Gruesome Discovery

Gruesome Discovery

“What do you mean, Morcant is not involved?” Miles gaped at me, wide eyed, as if he thought I had gone crazy. “Ever since his familiar showed up here, you have said he was after the keys.”MorcantMorcant's familiar

“Oh, he is, I’m sure of that. And he will do whatever he can to secure them. But I do not believe he is behind Cleric’s disappearance.”

Miles cocked his head and wrinkled his nose. “But ever since Cleric disappeared, you have been convinced that someone snatched her in order to ransom her for the keys for Morcant. Why the change of heart?”

“My two chief suspects, my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter, have sworn they would not deal with Morcant.”

Miles quirked an eyebrow and shook his head. “And you believe them?”

“I do, actually. They have a rather compelling reason to not deal with Morcant. They realize he is not to be trusted. They fear they would not only not get the payment he promised for giving him the keys, they might actually lose their lives. So I think they are sincere about not dealing with him.”

Miles considered that, then nodded. “I suppose their fear would override their greed. But then who took Cleric? And where are your Old Dwarf and Dragon?”

“And Sorceress.”

Miles and I whirled around. My Foreman stood at the door to the conference room, white as a sheet.

“What?” I gaped at him. “Sorceress is missing, too?”

Stu-04-NatGal

He nodded. “I have been looking for her for the past hour. I wanted to know if she had salvaged enough of her spell components from Morcant’s familiar to attempt locating Cleric, or the Old Dwarf, or Dragon, through scrying. Sorceress is nowhere to be found.”

“You’re certain?”

“Reasonably so, but the lads are still searching. They’re pretty shook up.”

“They aren’t the only ones.” I slowly sank into a chair and leaned my arms on the table. “First Cleric disappeared, and from the evidence I found on the porch and the front walk, I presumed her to be kidnapped. At the same time, my Old Dwarf disappeared, and the signs pointed to the fact that he, too, might have been the victim of foul play. Then Dragon disappeared after she, in the form of a mouse, was knocked off the shed by Morcant’s familiar. Now, Sorceress is missing.” I looked at Miles and my Foreman, hoping one of them might have some answers.

“Let’s think this all out.” Miles took the seat next to me at the conference table. “You give no credence to your Arrogant One’s theory that your Old Dwarf is not a victim? You don’t believe his accusations that the dwarf could have kidnapped Cleric?”

I frowned and shrugged. “I’m not sure what to believe anymore. I find it hard to believe that anyone would have been able to take my Old Dwarf against his will, but I find it even harder to believe he would have abducted Cleric. First off, kidnapping isn’t his style. If he wanted the keys, he would try to obtain them by brute force. Second, he’s mostly a lot of bluff and bluster.”

“Don’t be fooled by the Old Dwarf, Mistress. He can be fierce, even downright vicious, if it serves his purpose.” My Foreman scowled. “I have had many encounters with him, remember.”Dwarf

“I don’t believe he would harm Cleric, though. He seems to hold her in high regard.”

“Don’t you remember what he tried to do to his own nephew? He believes the ends justify the means!” My Foreman clenched his jaw and narrowed his eyes.

“But there is no motive. As I said, if he were after the keys, he would attempt to take them, not bargain for them.”

Miles stood up and started pacing. “So, if he did not abduct Cleric, does the fact that they vanished at the same time mean the disappearances are related, or is that mere coincidence?”

“We really have no way of knowing, do we?” I sighed, and raked my hand through my hair.

“And we have no way of knowing if the subsequent disappearances of Dragon and Sorceress are related.” My Foreman banged his fist on the table. “How are we to find them? We don’t know how they went missing, or why, or who might be behind their disappearances!” His voice started to crack.

Just then, my Young Hero and my Gypsy joined us. They both slumped into nearby chairs, both staring at the floor and shaking their heads.

“I take it you had no success finding Sorceress.”

Young hero 2I had to lean forward to hear my Young Hero’s mumbled response. “We looked everywhere. In the house. In the yard. In the shed. Around the neighborhood. Nothing. There were no signs of foul play, as when Cleric and the Old Dwarf disappeared. Sorceress has simply vanished, just like Dragon.”

 

Gypsy“Mistress?” My Gypsy lifted his head. He squared his shoulders and licked his lips. “I think I may be able to find our missing friends. Sorceress has been teaching me to scry. I would like to attempt it. I checked her supplies, and there seems to be enough of the necessary spell components to try one time.” His eyes were pleading.

“Is that really wise? It could be dangerous.” I rubbed my chin. “What if Sorceress has placed wards on her scrying bowl and spell components to deter theft?”

“I do not believe she has, since she has allowed me the use of the bowl to practice. And nothing happened to Morcant’s familiar when he pilfered her supplies. But I can check for wards and protective spells before we start.”

I hesitated. “The spell itself is safe enough, right? To the caster, to the subjects, and to any observers?”

“Yes!” My Gypsy leaned forward and nodded. “This is one spell where there is no danger of injury to anyone. The worst that could happen is the spell won’t work. We won’t be able to see where our friends are. If so, we’ll be no worse off than we are right now. But if it does work…” My Gypsy didn’t need to finish that thought.

“Okay, get what you need and bring it here.”

He shot out of his chair and was half way up the stairs before I had completed the sentence.

“Do you really think it wise to let the lad play with such magic?”

I snorted at my Foreman. “That lad has been playing with magic since he was a babe! In fact, I remember a time that lad rescued you from a serious situation through the use of magic!”

“I haven’t forgotten. But that was Gypsy magic, learned at his grandmother’s knee. This is different.”

“If Sorceress has been working with him, I doubt there is any danger, except possibly to his ego, should he fail.”

Miles edged toward the door. “If you don’t mind, honey, I think I’ll go upstairs and make some coffee while your Gypsy does his thing.”

I did a double-take at my husband. “You don’t want to stay and observe? I thought you were always curious about my characters’ magic. You were ready to accept the invitation from Sorceress to join the group the night she used her powers of scrying to hear what the dragonfly was unable to hear.”

“Yeah, well, I’m afraid I would just be in the way. If your Gypsy lad is inexperienced with this spell, I wouldn’t want to distract him. Besides, honey, I haven’t had any coffee yet today. You know I need my coffee!”Coffee

I laughed, as Miles scurried out of the room.

A half hour later, my Foreman, my Young Hero, and I arranged our chairs in a semicircle flanking my Gypsy, who was seated at the conference table. On the table in front of him, my Gypsy had placed the scrying bowl, a vial of silvery liquid, and several pouches of herbs and powders. “I’ve already checked all these for wards and protective spells. They are all safe.”

 

 

He also had a notebook with the spell components and the words of various incantations written in a magic ink visible only to him. “The notebook is a safeguard for me while I am learning a new and complicated spell. It prevents me forgetting the order in which to add spell components, or fumbling for the words of an incantation at a critical juncture. The magic ink is insurance that no one else will acquire the knowledge without my permission.”

 

My Foreman nodded. “If I understand how this scrying is done, you need to concentrate your efforts on seeing just one person, not the entire group, right?”

“Yes, especially since we don’t know if they are together or in different locations. I think I should concentrate on finding Cleric or Dragon. They are the two with whom I have the strongest ties. I think maybe the better I know someone, the better chance I would have of finding them through scrying.”

I shifted in my chair, and considered the options. “Given a choice, I think I would prefer you find Cleric first. She’s been missing the longest.”

My Gypsy nodded. “Just remember, though, there is only enough of the liquid for one session. Whether I locate Cleric or no, I can not attempt to find a second person until I procure more spell components.”

As my Gypsy prepared himself for the task ahead, the rest of us tried hard not to squirm or in any way distract him. We all remembered how exhausted Sorceress was at the end of a session of scrying, and she was a powerful magic user, proficient in the art of divination. My Gypsy was a novice at this type of magic. It would, no doubt, be far more taxing for him than for Sorceress.

Clearing his throat several times, my Gypsy opened his notebook, unstoppered the flask, and poured the magic liquid into the bowl. Glancing only occasionally at the notebook, he began intoning the incantation that should allow us to see Cleric, adding certain ingredients to the liquid as he chanted. Gradually, as he fell into the magic, we could see a change in the surface of the liquid.

First, the silvery liquid grew cloudy and began slowly swirling. Little by little, it turned a murky green. Beads of sweat formed on my Gypsy’s forehead, and his breathing became labored as he worked to strengthen the spell.

Shadowy forms appeared in the liquid. Long, thick tendrils waved back and forth like dense underwater vegetation.

Murky aquatic vegetation

Gradually, a vague outline started to take form. It looked as if it were trapped by the waving tendrils.The form became progressively more defined. Eventually, an image emerged, floating up from the depths of the scene. Horrified, we gaped at the bloated form of an elf maiden, her skin grey, her lips blue, her sightless eyes wide open.

“Cleric!” My Young Hero practically leaped from his chair, bumping into my Gypsy. The image in the scrying bowl started to waver and fade. My Foreman and I pulled the dismayed lad back into his chair, while my Gypsy struggled not to lose the spell. After a few minutes, the image grew steady once more. We let out a collective sigh of relief.

As we forced ourselves to watch the repulsive image, other shadowy forms began to take shape in the murky depths. One by one, the distended corpses of my Old Dwarf, Dragon and Sorceress drifted up from the tangled bed of weeds. My Gypsy held the spell as long as he could, then collapsed back in his chair, gasping for breath. The images in the bowl disappeared, leaving naught but the silvery liquid.

The four of us sat there, too stunned to move. Finally, my Foreman jumped from his chair, and grabbed me by the shoulders. “They’re in the pond!” He let go of me, and fell to his knees. “They’re in the pond! They’re…they’re all dead!”

“Don’t be too sure about that.” Miles said, entering the room.

What does Miles know about Cleric and the other missing characters? Can the images in the scrying bowl be believed? Will the Writer and her remaining characters ever discover the truth? Come back next week and find out. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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More Dead Ends

More Dead Ends

My characters — those who remained — joined Miles and me in the conference room right after breakfast. I had earlier removed the box containing Morcant’s familiar; he was now securely locked in my office. box for bird

I looked around the table. My Foreman, the lads, and my Sorceress, were all slumped silently in their chairs, showing the effects of a sleepless night. They all had dark circles under their eyes, and they were all staring at the floor, listlessly. In contrast, my Arrogant One kept tapping his fingers on the table, and looking around the room while my Bounty Hunter paced back and forth, shooting suspicious glances at my Arrogant One.

I cleared my throat and began without preamble. “Cleric is still missing, as is my Old Dwarf. Does anyone have any ideas how we might locate them?”

“Why are you looking at me?” Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One jumped from his seat, his face twisted in a scowl. “Why would you think I have anything to do with their disappearance?”

“I never said you did.” I narrowed my eyes. “But you’re always reminding us how superior you are, so I thought maybe you could put some of your superior brainpower to work and figure something out.”

My Arrogant One snorted and threw himself back into his chair. “I still think the Old Dwarf abducted Cleric. They both went missing at the same time, and he is barbaric enough to have done such a thing.”

I nodded. “Okay, let’s just say, for argument’s sake, he did. Why did he abduct her, and where are they?”

My Arrogant One shrugged and stuck his nose in the air. “I do not profess to comprehend the motives of one such as the Old Dwarf. Nor would I have the faintest idea where he might closet his victim.”

My Bounty Hunter almost choked. He stood facing my Arrogant One, hands on hips. “Are you quite certain you have seen neither of them? Perhaps in the shed loft?”Shed

My Arrogant One sneered and waved dismissively at that accusation. “There is no one in the loft.”

My Bounty Hunter lifted an eyebrow in response.

My Arrogant One’s eyes widened, and he raised his palms, in a gesture of innocence. “If you do not believe me, ask Master Miles.”

Miles nodded. “I saw no one in the loft when this elf took me up there to show me his meditation area. And there’s nothing in the loft big enough for someone to be hidden under or behind.”

My Arrogant One smirked at my Bounty Hunter. “And what of you? Have you seen them anywhere? Perhaps when you were wandering around the yard, staring up into the trees?”

My Bounty Hunter merely snorted.

“This is not getting us anywhere!” My Sorceress was on her feet. “While we are here throwing accusations around and arguing, Cleric and the Old Dwarf could be injured! We need to determine how to find them!”

“Well, since I have no idea, I will take my leave of this gathering. Master Miles, if you have no plans to further shred your grass with that infernal machine of yours, I will retreat to my refuge in the loft and meditate.” Without waiting for a response, my Arrogant One turned on his heel and left the room.

“I fear I, too, am of no use in this rescue endeavor.” My Bounty Hunter sauntered toward the door. “If no one objects?” He glanced around the room and gave us a curt nod. He turned, straightened his shoulders, set his jaw, and strode off.

“They know something!” My Young Hero banged his fist on the table.

I nodded. “At least one of them does, I’m sure. Although, if Cleric is being held hostage in an attempt to trade her for the keys, as I suspected, I find it strange that I have not yet been approached by her abductor.”

“I also find it very strange that neither the Arrogant One nor the Bounty Hunter mentioned Dragon.” My Gypsy rubbed his chin and furrowed his brow. “You would think one of them would have noticed that she was not present.”

My Foreman cracked his knuckles. “I still say there is only one way to get the information from them.”

“Let’s hold off on that for now.” I chewed on my lower lip and rubbed my neck. “Sorceress, we spoke of you attempting to scry in order to locate Cleric. I was wary of the idea, as I feared it might put Cleric in danger if her abductor sensed the magic intrusion. But now, I think we have no choice. If not to find Cleric, maybe you could at least locate my Old Dwarf or Dragon.”

Stu-04-NatGal

“I am afraid I can not. I discovered earlier this morning I do not have enough spell components. I was going to discuss this with you, Mistress. I suspect someone has been pilfering my supplies. I had plenty of the necessary items just the other day.”

I frowned. “This is very disturbing. We will have to find out who has done this, but it will have to wait until after we deal with the current situation. How long would it take you to assemble more spell components?”

“I am not sure. Many of these ingredients are not readily available. It may take some time.”

I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “Well, you work on finding what you need. The rest of us will continue observing my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter in the hopes that one of them may lead us to Cleric.”

My Sorceress nodded and left the room, the others shuffling out behind her. Only Miles remained with me.

“What do you think the chances are of finding Cleric and the others?”

I shook my head and threw up my hands. “I don’t know. I have to admit, I’m running out of ideas.”

“Maybe something to eat would help you think. You didn’t have much for breakfast today.”

I smiled, but as we headed for the stairs we almost ran into my Bounty Hunter in the hallway. “Prithee, Mistress Writer, a word? Alone?” He looked pointedly at Miles.

I nodded, and Miles said, “I’ll get some lunch ready. See you upstairs!”

Bounty HunterBack in the conference room, my Bounty Hunter confronted me. “When I first appeared in your world, Mistress Writer, I told you I must get back to my own world to complete my mission. Did you not tell me that I was simultaneously here and in my world?”

“I did.”

He nodded hesitantly. “Then, logic dictates that the keys that you have secured here are still present in my world, and in Morcant’s world.”Keys 003

 

 

I shook my head. “Magic does not follow the rules of logic. If the keys were still in Morcant’s world, his familiar would have followed their magic signature to whatever location within that world the keys had been hidden. But he followed the magic energy here. Therefore, I do not believe the keys are quite the same as you characters. I do not believe they exist simultaneously in different worlds.”

My Bounty Hunter tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. “But you are certain that I, and the others you call characters from your manuscripts, are present in our own world as well as this one?”

“I am.”

“What proof can you offer?”

I pondered the question. “Well, when you arrived here, you were looking for Cleric. You had been following her in your world for quite some time.”Elf

My Bounty Hunter nodded.

“Cleric had been here in this world for a considerable time before your arrival here. If she had not been simultaneously in both worlds, you would never have seen her there at the same time she was here.”

My Bounty Hunter took some time to digest this information, then nodded and turned to leave.

“Wait! Does this have anything to do with Cleric’s present whereabouts?”

“I couldn’t say,” he replied, and he scurried off before I could stop him.

I headed for the stairs again, when I noticed the door to my office was ajar. Morcant! I thought. I crept toward the office, the thick carpet muffling the sound of my footsteps. When I reached the door, I heard voices.Morcant

“You claim to be the most powerful sorceress in your world.” I recognized Morcant’s screechy voice.

 

“No, just the most powerful sorceress among my people. There are many in my world with greater power.” That was the matter-of-fact voice of my Sorceress.

“I could teach you.” Morcant was speaking again. “With my help, you could wield more power than any in your world, more power than you can comprehend.”

“And all you require of me is to give this bird the set of keys you seek?”

“Yes. You can accompany him when he returns to my world. Here, you will free me, and I will become your teacher.” I winced. Morcant’s voice, rising with excitement and expectation, went right through me.

I was surprised and relieved to hear my Sorceress laughing. “I have a better idea. Why do you not tell me what you know of Cleric’s disappearance, and that of the Old Dwarf and Dragon?”

“In exchange for the keys?”

“In exchange for allowing your familiar to live.”Morcant's familiar

The bird started squawking, and I pushed open the door. “No!”

My Sorceress gaped at me.

“I told you before, the bird is not to be harmed.”

“This bird is responsible for my missing spell components.”

My jaw dropped. “How is that possible? I have him secured in this box, and the box had been locked in the conference room last night.”

The bird stared at me with his milky eyes. He opened his beak, and Morcant’s chuckle grated on my ears. “My power is great, beldame. You, of all people, should remember that.”

I shuddered. “Morcant, if you know anything about the disappearance of my Cleric, or the whereabouts of my Old Dwarf and my Dragon, you best tell me now. Otherwise, your familiar will be placed in a very dark, very silent place, for a very long time.”

“Do not blind me so, beldame!” Morcant’s voice, so full of panic when I had originally covered the bird’s box, was now mocking. His laughter poured from the bird’s beak. Abruptly, his tone changed, his voice almost a snarl. “There is no way for you to confine this bird, no way for you to harm me through your pathetic actions. I told you, witch, I will have those keys.”

“If you expect me to hand you your freedom, Morcant, you’re more deranged than I thought.” I nodded at my Sorceress. “As repugnant an idea as this is to me, Sorceress, I give you leave to destroy the wizard’s familiar.”

“No!” The panic in Morcant’s voice was real this time. The bird squawked and flapped as my Sorceress reached for it. “Wait! I will tell you!”

My Sorceress had her hand around the bird’s neck, but held it gently. “Well?”

Before Morcant could say another word, my Bounty Hunter shoved my Arrogant One through the door, the small man prodding the reluctant elf with his crossbow. “Stop! There is no need to harm the bird. Morcant knows nothing.”

“Traitors!” Morcant screeched. “We had a deal!”

“Actually, you made an offer. Neither of us accepted it,” my Arrogant One said, glaring at my Bounty Hunter as he spoke.

The smaller man nodded in agreement, and lowered his weapon. “If either of us would ever be successful in procuring the keys, you would be the last person in any world to whom we would barter them.”

My eyebrows shot up. “Then neither of you kidnapped Cleric? You weren’t going to attempt to make a trade for the keys to give to Morcant’s familiar?”

“Morcant is hardly someone either of us would trust to keep his word.” My Arrogant One sneered.

My Bounty Hunter nodded. “On that, we are in complete agreement!”

I blinked rapidly. “Then, where is Cleric?” I asked. And my Old Dwarf? I thought And Dragon? Where are they all?

 

Where will the Writer and her remaining characters look now for Cleric, the Old Dwarf and Dragon? Will the Writer convince Morcant to abandon his quest for the keys, and recall his familiar to his own world empty-clawed? Or will the wizard find a way for the bird to snatch the coveted items? Be sure to come back for answers to these and other pressing questions. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

 

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Another One Missing

Another One Missing

The scene unfolded as if in slow motion. My heart was in my mouth as I watched the Common Grackle launch himself from a nearby tree. He flew straight as an arrow for the shed at the back of the yard. A small field mouse was climbing up the outside of the shed, toward the loft doors. Diving straight at the mouse, it looked certain that the bird would knock the tiny rodent off the shed.Shed

When the Grackle was just inches from its target, its shadow passed over the mouse, alerting the small creature to the imminent danger. The mouse twisted and leaped right at the bird. The two of them plummeted to the ground. I dropped my weed trimmer and ran toward the shed.

mouse 3Morcant's familiar

 

The grackle lay, stunned, on the concrete pad in front of the shed doors, one wing twisted in an unnatural position under his body. The mouse was nowhere to be seen.

I scooped up the dazed bird, and took him inside the shed. I placed him into a cardboard box I found right inside the door.

Miles had seen what happened. He turned off the lawnmower and ran back to the shed. He glanced at the box. “Everything okay?”

“Not really. The grackle is injured, and I can’t see what happened to the mouse.”

Miles frowned. “How badly injured is the bird?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll have to examine him. Can you look for the mouse while I tend the bird’s injuries? We need to be careful that certain characters don’t find out he’s been injured.”

Miles nodded. I grabbed the box and turned toward the house, but stopped dead. “Too late.”

My Arrogant One approached, his arms folded over his chest. He sneered at the two of us. “Is this to be a weekly ritual?”Arrogant One

“Excuse me?” I glared at him.

He gestured toward the nearby lawn mower. “Your relentless obsession with short grass.”

Miles turned and faced the elf. “Why do you care? We’re not asking you to mow the lawn.”
“I care because I had hoped to escape the bedlam of your world. I require a place of solitude and quiet in which to meditate and refresh my spirit. I have fashioned a retreat for myself on the upper level of this shed. That infernal, ear-splitting contraption of yours will afford me no peace.”

I scowled. “What’s wrong with the house? The others seem to have no problems meditating or refreshing their spirits there, and the sound of the lawn mower can’t be heard in there.”

My Arrogant One wrinkled his nose and jabbed his finger at me. “Have you ever tried meditating in the presence of two uncouth ruffians engaged in bashing each other’s brains out? Or near someone bent on honing his archery skills on a target that always seems to be just inches above your head? Or in the company of someone unceasingly reciting incantations? Or alongside some vile creature constantly growling and blowing smoke rings at you?” He drew himself up and looked down his nose at me. “Mistress Writer, I demand a refuge, an asylum from this constant hubbub.”

I snorted and rolled my eyes. “Yeah. Me, too.” I turned and left Miles to deal with the annoying elf, feeling only the slightest pang of guilt.

Once in the house, I took the bird directly to the conference room. I locked the door behind me, and carefully placed the box on the table. I cautiously opened it and was relieved to see the bird was still breathing. As I worked to bind his injured wing, my mind drifted to the evil wizard for whom this milky-eyed grackle served as familiar. Morcant. A sadistic fiend from another world whom I had encountered while writing a tale long ago.Morcant

Remembering the heinous crimes this magic user had committed, my blood ran cold. Still, I could not help but feel pity for him, serving his eternal sentence of solitary confinement within an inescapable tower. Without the contact with the outside world afforded him by the eyes and ears of his familiar, the absolute isolation would have surely driven Morcant mad in short order.

As I finished wrapping the bird’s wing, it began to revive, struggling to free itself from my grasp. I quickly popped it back in the cardboard box. It sat rather unsteadily on the smooth surface, fixing me with its milky stare. It opened its beak, and the harsh screech of its master’s voice went through me like fingernails on a chalkboard.

“I humbly thank you, crone, for tending my familiar’s injuries.”

I frowned. “Nothing I wouldn’t do for any unfortunate creature.”

“Perhaps. But my familiar is more than just any unfortunate creature. I owe you a debt of gratitude.” The bird bobbed his head, as if in agreement.

“Good! Then, as soon as your familiar’s injuries heal, you can recall it to your world.” I took a thin towel from the adjacent counter and placed it over the top of the box. The bird immediately started screeching.

“Do not blind me so, beldame!” Morcant’s panicked voice rose from the box.

“Relax, Morcant. I’m going to get your familiar a larger box. I’ll set it up with some food and water, and a branch for him to perch on, and I’ll only cover part of it with the towel. It will be more comfortable for him.”

Leaving the conference room, I found Miles waiting for me in the hallway.Easter 128

I looked around before asking him softly, “Did you find the mouse?”

Miles shook his head. “No, but I can tell you Cleric isn’t in the shed loft.”

I cocked my head and quirked an eyebrow. “How can you know that?”

Miles looked at me like the cat who swallowed the canary. “Your Arrogant One took me to the loft to see his meditation area. He’s very proud of it.”

I gaped at Miles. “Wowsers! I don’t know how you managed that! He isn’t someone who shares with others.” I frowned, pondering. “You’re sure she’s not hidden up there somewhere?”

“I’m pretty sure. The loft is a very open area. I didn’t see anywhere she could be hidden.”

Our conversation was interrupted by the clatter of footsteps coming down the stairs. It was my Foreman, the two lads, and my Sorceress. I quickly put my finger over my lips, and motioned them to draw near.

“Have any of you seen my Bounty Hunter?”

My Foreman jerked his thumb in the direction of the window. “He just went into the back yard. He’s looking up into all the trees, as if he were trying to find something in the branches.”

I chuckled. “Well, I imagine I have what he’s looking for, locked in the conference room.”

Miles and I explained everything that had happened. My Sorceress raised an eyebrow. “Master Miles, you are quite certain Cleric is not in the loft?”

“I didn’t see her, and there aren’t a lot of places to hide someone in the loft.”

My Young Hero frowned. “And you could not find Dragon, either?”

Miles shook his head. My characters exchanged worried looks.

“Now three of our number are missing,” my Gypsy said, unnecessarily.

“What do we do now?” My Foreman looked at Miles and me.

Miles shrugged. “I can keep looking for Dragon. Do you think she’s still a mouse, or do you think she’s changed form?”

I chewed my lower lip, and rubbed my throat. “I don’t know, but I don’t think you should be using the lawn mower. She may have been injured in the fall, as Morcant’s familiar was, and she may be in the grass. Is there anything else you can do that wouldn’t make my Arrogant One or my Bounty Hunter suspicious?”

“I can clean and refill the birdbath.”

“That’s too close to the house. You need to look for Dragon nearer the shed.” I moved over next to the window and stared at the yard. “Maybe you could work on that patch of mint we planted along the side of the shed. It could use some weeding and watering. Working there, you should be able to see any slight movement in the surrounding vegetation.”

Miles nodded. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to try to make Morcant’s familiar more comfortable. Maybe Morcant will inadvertently reveal something.”

My Sorceress looked startled. “Do you think Morcant knows something about Cleric’s disappearance?”

I nodded. “I have a feeling he does. Remember, he desperately wants those keys. We know my Bounty Hunter discussed the keys with Morcant through his familiar, and the wizard indicated that he had also discussed them with my Arrogant One. I still think Cleric may have been taken by someone wanting to facilitate an exchange for the keys.”

My Young Hero leaned forward. “And you think Morcant knows which one took her, and where she is being kept?”

“I hope so! Now the four of you should return to your normal activities. We do not want whoever is behind this to realize we are suspicious of them.”

A half-hour later, I returned to the conference room with a larger box, set up with food, water, and a perch. As soon as I removed the towel from the top of the smaller box, the grackle tried to fly off. With his injured wing wrapped, he didn’t get far.Morcant's familiar

I picked him up and checked the wrap. “Stop squirming! You’ll worsen your injuries!”
I placed him in the new box, and covered it with a screen. I placed a rock on each end of the screen, to prevent the bird’s escape, and I covered half the screen with the towel, to give the injured animal a sheltered area in which to recuperate.

The grackle settled quietly into his new lodgings. He sat on his perch and stared at me with his milky eyes. After a while, he opened his beak, and Morcant began to speak.

“Gramercy to you, crone. My familiar is much more comfortable now, and I am no longer blinded.”

“I told you before, it’s no more than I would do for any injured creature.”

“And I told you I am beholden. Perchance I could help you in your present sorrows?”

I snorted. “And what would you know of it?”

“Mayhaps more than you think.”

“I seriously doubt that. The only thing I want from you, Morcant, is your word that you will recall your familiar to your world the moment he is recovered from his injuries.”

“In truth, you care not of your missing Cleric?”Elf facing right

“Cleric’s missing?”

“You know she is, witch!”

“And you can tell me where she is?”

“I will tell you everything I know, if you but surrender the keys to my familiar.”Keys 015

I laughed. “Seriously? I told you, you are not getting those keys. And even if I were inclined to make such a trade, I would never trust you to tell me where Cleric is.”

“On my soul, I will tell you where she is!”

“You’re a soulless creature, Morcant. I would never trust a monster like you!”

I started to leave, but Morcant began screeching at the top of his voice. I walked back and loomed over the box. “If I hear one more peep out of you or this bird, Morcant, I will plunge you into eternal darkness.” I stormed out of the room, locking the door behind me. It was quiet enough to hear a pin drop.

Upstairs, Miles was just coming in the back door. I quirked an eyebrow at him, but he simply shook his head. Dragon was still missing.

“Did you have any luck?”

I shook my head. “I lost my temper with Morcant. Even if he knows something, I doubt he’ll tell me now.”

My Sorceress overheard us as she entered the room. “So now what do we do?”

“I wish I knew.”

 
Will the lost characters be found? Or will the writer end up with no one to write about, as more go missing? Do the evil wizard Morcant and his milky-eyed familiar really know what they’re squawking about? Will the Arrogant One achieve inner peace in his new sanctuary? Mayhaps some answers will be forthcoming in the next episode. Be sure to come back next week and find out. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Still Searching

Still Searching

“So, how did the séance go?” Miles asked.Easter 128

I jumped. “Are you still awake?” I asked, fatigue making me sound much crankier than I had intended.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Miles replied. “So, how did the séance go?” he asked again.

“It wasn’t a séance, honey,” I corrected him. “Sorceress was scrying on Dragon, remember? We needed to see and hear everything that was going on outside.”

“And did you?” He propped himself up on one arm, and listened attentively.

“Yes, we saw and heard a lot.” As I got ready for bed, I filled him in on everything that had happened. “We’re all exhausted now, so we’re going to get some sleep and meet again midmorning,” I concluded. “We’ll try to decide then how to rescue Cleric.”

Miles nodded, and wrinkled his brow. He plumped his pillow and tugged at his covers. Finally, he rubbed his throat and asked, hesitantly, “Honey? Do you think it would be okay if I joined you tomorrow?”

Somehow, what I heard was, “Would your characters kill me if I attended the meeting with you?”

I shot him a curious look. “Why would you want to come to the meeting?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” he countered. I quirked an eyebrow at him, and he continued, “You never know, I might be useful. Wasn’t I the one who reminded you that dragonflies can’t hear?”

“You were,” I admitted. “Okay, I suppose you can join us. Just remember, don’t look the Sorceress straight in the eye.”

“I think you’re just pulling my leg,” Miles replied.

I merely raised an eyebrow. Miles thought about it, then sighed. “Okay, I’ll be careful.”

I got in bed and kissed Miles goodnight. We were both asleep almost before our heads hit the pillows.

Morning came far too early. I took a quick shower, dressed hastily, and headed for the kitchen to make breakfast. Miles took extra care shaving and choosing a nice outfit. After a hurried meal, I set about filling the bird feeders in the back yard. It took the better part of an hour to refill them all, and clean and refill the birdbath. While I worked, I furtively looked about. Morcant’s familiar, the milky-eyed, runty Common Grackle, was no longer in the maple tree; nor could I see him anywhere in the yard. Still, the hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I sensed someone’s eyes on me, as I glanced at the garden shed at the rear of the yard.

When I finished and went back inside, Miles was pacing. “Are you ready yet?” he fairly accosted me as I walked in the door. “Your Foreman and the lads have already gone to the conference room. We’re going to be late!”

“Relax, honey, they can’t start without me,” I reminded him, as we headed down the stairs.

Miles and I entered the conference room. At the moment, it looked more like a breakfast buffet. Miles stopped dead in his tracks and gaped at the food. “So that’s what happened to the two pounds of bacon, the three dozen eggs, the box of donuts, the two boxes of cereal, all the milk, and…and my coffee!” His voice escalated, his eyes bulged, and his face turned a deep maroon.

Breakfast buffetBreakfastCoffee

 

I placed my hand on his arm and sighed.

“Well?” I confronted the lads.

“We thought it might help everyone think if we had a little snack first,” my Gypsy mumbled. His face turned bright red, and he looked down at the floor.

“I guess we may have gone overboard,” admitted my Young Hero, shuffling his feet and turning a shade of red even brighter than my Gypsy. “We’re used to having the Old Dwarf join us for snacks.”

“Still no sign of that one this morning,” my Sorceress announced, sweeping into the room, a terrier-sized Dragon moping along in her wake.

“The Old Dwarf?” my Foreman asked her.

My Sorceress nodded. “I checked all his usual haunts on the way here. No indication he has been in any of them recently.”

Miles was still staring at all the food. I gently tugged on his sleeve and motioned for him to be seated. “Okay, now that we’re all here, let’s lock the door and get started.”

My Sorceress turned and scowled at Miles, who squirmed in his seat, making sure not to look her in the eye. “What is he doing here?”From Nicki 146

“He’s my husband, this is his house, and he has every right to be here if he wants,” I replied evenly. “Besides, wasn’t it you who invited him to join us last night for the scrying?”

Stu-04-NatGal

 

“I was not serious,” she informed me with a sniff.

“I am.”

My Sorceress took my measure. My clenched jaw and narrowed eyes must have convinced her I was, indeed, serious. “As you wish,” she replied with a shrug.

Dragon spoke up, in an uncharacteristically small and somber voice. “I think he should be here.” She turned to Miles and continued. Dragon“Sorceress told me it was you who alerted the Mistress and my friends to the fact that dragonflies cannot hear.” She hung her head and sighed. “Had it not been for you, Master Miles, my mission would have failed. Thanks to your warning, Sorceress and the others took prompt action. They were able not only to see what I could see, but also hear everything I could not. I thank you, good sir…and I promise I will never scorch another pair of your shoes.” She raised her head slightly and peeked at Miles, who gave her a warm and reassuring smile.

My Sorceress rolled her eyes, but the other characters smiled, and we settled down to discuss our plight.

“The first thing we need to do,” I said, “is determine if Cleric is, indeed, being held captive in the garden shed loft.”

Gypsy jumped up. “I know I could defeat the magic barrier to the loft in the garden shed,” he avowed, throwing out his chest and nodding emphatically. “I have defeated many wards and spells on locks, both in my own world and here.”Gypsy

“I don’t mean to dampen your enthusiasm, or question your skill,” I replied, “but I think it too dangerous to Cleric.”

“There will be no danger to Cleric!” my Gypsy declared, folding his arms tight across his chest and jutting his jaw out defiantly. “I have better control of my magic than that!”

“I am not suggesting you would harm her with errant magic,” I assured my Gypsy. “But this won’t be as effortless as picking a lock, or defeating a simple ward. Casting a counter-spell to the barrier would take a considerable amount of time. If the kidnapper or a guard were to discover you before you completed your objective, Cleric could be in serious jeopardy.”

My Gypsy’s face fell. “You are right, of course. Even determining the right spell components would take time. I would have to probe at the fabric of the magic in the barrier. I could be discovered.” He shuffled back to take his seat, his shoulders slumped and his hands jammed into his pockets.

“What about you, Sorceress?” my Foreman asked. “If I understand how your scrying ability works, you can scry any location that you have physically been to, correct?”

My Sorceress nodded. “Unfortunately,” she said, “I have never been in the garden shed at all, so I would be unable to scry the loft or any other part of the building.”

“But you were able to scry the shed last night, when Dragon was inside it,” protested my Young Hero, frowning in confusion.

“Yes, I was, because I was scrying on Dragon. I was able to see everything that Dragon could see, even if it was in a location I had never visited physically.”

“Well, then, if Cleric is being held in the loft, you should be able to scry on her, correct?” Dragon asked.

Sorceress looked startled. “Yes, you are correct! I could! Let me go get my bowl and components!”

“Wait,” I stopped her. I chewed on my lip.

“What are you thinking?” my Sorceress asked.

“I am wondering if the barrier that prevented Dragon from entering the loft, or even seeing into it, would also prevent magical spying.” I frowned. “I am also thinking that whoever has cast such a spell might feel the energy of someone attempting to scry past it.”

“We can’t do anything that might endanger Cleric,” my Foreman stated, scowling. The rest of us nodded.

“If we can not use magic to circumvent the barrier, and we can not use force, what is left to us?” asked Gypsy.

My Foreman stood and cracked his knuckles. “We could accost the Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter, bring them here, and persuade them to reveal Cleric’s whereabouts,” he suggested, speaking through clenched teeth.

“I would agree, save one small detail,” I replied. “We don’t know the whereabouts, or the involvement, of my Old Dwarf. If he is in cahoots with either of our suspects, he may be guarding Cleric. Threatening their well-being could bring about retaliation from the dwarf.”

Everyone’s face fell again. We all sat there, quietly, trying to think of another way to determine if Cleric was in the loft.

Finally, Miles spoke up in a timid voice. “How does the magic barrier work?”

“We have no time to school you in the mechanics of magic,” Sorceress retorted, looking down her nose at Miles.

I shot her a warning look, and asked Miles, “What do you mean?”

“I was thinking…does the barrier only prevent entry to the loft at the top of the stairs?” Miles asked.

“Huh?”

“There are double doors into the loft, directly over the doors to the first floor of the shed,” Miles reminded us.Shed

“I think I know where you are going with this line of reasoning,” my Foreman replied, “but the kidnappers would surely be able to see someone leaning a ladder against the shed to breach the loft through the doors. Besides, aren’t the doors secured from the inside?”

“We wouldn’t be opening the doors, and we wouldn’t need a ladder,” Miles said. “At least not yet.”

We all looked at him, frowning, as we tried to understand his meaning.

“We’re not launching a rescue attempt yet,” Miles explained. “We only need to find out if Cleric is there or not.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “So how do we do that?”

“I’ll get the lawn mower from the shed. The grass does need mowing, and it is a very normal thing for me to do. I would be above suspicion.”

“That still does not get us into the loft to see if Cleric is there,” Sorceress scoffed.

Ignoring her, Miles turned to Dragon. “If you could change yourself into a tiny field mouse, you could get into the shed unnoticed when I open it to get the lawn mower. A mouse can easily climb up the wooden frame of the shed to the top doors. If they are not protected by the same barrier as the top of the stairs inside the shed, you should be able to peek through the crack between the doors and see if Cleric is there.”

Everyone gaped at Miles.

“That plan should work perfectly!” Dragon agreed. She trilled happily, and spun around in circles. Everyone else nodded and looked at Miles with new respect.

“My husband, the genius!” I exclaimed.

While Miles went upstairs to change into his work clothes, my Sorceress took me aside. “Your husband…he is a most competent problem-solver,” she told me, with a firm nod of her head.

I just smiled. I turned back to the rest of the group and reminded them, “While Dragon and Miles go out to the shed and implement their plan, the rest of you must remain inconspicuous.”

My Foreman nodded. “We don’t want to run into the Arrogant One or the Bounty Hunter and arouse their suspicion. We must go about our typical routine.”

“Exactly!” I agreed. “I will join Miles out back. I often use the weed trimmer while he mows the grass. It will look natural.”

A half hour later, Miles was mowing the lawn while I trimmed around the base of the maple tree. I watched out of the corner of my eye as a tiny field mouse crawled up to the top doors of the shed. Suddenly, a runty Common Grackle launched itself from a nearby tree, and flew directly at the mouse.

 

 

Will Dragon/mouse avoid the terrible, terrifying talons of the high-flying, frenzied, flapping, feathered familiar? Will the Writer and her band of characters find the commendable, courageous, cherished Cleric, and identify the vile, vicious villains responsible for her disappearance? Will the Old Dwarf reveal himself as faithful friend, or frightful foe? Will the mettlesome maverick, Master Miles, forget and look the soulful, sleek and soigné Sorceress straight in the eye? For the answer to these and other quintessential quirky questions, be sure to come back next week. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Searching for Answers

Searching for Answers

I was still standing at the front door, thinking about Dragon and my missing Cleric, when Miles called down from the top of the stairs. “Honey, are you coming to bed tonight? Or are you just going to stand there, looking out the front door?”

“Be right up!” I replied as I closed and locked the door. I slowly ascended the stairs, my mind still on my characters.

“What’s wrong?” Miles asked.

Elf facing right

“Cleric is missing. I think she may have been kidnapped,” I told him, keeping my voice low and looking around for eavesdroppers. “Morcant’s familiar is still hanging around and I have a feeling he may somehow be involved. Dragon has shapeshifted into a dragonfly and is out in the yard watching him.”

“A dragonfly?”

“Shhhh…keep your voice down.”

“A dragonfly?” Miles whispered, frowning.Spring Peeper Meadow and MN Landscape Arboretum 044

“Uh-huh. A dragonfly is small enough and common enough to remain unnoticed. And dragonflies have about the best vision in the insect world, with incredible compound eyes containing several thousand facets. Dragon will be able to see every move the bird makes, and can observe anyone who meets with the bird.”

“Yeah,” Miles agreed. “But she won’t be able to hear anything.”

I gave him a blank look.

“Dragonflies don’t have ears, remember? No organ to pick up sound. They can feel sound vibrations through their little, bristly antennae, but they can’t actually hear.”

My jaw dropped. I stood there gaping at Miles for a long moment. Then I turned and rushed into the kitchen. As expected, my Foreman and the lads were there, raiding the refrigerator. I motioned to them to keep their voices down.

“Do you know where Sorceress is?” I asked in a whisper.

“She’s probably went back to sleep,” my Foreman responded softly.

“Please go get her at once,” I instructed.

My Foreman turned and left the room. The lads, wearing matching frowns, eyed me curiously. “What’s the problem?” my Gypsy asked around a mouthful of food. “And why are we whispering?”

My Young Hero had the good manners to swallow before asking, “Yes, what is wrong?”

Before answering, I looked around. “Have you seen the Arrogant One or the Bounty Hunter since we all left the conference room?” I asked softly.

“Nope. They don’t usually join us for bedtime snacks,” my Gypsy whispered back.

My Foreman and Sorceress entered the room at that moment. I beckoned them to join us. In hushed tones, I told them about Dragon’s mission, and her shapeshifting. I related the problem Miles had pointed out to me, something I had overlooked completely when asking Dragon to spy on Morcant’s familiar. “Dragonflies can’t hear,” I explained.

“So you want me to scry on Dragon,” my Sorceress reasoned.

I nodded. “That way, we can see and hear everything.”

My Sorceress nodded and asked, “Shall we do it here, or down in the conference room?”

“Conference room,” I replied quickly. “And we need to lock the door. We don’t need the other two joining us.

“I suppose I should just go to bed?” Miles asked peevishly.

“Would you mind?” I asked.

“Oh, Master Miles, you could join us,” my Sorceress offered. She templed her fingers, tapping her fingertips together. “But, I must warn you, good sir, the spell I use for scrying is a very intricate one. Should you accidentally distract me, it could prove detrimental to your health and well-being.” Her eyes twinkled and the corners of her mouth twitched upwards.

“I think you’re just pulling my leg,” Miles replied. My Sorceress merely raised an eyebrow. Miles thought about it, then sighed and turned toward me. “I’ll see you when you’re finished, honey.” He gave me a quick peck on the cheek. “Try not to be all night.”

“I’ll try,” I promised him.

“I’ll get my scrying bowl and spell components, and meet you in the conference room,” my Sorceress said. The rest of us hurried down the stairs.

* * *

Spring Peeper Meadow and MN Landscape Arboretum 044

The large golden dragonfly perched on the tip of a slender branch, high in the canopy of the maple tree. Her quarry, the scraggly Common Grackle who was the familiar of the evil wizard Morcant, was several feet below her, huddled next to the sheltering tree trunk. He was sleeping with his head tucked under one wing. Dragon marveled at the incredible vision afforded her by the multifaceted eyes of the dragonfly, whose form she had assumed for this mission. Even in the dim light of the crescent moon, she could see her quarry as clearly as if they were only inches apart.

As she shook her diaphanous wings and settled herself for a long vigil, Dragon slowly became aware of the silence. Are there no crickets tonight? she wondered. No owls? Surely there must be traffic.

She fluttered upward, where she could view the road on the other side of the pond. She saw a large truck pulling to the side of the road as an ambulance and its police car escort raced past, lights blazing. Startled, she almost forgot to keep moving her wings. There were no sirens!

Dragon shakily flew back to her previous perch, and sat there trembling. I cannot hear…dragonflies cannot hear! she realized. Think! she commanded herself. Should I abandon this form? Could I transform without being noticed? What other form could I assume, that would afford me the sight I require without the loss of my hearing?

While she was considering her options, Dragon saw someone moving furtively through the shadows. Too late! she realized.

* * *

Stu-04-NatGal

My Sorceress set up her scrying bowl and filled it with a magical liquid. She began to recite an incantation under her breath, while the rest of us crowded together behind her, watching. Presently, a vague outline started to take form, shimmering into existence in the liquid. As the Sorceress worked to strengthen her spell, the form became more defined. Soon, the clear image of a beautiful golden dragonfly filled the bowl.

“This won’t help,” my Gypsy whispered. “We don’t need to see Dragon, we need to see what Dragon sees.”

The Sorceress gave an almost imperceptible nod, and began another incantation. Gradually, the image in the bowl changed. Before long, the dragonfly shrank, and we could see more of the area surrounding the insect. It reminded me of a movie, when the camera pulls away from a tight shot to show a larger picture.

Suddenly, the dragonfly took flight. As we watched the image in the bowl, it was as if we were directly behind the swiftly moving insect. We could see everything.

The dragonfly zipped across the yard, toward a figure skulking in the shadows along the western edge of the yard. As Dragon, in her golden guise, hovered above the slender individual, my Foreman noted, “That’s the Arrogant One!” The rest of us nodded.Arrogant One

We watched as my Arrogant One crept stealthily toward the reeds by the adjacent pond, looking about cautiously. He cut across the back of the yard and approached the garden shed. He opened the large double doors just a crack and slipped inside, quickly closing the doors behind him.

Dragon remained outside the shed, turning and zipping toward the house. There, a second figure furtively stepped out of the back door and onto the deck. As Dragon drew near that individual, my Young Hero whispered, “Bounty Hunter.” Again, we all nodded.

Bounty HunterMy Bounty Hunter rapidly descended the steps from the deck and made a beeline to the shed. Dragon entered the structure with him, almost atop his shoulder. She quickly perched on the handle of the lawn mower, and watched, unnoticed, as the two figures confronted each other. Huddled around the scrying bowl, we heard the entire exchange as clearly as if we, too, had been in the shed.

“What are you doing here?” my Arrogant One demanded, grabbing the smaller figure by the shoulders and giving him a hard shake.

“Looking after my interests,” my Bounty Hunter replied, pulling loose from the other’s grip with surprising ease.

“I do not know what you mean.”

“Don’t you?” the small man asked. He snorted.

“Just what did you expect to find here?” my Arrogant One asked.

“Is there something to find here?” my Bounty Hunter countered, looking around unabashed.

“Solitude, privacy, quiet,” my Arrogant One shot back. “Conditions that are proving distressingly difficult to find in this world.” He glared at the Bounty Hunter.

“Well,” the small man drawled, “I wouldn’t want to intrude…”

“Too late,” my Arrogant One growled under his breath.

My Bounty Hunter smiled. “I will take my leave.” He turned and slipped through the doors. Dragon remained motionless on the mower handle. My Arrogant One went immediately to the stairs at the back of the shed and ascended to the loft.

We watched in the scrying bowl as the dragonfly tried to follow.

“What’s happening?” my Gypsy asked.

“It looks like she’s bumping into something at the top of the stairs,” my Foreman replied. “It appears she is unable to enter the loft.”

“It appears she is unable to see anything in the loft, as well,” my Young Hero noted.

“A magic barrier!” I let loose a string of expletives. “I would bet that he is holding Cleric captive in the loft.”

“Well, let’s go rescue her!” My Foreman was on his feet and rushing toward the door, the lads a half-step behind.

mens-991728_1280           GypsyYoung hero 2

“No!” I yelped. “Not yet!”

My characters gaped at me.

“Why would you want us to delay Cleric’s rescue?” my Young Hero demanded, his cheeks flaming with anger.

“Think!” I commanded. “If the dragonfly can’t enter the loft, how can we? If we fail, who knows what will happen to Cleric? We can’t risk her safety on an impetuous and ill-conceived plan.”

Their faces fell as they realized the truth of my statement.

“You might want to see this,” my Sorceress called to us, cutting short our conversation.

We rushed back to view the scene in the scrying bowl.

“The dragonfly has given up in her attempts to breach the barrier,” my Sorceress explained. “She has squeezed through the crack between the doors, and she has advanced on the Bounty Hunter. He is conversing with Morcant’s familiar.”Morcant's familiar

We strained to hear the quiet conversation. Morcant’s voice, emanating from his familiar’s beak, was saying, “Whichever of you can procure the keys and deliver them to my familiar to return to me will be greatly rewarded. It matters not to me which of you claims that reward.”

My Bounty Hunter seemed to be considering that. Finally, he asked, “How do I know I can trust you? How do I know that, once your bird delivers the keys to you, you will not conveniently forget from whom he obtained them?”

“You have my word,” Morcant replied, in a voice that went through me like fingernails on a chalkboard.

“Suppose your word is not good enough?” my Bounty Hunter asked.

“Then our business is concluded. The other one, though insufferable, is shrewd. I will deal with him.”

“Only if he can secure the keys,” my Bounty Hunter retorted. He turned on his heel and strode off toward the house.

My Sorceress fell back in her chair, exhausted, and the image in the bowl faded.

“We need sleep,” I said. “Sorceress is exhausted, and I fear the rest of us aren’t much better. We will meet again, mid-morning, the five of us and Dragon. We will decide how best to implement Cleric’s rescue and how to stop both the Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter from any further misdeeds in the pursuit of the keys.”

“And while we’re at it,” added my Foreman, “maybe we can determine what happened to the Old Dwarf.”

The rest of us nodded, our expressions grim but determined. We left the room, and trudged up the stairs. We stopped and opened the front door. A large golden dragonfly flew from her perch atop the light fixture, and swooped into the foyer. She resumed her true form and wobbled toward the steps. Together, we all headed upstairs to get some much-needed sleep; remembering, as always, to leave the porch light on.

Spring Peeper Meadow and MN Landscape Arboretum 044                                                                                          Dragon

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