I yawned and rubbed my eyes. I saved the rough draft of my blog, and put my computer into sleep mode. I headed for the stairs, eager to put myself into sleep mode as well…or, to use my Cleric’s newly acquired idiom, I was eager to hit the hay.
When I reached the top of the first flight of stairs, I stopped dead. The front door was ajar; the yellow glow from the porch light spilled across the vestibule floor. I saw a scrap of material caught on the door latch. I snatched it and examined it closely. It was a bit of simple homespun, the material from which my Cleric’s robe was fashioned.
I slowly pushed open the door and stepped cautiously onto the porch. The freshly painted floorboards were scratched and scraped. The welcome mat had been dragged halfway down the front walk, and there were black scuff marks trailing a few feet past that point. I listened, but the only sounds were the rhythmic chirps of the crickets, the deep croaks of the frogs, the gentle hoot of an owl, and the annoying rumble of nearby highway traffic.
I slowly backed into the house and closed the door as quietly as I could. Then I turned and ran upstairs, taking the steps two at a time. At the top of the steps, I rounded the corner to the kitchen and I almost collided with my Foreman.
“I want everyone in the conference room right now,” I ordered sharply. He started to question me, but I cut him off. “Everyone. Now!”
I ran back down the stairs. Within minutes, most of my characters had gathered in the conference room. The only ones missing were my Cleric and my Old Dwarf.
“What is going on?” my Sorceress demanded. She yawned loudly and raked a hand through her sleep-tousled hair in an unsuccessful attempt to tame it.
“Yes, what is the panic at this time of night?” my Gypsy asked around a mouthful of cold chicken. “We were just getting a bit of a snack before bed.”
“Sit down,” I ordered. My characters took note of my voice, cracking with fear and anger, and slowly sank into their seats.
“Mistress?” my Young Hero addressed me. “What is it? Why are you so distressed?”
“I believe Cleric has been abducted.” As I waited for my words to sink in, I watched my characters carefully, trying to scrutinize their facial expressions. I saw expressions ranging from shock to concern to irritation to anger. What I didn’t see were any faces that looked guilty.
Suddenly, everyone was talking at once. “When did it happen?” “How do you know?” “Who took her?” “How can we get her back?”
I raised my hand, and the room fell silent. “Cleric and the Old Dwarf were with me in my office earlier this evening. We were discussing the latest award for which the blog has been nominated. The Old Dwarf left first, to raid the refrigerator. Cleric left shortly thereafter. She was going to turn on the porch light, then go up to bed. I stayed to work on my blog. It was about two hours later when I finally started upstairs. When I reached the front door, there were obvious signs of a struggle.”
I paused. I watched the assembled group through narrowed eyes, still trying to gauge each character’s reaction. After a moment, I continued. “The light had been turned on, but the door was ajar. I saw something caught on the latch.” I held up the small square of material. Before I could continue, my Foreman jumped up and grabbed the scrap from my hand.
“This is homespun!” he exclaimed, his voice thick with emotion. “This came from Cleric’s robe!”
“Why do you assume she has fallen victim of foul play?” my Arrogant One asked, waving his hand dismissively. “She may have merely stepped outside for a breath of fresh air, a stroll in the moonlight. She could have caught her own robe on the door latch.”
I shook my head, and related all I had seen when I had stepped out onto the porch.
My Young Hero paled. “Cleric has been my ordained Protector since birth. I owe her my life many times over. With her unique powers and cautious nature, I can not imagine how she came to be abducted!” His voice cracked and his lower lip quivered.
“I can’t fathom how it occurred, either, or who may be behind such a deed, but I intend to find out and to rescue Cleric,” I avowed.
“You say the Old Dwarf was with you and Cleric in your office?” my Sorceress asked. I nodded. “Then where is he now?” she inquired archly.
“I had presumed him to be in the kitchen, having dinner,” I replied. “At least, that was his stated intent when he left the office.”
“He never joined us there,” my Foreman noted with a frown. “And I could not find him when I was gathering everyone for this meeting. He was in none of his usual spots.”
“Well, then,” my Arrogant One scoffed, the superior tone of his voice grating on my nerves, “I would say we have a good idea who abducted Cleric.”
“I do not believe that,” my Young Hero stated, shaking his head emphatically. “The Old Dwarf may be gruff, but he holds Cleric in great esteem. He would never harm her.”
“He better not,” Dragon avowed, smoke curling from her nostrils.
“Well, if we are to find Cleric, we best start immediately,” my Foreman remarked. He scowled and raked his hand through his hair. “I suggest we all go out and search the area. Perhaps we can follow the trail…”
“No,” I cut him off. “I want everyone to stay inside. If we all go out tramping about, we could easily destroy any footprints or other clues the abductor may have left.”
“Well, we can not just sit around and do nothing,” my Young Hero cried, and my Foreman, my Gypsy, and my Sorceress emphatically agreed.
“We won’t,” I promised them. “I have an idea.”
Dragon cocked her head and looked at me. She smiled a wicked smile, showing her dagger-like teeth. Smoke billowed around her head. “Does your idea involve roasting the culprit?” she asked in a growling voice.
I chuckled. “Let’s find the culprit first. Then we can discuss roasting.”
“Dragon, would you come with me, please?” I asked. “Everyone else is to remain here until I return.”
“Why are we to stay here?” my Arrogant One demanded. “As long as we do not leave the house, why should we be confined to this room?”
“Once Dragon and I finish, I would like everyone here, so I can present our findings,” I replied glibly. “I do not wish to waste time having Foreman hunt you all down again.”
“And just how long are we to be confined here?” my Arrogant One demanded, arms folded over his chest and jaw tightening.
“As long as it takes,” I replied evenly, my eyes narrowing.
“This is outrageous!” my Arrogant One objected vehemently.
“Perhaps. At any rate, no one is to leave this room,” I told him.
“And if I decide not to stay?” he asked, walking toward the door.
“Oh, you will stay,” my Sorceress declared, stepping in front of him. She bounced a fireball in her hand, and the look on her face dared my Arrogant One to defy her. He hesitated but a second, then flounced back and threw himself down in his chair and pouted.
Confident that everyone would remain in the conference room, I led Dragon up to the front door. I asked her to check around as unobtrusively as possible. She nodded, shrank to the size of a mouse, and slipped out the door. Thirty minutes later, she returned.
“The tracks did not continue past those skid marks on the front walk,” Dragon revealed. “It is as if whoever made those marks just vanished into thin air. I checked around the entire neighborhood, but saw no sign of Cleric or the Old Dwarf. I did, however, see Morcant’s familiar in the big maple tree in the back yard.”
“The bird could not have abducted anyone, but that doesn’t mean he’s not somehow involved,” I mused.
Dragon nodded. “Perhaps, if I keep a close watch on the creature, I will learn something,” she suggested.
“I agree, but a dragon, regardless of size, will hardly go unnoticed,” I warned.
“But a dragonfly could,” Dragon suggested with a wink of her eye.
I smiled and nodded.
“I shall go immediately and find a spot from which to observe,” Dragon decided. “With a dragonfly’s eyesight, I can easily see even at night. If Morcant’s familiar leaves his perch, I can follow without the bird ever knowing I am there. And should anyone else be prowling about, I can see them as well.”
“Be careful,” I cautioned. “A dragonfly can be a tempting morsel to a bird, or any number of other predators.”
“I will be careful,” Dragon promised. She closed her eyes and began to shimmer. In a few moments, she began to shape-shift, taking on the appearance of a stunningly beautiful golden dragonfly. I opened the door for her, and she flew off, disappearing into the darkness beyond the glow of the porch light.
I waited a few minutes, then returned to the conference room. The moment I entered the room, my Arrogant One jumped up and demanded, “Well? Are we free to go now?”
“Your concern for Cleric is truly touching,” I stated through clenched teeth.
My Foreman and my Young Hero shoved my Arrogant One aside. “Have you found Cleric?” my Foreman asked, wrinkling his brow and biting his lower lip.
“Is she safe?” my Young Hero added, wringing his hands.
“I’m sorry, I have not found her yet,” I replied softly.
“What of the Old Dwarf?” my Bounty Hunter inquired, giving me a sidelong glance and fiddling with his crossbow. “Have you found him yet?”
“No, he also remains missing,” I replied.
My Arrogant One just smirked, as much as to say, “I told you so.”
“And Dragon?” my Gypsy asked.
“On an errand for me,” I answered. That raised some eyebrows, but a dour look from me quelled any further discussion.
“Well, if this is all you have to report, you have wasted close to an hour of my valuable time,” my Arrogant One carped.
“As if any of us care about you or your valuable time,” my Sorceress muttered under her breath.
“If you have no further objections,” my Arrogant One continued in a petulant tone, “I will take my leave of this tedious, vexatious, and dreadfully inefficient assemblage.” Without waiting for a reply, he tossed his hair back, grasped the front of his cloak and marched out the door. The rest of us doubled over with laughter.
“All that was missing were the court trumpeters,” my Sorceress snickered.
“So, now that the jester is gone, is there anything else you can tell us?” asked my Foreman.
I shook my head. “I wish there was.”
“What can we do?” asked my Young Hero. “And please do not tell us to do nothing. Cleric is a cherished friend, and we must do everything possible to help effect her rescue.”
“I know how difficult this is on all of you, but I promise it would be better if you did nothing,” I advised them all.
My Gypsy tilted his head and studied me for many long moments. Finally, he brightened and said, “You do know more than you are telling us, don’t you? You know where she is, and who took her?”
I motioned them out of the room. “It is time we all got some sleep. We will think better, fresh in the morning.”
“As if any of us will sleep this night,” muttered my Foreman, as he shuffled out the door, shoulders slumped and worry lines creasing his brow. The others followed, looking much the same. All except my Bounty Hunter. He looked like a man with a purpose.
As I ascended the stairs, I stopped by the front door. Somewhere out there, beyond the sphere of light from the porch lamp, a dragonfly kept vigil, hoping to find a clue that would lead to the missing Cleric. I wished her well.