing the latch somewhat shakily, he steadied himself for a second then pushed off of the wall behind him, his upper body forcing the grating open and falling into the smooth tunnel in front of him.  Legolas pulled his legs into the shaft as he crawled forward and laid down on the stone.  It was cooler in here and he let himself relax.  His hands ached and throbbed with the burns they had sustained and his whole body was screaming at him from the slow crawl up the thermal vent.  He licked his dry lips and wished he had brought a flask with him, although he was sure the waterskin would have never made it this far.
    Pulling himself deeper into the small shaft he was relieved when it widened out and dead-ended into one of the strange, secret tunnels that burrowed into the hill below the palace.  After pushing the gate open, he tumbled out onto the smooth rock floor and leaned back against the cool wall, breathing in deeply.  The air here was fresh and cooler than the air in the vents had been.  Closing his eyes he allowed his body to simply relax.  He doubted anyone would think him still alive at this point.
    As he sat there he began to listen to the sounds around him, trying to see if he could tell where he was.  A soft moan caught his attention and he quieted his breathing, listening carefully.  The sounds of a conversation could just barely be heard, although he couldn’t make out the words.  Standing shakily to his feet he walked quietly down the hall to the source of the sound. 
    The sharp crack of a whip caused him to jump and he recognized the strangled cry of pain that the instrument elicited.  He had found Aragorn.
    Doriflen's voice floated to him through the hall and he crept closer, rounding a bend in the tunnel and approaching a room with no door.
    “I’m back.  Did you miss me?”  The elf laughed at himself.  “It’s good to see you awake again, ready to resume our talk?  Oh and your little friend, the prince, won’t be here to help you this time, although he gave it a good try.”  His sentence was punctuated by another whip crack and another small whimper. “He's up to his pretty little head in hot water.” Doriflen laughed at his own joke, “Or should I say hot lava?”
    Aragorn glared at the insane elf.  There was no use talking back, he had learned that lesson well enough.  The thought of Legolas dying at the hands of the traitor that stood before him swept an uncontrollable rage through the human and he closed his eyes tightly against the thought, willing himself to hear no more.  It couldn’t be true.  It couldn’t... yet his hurting body had a hard time holding on to that hope.
    “Oh it’s true all right,” Doriflen said as if able to read his prisoner’s thoughts.  “Maybe when and if there’s enough of him to chip out, I’ll let you see the proof... but then again, I don’t think you’re going to live that long.”
    The young ranger closed his eyes, too weary and hurting to battle against the hopelessness of the insane elf’s words. 
    Doriflen watched his prisoner carefully.  The man hung, suspended by his wrists over a deep pit that had been filled with spears standing on end, and rooted into the very rock below with their sharp tips waiting to end the ranger’s life.  The elf had found this pit many years ago. It had once been used as a storeroom but he had secretly improved upon it, using it for far more evil purposes, unbeknownst to his father or his family.  The pit itself was only four feet across, allowing easy access to anything that was suspended over it.  Doriflen could walk right up to his prisoner and touch him; he had designed it that way, however, the edges of it were ringed with razor sharp blades that had been embedded in the rock walls, ensuring that anyone who fell through the small hole would not be able to stop his descent.  He had hoped it was still here when he returned and had wanted to try it out on the man.  It was fun toying with the human, even without his nephew here to watch. He wasn’t nearly as resilient as an elf and it was easier to torment him with words than it had been with his own brother, or Legolas.  He flicked the whip in his hands casually and it wrapped around the man’s legs before he pulled it back, ripping through the human’s leggings and leaving a red, burning welt in its place.  The ranger jerked and hissed with the pain.
    “Pay attention now.”  The elf smiled wickedly as the ranger opened his eyes, straining to breathe. “This is important.” The former royal outcast walked slowly around the man, striking him again with the whip to emphasize his words.
    Pure rage swept through Legolas as he peered into the room.  Aragorn trembled slightly, his body obviously sliding into shock from the abuse he had suffered.  His wrists were bloodied from where the ropes bound his hands, holding him in place above the open pit.  It was apparent to the elf that the man had taken a beating before being strung up.  His lip was split and blood crusted the side of his face.  Red welts striped his back, arms and legs where the whip had bit into him.
    Aragorn let his head fall forward, he had had enough.  Let Doriflen kill him; he would play along no more.  If Legolas was dead and Thranduil beyond reach as his captor claimed then it was no use fighting. Even if he escaped he wouldn’t make it out of this palace, or Mirkwood, alive.  The whip bit into his back, twisting him around slightly.  But he made no sound this time.
    Doriflen was once more growing tired of his play toy.  It was time to move onto something else, something more fun.  A wicked smile played across his thin lips.  He reached out and caught the ranger’s arm pulling the man close to him. Aragorn cried out as his wrists were twisted hard in their bonds.
    “I grow bored with you. Which is too bad for you.” Doriflen pressed the whip handle against Aragorn's cheek.  He rubbed the hard leather into the cut on the human’s temple and dragged the blood down the side of his face.  “It’s time to say goodbye, but it has been fun.  I think I’ll go pay my brother a visit.  You know, you and my nephew were never very close to finding him.  He’s down in a secret dungeon, one only he and I know of.” The insane elf gloated, enjoying his own cleverness and rejoicing in anything that caused despair in his victim.  “We found it when we were children, when we were still a family.” He bit the word out angrily, “Down behind the storehouses at the bottom of the hill just above the river and through the hidden opening.  It doesn’t matter if you know now, because you’re too late.  Legolas is already dead and you’ll never live to tell anyone of it.  So you can die, with the knowledge that you failed, utterly.” Doriflen smiled at the man.  Aragorn flinched away from the insane being, but there was nowhere he could go.  The outcast elf lord let go of the ranger, giving him a slight push so that he spun helplessly.  As he walked towards the door, Doriflen flicked out a small blade and cut part way through the rope that held Aragorn suspended.  The entwined threads began to split under the man’s weight and the ranger looked above his head in fear as the tethers that held him started to unravel.
    Doriflen looped the whip in a tight bundle and hung it on the wall next to a ring of spare keys that he kept handy in the room should something happen to the ones that were secreted away in an inner pocket of his tunic.
    He stopped and turned back towards the ranger, smiling in satisfaction as the rope steadily unwound.
    “Say hello to Legolas for me, will you?”  Doriflen called out as he exited the room.
    Legolas ran back to the bend in the tunnel and flattened out against the wall, hoping that his uncle would not pass this way, but head out in the opposite direction.  The noise of running feet sounded down the corridor and the elf prince listened intently as his uncle was stopped and redirected.
    “My lord, you are needed above.”  One of Doriflen's warriors had been sent to fetch him. 
    The elf stood just before the bend in the hall, indecision gripping him. “Is it important?” he snapped.
    “Yes, my lord.  There has been a small uprising and we were forced to put it down.”
    Doriflen stared down the darkened hallway to his right in indecision.  “Very well. I had wanted to go check on my nephew to see... to see how he was holding up.  But I am sure he's not going anywhere.”  The elf laughed cruelly and followed the warrior back the way he had come.

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