Author's Note: My sincerest apologies on the delay in posting this chapter! Hopefully it's worth the wait. :) Enjoy!
Frodo and Gimli seemed to be the sole members of the Fellowship who were excited about heading through Moria, but the others kept their disappointment to themselves for the most part. Sam was the only one who made a fuss about the whole business since, upon them reaching the doors of Moria, he was told that Bill the pony would not be able to enter the mines.
"Bye, bye, Bill," he said sadly, shaking his head. He frowned as he faced the rest of the Fellowship. "It ain't right letting him go, if you ask my opinion. He's sure to contract the virus if no one's there to make sure the other creatures keep their six feet away." His lip quivered as he imagined his poor Bill on a respirator.
Frodo tried not to let the sorrow get to him. He knew that the Quest was more important than the health of a pony, but some guilt still nagged at the back of his mind as he listened to Gandalf work at opening the doors. Finally the wizard gave up, gruffly sitting on a rock and poking a hole in his mask to smoke. Frodo scooted a little further away to avoid the danger of being contaminated by the tiny puncture in Gandalf's mask, and he occupied his mind with thinking about the words that were engraved over the glowing entrance.
Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Be well and enter. It was indeed a cryptic address, and Gandalf had assumed that it required a password. But now that the Hobbit thought about it, perhaps they had been going at this from the wrong angle.
"It's a riddle," he murmured, standing to his feet. "And weren't these doors made by Celebrimbor?"
"That is correct," Aragorn affirmed, though his eyes were fixed on ripples in the lake for some reason. "He was one of the most skilled of all those who have labored in Middle-earth."
"Then can't we assume he was foresighted as well?" Frodo mused, stepping towards the glowing outlines of the doors. "Be well and enter…" Frodo trailed off as his fingers ran along the blue lights that showed the doorway. He noticed that a few of the swirling designs seemed to glow the tiniest bit brighter than the rest of the door. On a hunch, he stepped forward and held his forehead over one of these prominent points in the design.
Suddenly a beeping sound came from the door. Frodo jumped back in surprise to see that on the surface of the door where his head had been, a little green light now glowed. Green runes appeared beneath it indicating the number 98.6. The doors groaned and then swung open to reveal an absolutely black cavern.
"I hope none of you have a fever!" the hobbit declared proudly, leading the way through the opening. He was surprised how quickly the doors behind him shut, but he figured it was a security measure to make sure that each person who entered had received a test of their temperature.
After a few seconds, the doors opened again and Sam walked into the darkness. Then Gandalf. And in such a fashion, the whole Fellowship passed through the doorway. It was strange that there were loud sounds and noises which followed Legolas' entrance, almost as though someone else were at the door and trying to get in—someone who was very large and must have many limbs. But the door beeped in protest, and the company realized that the perpetrator must have had a fever. The doors, therefore, did not budge.
Gandalf lit his staff and illuminated the chamber. The Fellowship was dismayed to find that it was filled with piles of old corpses, and for a moment, Frodo panicked.
"The virus has already been here!" he cried in dismay. "We've now all been exposed!"
"Nooooooooooo!" Gimli cried, leaping toward the closest body and spraying it thoroughly with Lysol as though perhaps he could revive them.
"Do not despair," Gandalf said loudly, though his eyes were on Frodo. "The virus can only live on surfaces for a few days at most. These poor fellows clearly met their fate long before we came. I believe that, as long as we continue to wear our PPE, we should be safe from the danger that took the lives of these good dwarves.
The procession was now very solemn. Gimli didn't even play his Switch, and to be polite, Legolas watched his quest reruns on mute. The younger two hobbits spent all their free time whispering about being hungry, lost, tired or bored, and Frodo tried to listen to them and so be distracted from the noises he kept thinking that he heard from somewhere behind them. He hoped that it was the Shadow and Flame, but somehow he doubted that it was. He never became comfortable enough to breathe the air freely, always fearing that he might inhale the virus. At least it was warmer in the mines than it was outside.
As they walked on the fourth day, Gimli gave a cry and sprinted toward a room to the side which was somehow illuminated. As the Fellowship neared the room, they realized it was a sterilized environment, and they felt relaxed as they entered the white space which was free of germs. But they were unpleasantly met with a horrific sight of more corpses. Gimli was kneeling over a tomb, weeping to himself. Gandalf came nearer and read the name of the person in the tomb before taking up a medical log and reading it aloud.
"We cannot get food," he read ominously. "We have barred the gates, but this also prevents Grubhub and Doordash from making their deliveries. We are completely out of toilet paper and paper towels. Coughs. Coughs in the deep. We cannot get food. It is spreading."
It was at this moment that Pippin decided he should sneeze. And not only did he sneeze, but in hopes of keeping his bodily fluids from striking any of his companions (and admirable attempt, to be fair), he directed the sound into a large hole in the ground. It echoed into a thunderous rampage, sounding like a thousand earthquakes had shaken the mines, and although the noise was horrifying, the sneeze itself was the biggest cause of concern to the Fellowship, and they all quickly sprayed Pippin with Lysol.
Just when the last canister had been emptied and the room grew quiet, a distant sound met their ears. Coughs. Coughs in the deep.
Author's Note: So I've been battling pretty relentless writer's block ever since returning to work, but I'm trying to do better. This fic isn't going to be too long anyway, so I'm hoping to be inspired enough to keep pounding out chapters until we reach the epic conclusion! ;) Thanks so much for reading; I would love to hear your thoughts in a review! Hope you're all keeping busy and staying safe during these COVID-19 times!