Word Count: 2398
Warnings: This thing is creepy. I'm just throwing that right out here.
Disclaimer: If I owned the hobbit, it would be creepier.
Summary: Laketown has existed for generations in the shadow of the dragon. But it’s the darkness in its waters that the wise should truly fear.
The first thing Kíli notices about Laketown is the mist. It rises from the water, thick and colorless, and when it touches his skin, the dwarf feels chilled down to the bone. He hunches into his cloak and tries not to shiver, telling himself that misty tendrils aren't truly chasing him. The mist is gathering near Bard's boat because of wind and currents, not because it wants to steal the warmth from living souls.
Indeed, the boatman doesn't seem to notice the freezing cold around them. He stands tall and proud as he steers his craft through narrow channels, his cloak thrown across one shoulder as though on a balmy day. Humans are supposed to be the frailest of the races upon Arda but it's the dwarf who feels frail now.
Kíli huddles against his brother and feels his shivers echoed, and when he glances around the boat, all of his companions have bundled up as well. Even their burglar has finally stopped talking and wrapped his cloak around his face, too cold to force out words between his chattering teeth.
However, Kili seems the most affected. Every breath stabs ice into his lungs and his bones have never ached like this before. His exposed skin is tinged with blue when Bard pulls up to a small dock and the dwarf can't find the strength to stand. Instead he waits in the boat as the others disembark one by one and his eyes are caught by the water lapping against its side. The dwarf has never seen a lake so black but it looks strangely inviting, dark and welcoming like the deep pits of the earth. Kíli wants to bury himself inside that darkness and never rise again.
So he leans over the edge of the boat, one hand outstretched to touch the water. He has to touch it and he feels himself about to tip when someone grabs his shoulder, their hand burning against his skin.
“Careful, Master Dwarf. You don't want to do that.”
Kíli looks back at Bard the Bowman and for a long moment, he can't remember who this stranger is. Even when the fog clears enough to manage recognition, the dwarf has no idea why he would wish to swim. So he allows the man to pull him onto the dock, his shivers starting up again when Fíli runs to him. Kíli tries to mumble reassurances over his brother's panicked questions, but he's not sure that he's successful. Not when his gaze keeps being drawn to the water once again.
“We need to get your friend inside,” Bard says, his voice echoing distantly. “He will be better where it's warm.”
“What do you mean? What's wrong with him?” Fíli asks. “And how are you not freezing? We are from the mountains and yet I feel this cold as well.”
“My blood is in this water. It doesn't bother me,” the man answers cryptically. He ushers the dwarves inside his house and Kíli feels a little better once the water's out of sight. He's still cold down to the bone but his mind is clearer than before. The dwarf even manages to smile at the human child who hands him a mug of tea. Kíli drinks the liquid slowly as Thorin and his companions huddle around Bard's fire, slowly thawing from the chill.
“You are here to claim your mountain back, Thorin Oakenshield,” the Bowman says once they are settled and it is not a question. “If you wish aid against the dragon, let me offer you a deal.”
“Who are you to speak for Laketown?” Thorin scoffs. “If there is to be a bargain, it's your leader who should make it. I will not trade with a bargeman who doesn't know his place.”
“I know my place quite well, Master Dwarf,” Bard answers calmly. “He who calls himself our master rules upon my sufferance. He has forgotten the old ways and I shall soon correct him. Any bargain that you strike with me will bind this town as well.”
Kíli believes these words. There's something about this man, something strange and powerful. He speaks as one who knows that he will be obeyed. Even Thorin seems to sense it and the dwarf lord's tone is softer when he speaks again.
“And what bargain do you offer? Your people are fisherman, not warriors, and I would not see them die in vain.”
“They shall not, you needn't worry. And the deal is thus: should you reach your mountain and slay Smaug with your own hands, then you owe Laketown nothing. You have paid your passage fairly. However, should Smaug live despite your efforts, I would have you promise me: send the dragon to our shores and once the wyrm has fallen, grant my town an equal share of your mountain's gold.”
“This deal of yours is madness. You cannot have a weapon which will bring that monster down.”
“It is better you don't know,” Bard replies and Kíli would swear upon his mother;s life that this is truth as well. “So what say you, Thorin Oakenshield? Shall we strike a bargain? You lose nothing unless Smaug dies upon our waters and if we slay the wyrm, a fifteenth share does not seem too much to ask.”
“All right, Bowman, you have a deal,” the dwarf lord answers. “With my kin here standing witness, our agreement will be sealed.”
“Good. I am pleased by our accord,” the man says formally. “But you should now leave for Erebor. You have all felt the chill of Laketown and I worry about your youngest should you linger here too long. My city isn't always kind to strangers and he has drawn its attention. Leaving quickly would be wise.”
Kíli would be glad to go. He's still cold down to his core despite the tea and fire and he's not sure that he will ever feel truly warm again. It seems a strange and distant thing when his lips are frosted over and his fingers have gone numb. But when the dwarves make their way back to the water, Kíli can feel it calling him. There's something in the depths, something hungry, and he's helpless to resist. The dwarf lunges toward the water, fighting against the hands that hold him back. He needs to feed his master; he needs to join its acolytes.
When he regains his senses, the dwarf is bound in ropes and lying by Bard's fire. He doesn't see his companions, just the Bowman and his children, and he feels a stab of fear.
“Where…. Where is everyone? What's happening?” Kíli asks. His voice feels like shattered glass, throat raw like he's been screaming until it bleeds.
“Some people are more sensitive to that which lives beneath,” the human tells him. “If you'd been born upon the lake, we would have trained you as a vessel, but you're too old for training now. You're nothing but a morsel caught within its dreams.”
Bard's words do not make sense. And yet…. somehow they do. Kíli can feel the presence that he speaks of, a great mind beneath the water, and he knows that if he falls, he will be swallowed utterly. The dwarf knows and yet he wants to surrender anyway.
“Do not fear you've been abandoned. You would not have survived the trip to Erebor, but your brother wouldn't leave until I forced his thoughts to heed me,” the man continues. “Here I can protect you for the moment. And once Smaug has fed its hunger, you should have the chance to flee. You will be safe then in the future as long as you keep your distance from our shores. Now, my children will stay with you but I must make my preparations before the wyrm arrives.”
The Bowman pats Kíli on the shoulder before standing and in this light, there's something off about his eyes. The dwarf knows that Bard is human but suddenly he's not so certain and an instinctual fear slithers down his spine. Kíli doesn't know how Laketown plans to kill a dragon and yet he cannot doubt it now.
The dwarf relaxes slightly once Bard has left the building. The man's children are unsettling, too quiet and too cold, but they do not share the eldritch fire that burns in their father's eyes. So Kíli does not fight when they place him by a window and wrap him up in blankets, doing their best to keep him warm. They supply the dwarf with tea if not thrilling conversation, pinned like a rare insect beneath their watching eyes.
When he needs to use the privy, Bard's son escorts him there and back without releasing the ropes that keep him tied. But Kíli doesn't have the strength to protest. Not when glancing at the water still threatens to swallow up his mind. So he dozes fitfully, shivering with cold and longing as the hours pass him by.
He's woken by a roar that sweeps down off the mountain, every muscle snapping taut. The dwarf struggles to sit upright as a voice by his shoulder murmurs, “It is time.”
The words are spoken by Bard's eldest daughter. She pulls Kíli to his feet and bundles him onto the roof as the rushing wind grows louder, her siblings spaced around him to make sure he doesn't dive.
At first the dwarf sees nothing but a spark of fire falling from the sky. But that meteor grows scales and wings as the wyrm draws closer, flames and burning hatred turned upon this town. The Bowman's children should be fleeing from the death in dragon's eyes, but they don't even flinch as the wind screams by. Kíli flinches. He lunges for the water due to fear as much as longing; at least in the lake they might survive. He fights against the children's hands; he pleads and asks them why.
“You need to see or you will not go,” Bard's youngest daughter tells him. “And if you do not leave, you'll die.”
Kíli does not understand. But before the dwarf can ask her what she means, he hears a chant upon the wind. The words should not be audible over the sound of Smaug's approach, but somehow he hears them clearly. Although Kíli doesn't know their meaning, every single syllable seems to slice into his mind.
The dwarf looks for the chant's source and his eyes fall on Bard the Bowman standing at the edge of town. There's a group of people with him, a circle of robed figures keeping a man down on his knees. He cannot see the person's face, but only Laketown's Master could be so obese.
Smaug draws ever closer, but the Bowman doesn't falter. His words increase in volume and the city seems to shake beneath their weight. Then he raises up his hand and with a flash of silver, blood pours from the Master's throat. The other men step back as a perfect crimson circle spreads around his body, joining their own voices to the Bowman's final shout. For a moment there's pure silence, so deep it rings in Kíli's ears, before the world snaps back into focus and it rises from the lake.
It's the absence of a creature, of sight, of light, of sound, as tendrils of pure darkness surge into the sky. Too big to be real, too wrong for this existence, it's a rising shadow the dwarf's mind can't comprehend. Kíli sees only flashes, portions of the whole as his vision twists and blurs: a gaping maw that tears into the dragon, twisted roars of agony raining from the sky, a being of pure nothing that bends the world around it and extinguishes Smaug's fire bite by bite. The dragon has no hope of fighting; his claws and teeth are useless against the pulsing tendrils, a thousand tiny mouths that hook into his skin. Kíli's ears are ringing, blood pouring from his eyes as it feeds upon the wyrm. The dwarf cannot look away. He can only shake and tremble as Bard's children stand around him, their faces rapt with ecstasy.
Seconds only, but the time drags into years. Because Kíli can feel everything, a terrible sense of wrong slicing at his soul. It does not belong here, it has forced its way between the cracks of Aulë's reality, and every bite of dragon flesh seems to slide straight down his throat. He can taste the fire on his tongue; he can feel its growing power as it drinks Smaug's blood and pain. The very essence of the wyrm is being twisted into nothing and Kíli collapses into darkness when it screams triumph in his mind.
The dwarf wakes up on the shore of Esgaroth without his memory. The only thing he's certain of is that the dragon's dead. So he stands and marches toward the mountain, making his way to Erebor without glancing back. He cannot look at the water; this too is certain. If he does, then he will shatter utterly.
His companions call him Kíli when he finds them and so Kíli he will be. They ask the dwarf what happened, how did Laketown kill the dragon, and what put those new streaks of grey in his dark hair. But Kíli cannot tell them. When he tries to remember, there's only terror and darkness, an abyss of endless hunger that leaves him shaking in his brother's arms.
So the dwarf doesn't think about it. Instead, he ensures that Thorin Oakenshield keeps his bargain with the humans even though he's not sure why.
When there are rumors of an army come to claim their mountain, Kíli cannot worry about the danger. He can only dream of water tinged with blood and fire and he's not surprised at the rider who says the orcs have disappeared. He knew his enemies were dead when he heard the chanting from the ramparts and watched the moon be swallowed whole.
Kíli spends the rest of his life beneath the stone of Erebor and though he dares to travel sometimes, he does not walk upon the shore. The dwarf's mind may have forgotten but his body knows what happened and thinking of Lake Esgaroth strikes terror down to his soul.