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.
“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.”
“Shhhh…keep your voice down.”
“A dragonfly?” Miles whispered, frowning.
“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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
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.
My 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.
“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.”
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.