I had been tossing and turning for hours. Finally, sleep, illusive sleep, seemed about to overtake me. But something began to tug me back from the very threshold of dreamland.
“Mistress? Mistress, please wake up!” It was my Cleric, tugging on the sleeve of my nightgown, and whispering urgently in my ear.
“Wha? Wassamatter?” I forced one eye open and tried to focus.
“Please, Mistress, I must speak with you!”
“Now?” I demanded, trying to ignore the panic in my Cleric’s voice. I checked the clock on my nightstand. “It’s two in the morning!” I grumbled, getting ready to roll over and court sleep again.
“Please, Mistress?” Her quiet voice was raw with emotion, and she rocked back and forth on her feet.
“Oh, very well, then. Talk!” Sleep is so overrated!
My Cleric glanced over at my husband, who was starting to stir on the other side of the bed. “Maybe we should adjourn to the conference room…or at the very least, step out into the hallway?” she suggested.
I gave my Cleric a dirty look, but allowed her to pull me out of my nice, warm, cozy bed. She handed me my robe, and after three attempts, I managed to pull it on. As she led me out of the room, I tripped over my own feet and crashed into the door.
“Oh, Mistress, do be more quiet,” my Cleric begged. Her wide eyes darted up and down the hall, as if she was expecting the hounds of hell to pop out of the bathroom.
“Okay, we’re in the hallway. So what is of such earthshaking importance that it requires a 2 a.m. confab?” I could feel the vein in my right temple throbbing, and I could barely speak through my clenched teeth.
“Mistress, I believe there is an Assassin here to kill me.”
“Wha?” I wasn’t sure my fatigue-fogged brain could handle this, but the look of abject fear in the normally twinkling eyes of my Cleric was enough to bring me to full attention. “What makes you think that?”
“Well, the lads and the Foreman were in your office this afternoon, and…”
“What?” I screeched, interrupting her mid-sentence. “How many times have I told them to stay out of my office? I even had the Sorceress put an enchantment on the lock to keep them from getting in!”
“I know, but, please, Mistress, hear me out. There was someone else in your office…”
I interrupted her with another screech. “Does no one in this house have any respect for my privacy? My office is off limits!” I could feel my face turning beet red, and had I looked in a mirror, I would not have been surprised if I had seen steam coming out of my ears.
“Mistress,” my Cleric whispered, her eyes wide and her chin quivering, “the person in your office was not of this household.”
That brought me up short. “What do you mean?”
“The person they found in your office was a stranger. When our friends confronted him, he identified himself as an Assassin.” My Cleric swallowed hard. “Mistress, I fear he is here to kill me.”
“Why would he want to kill you?” I scoffed.
“Is there not an assassin pursuing me in the book you are writing?”
“There are a number of people tracking you. One or more may want to kill you, but I doubt they would identify themselves as assassins.” I frowned. “Still, I suppose I should check my office and see if this assassin is still there.”
“Oh, Mistress, please be careful! The Foreman said this man carries a crossbow and a dagger.”
“Well, if he comes from your world, he will not harm me.” I sighed, and started walking down the hall. My Cleric hesitated a moment before following me.
“Oh, no,” I cautioned her. “You had better stay here until I find out what’s going on. Better still, why don’t you go stay with the Foreman and the lads? I’m sure they will allow no harm to befall you.”
My Cleric gave me a grateful nod, then scurried off toward the kitchen. Of course, at two in the morning, where else would she find those three characters? I shook my head, then proceeded toward my office.
I opened the door to my office as quietly as possible. I turned on the light and looked around. I frowned as my eyes fell on a familiar figure. A pint-sized man of indeterminate age, leathery-skinned and bald as a billiard ball, dozed in my chair by the computer. Even deep in sleep, he firmly grasped a dagger in one hand and a small cross-bow in the other.
I cleared my throat, and instantly the intruder was awake and on his feet. He had his crossbow aimed at me, and his dagger ready to throw, should he miss with the crossbow. I just stood there, waiting silently, my lips pursed, my nose wrinkled slightly. After a few moments, it became apparent to the intruder that I was not impressed. He lowered his crossbow, but kept his dagger ready.
“You must be the sorceress they call The Writer.”
“No sorceress, but, yes, I am a writer,” I responded, keeping my voice neutral.
“I know who you are,” I interrupted, again keeping my voice at a conversational tone. “You are not an assassin, although you claimed to be.”
“How do you know?”
“I’m The Writer,” I responded, as if that would explain everything. The blank look on the intruder’s face told me it explained nothing. I tried again. “Like a Scribe. I chronicle the exploits of my characters.”
“Like those three I met earlier today?”
“Like them. Like many others. Like you.”
He frowned, and rubbed his jaw with his dagger hand. “So, they were truthful. I…how did they put it? I fell out of the pages of a manuscript?”
“That’s essentially correct,” I agreed.
“But how? Why?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet,” I admitted. “It just seems to happen, so I just accept it.”
He gave me a sharp look. “I was in the middle of a mission when I found myself in this place. I need to get back to…to my world?” He looked at me for confirmation. I nodded. “I was searching for someone.”
“I know,” I replied. “You are a Bounty Hunter.”
“His eyes widened. “You really do know!”
“So, you understand I must return to my world, to my mission.”
I nodded again. “Don’t worry; you’re still there, still looking for her.”
“That’s what the three I met earlier told me. I didn’t understand. I still don’t.”
“As long as I continue writing the story, you are there,” I assured him.
He looked dubious, but nodded. “But I am also here,” he stated.
“Yes, you are. Many of my characters are.”
“The one I search for?” he asked, a sly look in his eyes.
“Yes, my Cleric is here as well,” I confirmed his suspicion. “But here, in the real world, you are not to harm her.”
“I have no wish to harm her,” he avowed.
“Nor are you to attempt to capture her in this world,” I warned him.
“I am a Bounty Hunter. It is my mission,” he protested.
“Not here,” I insisted. “Here, if you attempt to capture or harm my Cleric, my other characters will deal with you. The three you met are most fond of my Cleric, as is my Sorceress and my Dragon.” I narrowed my eyes.
“They can not watch her every minute,” the Bounty Hunter stated, nonchalantly twirling his dagger.
I allowed a slow grin to spread across my face. “But I can. If you attempt to capture my Cleric, I will deal with you myself.”
The Bounty Hunter looked at me scornfully. He could see I was unarmed, and obviously no threat to him. I chuckled.
“If you attempt any action against my Cleric,” I informed him, “I will delete you from the manuscript. You will no longer exist in your world or in the real world.”
He stared at me, small beads of sweat forming on his brow. “You can do this?”
“I can,” I assured him. “I am The Writer.”
I turned and left him standing in the middle of the room, alone, to think it over. I returned to my nice, warm, cozy bed to see if I could manage a few minutes sleep before the dawn of a new day.
Before my head hit the pillow, my Cleric was there, tugging on my sleeve. “Mistress?”
“Don’t worry about a thing. He’s not an assassin. He’s a Bounty Hunter. And he has been warned what will happen if he threatens anyone’s safety in this world.”
My Cleric smiled with relief. “Thank you, Mistress! Good night!”
“Good night! Oh, on your way out, would you make sure the porch light is on? I promised our readers we would keep it on for them. We wouldn’t want any of them to trip in the dark.”