The March of Time

23: The Madness Within

A/N: So I know my chapters have been really long lately, but I just want to warn y'all that this one is ridiculously long, but for good reason. As a reminder, I won't be able to upload next weekend since I will be out of town on a retreat trip for the summer camp I work at, so consider this as like next week's chapter, too. Hopefully this can tide you over until two weeks from now!

So I hope y'all like this one, and thank you for reading!

Chapter Twenty-Three: The Madness Within

Time seemed to have ground to a halt in Mirkwood. Alison felt as if she were doomed to relive the same day over and over again, with only slight changes in conversation and even fewer differences in the landscape. She supposed the never-ceasing twilight was to blame for this feeling of endless wandering, but it was also Mirkwood itself that was making her feel as if she were slowly losing her mind.

As the Company trekked farther and farther down the Elven Path, the trees became more invasive, more ominous, their roots twisting onto the path like clawing, gnarled fingers, and the undergrowth was becoming more wild and untamable, taking on a sickly gray hue. Creatures were becoming more prevalent, too; though Alison had yet to see one out in the open, everywhere she looked she caught glimpses of curious, gleaming eyes and flashes of dark fur that blended into the landscape perfectly as they slunk through the trees. The creatures of Mirkwood knew the Company was there now, and Alison's uneasiness heightened with every pair of eyes she saw, knowing that they were trespassers in this dark and horrid forest that was home to these animals.

The air was becoming worse, as well. It was still thick, still perfumed with the awful smell of rot and decay and mold, but it seemed like it was becoming muggier and hotter as Alison went on, until the point where her jacket was too much for her to wear and she stripped it off, rolling up the frayed sleeves of her black undershirt and wishing the Dwarves weren't men so she could just take it off completely, something Kili was quick to suggest with his cheeky grin before having to duck as she swatted a hand towards his head.

But there was nothing more disconcerting than the spider webs. Every once in a while the white, pristine webs would pop up out of the gloom; small, but thick, and Alison noticed that they were beginning to appear more often the deeper into the forest they went, though she saw no signs of any spiders. She had a pestering feeling that there was something to do with giant spiders in this story, but once again, her oh-so-wonderful foresight was failing to provide her with any answers, and also, she just really hoped that it wasn't true, and that she was just thinking of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. If they ran into an Aragog in these woods, she'd probably curl into a fetal position and scream for her mom to come kill it, and that most likely wouldn't keep her alive. So she just stuck with her main method on the journey so far, which was to hope and pray that they wouldn't have to face anything like that. But knowing their luck, hoping probably wasn't going to help their case at all.

The Company pressed on, with limited conversation and muffled complaints about the muggy air and the mosquitoes that had decided to come out of nowhere and swarm upon them, no doubt drawn to them by the lingering smell of the stream. Alison and Bombur were the main targets, since they had actually been dumped into the stream, and as Alison slapped her sweaty neck to kill one, feeling the hot stickiness of her skin under her hand, she wished, not for the first time, that she hadn't been the one to fall in the stream.

Besides making her look stupid yet again in front of the Company, the stream had also made her feel…almost scared. When she had fallen in, the water had been shockingly cold compared to the humidity of the air, and it had been a swift kick in the ribs when her face had plunged under the surface and some of the water shot up her nose. The water had also been much deeper than she expected, and with her limbs like deadweight from shock, she had been sinking quite rapidly, until she could see through the eerie murk of the water Bombur losing consciousness, and she had pulled herself together and dragged them both back to the surface (a feat her arms were not keen to forget; they were still sore from trying to keep the fat Dwarf afloat). And once she had gotten to shore, she had begun to feel light-headed; though she wasn't that concerned, considering Bombur was the one who had actually passed out, and the feeling faded after a while.

But with the more time that passed, the more she began to worry. Beorn had warned there would be consequences should they encounter the enchanted waters of Mirkwood, and she figured taking a dip in it was probably not the healthiest of all choices. And while there had been no reason so far to suggest that there was something wrong with her, she was beginning to feel this sense of…wrongness within her.

It had started the night after her fall into the stream. More often than she'd like to admit, Alison dreamed of her family; mostly they were just little dreams, memories of her last days spent with them and other trivial things before her unexpected upheaval out of the mortal world, but they still made her feel more calm, and somehow more brave whenever she dreamed of them. But lately, since they had entered Mirkwood, and especially since her jaunty little swim, her dreams were beginning to feel almost alien in a way. There was a sense of perverseness that lingered on the edges of her peripheral, a feeling that something was creeping around her subconscious, pulling at the dreams with sharp fingers that always faded away when she got too near them. She couldn't put her thumb on it, but her dreams were just starting to feel so…twisted, except there were no visible changes within them.

It had been going on for several nights now (or, more accurately, the "times that they've pretended it was night"), and Alison was becoming increasingly concerned that something was happening to her, though she couldn't explain what. She hoped she was just being paranoid, and that the feeling would go away soon, and she kept it to herself, not wanting to bother the Company with it and look even more foolish if her suspicions were wrong, so she just kept her mouth shut and continued on after the others.

After another set of utterly boring, tense hours of hiking along the path, Thorin called for them to stop. They set up camp near a cluster of stunted trees that grew close to the path, and Alison rolled out her bedroll and blanket, ignoring the smell of mildew on the material from when it had fallen into the stream with her, and seriously wondering why Gandalf hadn't let her keep the shorts she had been wearing when she had first fallen into Middle-earth, for they would've been highly useful then.

After a hurried meal of bread and fire-roasted vegetables, Thorin put Fili, Bofur, and Dori on watch while the rest of them crawled onto their bedrolls and attempted to fall asleep with the many watchful eyes upon their backs, the forest seeming to creep closer upon them as they lay there.

Alison was thoroughly miserable by this point, nearly drenched in sweat, and, after checking to make sure all of the Dwarves were facing away from her, she hiked up her shirt to just below her bra and exposed her uncovered stomach to the air, though it did practically nothing since she was still so hot.

For the next several hours, she tossed and turned on her bedroll, attempting to find any position that would relieve her of her heated discomfort, and after a while she must have, for the next thing she knew she was dreaming.

It started out like any of her other dreams. She was walking in the direction of the park in her hometown, the one with the pecan trees and the pathways outside of her house, and she saw her little brother and sister swinging on the swing sets in the bright afternoon sunlight, Jace's mouth split in a gap-toothed grin and Katie's blonde hair, which she inherited solely from their father, flying behind her as she swung and shrieked in delight. Alison's mother, Emily, stood behind the twins, laughing as she pushed them higher in their swings, her long brown hair pulled back in a messy bun, enjoying the company of her children on one of her rare days off.

Alison was walking towards them; she didn't know where she had been before she was walking, but the dream always began this way, so she had stopped questioning it as her own smile tugged at her lips, seeing her family so happy and peaceful. That same lingering feeling of intrusion poked at her mind, though, and she tried to pinpoint it before it slithered away, and she felt a rush of frustration go through her as it disappeared. And then, the dream began to change.

Instead of walking on thick green grass, her shoes now ground on rough, hard stone, and the trees around her began to wither and vanish, to be replaced by boulders and rocks and a desolate mountain, looming up before her. Alison felt a surge of foreboding as the sweet summer air was swept away, and now the smells of smoke, steel, and the horrifying stench of blood clogged her nostrils, and her family faded away out of her vision, their laughter warping into cries and howls and screams that chilled her blood as a new scene unfolded before her.

It was clearly a battle; heaving masses of bodies, armored and not, bloodied and battered and wounded, so many bodies teeming around her, swinging weapons and launching arrows after arrows. Metal screeched on metal, bowstrings twanged with deadly reverberations, and the most awful, the most gut-wrenching cries berated her eardrums, setting her teeth on edge as the battle raged around her. No shapes were distinguishable; it was impossible to tell who was fighting who, but Alison had a sickening suspicion as to what she was witnessing: the Battle of the Five Armies. Her blood moved sluggishly through her veins, and she was transfixed to one spot, her body unable—or unwilling—to move, though she knew that she shouldn't just be standing there, that she should be doing something. But there was nothing she could do, she realized with awful clarity. It was just a dream.

The moving shadows of fighting bodies shifted in front of her, and Alison saw with sudden brilliance the weaving and dodging persons of Fili and Kili, and her heart stopped beating almost entirely, picking back up with a crashing pace that threatened to crack her ribs as she watched, breathless, the two Dwarves fighting side by side in perfect hacking and cutting synchronization, their swords whirling in silver arcs of light.

And then the arrows came.

Alison stood, petrified, as the first one pierced Fili's thigh, and the blonde Dwarf prince let out a bellow like an angry bull. He staggered, but kept swinging his swords, and Alison could only gasp as another arrow sank into his shoulder. Fili stopped moving, stumbling back, and Alison saw Kili turning around with wide eyes just as a sword impaled the younger brother's stomach.

Alison, who had been speechless with terror before, now found herself screaming, screaming on a battlefield where she couldn't be heard, where nobody would spare even a glance at the screaming girl who could only stare, still rooted to the spot, as Kili sank to the ground, just as another arrow flew, straight and true, into Fili's heart.

Alison couldn't even hear herself screaming anymore as Fili tumbled to the ground like a marionette whose strings were cut, and with a silent gasp of unspeakable horror, she was wrenched out of her sleep, the broken forms of Fili's and Kili's bodies imprinted behind her eyelids as they snapped open, and instead of a terrible battlefield, Alison was now staring up at a dark canopy of trees, her heart racing and a new layer of cold sweat broken out on her skin.

Her chest constricted with fear, Alison scrambled into an upright position, some of the terror seizing her limbs relaxing as her eyes landed on the sleeping form of Kili, and then Fili, propped against a tree and tracing the tip of one of his daggers in the dirt, both princes looking fine and far from being dead, though that did little to ease her fear from the dream.

"Alison?" a voice whispered, and Alison looked to see Bofur, sitting on watch, gazing at her with concern. "You all right, lass?"

At the Dwarf's words, Dori and Fili both swiveled their heads in her direction, and she became distinctly aware that her shirt was still revealing a lot of her torso, and she quickly tugged it down, realizing then how violently her hands were shaking.

She met Bofur's questioning gaze, and she nodded her head at him as her mouth squeaked out a tight, "No."

Her eyes sought Fili's through the gloom, and his silver-blue depths were alight with concern and puzzlement as he looked at her. "What's wrong, Alison?" he asked quietly, and this time she shook her head, her mouth snapping shut. The blonde Dwarf sighed, and then he beckoned her over, motioning for her to bring her bedroll with her.

At Fili's request, she got shakily to her feet and dragged her bedroll over to where the Dwarf was sitting against the tree, putting it down beside him and settling next to him, curling her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them as she still shivered uncontrollably. As she sat next to him, she saw Bofur and Dori turn their backs to them on the other side of the camping spot, Bofur being unable to conceal his knowing grin and Dori looking somewhat scandalized, though fortunately he didn't say anything.

It was silent for a long time, in which Alison's heart still pounded and her hands still shook, but she couldn't find her voice to speak. Finally, Fili broke the silence.

"Was it a nightmare?" he asked softly, and Alison jerked her head once in a nod, feeling the Dwarf's eyes on her, but she couldn't bring herself to meet them, afraid she would see them glassy and pain-filled like in her dream. "Do you want to talk about it?"

She shook her head, not sure if she would ever be able to speak about it. It had seemed so real, the smells, the sights, the noises—everything, and she felt that if she talked about it aloud, it would come true in some weird, twisted way, and then what would she do?

Fortunately, Fili seemed to pick up on her reluctance, and he didn't press her, instead rubbing a large, sturdy hand comfortingly on her back, not even minding that it was sticky with sweat. Almost immediately, though, he took his hand away, exclaiming, "Durin's beard, Alison, you're blazing. Are you running a fever?"

She turned to look at him in confusion, her eyebrows furrowed, as he looked even more concerned than he had before. "No," she replied. "It's just hot in this forest."

"I'm wearing a fur coat, and I'm not sweating nearly as much as you are," he pointed out, and she shrugged, not really caring in the light of her nightmare about his and Kili's deaths in the Battle, but he didn't let it go, putting a hand to her forehead.

Alison tried to pull away, just wanting to sit in silence and brood, not be fawned over like some little girl, but Fili gave her a withering look and she stopped squirming, allowing him to feel her skin.

"This is definitely a fever," he remarked, as the skin that wasn't covered by his gloves met her forehead, and they were surprisingly cool on her face, making her want to close her eyes and sigh in bliss, but he removed his hand all too soon, much to her disappointment.

"I'm fine, it's nothing," she said, meeting his worried gaze and the anxious quirk of his mouth. "Seriously, I'm just hot."

"Alison," he said, in a patronizing sort of voice, and her frayed nerves suddenly burst into anger, and she snapped.

"Will you leave me alone?" she said harshly. "It's nothing. It'll probably be gone tomorrow morning anyway, so just drop it, okay?"

"What's wrong with you?" he asked, half-shocked, half-annoyed. "I'm just making sure you're all right, Alison. That stream—"

"I know," she said, and as quick as it had come, her anger dissipated, leaving only guilt and exhaustion in its place. "I know, and I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you like that. It's just—" she sighed, closing her eyes. "This forest, it's just…getting to me. I feel like I'm going mad."

"I understand," he said, more softly, and she opened her eyes again to meet his solemn gaze, still so lovely in the dankness of Mirkwood, like starlight in a blue velvet sky. "I feel the same way, and so does everyone else, I'm betting. But we'll be out of here soon; we must believe that."

She nodded, resisting the urge to brush back one of the braids that had fallen into his face by wrapping her arms more tightly around her knees.

There were several more heartbeats of silence, and then Fili sighed. "Try to get some sleep, Alison," he said, giving her a half-smile meant to comfort. "We'll need all the rest we can get from here on out."

"You're right," she said, nodding again, and with difficulty, she unlocked her arms from around her curled legs and settled herself down on the bedroll, facing the canopy of trees above her as she tried to reign in her spinning thoughts, wondering why she had dreamed what she had dreamed. Had it been the future she was seeing, a premonition of what is to come? Or was it just the festering thing in the back of her mind, playing with her thoughts and bringing forth her deepest fears? Either way, Alison now felt queasy and squeamish, and she knew that sleep was going to be extremely hard to come by again as the nightmare kept replaying over and over in her head.

Obviously there must have been something in her expression that portrayed her unease, because Alison suddenly felt a hand slide into her own, and she looked over, startled, to Fili as his callused fingers tangled loosely with hers.

"If ever you need to talk, you know I'm always here," he said, so low only the two of them could hear it. "Unlike some of the others, I do actually listen." He flashed a quick grin at her, and a fleeting smile tugged at her own lips before it was gone, fear retaking her mind.

"I'll keep that in mind," she whispered, as his thumb rubbed in soothing circles on her hand. "Goodnight, Fili."

"'Night, Alison," he replied, and silence settled once more, until only the sleeping sounds of the Company and the distant noises of the slinking creatures could be heard.

True to Alison's prediction, sleep was impossible for her that night, her thoughts twisting and warping at speeds that made her head hurt and images of Fili's and Kili's dying bodies plaguing her every time she closed her eyes.

As Fili's thumb still circled on her hand, his big fingers entwined in her small ones, her thoughts soon came to something much greater than her fears, and almost unconsciously, she was thinking, I will save you, Fili. You and Kili and everyone else. I will save you all.

I promise.

What an awful place, Bilbo thought sluggishly to himself as he stumbled along after Bifur, his large feet crunching on dead leaves strewn across the path as he walked. What a truly awful, uncomfortable, horrendous place.

Bilbo didn't know how long they had been in Mirkwood. It could've been days, weeks, months—he did not know. It was as if Mirkwood was in this perpetual state of suspense, with no day or night, no way to tell where the sun or the sky was, and, more importantly, where they were. They kept following the path eastward, but there were so many twists and turns to it that Bilbo felt utterly lost. He assumed that was what the purpose of Mirkwood was, though: to confuse its travelers beyond reason, and ensnare them once they became too befuddled, taking them for the forest. The thought did little to ease his worries, and his mind just became foggier with the notion.

The rest of the Company felt the same way as Bilbo. It seemed Gandalf's words of the forest air reeking with illusion were proving to be true; the Company stumbled along the path, their footsteps heavy with exhaustion and shuffling, and there was little talk or laughter. Mirkwood was playing with their minds, making them groggy and disoriented, and Bilbo was beginning to feel although his sanity was slowly slipping away as they continued on down the path, the dark forest pressing ever closer like a shadowy menace.

As if to reinforce his thoughts, Bilbo heard Bofur suddenly gasp from somewhere behind him, "Air…I need air!"

Óin echoed the other Dwarf, saying, "My head—its spinning! What's happening?"

"It's the forest," Bilbo pointed out from his place in front of the Dwarves. "Gandalf said there would be illusions…"

He trailed off as he realized that no one was listening to him, and he bit back a sigh, wishing he was home in the Shire, or perhaps even in Rivendell, anywhere but in Mirkwood. He kept himself comforted by thoughts of these bright and open places as he trekked along, but after a while, the fog in his mind crept back in, and he was suddenly distracted by Fili's voice behind him.

"Óin, I need more feverfew," the Dwarf prince was saying in a low voice, and Bilbo swiveled his head around, seeing the blonde Dwarf walking next to the elder with a grave expression on his face. "Alison's fever isn't breaking," he said, in response to Bilbo's confused look, and Bilbo felt a stab of worry.

"I can't give her anymore," Óin said, sounding distracted as he held up his flattened ear trumpet, gazing round at the tree-tops. "She has enough in her system as it is. Anymore and she'll only throw it back up, and then it most definitely will not work."

"What are we supposed to do then?" Fili asked anxiously, and Bilbo could detect a faint note of irritation in his voice. "She's only getting worse, not better, and this forest isn't helping."

"We'll have to let it run its course," the healer Dwarf replied, and he put a comforting hand on Fili's shoulder as the prince scowled at the ground. "I don't like it anymore than you do, lad, but there's nothing more I can do for her at the moment."

As Óin retreated back into his state of confusion, Bilbo dropped back to Fili's shoulder, and he asked, "Is Alison really getting worse?"

Fili nodded, his eyebrows contracted low over his eyes, and Bilbo noticed then that the Dwarf was not as befuddled as the others, which made him feel slightly better. "Her fever's climbing by the day, and she's still acting…differently," he said haltingly, but Bilbo nodded, knowing what he meant.

It was common knowledge among the Company now that after falling into the stream, Alison's behavior had changed dramatically. The only thing that was a physical outcome from the water was her fever, and the occasional headache she would get, but most of the effects were mental. She was liable to snap at anyone if they bothered her now, and she was quick to anger, which was why everyone was avoiding her for the moment to escape her wrath. Bilbo was quite disconcerted by her scowling, brooding behavior; Alison was always the one to cheer everyone up with her jokes and a smile, and seeing her so…different, honestly worried him. And when she wasn't snapping at people, she was silent, shuffling along the path with her head down, looking sickly with her sweaty, sallow skin, and the dark shadows under her eyes. She never slept anymore, either; she never spoke of it, but Bilbo could guess that she was plagued by nightmares in her sleep, for whenever he lay awake on his bedroll, trying to fall asleep, he would hear her twitching and muttering beside him, to only bolt upright a few minutes later, and stay awake after that for the rest of the time.

"She will get better," Bilbo said, trying to sound optimistic. "We'll be out of the forest soon, and she'll be back to normal. We must believe that."

Fili nodded absent-mindedly, still looking troubled, but Bilbo's next words were cut off as he plowed straight into Bifur, who had stopped in front of him. Rubbing his nose from where it had hit Bifur's pack, Bilbo saw through a gap in the bodies in front of him Thorin walking to the front of the throng where Nori was leading, and a few seconds later the Dwarf king's voice floated back to him on the stuffy air.

"Nori, why have we stopped?" Thorin asked, his deep voice raspier than usual from lack of talking, and Nori raised a hand slowly, pointing out in front of him.

"The path," the other Dwarf said. "It's gone!"

And Bilbo saw, to his sinking despair, that he was right. The Elven Path they had been walking upon cut off abruptly at Nori and Thorin's feet as a large ravine stretched out like a chasm before them, and through the gloom, there was no sign of where the path began again.

"What's going on?" Bilbo heard Ori ask nervously from the back, and Bofur replied, panicked, "We've lost the path!"

There were many anxious grumblings and questions at this statement, before Thorin cut them off with a firm, "Find it. All of you, look for the path."

It took a few minutes for the order to travel through the Company, and then several more as they tried to process his words through the fog in their minds, but eventually they all spread out along the ravine, searching for the path.

After fruitless hours of searching, Bilbo's dizziness was starting to get to him, and he had to sit down, sweat dripping into his eyes as the Company went on looking around him. He vaguely heard snatches of conversation, but they were all along the same lines of "I don't remember this place; none of its familiar!" and "It's got to be here…where is the path?"

A few minutes later, there was a rustle in front of him, and Bilbo looked up to see Alison sit before him, her braided brown hair disheveled and her bruised eyes dull as she stared blankly into the distance. Even though she was a few feet away, Bilbo could still feel the heat emanating off of her, and he reached over, touching her burning shoulder carefully and feeling her blazing skin even through the layers of her shirt and jacket. She flinched imperceptibly at his touch, turning to face him with her lifeless green eyes as Bilbo felt a rush of fear at her current predicament.

"Alison," the Hobbit said quietly. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she said shortly, and Bilbo feared he was about to be on the receiving end of one of her tirades before her eyes slid past his and looked to something past his shoulder, her lips pulling into a frown.

Bilbo followed her gaze, and to his surprise, saw that he was sitting next to a thick cluster of spider webs, and he quickly moved away from them, not wanting to touch them. As he shifted his body away, he saw a tiny black spider among the webs, scuttling away, and then his vision went double for a second, showing two blurry spiders. When his eyes returned to normal, the spider was gone, and he saw Alison frowning after it, her expression strained like she was trying to remember something.

Before Bilbo could ask, though, Thorin's voice ordered them to abandon their search, and that they would just have to keep moving east without the path, much to the Hobbit's dismay. Alison moved towards the sound of Thorin's voice, heaving herself tiredly to her feet, and Bilbo followed suit.

With one last look at the thick spider webs, Bilbo followed her away from their spot on the ground, and the Company continued on, plunging into the trees in an eastward direction, and this time, there was no path. Bilbo vaguely wondered if he should ask Thorin if it was smart to leave the path, for Gandalf had explicitly warned them not to, but he was too absorbed in trying to avoid the worsening, treacherous roots and undergrowth threatening to trip him, and his dizziness was hitting him with full force.

At one point, the Hobbit looked down to his feet to see if he needed to avoid any roots or things, but he had to force himself to look away as his mind played tricks on him, making him imagine that he was walking backwards instead of forwards. After that, he did not look down at the ground again.

They wandered for what seemed like days, when it must have only been hours. Is there no end to this accursed place? Bilbo thought hopelessly. He looked ahead of him, seeing Thorin leading them on with a staunch gait through the malevolent trees, and then Bilbo looked behind him. His eyes met Dori's confused ones, but as he watched, Dori began to shift before him, until Bilbo was seeing a reflection of himself walking behind him.

With a start of fear, Bilbo jerked his head quickly, attempting to shake the cobwebs layering his brain, and suddenly Dori was back, though Bilbo still felt extremely uneasy as he realized that he could possibly be going mad.

A few minutes later, Bilbo heard Ori's voice from behind him, and he stopped, gazing curiously at the Dwarf as he stooped to pick something up off the ground. "Look," he said wondrously, holding a brown leather sort of pouch in his hand.

Dori came up beside him and took the pouch, examining it closely (or as closely as he could; he was still very disoriented from the forest). "It's a tobacco pouch," he said slowly, turning it over in his hands. "There's Dwarves in these woods."

"Dwarves from the Blue Mountains, no less," Bofur remarked, coming up beside the older Dwarf and taking the pouch from him. "This is exactly the same as mine!"

Bilbo suddenly recognized the pouch Bofur was holding in his hand, and understanding relit his brain as he looked at the Dwarf. "That's because it is yours," he said. "We're going around in circles, do you understand? We are lost!"

"We are not lost," Thorin said from behind him, and Bilbo turned to see the people who had been at the front of the throng now standing with them, as well. "We keep heading east, like we've been doing."

"But which way is the east?" Dwalin questioned gruffly. "We've lost the sun."

The Dwarves all started to argue with one another about if they were lost or not, but Dwalin's words bounced around Bilbo's skull, as if trying to relight his memories. "The sun…" the Hobbit said aloud. "We need to find…the sun." Bilbo tapped his forehead, struggling to remember, and he flashed back to when he had entered Mirkwood at the beginning; he had wanted to see the sky one last time, so he had looked… "Up," he said, and his eyes traveled to the dark foliage above him. "Up there."

A lightning bolt had shot down Bilbo's spine, and he turned to the rest of the Company excitedly. "We need to…" But he trailed off, as he realized that none of the others were listening to him, still squabbling about being lost and now pushing each other weakly.

Knowing they'd probably be there for a while, Bilbo decided to take matters into his own hands, and he began to scale a particularly large tree to his left, his deft hands finding easy holds in the trunk as he went up. As he climbed, Bilbo became distantly aware that his hands and feet were sticking to the tree trunk, and he spared only a quick glance to see that this tree was practically choked with thick, sticky white spider webs, but he kept climbing, only thinking of reaching his goal, which was to find the sun, up past the tree tops.

In the next few minutes, Bilbo had reached the tree's canopy, and he shoved aside branches and dead leaves until his head broke the foliage, and he was immediately greeted by a light so bright he had to squint his eyes shut, unaccustomed to such brilliance after the dreary dark of Mirkwood.

Bilbo inhaled deeply, his first full, fresh lungful of pure air he had breathed in days, and the effect was instantaneous. Every wisp of fog, every clinging strand of confusion that festered in his mind disappeared instantly, and he cracked his eyes open again, finally being able to appreciate the dawn he saw stretching out before him in his own right mind, the madness of Mirkwood shrugging off of his shoulders as Bilbo took in the scene beyond him.

Compared to the density of the forest, the openness of his surroundings was breathtaking, and Bilbo realized with a shock that instead of withered, black and grey leaves, beautiful, full foliage alight with autumn colors surrounded him, and as he watched, tranquil-blue butterflies fluttered past his head, taking flight into the pink and gold dawn sky above him. The sun hung like a glowing orb in the east—there, to Bilbo's left! He had found the sun! The golden rays of the early morning shone down upon him, and Bilbo saw a lake in the distance, looking like molten gold from the sun's light, with a river snaking out of Mirkwood to meet the lake a little more northwards from where he was perched.

"I can see a lake!" he called to the Dwarves below, hoping they had stopped arguing so they could hear him. "And a river! And—" he paused, seeing something else aglow with the dawn light, and he shoved a branch aside, his mouth dropping open. "The Lonely Mountain!" he exclaimed. "We're almost there!"

And indeed they were. The Lonely Mountain loomed up before Bilbo's eyes, towering into the sky with snow on its top-most peak, signifying the undeniable approach of autumn; it was still some ways off, but Bilbo was not deterred. He remembered standing on the Carrock, gazing out at the kingdom that had seemed so impossibly far, and now here he was, looking at the mountain, so much closer than the last time he had gazed upon it. The sight filled him with new hope and strength, and Bilbo was ready to push on; but why weren't the Dwarves responding to him?

"Can you hear me?" he called down, a bit louder. "Thorin, Alison? I know which way to go!"

But there was still no response.

"Hello?" Bilbo tried again, but he was suddenly distracted as a distant cracking noise, like the sound of snapping twigs, reached his ears, and Bilbo's eyes picked out the trees in the distance that were shaking precariously, making the leaves rustle violently, and Bilbo repeated, "Hello," under his breath as the creaking grew louder. And then, with a start of horror, Bilbo realized that the shaking trees were quivering even more violently, as whatever was moving amongst them was nearing to where the Company stood below him.

Feeling his heart begin to pound, Bilbo took a deep breath and plunged back under the canopy of leaves, the gloom of Mirkwood settling upon him once more as he looked around warily, though fortunately this time the air didn't seem to bother him. The cracking sound was incredibly close now, and Bilbo figured now must be the time for him to rejoin the Company, but when he started down, his foot got stuck, and he looked to see it entangled in a thick covering of spider webbing.

"Oh, come on," Bilbo said exasperatedly, and then he let out a yelp as he lost his balance and fell out of the tree, the sticky webbing still clinging to his foot as he fell. Bilbo reached out to grab anything, and his hand snagged on a branch until he was dangling by only one arm, high off the forest floor, except the branch felt slightly different…

And then, to Bilbo's horror, something rose up out of the mess of spider webs around him, until he was staring face-to-face with a monstrous spider, an arachnid so big it wouldn't have been able to fit through the doorway of his Hobbit-hole, and Bilbo felt a surge of nausea roll through his body as he realized that he wasn't clinging onto a branch; but rather, one of the spider's legs.

Bilbo gulped, and the spider hissed at him, startling him so badly his hand slipped off the leg and he began to fall again, yelling, until he landed on a huge mass of sticky webbing, larger than his own body. Bilbo saw the spider descending, and he tried to free himself, but he was stuck fast, unable to move. He was the fly in the spider's trap, and the arachnid clicked its pincers excitedly as it began to cocoon him in the webbing, until Bilbo was wrapped entirely from head to toe in the suffocating stuff, and then he found himself being carried away on the spider's back, deeper into the forest.

As he was borne away, Bilbo thought desperately of his friends, and what had happened to them, and, most importantly, how he was going to escape. He was wound so tightly in the spider's cocoon he could barely move his trapped arms, and he deliberated on reaching for the ring in his pocket, though he quickly dashed that idea; what use was turning invisible if he was trapped in a cocoon? There was only one option left, and Bilbo struggled to remove his sword from its scabbard at his waist as the spider switched from carrying him on its back to depositing him to the forest floor and dragging him along there instead.

After several agonizing minutes, Bilbo succeeded in removing his sword from his waist, and he now held it in his hands, sweat dripping down his face, partly from fear and panic, and partly from how hot it was wrapped inside the stifling cocoon. A few minutes later, Bilbo was no longer being dragged along the ground, and he listened carefully as the spider hissed and gnashed its pincers together somewhere above him. Bilbo saw a dark shape move beyond his cocoon, and with a deep breath to steady himself, he gripped his sword and stabbed upwards, through the webbing until he could feel his blade sink into the soft underbelly of the spider. The spider spat and rasped in pain, and Bilbo removed his blade as the shadow on top of him toppled sideways and lie still, dead.

Using his sword, Bilbo cut open the webbing and sat up, clawing at the sticky strands and heaving in deep breaths as he listened for any more sounds of spiders. Luckily, there weren't any, and he got to his feet, kicking off the last of the webbing and looking around him, taking stock of his surroundings.

The spider he had killed was curled up on its back near him, looking much smaller in death than in life, and Bilbo couldn't see any signs of his friends around, though with the excessive amount of spider webs around him, he guessed that he was in their lair, and that there was more of them besides the one he had killed. Steeling his nerves, Bilbo crept deeper into the nest, knowing that he had to save the Company; they were so close to their destination, and he was not going to let them or himself die before they reached their journey's end; they all deserved more than this.

Feeling extremely exposed, Bilbo slipped his free hand into his pocket and brought out the ring, carefully putting it on to his finger. There were no discernible changes in his surroundings as he continued on, but he knew that to the outside world, he was completely invisible; nothing would see him, which was exactly what he wanted.

Bilbo scaled a tree, wanting height on his side as he scouted out the situation, and as he drew nearer to the heart of the nest, he could begin to hear a faint rasping sound, coming and going like wind howling through bare winter branches on a harsh night. As Bilbo moved from tree to tree, the noise became clearer, until he realized that what he was hearing was a chant of some sort. He finally came to the place where the other spiders were, and he felt his heart go to his throat at what he saw before him.

There were at least a dozen of the monstrous creatures, crawling around on their webs with barbed legs and swollen abdomens, their pincers gnashing eagerly as they circled many cocoons suspended in the webs, and Bilbo knew with a horrible sinking feeling that the rest of the Company was trapped much as he had been earlier, still struggling and kicking out at the circling spiders. The chant grew louder, and Bilbo realized that it was coming from the spiders, a horrible symphony of scratchy voices hissing "Feast! Feast!"

Knowing he had to do something before his friends became these spiders' next meal, Bilbo wiggled loose a thick branch from the tree he was perched in and threw it with all his might, making sure it made a bunch of noise off in the distance to distract the spiders. His plan worked, and the spiders looked towards the sound, hissing, "What is it? What is it?" And in a flurry of movement, the spiders scuttled away towards the sound, until only one remained behind.

It circled a cocoon larger than the rest, and Bilbo figured Bombur must be the one in there as the spider rubbed its legs on the squirming webbing surrounding the struggling Dwarf, almost cooing as it said, "Fat and juicy…just a little taste."

Bilbo walked along the interlocking tree branches until he was right up behind the spider, and without a hesitation, he swung his sword, the blade raking down the spider's abdomen just as its pincers went for Bombur.

The spider shrieked, swinging around, but it stopped abruptly as it realized nothing was there, as Bilbo was still invisible. "Curse it! Where is it? Where is it?"

Emboldened by his successes so far, Bilbo removed the ring from his finger, revealing himself to the spider. "Here," he said, and with an almighty lunge, he drove the sword into the spider's face, causing it to wail in pain.

"It stings! It stings!" the spider shrieked, and Bilbo removed his blade as the spider convulsed and curled in on itself, falling to the ground below with a muffled thud.

Bilbo looked at his sword, now stained with murky spider blood, appraising it as an idea formed in his head. "Sting," he mused, turning the Elven blade over in his hand. "That's a good name. Sting."

Knowing he had only a short amount of time until the other spiders returned, Bilbo hurried over to the squirming cocoons and used his newly christened Sting to cut the Company loose, depositing them safely to the ground below as they struggled out of the webs, ripping it off of their faces and various body parts with grumbles of disgust and anger. When Bilbo had cut down everyone in the Company, he leaned over the branch he was perched on as Bofur asked worriedly, "Where's Bilbo?"

"I'm up here!" he called, and then he shouted as something huge and black lunged for him, mouth frothing, and he flew back, the ring, still in his palm, knocking loose from his hand, and Bilbo gasped as the ring fell down to the ground below. Bilbo quickly jabbed his sword into the spider as it lunged, and its new deadweight momentum sent both of them toppling out of the tree. Bilbo landed on the ground, hard, but the spider had taken must of the brunt of the fall, curling into a broken pile as Bilbo searched desperately for the ring, wondering where it had gone.

He distantly heard the sounds of the Company fighting the other spiders in the distance, but all Bilbo could focus on was the ring, and where it could have possibly gone. "Where is it?" he muttered frantically to himself. "Come on, where is it?"

And then he saw it; a flash of gold in his peripheral, and he spun around, making for the ring, until there was another movement from beyond it, and some putrid, fleshy white creature crawled out of a hole in the ground, and Bilbo guessed it had to be a spider larvae or something. As he watched, the larva crept out of its hole, no doubt drawn to the sounds of the distant battle, and one of its legs unknowingly stepped on the ring. And then, as Bilbo saw the leg touch the ring, something inside of him snapped and boiled over, and Bilbo felt anger such as he had never felt before rush through him at the sight of the spider so near his ring.

With a fearsome cry, Bilbo ran forward and wrestled the spider away from the ring, his rage tinting his vision red, and he found himself yelling, "No! No! No!" as he slashed his sword at the hissing spider. Finally, with an enormous effort, Bilbo took his sword and drove the point up underneath the spider's abdomen. With a horrible screeching, hissing sound, the spider larva shuddered, and then collapsed, dead on the ground, as Bilbo yanked the blade out of the creature.

A ringing silence met his ears, and Bilbo glimpsed the ring out of the corner of his eye, gleaming innocently only a few feet away from him as he breathed heavily, his heart pounding wildly from his sudden fit of rage. Bilbo grabbed up the ring hastily, enjoying the familiar smoothness and coolness of it in his fingers as he held it up to the dead spider, saying, "Mine."

Suddenly exhausted, Bilbo rocked back on his heels and sat down heavily on the ground, using his sleeve to mop up some of the sweat on his forehead. Grinning slightly, Bilbo gazed at the ring, turning it over and over in his fingers, but then, almost as if on an unbidden thought, he looked over at the dead spider, and it suddenly washed over him what he had done.

He had killed that spider for the sake of a ring. He had murdered for one small trinket, he had feared the safety of the ring as if it were a living thing. Bilbo's satisfaction disappeared, and he stared at the ring in growing horror, wondering when it had become so valuable to him, when it had gotten that much of a hold over him. He pressed a hand to his mouth, suddenly choked with distress, as a seed begun to grow in the back of his mind, a shadow of a thought…

Suddenly, Bilbo's revelations were shattered as a piercing scream that sounded a lot like Alison rent the air, and Bilbo scrambled to his feet, ignoring the lurching feeling in his gut as he slid back on the ring and rushed towards the sound, realizing that the fight was not over yet. Bilbo stopped abruptly in his tracks, though, as he saw something moving in the trees above him, and he raised Sting, thinking it was another spider.

But no, this thing was moving much too quickly, with a lithe grace that could not be matched by any of the creatures, and it was distinctly humanoid as it leaped through the trees in a blur of dark clothing and white hair. Feeling foreboding flood his veins, Bilbo rushed towards the sounds of fighting still going on, leaving the dead spider behind him as a secret he would never share.

Alison was reaching her breaking point. After everything she had faced so far on this quest, and everything she was going to face, combined with her mental instability after her fall in the stream, she felt as if she were hanging by a thread, about to plunge into the pit of insanity below her. And then, to add to her feelings of hopeless despair and all-consuming fear, they just had to be kidnapped by giant spiders and almost eaten. Of course.

It wasn't a very exciting prospect to begin with, but since Alison's number one fear was spiders, after an unfortunate incident when she was five, she had never been more terrified in her life than she had been when the giant arachnids had descended from the trees and quickly wrapped her and the Dwarves in cocoons and hauled them off to be their next meal. All she could do when she hung from the spiders' nest was pray that her death would be quick and painless as she nearly burned to death, trapped in the cocoon with her raging fever that refused to break and nothing else but her churning thoughts. But then Bilbo had rescued them, and she could've kissed the Hobbit out of gratitude, but unfortunately, that was when the spiders had showed back up.

Through the stubborn haze still clouding her mind, Alison had reached back for her swords, though her hands were shaking too badly for her to get a good grip on them, whether from fear of the spiders or the after-effects of the stream's poison, she couldn't tell. All she knew was that when the spiders had come rushing for them, she could only stand there and stare as the hulking black masses lunged, and the Company exploded into action, whirling and hacking and beating the spiders as they swarmed.

Alison felt her pulse pounding, heard the blood roaring in her ears, itching for a fight, but it was like someone had drawn a cover over her brain, rendering it useless as she stood, paralyzed and unsure of what to do. And then, through the fog in her mind, she heard it.

"Ali! Help me!" the voice screamed, and Alison blinked, confused.

"Jace?" she said blankly; but it wasn't possible. Her little brother couldn't be here. He was safe back in the mortal world, unaware that she was even gone, with her mother and Katie. They couldn't be here.

And then, almost as if her thoughts had summoned her, Alison heard Katie's voice, shrill with fear, crying out for her. "Ali, please help! Please—" And then there was a long, drawn-out scream that chilled Alison to her core, and she staggered forward towards the sounds of her younger brother and sister screaming for her to help them.

She knew that it couldn't be real, that it was just the poison enchantment messing with her mind, but they sounded so real, so terrified and desperate for their older sister to save them, that she took another step forward, her knees wobbling.

There was another long scream, this time from Jace, and Alison began to sprint deeper into the forest, not being able to see them yet, but she suddenly knew they were there; their voices were so close, so familiar, and she had to save them. They needed her, they were calling for her. She had to save them; she had to, she had to…

More screams pierced the air, screams filled with terror and agonizing pain, and Alison was sprinting full speed now, blindly charging through spider webs and trees as tears began to stream down her cheeks, and she cried, "Katie, Jace, hold on! Hold on, please, I'm coming—"

A hand suddenly clamped down on Alison's arm, and she screamed, whirling around into the face of Kili. "Alison, what are you doing?" he said, his voice panicked and frightened. "Where are you going?"

"Let me go!" she screamed, trying to free her arm from his grasp. "Kili, please, Katie and Jace, they're in trouble, they need my help—"

"Your siblings?" Kili asked, his dark eyes wide. "Alison, they're not here! They're in the mortal world, away from all of this, they're not here—"

"They are!" she said, shoving him, hard. "They're here, and I have to save them!"

"Alison, listen to yourself!" he said, gripping her arms painfully, and she was shocked to see that through her tears, his face was white and he looked frightened—of her. "It's the stream's magic, Alison, it's causing you to hear these things; they're not actually here. That enchantment is doing something to your mind, and you have to fight it, Alison, do you hear me? Fight it!"

She blinked, jerking as if she'd suddenly been slapped at his words. "It's not…real?" she asked, and he shook his head solemnly. But how…it had sounded so real; their screams, their words…how?

"It's not real," she repeated more certainly, and Kili seemed to relax a little, barking out a hoarse laugh of relief as he crushed her into his chest in a tight hug, and then quickly let go.

"No, it's not," he said, and then he grabbed her hand, pulling her along back the way she had come, though she was still slightly dazed from her hallucinations. "C'mon, we have to get back to the others—"

His last words were drowned out as a grotesque, hairy spider dropped down in front of them, hissing and frothing at the mouth, and Alison screamed, her limbs locking with terror at the sight of the giant arachnid.

Kili pushed her behind him as he drew his sword, and Alison vaguely remembered his bow being split in half when the spiders had initially attacked them and taken them to their nest. As Kili began to take on the spider, Alison, her mind still foggy, but a bit more lucid after Kili's intervention, reached back for her swords, but she had barely grasped the hilts when a sudden weight plowed into her side, sending her sprawling on the ground.

Her anger firing up, she rolled over with a snarl of defiance, but immediately stopped as Bilbo's voice hissed, "It's me, it's me!" She looked around, not seeing the Hobbit, but then everything pieced together as he said hurriedly, "Look, don't ask how right now, but I'm invisible, and I want you to give me your swords."

It took Alison a moment to process what the Hobbit was saying, but when she did, she shot a disbelieving look towards the direction his voice was coming from. "Are you insane?" she snapped. "I'm not giving you my swords!"

"Alison, trust me on this!" he implored, and Alison could imagine him wringing his hands anxiously like he did whenever he was nervous. "There is somebody coming; I don't know who, but they're armed and they look like an Elf, and, no offense, but your swords are kind of a dead giveaway of your identity, so—"

"You want to keep it a secret," she finished. She didn't like it, but she knew Bilbo had a good point. "All right, fine, here," she said, un-strapping them quickly from under her armor-bodice and holding them out to empty air. A few seconds later, she felt pressure near to where she was still on the ground, and then her swords were lifted out of her hands and they promptly vanished. Her eyes went wide with wonder, now knowing what it was like to see the ring at work in person as she stared at the spot where her swords had vanished, her mouth slightly agape.

She couldn't marvel for long, though, for there was suddenly a shout from Kili behind her, and she spun around, seeing the spider die from one last stroke of his sword, but almost immediately a second one dropped down, almost landing on top of the Dwarf prince and making him stagger back, losing his sword in the process as he tried to regain his balance.

"Alison, go!" Bilbo cried, and she obeyed without question, heaving herself to her feet and rushing to where Kili stood, weaponless, just as the spider reared back with a startled cry, and Alison guessed Bilbo was using the ring to his advantage as Kili stood, confused by the spider's reaction until Alison grabbed his hand and yanked him after her as they sprinted to where the rest of the Company were.

The sounds of battle had died down as they raced along, but Alison heard a lot of twanging noises, as if many people were drawing bows at once, and she remembered Bilbo's words of how there was someone coming. With a sinking feeling in her chest, Alison guessed the Wood-Elves of Mirkwood had finally found them, and as her and Kili burst into the clearing the Company was in, she found that her assumption was correct as dozens of loaded bows swiveled to face them, arrow tips gleaming wickedly as tall, lithe Elves clad in armor stared them down with cold, hostile eyes, and the two skidded to a stop, breathing heavily.

Alison's attention was captured by an Elf near the front of the surrounded Company, who appeared to be the leader, since his dark, scaled armor seemed more elaborate than the others, and the way he held himself, poised and confidently, portrayed a visage of someone who knew what he was doing as he aimed the bow at her. Alison found herself dimly thinking of how Lindir had nothing on this guy, with his white-blonde hair, electric blue eyes and beautiful yet tough features, but her wonderings were cut short as Fili cried out, "Kili!"

In the next second, Alison was being shoved forward by Kili, and she landed face-first on the ground as there was a thud and a cry from behind her, and she rolled to see that a spider had leaped down from the trees above them and was now dragging Kili along the forest floor with his leg in its pincers as he struggled fruitlessly.

Alison tried to struggle to her feet, but a wave of nausea and dizziness washed over her, pressing her more into the ground and making her vision blurry as she watched, helpless and useless, as Kili was dragged away by the spider.

And then, in a blur of flaming red and forest green, a figure leaped gracefully out of the trees before her as more spiders swarmed into the clearing, only about four, and Alison could only stare in awe and wonder as she glimpsed another Elf, this one female, take down a spider with her blade in one efficient move before she was whirling away, her long hair flying behind her as her bow appeared in her hands and she shot an arrow with deadly precision, taking out the spider that had grabbed Kili, and the Dwarf turned around, eyes wide, as the she-Elf quickly disposed of the other spiders.

Alison saw another one lurching out of the trees, towards Kili, as the dark-haired Dwarf scrambled to his feet. "Throw me a dagger!" he yelled to the she-Elf as the spider approached, clicking its pincers menacingly. "Quick!"

"If you think I'm giving you a weapon, Dwarf, you are mistaken!" the she-Elf ground out as she cut open the spider she was grappling with, and in one fluent movement, she spun and hurled one of her blades, catching the spider in its spitting maw as it crashed to the ground, dead, at Kili's feet.

Alison and the Dwarf stared at the she-Elf with huge eyes as she stood, barely breathing heavily, her jade green eyes taking them in curiously, yet cautiously. Alison suddenly found herself being pulled up from her spot on the ground by an auburn-haired Elf, and she was dragged over to the rest of the assembled Company as another rack of nausea tore through her gut, and she had to clench her teeth to keep from groaning out loud as her face seemed to burn more intensely.

As the she-Elf marched over with Kili in front of her, cleaning off her blade, the blonde Elf, the one who was in charge, commanded, "Search them," and the she-Elf relayed his order in the Elven tongue as the Elves obeyed and began to pat them down for weapons.

The Elf who was gripping her didn't have an arduous task, considering Bilbo had taken her swords in a stroke of genius, but he quickly located the knife in her boot and removed it, his dark eyes beseeching her warily as she swayed, the spinning in her head suddenly taking a turn for the worse, and she couldn't stifle the small gasp that escaped from her lips.

Now looking slightly alarmed, the Elf turned and said something in Elvish to the blonde one, and Alison thought she heard a familiar name—Legolas—in there somewhere, and she was vaguely surprised. Even though she had never read The Lord of the Rings, it was impossible to not know who the Elf of the Fellowship was, and she could only stare as Legolas looked over, his blue eyes narrowed as he held Thorin's sword in his hands.

With a last poisonous glare at the Dwarf king, who looked as if he were trying to swallow a mouse as he glared back at the Elf, Legolas marched over, though it was still more graceful and floating than anything as he came to a stop before Alison and the Elf who was now supporting her as she trembled, her fever reaching its pitch as she locked eyes with the gorgeous Elf.

He regarded her curiously, and his eyes didn't leave her face as he questioned the Elf holding her, their conversation lilting and foreign to her ears, but she caught only one word, uttered from Legolas' mouth, that sent a spike of panic into her heart: "Maethor."

Legolas grasped her blazing chin, his fingers soft and light, scrutinizing her carefully, as he asked in the Common Tongue to his Elven companion, "What is wrong with her?"

"I do not know," the Elf supporting her said, shaking his auburn head. "It seems like the nîn ihaew, but I have never seen it so potent…"

"She is a mortal," Legolas replied, releasing her chin as a shudder racked Alison's body, and she bit her tongue to keep from whimpering as the fever licked fire at her limbs. "They are not meant to withstand such enchantment. It is a wonder how she has survived this long." He narrowed his eyes suspiciously as he faced Thorin again.

"How long has her condition been like this?" he demanded, and Thorin glowered at his accusing tone.

"A few days, at the most now," he answered gruffly. "But she has never been this worse before until now."

Legolas turned back to face her, not replying to Thorin, and his eyes did one more scan of her from head to foot, calculating. "The fever is consuming her," he said finally. "She will succumb to it within the night if she does not receive Elvish medicine."

"Then please, help her," Kili said, pushing through the throng of Dwarves until he stood before Legolas, a good foot shorter than the tall Elf. The Company looked on in shock as Kili faced the Elf, his jaw set. Legolas raised an alabaster brow as Kili went on. "Please; she is our companion, and we just wish to see her well again. Please help her."

It was silent for a moment, and Alison raked her hazy vision over the Company, seeing the shock and anger on their faces at Kili's words, but they did not argue, knowing he was right. Alison's eyes flickered over to Legolas, who looked thoughtful, before settling on the beautiful she-Elf, who was gazing at her openly with a polite puzzlement, and Alison held her gaze, strangely fascinated by the fierce Elven warrior.

"Very well," Legolas said eventually. "I cannot ignore a plea for help, and we are not so low as to turn away from those in need." Thorin's face tightened, as if he wished to disagree with the Elf, but he held his tongue as Legolas motioned for them to move out. "Enwenno hain!"

The Elf supporting her pushed her along gently in front of the rest of the trapped Company, and they marched through the forest with Legolas in front and the captivating she-Elf in the rear, Alison struggling to maintain her footing even as her body protested against any movement, her shaking becoming more violent the farther along they went.

Eventually, the spider webs began to clear away, and the sickly gray forest began to slowly transform, the dank, washed-out colors becoming brighter, more forest-esque with greens and browns, and the air wasn't as stifling, opening out into something much more cleaner, and Alison's lungs heaved in the air gratefully like a parched man in the desert who stumbled on an oasis.

Despite the drastically changing atmosphere, Alison was still feeling worse, and by the time they reached the ridge, the Elf beside her was half-dragging, half-carrying her as her trembling limbs refused to go any further.

Legolas stopped and faced the Company, and she saw beyond him an elegant cream-colored stone bridge, entwined with living green vines and supported by what looked like tree trunks. On the other side of the bridge she could see two guards in shining silver armor standing before great doors made of what appeared to be a luxurious turquoise rock, veined through with lines of shimmering white, a beautiful sight after the gloom of Mirkwood forest.

"You are about to enter into the Woodland Realm, and the Halls of King Thranduil," he said clearly, his voice carrying so the rest of the Company could hear. He gestured to the doors behind him, across the bridge. "Follow me."

But as they began to cross the bridge, Alison suddenly felt a crippling pain in her gut, and with a gasp of shock and pain, she felt her consciousness slip away from her; and then she was falling, the ground rushing up to meet her in a blur of green and brown before darkness descended, and she knew no more.

Nîn ihaew – Roughly translated, 'water sickness, water illness'

Enwenno hain – 'Take them'

As I said above, really long chapter, but I hope y'all liked it! Alison's hallucination thing was inspired by Catching Fire, by the way, in case you were wondering. And was her dream a premonition, or was it just the poison? Hmm...

So I really wanted to focus kind of on Bilbo in this chapter, because the ring does play a central part in the overall arc of things, and I just wanted to do my own take on things (curse you excessive-detail-needing brain!).

And helloo, Wood-Elves of Mirkwood. I'm kind of ridiculously attached to Legolas, because you know, Orlando Bloom, but it kind of made me upset how they portrayed him in the movie, because he wasn't all that snippy in LOTR, so I tried to give him characteristics more seen in LOTR era. And Tauriel is my woman crush for life, so I'm really excited to start writing about her, and I may or may not write some of her POV later, but we'll see. ((But for the record, I don't ship Kiliel; sorry not sorry)) And Thranduil is coming! *squeals and flails*

Anyway, thank you for reading and all of your wonderful reviews last time! They truly make my day, so please keep them coming! I would love to hear your thoughts, especially on this chapter! (Let's try and hit 100 this week?) :)

Thanks again, lovelies, and see you in two weeks! Until next chapter...

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