If he closes his eyes and thinks long enough while hoping just a bit, he can remember when he was a little dwarf who still enjoyed bedtime stories. The only ones who had ever given them to him properly had not been one of his brothers.

Dori had a bad habit of making every story moralistic; good triumphing over evil and right always won out in the end. Ori appreciated the effort, but he could never force himself to believe that right always won, not when they weren't bad dwarves but could hardly keep themselves afloat, or why they had to move around or settle in the Blue Mountains when they had a perfectly good home back in Erebor. Right didn't seem to win when they had been forced away from their homes.

Where Dori was the pillar of moral fortitude, Nori (when he was home) was not.

Nori's stories were full of adventure, certainly, but there was always a monster hiding in the darkness, or a thief just behind him to catch you and slit his throat. More often than not, Ori would have the blankets pulled up past his nose with only his eyes staring at Nori in fear while he dramatically recounted the latest story. Ori still wondered if they had been exaggerations and incredible hyperbole or some impossible true story.

No, neither of his brothers had told the best stories. The best teller of them all had been Master Balin, Ori's teacher. Many nights in his apprenticeship, Ori would sit (not always by his feet, but he had done, especially when he had been younger) and listen to every tale that the older dwarf had to tell. Some were happy, many were not. And, while they had a lesson in them somewhere, Ori was allowed to choose whether or not he wanted to listen to the story and seek out a deeper meaning, or just accept them for face value.

Balin had never pushed his learning upon him; he had let Ori learn at his own rate, which, as it had turned out, had been quick indeed.

Ori almost smiled when he thought of those days, so very long ago now. Almost, but he didn't. Now, Ori didn't have time for the luxury of bedtime stories. Now, he had his own nightmare to finish living out, although how he would survive it, he wasn't quite sure.

Of the old Company, only him, Óin, and Balin were there, in the darkness of Moria. Of the old Company, only they would know what truly happened here and Ori, faithful as he was, kept writing the record every day. He wrote about who had died, who was injured, who survived, and what the supply quality was like. He reported on how many of the enemy they had managed to survive this time, what the scouts had reported, and the hopes and prayers to the Gods that everyone seemed to make.

It was with a great amount of horror that Ori put the record down to help bring in a wounded Balin from the great room.

From the obvious extent of his injury, the revered dwarf was not going to survive. Ori felt the tears in his eyes but refused to cry them, at least not yet. The others gave him a moment alone with his old master, having already said their goodbyes.

Balin tried to speak but Ori shushed him softly when he heard the small whimper of pain come from the older dwarf's mouth.

"Let me…let me tell you a story, Master dwarf." Ori started nervously, recalling the words Balin had spoken to him if ever he had been upset. Balin's pained look faded slightly, as if he also remembered those words.

"It's about the great lord of Moria, Balin was his name. He was a legend if ever there had been one…" Ori started and continued, even after Balin's eyes had closed for the final time. There was a salt-stained trail down his cheek by the time he whispered his final words. "And they all lived evermore in peace."

Ori closed his eyes as his hand tightened around his master's hand and offered a silent prayer to the gods for his soul.

As he took a shuddering breath to steady himself, the sound of the drums started again.