Prologue: Super Symmetry Splash
It wasn’t as if he didn’t know she was there, watching him even as he watched Fred on stage. Lilah was a complicated creature, but in the end transparent. When her gift of the Helm of Habraxis didn’t entice him to spend the afternoon in whatever sex games she’d thought up, she was bound to come looking for him.
Wesley sighed and turned slightly so he could catch a glimpse of her out of the corner of his vision. Sure enough, there she was in bronze-brown shining perfection, dressed for work and play, glaring daggers in Fred’s direction as she climbed the stairs to the stage. He didn’t have any real hope of seeing Fred face to face that afternoon, not surrounded by her dogged body guards of Angel and Gunn, nor did he even wish to pursue that romantic avenue again. He was honestly interested in her theories, and if it needled Lilah, well, that was an added bonus. He’d left the super symmetry and string theory article on the coffee table deliberately, and like the possessive animal that she was, Lilah picked it right up as soon as he was out the door. Or, that’s what he supposed had happened.
It was no good, this ‘relationship’ between them and he knew it, but the lawyer did have a hold over a portion of his heart, the small part left unfrozen after too many betrayals. And he over hers, he imagined. It was never easy, but then what in his life ever was. Idly, he ran his fingers over the still tender, fading scar on his throat.
Fred was onstage now, being introduced by Dr. Seidel. Wes was vaguely familiar with the professor’s work, but hadn’t heard of much in the way of publications from his research group recently. Not giving the professor a second thought, he chuckled along with the rest of the audience at Fred’s opening joke, smiling faintly at her portrayal of the stereotypical physicist in cardigan and glasses.
He wasn’t sure when he first noticed the ripples in the fabric of reality forming over Fred’s head, but he didn’t even have to think before he was sprinting out of his seat and down the stairs. Unfortunately for him, the crowd was running away from the giant snapping tentacles coming out of the hole near the ceiling, so he had to fight against the current of panic. He nearly turned and walked away then; away from the people who had turned their backs on him mere months before, the people who scorned him even when he returned their precious Angel. It would have been so easy to let the crowd carry him back, to be satisfied with the token attempt. But in the end, no matter how cold and disconnected he had become, he couldn’t watch them die, not when he could help.
Angel and Gunn had already reached the stage and Gunn had his arms wrapped around Fred’s waist, preventing the… thing… from yanking her up into the portal. Fred was frozen in fear; her worst nightmares of disappearing into another Pylea had crippled her beyond fighting back. Angel fended the creature off with a microphone pole, jabbing and slashing somewhat ineffectively. Wesley stumbled up the steps, pulling a long dagger from the holster on his leg. The demon finally had gotten around Angel’s makeshift weapon, wrapping him in a strangle hold. Wesley hesitated only a second before sprinting forward and slashing the blade through the slimy skinned tentacle.
In that brief moment when a look of unexpected gratitude flashed over Angel’s face, Wesley found himself gripped tight, lurched off his feet, and upended. The beast released Fred in favor of a less anchored human and the last thing Wes saw before he was sucked into another world was Fred’s surprised glance and Angel’s look of astonished guilt. Then there was nothing but incredible pressure, a feeling of disorientation, and the sight of a very solid looking lake shore rising up to meet him.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
As soon as they saw the tomb that Moria had become, Boromir knew that the company’s luck was going from pretty darn terrible to outright horrid. He’d seen more than his fair share of death in his life, but crunching over the skulls of slain dwarves and orcs made his skin crawl. When Frodo was snatched up by the snakelike arms of the lake creature and spun around in the air, he wasn’t all that surprised. It just seemed likely and inevitable that if a bad thing could happen, it would. To top things off, now they were all wet and cold and exhausted. As he, Aragorn and Legolas flung themselves into action, blades and arrows flashing in the starlight, he had to admit, prepared as he was for the worst, he was a little bit startled to see a shimmering portal open into the sky above the beast. It showed a sideways and slightly upside down view of a woman with long dark hair speaking in front a crowd.
Unfortunately, Boromir wasn’t the only one to notice another potential meal, and the creature thrust several of its tentacles through the opening at the young woman, who was frozen for a moment in what looked like a remembered fear. The Fellowship wasted no time in taking advantage of the distraction provided by the hapless young lady and her rescuers and neatly sliced Frodo away from the yawning mouth. He dropped into Aragorn’s waiting arms, shivering and terrified. The beast shrieked in anger, and, snapping up a dark clothed man from this foreign world, hurled him like a stone at the offending party. The man’s body landed with a sickening crunch on the side of the lake, narrowly missing a frantic Merry and Pippin. The company was retreating rapidly into the mine for some level of safety, but Boromir stooped to grab the broken body of the man before following the others.
A resounding crash behind them caused the company to turn and witness the destruction of their only way out. The mine’s entrance hall was plunged into inky darkness until Gandalf lit the room with magical light from the end of his staff.
“We now have but once choice,” muttered Gandalf. “We must face the long dark of Moria.” The company fell in behind him, gradually making their way up the stairs.
Trailing behind, Boromir laughed a bit hysterically. The others paused, still stunned and shaken, before looking back at him. Boromir dropped the unconscious man on the wide stairs, with a flourish of his hands as if to suggest, what now?
Gandalf opened his mouth to speak, but closed it slowly, unsure of this new development. He had seen a great many inexplicable things in his existence, portals to other dimensions being one of them, but to find one on this quest, and one that stole a man from his home and hurtled him into a time of great darkness and evil… he couldn’t help but wonder if there was more at work here than hungry lake monsters and phenomenal bad luck. The man had been brave to fight the beast, he would give him that, and in these times, bravery was a quality highly valued. Gandalf also could feel a faint magic around him, an aura of mystical energy, but wasn’t sure if it was intrinsic or a relic of his transition to this world. The wizard looked from the dark clad man to his reluctant rescuer and frowned.
Boromir wiped the murky lake water from his face, pushing his sodden hair from his forehead, and shrugged impatiently. “Well? What about him?”