Chapter 23 – Epilogue

"I come for all who grow, crawl, and walk. I am the perfect hunter and there is no escape. You may fight, but in the end, I am the victor. What is my name? You are Death."

The tall stature of a man stood upon the bridge, perhaps fifteen feet away from Smaug, who lay with his neck barely out of the water of the lake so that his head rested upon the planks of the edge, taking in every aspect of the stranger that he could. He was tall but very thin, his weak structure in his thin shoulders bringing that suggestion, as a long cloak hid his body from view, making him seem like a column with no indication of anything that lay beneath, other then his gloved hands that were long and thin like an insect's legs. His face was hidden in the shadow of his hood, and not even Smaug's night vision could make out anything in the darkness – not to mention that the dragon's vision was beginning to lose focus as his heart began to strain in order to function. The man simply stood there, looking at Smaug, or rather, his precious cargo, as the great dragon still had the body of Kathryn draped up his snout, and the dragon would be damned if he would allow anyone to take her from him now! He would hold on until long after his last bitter breath, until the world finally left them both alone, and he could be with her in peace until their bodies were nothing but ash in the wind.

The man then sighed, a breathy sound, and Smaug's nose caught a peculiar scent, of dust and ash, but there was something stranger… a sweetness lingered in the air, something so sweet and fine, like a perfume, but it was so sickly that it burned Smaug's nostrils, every breath a new pain and it boggled him as to what this scent could mean. The man took a step towards Smaug, but the dragon growled viciously in warning, like a cornered rabid animal giving its one warning before it struck. Smaug knew he was weak, practically in death's embrace already, and he couldn't breathe his fire because not only did he not have the energy, but the waters of the lake had cooled his inner flame. But he could at least make the stranger think he was still as dangerous as ever.

"I would have preferred it, if it hadn't come to this," the stranger sighed in disappointment, almost like a parent scolding a child, talking mostly to himself, his voice high and wilting, and it grated on the dragon's already short temper. "Things would have been much smoother and easier had she been alive." The man then pulled on the edges of his thick leather gloves, as if making sure they were properly secured. "But no matter; one must make do with what one has,"

He came towards the dragon, no hesitation in his stride, as if he did not fear the still living giant reptile that growled and snarled at him viciously. Smaug snapped his jaws at the human, avoiding Kathryn's body, and this at least made the stranger pause as he seemed to regard the dragon with nothing short of contempt.

"Fret not, beast, death shall be quickly upon you. You will not suffer for much longer," he said in dismissal. Had Smaug been in the right state, he would have been outraged at this insult and killed the man where he stood. But at the moment, he had to settle for threats.

With inhuman speed, Smaug was shocked to see that at one moment, the man was standing right in front of him, and the next, he shot forward and clamped his long insect like fingers on Kathryn's body and hauled her back. Smaug gave a weak roar as he tried to stop him, but he could hardly lift his head. But in the stranger's haste to pry the woman's body free of the dragon, he had not seen how her fingers had been clamped around the spikes on the dragon's jutting cheek bone, and when he had pulled her, Smaug saw that one of her fingers became cut, and a single drop of her now cold blood flew through the air, before landing on the end of Smaug's snout and seeping in between his scales that soaked it in like moisture to dry skin. And then something fell from her grasp, clattering to the boards with a dull "Thud". Smaug's head thumped onto the bridge, making it groan under the pressure, but the dragon could pay none of it any attention, fighting for breath as he lay panting on the bridge. He felt weak, defenceless, and utterly humiliated. And if looks could kill, Smaug's eyes would have burned the human's soul where he stood, and then torn apart his body from the inside. He glared mercilessly at the figure who now held Kathryn in his arms, almost carelessly as he regarded the dragon for a moment.

"What a waste," he muttered in contempt and disappointment, before turning on his heel and walking away. Smaug could only watch helplessly as he saw the flame of Kathryn's hair grow ever more distant from him, a burning in his flesh from the need to have her with him, and anger for those who had stolen her from him. Was he not allowed his wish, even in death?!

His eyes then caught on the object that had fallen from Kathryn's dead fingers, and he saw the lone scale upon the wood, glittering in the moonlight, drops of both crimson and deep red from both Kathryn and Smaug's blood splattered on its rough, golden surface. Smaug shivered as he felt like keening again, his heart twisting with sorrow as he thought of her beautiful eyes, the life vanishing from them as the purple of her magic left, leaving behind only gold irises and death. He lifted a heavy claw from the water, allowing it to fall limp upon the bridge, with the point of a single talon resting on the scale.

But Smaug hissed in pain, squirming slightly in place as the burn within him began to grow. He thought that his body had become numb to pain, as his mind had begun to close off, piece by piece; but now he felt a raw heat along every vein, muscle and fibre in his entire being, it was like fire was within him, burning and destroying everything it touched, racing its way towards his heart like venom. Smaug growled and snarled and whined and cursed, his body growing ever weaker from his fits and struggles. His breathing became shaky, and for the first time in his life, his breath felt… cold as it rumbled up his throat, biting its way up his throat as he sighed heavily with each exhale. He had never felt the cold before, and it stung him and made him shake as his muscles shivered and cramped painfully, the fire that had been in them a moment ago freezing over, and his joints were now aching as it felt like ice seeped into his bones.

Yet whilst his innards froze his skin and scales felt like they were on fire once more. He hissed, realising the burning sensation was only intensifying as death came closer and closer, like a jackal yapping and barking mockingly as it circled the wounded prey, driving it into a desperate frenzy. Smaug felt the sensation begin in his snout and soon it worked its way over his body, his eyes fluttering closed as he struggled to keep them open. But he would not relent, he would not give in. Ever.

His claws began to slip from their hold on the bridge, and Smaug felt his weight pulling him back towards the water that dragged him down. But still he would not surrender, as even as the cold waters swallowed him whole, and the crushing, suffocating liquid closed over his head and he sunk further down, he still held his eyes open, watching the shifting reflection of the moon and the stars on the water's surface above him, remembering a night beneath those same stars, a tiny figure in his clutches, when the world was perfect, and he'd been at peace.

His heart slowed, the last few beats seeming to last forever as he felt them echo with finality in his chest. Darkness seeped into his vision, swallowing away the world and bringing a cold embrace to his weary soul. In his last moments, Smaug thought it fitting that he thought of Kathryn, a silent plea forming in his mind, a prayer to her as if she were a goddess for him to pay homage. A message to her as he came to her in death.

"Kathryn, my angel of the night and the moon of my life. You are the fire which burns in my heart. The storm in my soul which leaves me at unrest. The woman whose wind has held me aloft. You are the spear that pierced me, the rage that consumes me, the darkness that blinds me, the jewel that adorns me, and you scorched me with your heart of fire. You are the nightingale of emperors! I have waited for this day for a long time. For years I have slept waiting for the day where I could feel your fire against me once again. I crave your warmth, your face, your skin, your light. I know that I must have you, it is a burning need that gnaws at the very core of my being, one that I can never truly suppress, and never will again. I will drown us both in blood if only to have you by my side once more. Nothing will part us, I will not allow it, and even though you are stolen from me, I will fight to find you until the world is naught but ash and dust. For if Oakenshield craves his most precious gem, then I crave you my Arkenstone, my angel of the night. For you are the Queen Beneath the Mountain, the Dragon Queen herself… and I couldn't protect you, not even from myself."

And then, the great red dragon was consumed by the darkness.

Two women watched the scene that had just unfolded before them: the burning town upon the lake, the heroic attempt by the bowman to slay the dragon, the destruction of the town, and then the dragon upon the bridge with the woman, and the cloaked figure who could not be seen. They had seen it all, shrouded in darkness by the cover of night, hidden behind hoods of their own, they had watched until the figure in the cloak had disappeared with the body of the woman in his arms, and the dragon had been swallowed by the waters.

"Hurry," whispered one, before quickly rushing ahead, racing down the slopes towards the bridge that had once led to Lake-Town.

They both reached the shore of the lake, and the taller of the two women began to mutter some words in an old language that the other woman could not decipher properly. Then suddenly, with a ragged gasp, the leader of the pair pointed into the water, to a spot not ten feet from them.

"There!" she barked.

The pair waded into the freezing waters, going up to their wastes as they sloshed through the icy spray, their skirts becoming heavy as it tangled around their feet, the bridge to the right of them groaning and threatening to collapse from all of the stress it had been placed under during the night. When they reached the spot, the leader of the pair quickly snatched down, dunking most of her body in the cold water of the lake, as she grabbed with clawing hands into the depths. The other hesitated, but quickly followed this example. They hurriedly searched through the murky water, which was slowly turning black from the dragon's blood that stained it; until finally, they felt their fingers brushing against something!

Clutching it, the pair pulled it up to the surface, and began to haul it back towards the shore.

With a grunt of effort, they both laid their heavy burden upon the bank, the smaller of the two having to double over to catch her breath. The leader however, wasted no time on such pleasantries, and immediately began to see to her precious cargo that she had dragged from the depths of the lake. Her hands filtered across the pale surface, until she looked at her companion.

"Freyja!" she barked, and the younger woman snapped to attention, looking towards the voice almost frightfully. "Quickly, make a fire!" the girl nodded before quickly running back towards their hiding spot, where their cart and horse had been stored away safely.

The lead woman however, looked back down to the thing beneath her hands, flipping back her hood so that she could see clearly. She had raven dark hair that spilled down her shoulders as she hunched over the thing on the ground, her eyes being of the palest blue like crystallised ice, glinted in the twinkling light of the stars. Her body was long and slender, her dark dress and even her cloak seemed to hug her figure, accentuating every line of her beauty. Her hands glided over the body of a human man that she had sought out and pulled from drowning in the lake. He was utterly naked before her, as bare as the day he was born, his impressive length of body would have made him seven feet tall perhaps, his muscles well defined and toned. He was not bulky like a smithy, but instead he had the build and strength of a warrior with the sleek look of an archer, the power in him seeming to radiate from his body, even in his weakened state as he lay there completely unconscious, eyes closed, his chest unmoving and his skin pale as if from death. But Andraya had felt the faint but steady beat of his heart beneath her hands, and when she had called out the finding spell, she had sensed a living presence, not a dead one. She quickly took off her cloak and draped it over the man, trying to keep some warmth to him, whilst she waited for her daughter to return. She studied the man's face: a strong jaw and high, prominent cheek bones, he would be considered handsome, if not for the cruel lines around his mouth as if from sneering, and even when he was unconscious his face fell into a frown. He had black hair that was rather short but unruly, with the front long enough to fall into his face and cast his eyes into shadows.

Footsteps could be heard, and Andraya looked up to see Freyja, her tiny, thin figure sprinting towards her, leading the horse at a fast trot towards them as it pulled the cart along the bumpy ground. Although the girl was just fourteen and not long past her first days of maidenhood, the girl had a certain beauty about her, even now, with her innocent heart shaped face and shimmering blond hair like the sun, her mother's ice-blue eyes glinting as she set to work building a fire.

Andraya returned to her patient, looking at the man, brushing aside his black locks so that she could see upon his whole face. A sly smile began to spread as she thought of the glowing eyes like flames that were hidden from her now, but soon would awaken.

"With patience and time, come all things…" she whispered, her eyes sparkling in the dark.

To Be Continued…

Author's Final Notes: And so the final chapter has come, and with it, the end of "Heart of Fire". This is actually quite a sad moment for me, I think I'll miss writing this one. A quick shout of thank you to reader Black Dragon, for Smaug's internal monologue "Angel of the Night and Moon of my Life" at the end of his POV.

There is an AMAZING trailer for this fic now on Youtube, provided by the master genius ilovedracoDH - or DracoBrooklyn as she's called on Youtube - and I thoroughly recommend people to see it. It's BRILLIANT!

Okay, so when I started this story, the original arc was for it to be a tragedy, and only be eleven/twelve chapters long, Kathryn would never have gone on her journey, and would have stayed at home until Smaug died and she died with him and they were reunited in death. The End. But, as I began to write along, and people began to actually like this story – I'm still amazed by this – I began to think more on it, and as the characters grew, so did the story, and then plot bunnies born from a particularly awesome movie occurred, and then we now have what we have. And I can honestly say a huge thank you to everyone who has ever reviewed, messaged, followed, favourite, and PM'd me. You guys seriously have made this story what it is and me the writer that I am. With my previous fics, I got 23 reviews max (and I still did victory dances around my room as my neighbours looked at me in horror like I was crazy), so I never expected this. Obviously special thanks go to certain people, but I won't pick favourites, the people I'm on about, they know who they are, and I owe them everything I am now. May dragons forever smile upon you!

And so enough with my sop story, now I say, Review time! Please now, tell me what you think in this chapter of: Kathryn and Smaug dying? The still mysterious stranger (I would like to know theories on his identity)? The return of Andraya and Freyja? And also tell me what you think of the story as a whole? What things do I need to clean up? What can be improved?

And also, people voted for the Trilogy, and it is A-GO! The next story in the series is "Heart of Ashes" and it is up, so I hope you all go and read it and enjoy it. I would love to know what you think of it :)

But, now I sign off, and "Heart of Fire" comes to an end. Thank you all, God bless, and goodnight, and watch the skies for dragon-fire my weary travellers. ;)

Forever yours,