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.
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?” My 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?”
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.”
“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!”
Back 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?”
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.”
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?”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.