It felt as if I had been punched in the gut, and from the looks on the faces of my companions, I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. We had just rushed to the shed loft, expecting to find Cleric and my Old Dwarf. My Arrogant One had confessed to kidnapping them, and conveying them here. Then, the evil wizard Morcant had magically concealed them from everyone’s sight. Morcant claimed to have released his spell, so they should have been here, clearly visible. Instead, all we found in the loft was a lot of empty space. I let loose a string of expletives that had all my characters, as well as Miles, gaping at me.
“Someone’s lying. Either Morcant never released his spell, or someone has removed our friends.” My face twisted into an angry snarl as I contemplated what to do with the guilty party.
Sorceress walked over to the far end of the loft and stood there, her brow wrinkled in concentration. “What is it?” my Gypsy asked after a few moments.
“Those of my race who are gifted with the power to perform magic are also gifted with the ability to sense magic.”
I frowned and cocked my head. “Do you sense magic now?”
“Then, Morcant’s spell is still active?”
“I can not say, Mistress. Unfortunately, although I have the ability to sense magic, I do not have the ability to discern the source of that magic. It could be Morcant’s spell or it could be the Arrogant One’s spell. It could even be magical residue, if an item of immense magical properties has been here recently.” She paused, cocking her head. She moved about the far end of the loft, her eyes lidded, appearing deep in concentration. “Whatever it is, it has the feel of very powerful magic, ancient magic.”
My Foreman scowled. “Great. So how do we determine the source of the magic? And how do we find our friends?”
“We go talk to Morcant again. If there’s any chance he didn’t release his spell, I’m going to make good my threat to plunge him into eternal darkness and silence.” I whirled around and grabbed my Arrogant One, who was slinking toward the stairs. “And don’t you even think about disappearing! If Morcant has released his spell, and we need to find another possible source of the magic Sorceress senses, you’re the next one I’ll deal with.”
My Arrogant One drew himself up and jerked away from me. He tossed his hair back and looked down his nose at me. “The only spell I cast here was the one creating the barrier. I released that spell as soon as it appeared someone had breached it, as soon as I was unable to find Cleric and the Old Dwarf where I left them.”
I raised an eyebrow at the duplicitous elf.
“There was no sense in leaving a barrier that had already been breached, now was there?” He folded his arms in front of him, and gave me a dismissive nod.
“You’d best be telling the truth.” My Foreman scowled at the Arrogant One, and took his arm to escort him back to the house.
We left the shed and trudged back to the house in silence. We plodded up the stairs to the deck. As we entered the house, an unearthly screech assaulted our ears. Morcant’s familiar, the milky-eyed grackle, flew up from the lower level of the house, swooped around the corner of the stairwell and zoomed straight toward the open door.
“Catch that bird!”
Startled and disoriented by the bird’s loud squawking and Morcant’s banshee-like scream, most of the group dove out of the way. My Foreman made an awkward grab for the bird as it passed over his head, but came away with just a handful of tail feathers.
We all watched, dumbfounded, as the bird flew off, disappearing into the clouds.
“How did he get out of his box?”
Sorceress looked at me wide-eyed. “Remember what Morcant said, Mistress. ‘There is no way for you to confine this bird.’ Evidently, that was not an idle boast.”
“Wonderful.” I heaved a big sigh. “Without Morcant, I don’t know how we’re going to find Cleric and my Old Dwarf. And we still have no idea where Dragon could be.” I blinked back tears of frustration.
I was about to order my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter to be taken back to the conference room for more interrogation, when the phone rang. I looked at the caller ID, and grabbed for the receiver. “Everyone wait for me downstairs!”
A half-hour later, I headed for the conference room. Miles was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. I didn’t even realize I was frowning until he asked, “Bad news?”
“The phone call. Was it bad news?”
I grunted an affirmation. “That was my colleague and Facebook friend, James Stack.”
“I don’t think I know him.”
“No, you’ve never met him, but you might remember I told you his Old English Sheepdog, Ollie, visited here in December.”
“Oh, okay. I remember that. So what was James calling about?”
“Ollie’s missing. James said Ollie did something this morning he’s never done before. He nudged open the gate and just took off. James is really worried about Ollie, and asked me to let him know if the dog shows up here.”
“Why on earth would James think Ollie would come here?”
“Because of Dragon. James told me Ollie’s been worrying lately and asking questions about Dragon.”
“Do you think Ollie senses that Dragon is in trouble?”
“Possibly. They seem to have formed a special bond during Ollie’s visit.”
I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck. I opened the conference room door. Everyone stared at me, waiting. I couldn’t admit to them I had run out of ideas. I slumped into a chair and cleared my throat. “So…does anyone have anything new to add? Has anyone remembered anything that might be significant? Would anyone like to confess anything?”
Everyone shook their head and shuffled around. My Young Hero wrinkled his brow. “Have we determined if Dragon’s disappearance is connected to that of Cleric and the Old Dwarf?”
“No, we haven’t. Dragon, while transformed into a fieldmouse, had climbed up to the loft’s exterior doors. She was attempting to see inside, to determine if Cleric or my Old Dwarf was in there. Morcant’s familiar attacked her, and I fear Dragon may have been gravely injured when they fell to the concrete slab below. There’s no way to tell if she had discovered anything in the loft before she fell.”
My Arrogant One waved dismissively. “If Morcant magically concealed Cleric and the Old Dwarf, how could Dragon have discovered anything? I was not able to see them, so how could your beast?”
“We still do not know if Morcant really did conceal them, or if he removed them from the loft. Nothing that wizard says can be taken at face value.”
My Bounty Hunter shrugged. “If he removed them, you may never be able to find them.”
“We might not be able to, but what about you? You track people down for a living. How would you go about finding them?”
Before my Bounty Hunter could answer me, Miles interrupted. “Hush!”
“Listen. It sounds like a dog barking.”
I looked out the window. “It’s Ollie!”
The Old English Sheepdog was barking frantically and throwing himself at the shed doors. As if he could sense my eyes on him, Ollie suddenly turned and ran toward the house, scrambling up the wooden steps to the deck. My companions and I rushed, pell-mell, upstairs and met him at the door.
“Ollie! What are you doing here? James just called — he’s so worried about you!”
In response, the handsome gray and white pup just whined and grabbed my jeans in his mouth, pulling me frantically toward the steps.
“Wait a minute, Ollie! Don’t pull so hard, I’ll fall! I’ll follow you. We all will.”
Ollie released me, and dashed down the steps so fast, I feared he would tumble and hurt himself. At the bottom of the stairs, he turned and looked back at us, still standing on the deck. He danced around, every inch of him quivering. “Woof! Woof! Please hurry! Woof!” He was so distraught, he was mixing human and dog-speak. He all but collapsed, waiting for us.
My Arrogant One sneered, and planted himself firmly in our path. “Who is that cur, and why should we follow him?”
“That’s no cur, that’s Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm…Dragon’s friend, Ollie!”
Upon hearing that, my Gypsy and my Young Hero grabbed my Arrogant One and dragged him along, as we all raced after Ollie. When we caught up with him, the distraught pup was, once again, throwing himself at the shed doors.
“Wait, Ollie! We will grant you access!” My Sorceress knelt and gently restrained the trembling dog as my Foreman opened the heavy double doors. As soon as they were open, Ollie wriggled free and dashed inside. He made a beeline for the steps and ascended to the loft, all of us in tow.
By the time we had all clambered up the stairs, Ollie was standing at the far end of the loft, whining. He appeared to be gently pawing at a spot on the floor, and nudging something with his nose.
“What do you have there, fella?” Miles walked over to see what Ollie had found. He looked back at us, his brow furrowed. “There’s nothing here!”
“That’s the same area where you most strongly sensed the magic, isn’t it, Sorceress?” My Gypsy and Sorceress walked over to stand next to Miles and Ollie.
“Woof! Woof!” Ollie was practically going berserk, barking and saying something that sounded very much like “Dragon!”
“Steady, Ollie!” I turned to Sorceress. “Could it be dragon magic you sense?”
“Very likely, Mistress. There is naught more ancient than the arcane power of the Great Wyrms.”
“Then, Dragon, at least, is here…perhaps Cleric and the Old Dwarf as well. But how are we to find them, if Morcant did not release his spell?”
“Given time, the Gypsy and I might be able to determine a way to undo the fabric of the spell.”
Ollie started barking incessantly. Suddenly, he whirled around and lunged toward my Arrogant One.
The annoying elf yelped, and tried to hide behind my Foreman. “Is that beast mad? Keep it away from me!”
Ollie persisted, nipping at my Arrogant One’s heels and yipping at him. He herded him over next to my Gypsy and Sorceress, and barked at him. “Help, help, help! Yip, yip! You help them! Woof, woof!” His human and canine words tumbled together, but his meaning was clear.
“Other than dragon magic, the magic of the elven race is the most ancient and most powerful known on our world. It is even more powerful than my own magic. If you join your power with mine and that of the Gypsy, perhaps we can free our friends.”
“And why would I do that? I would not benefit from using my power to aid your quest. I care not if they stay hidden for the rest of their miserable lives!”
Ollie advanced on my Arrogant One, teeth bared. A deep growl emanated from his throat.
As the elf yelped again, and tried to bolt, Miles and I blocked his escape path. “I do believe that Ollie is telling you the main benefit of helping would be staying in one piece.” I cocked my head and quirked an eyebrow at the trembling figure, while Miles tried unsuccessfully to stifle a snicker.
“All right, all right. I will lend my assistance!”
The three magic users held a brief discussion on the combination of spells they needed to cast in order to defeat Morcant’s magic. “I will go collect the necessary spell components.” Sorceress quickly headed toward the stairs.
“Woof, woof, hurry, please hurry, woof, woof!”
Sorceress returned directly with pouches of powders and vials of liquids. “This should suffice.” Then, with Ollie pointing to the spot where he sensed his friend, the trio began. In unison, they chanted, occasionally employing some of the magic components.
Gradually, the area in front of them started to change. It almost took on the appearance of a window, with sheets of rainwater obscuring anything that lay beyond. The trio labored for the better part of an hour, faces set in concentration, sweat pouring from their brows. Slowly, the mirage of the rain-soaked window cleared. When it finally disappeared in a shower of sparks, our three missing friends were revealed.
As everyone else hurried to untie Cleric and my Old Dwarf, I watched as Ollie ran straight to Dragon. The beautiful gray and white dog whined and licked his friend’s snout, and Dragon responded with a happy puff of smoke and a grateful thump of her tail. “Thank you, my dear friend. I knew you would hear me, and come to my rescue.”
Ollie’s mouth opened wide and his tongue lolled in a big puppy-dog grin. “Woof! Woof!” His words were for Dragon’s ears alone, and the two of them gazed into each other’s eyes. All was right with the world once more.
I tore my eyes from the touching scene, and smiled at Cleric and my Old Dwarf. “Let’s get you to the house. I’m sure you must be hungry, thirsty, and tired. And once you have recovered from your ordeal, I want to hear precisely what happened.”
Come back next week to hear all the details of their harrowing adventure. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.
I would like to thank author and #platchal friend James Stack for the loan of his wonderful Old English Sheepdog, Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm, or Ollie, as he prefers to be called. Be sure to check out their excellent blog here: http://siroliverofskygatefarm.com/
James Stack’s memoir, WORLD’S FAIR, and collection of poetry, PLEASURES & SEASONS OF VERMONT, were published in 2013. His poems have appeared in ENGLYN: Journal of Four Line Poetry, the Maine Review (Grand Prize winner), America Is Not the World (Pankhearst Anthology), and Ash & Bones. His short stories have appeared in the Maine Review and Five2One Magazine and been semifinalists in the New Millennium Writings and Cutthroat contests.
You can follow James Stack on social media: https://twitter.com/SkygateStack and https://www.facebook.com/JamesStackAuthor/?fref=ts
You can also read about Ollie’s first appearance in my blog here: https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2015/12/27/another-guest/