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Hollowing Souls

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Her world was on fire.

The air tasted like copper.

Screams of dragons and orcs and dwarrow drummed against the rocks of Moria.

It was chaos.

It was almost beautiful.

Fellbeasts, their ugly naked bodies, were no match for the terrifying might of the dwarrow’s firedrakes. It was almost a dance, their bodies twisting and writing against each other, crushing orcs along the way. She watched as one firedrake snapped its fangs around the neck of one of the younger fellbeasts. The creature made no noise and it fell to the earth, it’s rider screaming in terror.

Clover scrambled from her place on the balcony to watch the beast crash and felt a sickening sense of satisfaction in seeing the dead dragon. She shouldn’t be so happy. From what she knew, fellbeasts were just that, beasts. They were not inherently cruel. Their masters were.

Masters.

She found him quickly.

Azog killing dwarf after dwarf and Clover didn’t have to imagine the sneer of triumph he was probably wearing. She could hear his laugh in her head.

I KNOW YOU WATCH, LITTLE ONE.

She shuddered and gripped the railing. Clover could see his head turn to look at her. She had been ready for his intrusion. It was less painful this time.

SHALL I FIND A REPLACEMENT FOR YOU? YOU STILL MOURN THAT HALFING, DON’T YOU?

He, thankfully, turned his attention back to the battle. Clover’s stomach twisted. She sank to her knees and gripped the bars of the railing, forcing herself to watch. He knew she hoped for a certain outcome. Her master would follow through on his threat. He wanted her to give him another fighter for his arena. One who wasn’t tainted by hobbit kindness like she was.

Would he force someone else on her, maybe a prisoner? She could still feel the burn from the last dwarf he had tried to mate her with, even though that had been years ago. She could still remember going to him and him holding her and telling her everything was going to be alright. She could still remember his empty eyes when Azog threw his head at her feet and told her that he would no longer be a distraction.

Caspian… oh, Caspian…

She heard Azog’s roar of triumph as he held the head of a dwarf by the hair. She recognized the dwarf head from the beginning of the battle. He was a general of some kind, she supposed. Azog threw the head down and Clover’s stomach twisted some more. The dwarven army seemed to freeze, screams of anguish began to ripple through the crowd. Clover could hear their cries reverberate in her head, their pain too great to be shielded as they might have been.

A single, dark haired dwarf stood out from the rest and he charged towards Azog. Clover’s breath caught in her throat. Then, the battle converged in itself and she could see no more.

She looked up to the sky, noon. Even with the sky full of ash, she could still see the shadowed light of the sun. There was no reason to hope. The orcs were too powerful. She had other things she had to do.

She left Azog’s private chambers, where he had her sleep in the corner like an animal, and began to head down to the lower levels. The air tasted of ash there. Of ash and dirt and sweat. Even with the battle going on, they made the slaves work. They wanted the mithril of the mountain. They wanted to find its heart. They hoped the veins would lead them to the heart.

Clover wondered what would happen to them once their masters claimed their prize.

The other slaves made room for her. They had stopped talking to her after Caspian had died. They had never liked her to begin with, but Caspian had been the final straw. They blamed her for his death and Clover blamed herself too. She didn’t begrudge them for it. Besides, she hadn’t been like them in a long while. What little of her mum and papa’s hobbit kindness was in her had nearly withered completely.

She passed the slaves, the men, the elves, the half-elves, the dwarrow, the hobbits, the dwobbits. These people weren’t her concern. They couldn’t be. Concern had killed her parents. Concern had killed Caspian. She couldn’t. She couldn’t…

Azog preferred her to be isolated. He preferred her not to mingle with those he saw as beneath her, his little one. Clover shuddered.

She made her way down to the dungeons, or at least what had been made into dungeons. There were torches that gave only the bare amount of light. Only dwarrow or dwobbit slaves came down to these levels besides the orcs. They could see in the darkness. Elves could as well, but they could not breathe the air like those of Mahal’s make could.

The light let her see the firedrake that had been dragged into the cave a month prior. She and her rider had ridden too close to Moria and had been defeated by the fellbeasts and their rider. They had forced her to crash on the side of the mountain. It had taken a week to get her to this level. The dragon had screamed the entire way, roaring at the pain and fighting against her capture. It was only when Bolg, Azog’s son, held a knife to her injured rider’s throat did she comply.

When they had gotten the firedrake down there, they had forced her to try and mate with one of their dragons. Try and get her with a hybrid child. One that could be bonded to an orc. From what Clover knew, no attempt had worked.

She had been placed in charge of giving the rider and the dragon food. They were chained and unable to get what little food had been stored for them. She didn’t know why Azog let her do this. It was probably because she was one of the few slaves that had the ability to bond with dragons. It was probably because he wanted her to be distracted from her despair. Caspian had caused her to become despondent for three years. Azog gave her a distraction so she wouldn’t completely lose her use. He still had plans for her yet.  

The dragon had been asleep for a couple weeks now. Refusing food. Clover had forced water down her throat but that had all she had been able to do. Bolg had tortured the rider to get the drake to wake up, but even that did not wake her. The drake had given up, just as Clover had.

The dwobbit padded over to the dragon. The drake had once been the color of emeralds, but now she was the color of dying grass, the only grass Clover had ever seen. The dwobbit searched for the rider until she found him. She didn’t really have to look. He was always in the same place. The dwarf was tucked between the dragon’s foreleg and her stomach. While he had once worn rich clothing and sturdy armor, when his black and grey hair and scarred eye had once made him look like a hero out of legend, he now looked no better than the rest of the slaves.

The orcs has taken everything save his shirt and his trousers. The fabric was torn and bloodied from the lashes he had gained during his torture. Clover had been the one to tend to those as well. They’d ripped out his beard and crudely chopped off his hair. What was left of it was matted with dirt and blood. A thick cuff was locked around his right ankle, bolting him to the floor. It made a noise every time he shifted, but now he was still.

Everyday, Clover would wonder if she would ever come down to find him dead.

She knelt down next to him and put a hand on his boney shoulder. He jerked slightly before opening his eyes. They had once been blue, but now they were a dull grey.

“Ah,” he said, his voice raspy from disuse. “It’s been awhile.” It hadn’t. She saw him every day. She was always made to come and feed him around this time. Still, this is how he almost always greeted her once he realized the same slave was feeding him. The dwarf shifted and grimaced. His broken arm had yet to heal. Clover knew how much pain he was in. “So,” he let Clover help him shift positions.  “What’s going on? There’s more noise than usual up there.”

Clover frowned. Her mum had taught her some Iglishmek, the dwarven sign language, but only a few words and the few sentences she had known.

I love you.

My lucky charm.

Be back soon.

All sentences Clover’s adad had taught her before he up and left before Clover had been born. The rider had taught her some more, but she still wasn’t fluent enough to describe what was happening.

“Figh’,” she said, moving her jaw carefully to make the word more pronounced. The main reason her mum and the rider showed her the sign language was so she didn’t have to try and talk, but sometimes she had to anyway. “War…” the tip of her stubbed tongue pressed slightly against the back of her mouth with the r. “‘Warf…” she signed the word as well, just in case she didn’t get her point across.

It must have because his whole body shifted and something akin to light shone in his eyes. “They came for me,” his voice was barely a whisper.

Clover doubted that. Why would an entire army come for him? He wasn’t special and neither was his dragon. She was going to ask him, but then he indicated he wanted her to continue. She pushed aside her questions and continued.

She had to resort of mainly signs or crude pantomimes. She preferred not to talk. Occasionally she would try to sound something out for him if he didn’t get it.

She got to the point where Azog decapitated a dwarf and was jerked back to the present when the rider grabbed her by the wrist and squeezed it tightly.

“Describe him.”

She did the best that she could with the words she knew. When he asked about the hair and beard, she drew what she could remember, tracing her fingers in the dirt and ash.

The rider just stared at the crude drawing for a long moment. Clover watched as his face crumbled and his chest seemed to collapse. He drew in on himself. He made a strange noise and began to shake.

He was crying.

Clover hesitated for a moment before stretching her hand out to rest it lightly on his head. The rider was the only person to have been kind to her since Caspian had died. He didn’t find her repulsive like the other slaves did. He didn’t view her as pleasure that the dwarves Azog gave her to did. It was like echoes of Caspian, echoes of her parents.

The dwarf shuddered under her touch. He took a deep breath and looked up at her. His eyes were red, but when he spoke, he spoke with strength.

“Continue.”

Clover described the dark haired dwarf and the rider smiled bitterly  

“Fool,” he shook his head, but Clover detected a slight amount of pride. “He better not get himself killed.”

Clover was about to ask him who these dwarrow were when everything was ripped from her. Her world shifted and she felt her shields trembled against the familiar claws of her master. She clapped her hands over her ears as tears began to catch on her lashes. She curled into herself and pressed her forehead to the ground, trying to make the pain stop. It felt as though all of her body was on fire. No… this was supposed to be her one hour away from him.

COME, LITTLE ONE. NOW.

A broken whimper escaped Clover’s lips as the rider placed his hand on her head. “It’s alright,” he whispered. “You’re alright. Just breathe. Like we practiced. Remember?”

The first time the rider had witnessed Azog ripping into her mental shields, his words carving their way into her head, the dwarf had tried to help. Clover had felt the rider’s shields expand to protect her and, for once in her life, Clover had felt at peace, like she was in control of her own mind. Her master had been angry for this though. He came down to the dungeons and took it out on her. She still had the scars on her back from the whip, although they mingled with the others. Azog had ignored the rider’s screams about it being his own fault. He had been restrained by Bolg and that had been how he had broken his arm, trying to get to her. Trying to protect her .

It had been a lesson.

It had been learned.

After Azog threw her at the rider to catch, the rider had never tried to help her with her shield’s again. He had just held her like a baby and apologized over and over again.

Clover slowly pushed herself up. The sooner she got back to Azog, the better.

The rider was looking at her with a mix of regret towards her and anger towards Azog. Clover gave him a pained smile and left.

She hurried through the corridors and back to where she had been before.

The battle appeared to be over. She couldn’t hear anything from outside the gates. Orcs no longer raced outside but staggered back in. Many were injured and Clover knew most of them would be killed in the coming days based on how injured they were, that is if they weren’t lucky enough to die on their own.

Weakness was not tolerated among the orcs, just as it was not tolerated among the slaves.

Azog’s roar came from the direction of his room and Clover hurried to get there.

Her master’s room was located in the royal wing, which is why he had a balcony, although he rarely let her out on it. He had opened it and ordered her to watch until she had to attend to her other duties. His room was enormous and filled with treasures and crude tapestries Azog had made showing the destruction of the dwarrow and of their flight from the mountain.

Azog was lying on the massive, four poster bed, multiple orcs holding him down. Blood was spraying everywhere and Clover’s eyes widened when she saw that his arm was missing. Removed completely just below the elbow.

A sense of satisfaction rose in her belly at the thought that he might bleed out. Then, she began to fear what might become of her if he did die. She wasn’t afraid of dying. Orcs needed slaves because the other races have been guarding their borders more fiercely since before Clover was born. Now, they wanted their slaves healthy enough to reproduce. Even with her life in the fighting ring, Azog wanted her to get with child, regardless of how young she probably was, age was a tricky thing amongst slaves born in Moria after all. Azog didn’t view her as much of a breeding slave as some of the other women, mainly hobbits, were, but he had let a few of the dwarrow who had worked themselves out of abject slavery and earned their freedom in the fighting ring to bed her, hoping they’d sire a true champion on her. Bolg, on the other hand. He would take her from the ring completely, take away that dangling hope of freedom away from her and force his own fighter, a dwarf named Ivar, to mate with her and get her with child. Or worse.

Clover shuddered.

She saw how her master’s son sometimes looked at her.

One of the orcs holding Azog down snarled at her and she jumped. She rushed off to give them some medical supplies, what meager amount the orcs bothered to keep handy. If he were anyone else, Azog would have been left to die. Another orc might kill him if only to take his position. But then Bolg would just kill them too.

After she had given the orcs the supplies, she made her way to her bed of filthy rags and an old pillow that smelled of urine and sex. There were chains that she was supposed to be wearing, but since the firedrake and her rider and been brought into the mountain, she hadn’t been made to wear them.

Azog developed an infection at his wound.

For the next few days, Clover stayed in her corner, hoping that her master would die. She didn’t even go to the rider. She couldn’t. She was too afraid to miss the possibility of seeing the orc who had take everything away from her succumb to a wound.

Eventually Azog developed a high fever and began ranting. His voice pounded against her brain and Clover began to worry if Bolg might just kill her if Azog didn’t get any help. She slowly made her way to a few orcs she knew to be loyal to her master and indicated that he needed aid.

Once they went to check on Azog, Clover quickly made her way down to check on the rider, she wanted to tell him what had happened. Along the way, she found some scraps of food and some cave water, a small treat for the fact that Azog had been injured.

The drake looked worse than before. Her breathing was becoming shallow with longer gaps between each breath. Her rider was awake, his eyes staring of ahead of himself, unseeing. He didn’t even notice Clover approach him. She knelt down next to him and offered him the meager amount of food.

He looked to her and smiled gently. “Thank you.”

Clover nodded and settled on her butt to watch him eat. Her own stomach growled slightly, reminding her of how little she had eaten, but she pushed the thought away. About half of the food she had given the rider was pushed into her view. She glanced up at him.

“Eat it.”

She rolled her eyes and sighed before obeying him. She ate slowly. She had learned long ago that eating slowly helped her stomach think she had eaten more than she actually did.

“What’s been happening?”

Clover did the best she could to explain.

The dwarf smirked when he heard about Azog’s arm. “Do you know what happened to the dwarf that fought him?”

She shook her head.

He nodded and leaned back. He looked pained for only a moment before he returned to his more passive expression. “The battle’s over?” She nodded. “There are too many orcs here. I could have told them it was hopeless.”

He was silent a long time after that. Clover settled in next to him and leaned against his good arm. She’d never met her adad, her papa was the only father she had known. The rider was far too old to be her adad, but sometimes, in her dreams, Clover pretended he was. This larger than life presence. Sometimes, at night, she would pretend he had come to the mountain for her.

But those were just dreams.

Her adad had left her mum long before she had been born. He hadn’t cared about her. Made it abundantly clear when an uncle Clover had never met sent word that her adad wanted to break ties. Clover remembered how much her mum would cry, so certain he would come for them until it she’d slowly… Papa had been the one to look after her. He’d been the one to stay. He’d been there for every first save for the most recent that Clover had experienced.

This dwarf wasn’t her adad.

He cared too much about her to be her adad.

“Does anyone know you’re down here?” The rider ask, an off look passed over his face.

Clover shook her head.

The rider closed his eyes and his face twisted as though in pain. He struggled to his feet and Clover scrambled up to help him. On his own, one leg dragging along its chain, he made his way to his dragon’s head and knelt. He laid his upper body against the drake’s snout as though he were a child. For what felt like ages, he was silent, but then he began to speak in the dwarvish tongue. None of the dwarrow growing up had bothered to teach it to her so she didn’t know what he was saying. She couldn’t understand the words, but she could feel the pain behind them. The dragon remained unresponsive. But as the rider continued to speak, his voice growing quieter and quieter, the dragon’s breathing began to slow as well.

Clover tensed. She had done this twice before. Once for her mum and then for her papa. She hadn’t been able to do it for Caspian.

The dragon let out a long breath, sinking almost further into the ground.

She didn’t inhale again.

The dwarf let out a single sob, his shoulders shaking, as he pressed his forehead against the drake’s.

Clover began to move to comfort him, but he was already pushing away to stand up. His face was bone white and he looked as though he had seen Mandos himself.

“I need a knife.”

Clover’s lip trembled for a moment. Her hands raised to ask him a question she had contemplated a few times herself.

Seeming to know what she was about to ask, he shook his head. “Now, please.” His voice broke.

Clover obeyed.

It wasn’t difficult to find a knife. Orcs weren’t organized and they often left things about. This was probably even more true considering they were too busy fighting. She didn’t have to go far before finding a sword of elvish make. She didn’t know who it had been made for but it was the perfect size for her. It was probably just a large letter opener to any of the bigger races. She picked it up and quickly handed it to the rider.

He took the blade gingerly. He glanced at her briefly, but he looked as though he were already dead. Was the connection between dragon and rider truly that intense?

“Turn around,” he ordered. Clover tilted her head. “Now.”

She flinched. He had never once taken that tone with her. Clover did as he commanded, turning her back to him. There was silence for a long time and then she heard the rider take a deep breath. Then, a horrific squelching sound echoed in the cavern. On instinct, Clover turned around and saw the rider using his good arm to drive his sword into the belly of the dragon again. Blood sprayed out as he drove the sword in again, slicing deep. His hair and clothes began to rinse with blood and the tang of copper began to permeate the air. He tossed the sword down and then shoved his way inside the stomach of his dragon.

What on Arda?

He came out a few moments later, gasping for breath. The rider was covered in blood and gore and looked like what Clover assumed a small balrog looked like. He carried something awkwardly in his good arm, but she couldn’t tell what it was.

He nodded at the sword. “Take that and strap it on.”

Had he gone insane? She would be killed if anyone saw her with a weapon outside the ring.

Sensing her panic he looked at her with a mix of pain and grief. “Please.”

Clover took a slow breath before taking the sword and sliding it under her leather belt.

“It’ll do for now,” the rider said. He settled whatever was in his arm in a sash that had been used to bind an old wound. He used his bad arm as well. He wrapped it careful before holding out whatever it was in his arm. “Here, take her.”

Her?

Hesitantly, Clover put her arms out for him to put whatever ‘her’ was into her hands. Warmth folded her arms followed by the expansion of something breathing. Clover’s eyes widened and she almost dropped it. However, she quickly pulled the baby close to her chest.

She could see it now, through the blood, the baby dragon. It was so tiny it could fit in her arms. It’s eyes were closed, it’s head the only thing visible in the little bundle.

So that’s why the fallbeasts couldn't mate with the drake. The dragon was already pregnant with another half-breed.

A dwobbit dragon.

“You have to get her out of here.”

Clover looked up at him. He wanted her to do what?

“Please, you know what will happen if Azog gets her.” He rattled the chain on his leg. “I can’t go, so it has to be you.” He was desperate, his eyes frantic.

He was right about Azong. He would do the same thing he was trying to do to her. Get her with child and use it for his own enjoyment. Then he’d kill her. Just as he would eventually kill Clover too.

The rider grabbed her shoulders and looked her in the eye. “You can do this. I know you can. Get her out of here. There should still be a few dwarrow in the area. Go to them. They’ll protect both of you.” He went back to his dragon and pulled something out out of the hollowness of some missing scales. It was a ring and a key. “Give these to a dwarf named Thorin or Frerin or a dam named Dís. They’ll know what this is. Tell them their father gave you this. They’ll look after you.”

Clover blinked up at him.

Leave the mines? She’d never left them before. She had only been outside once and that had been on the balcony a few days ago. Could she actually do it.

Be free?

She didn’t even know what that meant. She just knew what it meant to be free-born. Something so few of the slaves were now.

Could she even do it?

“I know you’re scared,” the rider said, putting the ring and key in her pocket. “I do, but do you want to stay? Wouldn’t you rather die free than die never knowing what the world outside this mountain is?”

Outside the mountain.

She knew what she wanted.

She wanted to experience the things her mum and papa told her about when she was a babe. She wanted to see dragons fly. She wanted to feel grass that was alive. She wanted to feel fresh wind on her face.

She wanted to see Bag End.

Could she really?

What if she was caught?

What if she wasn’t?

What if she died out there?

She was going to die in here anyway.

The rider hugged her. His face nuzzled the top of her head. Tears began to slide down her cheeks. She hadn’t been hugged in three years.

“Hurry,” he said, pulling away. “You need to find the dwarrow quickly. Go.”

She nodded and turned to leave, but paused. She looked back at the rider. “ Huru’ ga’a’ ,” her stubbed tongue curled up at the g.

Rest well.

He smiled at her. “ Tan menu selek lanun naman .”

She didn’t know what that meant. But it felt like a blessing.

Clover turned again and didn’t look back. She heard another squelching noise and a grunt.

She moved quickly after that.

The dwobbit kept to the shadows. It was sleeping time based on how few orcs and slaves she saw. The ones awake didn’t look at her.

Shadows of fear and doubt began to knock against her chest, but she pushed forward. She could handle whatever Azog threw at her. She was already broken. But this… this baby was innocent. She wouldn’t let him hurt her.

When she reached the gates, she was surprised that no one had stopped her. Tears began to prick her vision.

There were no guards protecting the gate.

She could have left any time.

They all could have left at any time.

She doubted anyone would be able to leave like this once they discovered that she was gone.

The baby dragon shifted in her arms, mewling slightly.

‘I’ll protect you, baby. I won’t let him get you.’

Clover took a deep breath and stepped from the gates.

The rider had told her to find the dwarven army but  the only dwarrow Clover saw were scattered amongst the bodies of dead orcs. She assumed the army was from Erebor, but she had no idea what direction the mountain was. Her mother said it was East of the Shire, but she didn’t know where East was without the sun.

Erebor.

It was where her adad was from.

Clover’s lips twisted as she decided to simply put as much distance between her and Moria as possible.

If she ran into someone, she might be able to ask where Erebor or the Shire were. Her papa had made extra sure she knew how to write those two words.

Clover wasn’t even certain which place was closest.

She sighed and pushed onward.

She would have to find the dwarves Thorin, Frerin, or Dís eventually. Her stomach twisted. Her father never came back her her or her mum by choice.

Clover sat down for a moment and laid the baby dragon on her legs for a few moments as she pulled the ring and key out of her pocket. She tugged the chain from around her neck that held a charm her adad had given her mum a long time ago. A four-leaf clover. She undid the chain and slipped the ring and the key onto it before setting out again.

Thorin, Frerin, and Dís deserved to know that their father had wanted to come home to them. They deserved to know that.

Clover didn’t stop walking until the sun reached the top of the sky.

She had decided to go West to the Shire. That’s where her mum and papa were from. That’s near where they had been taken. Maybe they still had family left. Maybe she still had family left.

Besides, Clover was tired of the mountains. Tired of stone. Tired of the coldness biting her feet.

Clover found a free to settle under. The area was free of any touch of murk that seemed to persistence the mountain. She would sleep for a little bit.

The baby dragon mewled helplessly. She was hungry.

“‘Orry,” Clover whispered. “Me ‘oo.”

The dwobbit opened the sash the dragon was wrapped in and touched the palm of her hand to the waking baby’s head.

Heat shot up Clover’s arm and she yanked her hand back and looked at her palm. It became so hot that her body grew cold. A burn began to curl along the heel of her palm in a small swirl. The pain became too much and Clover’s world once more descended into darkness.

Halfway across the world, Fíli, Crown Prince of Erebor, dropped to his knees during a sparring match with his brother. He clinched his pained wrist with his normal hand. Fíli clenched his teeth as he watched the Mark of Uslukh carved itself into his palm.

His Other had found their dragon.