The March of Time

17: The World Ahead

Hey guys! Soo Chapter 17 is here!

Okay, so this is a really short chapter, but this is what I like to call a "filler" chapter, because it basically just fills the space in between the end of the first movie and the beginning of the second. It's like a calm before the storm, with the storm being the amount of craziness and action that goes down in DoS. But don't worry, after this we'll pick things back up!

So without further ado, here is Chapter 17! Hope y'all like!

Chapter Seventeen: The World Ahead

The only good thing about the treacherous climb down the Carrock, as Gandalf called it, was that it gave Alison time to think. As long as she kept her footing and one hand brushing against the rock to her left side, her mind was free to wander as the Company carefully picked their way down the stone steps hewn from the rock itself. And she had a lot to think about.

Firstly, about the fact at what was coming ahead. Bilbo's earlier comment about the worst being behind them had made her want to laugh and scream in equal measure. She had wanted to say that the worst was definitely yet to come, but she had held her tongue, not wanting to get involved in the mess her supposed foresight would bring to the Company. But she was terrified.

If their journey stayed true to the path of the story, she remembered what came next, though not in minute detail: Mirkwood, Lake-town, Smaug himself, and, worst of all, the battle. Alison felt a cold hand brush its fingers across the back of her neck at the mere thought, but she forced it away. They still had a lot to cover before then, and right now, she didn't want to worry about it or the future complications it might bring.

So far, their quest had stuck true to the book, except for the slight problem of Azog actually being alive and now undoubtedly seeking revenge on all of them for thwarting his plan on adding Thorin's head to his collection. Despite that particular bump in the road, everything else had been sticking pretty true to the story she recalled, and she was torn between wanting to stick to the story-line as much as possible or deviating from the catastrophic path they were currently on. If they stuck to the book, she knew how things would work out and could use that to her advantage. But just the mere reminder of the ending made her insides feel cold, and part of her wanted to change the course of the future, just like Galadriel had said to her all those weeks ago. She knew she had the power to, but that power frightened her; could she actually be able to do it?

She didn't know. That seemed like the constant struggle of her life so far in Middle-earth; she didn't know anything concerning the outcome now, if it would change or stay the same because of her presence. It was maddening, not being able to see the definite future, but knowing she could shape it just from one small mistake. Especially concerning the fates of the line of Durin…

One of her feet suddenly slipped on an uneven step, and she would have landed flat on her butt if Fili's hands hadn't steadied her at the last second, sending a jolt of electricity through her at his touch. She glanced back with a quick, grateful smile, her eyes flicking to his, but he didn't notice her, just staring off into space with a frown tugging on his lips. She turned around again, confused at his expression as she continued to pick her way down the steps, wondering what he was thinking about that made him look so distant. Which led to the other big thing weighing on her mind.

It still didn't feel quite real, the kiss. It had reminded her of every romantic movie her best friend Lexi had forced her to watch on late Friday nights, where the guy always kissed the girl in the heat of the moment, just when she was going off on a rant that no one really cared about. But while completely cliché, Alison thought she had never enjoyed something so immensely in a long time.

His nearness, his warmth, the pressure of his lips, the way his hands had cupped her face, so gently, the calluses and surprising softness of the way he had held her dancing across her skin…she hated to swoon, but wow. She had to give him props; the Dwarf knew how to sweep a girl off her feet. But while one half of her was nearly squealing in joy, the other part of her felt as if she were being slowly submerged in acid.

Alison had read the stories, where a mortal falls in love with someone they can never have from another world, either because their customs forbid it or something terrible would happen to the mortal if they did; either death, or something worse. And while Alison knew she didn't love Fili, he had given her a taste of something she realized she had been craving from him for a while now, and, frankly, it scared her. Considering the enormity of what they were doing, and (she tried not to think about it too seriously), the possible outcome of this quest, what she was getting herself into was definitely not a smart idea for either of them. And the longer she thought about it, the more implausible it seemed.

He was a prince of Durin, and she was still a human girl from the mortal world, Ashburne warrior or not. Either way, whatever was forming between them would not last, and that realization sent a tiny stab into her heart. Even if he survived (again, she tried not to dwell on this thought too much), he would be royalty, with a rebuilding kingdom to look after, and Alison was fairly certain that Dwarf customs would not allow a human like her to hold any position at all in a Dwarven society, if her and Fili even did become a thing. And undoubtedly she would be sent home once this quest was finished, never to return or see any of her friends again. And if this quest truly did end like the book, if Fili were to…

She shut down that train of thought quickly, trying not to be overwhelmed by the sense of dread that stole over her. You are over-thinking things way too much, she scolded herself, squinting at the bright shafts of afternoon sunlight that had appeared from behind the Carrock as they made their way further down. Just take things one step at a time.

But despite all the complications it had brought, she had still enjoyed the moment between her and Fili far too much than she should have, and she was nearly light-headed with the thought that maybe, just maybe, he might reciprocate the feelings she had been developing towards him since the start of their journey in Bilbo Baggins' Hobbit-hole so long if they were on a dangerous quest with no guarantee of survival, it was still nice to know that maybe there was something there to brighten the pressing darkness closing in on them the closer to the ending they got.

For the rest of the afternoon, the Company descended the carven stairs of the Carrock, and there was much laughter and joking around as they went. Like Bilbo, everyone thought that they were now in the clear, if only for a little while, and their spirits were the lightest they had been in days. The only people not joining in on the merriment were her and Thorin, who had reverted back to silence as the day wore on, no doubt thinking about what was coming ahead like she was as he walked at the front of the group, Gandalf and Balin right behind him.

Ever since their landing on top of the rock, Alison had been watching Thorin almost subconsciously from her place near the middle of the group, looking for any signs of his injuries. He had taken quite a beating back on the cliff-edge, and though Gandalf had revived him, she wasn't sure if the Wizard's super-amazing healing powers extended to lesser injuries like bruises or not, and she knew from experience that bruises on the torso were definitely not a pleasant sensation.

But the Dwarf king had led them on without signs of discomfort or pain, refusing to be checked by Óin before ordering them to move out, wanting to get down the rock before night fell and their descent became even more dangerous. Alison was quite impressed by his attitude as he led them down the rock with a new sense of vigor; despite seeing his worst enemy practically resurrect before his eyes, the sight of the Lonely Mountain had filled him with a sort of hopefulness, and even Alison was feeling a bit more eager as well from the vision of the peak rising up before them in the far distance.

By the time dusk was settling, they had descended entirely from the Carrock, and now they stood on a craggy plain dotted here and there with patches of grass and clusters of trees, surrounded by steep and rocky peaks; though not nearly as tall as the peaks of the Misty Mountains behind them, they were still pretty high, and Alison wrinkled her nose at the thought of even more climbing.

Thorin led them across a short stretch of plain until they reached a reasonably-sized copse of trees. "We'll camp here for the night," he said, stopping in the middle of the patchy, short-bristled grass spotting the clearing among the trunks. "We will begin our last stretch over the borders of the Mountains tomorrow morning, so get some rest." He rubbed his forearm absent-mindedly as he talked, and Alison wondered if there was an injury there he wasn't telling about.

"Glóin, Bofur, go collect some branches for a fire," he ordered. "Small ones that can be put out easily. I haven't been this side of the Misty Mountains in many years, and I do not know what creatures have made this place their home since then."

Bofur and Glóin nodded as he went on. "Kili, Miss Ashburne, you will take the first watch tonight. Wake Dwalin and I close to dawn and we will take over."

Alison nodded, seeing Kili do the same somewhere to her left, his face expressionless at his uncle's order. Bofur started coughing into his hand, trying to disguise a laugh, and Alison shot him a poisonous look, wondering what the Dwarf was snickering at.

"Don't you mean Alison and Fili should take the first watch?" he said slyly, and Thorin looked at him blankly as Alison felt her cheeks heat. Of course the Dwarf king hadn't seen her and Fili's kiss since he was unconscious, and Alison wanted to keep it that way for as long as possible, remembering his words from so long ago about keeping her distance and not forming attachments to his nephews, and she wasn't keen on finding out what he would say when he discovered what had happened between her and Fili.

The Dwarves shot Bofur a half-amused, half-scandalized look at his comment, while Thorin looked on in confusion and Alison blushed, trying not to look too guilty as Fili stood confidently, as unruffled as ever. The only people not amused were Gandalf, who looked slightly distracted, Bilbo, who seemed too lost in thought to really notice, and Kili, whose face was still devoid of any expression.

"No, I said Kili and Miss Ashburne," Thorin repeated, his brows furrowed as he looked around at the Company. "Why would I mean Fili instead?"

Bofur opened his mouth, grinning, to respond, but before he could say anything Alison cut in, trying to salvage the situation as much as possible before Thorin found out and blew up like an atomic bomb; there were only so many times she could push him before he snapped, and she figured that this was probably a really bad idea to tell him right then. Besides, that whole kiss might've been a one-time thing, and there was no use in worrying him about it.

"I think Bofur's just getting a little hard on hearing," she joked, smiling and trying to make her voice as light-hearted as she could. "Maybe it's time for him to invest in an ear trumpet like Óin's." As Thorin looked back to Bofur, Alison shot the Dwarf a dark glare and shook her head furtively behind Thorin's back, imploring Bofur not to say anything stupid.

Fortunately, the Dwarf seemed to respect her wish and instead laughed as the Company looked on, not quite sure what to do with themselves. Thorin looked confused for a moment more, but eventually he just shrugged and went to find himself a spot on the ground, and the rest of the Company followed suit.

Alison relaxed a little bit, her crisis averted, at least for the moment. She glanced to Fili to see his reaction, but he was already in deep conversation with Ori, and she felt a little bit miffed that he had even refused to acknowledge her after saving them both from a highly awkward situation, though she knew Thorin was bound to find out soon. Ignoring the twinge of frustration she felt at Fili's disregard, she claimed a spot on the ground that was as even as she could find, brushing away stones with her feet before sitting down, a wave of fatigue overcoming her.

The past day or so had been brutal for her, and her body felt like she had been used as a personal punching bag, her muscles stiff and sore and weary. Her shoulder stung a bit still from where the herbs were drawing out the effects of the goblin's bite, though she was just grateful the bleeding had stopped. Her skull was aching from the numerous times she had been slammed to the ground in Goblin Town, and the right side of her face felt tight and swollen from when one of the goblins had struck her. She shuddered at the reminder of Goblin Town, and though she knew she would probably regret it later once they continued on with their journey, she couldn't help thinking how glad she was to be out of that rough, crude, and violent place.

The sun was beginning to set, and as the night closed in, Alison felt her stomach contracting painfully and growling, begging her to feed it as she sat on her patch of ground, trying to ignore it. She had barely eaten in days since she was so stressed, but with the threat of Goblin Town behind, her hunger had returned full-force, and she literally felt sick she was so hungry.

The only problem was that they had no more supplies. After their dump from the cave into the goblin-tunnels, all of their packs and things had been lost or scavenged through, and now they had nothing to sustain them; no bedrolls, no blankets, no food, no water-skins, nothing. Alison didn't even have her chapstick anymore, and for some odd reason, this seemed to strike a low blow for her. Besides the travel-stained, worn and faded jeans she wore, the chapstick had been the only relic from home she had had, and its loss cut into her deeply, reminding her of just how alone she truly was, a mortal stuck in a world full of peril and magic, frolicking along on a quest that may or may not be doomed. The notion filled her with a sense of homesickness and longing, and she wrapped her arms around her knees, hugging them close to her chest in a childish attempt to ward off the sadness lingering on the edges of her peripheral as she sat, silent and brooding.

Before their watch was to begin, Thorin had sent Dwalin and Kili out to hunt for some food with the bow and scrounged up arrows Alison had managed to save from the goblins before their escape. As the shadows lengthened, Bofur and Glóin had started a tame fire in the center of the small clearing, and the Company gathered around it, their talking and joking having become increasingly subdued as the fact settled in that they had zero supplies, and no possible way yet to get more anytime soon.

Alison stayed on the edges of the Company, enjoying her small moment of solitude as the flames cast dancing shadows upon the ground at her feet and a small breeze played with her hair, a cool gust of summer air that held a tinge of something crisper, almost like autumn. Alison had completely lost track of time since leaving Rivendell, but if she had to guess, she would say it was probably mid-July, nearing the end of the month before August began, which shocked her. Had she really been in Middle-earth that long? And how much longer would she be staying? It blew her mind how fast time seemed to travel here, and she felt another twinge of sadness as she realized she had missed her younger siblings' birthday, whether they were time-frozen or not. She wondered what kind of gift she would have gotten them if she was still in the mortal world, but the thought made her heart ache too much, so she stopped thinking about it altogether.

Just then, Kili and Dwalin appeared back in the clearing, and in each Dwarf's hand there were at least two or three rabbits each; fairly small, but food nonetheless, though Alison's stomach turned slightly at the prospect of eating wild rabbit.

She stayed back as the Dwarves mumbled in appreciation of the meat and set about skinning the creatures, while Bifur and Óin fashioned a small spit over the fire using leftover twigs and branches from the pile Bofur and Glóin had collected earlier.

While the Dwarves worked away on preparing their dinner, Bilbo wandered over to where Alison was and sat down beside her, adjusting his sword on his waist so he could sit more comfortably.

"You've been quiet today," he remarked, picking at the layers of dirt that had culminated under his fingernails since they had left Rivendell, not having had any time for baths on the road.

Alison shot him a scornful look. "Well, we've kind of almost died at least ten times since yesterday," she pointed out drily. "I still haven't quite processed that we're really alive yet."

He chuckled quietly at her words, and Alison looked to him, furrowing her brows. The Hobbit looked relaxed, almost content by her side, gazing off into space with a slight smile on his impish face, his light brown eyes filled with a twinkle she hadn't really noticed before. Alison was quite taken aback by his attitude as she studied him; he had seemed as worried as she was on their trek through the Pass, and he had gone through a great deal more than she had in the past day or so, first with the riddles with Gollum in the goblin-tunnels, and then with his heroic moment when he had charged at the Orc about to behead Thorin. And despite all of that, he seemed more serene than ever.

"You seem different," she stated, watching as Bilbo glanced at her with his eyebrows raised slightly. "I mean, not by a lot, but since yesterday, your attitude just seems more…confident. More sure of yourself."

"Really?" he said. "I don't feel any different. More…grounded, maybe. But that's it. I don't feel any more confident than usual, but certainly more…capable, I believe."

Alison nodded thoughtfully. "You certainly proved that," she replied. "You saved Thorin last night, and I don't think anyone will forget that anytime soon." She nudged his shoulder slightly, grinning. "See what a little faith does for you? I told you that you were meant to come on this quest."

Bilbo shrugged modestly, choosing not to say anything as he watched the Dwarves for a moment, and Alison suddenly had a pretty good guess as to what had changed the Hobbit's attitude so quickly. Her eyes strayed to his waist-coat pocket, where she had seen him slip the ring into when he joined up with them after their escape from the goblin-tunnels, and she debated on asking him about it or not, wondering what his reaction would be. But before she could say anything, Bofur announced it was time for dinner, and she lost her chance.

Alison and Bilbo approached the fire and sat down in between Bombur and Ori, and Alison's mouth watered at the scent of cooked meat, her stomach nearly whining to be fed after going for so long without true sustenance. When she was handed her fair share of rabbit meat, she wolfed it down quickly, ignoring the scalding temperature as she practically inhaled it, all qualms about eating the wild creature disappearing almost as fast as she ate. Soon, she had finished what had been offered to her, and she sat back on her elbows, staring up at the tree limbs rustling above her as the rest of the Company finished cramming their own food into their mouths. Though it wasn't the usual fare they had grown used to on their journey, it was still food, and it was much better than going on an empty stomach.

After a few more minutes of staring up at the trees, Alison felt a nudge on her foot, and she brought her gaze back down, seeing Kili standing above her, outlined in gold from the fire behind him.

"Come on," he said, offering her a hand. "Time for our watch." She took his hand and hauled herself to her feet, brushing off her clothes as the other Dwarves began to disperse around the clearing, grumbling about having to sleep on the hard ground. Alison turned, about to say thank you to Kili for helping her up, but the prince was already moving off, settling himself at the base of a tree on the other side of the clearing.

Frowning, she went over to him, passing by Fili as he headed in the opposite direction. The blonde Dwarf flashed her a brief smile as he passed, but there was something forced about it that Alison didn't like. He didn't stop or say anything to her, either, which she was vaguely disappointed and irritated by. Seriously, what kind of guy, Dwarf or not, kissed a girl and then practically ignored her for the rest of the day? Apparently boys were confusing in any world, and she shook her head as she approached Kili and the tree, wondering what she had gotten herself into.

She slid down next to Kili with a sigh, her body as sore as ever and fatigue weighing down her limbs as she settled against the tree trunk, not looking forward to the long, restless hours of nothing that lay before her. Kili sat beside her, his legs stretched out in front of him and his bow in his lap, one of the few arrows he had left resting in his other hand as he stroked the yellow feathers of the tail on it in a bored fashion, though his eyes were as alert as ever as they scanned the surrounding land.

Alison drew Natrem into her lap, as well, hoping she would be able to stay awake long enough to complete her watch. She half-glanced at Kili from her spot next to him, seeing his expressionless face and eyes, no trace of the smile or mischievous glint she knew so well anywhere in his expression. Granted, they had had a rough couple of days, and he had almost lost Thorin, but Alison had a nagging suspicion that that was not the only thing on his mind as she chanced another sidelong glance at him.

"Should I move directly into your line of sight, or do you want me to pretend that I don't notice you looking at me every five seconds for the whole night?" he said suddenly, turning to face her, and Alison started, flushing slightly at his words. She couldn't tell if he was being serious or not as she met his dark eyes, unfathomable in the night, and she tugged distractedly on a lock of hair, having been too lazy to put it back up during the day.

"You're being distant," she said, getting straight to the point. "Is this about what happened to Thorin?"

"That's one reason," he said, turning his gaze towards the dying embers of the fire. The snores and heavy breathing of the Company settled like a blanket over the clearing, and Alison waited for Kili to elaborate on the other reasons, but it never came.

"We're alive," she pointed out optimistically. "We're very nearly over the Misty Mountains, and all that lies between us and the Lonely Mountain is forestland. Things will get better."

"Considering our luck, I'm not sure that's entirely true," he said bitterly, raking a hand through his disheveled hair. Alison watched him, wondering if she should ask him about what else was bothering him, but she lost her courage as he went on.

"Every day seems to be getting worse," he said quietly. "I always wonder what's going to happen next before we reach the end, and how much more danger can possibly be thrown at us the farther along we go."

"I thought you enjoyed the prospect of a little action," she said, trying to alleviate the tension with a joke, but he just shot her a look, and she shut up, disliking how serious he was being.

"I'm not trying to sound weak, or cowardly," he said, fiddling with his arrow again. "I knew what I was getting myself into when I agreed to come, but…sometimes, it just hits me, how real all of this is, how much we actually stand to lose if things should end badly." He closed his eyes for a brief moment, his hands tightening on the arrow.

"But think of all the things you stand to gain, as well," Alison countered, placing a hand on top of his own. "You'll have your homeland back, your people will be restored to glory, and you can rebuild what was lost. You will lead the Dwarves of Erebor back to greatness, you and Fili and Thorin, together."

He looked down at her hand for a few seconds, not responding, before he sighed and clasped her hand with his own, moving it back to her lap before letting go. "It's probably best if you don't do that," he said softly, his eyes flicking to the sleeping form of Fili on the other side of the clearing.

Alison snorted, leaning back against the tree and crossing her arms. "Like he would care," she said, then cringed, realizing how much of a whiny teenage girl she must sound like.

He looked at her curiously. "What do you mean?"

"It's nothing," she muttered.

He studied her for a few minutes, apparently deep in thought, before speaking again. "He does like you, you know," he said eventually. "A lot more than he should. He's just trying to sort out his feelings at the moment. It's nothing personal." He suddenly smirked. "And he criticizes me for being too rash with my emotions."

Alison felt her face burning; how pathetic it was, that she was getting relationship advice from a Dwarf, especially when the said Dwarf was the brother of the Dwarf she was falling for. Because that wasn't awkward at all.

"Oh," she said, because that was all she could think of to say. "Okay, then."

Kili continued to scrutinize her, going back to twiddling with his arrow. "Do you not feel the same way?" he asked, and she looked at him, wondering where this sudden interest in her relationship with Fili was coming from.

"I—yes, I mean…I don't know," she said in defeat, resting her head against the tree trunk. "I do, but I…don't think it will work out."

"Why not?" he asked, and she shook her head, not really feeling like getting into the future complications all of this might bring.

"We should get back to actually watching," she said instead, and he nodded, accepting her refusal to talk with good grace. As he leaned back though, she caught a flicker in his eyes that she had seen before, back in Rivendell, and the thought of it made her fingertips prickle as they fell back into a weighted silence.

The weary night wore on, and Alison struggled to stay awake, occasionally jerking herself out of a doze every now and then, gripping her sword hilt tightly until she realized that there they were safe, that there was no danger. The goblin-tunnels had made her overly paranoid, and she thought she felt eyes watching her from behind, making the hairs on the back of her neck tingle with the sensation.

Just to shake off the jittery feeling, she turned around and peered out from behind the tree trunk, her eyes scanning the area around their clearing.

To her left, behind a particularly wide tree some feet off from where she was sitting, she thought she saw an unusual shadow rippling across the ground, liquid-like and much darker than the natural shades of the night, faintly resembling a humanoid shape, though she couldn't be sure. But when she blinked, the shadow had gone, and as the moon rose higher in the sky, she wondered if she had just imagined it, trying to ignore the echoes of Galadriel's words that had popped into her head from seeing the shadow, but to no avail.

"Blood calls to blood," the she-Elf's voice whispered, the words coiling around her mind like a deadly poison running through her veins. "A Shadow watches you, Maethor, a Shadow that will try to consume you."

In the light of what was coming, Alison had nearly forgotten the Lady's warnings, but now they came rushing back, settling in her chest like a stone heart, reminding her of what lay ahead and the strength she would need to summon to meet those challenges. Everything up until then had been like a prologue, a very long beginning to their true quest, fraught with danger and darkness, and the thought made Alison feel distinctly anxious.

Their journey so far had been merely a game, one small move on the much larger board of their quest overall. But from here on out, Alison realized with sudden clarity, the real quest was about to begin.

She settled back against the tree, trying to ignore the feeling of being watched, but it was difficult. Every shadow, every rustle, now seemed to hold a threat in the darkness, and as the night carried on, Galadriel's words replayed over and over in her head, an eerie backdrop to the warning feeling that was building in her chest.

Something watched them, hidden in the dark for the time being, but Alison knew without a doubt that whatever it was would make itself known soon. Shadow or not, it waited for them. And it hungered.

The Doors of Ered Luin were thrown open to the outside world, filling the halls of the Dwarven city with the pale golden light of dawn as guards in their splendid armor lined the walkway to the Gates beyond, also open, stoic and silent in the pre-dawn shadows the surrounding Blue Mountains cast on them.

Kili walked out of the halls, passing through the doors, Fili on one side of him, and his mother, Dís, on the other. The light spring breeze of mid-April, chillier than it should be due to the mountains around them, fluttered the flags on the standards behind them as the three walked forward, towards the gates before them.

"I feel like I'm in a funeral procession," Kili said into the silence, trying to dissolve some of the tension that lay thick in the air as they made their way to the gates. "Do we really have to do this?"

"Hush, inúdoy," Dís said, as she walked along, as regal and unbendable as ever. "This is a proper send-off, a farewell to the Princes of Ered Luin before they depart for their journey. It is custom."

"They didn't do it for Thorin," Kili pointed out, becoming increasingly uncomfortable as the faceless helms of the guards bore into him. Fili stayed silent at his left shoulder, as cool and unruffled as their mother as he walked along, looking every bit the prince he was while Kili felt like he was just…there.

"You know your uncle had to leave urgently to meet with the envoys of the seven kingdoms," she replied, keeping her dark-eyed gaze, so like Kili's, fixed ahead on the gates. "There was no time for formalities."

Kili knew she was right, but he didn't like it. It seemed too final, this send-off. It was like he was bearing himself away in a tomb, and once he passed through the gates, he would never come back.

They reached the gates, and Kili looked back at the city behind him as his brother and mother said their farewells, not wanting to eavesdrop on their words. The great iron doors were still wide from when they had passed through, and Kili saw the halls within, bathed gold from the sun and illuminating the rocky, cavernous city, with its blazing braziers and torches lining the walls, casting shadows on the statues of Dwarf likenesses and highlighting the rich tapestries adorning the interior.

He drank it all in, savoring every detail, for he knew it would be a long time before he saw this place again, his home, if he even made it back from the quest he was about to embark on. But he was ready. Erebor was his homeland, as well, and they would reclaim it, even if it took every last drop of blood in his body to see it through. His people deserved their home back.

Kili turned back around, seeing Fili move away from Dís to allow them the same courtesy of not intruding on their exchange as he had done to them, and Kili approached his mother, hefting his quiver into a more secure position on his back as he neared her.

Dís did not cry, or beg him to stay, despite knowing the fact that her brother and two sons were embarking on a quest they may never return from, which just made her a stronger woman than ever in Kili's eyes. She stood steadily, a few inches shorter than him, her black hair, streaked with one line of gray, pulled back from her handsome and proud face, her looks so similar to Kili's, though it still miffed him a bit that her beard was thicker and longer than his own.

"Goodbye, amadinh," Kili said, bowing his head and touching his forehead to hers in an affectionate gesture. "Do not worry about us too much; we will reclaim our home, and you will see me sooner than you expect."

He pulled away as Dís touched his cheek tenderly, holding something in her other hand that he looked at in puzzlement as she opened her palm, revealing a flat, oval-shaped stone, a polished piece of deep, dark labradorite with runes etched into the surface.

"What's this?" he asked, as she handed him the stone, and he took it, turning it over and over in his fingers, the stone cool and smooth to the touch. He studied the runes intently for a moment. "Innikh dȇ," he read out loud, and he looked up, meeting his mother's gaze as she watched him with a fierce, prideful sort of look in her eyes. "'Return to me.'"

"That is your promise to me," she said softly, holding his gaze. "No matter if Erebor is reclaimed or not, if all the wealth of our people should be saved or forever kept by that dragon—no matter what happens, promise me that you will return to me. You and Fili both."

Kili weighed the rune stone in his hand, knowing how hard of a promise that was to make, but knowing he had to try anyway, for his mother's sake. "I promise," he said. "To the best of my ability, I promise that Fili and I will return to you safely."

She smiled gently then, and though her eyes looked lined with age, her face was as vibrant as ever, believing him when he promised to return. "Then go, inúdoy," she said. "You and Fili will accomplish what no other Dwarf has, and you will become great kings one day. Go, reclaim our homeland, and remember your promise to me."

And so he and Fili went, beginning their journey to the Shire where Thorin had told them to meet on the last day of April. As the two brothers left behind their home, they stopped and looked one last time as the great gates began to swing closed behind them. Dís stood regally in the opening, raising her hand one last time in farewell as the gates shut, and Kili seemed to hear her voice echoing in his ears all the way down the mountain-side as him and Fili continued on: "Return to me."

A sudden weight pressing into Kili's shoulder made him jerk awake, ripping him violently out of his dream as he gripped his bow instinctively, looking around wildly, until realizing that the thing that had touched him was Alison, who had fallen asleep with her head now lolling on his shoulder, her breaths steady and deep as she slept. With a twinge of guilt, he realized that he had also fallen asleep while they were supposed to be on watch, and he did a quick once-over of the clearing, counting heads to make sure everyone was there and checking that nothing had happened during his brief sleeping spell.

With everything appearing to be in order, he relaxed his grip on his bow, wondering how Alison could've possibly slept through his startled movement as she still pressed into his shoulder, but it didn't surprise him. They had been up for nearly two days straight, running and fighting for their lives, and they all needed the rest.

He looked down at the top of her head, her hair tickling his cheek as he shifted, seeing the un-bruised half of her face pressed into his cloak as her eyelids fluttered, her soft breathing whispering out of her half-open mouth as she slept, unaware of anything in the escape of her dream world.

Kili hesitated, wanting to move out from underneath her slack head, but not knowing how to do so without waking her up. He looked down at her again, not being able to bring himself to move quite yet at the peaceful, open expression on her face as she dreamed, the look holding him in place.

Though her face was blank of any expression, it still intrigued him as he watched her for a few more seconds, feeling a mix of emotions swirling around in him.

He flashed back to that morning, as they all stood on the Carrock, anxiously waiting for Thorin to revive, and he recalled in vivid detail as he had watched Fili leave his side, stalking over to where Alison was standing, baring her shoulder wound to Óin as the healer Dwarf patched her up. And he had watched, as Alison began to speak, and then Fili had grabbed her face and kissed her in front of everybody. More than anything, he had felt shock at the display, though he had felt his gut twist slightly as Alison had responded almost eagerly, anchoring Fili's mouth to hers for only a few long seconds, though it had seemed to stretch out for an eternity to Kili.

He didn't know why he was even that surprised; everything Fili had accused him of back in Rivendell could easily be reversed and applied back to his older brother. The blonde Dwarf practically gravitated to wherever Alison was, like a moth drawn to flame, and Kili found it amusing that after spending so long denying it, Fili had finally caved and opened himself to Alison. Now the only problem was Fili actually sticking to his decision concerning his feelings for her.

Ever since they were children, Fili had always placed duty and family above all else, including his own personal feelings. He had learned that best from Thorin, and now Kili wondered if those same principles would apply to Alison, or if Fili would actually listen to what he felt for once and put her before his obligations as a royal. Both options had their complications, and Kili knew that that was what Fili was now struggling with now that he couldn't reverse his actions.

He had been telling the truth to Alison earlier when she had remarked that Fili wouldn't care; the older Dwarf prince was keeping his distance, gauging what he really wanted, before getting himself into something that could have major implications on many things, such as an unbidden relationship between a Dwarf and a human, which went against practically every custom their race had. Fili was a prince, and he had an obligation to his people and an image to uphold, an image that would be tarnished if he were to declare himself to a human, a Hero of Middle-earth or no.

Kili didn't envy Fili's position at all, for there were a great number of things to take into consideration regarding all of this; and since Kili was more into doing rather than thinking, all of this would have driven him mad. But still, something tugged at his mind, and no matter how hard he tried to keep it away, the feeling persisted, until finally he just stopped trying all together and let his thoughts wash over him instead.

There was no point in pretending to deny it anymore; Kili knew he had feelings for Alison. He didn't know exactly when it had happened, when he began to suspect something more, but he knew without a doubt now that there was something much, much more than friendship brewing inside him whenever he thought of her. And he wasn't even sure why he felt the way he did yet. It was all so confusing, and he felt like he was running in circles trying to process it all.

He wanted her to be happy, and every word he had promised her all those nights ago, about returning her to her family safely, even if it took everything he had, he had meant more than anything else he had ever said in his life, except perhaps for the promise he had made to his mother. And if Alison wanted to be happy with Fili, he would not interfere in any way. She deserved to have a life where she was content with her choices, and he would keep his distance, and not breathe a word about his true feelings.

Alison shifted on his shoulder and turned her head, until it was propped up on her own shoulder instead of his, and she slept on, oblivious to anything around her as she sighed softly in her sleep, her grip slackening on her sword hilt.

After Kili watched her for a few more moments, he tore his gaze away from her face and removed the rune stone from a pocket inside of his cloak, turning the cool stone over in his fingers, the touch comforting him as he looked at it.

He didn't know where the dream about his departure from Ered Luin had come from, but it seemed to bring a sense of peace over him, and he remembered his mother's face and the prideful look in her eyes as she had watched her sons leave home for their journey with a certain fondness. His mother was a strong woman, and it filled him with courage that she had such an unwavering conviction that he and Fili and Thorin would make it back to her alive, especially in moments like tonight where the danger around them was so palpable, and the future seemed to be filled with nothing but darkness ahead.

Nothing was certain anymore, and all Kili knew was that he now had two promises to keep instead of one, first for Dís, and now for Alison. And as he sat in the darkness, examining the rune stone intently, he only hoped that he would live long enough to see both of his promises fulfilled.

It watched from the trees, as silent and eerie as a specter as its depthless eyes searched the darkness of the encroaching night, though it was much more than a ghostly figure. It was a part of the shadows itself, unfathomable and impenetrable, molded from the dark and born from the night.

Its eyes focused on a copse of trees lying ahead, and it sought the form of a small, slight figure slumped against a trunk, a girl, clutching a blade in her hands as she scanned her surroundings warily. It watched her hungrily, its form beginning to flicker out as its time wore thin. Its master would allow it only so long in this form, before it had to revert back to its other form, its true form.

But it did not mind. It had found what it had been searching for; the Ashburne girl, the mortal warrior the Valar believed could save their precious little world from utter destruction. If it could have sneered, it would have. How much faith the Valar had in their weak, puny Heroes to save the world. It was endearing, knowing how misguided and misplaced their hope was. It would make obliterating them so much easier.

Its master summoned it, drawing it back from its search, and it accepted its call with ease. Its task was completed. The Ashburne girl had been found.

With one last look at the mortal, it stepped back into the shadows of the night and was drawn in by the darkness until it rippled and vanished, leaving a trail of cold in its wake as the shadows twisted in on themselves, leaving no evidence that it was ever there. The night returned to normal, and the stars glittered like secrets in the sky, burning bright until one by one, they disappeared as the dawn gave light to a new day.

Commentary for this chapter: asdjkklmdmmcjrfoi

But seriously, what.

So sorry about the abrupt ending there, but you know, all I'm saying is just wait for the next chapter, because a pretty major thing goes down... *totally not a spoiler alert*

Anyway. I absolutely loved writing the scene about Kili receiving the rune stone from his mother! Ever since I saw the movie I was like "oh my gosh, I have to write about this, it's too perfect!" And of course, we had to have those deep internal thoughts of the characters and a little foreshadowing, which is always fun. (And not to mention the cliche "girl-falls-asleep-on-Kili's-shoulder" thing)

Buuuuut if you noticed the lack of Fili POV in this chapter, do not fear! As I said, the next chapter is pretty "whoa", so hopefully this filler can tide y'all over a bit until the next chapter, where we will definitely see some Fili POV! I think I'll actually post it earlier too, because leaving y'all with this just seems kind of...ehhh.

Well anyway, thank you for reading, and a massive thank-you to all of y'all's reviews last time! You gorgeous people, I love you. So please don't hesitate to review! I appreciate all of y'all so much.

Thanks again, lovelies:) Until next chapter... *cue dramatic music*

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