Rating: PG-13 - Violence, mild language.

Summary: Thanks to the Hellmouth, Buffy, Xander, Willow and Giles are transported back in time - to the days when Elves, Men, Orcs and Hobbits roamed the lands.

Spoilers: All of season three Buffy; not a whole lot for LOTR.

Disclaimer: All _Buffy_ characters belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Productions. _Lord of the Rings_ characters and universe belong to Mr. J.R.R. Tolkien. We are but lowly fan fiction writers who enjoy spinning a good yarn. We are NOT making any money off this, nor are we trying to infringe on anyone's copyright. So don't sue us.

Song Lyrics Disclaimer: "Subhuman" by Garbage, "Little Red Riding Hood" by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and the theme to "Gilligan's Island" were all used without the permission of their respective artists, but no infringement was intended here, either.

Authors' Notes: This story takes place two weeks after "Graduation 2" in the Buffyverse. In the LOTR universe, it's roughly ten years before the Fellowship of the Ring goes off on its grand adventure. And it's VERY alternate universe! Please send any and all feedback to: donnacsoprano AT gmail DOT com & varyar AT gmail DOT com. Flames are read, laughed at then deleted with extreme prejudice.

Dark Night of the Soul
By Net Girl & Sibyl

Chapter One - "An Unexpected Trip"

Sunnydale, California
Early Evening

Buffy Summers kept a close eye on all of the patrons in the Bronze as she made her rounds through the club. The place was packed. School ended only two weeks before. The adventure where Mayor Wilkins turned into a 100-foot snake demon was behind the community. It was time for celebration, Sunnydale-style, which meant the Bronze.

Buffy checked her watch and looked back to the dance floor. She'd been there twenty minutes but it felt like it'd been hours. She couldn't have fun, the pitfall of a dragnet operation. The good old Scooby Gang was on the trail of a rather vicious and elusive demon and had been since the day after graduation. Wilkins was gone, but as usual, another Big Bad showed up to take his place.

Even worse, Giles had no idea what kind of demon they dealt with. In two weeks, the four of them had three separate run-ins with the putrid gray-green skinned creature with a really terrible dental plan.

Xander Harris had put off going on his road trip to help deal with the new demon. As much as Buffy loved Xander, she couldn't say he was much help. Every time they met up with the demon, she had to bail him out of a tight spot. And Willow Rosenberg's flirtation with magick only complicated matters even more. Usually her spells didn't work, and when they did work, they did more harm than good. This wasn't a stellar month for the group. If they didn't stop this demon from slaughtering innocent people, it definitely wouldn't improve.

Across the room, Xander and Willow caught her attention, giving her a shrug, letting her know they didn't see anything on their side. The two of them vanished among the crowd. She turned to her left and found Giles near the doors of the club. He, too, gave her a signal that he'd come up with nothing. Buffy nodded then headed through the crowd to join him.

"Burn down all your idols/
Destroy your idols/
Create a scene/
There goes all your reason/
It's Helter Skelter/
It's not a dream/

Come down from the alter/
Remove your blindfold/
What do you see?/
Nothing left to do here/
There's nothing new here/
It's all the same ..."

The Slayer deftly slipped by the dancing teenagers until she reached Giles. She tapped him on the shoulder, smiling slightly when he jumped at her touch.

"Hey, Giles, it's only me," she greeted, speaking loud enough so he could hear her over the music. "Nothing going on outside, I take it?" She hoped this damn demon would show soon. Other areas needed patrolling. With all their efforts concentrated on this one being, the vampire population grew.

Rupert Giles adjusted his glasses, stepped back to allow a boy to pass by, and then he looked down at Buffy. "Not a thing. However, I'm quite sure this will work," he answered. He moved again to let another boy by then shook his head. "I must say I'm eager for this to end. A week of staking out The Bronze takes its toll. I'm sure I'll need a hearing aid before long."

"Oh, come on, Giles, it isn't that bad." Buffy folded her arms across her chest and turned at the waist so she could scan the club again. "I've heard much worse. And, believe me, you're lucky this isn't Amateur Night." She cringed as she turned her attention back to her Watcher. "Now that - that's truly terrifying."

"Come back to your altar/
And build a fire/
It's getting cold/
Nothing stops you in here/
There's not a stone here/
You're all alone/

You're going down, down, down/
How low can you go?/
You're going down, down, down/
How low can you go?"

"You two catch any glimpse of Big, Pukey and Ugly?" asked Xander as he and Willow joined Buffy and Giles by the door. He took a bite of the candy bar in his hand and looked from the Slayer to Giles. He saw the way they stared at him. "What?" he asked, after he swallowed his bite. "I'm hungry, okay? And, besides, it's like the commercial says: Not going anywhere for a while?" He took another bite.

Buffy shook her head, rolling her eyes just a little. "No, we're still waiting for any signs of demon-y activity. I'm taking this guy out tonight, too. I'm sick and tired of him getting the best of me. He must be on demon steroids, he's not even that big." She scowled, recalling the previous encounters with the creature. It proved to be much more difficult to kill than any other demon its size. The thing had amazing strength.

Giles moved aside again for another teen then he pulled a kerchief out of his inner jacket pocket. Removing his glasses, he polished the lenses while he spoke to them.

"Size can be deceiving, Buffy, as you very well know. We shouldn't judge demons in such a way. When you combine that with the fact that my research has turned up nothing on this particular demon, it's very important that we -"

"That we be very cautious," Buffy finished for him. She nodded. "Yeah, Giles, we know."

"Maybe I should try another locating spell?" Willow suggested, hopefully. She'd tried one last week, but that ended in a big mess. A few little words were flipped around and a fire broke out in Giles's apartment instead of the location of the demon being revealed. Giles banned Willow from attempting any magick in his house - even saying the word "abracadabra" was forbidden. And the silent response she received from the other three answered that question. "Or not," Willow murmured, her shoulders slumping.

Suddenly, a blood-curdling scream rang out in The Bronze, which was followed by another then another until a panic had broken out in the club. The four of them turned towards the sound of the screams and watched as their demon picked up one of the teenager boys by the neck then hurled him halfway across the Bronze.

"The guest of honor has arrived," Buffy said as she yanked out a stake. At the same time, Giles brought out a crossbow, Xander drew the small axe hidden under his jacket and Willow tried to think of what spell she could use to defend them.

"You guys take the left, we'll take the right," Xander said motioning to Willow with his free hand. He took in a deep breath, shoved down his bubbling terror and headed off with Willow. The two of them did their best to not get trampled by the kids who fled the club as the demon continued to go on its rampage.

"We need to do something about these people," Willow called out, looking back to Xander. She glanced around, eyes alert and searching for a way to help. On the other side of the club, she saw Buffy and Giles coming up on the demon from behind. "This way, Xander." She took him by the arm and led him against the flow of people.

"Time to die," the demon snarled as he seized a girl by her hair. He pulled her back to him, placed both hands on her head and prepared to break her neck. Before he could do so a crossbow bolt grazing his arm surprised him. He hissed as he whirled around to see who it was. His eyes narrowed when he saw the Slayer and another human headed his way.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Buffy said when she saw the demon examining the nick Giles had made on its arm. Her head cocked to one side. "Did that interrupt your killing spree? That's too bad. But I have something that'll take your mind off of that cut." She threw a nasty right hook, connecting fiercely with the demon's head. "How do you like that?"

She was repaid with a hard backhanded punch from the creature. She flew backwards, slammed into Giles and the two of them tumbled to the floor together. Buffy groaned as she shook her head a few times. She blinked and tried to clear her vision. The world spun around and around. [Did anyone get the number of that wrecking ball?] she wondered.

Giles put his hands on the floor, pushed himself up to his knees and looked over to Buffy.

"Are you all right?" he asked. He watched her sit up, wiping away the blood that trickled from the gash in her lower lip. It wasn't anything life threatening, obviously, but it concerned him nonetheless. He hefted up his crossbow as Buffy nodded, placing a hand to her mouth at the same time.

The creature chuckled. The Slayer wasn't as tough as he'd heard. He took two steps to finish off the girl and the human with her. He stopped, though, when Xander's voice said, "Hey, buddy, aren't you forgetting a couple of people?" The demon turned and was struck in the face with the flat side of a battle-axe. It mildly stunned him and he staggered back a half step.

Xander backed up when he saw the way the demon snarled at him once it got over the surprise attack. "Uh oh. I think I made it mad, Will," he said. He nearly tripped over one of the chairs in his haste to duck when the demon made a grab for him. "Will! Hey! A little help might be good!" He yelped when the demon snagged the axe from him. "Like now!" Xander dove out of the way and the axe wedged itself into the floor where he'd just been standing.

"Goddess Hecate, work thy will," Willow's voice rang out in the Bronze. A steady wind began to build as she continued the rest of her spell in another language. Her eyes focused on the demon then she yelled out, "Hiri naga shumanzi!" Instead of the wind wall she wanted, a streak of lighting flew from her extended fingertips. And it shot right past the demon and headed towards Buffy and Giles. "LOOK OUT!"

"Giles, get out of the way!" Buffy grabbed her Watcher's arm and pulled him out of the path of the lighting bolt. She watched the bolt sail by them and slam into the wall of the Bronze, knocking a huge hole in the building upon impact. It wasn't a complete failure. The hole created by the flubbed spell allowed the teenagers another exit route. "You okay, Giles?"

"Yes," he breathed. He nodded then swallowed hard. That was a bit more than a near miss. "Yes, I'm fine. We'd better take care of this before we end up killing each other in this battle." He raised his crossbow and prepared to jump back into the fight, but the demon used the moment as his opportunity to escape. "Bloody hell."

"Xander, Willow!" Buffy yelled, turning around to see Willow helping Xander to his feet. She used her stake to point to the hole in the wall. "He's getting away! Come on! Let's go!" She jumped over a couple of fallen chairs, sprinted out of the Bronze and then down the alley in the direction the demon had gone.

"Buffy!" Willow called. [Oh great. She's gone after it alone.] "Xander, I'm going. Are you okay?" She didn't wait around for his answer. She pushed her way through the remaining teens and burst out of the main doors of the Bronze. "Buffy!" She looked to her left and saw her best friend hot on the heels of the armed demon. They were headed towards the remains of Sunnydale High School. "Buffy! Wait! Wait for me!" She ran after them.

Back inside, Xander stumbled over to Giles. "Hey, G-Man, you all right?" he asked. He saw the look on the Watcher's face, one he'd only seen a couple times in the years he'd known Giles - one time being when Giles was under the affects of tainted band candy. "Giles, you okay?"

"Yes, Xander," Giles coolly replied. He finished loading a new bolt then looked over to him. "I'm quite all right. Shall we?" He didn't plan to miss his mark the next time he shot at this demon.

"Let's shall," Xander told him, but he didn't take his eyes off Giles. He didn't blame the man for being frustrated with the whole situation. "Besides," he went on as they made for the exit. "I need to get my axe back from Big and Pukey. I think I was actually getting the hang of using it, too."

Outside, the two of them scanned the area for Buffy or Willow. "Do you see them?" asked Giles.

Xander turned around just in time to see Willow vanish around a corner. He pointed in that direction. "I just saw Will. She's going towards the school. Well, what's left of it." He wished he hadn't lost his weapon to the demon. Of course, having the weapon in the first place hadn't done him a lot of good. "Buffy must be headed in the same direction."

"And so will we."


Buffy's legs pumped as she chased the demon for two blocks. Sweat poured down her forehead, her cheeks and mixed with the blood dribbling down her neck from her busted lip. Hands clutched into fists, she kept her gaze fixed on the demon and concentrated on him. He wasn't going to get away again. Not tonight. Not again. This was going to end.

[I'm going to catch you, and when I do, I'm going to take that axe and shove it up your -]

"Buffy!" Willow breathlessly called out. She was half-running, half-staggering down the street about a block behind Buffy. A hand brushed her hair out of her face and she realized how much she was sweating. [We wouldn't be chasing this stupid demon if you hadn't screwed up that spell, Willow.]. Her legs shifted into autopilot, her eyes on Buffy as she continued to run. [You almost killed Giles.]

As they drew nearer to the school, Buffy began to tire. She slowed a little as she rounded the corner. The demon had tired as well; he wasn't quite as spry now. But it didn't seem to matter - about twenty yards straight ahead of them was a glimmering crack that appeared to be hanging in the air.

[That wasn't there before,] Buffy thought as she slowed a little more and her expression changed when she saw the "rip" in front of her. "What the hell is that?" she murmured. She didn't have much time to wonder what it was because the demon made a beeline for it. She blinked as the creature vanished into the shimmering chasm. "Oh, hell no! You're not getting away from me. Not again."

Willow saw Buffy had stopped and she felt a sense of relief. She was completely exhausted from running all over downtown Sunnydale. The witch-in-training drew in a deep breath of air then noticed the "rip" in the air ahead of her. [What's that?] She squinted at it. If she didn't know better, she could've sworn it was a - That's when the demon jumped into the shimmering hole and vanished. "Oh my God."

Buffy, her energy to tangle with this beast renewed, sprinted for the hole. She didn't hear Willow shouting at her to stop. All she could think of was killing that demon. She wouldn't be bested by it. She wouldn't let it get away again. No way. With no pause, she leapt right into the hole and she vanished just as the demon did.

"BUFFY!" Willow cried out as she watched her friend disappear. She turned around when she heard Xander calling her name. He and Giles jogged her way, obviously just as tired as she. Her head whipped around, attention back on the hole. It'd begun to flicker now and the edges were pulling inwards, slowly at first but with increasing speed with each passing seconds. "Oh, no, Buffy." Wherever Buffy had gone, she was alone. Not for long, though.

"Willow!" Giles called out as the redhead made a dash for the strange anomaly situated in front of the ruins of Sunnydale High school. "Willow, stop! Don't!" But it was useless. In the same manner as Buffy before her, Willow leaped into the light and vanished. Giles closed his eyes, shaking his head. Not only was Buffy missing so was Willow.

"Willow! Buffy!" Xander brushed past Giles and broke into a hard run. "Willow!" He ignored Giles just as Willow had. He couldn't let them be trapped wherever they were all alone. In a moment, he was through the collapsing rip, off to where Buffy, Willow and the demon had gone.

"Oh, sod it," Giles murmured. Buffy was his Slayer, his responsibility and so were Willow and Xander, even if their own carelessness was to blame. Clutching the crossbow tightly, he dove into the glowing split just before it closed on them completely.


The swirling blackness Buffy had traveled through once she jumped into the strange tear finally ended in a bright flash of light. Immediately following it, her back slammed hard onto something that felt like the ground. [Am I dead? Is there ground in the afterlife?] Slowly, her eyes opened. She shut them again when the glorious sunlight that rained down on her and warmed her body nearly blinded her. After a few seconds, she opened them again - very, very slowly.

"Oooh," she lightly moaned. Her left hand went to her forehead as she used her other hand to help push her into a sitting position. She shaded her eyes with her hand, taking in where she had landed. Her head swiveled around, a small gasp of amazement escaping her lips as she scanned the emerald countryside that was reminiscent of Ireland - at least the Ireland from TV and magazines.

She didn't get a chance to take in much more of the view, though. Another flash of light startled her and the next thing she knew she laid on her back with Willow, face down, half-sprawled over her. The redhead groaned loudly, lifted up an arm then let it drop back down onto the ground. The wind had been knocked out of her upon impact and about all she could do was blink.

"That ... wasn't very pleasant," Willow murmured. She raised her head and spat out a little dirt, grimacing at the same time. She sniffed, a puzzled expression crossing her face when she detected the heavenly aroma of flowers. [Where the heck did we go?] Then she remembered why she'd jumped into the rip. "Buffy?"

"Will," Buffy replied as she gently pushed her friend off of her so she could sit up again. Once up, she looked over to Willow. "Are you all right?" she asked when she noticed the smudge of dirt on Willow's left cheek. Buffy managed a small smile. "That's a good look for you. Nice and earthy."

"Ha ha," Willow flatly said as she pushed herself up to her knees. "That's really -" She paused; her eyes widened a bit when she finally had a decent look at where they'd landed. "Oh ... wow," she breathed. "Buffy, did you see this? Oh my. It's ... it's ... " Words couldn't describe how impressive the land was.

The lush green hills, speckled with tall trees, rolled on for what seemed forever. The blades of grass shimmered under the radiant sunlight thanks to the absence of clouds in the sky. And the sky, it was a color blue that Willow had never seen before, at least not in any skies where they came from. Small and modest homes dotted the countryside. Most of them appeared to be built right into the sides of the hills. Steady plumes of smoke rose from barely visible chimneys. The area was still inhabited, judging by the smoke and the faint sound of voices from the nearest of the hill houses. Simple dirt roads led away from where Willow and Buffy were, stretching beyond the hills and into areas unseen by the eye.

Buffy shook her head, turned her head and gazed upon the same breathtaking sight as Willow. "God, it's ... it's something else, Will," she said, her voice very light. She didn't realize she'd spoken so softly. But very rarely did anything enthrall Buffy as this place did. "Where do you think we are? The other side of the world?"

Suddenly, another flash of light erupted above them. Knowing exactly what would follow, Buffy pressed herself against the wall to her right but not before shoving Willow to the left. In the spot where the two girls had just been, Xander landed face down in the recently tilled dirt. He coughed but lay completely still, blinking a few times.

Buffy, pressed against the wall, cringed at the way Xander had slammed into the ground. He'd flattened more of the flowers that sprouted up all around them than Buffy and Willow combined. "Xander?" she cautiously asked when he just lay there, blinking. "Are you okay?" She exchanged a concerned glance with Willow.

Before she could get her answer, another flash of light produced Giles. The Watcher landed on his back but right on top of Xander. Willow shielded her eyes, turning away at the sight. That had to have hurt. Not only Giles but also Xander especially, judging by the whimpering sound he made.

"If you want to throw a little dirt on top of me, that'd be great, " Xander murmured. He grunted a few times as Giles managed to get his own mobility back and move so Xander wasn't pinned to the ground anymore. Xander still didn't move, though. "Wherever he lands, there shall he be buried." Placing both hands on the ground, he pushed himself up then looked around. "Where are we? Somebody's garden?"

Giles adjusted his glasses then looked at the ruined crossbow in his hand. He sighed then tossed it aside. Such a shame, but it was damaged beyond repair - it would be cheaper to buy a new one than try and replace the trigger system. They would be relatively safe, he figured, since wherever they were it was obviously daytime.

Then it hit him: exactly where were they? He craned his head so he could see the land more clearly. He blinked a few times; his eyes squinted as he followed the line of a dirt road as it headed towards the north and over a hill. Small houses were everywhere. [Where are we?]

It looked a little like England and even more like Ireland, but he'd never seen that style of architecture, or that size of architecture. Was it some kind of neighborhood for little people?

Willow pulled one of the light purple colored flowers closer so she could take in the fragrance. She smiled after breathing deeply. "I'd guess so," she said as she looked over her shoulder to Xander who now sat upright. "I've never smelled any flower quite like this one, though. It's ... kind of like a super-rose. Do ... do you guys think that portal put us in one of the other dimensions?" There was a bit of concern and worry in her voice now. "If so, how do we get back home?"

Buffy opened her mouth to reply, but she clamped it shut when somebody holding a small rake appeared at the edge of the garden, looking down on them with disdain. He was awfully short for a person, probably not even four feet, with a scraggily head of curly blondish hair and dark eyes. Judging by his clothes - a simple white shirt covered by a dark brown vest and a pair of wool pants - Buffy knew that they weren't anywhere in the U.S. of A. Except maybe Pennsylvania Dutch country yet that was highly unlikely. She glanced from his face to the dirty hand that gripped the handle of the rake.

"Uh ... guys?" she said when she found her voice. She nodded towards the new arrival.

"If you don't mind, would you please remove yourselves from the garden?" he politely asked, despite the annoyed expression on his face. When Xander stood up the little gardener had his first look at the damage done. He lifted his head to gaze up at Xander, who had a good two feet on him. "My flowers! You brute! Have you any idea how long it took to do this?" He gestured to the garden and the rows of crushed flowers and plants.

As the others stood up, they noticed that more people like the one before them had begun to crowd around. Judging by the suspicious looks and whispers, all of them were very curious and guarded about the strangers in their town. The whispering among them intensified as the four stepped out of the garden and into full view.

Willow leaned towards Buffy. "What are they?" she asked in a whisper. "They're ... so small." Her eyes shifted back to the others who kept their distance. They weren't as brave as the one holding the rake, apparently. It was obvious the Scooby Gang's presence in the place wasn't exactly appreciated by any of them. "I'm beginning to think that 'other dimension' theory is a good one."

"I don't know, Will." Buffy met the gaze of the rake-toting midget. She didn't detect any real malice in his eyes. He was simply pissed off that they'd landed on his property and mucked up his garden. And Buffy really couldn't blame him.

"They're kinda cute," Xander said as he took a few steps away from Giles, Buffy and Willow and toward the crowd of onlookers. He leaned over, smiling at them. "They're harmless. I can tell," he added, glancing over his shoulder at his friends then he looked back to the group. "Awww. It's like The Wizard of Oz, you guys. Munchkins."

"Munchkins?" declared one, taking a brave step forward. Indignant was the tone of his voice and the glare in his eyes. He wasn't quite sure what the word 'munchkin' meant, but it couldn't have been any sort of compliment, he figured. "Brute!" He yelled then gave Xander a swift kick in his shin.

"Ow!" Xander exclaimed, pulling up his leg and grabbing his shin with his hand. He hopped around on one leg. "That hurt! I oughta -" Before he could make his threat, the one who'd been standing next to the first assailant jumped in, kicking Xander in the other shin. "Ow!"

"Xander..." Willow put a hand over her face to hide her smile. She couldn't help it. Her shoulders lightly shook with quiet laughter. She looked over to Buffy. The Slayer too tried not to laugh aloud at the embarrassment befalling poor Xander. He'd brought it on himself, though.

"Ow! Hey! Knock it off!" Xander yelled as the two continued to kick him. "Hey!" He was about to make a move on them but he stumbled backwards in surprise when a towering, bearded figure dressed in a long gray robe stepped from out of nowhere. Xander watched as the older man placed one hand on the shoulder of each of the midgets who'd attacked him.

"Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, that's quite enough," the bearded man said as the two of them, aware they were in some kind of trouble now, tilted their heads back until they were looking straight up at him. "Is that any way to treat strangers? Strangers who are obviously unfamiliar with their surroundings?" He raised a bushy eyebrow at the two then let go of their shoulders. "Well?"

"He insulted us," declared the first assailant, pointing angrily at Xander. "Pippin and I were only defending our honor. Besides, he's gone and made a mess of poor Frodo's garden! If he was here, he'd have done the same, Master Gandalf."

There was a general murmur of assent from the crowd.

Buffy heard Giles make some kind of noise beside her. She looked up at him, then her brow furrowed in concern. "Giles?" she asked in a low voice. She nudged him gently until he looked at her. "Giles, are you okay? You look like somebody walked over your grave."

Giles shook his head. "I'm not..." He gingerly stepped through what was left of the garden until he reached Xander and the crowd of little people.

"Excuse me a moment," Giles said. "This is going to sound rather odd, but... where are we?"

"In Master Frodo's garden!" the one called Meriadoc exclaimed to general applause from his fellow villagers.

"Yes, but how did they end up there, I wonder," the elderly man murmured to himself. He looked up at Giles and stared deep into his eyes for a long stretch, then frowned quizzically and turned his attention to Xander, Willow and finally Buffy. "Well. This is a discussion better held away from all these listening ears and spying eyes," the man announced, waving his arm at the crowd.

There was a slight noise of disappointment, most noticeable from Meriadoc and Peregrin, but the crowd did disperse with little more than a hint of a glare from the man in the gray robes.

"I don't think young Master Baggins will much object if we hold our counsel in his home." He pointed his long, gnarled walking stick at the round wooden door in the side of the hill. "If you're quite done trampling the flowers, that is," he added with a sly grin.

Giles nodded slowly and followed the man into the hillside. He stopped in the doorway and turned back. "I think... I think we should do as he says," he told the children, then vanished into the house.

Inside, he had to stoop his head to walk around. The ceiling was barely five feet above the floor, and the furniture was built to match.

"A bit tight for the 'Big Folk', but homely enough," the robed man told Giles. "The finest hobbit hole in this part of the Shire, to be honest."

"Hobbit hole?" Giles repeated absently. He was trying to make sense of all this. They'd clearly been sent to somewhere else, but he'd never heard of a demon dimension anything like this. And the resemblance to England was uncanny. Deep in his heart, he felt like he was home. But that was insane. England wasn't home to villages of little people who lived inside hills.

Little people who live inside hills.

He suddenly gasped and stood up, catching himself before he hit his head on the ceiling.

Giles realized that the man was staring at him and that Buffy, Xander and Willow were in the doorway, probably also staring at him. "Sorry. Not used to all of this," Giles explained, waving his hand at the diminutive house.

"Few of the Big Folk are," the other man noted as he stooped over to hang his hat on a peg on the wall.

"Big Folk?" Xander said from the doorway. "Is that what they call us?"

"Indeed it is. And Big Folk you are, by Hobbit standards. Please, come in and make yourself comfortable. Frodo seems to have wandered off for afternoon, but I'm sure he won't mind as long as you don't break the crockery as you have his flowers."

"Frodo? Who's Frodo? And who are you? And where are we?" Buffy asked as she joined Giles in the tiny foyer.

"In order - Master of Bag-End, Frodo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey, and Bag-End in the Shire," the man replied. He bowed deeply.

"The Shire." Giles shook his head. "Impossible."

Gandalf turned his piercing gaze on Giles. "Am I to assume you didn't intend to drop out of the sky and ruin the prize-winning roses?"

"Not... not as such, no," Giles confessed. The Shire, Hobbits, Big Folk. The pieces were slowly coming together, but the picture they formed was simply impossible, but how else to explain it? He looked across the room at this Gandalf then haltingly murmured a quick phrase in a melodic language.

Gandalf's bristly eyebrows shot up and he laughed in a kindly manner. "A passable go at Sindarin, even if I am not, in fact, a good morning."

"Sindarin. Good God." Giles took his glasses off and rubbed them even though they were perfectly clean. "Impossible."

"Giles, help me out here," Buffy hissed. "What the hell is going on, what weird dimension are we in?"

"We haven't gone to another world, Buffy. We've gone back in time."


"Back in time," Giles repeated patiently. He wasn't all that eager to accept the idea himself. "This place and Hobbits, it all fits. God. Time travel. I never -"

"Giles, make with the explanation part!" Buffy exclaimed. "Where - when - are we?"

"Oh. I'm not really sure," Giles replied. "But there are old legends - folk tales, really - about a race of little folk who lived in the hills and caves of the British Isles. I always took them for medieval nonsense, like the legends about golems and Aelfwine the Sailor." He shook his head. "At any rate, nobody reputable has seen one of these little people in nearly eight hundred years."

"So... we're back in the Dark Ages?"

"No, it's rather more than that." Giles waved at the hobbit-house around them. "Nothing like this has ever been discovered in Britain. We must be thousands of years in the past."

"Oh, wow," Willow whispered. She'd snuck in during Giles explanation and listened quietly and with increasing wonder. All the things about the mythic ages she'd read - lost magicks, spells and talismans she could only dream of. "Wow."

"Right. More importantly, how do we get home?" Xander asked. He'd come inside right behind Willow.

"I don't know," Giles admitted. He found himself turning to Gandalf. The little folk - Hobbits - seemed to consider him an authority figure. And they didn't have many other people to turn to for help, thanks to Xander's antics. "I don't even know when in history we are."

"If it means anything to you, and I have more than half a suspicion it won't, it's the year 3008 of the Third Age," the wizard supplied. He then produced a long wooden pipe from somewhere inside his robe and lit it with quick, practiced movements.

"I'm afraid it doesn't. It's the year 1999 by our calendar."

Buffy shook her head, trying to take in everything Giles had said. They were in the past, thousands of years in the past, or so Giles and the old guy seemed to agree on. Well, whatever 3008 of the Third Age meant in the grand scheme of things. [You just had to jump into that rip, didn't you, Buffy? Now look at us. We're all stuck in Munchkinland because you screwed up.] She sighed heavily, her head dropping a bit. [This is my fault.]

Xander noticed Buffy's reaction to all of the information they'd become privy to. It was very difficult for him to wrap his mind around this as well. What really bothered him was Giles's response. He seemed to know about this place, more than he told them at the moment. He slid his gaze over to the older gentleman who'd saved him from the two midgets. And this guy, he was creepy in a Watcher way. Maybe it was the weird accent he spoke with.

"Hm. 1999." Gandalf exhaled a smoke-ring that floated up into the air just over his head and hung there. For a second, Giles imagined there was a flicker of - something - in his eyes then it passed. "This is one of the oddest mysteries I've encountered in all my years. I've never heard of anyone - Man, Hobbit, Elf or otherwise - pushing his way back through the river of time. And if it weren't for other pressing business, I'd be willing to spend a year and a day getting to the bottom of it. But perhaps there are others who might be of aid."

At that very moment, another Hobbit appeared in the doorway. "Gandalf! Vandals trampled my rose garden and Pippin says - " He took in the sight of Gandalf and the four others and blinked a few times. "Gandalf - what? Who?" The completely flustered Hobbit asked as he stared at the strangers squatting in his foyer.

"And here's young Master Baggins now. Frodo, this is Giles and - " Gandalf paused. He hadn't caught the names of the three young humans.

"Buffy, Xander and Willow," Giles filled in, nodding at each in turn.

"Right then. Pleased to meet you." Still rather off balance, Frodo sat down just inside the doorway.

Xander stifled the urge to make any Wizard of Oz comments. Being kicked in the shins wasn't something he wanted to experience again that day, or ever. He felt his face flush briefly. How embarrassing it was, now that he had a moment to think about it. [Beaten up by a bunch of four foot Hobbit things. I'm more of a pathetic loser than I thought.]

"These visitors and I were just discussing their peculiar plight." Gandalf blew another smoke-ring out the pipe. It drifted up and joined its fellow, which had yet to fade away, above his head. He then explained the basics of their situation, at least such as they had revealed so far. "As I was saying, there may be others who could help them. In the House of Elrond, much ancient lore remains that even I know little of."

"Huh?" Xander whispered.

"Stuff that might help us get home," Willow whispered back. "Shh!"

Ignoring the hushed conversation, Gandalf smiled at Frodo. "You've wanted to see the Elves for quite some time, if I don't miss my guess."

"Well, yes, but - "

"Splendid! You're past due for a holiday at any rate." Gandalf stood up and plucked his hat off the peg.

"But - "

"Now now, no time for that." The wizard stowed his pipe away.

"Wait a moment, please," Giles said. "What Elves?"

"*The* Elves," Gandalf replied, as if that was answer enough.

"Elves?" Xander murmured to Willow as he leaned towards her. "I want to see some Elves myself. I'd like to know why that bicycle I got when I was seven broke apart after only a week of riding it. Ruined my Christmas, that's for sure." He winced when Willow punched him in the arm and gave him a "shut up" look. "Ow. What? What did I say?"

"Frodo, I'm sure you know the way well enough from Bilbo's story."

Frodo blinked. "Well, yes, but he had you and the Dwarves with him."

"And you have these four. There's more to them than it seems, I'm certain."

"Hello? Excuse me? Can you not talk like we're not standing right here?" Buffy muttered. This guy was a weirder version of Wesley if that was even possible. She was curious as to how he "knew" so much about them, they'd only just met. The look in his eyes - when she managed to catch a glimpse of them - it was odd.

Gandalf glared at her for a moment, then smiled. "Of course. My apologies. But it really is the only way. Frodo, pack what you'll need. See if you can't find those spare bedrolls Balin once gave Bilbo. I do believe he left them here after the infamous party."

"Party? Damn, we missed a party," Xander whispered, but that only earned him another slug in the arm from Willow. "Ow. Okay. I get the point. No more talking." He rubbed his arm, scowling as he gave her a sideways glance.

"Right." Frodo shook his head in confusion, and then vanished down one of the hallways.

"Now, then, I shall have to write you a letter of introduction. Lord Elrond is rather wary about who he lets pass the gates of Rivendell. Frodo would be welcome, of course, but - well, we shall see." He ducked into the room immediately off to the left of the entrance and returned a moment later with a sheet of parchment and a quill pen. Balancing the parchment on his knee,
Gandalf scrawled a message in an elegant, curving alphabet, then rolled the sheet up and handed it to Giles. "Present this to him and you'll be welcomed as honored guests. See that you don't lose it!"

"Right." Giles carefully accepted the scroll.

"Good." Gandalf turned just in time to see Frodo return with an armful of crude sleeping bags and a knapsack hanging from his shoulder. "And good again! It's not even noon yet - the perfect time to begin a journey. I'll settle your affairs here and set young masters Took and Brandybuck to watch Bag-End in your absence. I'm sure they'll keep your Sackville relations at bay if nothing else. And with any luck, we may meet again before too long."

With a little more nudging from Gandalf, all five were out the door and on the road down the Hill before too long. Frodo, hopelessly bewildered by it all, made a few attempts to point out the scenic highlights of the Shire, but only Giles was all that interested. After an hour or so, Frodo gave up and walked on in silence, pointedly thinking that nobody except Gandalf could have got him on this wild adventure - that most unhobbitish word - at such short notice.

And he hoped the silverware would all be there when he returned.

End Chapter 1

To Be Continued ...