“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.”
“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?”
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?”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
I 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.”
“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!”
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.
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.