I brushed my teeth and put on my pajamas. I was soooo ready for some shut-eye. Every time I thought back to the evil wizard Morcant standing outside my office window, leering at me, I started shaking with fear. Every time I remembered that it was just an image — an image most likely conjured by my Arrogant One, a self-proclaimed illusionist extraordinaire — I trembled with rage. How dare he terrorize me that way?
I walked into the bedroom, and saw the expression on Miles’ face. I knew I could forget about shut-eye. My husband wanted to discuss the day’s events. I couldn’t blame him.
“Are you feeling any better?” Concern shone from his eyes, as he reached to hold me gently.
“Not much. I don’t know which is worse — the thought of Morcant being free, and being here, or the thought that my Arrogant One would do such a thing, conjuring that image and scaring me half to death!”
“Morcant really is a danger, isn’t he?”
My answer was barely a whisper, and Miles had to lean closer to catch what I said.
“Miles, if Morcant would ever get out of that tower, he would destroy his own world first. Then he would destroy the world from which our current houseguests, my characters, come. Finally, he would come after me, and he would take great pleasure in torturing me for a very long time before finally killing me.”
“I understand why he would destroy his own world. He would want revenge for his exile. But why would he want to destroy the other world, your characters’ world?”
“He discovered that an order of Clerics in that world were once charged with guarding a set of keys. He imagines that they were the same keys from his world, the keys used to lock him in his tower.”
“I see. So, again, he seeks revenge. But why hurt you? Why does he hate you so?”
“He blames me for his current predicament. He blames me for creating the magic locks that were used to imprison him in the tower, for authoring the incantation, and for hiding the keys.”
“But you said a coven of witches on his world did all that.”
“They did, but I recorded it in the pages of a story. He believes I did not merely chronicle events as they unfolded, he believes I created the events through my writing. So he places most of the blame squarely on my shoulders, with a lesser amount of blame being shared by the judicial system which tried him and sentenced him to eternal exile for his crimes, and the coven of witches who found a way to enforce that punishment. Of course, he claims no blame himself, for having committed the atrocities which earned him such a terrible sentence. No, he places all blame on others.” I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “He has a particular hatred for me, the writer/historian, as he feels the others only acted as puppets, with me pulling the strings. He has spent seven centuries in his world, dreaming of exacting his revenge.”
“And he knows you have the keys that could free him.” Miles chewed on his lower lip and frowned.
“Yes. As soon as I discovered the keys here, I placed them in a box that hides their magic energy signature from all, even from those using magical means to find the keys. Before I hid them, however, Morcant’s familiar felt their magic and followed its trail through some sort of doorway into our world.”
“Hmmmm. And I am guessing that your Bounty Hunter was right, that disposing of something so powerful and so dangerous would be exceptionally difficult, if not impossible.”
“It would. I know of no way to destroy the keys, and to merely dispose of them would leave open the possibility that they could be found by others . . . others who might know what they are, and use them to free Morcant.” I sighed and rubbed my forehead. “Honey, I’m really tired. Can we continue this conversation in the morning?”
“Sure, sweetheart!” We kissed goodnight, and I was asleep almost before my head hit the pillow.
“So, the keys are the key to this whole problem. If magic created the keys, could magic destroy them?”
I just love it when my husband sees me wake up, and jumps right back into the conversation we were having before we went to sleep the previous night. “Ugggghhhhh! Can’t you even wait until I’m awake?”
“You are awake. I saw you half-open one eye.” Miles winked at me and chuckled. I threw a pillow at him as I stumbled into the bathroom.
Twenty minutes later, I was ready to face the world in general, and my husband in particular. I reminded myself that Miles had, during several recent crises, proven himself a rather wise and knowledgeable person. He had saved the day on more than one occasion, so I was eager to hear his thoughts on our current problem.
“So. You were saying something about using magic to destroy the keys.”
“I was wondering if your more magically-inclined characters possess enough power and skill to destroy the keys created by a coven of witches.”
“They might. Dragon has more power than even I can comprehend. Sorceress, while no rival to Dragon’s ability, is certainly no slouch. She’s the most powerful magic user in her society. She is not only skilled, but intuitive and creative with her magic. My Gypsy may have only a fraction of the power of either of the other two, but he learns quickly, and can weave his power into that of others to achieve a mutual goal.”
“What about Cleric? She usually assists with magical endeavors.”
“Cleric rejects the notion that she possesses any magic. She confesses only her powers of healing and other clerical skills as granted by her deity, but she always seems able to intensify the magic of the others, and focus it where it will do the most good.”
“I see.” Miles stroked his chin, and his lips quivered into a slight smile. “And your other character with magical power?”
I snorted. “I would never permit my Arrogant One to work on this! My magic users would need access to the keys, to examine the strands of magic used to enchant them in the first place, and to check them for the presence of wards and protective spells. Only then could they determine a way to use magic to destroy the keys, without the danger of destroying themselves. My Arrogant One can not be trusted! To give him access to the keys could be tantamount to freeing Morcant. The insufferable elf would surly find a way to make off with the keys and deliver them to the milky-eyed grackle.”
Miles chuckled, and put his arms around me. “I was only teasing. I know he can’t be trusted.” He kissed the top of my head, and said, “Are you ready for breakfast?”
I gave him a quick peck on the cheek in return. “Yup, I’m starving! But let’s not talk about this in front of the others. There’s a lot I have to think about before I would talk to all of them about it.”
“Such as how to protect the keys while my magic users are examining them. Once I take the keys out of the box, Morcant’s familiar, and anyone else who may be searching for them, could feel their magic signature. They might be able to force their way into the conference room and grab the keys.” I shook my head. “I think I need to discuss this with Dragon before I mention it to any of the others.”
“I see what you mean. Lots to think about.”
We left the bedroom and went to the kitchen for breakfast. I groaned. My Old Dwarf was already there, tucking into a dozen fried eggs, a pound of bacon, mountains of fried potatoes, and an assortment of muffins, donuts and pastries. He barely looked up from his food to nod good morning to us.
Miles sighed. “I don’t suppose it occurred to you that someone else might be hungry this morning?”
“Eh? Ye al’ays be havin’ thet mush fer yer morning fast-breakin’ or else thet straw stuff, an’ the Mistress be havin’ puddin’ or summat like thet.”
I chuckled and shook my head. “You’re referring to Miles’ two regular choices, oatmeal and shredded wheat, and my yogurt?”
“Thet be what I said. So, then, I do na be takin the food outten yer mouths.”
“But what about us?” My Foreman walked in and sat down at the table, accompanied by the two lads. “Do we get any of this?”
“Iffin ye had been wantin’ any o this, ye shoulda been risin’ at a more respectable hour.” My Old Dwarf snorted and continued shoveling down the food.
My Foreman shook his head and shrugged. “Well, I guess we three had best forego our morning meal this day and resume our search for the Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter.” If the lads failed to pick up on the sarcasm in his voice, they didn’t miss his broad wink.
The three exchanged smirks as they leaned in and snatched a few pastries and some bacon from the Old Dwarf. The hapless dwarf sputtered and swatted ineffectually at them as they made a hasty retreat.
My Old Dwarf quickly settled back to eat what remained of his meal, grumbling under his breath the whole time. He was still working his way through a pile of flapjacks I had not previously noticed when Miles and I finished our breakfast. “Be sure to clean up this mess when you’re finished, okay?”
My Old Dwarf waved dismissively at Miles, but wilted under my glare. “Aye, I be cleanin’ up as soon as I be finished wit these flatcakes.”
I rolled my eyes at the old reprobate, knowing full well that Miles or I would end up cleaning the kitchen later that morning.
Miles turned to me. “Well, what’s on your agenda for the day?”
“I have to find Dragon and discuss matters with her. What about you? Care to join us?”
“I’ll have to take a rain check on that. Have you seen the lawn? Grass needs cutting again.”
“Okay. Keep an eye out for my two AWOL characters.
Miles nodded, and we went our separate ways.
A few minutes later, I found Dragon in the conference room. “We need to talk.”
“Is Ollie coming for a visit?”
“Not that I am aware of.”
Smoke drifted from Dragon’s nose, and her mouth seemed to turn downward in a pout.
“Dragon, I need to speak to you about the keys.”
“I was wondering when you would.” She walked over to a small chaise longue next to the wall. She shrank until she was the perfect size to recline upon it. She stretched out on her belly, with her small arms curled like a cat’s under her chest, and her wings folded neatly out of the way. She narrowed her reptilian eyes and stared attentively. “Proceed.”
“Dragon, you are the oldest and wisest of all my characters. Your power is immeasurable.”
Dragon nodded, but said, “You need not tell me this. If you are attempting to impart knowledge, I assure you I am aware of my age, my wisdom, and my power. If you seek to flatter, it serves no purpose.”
“I only wish to explain why I seek your counsel and not that of the others.”
“Miles posed an interesting question. He wondered if my more magically-inclined characters possess enough power and skill to destroy the keys created by a coven of witches.”
Smoke curled lazily from Dragon’s nostrils as she considered the question. After a few minutes, she shook her head. “These keys were created centuries ago, on an alien world. I could not hazard a guess without examining them, and to do so would expose them to potential theft and us to possible annihilation.”
“There is no way to examine them safely?”
She rolled on her back and blew a chain of smoke rings toward the ceiling. “There may be. Let me think about it for a day or two. Meanwhile, have you had any success locating the Arrogant One or the Bounty Hunter?”
“Having the annoying elf and his mercenary cohort under lock and key might make examining the keys safer.”
I nodded. “I will join the others and attempt to find the two fugitives. Let me know if you think of anything regarding the keys.”
“I think I would like to see Ollie again.” She slowly winked one reptilian eye at me and grinned.
I laughed, and reminded her that Ollie had his own home, his own companion and his own blog to keep him busy. She showed no sign of having heard me. When I left the conference room, she was still laying there, mooning over the picture of the handsome Old English Sheepdog.
By the end of the day, in spite of everyone’s best efforts, my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter were still missing. As I headed up the stairs to go to bed, I saw my Cleric at the front door. Just as she was closing it, I heard her whisper, “I’ll leave the porch light on for you.”
I couldn’t see to whom she was speaking.