The March of Time

15: Under Hill

Hey guys! Soo Chapter 15 is here! I'm getting really excited because we are SO CLOSE to DoS, and I have so many ideas for this segment (I know I say this like all the time now, but seriously, it's going to be great). Ahhhh I can't wait! (Did I mention I already have this stuff planned until Chapter 45...and that's just until the end of DoS, not even counting TABA...o.0)

Anyway, I'll shut up now. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy this chapter!:)

Chapter Fifteen: …Under Hill

Alison didn't know how people could reflect back on their lives when faced with a near-death experience, their whole existence flashing before their eyes in one surreal moment. All Alison could think when she fell was a string of vicious profanities she could not give voice to, for the wave of terror had crashed over her, stealing her breath and rendering her silent as the rest of the Company shouted and yelled as they fell down into the darkness.

Abruptly, the empty darkness ended, and suddenly they were sliding down a tunnel that was like the world's worst playground slide. Alison scraped and tumbled along the downward sloping of the tunnel, every movement jarring her body as rocks and stones slammed into her on the way down. Through her haze of panic, she began to notice a lightening of the tunnel they were falling down, and over the Company's shouts she heard the drone of a dull buzz, like thousands of bees were swarming below them. In another few seconds, the tunnel had ended, and the Company fell into empty air before landing painfully on what seemed like a caged sort of platform.

Alison crashed into the platform hard, feeling her teeth rattle in her skull and knocking the breath from her lungs as the Dwarves and Bilbo all slammed down around her. Of course, just to their luck, Bombur was the last one to fall out of the tunnel, and Alison thought one of her lungs had burst as the great ginger Dwarf landed on top of them, his heavy weight too much for her smaller body to handle.

Wheezing, Alison scrambled out from underneath the Dwarf, aware that the buzzing sound was now growing into a roar, punctuated with sharp shrieks and howls and the unmistakable rasp of weapons being drawn.

"On your feet!" she heard Thorin shout, but the Company was too dazed and entangled to do anything more than shift a few inches. The caged platform they were on began to shake violently, vibrating under the strain of hundreds of feet, and the wild shrieking drew closer. In a few more seconds, the goblins were on them.

The sudden appearance of the goblins sent a thrill of fear and disgust through Alison, and she didn't know whether to scream or throw up as the creatures swarmed towards the Company, hunched over and loping or crawling along with crude daggers glinting in their hands and whips that trailed along the cavern ground.

The goblins surrounded them in an instant, hundreds of slimy, bulbous bodies pressing close as they clawed and screeched, grabbing for the Company with abnormally long, gnarled fingers, and Alison scrabbled to her feet, gagging on the horrible, rotten stench the goblins brought with them, the smell reminding her of raw sewage and desiccated flesh.

The Company all surged to their feet, as well, kicking and punching at the wild goblins, but they were outnumbered ten to one. Alison, who had been standing near the back of the platform in kind of a horrified trance, shrieked as a hand with sharp talons dug into her scalp, burrowing into her hair and pulling on the roots. With difficulty, she swung around into the face of a swarthy, gruesome goblin, and realized that the creatures were climbing out from underneath the platform as well to catch the ones like her that had been standing in the back as more clambered on to the platform.

The goblin cackled as it dug its claws in deeper to her scalp, and she gasped as the creature began pushing her to the front of the platform, the Company all still struggling and fighting with their adversaries around them. Slimy, pale bodies with cracked and open sores and pus-filled boils heaved and jumped around Alison, and she looked around desperately, catching a glimpse of Bombur being dragged down by ten goblins at once and Glóin slamming one's jaw and knocking it down, until two more replaced it and launched themselves at the fiery-haired Dwarf.

They were losing the struggle; the area was too confined to use weapons, as they risked hurting another member of the Company, and they couldn't reach their weapons anyway, for the goblins were too many and too close to reach for them.

Another goblin hurtled into Alison's path, its glittering black eyes taking in her appearance with an oozing, fanged smile. The goblin sprung for her, and she toppled backwards out of its reach, completely forgetting there was still a goblin clinging onto her scalp. She knocked the first goblin down and landed on top of it as the second goblin piled on top of her, its claws raking down her sleeve, tearing through the fabric and stinging her skin underneath.

The sharp pain of the goblin's claws seemed to awaken Alison, and she blinked, as if she had been in a deep slumber and was now opening her eyes to a new dawn, her body filled with a new vigorous sense of aliveness. Her brain snapped to attention, her adrenaline kicked in, and she saw everything so much clearer; the goblins were attacking her and her friends. She had to fight back. She had to go down fighting; not being shuffled along like a pig set for slaughter, willingly walking to whatever awaited them. She had to fight.

Blood boiling, heart pounding, Alison brought forward her right elbow, which was her only available arm not pinned down by the goblin on top of her, and with as much force as she could muster, she jabbed her elbow back, catching the goblin below her on the stomach and causing it to yelp in pain. Its grip slackened on her hair, and she brought her arm back up, curling her hand into a fist before swinging a punch at the goblin on top of her. The punch caught it on the side of its head, and the goblin snarled, recoiling, just enough to where she could roll out from underneath it, though losing a small clump of hair to the goblin's claws that were implanted in her scalp in the process.

Breathing heavily, and her right hand now smarting considerably, Alison lurched to her feet as more goblins surrounded her, shrieking and hissing, their harsh iron daggers glinting evilly in the torch-lit cavern they were in as they surged around her, clawing and pinching and cackling.

Alison reached back for her swords, wondering what she was possibly going to do once they were in her hands, but she never got the chance. A goblin behind her clamped down on her arms, pinning them to her sides, and she struggled as more goblins pressed close, using her legs to kick out at any that came too close.

"Stay back!" she snarled, but the goblins were undaunted. A big, lumbering one with a misshapen back and deformed head caught her feet as she lashed out, hissing and chattering to the other goblin holding her arms.

The goblin holding her twisted one of her arms, until she thought it was going to pop out of its socket, and she let out an involuntary gasp of pain as the goblin holding her legs dropped them back to the ground. The one gripping her arms took advantage of her pain and shoved her forward, joining the procession of the other goblins shoving and grappling with the Dwarves as they were led deeper into the humongous cavern, struggling and cursing at their captors.

Everyone in the Company had been subdued, and they were now carried along by the waves of goblins surrounding them, leading them deeper and deeper into the torch-lit cavern of the mountain's interior. They were herded along rickety, shambled wood bridges and pathways that Alison feared were going to fall through any second, and her stomach roiled as her boots kicked against discarded bones, scattering them every which way, and she had a nagging suspicion that some of them weren't animal bones.

They were coming upon another small tunnel, and over the excited jabbering of their captors, Alison could hear the tumultuous roar of a thousand more voices ahead, and she felt her stomach flip as they were ushered into the tunnel, momentarily being plunged into dimness before emerging into another cavern, this one a hundred times the size of the one they had fell into.

As they were forced into the cavern and the harsh golden glow of the many torches set up around the chasm-like space, the roar turned deafening, and Alison felt her blood freeze in her veins. Hundreds, if not thousands, of goblins lined the entire cavern, either cackling and leaping about on the edges of the pathway the Company walked upon, jabbing and pinching at the Dwarves and Alison, or the ones far above their heads jostling on suspended wooden platforms, jeering and hollering and waving their weapons in a terrifying manner.

As the Company was led farther into the great cavern, a sudden horrid noise of clashing metal, screeching strings, and head-splitting booms took to the air, the noise bouncing around the cavern walls and rising into a cacophony that set Alison's teeth on edge and made the hairs on the back of her neck bristle. A few feet ahead of her, she saw Bifur stop, looking around in confusion and clapping his hands over his ears in an obvious sign of pain at the noise. Hissing gleefully, the goblins swept him forward, and above the horrible din, Alison heard an awful hacking cough renting the air, before it subsided and a booming voice said, "Hmm…I feel a song coming on."

Alison didn't know where the voice had come from, but she felt a chill run down her spine as she imagined what sort of creature was big enough to have such an authoritative voice like that. But she also thought its words were strange, until she realized that the dreadful noise the goblins were making was music. A few seconds later, the mysterious voice began to sing, and if the goblins had not been penning Alison in on either side, she would've fallen off the platform at how incredibly random and insane their predicament had become.

"Snip snap, the black crack,

Grip, grab, pinch and nab!

Batter and beat,

Milk 'em, stammer and squeak!

Pound pound, far underground

Down, down, down in Goblin-town!"

And like one horrible chorus, the surrounding goblins echoed "Down, down, down in Goblin-town!" Alison didn't know whether to laugh hysterically or pass out as they reached one last stretch of wobbly pathway, and through a gap in the goblins' swarming bodies, she could make out a large central platform lined with tall flaming torches and piles of bones, some bleached white from age and some that looked—and smelled—fairly more recent. But even more gruesome was what awaited them atop a large haphazard throne threaded with bones and skulls of all different shapes and sizes, and all Alison's adrenaline-flooded mind could think was—Oh my God. Does he have a scrotum for a beard?

As they approached, ever closer, Alison realized that the great goblin she was seeing before her was the one who had been singing, and if the situation hadn't been so petrifying, she would've died from laughter at the giant fleshy beard swinging wildly from the great goblin's face and his attempt at singing.

He was easily the biggest goblin of them all, at least nine or ten feet tall, and at least five times that size in width, with vile, scabby and putrid skin crusted with pus and other nasty things and lopsided eyes that gleamed with a cruel yet dumb sort of viciousness. He was obviously the King of the Goblins, if the stunted crown and skull-topped scepter he was holding were any indication, and he watched the Company approach eagerly, still singing and leading his subjects on:

"With a swish and a smack

And a whip and a crack,

Everybody talks when they're on our rack!

Pound pound, far underground

Down, down, down in Goblin-town!"

The Company arrived to the platform, the goblins stopping them roughly and watching in admiration and glee as the Great Goblin conducted right along, as if the Company wasn't there while they all looked on in disgust and horror.

"Hammer and torch, get out your knockers and gongs,

You won't last long on the end of my prongs!

Clish, clash, crush and smash

Bang, break, shiver and shake.

You can yell and yelp

But there ain't no help,

Pound pound, far underground

Down, down, down in Goblin-town!"

And with the last verse of the song, the Great Goblin held out the last note for exaggeration as the rest of the goblins shrieked and stamped around them, waving their weapons and snapping their whips upon the ground as they jostled and scratched and pinched the Company.

Alison shrank away from their claws, curling her lip in disgust, suddenly acutely aware that she was a female in the presence of hundreds of bloodthirsty and savage goblins, and she hoped beyond anything that they had no more desires extending beyond killing and eating a small human girl like her as one claw scraped along her cheek in a repulsive manner, earning a wild shriek from the surrounding goblins as she shrank back further, shuddering.

During the commotion, the goblins began to take their weapons—or at least the ones that were visible—obviously not the brightest when it came to the concepts of concealment. Alison felt her Twin Blades being ripped from her back and watched with a dark glare as they were tossed carelessly into the growing weapon pile before them at the Great Goblin's feet. She held her breath as the swords landed on the pile, in clear view of the Goblin King, but luckily he didn't seem to recognize them or anything, and didn't bother looking to see which person the weapons had come from.

With a movement that rocked the whole platform, the Goblin King sank onto his throne as they finished being searched, eyeing the Company beadily with his lopsided eyes and a wide, nasty leer on his flabby face. As his eyes roved over the Dwarves, Alison ducked a bit behind one of the bigger goblins, hating to be cowardly, but knowing it was for the best; even though she knew she was bound to be ratted out soon, she still wanted some time to maybe think of a plan to get herself out of this mess.

Reason 487 why I just really, really hate being a girl sometimes, she thought to herself as one of the nearer goblins leered at her, and she ducked her face, hiding behind a curtain of dark hair.

"Catchy, isn't it?" the Goblin King said in a vile, croaky voice, obviously proud of his horrendous song. "It's one of my own compositions."

"That's not a song, that's an abomination!" Balin cried, taking a bold step forward, and the goblins around them hissed and shifted threateningly at the old Dwarf's words. However, the Goblin King didn't look fazed; if anything, he looked quite happy at the Dwarf's remark.

"Abominations, mutations, deviations…that's all you're gonna find down here," he replied nastily, his smile growing wider. Immediately his grin disappeared, like the sun being covered by a cloud, and he leaned forward on his throne, his eyes glittering maliciously. "Who would be so bold as to come armed into my kingdom?" he said, and the Company stayed silent, glaring balefully at the repulsive king. "Spies? Thieves? Assassins?"

"Dwarves, your Malevolence," one of the goblins in the front of the party sneered. "We found them on the front porch! Along with this." The goblin gestured behind itself, and the encroaching goblins parted like the Red Sea, revealing Alison like she was under a spotlight. She felt the blood drain from her face as all the goblins in the cavern whooped and jeered, stamping their feet and hissing in wild fits of laughter as she stood, frozen, having no idea what to do.

Nori and Ori, who stood closest to her, moved to block her sides protectively, but the goblins dragged them back as the Great Goblin clambered down from his throne, his eyes and face alight with glee and curiosity and his scrotum-beard twitching excitedly.

"What's this?" he asked interestedly. "A human, traveling in the company of Dwarves? And a human woman, at that." He chuckled in a wheezing fit of laughter, his beard wobbling precariously. "Tell me, pretty, how came you to be in a situation as amusing and interesting as this?"

Alison stood, silent, trying to meet the Great Goblin's gaze as defiantly as she could. The adrenaline was still pumping through her body, raring to go, but it was also covered with a thin sheet of fear. What were the goblins going to do to her? What were they going to do to all of them? She tried to recall how they got out of this mess, but as usual in these times of crisis, her memory refused to remember anything useful about their predicament. Not for the first time, she wished she had heeded Gandalf's advice about re-reading the book.

"Suit yourself, pretty. But you'll talk one way or another soon," the Goblin King said carelessly, waving a hand at her silence. "Well, don't just stand there!" he said to the rest of the goblins at large. "Search them! Every crack, every crevice!"

The goblins obliged, taking to their task with renewed vigor and groping the Company for more weapons, uncovering daggers, knives, and taking various other items like Óin's ear trumpet and tossing them onto the pile roughly, Óin's ear device being flattened by a clumsy goblin foot in the process. Much to Alison's chagrin, the goblins discovered the knife in her boot and promptly added it to the pile, and she suddenly felt extremely vulnerable without it; she hadn't realized just how much safer the knife had made her feel in the past weeks of traveling across Middle-earth until it was gone from her person.

The goblin who had recovered the knife from her boot ran its hands up the length of her legs for good measure, grazing her inner thighs as it ran its slimy tongue over its lips, and Alison leaped back, snarling, kicking out at the goblin and catching it under its chin, causing it to reel back with a yowl of pain. Instantly another goblin was on her, and Alison felt a blow connect to her face, knocking her flat on her back as her head spun and stars danced in front of her eyes.

There were livid outbursts from the Company and some scuffling as they tackled the goblins, and Alison distantly heard an irate snarl from someone—Fili? Or Kili?—saying, "Don't you dare touch her!" Alison raised her head blearily, blinking hard to get rid of the stars, and saw the goblin who had struck her looming over her, preparing for another blow.

"Enough," the Goblin King ordered almost lazily, but the goblin backed off of her and the rest from the Dwarves, returning to their previous positions but still keeping the Dwarves from rushing to her side. Alison, her face now throbbing, clambered to her feet, feeling a red-hot wave of rage brewing underneath her skin, ready to be unleashed on these horrid creatures, but she kept herself in check for the time being. Don't be reckless, she reminded herself. Don't do anything stupid. Not yet.

"Let's try this again," the Goblin King said, leaning on his scepter and glaring at the Company with narrowed eyes. "What are you doing in these parts?"

But the Company remained silent, glaring at the Great Goblin with undisguised hatred and fury. Alison used the moment of silence to take a look around at them all, relieved to see that none of them were injured or anything, the exception being Fili and Kili; the dark-haired Dwarf sported a split lip, while Alison noticed an impressive array of bruises and cuts blossoming on Fili's right knuckles. They stood quite close to her on her left side, while the rest of the Company was spread loosely about around them; but as Alison swept her gaze over all of them, she found to her intense horror that Bilbo was nowhere to be seen. It seemed his own separate journey in the gloom of the underground lake had begun.

"Speak!" the Great Goblin ordered, scowling at their continued silence. From the corner of her eye, Alison saw a twinge of movement from somewhere a little bit behind her where Thorin was standing, but before the Dwarf king could step forward, Óin pushed past him, stepping to the front of the throng with an arrogant swagger that did not befit him at all.

"Don't worry, lads, I'll handle this," he said importantly, and Alison had to refrain from rolling her eyes as the Goblin King eyed him beadily.

"No tricks," the Goblin King warned. "I want the truth, warts and all!"

"You're going to have to speak up," Óin said with an air of speaking to a small, naughty child. "Your boys have flattened me trumpet." He pointed to the flattened ear device on the ground, and the Great Goblin's face contorted in irritation at his condescending tone.

"I'll flatten more than your trumpet!" he growled, taking a menacing step forward, but suddenly Bofur was there, shoving himself to the front of the throng and standing in front of Alison while Glóin dragged Óin back into the relative safety of the goblin party.

"If its information you're wanting, I'm the one you should speak to!" Bofur said, and the Goblin King took in the Dwarf's plain appearance with clear skepticism and distrust. We are so going to die, Alison thought as Bofur went on in front of her.

"We were on the road…well, it's not so much a road as a path…actually, it's not even that, come to think of it—it's more like a track. Anyway, the point is we were on this road, like a path, like a track, and then we weren't! Which is a problem, because, uh, we were supposed to be in Dunland last Tuesday!"

Alison wanted to scream at Bofur to shut up as the Goblin King looked on, confused and doubtful, and then Dori leaned out from behind her, saying, "We were supposed to be visiting distant relations!" The Dwarves all chimed in their agreement, but the Great Goblin's face warped and twisted the longer he listened, until finally he roared, "Shut UP!"

The Company fell silent, watching him breathe angrily as his fleshy beard quivered in ire. "Very well," he said. "If they will not talk, we'll make them squawk!" he roared to the crowd, and the goblins all stamped their feet and thundered their approval as the king spread his arms in a grand gesture. "Bring up the mangler! Bring up the bone-breaker!" He pointed his scepter to the Company. "Start with the youngest!" Alison looked over her shoulder to see him pointing to Ori, who looked half-indignant and half-fearful. "Or, perhaps, their pretty little companion!" he said, sweeping his scepter to her, and Alison gulped despite herself as the skull atop the staff seemed to grin at her. "We'll see if her screams are any bit as lovely as her face," he said maliciously, his eyes fixing on her, and a few spaces down, Alison saw Fili start forward angrily, his bruised knuckles curling into another fist.

Fortunately, before Fili did something stupid that would put them all in jeopardy, Thorin's deep voice rang out from behind her. "Wait!" he said commandingly, and though Alison appreciated his timing, she was kind of pissed the Dwarf king had stepped forward to reveal himself; hadn't Bofur and Óin just lied to keep his identity safe?

But nonetheless, she watched as Thorin detached himself from the throng, coming to a stop before the Goblin King, who eyed him as if he had just been presented with the finest treat in the world.

"Well, well, well," he said in a tone that dripped with sarcasm. "Look who it is. Thorin, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, King under the Mountain." The Goblin King bowed mockingly, and Alison saw Thorin's shoulders stiffen from behind. "Oh, but I'm forgetting! You don't have a mountain, and you're not a king," the goblin continued, wearing an expression of false sympathy, but Alison knew he was just trying to get a rise from the Dwarf. "Which makes you… nobody really."

Alison felt the Company's anger rising behind her like a tidal wave, and even though she was still irritated at Thorin for his earlier comments, he was still their leader, their king, and this ugly git with a scrotum for a beard had absolutely no right to insult him like that.

The Goblin King settled back into his throne, his sneer aimed directly at Thorin as he went on. "I know someone who would pay a pretty price for your head." His mouth grew wider at the sudden motionlessness of the Company, who all looked at each other in confusion; who was he talking about? "Just a head, nothing attached," he added gleefully, clearly enjoying their puzzlement. "Perhaps you know of whom I speak; a pale Orc, astride a white Warg."

Deathly stillness pressed upon the Company, and Alison saw Thorin's shoulders shudder a little as he rattled in a deep breath. Surely it wasn't possible that the Orc Thorin had slain all those years ago was still alive, was hunting for him…?

"Azog the Defiler was destroyed," Thorin said sharply, slowly, but Alison could detect a hint of uncertainty in his tone. "He was slain in battle long ago."

"So you think his defiling days are done, do you?" the Goblin King said, and then chuckled at the stricken silence left in the wake of his proclamation. He leaned over from his throne to speak to a tiny goblin seated on a swing with a crude stone scribe in its hands, and Alison was shocked as the king spoke to it; she had thought the abnormally small goblin was a gruesome decoration. "Send word to the Pale Orc. Tell him I have found his prize."

The little goblin chattered eagerly, scribbling furiously on its stone tablet before speeding away on its swing into the darkness of the far cavern walls. The Goblin King adjusted his fat bottom in his throne more comfortably just as the platform they were on began to shake, and Alison guessed they had found the mangler and the bone-breaker as a screeching noise like old creaking wheels drew closer.

"I think this commemorates another song," the king mused as the torture machines came closer down the pathway behind them, and the goblins cheered as Alison inwardly groaned; was the Goblin King going to sing them to death?

The horrible music from earlier began to swell again, and the Goblin King waved his floppy arms in a conductor's mimic, singing,

"Bones will be shattered,

Necks will be wrung!

You'll be beaten and battered,

From racks you'll be hung!

You will die down here and never be found,

Down in the deep of Goblin Town!"

And on it went as the torture machines rolled on behind them, and to distract herself from their imminent arrival, Alison focused her attention on a scrawny goblin hunched over the pile of their weapons and things, watching anxiously as its hands hovered over her Twin Blades. Fortunately, the goblin moved past them, instead picking up Orcrist, Thorin's sword, and examining it curiously. The goblin unsheathed the Elven blade from its scabbard, and immediately the creature shrieked and leaped back as the magic blade glowed blue from the presence of the goblins around it.

Everyone stopped to look at the goblin, and then to the sword on the ground. Alison and the Dwarves didn't see anything wrong with the scene, but the goblins all screeched in fear and scrambled away; even the Goblin King seemed afraid of it as he clambered higher onto his throne with difficulty, saying fearfully, "I know that sword! It is the Goblin-Cleaver! The Biter! The blade that sliced a thousand necks!"

The goblins shrieked even more at this, though their fear was subsiding into a furious frenzy as they brandished their weapons and advanced on the Company, particularly on Thorin, since it was his sword.

Alison stood her ground as the goblins began to leap at them, snarling, and as she ducked beneath one's outstretched hand she heard the Goblin King bellowing, "Slash them, beat them, peel them, kill them all! Cut off his head!"

Another goblin reached for Alison, and she lashed out with her hand on impulse, her knuckles connecting with the slimy face of the creature and causing her already-sore hand to smart even more from the punch.

If anything, the pain seemed to make Alison sharper, more in tune with her surroundings as she ducked and twisted around the slashing goblins. Everything was more in focus as she jumped around, avoiding the goblins' claws and weapons as best as she could and lashing out with her feet or hands if any got too close. The red-hot was burning inside of her, spreading fire to her fingertips and giving her the edge she needed to dodge around and fight back, not just cower on the corner of the platform screaming in fear.

However, her good fortune didn't last, and she spun around just as a goblin smashed into her and knocked her flat on the ground. Her head snapped painfully to the side as the back of her skull slammed into the floor, and the coppery taste of blood flooded her mouth as her teeth bit down reflexively from the force of the impact.

"Get off me!" Alison hissed through the blood in her mouth, but the goblin only smiled, revealing only a few pointed, yellowed and rotten teeth and a barbed black tongue flickering out in anticipation as it leaned in close, sniffing her skin like a predator smelling out its prey.

"Sweet girl," it rasped, trailing the thongs of its whip across her neck, and Alison felt bile rise to her throat as one of its claws hooked into a belt-loop on her jeans. "Such lovely flesh. Just a mouthful…"

Alison's stomach contracted as it leaned in further, and not having any other choice, considering her limbs were pinned to the floor by the goblin's body, she spat the blood collected in her mouth into the goblin's eyes as it sprang off of her, wailing at the blood now clouding its eyesight.

"Nasty girl!" it shrieked, clawing at its eyes. "Nasty, dirty human! Filthy, rotten—" But the goblin was cut off as a fist suddenly swung out of nowhere, colliding with its temple and causing it to crumple to the ground like a rag-doll.

Alison shot to her feet, nausea still roiling within her at what had almost just happened, and she kicked at a goblin that flung itself at her, sending the creature staggering back into the teeming mass of fighting goblins and Dwarves surrounding them. Then she turned to see who had knocked out the goblin that had attacked her, and her heart leapt as she saw Fili, who was grappling with another goblin before sending it reeling back into the fray, his braids flying and his eyes narrowed with a steely concentration she recognized from their numerous training sessions, though ten times more pronounced now that they were faced with a life-or-death situation.

Alison made for him, ducking by another goblin that hurtled into her path and passing Dwalin, who was taking on four at a time, though he didn't appear to be in any trouble as he roared insults at the goblins and fought on, the metal gauntlets on his hands practically caving in the goblins' skulls with every hit. Alison continued on to Fili, her breath sharp and raspy in her throat and her heart racing.

But as she neared the brawling Dwarf, a sudden resonating BOOM rocked the cavern, and a second later an explosion ripped through the space, vanquishing all the light from the torches and knocking everybody, goblins and Dwarves alike, to the ground as if a giant hand had swatted them aside. The force of the explosion rippled over Alison's skin with a blast of heat as she was thrown backwards, and a piercing silver light stabbed into her eyes until it became too bright and she had to squeeze her eyelids shut.

For several long heartbeats, there was silence, the kind of silence that weighs like the tension before the onslaught of a thunderstorm and seems to absorb everything else, like the sounds of breath or rhythmic pulse of a heart, until there is nothing but the oppressing silence left.

Alison reopened her eyes to see absolute darkness, but slowly, the fires of the torches were beginning to burn again, casting harsh golden light around the cavern as the Dwarves and the goblins began to stir as well from their spots on the floor. In the shadows behind the Goblin King's throne, Alison made out a silhouette walking towards them, a very tall silhouette with a pointy hat, carrying a staff in one hand and a great sword in the other…

Gandalf appeared out of the gloom then, looking more like a Wizard than she had ever seen him before as he stood, outlined in shadows and smoke from the torches and holding his staff and sword. He surveyed the fallen Company and the goblins piled around them with fiery blue eyes, and Alison hauled herself to her knees, staring at the Wizard with wonder and relief.

He met her gaze head-on, and the fire in his eyes filled her with new strength as he beseeched the rest of the Company, who looked to him dazedly, as if they couldn't believe he was there. "Take up arms," Gandalf ordered them in a strong, clear voice. "Fight. Fight!"

His words sank in, and Alison was the first one to straggle to her feet and lunge for the weapon's pile, grabbing up her swords and strapping them back onto her back with a speed that surprised her. She turned around, jamming her knife back into her boot, and saw absolute mayhem behind her. The Dwarves and goblins were all on their feet again, surging and fighting like they were in a street riot, and Alison drew Maodus, seeing Bombur being the closest one to her, and she grabbed up his humongous battle-axe in her other hand, nearly breaking her arm from its weight.

"Bombur!" she yelled, and the ginger Dwarf spared her a quick glance as he belly-bounced a goblin off of his gut. She threw him the axe and he caught it, immediately launching into the fight with new vigor, cutting down goblins with an almost-ease to it.

Once he had cleared out the goblins currently fighting him, Alison called "Bombur! Help me!" as she began tossing the various weapons of the Company to them so they could gain an upper-hand in the fight. Bombur waddled over quickly and helped her, and soon the Company was in possession of their weapons again, and the goblins began to quail under their newfound energy as they hacked, slashed, and slammed the creatures viciously.

Alison turned as she finished handing off one of Dwalin's mammoth axes and saw Gandalf entering the fray, wielding his sword with a grace that no mortal man his age would have been able to accomplish back in her world.

"He wields the Foehammer!" Alison heard the Goblin King bleat fearfully over the tumultuous fighting of the goblins and the Company. "The Beater! Bright as daylight!"

Alison's moment of distraction had cost her dearly; as Bombur leaped back into the fray, a weight crashed into Alison's back and clung on like a parasite, and Alison yelled out as a goblin's sharp talons dug into the material of her jacket and its rank breath rasped across her cheek. Alison flailed, trying to dislodge the goblin from her back, but its grip was too tightly coiled around her body.

She staggered back, the goblin still clinging to her, and she cried out as an arc of pain seared through her shoulder, the goblin's teeth sinking into her flesh like the blade of a knife. She fell back, losing her footing, and she felt the goblin's breath being knocked from its lungs as it made an oof sound from below her as she landed on top of it. Alison rolled, feeling her shoulder welling with blood as she scrambled to her feet, Maodus still in hand.

She eyed the goblin who had attacked her fiercely, and through the pain, Alison felt her blood singing, and the edges of her vision tinted red with rage. She was sick of these vile goblins. She wanted out of Goblin Town, and she knew the only way they could escape was through the force of fighting. But she was ready. She was an Ashburne, a warrior; she had been training for this ever since her arrival in Middle-earth, and now it was time to prove herself. She was hungry for a fight now.

The goblin surged to its feet, brandishing a crude, short dagger, but a weapon nonetheless. Alison drew Natrem as well, relishing the rush of strength and power that flowed through her fingertips at the touch of the swords.

The goblin screeched, launching itself at her, and Alison recalled Fili's words from their sword-fighting lessons as she sank into a battle crouch. Adversaries who wield knives are nimble and fast, but with your swords you have the reach and the force; use them to your advantage. As the goblin hurtled closer, Alison braced herself with a deep breath, and as if on autopilot, she moved.

Before the goblin got too close inside her guard, she sprang, deflecting its slash with Maodus and then sweeping in with Natrem, swiping with the blade instead of stabbing. The sword sank through the goblin's fleshy stomach, and as Alison slashed, she felt the horrible sensation of tendons and muscles and skin severing apart as her sword passed clean through the goblin's stomach. The red-hot wavered as she watched the goblin crumple to the ground in horror, its shrieks of pain and anger coming out as gurgles before it twitched and went still, its eyes glassy as they looked up to the cavern ceiling above it.

Alison stumbled to the edge of the platform, trying her hardest not to vomit as she stared at the dead goblin, not being able to tear her eyes away from the motionless body.

What had she done? She…she had killed it. She had killed it. Seeing Wargs and Orcs being cut down didn't seem like much of a big deal, but that was because others had disposed of the creatures. This…this was all her doing. She had taken the goblin's life; she had done it with the very sword in her right hand that now gleamed with oily black goblin blood.

Guilt clawed at her, but she tried to force it down, dimly aware of the struggle still going on around her. That goblin would've killed her, and all of these other ones wouldn't hesitate to kill her either if they had the chance. It was survival; to keep herself and her friends alive, this had to be done. The goblins wouldn't let them go any other way. This was mandatory survival, not cold-blooded murder. But as Alison got shakily to her feet again, a nagging feeling persisted like a heavy stone weighing in her stomach, lingering on her peripheral as the red-hot took over again.

Swallowing her moral qualms for the moment, Alison waded back into the fray, hefting her swords as the goblins took notice of her and lunged, snapping their whips and jabbing with their knives as she dodged, weaved, slashed and stabbed, gritting her teeth against the realistic feel of the bodies that scraped and impaled on the tips of her swords.

The goblins kept coming, wave after wave, and Alison felt sweat coating her skin and running in between her shoulder blades as she fought on, the movements of the swords in her hands coming so naturally, and she didn't even feel the pains in her body anymore as she waled on; but she knew this spurt of energy couldn't hold out forever, and the goblins were never ceasing. They had to leave soon, or they risked being overrun again.

Somehow, Alison found herself fighting beside Thorin, his movements solid and flawless as he hacked and jabbed with Orcrist, the Elvish blade sparkling blue underneath the thick layers of black goblin blood coating it.

"Miss Ashburne," he grunted in greeting as he beheaded a goblin with a quick flash of his sword.

"Thorin," she replied gruffly, tugging Natrem out of a goblin's chest with a faint flicker of guilt as she swung Maodus around to decapitate a second. "Any plans on getting us out of here?"

"I'm working on it," he said as he slammed the butt of Orcrist into a goblin's head, and Alison could hear the distinct crack of its skull even over the chaotic clamor of the fighting around them.

Suddenly a rumble rocked the whole platform, and Alison looked up to see the Goblin King barreling towards them, apparently ready to join in on the fight. He made straight for Thorin, wielding his scepter and a blade that had to be twice as long as her body, and Alison's heart leapt as she realized Thorin couldn't see the Great Goblin charging towards him as he was engaged in a brawl with another one.

"Thorin!" she cried, just as the Dwarf king sliced down the goblin, and he swung around without any hesitation at her warning, bringing his sword up as the Goblin King brought his down. The swords collided in a clash of screeching metal, and Thorin sank to one knee from the impact, gritting his teeth, as the Goblin King staggered back from the force of the connecting blades. His wide girth took him farther than expected, and he toppled into his throne, but it couldn't handle his weight. With a roar of surprise and fury, the Goblin King went over the edge of the platform, taking his throne with him as he fell down into the swallowing darkness of the cavern.

The sudden defeat of their king drove the goblins to new levels of savagery and bloodthirstiness, and they howled as they came down on the Company with a wild streak of violence that Alison was shocked by as she staggered under the assaults of the goblins.

Above the increased onslaught of the goblins, Alison heard Gandalf's voice bellow "Follow me! Quick! Run!"

She looked over her shoulder to see the Wizard sprinting down the pathway he had first emerged from, Ori and Dwalin close on his heels as the others broke away and followed after them. Alison took one last swipe at the goblin she was grappling with and raced after them, Thorin thundering behind her as they made their way down the rickety pathway.

As they ran, cutting down any goblins in their path, Alison felt like she was in one of those stupid video games she would always watch her little brother play on Saturday nights as they fought through wave after wave of the enemy, jumping and leaping from pathways and platforms and all sorts of other crazy things, only intent on escaping the goblins' clutches as the creatures pursued them like the hounds of Hell.

The Dwarves were a maelstrom of fury and chaos all their own, weaving around the place with a speed and ferocity that took Alison by surprise as she fought alongside them. She was pretty sure she had fought side by side with the whole Company in a matter of minutes as they pressed on, for they moved around and changed positions constantly. At one point she was beside Bifur, who shouted and hollered in Khuzdûl as he jabbed with his javelin/axe type weapon; then suddenly it was Ori, whose aggressiveness filled her with a strange sort of pride like a mother watching her son score the winning goal in a soccer game; and on it went, Kili covering her back as she leapt for another platform, her sword already in motion as her feet touched down and severed through the gut of another goblin, and then Fili, his movements and ferocious expression again reminding her of a lion as he whirled around her, giving her a slight reprieve from the fighting as he unleashed all of his skill on the goblins around them and their attention focused on him.

"Cut the ropes!" she heard Thorin shout, and she looked up to see goblins swinging towards the platform they were standing on, pirate-style, and she lunged for the ropes connecting to the platform and holding it in place, bringing one of her blades down on it and slicing it completely through as the others did the same around her.

The platform tilted at an alarming angle and began to fall, causing the rope-swinging goblins to soar straight over the platform, and Alison's torso slammed into the platform railing as it lurched forward, and she flipped over the wooden beam to the pathway below. By some miracle of the Valar, she managed to land on her feet, her shins prickling with the force of the landing, but she forced herself on after Gandalf and the Company, still wielding the Twin Blades as they raced along the goblin-tunnels at breakneck speed.

In front of her, Alison saw Gandalf jab his staff into a low over-hanging of rock, and with a flash of light a sizable boulder chipped off the rock and began rolling down the sloping pathway before them, squashing goblins in their path and knocking them off the pathway as they continued on.

Alison's lungs seared, her arms and legs burned from strain, but she had never felt so alive, all of her senses buzzing as if she'd been injected with an insane amount of adrenaline that pushed her on as the goblins began to fall behind.

They reached an empty stretch of pathway, but before they could get more than halfway across, a giant hole erupted in the middle of the pathway, and through the hole clambered out the Great Goblin, his scrotum-beard quivering in unsuppressed rage as he smiled evilly at the Company, knowing he had them trapped as the goblins swarmed up behind them, having caught up to their prey and eyeing them expectantly as the Goblin King loomed over them triumphantly.

"You thought you could escape me?" he sneered, taking a menacing step forward. His sword was gone, but the skull-topped scepter still remained in his hand as his eyes bugged gleefully. "What are you going to do now, Wizard?"

He swiped his scepter at Gandalf, who staggered back, but the Dwarves in front caught him and pushed him back to his feet. With a look of clear contempt and disdain, Gandalf jabbed his staff into the goblin's eye and slashed Glamdring across his belly, bringing the goblin to his knees with a yowl of pain.

The Goblin King looked in detached surprise at his slashed-open belly, then to Gandalf, his lopsided eyes almost confused. "That'll do it." He said, and then Gandalf slit his throat, and with a last gurgle, the Goblin King collapsed onto the platform, dead.

The Great Goblin's weight was too much for the pathway they were standing on, and with a creaking groan, the part of the pathway the Company was standing on sagged, then broke apart completely.

"Hold on!" Thorin bellowed, as the pathway free-fell into the darkness of the lower goblin-tunnels, and Alison didn't need telling twice as she gripped a wooden beam with all her might as they hurtled farther and farther into the goblin-tunnels at a dangerous speed, her hair being whipped back from her face and her teeth rattling in her skull as their descent continued.

Then the stone walls on either side of them began to narrow, and the pathway scraped along them, their fall slowing as the stone provided enough traction for them to land roughly on the cavern ground, way down deep in the goblin-tunnels where there was no light, only the distant glow of the torches high, high above them.

There were grunts and groans all around, and Alison, who was closer to the ground, heard Bofur's cheery voice say from above her, "Well. That could've been worse."

No sooner had the words left his mouth then the Great Goblin's fat, horrible body crashed into their pathway with the force of a tank, and Alison groaned in pain as the weight pressed down on her chest, and the phantom-wounds of her healed ribs protested as she dragged herself out of the rubble, keeping a tight grip on her swords. "You've got to be joking!" she heard Dwalin snarl as she cleared the debris, regaining some of her breath before moving any further, her body aching like she had been run through a meat-grinder.

A dull roar began to sound from above as the Company struggled out of the rubble, and Alison heard Kili yell in a panicked voice, "Gandalf!"

Alison looked up, her mouth dropping open and her eyes widening as she saw against the distant glow of the torches a legitimate wave of goblins pouring down the treacherous slope towards them, their voices turning from a roar into a crescendo as they got nearer.

The remaining Company clawed their way out of the debris, and Alison hauled herself to her feet as the goblins swarmed closer down the slope. "Only one thing will save us now," Gandalf said. "And that is daylight. Run!"

And he turned and disappeared down a sidelong tunnel leading away from the crash-site and the vengeful wrath of the goblins. Without even thinking of objecting, Alison sprinted after him as they wound their way through the musty, wet underground tunnels, slipping occasionally on the moisture dripping down from the stalactites on the stone ceiling.

After a while, the only sounds that could be heard were the laborious panting of the Company and the pounding of their boots on the tunnel floor as they ran, interspersed with the quiet drip-drip of the tunnel's moisture. Despite the absence of sounds of pursuit, the Company kept running until the tunnel began to gradually slope at a downwards angle and the gloomy dimness grew infinitesimally lighter.

Eventually, the air turned sweeter and fresher, not cold and clammy like the tunnel's air, and Alison almost sobbed in relief as they rounded a corner and saw an opening at the end of the tunnel, early evening sunlight pouring forth into the cramped space as they made for the opening, passing through out of the goblin-tunnels and into the outdoors of the open world again.

They continued running, though their pace was slightly slower now that they didn't have the threat of imminent danger on their heels. But still they ran down the mountain-side, until the sun began to dip low on the horizon and the dusky shadows began to gather.

Once they were a safe enough distance away from the exit of the goblin-tunnels, they began to slow for a rest in a spacious clearing among the trees and rocks of the mountain-side. Alison was one of the first to enter the clearing, right behind Thorin and Gandalf, the latter who began to count the Dwarves as they ran into the clearing behind them.

Alison nearly keeled over from the jellylike feeling of exhaustion in her legs, and she gulped in deep lungfuls of air as she momentarily dropped her swords, feeling her head clear a bit and cleansing the rough, oily, and gruesome awfulness of Goblin Town out of her body. They had made it. They had made it through Goblin Town alive. Alison pressed her hands to her face, not being able to keep the smile from her lips as she repeated it to herself. They were alive. They had escaped Goblin Town.

She picked back up her swords, the fever of battle still not quite gone from her veins, and wiped the blades off in the grass, trying to get rid of the black goblin blood that was spattered against the glowing silver of the iron, feeling something twist in her gut as she did so.

More than anything, she was shocked at what she had done in Goblin Town, and a little bit in disbelief that she had managed to come out of that alive. She still couldn't quite process what all she had done fighting-wise; it was like she had entered into an adrenaline-induced frenzy, a fight-or-flight instinct that had transformed her from a regular human girl into a warrior. She felt giddy at the thought; she was a warrior, she had to be. It seemed like she had finally lived up to her legacy, had finally unlocked her full potential, generations of natural warrior instincts finally coming to light in the face of danger.

But almost as soon as she thought of how amazing she felt, finally realizing what she could do, she was almost overwhelmed by the feeling of guilt that washed over her like a black wave threatening to drag her under.

She had killed that day. She had taken lives, snuffed out a creature's existence like she was blowing out a candle. Nausea racked her body as she remembered the glassy eyes of the goblins, the sound of their dying breaths, the way her swords had sliced and cut into them so vividly, and she had barely stopped to think about what she was doing…

Jesus Christ, get yourself together, she snapped to herself in her thoughts. They were going to kill you and everyone else. It was kill or be killed; you had no choice if you wanted to survive. And you knew what you were signing up for when you agreed to come on this quest, you knew the dangers and the implications you would face. Now stop acting all guilty and get over it; you'll have to do a lot more of it before this journey is finished.

Alison straightened up, feeling a bit better and sheathing her swords as the last of the Company jogged into the clearing, Gandalf counting them as they appeared out of the tree-line. "Six, seven, eight, nine. Bifur, Bofur, that's eleven. Fili, Kili, thirteen. And Bombur, that makes fourteen."

Suddenly Gandalf looked around in confusion, his brows crinkling over his bright eyes. "Where is Bilbo?" he said. "Where is our Hobbit?"

Alison suddenly felt as if she had been encased in ice, her blood freezing in her veins as a cold sense of dread stole over her, numbing her body as a guilt stronger than the one she had felt about the goblins suffocated her as the Dwarves all looked around, confused and anxious.

She had completely forgotten about Bilbo in light of everything that had just happened, and she wanted to scream as she realized that she should have known he was still gone, that he hadn't rejoined them on their way out of the tunnels, that he was still inside the mountains, horribly lost and trapped in the darkness, or…or…

Her stomach flipped over; she couldn't bear to think of the other option, that he had died in the gloom of the underground lake, that he had been offered as the creature Gollum's next meal…

She felt like punching something as she realized she had left Bilbo alone, utterly alone in the depths of Goblin Town and the tunnels, and she hated herself at the thought; it was her fault, it was all her fault. If she had just convinced Thorin to not take the Mountain Pass, none of this would have happened, and Bilbo would never have had to sacrifice his life for the sake of some stupid ring, no matter how much it could've helped them in the future. The thought made her feel physically sick.

"Where is our Hobbit?" Gandalf demanded in a sharper tone, and Dwalin snorted from Alison's left.

"Curse the Halfling!" he growled. "Now he's lost?"

"I thought he was with Dori!" Glóin said.

"Don't blame me!" Dori exclaimed indignantly.

"Where did you last see him?" Gandalf broke in urgently.

"I think I saw him slip away when they first collared us," Nori piped up.

"What happened exactly?" Gandalf demanded as Alison stood, still frozen. "Tell me!"

"I'll tell you what happened," Thorin said, striding forward until he stood in the center of the clearing, all eyes on him. "Master Baggins saw his chance and he took it! He's thought of nothing but his soft bed and his warm hearth since first he stepped out his door. We will not be seeing our Hobbit again. He is long gone."

"Don't you dare," Alison said, her hands curling into fists at her sides, and the Company all looked to her, surprised at the tremble in her voice as tears brimmed in her eyes, anger and guilt making the tears burn fiercely as she faced Thorin. "Don't you dare start this again, Thorin Oakenshield. Bilbo is not as weak and sniveling as you keep making him out to be, so just stop with the insults—"

"Does it look like he is here, Miss Ashburne?" Thorin snapped. "Look around you; the sooner you face this fact, the better off you will be. Master Baggins is not coming back. He is gone."

"No, he isn't." A voice said from Alison's right, and she whipped her head around along with the rest of the Company, their eyes widening in shock as Bilbo stepped out from behind a tree, looking exhausted and dirty with a gaunt, pale look to his face, but otherwise he was unscathed. Alison's heart felt close to bursting as she took in Bilbo's appearance, all feelings of anxiety and guilt leaving her in one deflated moment, and she stood, stunned and ecstatic, as Bilbo walked further into the clearing.

"Bilbo Baggins!" Gandalf exclaimed in relief. "I've never been so glad to see anyone in my life."

"Bilbo!" Kili said, smiling broadly. "We'd given you up!"

"How on earth did you get past the goblins?" Fili said in wonder, gazing upon the Hobbit with a look akin to awe.

"How indeed," Dwalin voiced, while Thorin stared at Bilbo with a border-line guilty expression at realizing that the Hobbit had heard everything he'd said.

There was a slight pause, in which Bilbo's smile kind of plastered to his face, and he gave a nervous chuckle, wagging his finger as his other hand slipped something into the pocket of his now button-less waistcoat, something that gleamed gold before disappearing…

Looking around, Alison realized that she and Gandalf were the only ones who had noticed the gleam, and she met the Wizard's gaze as his eyes lingered on Bilbo's pocket suspiciously. A knowing of information seemed to pass between the two, and Alison guessed that Gandalf knew what Bilbo had found just as much as Alison did.

"Well, what does it matter?" Gandalf said airily, turning back to face Bilbo. "He's back."

"It matters," Thorin spoke up, still staring at the Hobbit with an expression of stony abashment. "I want to know; why did you come back?"

There was a slight pause as Bilbo stared at Thorin for a few seconds, as if weighing his answer. "Look, I know you doubt me," he said eventually, meeting the Dwarf king's gaze head-on. "I know—I know you always have. And you're right. I often do think about Bag-End; I miss my books, and my armchair, and my garden. See, that's where I belong. That's home. And that's why I came back, because…you don't have one. A home. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back if I can."

A weighted silence met his words, and Alison smiled as the Dwarves looked on in admiration, Thorin nodding stiffly at the Hobbit's words.

Suddenly, from high above them on the mountain-side, there came a resounding howl that Alison recognized all too well, where it was soon joined by another chorus of howls that were far too close for comfort.

The Company all tensed at the sound, and Alison felt her heart beating hard against her rib-cage once more, every instinct in her body screaming at her to run. The Orcs had found them.

"Out of the frying pan—" Thorin started, his hand clenched tightly upon the hilt of Orcrist at his waist.

"And into the fire," Gandalf finished. "Run. Run!"

And they did, sprinting down the slope of the mountain-side as the sun bled red upon the ground and the howls of the Wargs echoed behind them.

Ooooh, intense. And Alison is finally living up to her legacy, yayyy! (It's like two o'clock in the morning here so this is basically all the chapter commentary you're getting because I'm too tired to write anything else haha)

Sooo, thank you all for your wonderful reviews last time! They were all so great and I appreciate every one of them (even though y'all chewed me out for that last cliffhanger;)) So, as usual, please keep them coming! I love hearing from y'all!:)

Thank you, lovelies! Until next chapter...

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