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A Short and Somber Path (and Thorin still got lost)

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"We're going the wrong way."

Fili and Kili shot their uncle a long-suffering look. "We can't be going the wrong way, Uncle Thorin. There's only one road!" Kili said, waving an arm in the general area of said road.

Thorin glared around them at the pressing gloom of the place. Apart from the path they were on, nothing seemed quite solid. A heavy grey fog shrouded the dark shapes surrounding them, and no matter how hard Thorin stared, he could not tell if they were trees, buildings or rocks. There was a light at the end of the path, and it beckoned, but Thorin didn't trust it, too far, too little warmth, too much like the pull of gold. "No, this cannot be right. Look around, does this seem anything like a proper Dwarven afterlife? Even this path is packed dirt, what kind of Dwarf would follow a trail to the Halls that wasn't even paved with stone?"

Fili and kili shared a look, hesitating as they frowned at their surroundings as well. "Where else could we possibly be then?" Fili asked. "It's not as if they left us with a map, no signs or markings along the path."

Thorin crossed his arms and glared out at the gloom. "This reminds me too much of the Mirkwood." He claimed. "Walking in circles for days, no, this cannot be any path of Dwarven make."

Fili looked horrified. "Could we have somehow ended up on t he path to the Elven Lands? We'll spend the rest of days surrounded by tree-shaggers and flowers and singing."

Kili shuddered, though Thorin noticed that he did look toward the stretch of path with a hint of longing. "Don't even consider it, Kili. Your elf wouldn't be there anyway, and you'd be turned from the gate."

"I have no idea what you speak of, uncle." Kili said, staring over Thorin's shoulder rather than meeting his gaze.

Thorin snorted and Kili glared at Fili who held up his hands in a clear 'wasn't me' gesture. "I am dead, not blind Kili, and your besotted staring was hardly a secret, even in my madness, I could see your longing."

And what a terrible madness it had been. Thorin would die a hundred times over if he could only go back and right the wrongs he'd done. The way he'd turned on his own kin, his Company. How he'd turned on Bilbo. Kili's firm grip on his shoulder drew him out of his thoughts, and Thorin shook himself. This was not the time or place. He'd have eternity to wallow in that misery once they found out where in Mahal's name they were.

"Alright. Well, the one thing we know for sure is that we don't want to get stuck in Elf-land for the next few Ages, and if this path leads to there, then the only option is to turn around and head back to find another road." Fili pointed out, hands on his hips. "Who knew dying was so complicated?"

Decision made, they turned around and started off once more. The path was clearer this way, with less of that oppressive fog and while the surroundings were still unidentifiable, it at least felt familiar. A soft murmur of sound caught their attention and Thorin reached for his blade, cautious here as he was in life. His hand grasped nothing but air, and he looked down to see not only his sword, but the sheath and all of his other weapons were missing. "What in the--"

"My weapons!" Kili shouted, "They're all gone!"

They patted themselves down to no avail, not a single weapon was left on them, not even the knife Fili kept hidden at the nape of his neck, under his hair. Well damn.

Thorin sighed and set his shoulders. "Nothing for it, then. We keep going. If this is to be a test of our mettle, then will not disappoint our maker."

They pressed on, the path growing wider, yet walking became more difficult. The gloom around them grew brighter, and the soft sounds became clearer. Clashing swords and the shouts of warriors, muffled as they were by this realm. The shapes to either side of the path rose higher and higher, slowly becoming more solid the further they traveled, dark stone edged with snow and ice. The wind bit at them, cold enough to effect even their thick dwarven skin.

The fact that his cloak was missing when he tried to tighten it around himself came as little surprise, not that he was happy about it. Fili and Kili seemed to be in the same situation, grumbling about the cold and crossing their arms around themselves as they continued on. Battle sounds rang through the air as if they were in the midst of it all, yet there was no one else around, an odd experience to say the least. But the light was brighter, warm and welcoming, it's tug growing stronger even as they had to fight harder just to take each step, limbs heavy.

Suddenly, Kili clutched his chest and buckled, Fili catching him and hissing as some phantom pain claimed him as well. Thorin knelt beside them and with one of their arms each over his shoulders, helped brace them so they could stand once more. "Look how close we are, do not give in now! It is the last test, a show of will before we are allowed in. We are already dead, remember that."

Kili and Fili laughed at the weak jest. "Too bad it feels awfully real." Fili said, gritting his teeth, but he and his brother kept moving once more. Thorin nearly dropped to his knees when white hot pain sliced through his body, but with the help of his nephews, he stayed on his feet.

So close. They were so very close now, the sounds of battle blurring into senseless noise around them, stripped of everything but their basic tunics and pants, and blood soaking through from their painfully realistic wounds. With one last push, the realm dragging against their efforts, as if to suck them back in, they stepped into the light.

Two months later, when Kili could laugh without it fading into a strangled gurgle, Fili could eat something other than thin broth, and Thorin was mobile enough to get himself into trouble for tearing his stitches (again), Bilbo got the whole story.

He stared at Thorin with wide eyes, then for the first time since they awoke, he began to laugh. He laughed until he cried, then laughed some more, waving Thorin away when he made to get up out of concern.

"Only you," Bilbo managed between wheezed breaths. "Couldn't find your own Halls with a one way path and two assistants." He wiped his eyes and sat down next to Thorin, still letting out the odd giggle before he leaned down to press his mouth softly to Thorin's. "And I have never been more grateful for your terrible sense of direction."

Fili and Kili raised their fists with a cheerful cry of "Damn right!"

The Company rejoiced and far beyond their sights and senses, Mahal rested his head in his mighty hands and sighed.