Smoke clouded the horizon, shadowing the ravaged battlefield against the crimson of the setting sun. Orc, elf, man and dwarf alike were strewn among the dead. The carnage was devestating; thousands of young lives wasted for petty glimmers of cold metal.

He had lived too long. One war should have been enough. To witness a second time as his King crumble before his eyes; a legend slain; a hero conquered; a leader fallen in his line of command. Balin had seen the greatness in Thorin and sworn to follow him to the death, only to watch him dissolve into madness as the promise of wealth and heritage enticed him into the pit of greed as it had his grandfather before.

No sacrifice could buy the gold under the Mountain. No lives could repay its debt. Even now the Mountain claimed its own, the injured and the dying stolen one by one like candles snuffed out by the ghost of a breeze.

When his wandering footsteps rested by the corpses of Thorin's kin, the enourmity of their loss was too great and Balin wept. Fili and Kili, unseparated even in death, their fingers entwined as though holding the other grounded, each refusing to depart alone. Were not for the arrows piercing Kili's back, nor the broken shaft of a spear protruding from Fili's side, Balin would have thought them merely resting from the conflict, saving their strength while they contrived new and ingenious pranks to use against their allies.

Fili should be kneeling by Thorin's body at this moment, mourning his passing and preparing for the his responsibilities as king. Kili, sobered at last by his understanding of the grim realism of war, would nonetheless encourage him with a light hearted jibe against King Thrandruil. Thorin's nephew should be celebrating his glorious victory, not joining him in his death. Fate had turned her back with cruel derision, and only the clouds repined the loss of the sons of Durin as the rain cascaded in sheets of silver mist.

A hitch caught in his breath as Balin turned his gaze once more to the fallen, recognizing now a third member whose departure had grieved the youngest of the two brothers throughout the remainder of his life. A hideous, mottled dog with the most appaling coloring was curled against Kili's side, its nose tucked underneath his chin and its eyes closed in silent parting. It was skinny, though not starved, with no wounds to testify a violent end. Balin might have believed that the pitiful creature had crossed mountains and rivers to reunite with its master at the last, accepting death without a struggle in the arms of a friend.

Indeed, Kili's left arm was slung over Bree's flank in a protective, comforting manner, his fingers loosely clutching the ragged fur as though even near the end he recognized that his dog had returned to him. A peaceful smile lingered on his still features, his heart secure in the knowledge that Fili and Bree would never leave him.

"A fitting end," Balin murmured, turning away. Sorrow overwhelmed him in a cloak of desolation and he cried out in anguish at the futility of their quest, for all the gold in Erabor could not replace the souls which would never again grace the halls of the Lonely Mountain.

Overhead, the skies poured down their tears upon the sons of Durin.