The March of Time

44: And the Gold Fell Like Rain

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

Quick A/N: Hello all, and welcome to another chapter! I'm absolutely thrilled, because this is the last chapter that follows the events of 'The Desolation of Smaug!' So from here on out, I am flying solo on a mix of book events, what I've seen from the trailers and articles, and my own imagination - especially this last one, because boy do I have some surprises in store ;) Also, the wonky timeline from last chapter applies here, as well, but this is the last chapter with that, Scout's honor.

mh21: Totally guilty; as soon as I heard that line in the movie for the first time, I was like "you know what..." I'm glad you like Tauriel's portrayal, as well; I really do love her character and I love expanding on her without dealing with such an unnecessary love-triangle plot. And you didn't really think I'd let Alison hurt poor Kili's feelings like that, did you? ;) Thanks for your review!

BrooklyntheElf: Lol, no worries :) I accept fellow fangirls! And congrats on the profile, and good luck with publishing!

Much thanks also to the lovely reviews of Obi-wan's girl forever, Miriel Tolkien, PK -chan12, wickedgrl123, Lily Rae, ACreativeHobbit, chm36, and ReadyforRevolution!

Enjoy!

Chapter Forty-Four: And the Gold Fell Like Rain

England, 1362

"Out! OUT!" The barkeep roared, tossing Johnathan out of the seedy, one-room tavern by the collar of his shirt as men stamped and hollered approval from behind him. Johnathan caught himself before he could tumble face-first into the ground, straightening up and jerking his coat back into place as he glared at the doughy, sour-faced man silhouetted in the doorway.

"Mark my words, boy," he growled, shaking a pudgy, yellow-nailed finger at him as the boy spat out a mouthful of blood, a result from the altercation that was getting him kicked out in the first place. "If I catch ye round here makin' trouble again, a split lip will only be the beginnin' of yer issues."

And with that, the barkeep turned and slammed the door to the tavern shut behind him, leaving Johnathan alone in the cold and darkened street.

"Bastard," Johnathan grumbled, shooting an obscene hand gesture to the closed door. But the barkeep's words didn't bother him that much; it wasn't the first time he had been thrown out of a tavern, and it certainly wouldn't be his last, if he kept up his current ways. He was just glad the barkeep had forgotten he hadn't paid for his drinks as he turned and made his way up the lonely street, hurrying away lest any sense actually came to the portly man and he chased after him, demanding pay.

Johnathan jangled the bag of coins in his pocket that he had managed to snatch from the man who had attacked him, smirking to himself at the sounds of the clinking gold. In the months that he had been living on the streets, his pickpocketing skills had been one of his most useful assets, and not even the cut lip he now sported could dampen his spirits; this money could last him for a good long while. He might even be able to acquire transport away from this God-awful village without having to smuggle, and that thought lifted his heart considerably.

As he trekked down the street, passing by dark and creaking shacks of homes and huddling deeper into his frayed and threadbare coat against the bitter cold of the night, he wondered where his feet might lead him to next. Certainly not London, if he had any say in the matter; rumors were spreading that the Plague was claiming people left and right in that place, and he had no desire to be anywhere near there; he had not survived this long only to be dragged down by the illness that had claimed his father at the start of the outbreak.

He made his way to the edges of the village, where drunken laughter and the whistles and jeers from the men to the trilling women could now be heard, and the smells of excrement and filth became more prominent.

This was the place where all the scum of the village ended up, cast out by the working folk to set up their own black markets and shady businesses in the corners of the town, and this was the place where Johnathan had been living for the past month, flitting in and out of the shabby, disgusting inn and sticking to the shadows, not making any friends, not making any conversation—just simply living, wandering.

Of course, there had always been the speculation about the first week or so after he arrived; the usual mutterings and whispers of why a sixteen year old boy was choosing to go rogue and travel with no family or companions, but the talk had died out quickly; in this day and age, it was now considered common for orphans to run around with the lowest of the low, ever since the outbreak of the Black Death began conquering the country. So Johnathan paid no heed, and kept his head down, weaving his way to the inn where he had been staying all this time, his payment methods frowned upon, but never scolded, for everyone here was a thief and a liar, just as him.

He dodged through the drunken crowds, his tongue probing his bottom lip where the blood was drying as the grotesque and dirty women lined on the road cooed and gestured to him, batting their eyes and hiking up their skirts, but he kept walking, paying them no mind; he had sunk to many levels during his time on the streets, but succumbing to the whims of a prostitute was something he had no desire of ever doing.

He ducked a staggering man that laughed raucously and smelled strongly of brandy, but he froze when he saw a flash of white-blonde hair farther up the street, his heart coming to a crashing stop in his chest.

"Out of the way, lad!" the drunk man's companion snapped, pushing him roughly aside; normally, Johnathan would have been punching the man in the nose after that, but he paid no heed this time, following after the flash he had seen almost against his will.

He turned the corner of a deserted alley, his breaths coming in short gasps as he glimpsed the woman walking down the alleyway, her back toward him, but her hair was the same silvery color, her posture and the graceful way she walked almost a mimic…

"Wait!" Johnathan called, beginning to sprint down the alley after her when she did not acknowledge him; one part of him knew that he was just imagining things, he had to be, but the idealistic part of him rebelled, wanting to believe beyond anything—

"Isobel, wait—" he said, grabbing the girl's elbow and turning her, but he let go immediately when she screamed and wrenched her arm out of his grasp.

"You filthy dog, let me go!" she snapped, as Johnathan stared at her, all false hope he had had draining away in mere seconds as the woman gave him one last scathing look and stalked away, her blonde hair rippling as she disappeared into the shadows.

Johnathan swore violently, lashing out at the wall of a dilapidated structure angrily, not even caring when his knuckles started swelling and smarting. It had been six years. Six years, and everywhere he looked, he still saw her, as if she were a ghost, haunting his every thought and action. It was time to move on; but how could he, when the one thing that had mattered most to him in this godforsaken world had been ripped away from him?

"Isobel," a voice mused from behind him, and Johnathan whirled around, clenching his bloodied fist when he saw a man standing there, though confusion instantly mixed with his sudden reaction; he hadn't seen anyone when he first came down the alley, and he was usually very good at sensing people—so where had this man come from?

"What?" Johnathan said, for lack of anything better to say, and the man cocked an arching brow, taking in Johnathan just as the other boy was doing to him.

He could tell immediately that this man should not be in this part of the village; if his finely tailored and clean, silken black robes weren't anything to go by, then the man himself was what gave the impression of wealth and nobility, perhaps even royalty, in the way he stood and the obvious calm authority that oozed from his very being.

He had long, shimmering black hair, as dark as a raven's wing and just as smooth, framing his angular, well-featured face and resting about halfway down his back, yet it was perfectly groomed, as was his clean-shaven face, where deep-set eyes of onyx glittered out at him, unfathomable as they roved carefully over Johnathan, causing the younger boy to feel a slight tingle of apprehension in his fingertips as the man repeated in his rich voice, "Isobel. You said that name earlier, with the woman you thought to be her. Who is she?"

"None of your business," Johnathan growled, regaining his wits and glaring at the man before him, who stayed as calm and unruffled as ever.

"Do not presume to play petty and pointless games with me, child," he said, his otherwise emotionless tone laced with a hint of something softer, much more…lethal. "I have neither the time nor the patience for such trivial matters of trust."

Johnathan blinked, wondering what that could mean, but he found himself saying reluctantly, "She is…was, my sister." He swallowed before continuing, the man raising a perfect brow. "She died six years ago from fever; she…I loved her more than anything."

The man did not respond, continuing to scrutinize him, and Johnathan shook his head, wondering where that sudden urge of raw honesty had come from.

"Who are you?" he asked, when the silence stretched longer, and the man tilted his head, as if pondering his words.

"That is a difficult question to answer, for I have many names, and not all of them pleasant," he said, and now it was Johnathan's turn to raise his brows. "For now, you may call me Mairon, though I haven't been called that in years." He gave a small, sardonic smile that looked quite cruel on his elegant features, before adding, "That was what I used to be called, before my 'falling out,' as you could say. But if you'd rather I stick with my present name – for you will know it quite soon enough – then I am… Sauron."

What kind of bloody ridiculous name is that? Johnathan thought to himself, before jerking his head once at the man, saying, "Well, I've only had one name my whole life, so you can just call me Johnathan. And while this has been a nice conversation and everything, I should go."

He made to walk away, but the man – he decided to stick with Mairon, since the other name seemed so foolish – held him back, his voice echoing behind him as he said, "Are all of you Ashburnes so volatile and sneering, or am I just biased from my own opinion of Eleon Ashburne?"

Johnathan stopped dead in his tracks, turning to face Mairon while the other man's mouth curled in the faintest smirk. "How do you know of that?" he asked, his voice hoarse, and this time, Mairon did smirk.

"Come now, child," he said. "Eleon may have been your great-grandfather, but the world who bred him does not forget his story."

Johnathan's heart began to hammer against his rib cage as he choked out, "You mean…you mean…"

"Oh, yes, Arda, Middle-earth, whatever you want to call it, is real," Mairon said, looking far too amused for this, though it was a cold, detached amusement, like how a predator plays with its prey before it eats it. "And that is why I am here."

Johnathan said nothing, his mind too busy arguing back and forth about the possibilities, and Mairon took this moment to speak again.

"There is an ancient Magic that runs deep in the Ashburne line, a power that binds the descendants of Eleon forevermore to the world from whence their origins spawned," he said, as Johnathan continued to stare, not quite believing what he was hearing. "And there are rumors stirring, rumors that tell of an Oath Eleon took before departing his true world, that whenever Arda called for aid, one of his descendants would take up the call, and be summoned to offer counsel and allegiance to the beings of that world."

"What does this have to do with me?" Johnathan interjected, having a sinking feeling already of what this meeting was about, and Mairon gave him a patronizing, hard smile.

"I have a war brewing on my hands, Johnathan," he said. "A war that will shake the foundations of the earth should it fall one way or another, and I have reason to believe that you will be summoned to assist in this great struggle."

Johnathan blanched. "What? No! Absolutely not! They can't—they can't just recruit me without my consent!"

"They can, and they will," Mairon replied easily. "The Valar do not value the lives of mortals, and it is for this exact reason that you will be called upon to serve them, to become the expendable little Hero for the game of battle they are allowing their charges to play, where there will be needless slaughter and bloodshed, though they will not raise a finger to either stop it or help. That is why they need you."

Johnathan opened his mouth to protest again, but before he could say anything, Mairon stepped closer to him, his black eyes boring into Johnathan's blue ones as he said, "And this is why I need you, child. You are the only one who can stop this war; you are facing the inevitable. The Valar will call upon you to take up your ancestor's Oath, and you must adhere to their summons. However," and here, Mairon paused, bringing up a hand to Johnathan's face, a gleaming gold ring upon one finger as he placed his palm flat on the boy's cheek, Johnathan jerking back a bit as the ring bit into his skin like fire, though he did not move as he met Mairon's eyes again.

"There are ways we can ensure that this sort of thing does not happen again," he continued, as Johnathan listened raptly. "When you are summoned, you must come to me before none other. Come to me, and we can work out a solution together, for all our sakes."

"How do I know where to find you?" Johnathan whispered, knowing that he should be terrified out of his mind, but the way Mairon held himself; poised, confident, willing to do anything to spare his world from war – it was mesmerizing.

Instead of answering, Mairon simply slipped his hand down Johnathan's throat, the burning ring finding its way inside of his shirt and coat and coming to a stop just above his madly racing heart, searing heat against the flesh of his bare chest.

Soon, the heat became unbearable, and Johnathan staggered back, grunting in pain and ripping down his shirt to see a brand etched into the skin of his chest, red and angry, but it was quickly scabbing over until it became nothing more than what appeared to be a black tattoo, strange symbols bound together in a small circle, and when he looked up, he saw the same glowing marks on the band of the golden ring before they faded, Mairon meeting his stare levelly.

"That is how you will find me," he said simply, before turning and retreating back into the shadows.

Johnathan watched him go, half in reverence and half in fear of the strange, powerful man; if what Mairon had said was true, then Johnathan would be leaving this place. He would be leaving the world that had taken so much from him and offered nothing in return, and it was this thought that made him straighten up and square his shoulders, watching as Mairon paused and glanced back at him over his shoulder.

"I look forward to meeting you again, Johnathan Ashburne," he said. "I have a feeling you will make a very worthy ally to me."

And with that, he stepped into the shadows and disappeared, leaving Johnathan alone in the alley.

He stared at the place where Mairon had vanished for several long moments before turning and trudging his way back to the inn where his cramped, smelly room waited, though he was now comforted by the thought that he would be gone soon, and, if he had his own say in the matter, that he would not be coming back.

It wasn't until he had gotten into his room and stripped off his boots, coat, and shirt, and walked into the adjoining washroom (which was a corner with a dirty cracked mirror and a basin of scummy water), that he noticed something different about himself.

Surely it was the new mark that now resided above his heart as he stared at his bare chest, pale in the darkness of the room while the leather cord around his neck was quite the opposite, the small amber jewel that had once belonged to Isobel glowing with the light of his candle on the bedside table.

No, it was something else, he determined, as he bent down and splashed some water on his face, immediately toweling it off right after.

And when he looked up, back into the mirror, he finally noticed it: where once his eyes had been pale blue, like cornflowers, they were now black, an ebony that seemed to swallow all light – just like Mairon's.

One Hour Earlier

Legolas rode swiftly through the frost-touched trees, the moonlight glancing upon his pale hair like veins of silver as he and his newly-procured mare flitted ghost-like through the borders of the Woodland Realm, flying in pursuit of the Orcs that were fleeing Lake-town, no doubt on their way back to tell their Master of Oakenshield's race to the Mountain – and from there, the war would be set in motion.

He gripped his horse's reins tightly, keeping firm control of the biting anger he could feel brewing underneath his cool demeanor. His nose still twitched uncomfortably from pain, and from the corners of his keen eyes, he could still see the smear of red against his pale fingers, the parting gift of the filth Bolg before the Orc had fled like a coward from the shores of Esgaroth.

Seeing the blood on his fingertips and feeling the slight pain of his nose had surprised Legolas more than he wanted to admit. He could only recall two times he had ever bled in his long life before this incident – once in a sparring match with Tauriel, Elros, and Feren, and another on one of the first raids of the spiders – and he had quite forgotten how vividly crimson it was, and how metallic-smelling and thick, and this thought did nothing to quell the reckless sense of anger that had taken hold of him at the sight.

But he forced it down, covering the swelling embers with a blanket of snow and a sheet of ice, channeling his energy into his senses and surroundings; a trick he had observed from his father long ago, though he was nowhere near as dexterous when it came to performing the façade as Thranduil.

The Orcs had a good head start on the Elf, and it wasn't until a few minutes later, when the trail grew slightly colder and their rank stench did not defile his nostrils as badly, that Legolas began to wonder if this wild chase was even worth it.

He had been raised with a tactical and prestige mind, and if he had any sense of logic, he would know that this was simply a ruse; but a ruse for what? What was the point of chasing after a band of Orcs that were currently traveling south along the Celduin, not even bothering to cover their tracks or lay varying different trails in the hopes that he would pick a false one? It was almost like -

Ah. Of course.

Legolas brought his horse to an abrupt halt, running a soothing hand down the satiny neck as rider and steed stopped in a frosty clearing, all silent save for the rushing waters of the Celduin somewhere to their left and the rustling of the unmarked trees around them.

The Orcs were not bothering to hide anymore, for Legolas now knew where they were heading; to Dol Guldur, the Hill of Sorcery. But their trail was beginning to veer right, more towards the West and deeper into Mirkwood, and Legolas thought through the strategies and his mental map of the forest quickly, years of battle tactics and war practice coming to him in the blink of an eye, until finally he found his solution.

The Orcs were not heading to Dol Guldur, because there was no point anymore; they would not be traveling west unless the army was already on the move.

Now that Legolas knew what he was dealing with, it became as clear as day; after all, it was a move he would have made if he had been the one to lead the armies. They were traveling out of Mirkwood and going around, marching northwards towards Ered Mithrin and the mouth of the Forest River, for it was the river they meant to follow, cutting through Mirkwood easily until reaching Esgaroth and then marching onwards to the Lonely Mountain. This meant that they did not want to risk the wrath of the forest and lose soldiers to the maddening and festering air of the place, or giant spiders; it would take longer going around the forest, but if they were a disciplined army, then their march would still be swift and they could reach the Mountain in a week, maybe two, also depending on their numbers.

It took Legolas only a minute to decipher all the possible flaws and holes in his reasoning, but he knew it was enough to go on and form a plan of action around. He would let Bolg and the other Orcs think they had given him the slip, while he would instead go back, collect Tauriel, and then make haste to his father's halls; he knew Thranduil would be livid with him and the she-Elf, but their reprimanding would have to wait; they had more pressing matters to attend to at the moment.

Legolas spun his mare around, ready to shoot off back in the direction of Lake-town, but he sat up straighter in his saddle when he noticed something lying upon the ground a few paces away from him.

He slid smoothly from his saddle and crossed the forest floor with noiseless footsteps, bending down to get a better look at the thing he had seen, despite his heightened senses already determining what it was a moment before.

It was a shield, obviously, yet a very strange one, made from the branch of an oak; it reeked of Orc and fire, and one side of it was charred, the polished bark having been blackened, as if it had been pulled out of the edges of a blaze, though it would take a fool to not recognize the meaning of the shield, and the name behind it.

Legolas thought about leaving the shield behind; no doubt it was another ruse to distract him, but his senses were not picking up on anything around him, meaning that no Orcs were nearby trying to kill him while he was otherwise occupied; but no, this was obviously meant as a message, and left here even more purposefully, so he would stumble upon it. But a message for what?

Legolas did not ponder on this long, for the night was waning and every second he wasted now seemed infinitely more vital. He did not particularly like having to pick up the Dwarvish shield, but once he held it, a grudging admiration lit in his fingers at the fine craftsmanship, before he secured it on his back with his other weapons, though he made sure it would not get in the way should he have sudden need to access them.

Then he perched lightly on the saddle again and tapped his heels against the mare's side, and they were racing through the trees again, following their trail back towards Esgaroth, and he leaned forward, whispering in the mare's ear, "Noro lim," feeling the horse respond to his smooth words as the trees whipped by faster, and the cold air bit harder at his skin.

When Legolas reached the bridge that spanned across the Long Lake, he paused briefly, seeing the glimmering houselights winking out at him from the middle of the frigid waters, before disembarking from his saddle and petting the mare's velvety nose, sending her on her way back into the Woodland Realm; he knew Tauriel rather preferred her own feet over a horse, and he respected her wish, but it was more out of sympathy for the creature than anything. A Wild life in the forest seemed a better fate than the muck-filled stables of Esgaroth.

Placing a hand on Orcrist at his waist (how ironic, he thought, that he was now in possession of two of Oakenshield's accessories), he ghosted swiftly across the bridge, reaching the borders of the town just as he saw a flitting, red-haired figure sprint out of the shadows, the green eyes catching on him instantly with a soft smile.

"Legolas, mae athollen," Tauriel said, striding over to him, and his mouth quirked in his own way of greeting as he inclined his head to her, a gesture his father had always disapproved of, for he was the prince and she only the captain, but it was a habit he could not break.

He opened his mouth to speak, but at that moment, there was a tremendous quake from the Mountain and an echoing crumble, and the two Elves looked up, their sharp eyes drawn to the sky, and Legolas felt a chill in his body when he realized what was happening.

"Nan Belain," Tauriel breathed. "She was right. The dragon is coming."

She turned to meet his puzzled gaze, but instead of explaining, she said, "We must get back to Alison Ashburne and her companions. We must help."

Legolas nodded, not even bothering to swing his bow off his back as the sound of rushing wings drew nearer; this was one enemy they could not fight. "Lead on," he said, and he followed after Tauriel as they raced back to the Lakeman's house.

"Tiro ven Elbereth," he uttered as a prayer, just as the first flames descended from the sky.

One Hour Earlier

This is madness, Bilbo found himself thinking as him and the Company staggered into the forges, slipping easily through a side entrance Thorin had shown them for the main iron gates had closed off the entire section completely. This is sheer, absolute madness. Never again am I letting a Wizard convince me to go on an adventure.

Bilbo didn't know how he was still upright; he couldn't remember the last time he had eaten or slept, and the undiluted terror and anxiety pulsing through him at that moment was enough to knock out a full-grown mountain troll; yet there he was, still standing, his breaths wheezing in and out of his mouth as sweat ran down his face in droves.

They had spent the last half-hour playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Smaug, almost resulting in several misfires (quite literally) that would have surely concluded in death had it not been for luck and the complete stubbornness and fierce loyalty of the dwarves, who would always put themselves in harm's way to distract and confuse the dragon to focus on them instead; a wonderful and admirable tactic in Bilbo's eyes, if it weren't for the constant fact that the dragon was about to kill them at any moment, and he had the overwhelming urge to find a bathroom soon.

As they entered the dark and abandoned forges, Bilbo catching on something Thorin was saying to Balin about standing on the dragon's nose, they soon came to a stop when they realized how truly burnt out the forges were, and Bilbo felt despair rising in him like a black wave at the thought that this had been for nothing, a sentiment some of the others clearly shared.

"The plan's not going to work," Dwalin said, echoing Bilbo's thoughts exactly. "These furnaces are stone cold."

"He's right," Balin chimed in, sounding strained. "We have no fire hot enough to set them ablaze."

"Have we not?" Thorin countered, a slightly manic grin spreading across his face that matched the wild, bright gleam in his eye as he turned towards the iron gates, the pounding footsteps and slithering scales of Smaug drawing nearer.

Oh, he wouldn't dare –

But they only watched as Smaug came into view, his lantern eyes flashing menacingly as Thorin called out in a sneering tone, "I did not look to see you so easily outwitted, you cowering heap of dung!"

Amazing, Bilbo thought sarcastically. Truly brilliant, that was –

"You have grown slow and fat in your dotage," Thorin taunted, as Smaug turned his head toward them threateningly, his chest beginning to glow familiarly. "Slug!"

Thorin Oakenshield, everyone. Renowned warrior king-in-exile, with the insulting vocabulary of a squirrel –

"Take cover!" Thorin suddenly shouted, grabbing Bilbo's coat sleeve and bodily shoving him against a pillar as the others copied their movements, just as a blinding shot of pure flame seared by them, heating the air around them to the point where Bilbo thought he was going to suffocate, when finally the heat was gone, and he opened his eyes to see flames before him, burning underneath the furnaces – just as Thorin had planned.

"Bombur!" the raven-haired dwarf was shouting. "Get those bellows working! Go!"

The ginger dwarf complied, running as fast as his weight would allow over to the furnaces as the sounds of Smaug roaring in outrage came closer and closer.

"Balin!" Thorin said, his voice nearly being swallowed by the sound of Smaug crashing into the iron gates, bellowing in fury when they held, though Bilbo knew it was only a matter of time before Smaug managed to break them down. "Do you still know how to mix a flash-flame?"

"Aye!" Balin called back, his white beard grimy and singed slightly at the ends as he nodded. "It should only take a jiffy!"

"We don't have a jiffy," Dwalin muttered, as him, Ori, Nori, and Dori sprinted after Balin to presumably work on those flash-flames, and Bilbo was suddenly left alone with Thorin, Glóin and Bifur already dashing off to do their own thing, clearly having been in a forge before as Smaug continued to rage at the gate, though it seemed he had learned his lesson of not breathing any more fire.

"Bilbo," Thorin said, and the deep baritone was what tore the hobbit's gaze away from the dragon as he looked to the dwarf, meeting his steady blue gaze. "Up there, do you see that lever?" He pointed to a high platform with an alarmingly large lever on it, and Bilbo nodded, swallowing away his fear now that he was being given a task. "On my mark, I want you to pull it. But only on my mark."

"Got it," Bilbo said, nodding and starting towards the platform, but he turned around when Thorin's hand caught on his arm, raising an eyebrow in confusion as Thorin clapped him on the shoulder, saying, "Good luck."

"And to you," he replied, giving a brief smile, and Thorin nodded, a small smile gracing his own rough features before he was off, and Bilbo began sprinting in earnest to the platform, thinking that at least if he were to die tonight, then at least he would be parting from this world as Thorin Oakenshield's friend, something he had never imagined happening in all the ages of this world, but realizing now that that wasn't such a bad way to go out at all.

He scrambled up the steep stone steps, hauling himself on to the platform just as there was a shrieking of metal upon rock, and then a clattering BOOM as Smaug finally managed to bust down the gate and pull himself inside, roaring in triumph.

"Bilbo, NOW!" Thorin roared, and Bilbo jumped up, grabbing the lever with both hands; for one terrible moment, he thought the handle was stuck, but after a few heart-stopping seconds, his weight finally managed to swing the lever down.

There was a loud groaning noise from behind the walls, and then douses of water came spurting out of carved holes in the stone, jets of water slamming into the dragon as Smaug snarled, copious amounts of steam issuing from his body as he flailed under the assault of the water.

Thorin had pulled his own lever, filling pathways with what appeared to be molten gold as the other dwarves threw flash-flames at the dragon, tiny explosions like fireworks ricocheting off the scales and only seeming to enrage him further, as he staggered around, tail lashing and wings snapping, tangling in the metal carts overhead and bringing the lines down, along with a cursing Glóin and a yelling Bifur.

"Lead him to the Gallery of the Kings!" Thorin's voice shouted above the cacophony, a split second before Smaug's tail pummeled into the side of the platform Bilbo was standing upon, causing the structure to crumble, and Bilbo yelped as he was suddenly free-falling towards the ground.

Fortunately, the ground wasn't as far away as he had thought, but he still hit it hard enough to jar his shoulder on impact as he remembered a piece of advice from Thorin long ago in one of their rare training sessions, tucking his body so he rolled with the impact; and good thing he did too, or else he would have been crushed under a ton of solid stone that struck the floor where he had been a moment before.

When he stopped rolling and looked up with a grunt, it was to see Thorin sailing away on the river of molten gold in what looked like a wheelbarrow, of all things, and the other dwarves racing out of a side-entrance.

He dragged himself to his feet as Thorin shouted, "Come on, Bilbo!" and followed the others out of the side-entrance, only just then becoming aware of Smaug behind him. He turned his head at the last second, seeing the dragon pouncing after him, fury evident in every scale of his body, and Bilbo gave one last burst of speed through the doorway, letting out a silent cheer when he made it through to what he assumed was the Gallery of the Kings, if the great depictions of Dwarves wearing crowns and looking all regal and whatnot was any indication.

His relief lasted all of about two seconds, however, as just then, there was an almighty crash from above, and dust and rubble rained down around him as Smaug smashed through the wall entirely.

Bilbo looked over his shoulder again, seeing Smaug leaping over him, but, more alarmingly, a giant tapestry at least the size of the dragon himself fluttering down to the floor. Bilbo ran as fast as he ever had in his life, but it was no use; the edge of the tapestry plowed into his back, and though it was only embroidery, it still knocked him flat as he slid across the polished marble floors, still decadent even after all this time.

"Did you really think you could deceive me, Barrel-rider?" Smaug snarled, and Bilbo crept hastily from underneath the folds of the tapestry, pushing up the corner to where only his head poked out to see Smaug rounding on him, his yellow eyes blazing like the forges behind them.

"You have come from Lake-town," the dragon continued, as Bilbo's heart hammered against his ribs. "No doubt this is some sordid scheme, hatched between these filthy dwarves and those miserable, flea-riddled Lakemen! Those sniveling cowards with their longbows and Black Arrows." Smaug quivered with unsuppressed rage, his lantern eyes glowing hotter as a snarl tugged back his lips, revealing his fangs. "Perhaps it's time I paid them a visit."

Bilbo's heart stuttered, his mind immediately flying to the others still there, and he breathed out, "Oh, no," as he saw an image of the wooden town suddenly burning before his eyes.

Smaug let out a gloating hiss and turned, beginning to slither out of the gallery, and Bilbo suddenly found himself rising to his feet, shoving off the tapestry as he strode forward and cried, "This isn't their fault! Wait! You cannot go to Lake-town!"

The dragon paused, turning with a bemused expression as he regarded the hobbit marching towards him, his face set and determined despite his shivers.

"You care about them, don't you?" the dragon cooed, before his expression turned murderous, and Bilbo stopped dead in his tracks, dread clawing at him as Smaug hissed, "Good. Then you can watch them die, hear their screams for mercy as I tear that town apart to its foundations, smell their burning corpses as I pile them on top of one another and make myself a second throne! Death to all!"

And with that, Smaug turned and stalked away, heading towards the Front Gate Bilbo could now glimpse through the other side of the hall, and he felt his stomach churning, bile rising to his throat as he watched the dragon march off to kill his friends, and all those innocent people –

"Here! You witless worm!" Thorin's voice echoed impressively throughout the gallery, amplified a hundredfold in the enormous space, and Smaug halted dead in his tracks, turning around slowly for the source of the noise as Bilbo did the same, not seeing the dwarf anywhere.

"You," Smaug hissed. "Where are you hiding, you filthy little cockroach?"

In response, there was the sound almost like a hammer striking stone, and then a sudden grinding noise from above; Bilbo looked up just in time to see a great portion of the cavern ceiling give way and collapse on top of Smaug's head, showering the dragon with tons of rock and dust as he roared in fury, the sound ringing throughout the room and causing Bilbo to grit his teeth as he stumbled back into a pillar, clutching his ears.

"I am taking back what you stole," came Thorin's now-muffled voice, and Bilbo watched as Smaug turned in a circle, yellow eyes flashing when the dwarf was still nowhere to be found.

"Come out, dwarf!" Smaug screamed. "Come out and face me!"

The banging sound came again, and another hunk of ceiling fell from above, clipping Smaug's right wing as the beast howled in madness.

"You will take nothing from me, dwarf!" Smaug shrieked. "I laid low your warriors of old! I instill terror in the hearts of Men!"

At this, the echoing crack sounded once more, and another part of the ceiling collapsed, landing on Smaug's spine when the dragon failed to move out of the way in time.

"How are you doing this?" the dragon hissed, turning in circles madly to try and find the dwarf.

"By applying the right pressure," came Thorin's gritted reply, and a last piece of ceiling fell, though this time, Smaug was ready, and dodged the stone at the last second.

"Come out, Oakenshield!" Smaug thundered. "I know it is you!"

"Caught on, now, have we?" Thorin taunted, and both Bilbo and Smaug turned to see Thorin perched on the shoulder of one of the statuesque Dwarf Kings, looking like a raven nested there as he glared at Smaug from his great height, his face as hard and unflinching as Bilbo had ever seen it, looking carved from iron as his hand grasped on a dangling chain above his head.

"You insolent fool," Smaug growled, stalking towards the great statue, and that was when Bilbo noticed the other dwarves standing out of sight, each one grasping a chain in their hands, and Bilbo's eyes widened as the plan clicked into place in his brain before turning his attention back to Smaug.

"Coming here, thinking that you could kill me, that you could reclaim what I wrested from your people's dead, clawing fingers." Smaug sneered. "Your time is over, dwarf. I am King under the Mountain!"

"This is not your kingdom," Thorin declared, and his snarl was almost worse than Smaug's as the dragon glared, his eyes narrowed to slits. "These are Dwarf lands. This is Dwarf gold. And we will have our revenge.

"Odùhyar!" He bellowed, yanking his chain and hanging on as it bore him up, and then the others followed his command, pulling on their own chains until they snapped off, and the statue of Thorin's ancestor began to fall apart, revealing molten gold beneath it, still in the same likeness, but now one of the most exquisite things Bilbo had ever seen.

Smaug did nothing, his eyes widening in wonder and astonishment at the sight of the gold, so entranced that he did not notice the surface begin to bubble as Bilbo did, until finally, the gold burst, shooting out a stream of molten liquid that made the dragon stumble back, a growl beginning to sound in his chest.

The rest of the statue began to liquidize, melting into a steaming vat of gold that sizzled and bubbled from where it touched the floor, and Bilbo watched it flow beneath the higher ground he was perched on, seeing Smaug get caught up in the torrent and being sucked under with a strangled roar of pain and surprise.

In a matter of seconds, the entire lower floor was flooded with a sheet of gold, and there was a tense moment of silence where all the dwarves and Bilbo gazed at the spot where Smaug had disappeared. There was no movement from the pool of gold, and Bilbo felt a ghost of a smile cross his lips – before there was suddenly an eruption from the middle of the gallery, blazing hot gold flying in arcs and streams as Smaug clawed his way free, screaming in pain and flailing around.

Bilbo watched in horror as the dragon turned towards the Front Gate again, shimmering like his own golden statue as he roared, "Revenge? Revenge? I will show you revenge!"

And with that, the dragon bounded out of the gallery, smashing through the opposite wall, and, as if he were not in control of his own movements, Bilbo began sprinting after him, skirting around the molten gold still in the center of the room and scrambling over debris, racing towards the Front Gate just as Smaug burst through, letting in bright shafts of moonlight and cold, bitter air that stung Bilbo's skin and raked across his body, his breath coming in short, heaving gasps as he forced himself after the dragon.

No, he thought numbly. Nonononono –

He staggered outside, running for a few feet before collapsing against a heap of the broken gate as he watched Smaug launch himself into empty air, spreading his wings.

The dragon twirled elegantly and gracefully in the air, and the gold that had adorned his body was now being shed, falling like glittering shards of rain back down to the earth as Bilbo watched, horrified, his heart stuttering and faltering before picking up speed, beating like a hummingbird's wings within his chest.

And he continued to watch, as Smaug twisted and began gliding away from the Mountain, his wings like the rush of a hurricane as he cut through the sky like a line of black ink crossing out the stars, heading towards the town Bilbo could dimly make out on the lake, and he thought his heart might burst from the dread now pumping through his veins and tearing into his lungs, because those innocent people, their friends, oh Valar -

"What have we done?"

Long Author's Note

Translations

"Noro lim" – (Sindarin); "Ride fast"

"Mae athollen" – (Sindarin); "Welcome back"

"Nan Belain" – (Sindarin); "By the Valar"

"Tiro ven Elbereth" – (Sindarin); "May Varda watch over us"

"Odùhyar" – (Khuzdûl); "Now" (lit. "Strike")

Give me my moment. I've been wanting to write the cliffhanger for DoS ever since I saw the movie for the first time. I know I'm being a tease with the dragon, but I promise next chapter. Actually, you know what's even better? The fact that I'm spending TWO whole chapters on it! What a deal!

And if you're wondering why the J-Ash scene was there, all I can say is: patience. It is impertinent later on for the story. And, on the topic of J-Ash, who has now solved the mystery of the voice that he hears in his head in his darker moments? (Come on, it was right there...)

And having Thorin's shield come back into the story is very important, as well; and I hope you liked how I did Legolas's POV. I always thought he was a strategist at heart (hence his worries over the odds at Helm's Deep in 'The Two Towers'), but I hope I did him justice.

Also, I don't know if I will be able to update next weekend, depending on how busy I am this week (starting junior year of high school on Monday is going to SUCK), but I will try!

Anyway, thank you for all the reviews/favorites/follows! Please don't forget to review this chapter: anything you liked, disliked, are looking forward to? Let me know!

Thanks again, lovelies! Until next chapter... *as Smaug descends upon Lake-town*

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