So, after a brief, umm, seventh month hiatus, we're back! I would wallow in apologies, but I'd rather use that time to write. I'll probably remove this interlude once I've got a proper chapter up, but I thought I'd summarise the story so far. Please expect the next proper chapter up within the next day or two - and I mean that.

Sorry for the delay, loves, and if you choose to carry on with me I will be forever grateful. My goal is to have this story properly finished by the end of October (to make way for NaNoWriMo), so unless things go desperately wrong I shan't be vanishing on you again.

In the Fourth Age, the time of magic is fading. Elves are long gone from Middle Earth, and from living memories; Hobbits have withdrawn inside the Shire, their life-spans shrunken along with their public presence in the world. The Dwarves have lost their vitality, and the few that remain are confined in the walled city of Erelin, where Men use their labour and keep them from practicing their old customs. The last children were born more than sixty years earlier, and the Dwarves are a dying race.

Bilbo Baggins is a healer living in Erelin, sent to care for the Dwarves - but ever since a brutal attack nine years earlier that left him crippled, he has confined himself to his huge, cold house, haunting it in solitude. He has given up caring for the world beyond his doorstep - until a young, callow Dwarf by the name of Fili barges in, makes himself at home, and immediately begins having nightmares about his own death. Nightmares that leave scars on his flesh, and that seem to be genuine memories.

As Bilbo finds his own memory sparking more often, with images and sounds he cannot place, more and more Dwarves join their odd little band. Bofur, adherent of the secret-but-forbidden cult of Mahal, tells the story of the last of the Dwarves - the younger brother Fili has misplaced, and whom he has spent his whole life looking for. Bofur lost the child to authorities of Men many years before, and lost track of him when he was taken into care as a human foundling.

Bofur begins to have the same dreams of dying that torment Fili, and soon his compatriot Oin, the young textile worker Ori, and Balin, the old watchmaker, join their numbers. Fili dreams five different deaths, all horrible and traumatic, though his memories fade on waking. They research old texts that have been hidden away from destruction by Bofur's group, the Children of the Maker - and find references to an ancient king who is prophesied to lead the Dwarves out of their darkness. Spurred by memories he cannot place, Bilbo urges the Dwarves to seek Fili's uncle Thorin, who he suspects to be that king.

But they find Thorin is a drunken lout - the same angry Dwarf who attacked Bilbo and ruined his leg years ago, and he's not interested in helping. He curses Mahal, telling them they have been dying and returning for the past thousand years, and that there is no help for them. This will be the last time they live, and Thorin has given up all hope. Dwalin, also beginning to remember life in a greener time, swears to protect Bilbo and to get Thorin sobered up. By whatever means necessary.

Meanwhile, Bilbo has been dealing with an oncoming plague that only affects Dwarves - and with suspicions that the human Governance may have intended the plague to destroy the Dwarf population. With no idea what's causing the disease or how it may be spread, Bilbo is helpless to prevent the disease running it's course. His first plague victim is brought in by a seemingly-human foundling lad who works on the ships - and who Bilbo is startled to find is the missing Dwarf brother that Fili has spent his life looking for.

So now Bilbo has eight confused and traumatised Dwarves invading his home, digging into the secrets of the past that Men have tried to keep from them, and a prophecy hanging over their head that tells them Thorin is the last hope for the Dwarves to find their way out of their darkness. But Thorin has led the company to death and destruction on the quest for Erebor for a thousand years and sees no reason it will be any different this time. Except - Bilbo has never accompanied them on the quest since the first time; with his appearance in Erelin this time, there is the awakening of hope in the fourteenth member of their band. All they have to do is find the rest of their company, reclaim their memories, escape a walled prison-city, and break a thousand year cycle of bad luck and torment.

Bilbo's going to need a lot more pipeweed.