Western Edge of Mirkwood
The forest here is like a wall. One moment there are flat, grassy plains, and then suddenly the mighty, twisted trees of ancient Mirkwood forest lunge up from the ground to tower imposingly above you. You can feel a dank humidity rolling out from under the gnarled boughs of the woods, and it carries a rank, fell stench that makes you wrinkle your nose in disgust. An unused road leads like an arrow into the heart of the mirky darkness. Tracks run along the edge of the forest towards the north.
The sky is overcast.
The trees tower above everything here, ominously seeming to leer at anyone daring to enter the forest. The cool breeze of this early spring night brings enough clouds with it to obscure the moon at least half the time and does nothing to get rid of the murky smell of the forest that wafts out the main entry into it. Coming out of the forest rather than going it (a smart move by most accounts), are two elves, walking side by side and looking in opposite directions, apparently scouting out what lies ahead for others. Both armed, one with a bow, the other with a spear, they move slowly and silently out into the open.
"See Sulas? What did I tell you? We made it all the way out of the forest without incident," the elleth says smugly relaxing a bit and drinking in the cool night breeze, fresh and delicious by comparison to what she was experiencing the last time the moon poked his face through the clouds. She slings the bow over her shoulder and braces her hand against the bowstring. "I don't know /what you were so worried about."
It is the time of change in the forest. Change of light, change of sound. Of the creatures who inhabit the trees by day, run, fly, and climb in its great boughs, fill the forest with noises, songs, and cries, the last of them scurry to hide away for the night, leaving the woods to those who prawl in the night. Stealthy and shadowy, the new masters of the forest come out, spread their paws and wings. Their voices are seldom heard, and even then only as muffled sounds, voices of the shadows themselves, and their eyes glow when a cloud breaks above, letting in the light of a few stars.
Night breeze shifts from cool to cold. Its whispy fingers stretch out across the plains, feeling out, searching for something. Chill passes over the wood, and weary silence spreads in its wake.
The change doesn't go unnoticed by Sulas, every part of him seeming to tense as he looks to Naru, a strange expression on his face. "Did you feel that, mellon?" he inquires quietly, by human standards not even a whisper. "Do you have any idea what caused that? Perhaps you spoke a bit too soon." He grips his spear and looks about a bit more attentitively, slowing his pace. "Perhaps we should walk near shelter, just in case."
Naru takes a few steps into the open, revelling in the night, when there is a sudden change in the air, but it is not the weather. Suddenly she stops and her face turns serious. She shivers almost imperceptably and her skin crawls. She looks at Sulas and nods, backing towrds the forest.
A gasp of the chilly breeze spins up a small dust devil, a dirty-looking vortex which hovers above the planes scattering strands of dead grass around for a few seconds, then dissipates into the deepening darkness, spilling the strangelly cold air inside onto the ground nearby and onto the two elves like a bucket of icy water.
To the North, the eyes of the night predators glow in the shadows along the edge of the forest, and the birds exchange their low-sounding muffled calls above. But from the South the silence grows, spreads, comes closer. No longer the weary and cautious, it's filled with desperate panic as the few terrified creatures seek a hiding place, a cover, as much as an illusion of safety to grab onto like a straw before the oncoming terror freezes their breath and chains their steps. And just beyond the terror darkness follows, like a stain of ink spilled onto the canvas of the night forest.
Sulas turns toward the coming darkness with a gravely fearful look on his face, keeping off the path as much as he can and holding his spear ready, though the look on his face seems to suggest he may not be quite ready for whatever is coming. "Is this what I've read about?" he asks Naru, still quietly, though this time a slight shaking is heard in his voice.
Nodding to the edhel as she retreats to the edge of the seemingly welcoming forest, Naru replies in a low whipser, "The forest, the plain, the very air...seems...unnatural," the elleth says. "An icy hand grips my heart...no...all of me." She gives Sulas a grim look, and takes the bow to her hand, nocking an arrow in a flash, then she looks again all about, peering into the inky, starless blackness looking for something she had only heard of but never seen. "It is like looking for a raindrop in the river!"
The silence touches you and spreads farther. Behind you, the luminous eyes peeking from the forest blink out and close, farther and farther to the North, like tiny lights turned off by the invisible hand which stretches from the incoming darkness. The only sound around you is the whisper of dry grass ruffled by the cold breeze... Wait, there is something else... Coming from the South, rolling along the edge of the forest, quiet but unmistakable now. It's the sound of a galloping horse.
Sulas immediately crouches at the sound of hoofbeats and scurries behind a shrub, beckoning Naru to follow. A very weak hiding place, not to mention not at all protective, there doesn't seem to be much else to hide behind. He lowers his spear flat to the ground and peers between the twigs of the shrub in an attempt to see the horse and rider.
The elleth looks with some amount of disdain at the low shrub, providing no physical protection, and little visual coverage, but the sound of hooves approach, and the trees are too far away. Looking around briefly for something, /anything/ better, Naru gives up in the haste of the moment, and crouches down as low as she can, turning her bow horizontally as she does so. "We need to get back to the safety of the trees." she whispers.
The darkness does not reveal its secrets even to the elven eyes, whose keen sight can pierce the night. Something is approaching with the sound of fast rattling hooves, but there is no shape to it, no outline, no reflection. In fact there is nothing at all, a darkness darker than the night, a void which is black against even the darkest shadow.
Perhaps so uncomfortable with the growing darkness and inability to see what's coming, Sulas nods at Naru's suggestion, and without waiting to see if she's ready or not, bolts from the relative cover of the bush straight for the forest. His hair waves in the breeze his speed generates and disappears quite quietly and quickly into the forest.
The hooves stop at a distance to the South. The unnatural darkness which spreads out from the black void makes it hard to judge the distance, but somewhere there to the south lied an old road which a horse and his rider could take if they wished to enter the forest.
A little surprised at the ellon's receptiveness to her suggestion, Naru seems to find herself momentarily alone. The know in her stomach urges her to follow in Sulas' footsteps, but she cannot bring herself to turn away from the sound of clattering hooves, so she slides and slinks sideways as fast as she can, trying in vain to keep pace with the retreating edhel. Then, like an ill wind, the being comes into sight, and pauses at the crossroad. Naru drops to the ground, instinctively freezing in her tracks, and hoping not to attract attention. Expressionless she stares at the blackness, seeing him not by any form he posseses, but by noting where nothing else can be seen; seeing shape in a lack of shape. Iciness grips her heart as a sense of evil seems to emanate from the creature, and she stops her breath, as if the thing in the crossroads might hear it.
The black horse stomps the ground nervously, and turns its head this way and that. The shape of its dark rider can barely be made out, it distorts and changes as waves of darkness poor out into the night and slowly fade into deep shadows. A chilly breeze touches you with its invisible hand, and the horse neigns far to the South, shaking its mane, and makes a step along the edge of the woods, away from the road. Then another. Then, suddenly, with a tug of the reigns the rider sends his stallion into gallop, but along the road and into the the forest. The darkness of the Mirkwood forest absorbs that of his own and blends with it as the sound of quick hooves fades behind the wall of trees.
Taking in a deep breath, Naru shivers again. Feeling almost naked in the tall grass, Naru slowly and carefully puts her arrow back in her quiver. Waiting again motionless, and staring unblinking at the horse and the thing that rides it, she fights back the terror that she might have been seen. At last, it rides into the trees, and though its strangeness can still be felt, even a little distance between it and her feels like a wave of warmth and light. Sounds seem to return...sounds of grass and trees and crawling things. Naru's own breath seems loud. Taking her bow, Naru stands and bolts for the trees, taking care to remain silent even in her haste.