The March of Time

40: Chaos Reigning

Disclaimer: All rights go to JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson, respectively. Anything you don't recognize is mine.

Quick A/N: I'M BACKKK! Wow, it feels so great to be here again; and especially with Chapter Forty. FORTY. Wow. So to start, I would just like to thank ALL of you for the amazing support you showed this story, even when I wasn't here. Like some of those reviews I got had me smiling for hours, no joke. It was an amazing thing to come back and see and hear so many awesome things from you. (I'm probably making this a lot more special than it needs to be, but let me indulge, please). But I'll shut up now so you can read the next chapter!


Chapter Forty: Chaos Reigning

Thorin wondered if it was natural to feel this much trepidation and apprehension towards a summons by his grandfather as he strode down the corridors to the royal wing of the kingdom, the familiar feel of the stone reverberating under his pounding boots and the lights shining brightly but lowly above him as he made his way to the king's chambers.

He tried to squash the feelings roiling inside of him, feeling a surge of guilt that he was even experiencing these emotions in the first place; thinking of his grandfather in such a way was shameful, but he couldn't help it. Not when his grandfather had been lost long ago.

Thorin approached the king's chambers, nodding his head to the two heavily-armed guards stationed outside of the great carven doors, but the dwarves barely acknowledged him; or if they did, he couldn't tell. Those helms made it hard to tell anything about the men underneath.

The one on the right reached out a gauntleted hand and boomed three times on the chamber door, and when Thorin heard a muffled reply from within, the guard pushed open the door and then stepped back, allowing the prince to enter.

There was a moment of hesitation, where Thorin had to summon enough patience and strength to face what he would be greeted with beyond the threshold, and he only hoped that today was one of Thrór's lucid days before he squared his shoulders and strode in, hoping that the guards had not noticed his split second of equivocation.

Upon entering the room, Thorin was met with the dazzling sight of many bright, glimmering lamps set up in almost every inch of the large, expansive space, and he wondered why it was so much brighter compared to the former times he had been in here until he realized that the new lamps were of solid gold, encrusted with sparkling red gems, and that the flames were refracting off the gems' surface and causing the unnatural brightness in the room.

So, Thorin thought, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the harsh light. This is what was taking up all the craftsmen's time last week.

The thought made the muscle in his jaw jump, but Thorin locked those ponderings away. He had a composure to preserve, and letting his swirling emotions cloud his mind would not help him in the slightest, not if he wanted to talk to Thrór - or whatever remained of his grandfather's rationality.

Thorin looked around the chamber until his eyes finally found his grandfather, sitting at a vanity on the left side of the room and preening his exquisite beard like a bird plucking its feathers, and Thorin's gut clenched when he looked into the mirror before Thrór and saw his grandfather reflected back at him from the surface, looking as normal as ever, except for the cloudy, misjudged gaze he saw in the blue eyes, so like his own.

Either Thrór was now too busy sliding rings onto his fingers to notice Thorin, or the haze he was in made him forget he had a visitor, for he did not acknowledge Thorin's presence until the prince cleared his throat, standing in the same spot as Thrór jumped and turned around, his eyes widening in confusion and unfamiliarity and sending a needle of pain through Thorin, before the king blinked and his eyes regained some of their clarity, though not as much as Thorin had hoped for.

"Thorin, m'boy!" Thrór rumbled, and when his mouth moved his great beard did, as well, the elaborate braids and jewel-encrusted hair tinkling at the movement. "Just the lad I wanted to see! Come in, come in!"

He waved Thorin over to him, and Thorin saw this as an opportunity to either snap his grandfather out of his treasure-hoarding stupor, or be pushed out once again by the poison in Thrór's mind; but he had to believe his grandfather was still in there, that he could be saved.

If he didn't believe that, then he would be forfeiting all hope for his king, his kin. And Thorin would never allow that to happen.

Steeling his nerves, Thorin crossed the spacious room until he stood behind Thrór, still seated at the vanity as he slipped more and more rings onto his stout fingers, his hands looking like some strange gem-encrusted attachment as it glittered under the weight of the rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and other jewels adorning the rings. The only thing Thorin took some comfort in was that he was still wearing the simple stone ring with the runes carved around the band, the ring that signified his bond to Thorin's grandmother in marriage, even though the queen had been dead for well nigh a century.

Thrór started humming to himself as he selected more and more jewelry to put on, and Thorin could feel his patience wearing thin, though he tried to ignore it. Handling Thrór when he was in one of his states was made much easier when Thorin kept his tongue and acted like the dutiful grandson he was, though a bitter taste filled his mouth when he realized he knew this from many occasions before, but he swallowed it back, speaking up when it became clear that Thrór had quite forgotten his presence again.

"You said in your missive that you wished to see me, Gamul Khagam?" Thorin said, knowing he would respond well to the affectionate Khuzdûl title from experience, and he was right, for Thrór smiled as he met Thorin's eyes in the mirror's surface.

"Ah, yes," Thrór said, and Thorin waited for him to elaborate as the king pulled out a heavy looking chain from an exquisite stone chest on the table, the necklace complete with an onyx the size of his fist, gilded in gold and shot through with veins of silver, and Thorin was momentarily distracted by the grandeur of the piece, something Thrór did not miss before Thorin mentally shook his head, reigning his thoughts back in.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Thrór remarked, putting the chain around his neck and adjusting the onyx to where it could be seen at all times under his beard, shimmering on his chest for all eyes to see. "It belonged to my own grandfather, Náin II, you know. A fine Dwarf, and a great king." Satisfied with how the necklace hung, Thrór met his eyes again. "This is what I wanted to speak to you about."

"You...wanted to talk to me...about my ancestors' jewelry?" Thorin said in confusion, and Thrór let out a boom of laughter that only added to Thorin's puzzlement.

"What a foolish notion!" His grandfather exclaimed jovially, but Thorin shifted uncomfortably, biting back the words he was truly thinking: 'It would not be the first time you spoke of our forefathers' treasure and how it was rightfully ours, and no one else's.'

But he only listened as Thrór flapped a hand and continued. "I wanted to speak of you, m'boy, and of your future as King in Erebor. I am not the same young Dwarf I used to be, and neither is your father. Soon, this kingdom will be passed into your hands, and I feel that I must prepare you for this role before my time is up, and I join with Mahal and our ancestors beyond this world."

Thorin resisted the urge to snort; 'prepare him for his role?' Thorin had been groomed for the role of King ever since the day he was born from his mother's womb, and every day since, but he said nothing as Thrór went on.

"A kingdom is only as great as the king who rules it," Thrór said, turning around in his seat to face Thorin and drumming his fingers on the vanity table, his rings clinking and shining with the movement. "You can have a vast empire that covers lands far and wide, but if there is even a chink in your armor as ruler, then it will fall, like an upright needle in a storm." Thrór's eyes raked over Thorin from head to foot, and the prince refrained from shifting uncomfortably under those vague, yet serious eyes.

"You are not the needle in the storm, Thorin," he said, and Thorin looked up at his name, shocked to see a ray of lucidity peering back at him, like a faint shaft of sunlight behind dark clouds, and Thrór smiled. "You are the mountain that stands against it all; unshakable, and fierce; and there is a strength within you, one from ages past, and one that will stand for thousands of years to come as you pass down your legacy. Indeed, a fine King you will make."

Something was burning the back of Thorin's throat, though it was hard to tell exactly what it was that was rendering him speechless. He had thought that his grandfather was gone, retreated into his mind where the sickness dwelled and kept hold over him, keeping him captive to his greed and pride, but here he was; the man Thorin knew, the king he had looked up to and followed all these years was still there, and he was offering Thorin praise. If he had not been in the room, he would not have believed it.

But, of course, as soon as these thoughts ran through Thorin's mind, Thrór's familiar smile slipped away, and the king frowned, his brows drawing low over his eyes, and before he looked back to the vanity, Thorin's heart twisted painfully as he saw that the blue depths, which had been clear a moment before, became murky and confused again, a swirling blue fog that Thorin didn't know how to penetrate again, and he fought down his disappointment and despair as Thrór spoke once more.

"I...I wanted to give you something, when you came here," he said, though he sounded unsure now. He reached for the stone chest on the table and drew it towards him, beginning to rifle through the gems and gold and silver as if he was unaware of his movements.

Thorin watched warily as Thrór shifted around a few more pieces, before his face lit up in recognition and he pulled out a ring, silver-banded with a shimmer to it that looked of mithril, and the prince's breath caught in his throat when he realized that that was exactly what it was; a ring of mithril. And Thrór wanted to give it to him.

Thrór turned the ring over in his fingers as Thorin watched silently from behind his shoulder, and he noticed the slight tremor going through the king's fingers as he held the ring, turning it over and over and staring down at it, his eyes hungry.

Dread stole over Thorin when he noticed the greedy, haunted look in his grandfather's face, and he could only watch in mounting dismay as Thrór whispered, "Or perhaps not. It is lovely, so very lovely. Gold would be better, but alas..."

"Gamul Khagam," Thorin said lowly, and when the king did not answer, he said more loudly, "Thrór." The king looked up at Thorin's sharp tone, his eyes narrowing as Thorin gestured to the door; the only thing he could do now was to get him out of here, away from the things that were poisoning his mind and slowly - there was no more denying it - driving him mad.

"You should go," Thorin said quietly, and when Thrór did not immediately respond, it took every ounce of his self-control not to leap forward and strike the ring from the older dwarf's fingers, and then grab him by the shoulders and shake him, shouting for him to pull himself out of the madness he was being sucked into. But whether bravery or cowardice stayed Thorin, he could not tell, as Thrór slowly stood up, as if in a daze as he tried to focus on Thorin.

"You are... quite right, m'boy," the king said, and his voice had dropped all pretense of baritoned grandeur and royalty, and he sounded reedy and shaky to Thorin's ears, which sent a searing dagger into his lungs. "I think I should fancy a walk through the treasury now."

Thorin only nodded, the dagger now twisting so hotly he could not even issue a sound as Thrór brushed by him and made his way out of the chambers, heading to the treasury where he now seemed to spend every waking moment, glorifying in his riches and mirthfully commending himself on his fine rule.

No one noticed the shadow growing in the sky outside, and even less noticed the shadow growing within Thorin's own heart.

The memory came back to Thorin within the few seconds that the ledge they were standing on began to tremble, and it was with only a faint register of surprise that he realized that the mountain was shaking because of the dragon, no doubt having awoken, just as Alison had predicted.

Coincidence, his mind protested feebly, but now, Thorin wasn't so sure.

"That dragon stomping around is worse than an earthquake," Dwalin complained, though he looked quite worried as he said it. "It's giving me a damned headache; I say we just go kill the thing and be done with it already."

Thorin refrained from rolling his eyes at the brash comment, but he couldn't bring himself to reply as the late memory of Thrór's spiraling madness sprouted in his mind again, before he hurriedly pushed it away; being this close to his old home was driving him insane with remembrances of the past, but Thorin was determined to keep those locked away; their quest had reached its most crucial point, and he could not afford to be hindered by his memories, something he was sure Gandalf would find quite ironic if the Wizard were here.

"What about Bilbo?" Ori piped up nervously from beside the doorway leading back into the Mountain. "He's still down there. Shouldn't we do something?"

The young dwarf looked frightened, but Thorin could tell that he was trying his hardest not to show it as the stone continued to quake beneath their feet, and over the rumbling, Thorin could imagine hearing a fell voice from the depths of the Mountain, and his hands instinctively clenched into fists at the sound.

"I am sure our burglar is fine," Thorin said, trying to convince himself as much as the younger dwarf. "Give him more time."

Ori said nothing, only retrieving a piece of parchment folded and stuffed in his coat and opening it up, looking down at it anxiously and muttering silent words to whatever was drawn or written, as if expecting it to listen to him.

Thorin turned away as a nasty shudder rocked through the Mountain, at the same time that Balin spoke up heatedly from beside him. "Time?" the older dwarf echoed incredulously, and Thorin looked to his old friend, seeing Balin staring back at him in disbelief. "Time to do what? Get himself killed?"

"Of course not," Thorin scoffed, wondering where this sudden mood change had sprung up from as Balin stared at him. "He knew what he was getting himself into when he signed that contract; he knows the risks, and I am quite sure our burglar is fulfilling his task as we speak."

Thorin ignored the feeling of misgiving that struck him with that last sentence, and he stared as Balin suddenly looked angry, his dark eyes narrowing as he snapped, "Our burglar has a name, as you'd do well to remember." Thorin's eyes widened slightly at this retort, but Balin pressed on, not giving him time to speak. "I know the risks as well as you or Bilbo, Thorin, and I think that now we may have asked too much of our hobbit this time. Sending him in by himself to steal a jewel out from underneath the nose of a dragon?" Balin shook his head. "This is madness, even for us."

"He has a magic ring," Thorin shot back, irked at his friend's riled behavior. "He can turn invisible, and you're worried about him being caught?"

"I'm not worried about him being caught; I'm worried about him being killed!" Balin retorted, and Thorin was acutely aware of everyone's eyes on the squabbling pair, though he tried his best to ignore their shocked gazes.

When Thorin did not reply, Balin pressed on, looking quite agitated as he spoke.

"If, by some miracle, Bilbo does manage to steal the Arkenstone, what happens next? Rallying the armies of the Dwarves seems like a brilliant plan, until we step out our doorstep and realize that Johnathan's army is waiting for us, and that Smaug will tear down the Mountain itself if it means finding this thief. And then we will be faced with not just an army, but a dragon, as well, and if 'the enemy of my enemy' plays out, we might as well say our parting words now." This statement was met with stunned silence, and Thorin would never have guessed that it was Balin standing before him if his own eyes were not staring intently at the dwarf as if he had never seen him in his life.

Balin was always the realist, always the one who anyone could look to for advice and encouragement; and now this dwarf standing before them, with the cynicism and delusions of a non-martyr, while still being prudent, was being far too condemning for Thorin, and he was about to note this to the older dwarf when he locked eyes with him and saw the myriad of emotions swirling within the dark depths, and Thorin was hit with a sudden realization.

"You're afraid," he said, and Balin nodded slowly, suddenly looking pained.

"This quest is not how it should have been," the white-haired dwarf said lowly, and the ledge had gone deathly silent, the tremors going through the ground not even worth noticing anymore as everyone stared at Balin in growing alarm and trepidation. "There was never supposed to be a mortal Hero sent to help us, or another Hero and his Master, one of the greatest evils this world has ever faced, out for our blood and our legacy as an exiled people, the only thing that can restore our glory. We were never meant to get caught up in this, Thorin, this - great battle between the Light and Dark. We set out to reclaim a homeland, not go up in a fight against the world and all her Evil. And I do not think that if Bilbo should go up alone against that dragon, then we should not be out here, knowing what is coming should he fail. We should end this before it begins."

Thorin turned away from the dwarf, facing out over the shadowed valley below as his heart thumped out a lopsided beat at his words. Balin was right; everything he had said had been right. And Thorin was afraid, as well; perhaps even more so than Balin. He did not want an avenging Smaug or the vindictive bastard that was Johnathan Ashburne against him, but how could he stop what had been set in motion?

To Balin, going into the Mountain and rescuing Bilbo was what would set some things right, and protect them for a while longer; but to Thorin, going into that Mountain would be like letting loose poison in his veins. He had thought he was strong, all the way up until now, on the doorstep, where his grandfather's memory of the gold-sickness haunted him and sowed doubt into his mind. Balin may be afraid of what was to come, but Thorin was beginning to realize that he was afraid of himself, and what he might do should he enter that Mountain.

As if reading his thoughts, Balin went on from behind Thorin, saying in that same low voice, "It is not only the future that faces us that I am afraid of. I fear for you, Thorin. I know why you don't want to go after Bilbo; you're afraid of what you'll find down there, of what demons will come back to haunt you because you are of Thrór's blood."

"I am not my grandfather," Thorin said vehemently, turning to meet Balin's gaze challengingly.

"Well, you're not yourself," the older dwarf snapped. "The Thorin I know would not hesitate to go down there, no matter what his fears. He would not leave an innocent to an undeserved fate."

"I will not sacrifice the fate of this quest for the life of one burglar," Thorin ground out, and he would have said more, except for at that moment, a fist swung out of nowhere and landed squarely on Thorin's jaw, sending him reeling back as he raised a hand automatically to cover his face.

Thorin looked in shock and some wonder to see Ori standing before him, breathing heavily and blinking back tears, his face a brilliant shade of red as he stared at the dwarf king furiously.

"Stop it!" Ori snapped, as everyone stared at the younger dwarf with varying expressions of shock. "Just stop it, all of you! What's gotten into you?"

When no one answered, he went on, clenching the bruising fist that had struck Thorin as he met all of their eyes. "Six months. Six months we have been journeying together, going forth into dangers that most people would not face in their lifetimes. All this time, we have stuck together, going into a future we knew of, yet maybe not in the full. We have walked side by side, all of us, heading into dangers, some known, and some unknown. And now we sit here, on a damned cliff outside of the place we have been trying to reach for so long, and you bastards are just now debating the sanity of what we're doing, doubting yourselves after everything you have been through. Where is the honor in that? Where is the loyalty, to our people, to each other, in that?

"I agree with Balin; this quest has turned into something that we should not have to face. But we are facing it. So what, though? Screw destiny, screw Alison's story; screw it all to hell. We are the Company of Thorin Oakenshield, and whatever is thrown at us, we can take it, because we've done it before. Now, you can continue to stand out here and argue about any damned thing you like, but I for one am going to help Bilbo, because he is a brother to me just as any of you are. So either stop fighting and come with me, or stay the hell out of my way."

The most profound silence of all stretched on for what felt like an eternity to Thorin, but at the young dwarf's words, he could feel something raging inside of him; a hot, fierce fire that burned his veins, and a freezing, frigid numbness that coated his stomach in ice as an internal battle erupted within him.

The other dwarves were still staring at Ori, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, until Dori finally broke the silence by choking out, "How did you learn to speak like - like - "

"A good-for-nothing scoundrel?" Nori supplied, quickly getting over his shock and grinning delightedly at his younger brother, whose face was beginning to blush, but more from pride and embarrassment than anger, though his usually gentle cow-eyes were still seething. Dori nodded, and Nori shrugged his shoulders. "Guilty."

"But he's right," Balin spoke up, looking quite ashen in the face, but he faced the others squarely. "Everything he said... we are losing sight of what matters most on this quest. Reclaiming our homeland and retrieving the Arkenstone are of great importance, I am not denying, but we have also forgotten why we set out to do this in the first place - not for glory, or fame, or riches; but for security, and loyalty, and family. We are bound, all of us; maybe not to the same fate, but to each other. As brothers-in-arms. And sister," he added as an afterthought, but the words went deep, nonetheless; Thorin could see them sinking into the dwarves' heads, into his own.

And Thorin finally realized; this quest was not about him, not entirely. His own goals, his own aspirations were there, yes, but it was for them; the people who followed him, whether into exile or on a quest of madness, the people who looked up to him, from the dwarflings watching him pass through the halls of Ered Luin or the members of his Company with their unwavering allegiance; it was for them he was doing this for. And it was with them in mind that he decided that the time had come for him to stop being afraid of his heart, for once in his life. It was time for him to bring the dawn forth, and stop shrinking away from the shadows that rested in his mind. It was time for him to be a King.

And he could already think of one way to meet the demons inside of him head-on.

Thorin looked up to find that the ledge had gone silent again, and that all of the dwarves were staring at him with unreadable expressions. And then, to their amazement, Thorin broke out into a toothy grin, unsheathing the sword at his waist in one fluent movement.

"Try and keep up," he said to the staggered Company. "We have a burglar to rescue."

Alison knew that she should probably be going over battle tactics in her head or something as she ran towards the screams sounding from Bard's house, but honestly, the only thing she was thinking in those moments was shitshitshitshit. Get to Bard's. Get to Bard's now.

She heard Bofur keeping pace behind her as they raced towards the house, and Legolas suddenly disappeared from her side, leaping gracefully onto the rooftops of the other houses and flitting from roof to roof as he matched Alison stride for stride, despite her being on the ground and him in the air most of the time.

Show-off, Alison grumbled in her head, but she was suddenly snapped back to reality as she heard a familiar battle-cry from up ahead, and she put on a burst of speed, knowing that it was Fíli who had shouted as she sprinted flat-out across the docks.

She reached back for her Twin Blades as she drew nearer, but hesitated at the last second; Bard's house was small, and if the Orcs were attacking from within the structure, she realized that she would not have the room to spare for her long swords, especially if she wanted any maneuverability and wanted to leave her friends unscathed in case she swung them the wrong way accidentally. No, a shorter range weapon would be better for this fight, and a strange, excited grin flitted across her features as she drew the two curved knives at her waist, anticipation and adrenaline running through her at the notion that she could use these now.

It was a strange sensation, but what she found stranger was that she was actually looking forward to a fight, her hands practically itching to start swinging and slashing. She figured it was the Hero blood coming out in her again, like it always did on occasions like this, but this time felt different, somehow; as if it wasn't her instincts craving for a fight, but her herself, her body and mind and heart eager to relish in the chaos and wild ferocity the fight would bring. And that was what was most unnerving to her as she finally reached Bard's house and hurtled up the stairs, but she was snapped out of her thoughts when she heard the screams and yells from inside, and she threw herself into warrior-mode as she paused at the threshold of the door, taking in the scene before her.

It was absolute pandemonium. Dust filled the air as she heard the roars and snarls of the Orcs, combined with Sigrid and Tilda's screams as they sheltered underneath the upturned kitchen table, the dwarves' and Bain's shouts as they fought, and the clash and ring of metal on metal as the fight whirled in a flurry of manic movement, almost too quick for her eyes to process all at once. She saw Bain fling a plate, catching an Orc's head with it, but before the creature could do more than snarl at him, Fíli flung a knife and caught the Orc in its left eye-socket, leaving it screeching and clawing at its eye before Óin finished it off with a nasty crunch to the back of its skull with his newfound staff.

She saw Tauriel twisting and dodging like a spider weaving a frantic web, leading the Orcs on in a dance of deadly harmony as her blades sang across throats, splashing black blood on the walls as she kicked off a wall and sent an Orc flying back from where her feet connected with its chest, and Alison could hear the distinct cracking of bones as the Orc crashed into the opposite wall and slumped over, blood dripping from its lips.

Two things Alison noticed immediately, though, were that Kíli and Bard were nowhere to be seen, but she couldn't ponder long on this, however, as a roar sounded from behind her and she looked up just in time to see an Orc drop down from the roof above her, making a wild slash for her head with its blade.

Alison leaped aside immediately, turning mid-dodge to parry away the Orc's blade as it came for her again, raising her second knife as she stepped forward past the Orc's guard and drove the blade through its chest with as much force as she could muster, slicing through muscles and tendons and scraping bone as the Orc choked, clutching at its chest before it went slack and she removed her blade, watching its lifeless body crumple to the ground at her feet.

She spared the body a fleeting glance as she saw Bofur charge past her into the house, the kingsfoil stuffed in his belt as he raised his axe and made for an Orc going after Bard's daughters, and Alison followed him inside, raising her blades as Legolas slipped through a hole in the roof and quickly whipped out his knives, as well.

Almost immediately, an Orc launched itself at her from across the room, but this time, Alison took offense and rushed to meet the horrid creature, blocking its poorly-aimed slash and running her blade across its throat as another Orc appeared on her left side, being quickly skewered by her other blade through its belly as she whirled, falling into tandem with the fight raging around her.

She had just taken down two more Orcs in quick succession, when a staggering pain in her left arm made her hiss in surprise and pain, and she barely had time to register the red showing under her sliced jacket before she was tackled bodily to the ground, one of her blades getting knocked out of her hand, but fortunately maintaining her grip on the other as an Orc leered down at her from its place on her chest, its knees pinning her arms down as she struggled fruitlessly, panting with exertion.

The Orc raised a fist, and a second later she felt it connect with her face, cracking against her cheekbone and making stars explode in her vision as more blows connected with her body, striking on her torso, face, arms, whatever the bloody thing could reach. It hurt like hell, even more so than the bite she had sustained on her shoulder in Goblin Town or the injuries she had sustained during her fight at the Forest River, and Alison vaguely realized that this was the first true time she actually seemed to be losing in a fight, pinned down and helpless as the Orc used her as its personal punching bag, blood gushing out of her nose and sliding, hot and thick, into her mouth, making her gurgle as she tried to draw breath, though it was hard when the Orc kept battering her torso, knocking the breath from her lungs with every punch, and Alison began to feel a glimmer of true fear at the thought that if the Orc didn't stop soon, then she could possibly end up dead, and this terrified her more than anything before she tried to reign back in her sudden panic.

All right, bitch, that's it, Alison thought through the haze of panic and pain that swathed her mind, as she tried to inhale but gagged on a fresh mouthful of blood instead. Hero or not, I'm kicking your ass either way.

With this encouraging thought, Alison focused all of her energy and strength into her torso, and when her muscles were screaming in protest from being coiled as tautly as she made them, she bucked her hips and arched her back, startling the Orc with her thrashing movement as she wriggled the hand still clutching her blade and drove it up.

Too late, the Orc realized what she was doing, and its meaty hand shot out and gripped her throat with such crushing force that she couldn't breathe at all, through the blood or no, and she could feel the blood vessels in her neck popping from its bruising grip; but in the next second, the force was gone as she stabbed the blade through its own throat, sinking it in all the way to the hilt as the Orc gagged, dribbling blood onto her face and hand as it choked out before her eyes, scratching at the knife wildly before it went still with a disgusting gurgling sound, the blood turning to an ooze instead of a gush as its heart stopped pumping.

Alison shoved the Orc roughly off of her and rolled to her knees, coughing and spitting blood - hers and the Orc's both - out of her mouth, breathing heavily from the beating she had just sustained. She barely registered what she had done or the fight still going on around her as fear pulsed through her veins, hot and untamed.

She had almost lost a fight. She had almost died. And that terrified her more than anything else she had faced on the quest so far. Talking of her being a martyr, of dying for the Company if need be had always seemed like the brave thing, the noble thing to do; but now that she had been faced with the feeling of what it was like to be rendered useless while her life hung in the balance, she wondered if her words had been a lie since the beginning, now that she realized she did not want to die. Not like that.

She didn't dwell on those thoughts for long, though, as the sounds of battling reached her ears once more, and she lurched to her feet, gripping her knife tightly in her hand as she surveyed the room, angrily wiping away the blood spewing from her nose and then almost screaming at the pain that went through it, and she wondered if it was broken as she caught sight of Tauriel engaged with an Orc twice her size, seemingly a good opponent if it had withstood the she-Elf's vicious attacks for this long.

Alison was about to struggle to Tauriel's defense when another movement caught her eye, and a yowling Orc leaped at her from her right side, being quickly silenced as Alison's knife went through its gut, though it had taken her longer than normal to dispose of it in her weakened state.

Alison turned back to Tauriel, but her breath suddenly caught in her throat when she saw another Orc looming behind the she-Elf, who was still locked in combat with the big one before her. Knowing she would never make it to the she-Elf's side in time and that calling out a warning would only be a distraction, Alison shifted the knife's position in her hand and prepared to fling the blade to the best of her ability, but she stopped and gaped when suddenly an arm came around from behind the Orc and stabbed a dagger through its chest, dropping it like a stone just as Tauriel finished off her opponent with a very messy yet elegant (Alison wondered if that was even possible) beheading.

The two women stared in shock as they realized it was Kíli who had killed the Orc, though he immediately dropped the dagger like it was on fire and collapsed to the ground, screaming and writhing in pain just as an Orc's commanding voice thundered from outside, loud enough to be heard over the screeches and yells inside the house, and, Alison realized then, from out on the streets, as well.

"Gur! Abguriz!" The voice bellowed, and, as if they had rehearsed it, the Orcs battling the dwarves and elves abruptly broke off their attacks and raced out of the house, scrambling over the porch railing and leaping down into the streets below as more screams pierced the air, though the voice could still be heard. "Zidgar Guldur-nar! Ekinskeld Erebor - nar nakhan!"

The unexpected retreat of the Orcs made Alison look around in frenzied confusion, and her puzzlement was reflected in the expressions of the bloody and bruised dwarves around her (for of course, Legolas and Tauriel still looked as flawless as ever; they weren't even breathing hard, for God's sake).

In unison, after sharing an understanding look, Alison and Legolas moved to the door of Bard's house and rushed to the railing, looking down at the canal below. Alison saw the remaining Orcs leaping away over the rooftops and hobbling down alleyways as civilians of the town - no doubt drawn outside by the screams and sounds of the attack - ran around in panic, ducking into other people's homes and seeking refuge as the Orcs retreated; though for what reason, Alison didn't know, and by the stumped look on Legolas' face, she guessed the Elf had no idea, either.

She was about to comment on this, when suddenly Legolas stiffened beside her, his electric blue eyes widening as he caught sight of something, and Alison followed his gaze questioningly, her words dying in her throat when she saw what the Elf had noticed.

A huge, rippling mass of an Orc was staring up at the two, his crude, cold features twisted into a sadistic leer, and Alison shuddered involuntarily, knowing that Orc from anywhere in the world.

"Bolg," she said flatly, and the Orc's blank white gaze bored into her, before he sneered once more and took off down an alleyway, the townspeople screaming and cowering before him as he pounded away, not heeding any of them as he disappeared into the night.

"He needs to be stopped," Legolas said coldly, his eyes still staring at the spot where the monstrous Orc had vanished. "He plans on retreating to Dol Guldur and informing his Master that Thorin Oakenshield has set out for the Mountain. He will set the coming war in motion."

"Wait, you know about that?" Alison said, staring at the Elf, startled, as he looked back to her, taking in her appearance with a touch of concern, considering her voice had come out thick and garbled from the blood continuing to trickle into her mouth.

Legolas gave her a short nod. "We were informed by a prisoner," was all he said, before turning away and entering back into the house, her following behind.

Sigrid, Tilda, and Bain had emerged from their hiding spots when the two reentered the house, Tilda still crying and Sigrid trembling, while Bain looked around in wonder and terror, his face stark white as he breathed, "You killed them all."

"There are others," Legolas said, and then he looked to Tauriel with urgency. "Tauriel, come. We must hurry."

Alison's eyes found the she-Elf from where she was crouched on the floor, kneeling over a panting and moaning Kíli as Fíli kept his brother's head elevated in his arms, looking severely distressed as he looked down at his pale, hood-eyed brother, and Alison felt dread wash over her as she realized that Kíli was fading, truly slipping away now.

Ignoring the protests of her aching muscles, Alison quickly made for Kíli's side and dropped to her knees beside the squirming dwarf, feeling his face and instantly recoiling, though not from the heat of fever; his skin had turned frost-cold in the short amount of time she had been away, and it was like touching an ice sculpture as the dwarf shuddered at her touch, letting out a piteous moan.

"Oh, Kíli," Alison whispered, her chest burning, and the dwarf's eyes landed on her, though they were unfocused and unseeing, darker than their usual cheerful brown as he let out another moan.

"Tauriel," Legolas repeated, more sternly, and the she-Elf looked up from her position across Alison, and she saw the struggle within her as she locked gazes with Tauriel; the willingness to follow her prince, her friend; the fear and desperation for the dying dwarf between them; and the fight that still blazed in the green depths, never wavering, never extinguishing, despite what had happened and all that she was being asked to do in that moment, and Alison realized that Tauriel was silently asking for her permission, whether to stay or go, and surprise flickered through Alison as Tauriel continued to stare at her, before she gave her an imperceptible nod, and Tauriel's eyes widened slightly before narrowing, the she-Elf's resolve beginning to harden as she glanced away from her gaze.

With a last worried look at Kíli, Tauriel got to her feet and made for where Legolas stood, and after one last, half-apologetic, half-urgent look, Legolas nodded to Alison and the rest of the group and quickly strode out of the door, disappearing in a blur of white-blonde and forest-brown.

Tauriel hesitated, pausing in the doorway when Kíli groaned again, but Alison didn't notice, instead turning to a stricken Bofur and barking around the blood in her mouth, "Bofur! Kingsfoil, now!"

"Oh, right," Bofur said, shaking out of his stupor as he rushed to Óin, who was kneeling by Kíli now, as well, and thrust the weed - slightly bent and crushed, but still usable - into the healer dwarf's hands.

"Athelas?" Tauriel said in a strange voice from the doorway, and Alison turned, surprised to see the she-Elf still standing there, staring at the kingsfoil with an odd expression on her face, almost as if she was... hopeful.

"Yeah," Alison said. "It's kingsfoil. Do you know of it?"

Tauriel nodded, her eyes still on the plant. "I do. This is a very beneficial plant to have, especially considering his condition." She gestured to Kíli, and Alison raised a brow, though even that tiny movement caused her face extreme pain.

"What do you know of his condition?" she asked, confused.

"I know that this is no ordinary wound, and no ordinary poison," she replied, and Alison's brow rose higher, though it still hurt. "He was pierced with a Morgul-tipped shaft," she said to everyone's inquisitive looks, but Alison only stared blankly as everyone else in the room gasped.

No one commented on it, though, for suddenly Kíli began to squirm in his brother's arms again, a horrible shudder wracking his body with spasms as his eyes seemed to get a little bit darker, and an inhuman scream tore out of the dwarf's mouth, so full of agonizing pain and mind-numbing anguish that Alison felt tears rush to her eyes and spill over, stinging the cuts and abrasions on her face as Kíli's scream rose in pitch.

"We are losing him," Óin said, as he gripped the kingsfoil tightly and stared down at the younger prince in fear. "I - I have never dealt with this kind of poison before - "

"Kíli," Alison whispered in a strangled voice as the dwarf continued to scream before her, and she leaned in close, grasping his head and cupping his face as she tried to get him to focus on her. "Kíli, it's me, it's Alison. Please, listen to me, you're going to be all right; just focus on me, focus on my voice. Please, look at me, you have to see me, Kíli; we're going to help you, please, just hold on. I - I..."

But her throat was closing up, and the dark-haired prince failed to notice her, still trapped in the prison of his sickened body and mind, and Alison felt such a strong sense of helplessness in that moment that she thought she was going to be sick as Kíli convulsed underneath her, flailing and shouting in agony.

She vaguely noticed someone's arm around her shoulders, and she turned to see Fíli gazing at her in concern, though she saw the same fear she felt reflected back in his haunted blue eyes before she was distracted by a voice above their heads.

"Get him on the table," Tauriel ordered from beyond her, and Alison looked up to see the she-Elf standing over their huddled group, looking pale but determined as she met Alison's gaze unflinchingly.

"Do it!" she ordered the dwarves, when they only stared at her uncomprehendingly, and after only a slight hesitation, Fíli, Bofur, and Óin lifted Kíli up as Sigrid and Bain flipped the table back the right way, and after Kíli was successfully placed onto the table, albeit thrashing and yelling, Tauriel whisked the kingsfoil out of Óin's hands, and the dwarf did not object as Alison managed to get to her feet and follow them into the kitchen.

"What are you doing?" Alison said, her voice coming out croaky and hoarse, from both her tears and the severe beating she had taken earlier, and Tauriel spared her a cursory glance in between orders for supplies she needed.

"I'm going to save him," she replied simply.

Author's Note

Gamul Khagam - Khuzdûl; 'grandfather'

Gur! Abguriz! - Black Speech; 'Hurry! Come with me!'

Zidgar Guldur-nar! Ekinskeld Erebor - nar nakhan! - 'Take news [to] Dol Guldur! Oakenshield [has] reached the Mountain!'

So, notes for this chapter:

Thorin's Flashback: This was meant to take place the day that Smaug came to Erebor; but I felt that Thorin's feelings of why he didn't immediately go after Bilbo needed some explaining, in present and the past.

Ori's Speech: Okay, so I'm hoping this wasn't too OOC or anything; but this chapter needed a dash of Ori being a badass 'get your shit together' guy.

Thorin's POV: What is this? Thorin, can you actually be attempting to fight the gold-sickness?! Guess we'll find out...

Alison's POV: So I'm hoping the fight with the Orcs wasn't too boring or anticlimactic, but I didn't want to stretch it out forever (gotta save some of those fighting skills for later *wait what*). This part of the chapter didn't go the way I wanted it to, but the aftermath of the fight and, of course, Kili's condition, are going to crop up soon, so I'm holding out that this chapter can sustain until then.

Anyway, this was hard work getting back into writer mode after a three-week vacation, but I'm excited to get this story rolling again! We still have a LONG ways to go, and I'm thrilled to get back to working on this again!

Next chapter, we get a Thorin/Bilbo confrontation, Smaug drops a bombshell, and the final stretches of DoS begin before we cross into the uncharted territory of BOFA... (have you heard about the teaser trailer, though? Talk about FEELS).

Also, thank you for the reviews/favorites/follows this story got while I was away! To all the new readers, I can finally welcome you in-person (well, kind of), and to all the old, thanks for being amazing and everything under the sun! So, please, feel free to drop a review for this chapter: anything you liked, disliked, are looking forward to? Let me know!

Thanks again, lovelies. Until next chapter...

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