The March of Time

13: Endings and Beginnings

Hey guys, so chapter 13 is hereeee! So now we get to continue on with our journey into the last few stretches of AUJ yayy!

I know this chapter's kind of short compared to the usual lengths, but bear with me, because the next several chapters are going to be looong, so I think they'll make up for this one.

Anyway, here is Chapter 13, and I hope y'all enjoy! Thanks!

Chapter Thirteen: Endings and Beginnings

"Can anyone remind me again why we couldn't have gotten ponies from the Elves?" Alison complained, as her legs gave another sharp cramp of protest as she hiked her way up the large hill the Company was currently trying to get over.

It was their fifth straight day of walking, and though Alison had wanted to be on the road again, away from Rivendell, she was starting to regret that wish as she realized just how far the Misty Mountains were from the valley.

The journey from the Shire to Rivendell had to have been long, as well, but they had had horses for the most part, which were extremely beneficial. Besides their speed and endurance, the ponies had helped immensely with carrying supplies, and Alison was already missing the luxuries the horses provided.

Her backpack straps were digging painfully into her shoulders, and though her new swords were light, they still added weight to the already heavy load she was carrying on her back, making her hot and tired as she stumbled along with the rest of the Company. But she knew she shouldn't be complaining; the rest of the Company's packs were significantly larger than hers, and they had more weapons that had to be twice as heavy as her own. Combined with their armor and clothes, she guessed they had to be carrying at least a hundred pounds, if not more, each. This led Alison to wonder why Nori couldn't have snuck them some horses before leaving, also, as she nearly keeled over from the weight once she had crested the hill to where Thorin and most of the others were.

"Because they would be impractical," Thorin replied to her question, and she looked up from her panting to see him staring down at her, his expression aloof and hard as always. Alison was quite surprised he was speaking to her; over the last few days he had rarely spoken to anybody in the Company, choosing to walk ahead in solitude, occasionally dropping back to Balin to see if they were still on the right track, and then walking ahead again, pushing them on from first light until well after dark. He had seemed somewhat troubled ever since leaving Rivendell, and Alison wondered if the deadline was plaguing him that much. She raised her eyebrows as he went on. "Elvish horses are too big for us, and the Mountains are no place for ponies; they could fall or run off at any time."

Alison nodded grudgingly, having to accept he was right, and she straightened back up as the last Dwarves straggled over the hill, Bofur and Óin nearly collapsing under the weight of Bombur, who was propped in between them, his fat face red with strain and sweat coating his skin from the effort of getting his girth over the steep hill.

"Come along," Thorin said, as everyone was now joined at the top of the hill. "We do not stop until nightfall." And he led the way across the wide expanse of rocky plains and hills stretching before them, as the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky, then began to lower again as the long, weary day wore on.

Alison kept her eyes on the horizon, feeling a slight twinge of hopelessness. The Misty Mountains were still hundreds of miles away, looking like children's toys against the blue backdrop of the sky beyond. It seemed like they would never make it; even after nearly a week of travel, the mountains still looked the same distance away as when they had first started. It was like every step they took, the mountains scooted back more, as if they didn't want to be reached.

The thought stirred something in Alison's memories. She knew that the Company traveled over the Misty Mountains to reach Erebor, and she felt like something important had happened in the mountains before they had finished crossing them. But her vision was stubbornly clouded and disjointed; it seemed like the longer she was in Middle-earth, the more her foresight slipped away every day, leaving her frustrated and afraid. What if being here actually did take away all of her memories from the book? Then she would be left with absolutely nothing, and there was no way she could be of help, for she wouldn't know what would happen next. The thought scared her, and it settled like a tumor in her brain, sticking in her thoughts and taunting her no matter how hard she tried to convince herself nothing was happening, that her memories would remain intact.

"Alison," a voice said insistently from beside her, and she started, looking to her side to see Bilbo there. He looked at her expectantly, and she realized that the Hobbit had been speaking to her.

"Sorry, Bilbo, what?" she said, shaking her head and trying to clear it.

"I was asking if you were all right," he said, his sharp brown eyes searching hers. "You look worried."

"Oh, no," she said, settling her gaze back on the distant peaks. "I'm fine. It's all these supplies and the heat and everything. I think it's getting to me."

He nodded thoughtfully, wordlessly handing her his water-skin, which she took gratefully. Foolishly, she had drained hers some miles ago, and they hadn't come across fresh water since then, so she took a small sip from Bilbo's before handing it back, letting the leftover moisture settle on her dry lips for a few moments. She still had her chapstick, though it was probably buried somewhere at the bottom of her pack, and she didn't think Thorin would approve of her slowing down the Company just to stop and search for it.

"Thanks," she said, and Bilbo nodded, a small smile flitting across his lips. After they had left Rivendell, she and Bilbo had started talking again, ignoring the awkward tension that had been between them all their stay in the Hidden Valley and moving on from it, much as she had done with Fili and Kili. Now they were normal again, and they settled into an easy silence for a few miles before Bilbo spoke again.

"You know, Elrond offered me to stay in Rivendell," he said quietly, and Alison whipped her head so fast she felt her neck crick, completely taken off-guard by the sudden statement. "What?"

"He told me if it was my wish, then I could stay," he said, and he looked down at his abnormally large and hairy feet as he said it, a frown pulling on the corners of his mouth.

"But you said no?" she asked, and then mentally rolled her eyes at herself. Obviously he had said no if he was walking here beside her.

He nodded, though he still looked troubled. "I wanted to stay, though," he said in an undertone, as if afraid of being overheard. "Despite what you said when we first arrived there, about how I'm meant to be on this quest, I just can't help…doubting myself." He paused, taking a deep breath, and Alison watched him, feeling slightly guilty. She had left Bilbo all alone with this burden when she had been avoiding him, and she felt awful, knowing what it was like to carry around something like that and not being able to tell anyone.

"You chose to come with us, though," she said bracingly. "Even though you must've wanted to stay behind, you still chose to remain a part of this Company. That takes some serious courage and loyalty."

"It's such a riddle," he said, shaking his head but looking somewhat pleased at her words. "Trying to find out why exactly I'm doing all of this—is something wrong?" He asked suddenly, glancing back behind his shoulder.

Alison had stopped dead in her tracks, frozen, her heart stuttering as a memory came rushing back full-force. The name of a chapter title floated in front of her eyes, and her breath caught in her throat: Riddles in the dark…riddles in the dark…

Everything was clear now: the journey over the Misty Mountains, the goblin-tunnels, and Bilbo, alone in an underground lake with a creature, playing a game of riddles for his life, finding a trinket in the process…

Though Alison had never read Lord of the Rings, she still knew the value of the ring Bilbo would find, though it wasn't the ring that concerned her; they would be caught by goblins if they traveled through the Misty Mountains, and Bilbo would be separated from them, forced to solve riddles in exchange for his life. She remembered what would happen in the Mountains now, and though she knew the outcome of the story, she didn't know if it would still be the same now that she was there. Galadriel's words echoed in her mind as she stood, still rooted to the spot: "Everything has changed already; the future is now a game of chance."

What if they died by the goblins' hands in the Mountains? What if something were to happen to Bilbo? What if they all died, their quest broken, not able to save themselves? But no. Alison knew what would happen; she could change it, they could go a different way, they could—

"Alison?" Bofur said from behind her, and she jumped, having forgotten there were still others behind her as Bilbo continued to stare at her in puzzlement and concern. "What's wrong?"

She floundered for a second, her mouth open, before she realized that she couldn't possibly tell any of them what would happen in the Mountains; that would require explaining her "foresight" and the story, and that would lead to questions about their ultimate fates…

"N—nothing," she stammered, regaining her wits. "Just a…cramp." She reached down and rubbed her calf, grimacing as she did so; technically it wasn't acting, because her legs actually were burning, and Bofur nodded understandingly, not noticing how much higher her voice got as she lied, an annoying give-away she'd always had that made her such a bad liar.

"Are you fine now?' he asked, and she straightened, stretching out her leg muscles.

"Yeah, I'm good," she said brightly. "If you'll, uh, excuse me…"

She jerked her thumb over her shoulder and hurried away, as fast as her added weight would allow, until she reached the front of the throng, where Thorin was leading, a little farther ahead than Balin, who was behind him.

He looked at her in surprise as she appeared at his side, having to catch her breath a bit after the exertion of her little jog, which she found quite sad.

"Can I help you?" he asked mildly, not breaking his fast pace as he hiked over the rocks using the shaft of his battle-axe.

"Is there another way around the Misty Mountains?" she asked frantically, once she had filled herself with some air. He looked at her as if she had suggested they fly to the Lonely Mountain.

"There is not," he replied, his brows furrowing. "Why?"

"Um…climbing isn't really my thing," she said, avoiding his eyes. "And it just seems so…long and arduous. Isn't there another way?" She tried to keep the pleading note out of her voice as she met his stony eyes again, the same color as the blue sky above them.

"The Misty Mountains run from the far North, near Carn Dûm and the old Witch-realm of Angmar, all the way down to the sea in the South of Gondor," he said, and Alison felt her heart sink. "Even if there were any other way, I would not take it. We have lost enough time as it is, and the High Pass is the fastest way to get over the Mountains if we are to reach Erebor by Durin's Day. I am afraid you must face your qualms about climbing, Miss Ashburne, for we are still going to make for the Pass."

She swallowed hard, nodding numbly as fear gripped her; she had to make him listen, she had to change his mind without letting him know why…but she knew she couldn't force him. He was too intent on his course, and from what he said, she knew he was right; if they wanted to reach Erebor before the door was sealed again, they couldn't waste time trekking around all of Middle-earth. They would just have to brave the mountains and the goblins, and she prayed that they would come out of it alive and in one piece.

Thorin looked at her suspiciously as she cast an anxious look to the peaks ahead. "Is there another reason you do not wish to cross the Mountains?" he asked, and she swallowed again, trying to get rid of the panic that was clogging up her throat.

"I…heard the Elves talking about them back in Rivendell," she said haltingly, and she wondered how many lies she was going to tell that day—or overall for the duration of this quest. "They said that they were dangerous, filled with goblins and beasts that were always eager to find travelers and…eat them, and other horrible things."

"Aye, the Mountains are swarming with the vile creatures," he said roughly, and she looked to him, eyes wide. "But they have been there for centuries; they will have descended into the very depths of the mountains by this point. They won't have any reason to be lingering on the Mountain Pass."

"And what if you're wrong?" she challenged, trying to make her tone as polite yet forceful as she could. She didn't want to make him angry, or else he wouldn't listen to her anymore.

"There is always a chance I am wrong," he said in a low voice, and now it was her turn to look at him in surprise. His eyes were tight, his mouth lined, and the same troubled look that had been plaguing him ever since Rivendell was painted on his face once more. "But we will brave the mountains, and if I have to battle my way through legions of goblins to get across and reach the Lonely Mountain by Durin's Day, then I will." He said it as if he were reassuring himself instead of her, and Alison began to suspect what was troubling the Dwarf king as he looked back to her, his eyes fierce with an icy-blue glow.

She nodded, trying not to let her despair show on her face. "You're right," she said. "We must cross the Mountains. It's the only way."

"We will be fine, Miss Ashburne," he said, startling her with his almost-comforting words. "Gandalf will be joining us soon, and we can handle ourselves until then."

She stayed silent, worrying at her lower lip with her teeth, and they walked side by side as they braced another hill. She wondered if she had overstayed her place by his shoulder, and moved to go back to her former spot in the middle of the Company when his voice kept her by his side.

"How is your training coming along?" he asked suddenly, and she gave a non-committal shrug.

"Fine, I guess," she said. She had been training every night since they had left the House of Elrond, practicing her various drills on archery, close-combat fighting and swordplay as Kili, Dwalin, and Fili watched her progress, adding new drills and pushing her to limits she didn't quite know she had with every new session. While she still wasn't a warrior goddess, she was getting the steps down quite easily and remembered the patterns well, and the Dwarves were becoming increasingly impressed at her fast learning pace. "I have archery with Kili tonight."

He nodded thoughtfully as they hiked on. "They tell me your progress is making quite a bit of headway," he said, and she looked at him sideways, confused. Thorin was the most incredibly ridiculous and frustrating person to read that she had ever met in her life, and she was beginning to wonder if he was bipolar or something. One day he was all aloof and brooding, and the next he would deign to speak to her as if they were acquaintances meeting over a cup of coffee. It drove her insane, trying to understand his mood swings, but she was slowly beginning to realize that there was just no way to understand Thorin; she would just have to go along with it.

She shrugged again, not really sure how to respond. "I would like to oversee your training one night to see how far you've come," he continued, and then he gave her a shrewd look out of the corner of his eyes. "Fili has told me that you are becoming exceptionally good with your swords."

Alison blushed a little, feeling a bit of pride at the words. She was working extremely hard on sword-fighting, for now she felt obligated to be great at it ever since Elrond had given her the Twin Blades. The swords had reminded her that she wasn't just a warrior, she was a Hero, and now she wanted to live up to it, to give her line the greatness it deserved and to bring Eleon Ashburne honor that this short little girl with no experience whatsoever could prove as heroic as the ones before her. And, not to mention, that she also just wanted to show off just a little bit around the older Dwarf prince.

At the thought of Fili, Alison took advantage of Thorin's momentary silence and glanced over her shoulder, her eyes seeking the fair-haired Dwarf's profile. She picked him out easily amongst the group, already familiar with his broad stature and the loping prowl of how he moved, almost reminding her of a lion, especially with his hair that gleamed golden in the sunlight. She watched for a few seconds as he marched along with everybody else, his eyes watching where his feet were going as he blew a loose braid of hair from his face, a habit she had been noticing of late.

She looked away quickly after that, feeling a prickle across her cheeks; she knew the time had come for her to stop staring at him when she realized she was actually beginning to pick up on his habits. But she couldn't help it; something about the Dwarf prince always managed to pique her interest and capture her attention, and she was starting to feel a bit bothered by it. Ever since their first training session together in Rivendell, she felt as if something had either risen up between them or something had come crashing down; though they still acted normal and sarcastic with each other, she found her gaze lingering on him longer and longer each time, liking the way his stormy eyes churned as he met her own, the colors and depth enticing her, which she tried hard to ignore; she was on a freaking quest, in an actual story that could end in complete tragedy, not a fairy-tale with the naïve and vain princess falling for the dashing and brave Dwarf prince. She was a Hero, an Ashburne. She had to keep her head.

Alison was torn away from her thoughts as Balin hiked up to Thorin's shoulder, and the younger Dwarf turned to look at him as he said, "We need to start shifting our course northwest to reach the Pass." Thorin nodded, adjusting their course until instead of walking straight northwards, they were heading more to their left, with the setting sun being a sort of guide for them to walk towards.

"How much longer do you think it will take us to reach the Mountains?" Thorin asked the white-haired Dwarf, and Balin shrugged.

"If we keep our pace like this, I expect at least another hard week's worth of traveling," he said, scrutinizing the distant peaks with narrowed eyes. "But that is also if the weather permits."

At the mention of the Mountains again, Alison's unease and fear for what lay ahead weighed like a large stone in her gut as she slipped behind Thorin and Balin, not trusting herself to be able to keep the worry from her features. Despite Thorin's words of confidence, she was terrified of what now lay before them; and by the time he ordered them to stop and make camp for the night as the moon was rising, her fingernails were cracked and torn from picking nervously at them and her bottom lip felt as if she was wearing a hole right through it.

She stayed silent as the Company all unpacked their belongings and spread out their bedrolls underneath the over-hanging of rock they had stopped under, watching quietly as Óin and Glóin started a fire and Bombur took his usual place by the flames to begin cooking dinner. Alison had become accustomed to helping the great ginger Dwarf with the meals, enjoying his amiable—albeit quiet—companionship and watching in amazement at the meticulous care the Dwarf put into his cooking. But tonight she opted to remain on her bedroll, gazing off into space and continuing to tear up her nail-beds until Kili approached her with his bow and quiver and usual cheeky smile.

"Ready for some more practice?" he asked, and she looked skeptically around the barren landscape, where only rocks and sparse vegetation were strewn for miles around.

"There's nothing to practice on," she pointed out, still worrying her fingers together.

"Sure there is," he said cheerily. "C'mon!" He turned and left the campsite, and with a resigned sigh, she followed him more slowly. Her nagging fear about the Mountains was starting to get to her, and all she wanted to do was curl up on her bedroll and pick at her torn nail-beds some more, but she tried to squash the feeling down as the dark-haired Dwarf led her a little away from the main camp, far enough to avoid hitting anyone with a stray arrow, but close enough to where they could still see them.

Kili handed her the bow and quiver, which she slung on her back as she gripped the bow like he had first taught her to do so many weeks ago. She still looked around dubiously, not seeing a lone tree or any other thing that would suffice as a target, and she turned back to him with a quizzical eyebrow raise.

"Unless you can conjure archery targets out of thin air, I don't see anything useful to practice on," she said flatly; her nervousness was making her snappish and jumpy, though she tried to hide it from him as he smirked, picking up a large stone from the ground and tossing it back and forth between his fingers.

"So we improvise," he said, holding up the stone, and she gave him a doubtful look. "Think of it as the next level of progress; most of the time, your targets won't be stationary like a tree; they'll most likely be running and jumping around trying to kill you, which is why it's time to start training you on moving targets."

"Joy to the world," she muttered under her breath, swinging around and facing the open expanse of rocky land before them, plucking an arrow from the quiver as she did so. The sky was devoid of any clouds and the moon was nearly full, allowing the bright light of it and the stars to show her way, along with the faint orange glow from the campfire some distance off.

The strain of knowing what was coming still clung to her, but she tried to shake it off; right now, she needed to focus, and worrying about the Misty Mountains wasn't going to help her. She took a deep breath and rolled back her shoulders, fitting an arrow into the bow-string and drawing it back; she remembered how strained and unsteady she had felt doing this for her first time, but now she had gotten used to it, her arms showing no signs of tremors as she held her position.

"Ready," she said to Kili, and she heard him adjust himself behind her, preparing to throw the stone. Her body was tense, taut, like the bow-string in her hand, and when Kili finally let the stone fly above her, she released the arrow, feeling a stab of frustration as the projectile flew past the rock and clattered down some distance away. She visibly tried to relax herself as she drew another arrow; if she was going to succeed at this, she couldn't distract herself with worries.

"Again," she said, drawing the string back, and she heard Kili shuffle around behind her, picking up another stone. After a few seconds, a dark object flew in front of her, and she fired her shot, listening to the satisfying crack of the arrow hitting the stone and watching as both tumbled to the ground. She felt a small glow of pride at what she had accomplished, her fear squashing a little as she focused on the task at hand.

She and Kili practiced for another forty-five minutes until the shadows had become so absolute that they couldn't continue, much to her displeasure. The training had pushed her newfound worry to the back of her mind, and now she didn't want to go back to the camp and sleep, for she would be left alone, wrapped up in her fears of what was ahead. But she knew she was being unrealistic; she had to save up her strength and energy if she wanted to be any use when they actually did reach the Pass.

They began collecting the scattered arrows, working in silence, for which Alison was grateful for; though the younger Dwarf prince usually never shut up, in training he was different, quiet and diligent as he observed her, obviously wanting her to benefit from these lessons as much as she could. And she agreed with him; it was time for her to handle herself, and with the threat of the goblin-tunnels looming before her, she knew she would need all the training she could get if she were to survive and continue on with this quest.

Once they had collected all the dispersed arrows, Alison handed back the bow and quiver to Kili and made to walk away back to her bedroll to worry some more, when his voice stopped her and she turned to face him again.

"You know, you never finished telling me about that story," he said, and she tried to make out his dark eyes in the gloom. If there hadn't been that usual gleam in the depths, of mischief and trouble, they would've been lost in the encroaching shadows.

"What story?" she asked, wondering where this topic had randomly cropped up from.

"The one with the wizard," he said. "With the lightning-shaped scar and Lord What's-his-name. You stopped before you could reach the end."

"Oh," she said, blinking. She barely remembered telling the story of Harry Potter, and she was surprised he had recalled it after such a long and eventful time ago. "Well, it's pretty simple. Harry defeated Voldemort and saved the Wizarding world, and they lived happily ever after, I guess, like any other story."

"Not all stories have happy endings," he pointed out, and she nodded. "That's true."

He paused, looking up to the beautiful canvas of stars above them. Alison had gotten used to the gorgeous view of the stars out here in the Wild, where there were so many, so distant and twinkling and numerous in the vastness of the sky, but they still took her breath away. She watched Kili for a moment as he gazed at the stars, her eyes roving over him slowly, taking advantage of his preoccupation to really look at him.

Unlike his brother's pale and ethereal glow in the light of the moon, Kili was like part of the shadows himself, his dark skin, clothing, hair and eyes blending into the night as if he had been spawned from it, woven from it. Watching him, she couldn't help but compare him to his brother, and how the two princes were so alike yet so different. They were both brave, and fierce, and loyal, with honor and courage and willing hearts, both firm in their beliefs that they could take back Erebor, that not all would end in sadness, which wrenched her heart, knowing what was coming ahead. But both were fighters until the end, and she knew this, which was why they unknowingly gave her the courage to push on, to help save them from their possible fate.

But where Fili was a lion, his heart steady and his mind true, Kili was fire all unto himself, raging and fierce, a perfect balance to the calmer center of his brother. They amazed her; they both did, and each day, she found herself becoming increasingly entangled by them. Whether it was from knowing their fate, or something else, she knew she had crossed some imaginary line with them both at Rivendell, leaving them in territory she wasn't ready to go into, which scared her slightly; though it was now the least of her concerns considering what lay ahead for all of them…

He brought his gaze back down to earth, and Alison ripped herself free of her thoughts as they made eye contact again, wondering why on earth her mind had wandered in that direction in the first place.

"Do you think this quest will have a happy ending?" he asked her quietly, and she started at the unexpected question, feeling ice coat her heart, stopping her blood as the full-force of what he was asking slammed into her like a tidal wave.

She stayed silent, her words of reassurance dying on her lips. She wanted to tell him that they would all live happily ever after, that they could pull through…but she couldn't lie. She honestly didn't even know the outcome of this quest anymore, and she didn't want to make an empty promise that could end in such unspeakable tragedy. Then an idea formed in her head as the heavy silence stretched on between them.

What if…what if she told him what would happen? What if she were to come clean with everything, about the story, about his, Fili, and Thorin's fates, about what was going to happen next? Wouldn't it be advantageous for them to know what they were up against, to know how their destinies would play out, so they could change their paths themselves? Wouldn't that be the right thing to do, instead of her knowing what was coming and not telling them? What was stopping her from telling them? Gandalf's warning that she must keep all of this to herself, or something else?

A part of her revolted at the idea, a part that wanted to protect them, to let them continue to be brave and optimistic and unknowing, unburdened by their dark future…

A part of her that would die should anything happen to them.

"Kili," she said, her voice wavering slightly. "I…I—"

But before she could say anything, Bifur suddenly appeared beside them, speaking in the rumbling language of the Khuzdûl to Kili as the Dwarf prince held her eyes, his face now unreadable in the light of the moon.

She dropped his gaze, staring down at her boots, suddenly feeling as if she were about to throw up. What she had almost done shook her to her core; had Bifur not intervened, she would've spilt everything to Kili, regardless of the consequences. And she had no doubt there would be repercussions.

To the Valar, it was already bad enough that she could see the future; her foresight alone was already upsetting what little balance this world had left when it came to the Ashburne line. But she shuddered to think what would happen if the whole Company knew what was coming. Middle-earth would probably implode in on itself and send all of them spiraling into a black hole. No. Her vision was her curse alone, and she would not burden anyone else in the Company with it. She would heed Gandalf's advice and keep everything to herself. For now, at least. Because she suddenly didn't know how much longer she could keep up this façade before she finally cracked and tore herself in two trying to figure out what to do about her secret.

"Alison," Kili said quietly, and she looked up to see Bifur walking away and the Dwarf prince staring at her intently, his expression more serious than she had ever seen it. Obviously he had seen the look in her eyes and knew the words she couldn't say—how she didn't know if their quest would end happily or not, if they would all survive. And she knew, as well, by looking into his own eyes, that he thought the same thing she did. But neither one of them wanted to say it aloud.

"What did Bifur say?" she asked softly, not wanting to talk—or rather, think—anymore about what the future may hold for all of them.

"He said dinner is ready," he replied, and she nodded, starting towards the campsite. Before she could step more than a few paces, though, she was stopped as he suddenly placed a hand on her arm; not rough or heavy, but enough to anchor her to the spot as she turned and met his eyes.

It didn't remind her of their moment in Rivendell; he had been standing so close, close enough to where she could see every individual lash surrounding his eyes, which had burned so fiercely, like the fire in his heart. Though he stood a comfortable enough distance away, she could still feel his heat, the customary warmth that enveloped her whenever she was in his presence, and she suddenly found herself wanting to be wrapped in that warmth, until she regained her senses and blinked hard, confused as to where that desire had come from. She met his eyes through the gloom, and though they weren't smoldering, they were still dark and intense, boring into her with uncharacteristic somberness.

"I don't know how this quest will end, Alison," he said in a low voice, releasing her arm as she stared at him. "No one knows how this will end. But I do know one thing: no matter what should happen to any of us, I will see you safely returned to your world. You deserve to be like Harry; you should have a happy ending with your family, and I promise you that I will help you achieve that ending to the best of my ability."

"Don't," she whispered hoarsely, and it took her a few moments to realize hot tears were streaming down her cheeks, tracing lines of fire down her skin. "Please don't promise me something like that."

"I will," he said. "And I did. You deserve a happily ever after, Alison, no matter the outcome; we all do. But if something were to happen in the end…" he sucked in a deep breath. "At least I know you will be happy, and safe, back in your own world."

She stifled a sob, feeling as if she was being cleaved in half; she had to tell Kili what would happen, but she couldn't. Everything would fall apart if she shared her knowledge. But it killed her, absolutely killed her inside to hear him promising her he would see her safe and happy, returned to her family and her world, when she was the one supposed to be promising him all of those things.

She stayed silent, not trusting herself to speak before she blurted out everything. Part of her said to hell with it; even if the world should crumble, at least she would know he would be aware of his future actions so he wouldn't be left lifeless on a desolate battlefield. But the other part, the rational part, pointed out that if she did that, then everything would be lost, not just him. She knew the Valar would allow no such loopholes as the one she possessed for anyone else.

As they stood, close together but not quite, Alison's anguish was slowly drying out and hardening into an icy numbness, and she struggled to keep her emotions in check. Damn it, Ashburne, she thought acidly to herself. You are better than this. You've already made your promises to help this world and your friends; now suck it up and live up to those promises.

Slowly, she regained her frayed composure, a few last tears seeping out of her eyes as she inhaled shakily to steady herself. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Kili's hand jerk up, as if he wanted to touch her face, to wipe away her last tears, but it dropped back to his side almost instantly, and she wondered if she had imagined it. Finally, she was able to breathe again, though an abyss now sat where her stomach used to be, a void of all the suppressed emotions she had gone through that whole day.

"I will stand by my promise, Alison," the Dwarf prince said after awhile, and he touched her arm comfortingly as he moved past her, back to the campsite.

"I know you will," she said to his retreating back, but he showed no signs of hearing her. After a few more moments, she followed behind him, already feeling the faint stirrings of the now-familiar blaze of determination rising within her to combat the void.

This was only the beginning, she realized. Now, everything was at stake.

And now, everything depended on her.

Hooray for agonizing internal conflicts!

So basically I just kept this chapter short because I wanted it from Alison's main POV for awhile so we can just kind of see her actual conflict without too many other distractions. But don't worry; next chapter we will DEFINITELY see some more POV *cough* hint *cough*

Anyway, thank you all for reading, and I hope y'all are well! I truly appreciate all of you for everything, especially for your reviews and things! So, of course, keep those reviews coming! Y'all are my inspiration to keep this up and your support is wonderful, so thank you so much lovelies!:)

See you all soon! Until next chapter...

OH and before I forget: I just recently started using Tumblr again, and I'm looking for more blogs to follow, so why not get to know my lovely readers? If you want to PM me your username I will definitely follow you, or if you just want to follow me yourselves my username is the same as this (dr-watsonn)

Okay, thank you once again, and now bye!:)

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