Chapter 1: Introductions
Hello there, you.
I have come to the quite justifiable conclusion that I am one of two things:
Why do I say this? Oh, it's quite simple, really. I have absolutely no idea where I am. I have no idea how I got here, and I have no idea how I'm going to get home.
But we'll get to that in a moment... first of all, introductions. My name is Arianna Belladonna Iracebeth Michonnious Wilcox the Third... that may have been a lie, but that's how these sort of things are supposed to begin, aren't they? With a dramatic introduction. If that's what you were expecting, you might as well leave now- I, unfortunately, or perhaps very fortunately, am not Arianna Belladonna Iracebeth Michonnious Wilcox the Third. If you are, then a big fat hello to you, and a high-five to your wickedly creative parents.
I have a rather boring name, in fact; Alice. I wouldn't even bother remembering it, if I were you. Nothing special, no magical connotations; but my middle name, however, is Lavender, which I think is quite pretty. When I was going through my teen angst stage I was convinced that when I became a legal adult I would immediately change my forename to my middle; that was until my best friend, Josie, pointed out that I would inevitably be nicknamed 'Lav', and no one really wants to be nicknamed after a slur for a toilet, do they?
But I digress. Back to the here and now; like I said, I have no idea where I am. I have been on this tiny pebble road for as long as I can remember. Of all the places to have some sort of mental breakdown (if that really is what's going on in my little head), this place isn't too bad; it's quite pretty, now that I'm really giving it a look. Quaint. Looks like something from The Teletubbies. There are tiny little streams, babbling brooks, grassy hills, and, here and there, big wooden circles which look a little like doors in the mounds of grass all around. Perhaps they are doors; right now, that's not my main concern.
Mainly because, as of about five minutes ago, I am being chased by giant sheep.
Sheep? Sheeps? Sheepi? I've never been great with plurals; not that my grasp of the English language matters all that much right now. I didn't even know that Sheep could run, never mind chase people, but there you go- it is what it is. I'm not sure why I'm running, to be honest; after all, what's the worst sheep can do, giant or otherwise? All I know is that, right now, I don't really want to know the answer to that question.
With a new-found spring in my step, I fumble to my feet and run, full speed ahead; my eyes catch on to something glowing in the distance and I sprint for it, because light means people, and people mean saviours who can rescue me from the wrath of the vicious, bloated marshmallows who are pursuing me. I realise then that they might not be chasing me, but could instead be running from something else; something bigger, nastier, and hungrier. That alone is a good enough reason for me to get the hell out of here as fast as possible. Quite remarkably I fall face-first into the dirt, smothering my hands and clothing in dust and grime as I tumble like that poor cliche blonde woman in all horror movies who manages to trip up and get herself hacked to pieces by whichever crazy psycho killer is after her. I scramble sideways, trying to get out of the way of the stampede; as I do, I feel a thick hand on the collar of my shirt.
"Out of the way, Lassie!"
I'm practically choked by the front of my shirt as it clings to my throat; I'm lifted off my feet for a second and then dropped back down, finding that I'm now stood beside the stampede of cotton balls as they charge past in a thundering of hooves (hooves? Do sheep have hooves? I'm pretty sure they have hooves-)
"Are you listening to me, Lass?!" Bellows a voice from behind me, and I am shoved in the direction of the sheep. "Move!"
I'm pulled to the side once again; following the heard of bleating sheep pounces some sort of huge dog or wolf, its claws out and yellow teeth shining against the white of the moon. It pays my saviour and I no mind,. instead pounding after the doomed farm animals. As I watch, dumbfounded, it latches its paws onto the hind-quaters of one of the sheep at the back and pulls it to the ground; I make an odd 'oh' sound, stepping forwards automatically; the hand of my rescuer latches onto my arm once more and he drawls,
"Um, yeah," I say, looking upon him properly for the first time; he is terrifying. A face webbed with thick battle scars and tattoos and facial hair all overlapping to create one huge, terrifying specimen. His ears are studded with metal cuffs, his knuckles cast with metal gauntlets. I gape at him like an idiot until he says,
"Not safe to be out here with that thing on the rampage; leave it be and it'll be gone once it's had it's fill. Have you got a home to go to?"
"Uh... yeah," I say brightly. ...Wait, what?
The huge man nods and releases my arm. "A'right. Where do you live?"
Instinctively I point at the nearest round door. "Just there." What, Alice? You liar! Why did you say that?!
The huge man glances at the door and squints to inspect it in the darkness; he eyes the little glowing blue mark I caught sight of earlier, and beams widely.
"Ah! What a coincidence. In we go, then, shall we?"
"Uh... y-yes! In we go." I laugh nervously. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, the man gestures to the door.
"Oh, yeah..." I start walking towards the door jerkily, eyes wide. Why did I lie? Why did I panic? What is wrong with you, brain?! ...Oh, well. It's only a dream.
We stand at the entrance to the telly-tubby house. Gingerly I reach out and knock the door.
"You haven't got a key?"
I, uh... lost it. When I was running from the sheep. Thanks for getting me out of their way."
Even more lightly this time, I knock again.
"Aye, you'll never get an answer like that." The huge tattooed man practically bangs down the door with his metal-clad fist, and I wince at the force of it. Moments later, much to my horror, the door opens.
A small, large-eared man stands the other side, looking just as bewildered as I feel. I try for a smile.
"Dwalin," the man beside me proclaims. "At your service."
"B-Bilbo Baggins, at yours," mutters the home owner, horrified in his own hallway. He looks between the two of us, utterly baffled. "Do we... do we know each other?"
"No," says the tall man, almost irate at the suggestion. He barges inside the house, and for lack of knowing what else to do, I scoot in along with him. "Which way? Is it down here?"
The small man, Bilbo Baggins, stares after him. "Is what down where-?"
"Supper. He said there'd be food and lots of it."
"He... he said? W... who said?!"
Without an answer, Dwalin charges down the hallway. Deciding to just go with the flow- this is only a dream, after all- I awkwardly close the round door behind me and offer the little man a half-grimace. He is small, at least three of four inches shorter than myself, with a kindly yet frown-set face and a head of hair so thick can barely control my impulse to reach out and take a handful of it. After all, it is my dream we're in. I'm sure he wouldn't mind. I glance down at the feet to the man and see that they are huge for his small physique. And bare. And hairy. I can hardly take my eyes off them.
"And who might you be, if you don't mind my asking?!" the small man says, standing back from me like I'm a bull who has just crashed through the walls of his glass-walled china shop.
"I'm just... uh...passing through," I tell him with a flustered smile, holding my hand in a gesture of good faith. He scrunches his nose up at the offer, and rather than shaking my hand offers me a tea-towel to wipe off the grit and muck embedded in my palms from my fall. "Thanks," I chime, scrubbing out the filth. "I was running from the giant sheep out there."
"Hmm, I-I did hear the... sheep. But they're not giant, I can assure you. Something must have disturbed them to cause them to stampede like that; a loose pony, perhaps."
"A wolf, it was."
"Well, whatever it was, i'm sure it's gone now, so if the two of you will be on your way-"
"You have a very beautiful house."
"Yes, thank you, now if you'll be so kind as to-"
"Where are we, exactly?"
The man looks at me with a gentle yet hard expression. "You... don't know where you are?"
I grimace again. "No idea, I'm afraid."
He frowns. "...You're quite sure you don't know where you are?"
"Quite sure indeed. Do you mind if I check your light switches a moment? "
The small man looks at me as though I have been speaking in some variant form of Pig-Latin.
"Oh, I just have to check whether or not I'm dreaming. Light switches never work when we- well, I say we, you're not real, just a projection of my subconscious- when real people dream." I glance around and see that there aren't any. "Ah... still living the pre-Edison life, Mr... sorry, I've forgotten your name already."
"Baggins," he offers briskly, "Bilbo Baggins. I think, madam, you really ought be-"
"Mr. Bilbo Baggins," I repeat to myself, playing with the lyrical name; it's a name like bubbles popping. I roll it around on my tongue, quite impressed with the creativeness of my subconscious. "Do you have something I can read, maybe? Can't read in dreams, either. Reading is controlled by the left side of our- real people's- brains, and dreaming is entirely right..." The tiny man looks at me with that confused expression. He looks terribly concerned, clearly thinking me mad. Perhaps I am. "...I'm rambling, aren't I. Carry on with what you were saying, I'm all ears... and it looks like I'm not the only one." I nod at the appendages of the gentleman before me, and he looks offended; and rightly so. "Oh, don't get upset," I tell him sweetly. "You're not real, remember.""
"Yes. Well, I think that's quite enough." He pulls aside his curtain and nods at the view. "It would seem the wolf is gone, so if you and your friend will be going, I'm just setting out dinner-"
"Dinner smells good," calls Dwalin from further in the house; there is a loud groan of wood as he sits down on something which he is clearly far too heavy for.
"Perhaps you should sit down as well," the man offers, defeated, and I feel a little guilty for teasing him in spite of the fact that he doesn't actually exist. He clearly he thinks me insane, regardless, so perhaps he will excuse my rudeness. He leads me through to what I assume is his kitchen, and sits me down on a wooden stall beside Dwalin, who appears to have tucked in to his dinner. He grimaces with a row of yellowing teeth, fish scales between them. Bilbo stands open-mouthed a moment, not sure of what to say, before leaving the room, befuddled. He returns with water, which I sip gratefully.
"No more wine?" Dwalin says. "Rather an insult. Do you not want your gusts to stay?"
Bilbo once again looks horrified. "The- the wine is in the pantry... I..."
"Very good, this," Dwalin growls, sucking the meat from the bones of the fish. "Any more?"
"W-what?" Bilbo stutters, "oh, yes, yes- ah- help yourself. Hmm. It's just that, um, I... wasn't exactly expecting company, especially not three unknown Dwarves charging into my house at such an hour. It's a little out of the ordinary."
Dwalin nods, clearly uninterested in anything the smaller man has to say. I purse my lips, ready to shatter the silence, but a sharp knock on the oak door interrupts me.
"Well, Mr. Bilbo Baggins," I purr, "looks like you've got visitors."
"Hmm," he agrees, "...unexpected visitors. If you'll just excuse me a moment."
I nod and listen intently as his light footsteps trial to the hall. The heavy front door groans open and a new, jolly voice echoes through the hallway.
Dwalin taps his armored knuckles against my side of the table to get my attention, ripping the head off of a fish.
"Fetch us a drink, then, Lassie."
I stare open-mouthed at the huge man, his thick fingers tapping on the table, the pewter gauntlets gripping to his knuckles and heavily-scarred forearms.
"Lass," the man repeats, "a drink."