Gone

Gone

sorceress-facing-rightThe last thing I saw was Sorceress, her eyes wide, and her mouth open as if she were screaming. Then, she was just . . . gone.

No, wait. She wasn’t gone. Everything was gone. Sorceress. Dragon. The milky-eyed grackle. The tree. The house. All of it was just . . . gone! Everything was hidden by a thick, opaque fog. Trying to see through that impenetrable haze, I slowly realized that they weren’t gone. I was. That’s probably why Sorceress had screamed.

fogThe murky cloud soon encompassed me completely, like a fluffy cotton blanket. I was disoriented. Up and down had no meaning, and I felt as if I was floating, weightless. Time had no meaning, either. I could have been drifting in that fog for minutes, or for days. I had no way of knowing.

seaside-cliffsEventually, the fog started to dissipate. It did so slowly, as if layer after layer after thin layer was being stripped away. Finally, it became translucent enough for me to make out my surroundings. I appeared to be on a desolate stretch of coastline. Ahead of me, a thin ribbon of dark, wet sand separated the lapping waves from towering cliffs.

I turned around, and found the coast in that direction curved away from the cliffs and the sandy beach widened. To the right, the cliffs gave way to a vast expanse of meadows and fields that reached to another body of water on the horizon. At the end of a path, near the other body of water, was a tall, circular tower of stone. As the fog lifted completely, and the warmth of the sun splashed across my face, my blood ran cold. I knew that dark, foreboding tower. Within its windowless walls, the evil wizard Morcant was spending his eternal exile.tower

So, Morcant was behind the recent disappearances. He had warned me he would exact revenge for my perceived part in his incarceration and exile. Now he had made good on his threat.

My every instinct shouted at me to run – run as fast and as far as I could! But my rational self knew running was futile, escape impossible. If Morcant was capable of dragging me from my world into his, then he would find me no matter where I would run here, on his world. I straightened my rumpled outfit, squared my shoulders, and prepared to meet my fate.

I had taken but a single step in the direction of the tower when I jumped at the sound of a voice directly behind me. “Forsooth! We would not advise thee to travel in that direction, milady.”

I whirled around to confront the speaker, and found myself facing a trio of women in archaic garb. Their hoods were thrown back and their cloaks were open to the warmth of the sun. Even though they did not appear threatening, I eyed them warily and looked about from the corner of my eye, seeking a route of escape.first-witch

“Prithee, allow us to present ourselves, milady. I am called Deoiridh.” The careworn figure in the middle, grey-haired and wrinkled, stepped forward. She lowered her eyes, and clasped her hands in front of her face, as if in prayer or supplication. She curtsied deeply. When she rose, she motioned for the second woman to come forward.

second-witchThe second figure, the youngest, shortest and roundest of the three, had flaming red hair and a profusion of freckles. She edged forward, fidgeting with her cloak and staring at the ground. She stopped while still many steps away. “I am Helewys.” She bobbed a quick curtsy before scooting back to take her place next to the third figure, earning her a frown from her companions.

third-witch“I am known as Zephyrean.” The last figure, tall and willowy, with jet-black hair and alabaster skin, moved forward with regal grace. She took my hands as she curtsied, and pressed the back of them to her forehead. She rose, still grasping my hands, and boldly regarded me. She spent a long few moments studying me and taking my measure.

Finally, she smiled, nodded, and dropped my hands. I presumed she had made up her mind about me. I remained unsure of her and her two companions; still, I sensed no malevolence from them. I found myself more curious than fearful.

As if reading my mind, Zephyrean addressed me. “Thou art quite correct, Mistress Writer. Thou hath nothing to fear from us. Come thither, break bread with us, and all thy questions shall be answered.”

Helewys said nothing, but she gave me a sidelong glance. Then she pulled her cloak tight around her and scuffed her tiny slippered foot back and forth in the dirt before running ahead.

cookfire-on-beach“We shall explain much, milady.” Deoiridh snatched my hand and tugged me along toward a sheltered knoll by the beach, where a fire had already been laid. “But first, thou art our guest. Come, we shall brew some tea and feast on mortrew and brown bread.”

I sat on a large piece of driftwood while the three strange figures prepared a meal. It was ready in short order, and the four of us ate in a comfortable silence. I found the mortrew, a thick stew of unfamiliar meats and sundry vegetables, nicely seasoned and remarkably palatable. The brown bread tasted sweet and nutty. The accompanying tea was strong and hot and pleasantly spiced. As I drained my third cup, my companions began their tale.

tower“Thou recognized the tower.” It was a statement rather than a question, and Deoiridh did not wait for an answer. “It is more than seven centuries since the evil wizard, Morcant, was tried in absentia by the judicial system of this world, and found guilty of atrocities too numerous to list. Their prescribed punishment was exile, but they did not know how to enforce the exile of a wizard. A coven of good witches put their minds to the task. It took them five years, but they finally devised a way to trap Morcant for all eternity.”

keys-001Helewys stared at the ground and fidgeted with her cloak as she took up the tale. “One of the witches lured him into a tower with the promise of an artifact of enormous power. Once he was distracted by the object, she slipped out, closing the door behind her. The other witches rushed forward to lock the tower. They had constructed three magical locks in the side of the tower, and crafted three magical keys. The three keys were inserted into the locks and turned at the exact same moment. The top and bottom keys were turned clockwise, while the middle key was turned counterclockwise. Once the keys were turned, Morcant was sealed inside the tower forever.”

Zephyrean continued. “The tower itself is enchanted. No one can break into it by physical force, nor can Morcant break through the walls to free himself. He can not break through the floor to tunnel out of the tower. There is no physical means of escape. When the tower was sealed, the windows and doors disappeared, leaving only solid stone walls. The tower has also been enchanted against magical means of entry or egress.”

I nodded. “I know all this. I also know that Morcant is not only trapped in that place, he is trapped in time. That is why he needs no food, otherwise entrapment within the impenetrable tower would be a death-sentence, and that was not the intent of the magistrates who sentenced him.”

morcants-familiar“Forsooth.” Helewys wrung her hands and chewed her lower lip. “He is trapped in the moment in time that the keys were turned. Yet, through his psychic connection to the milky-eyed grackle who serves as his familiar, and who was not trapped with him, Morcant is aware of the passage of time outside the tower. Of greater significance, he can communicate with others through his familiar.”

“Mayhaps thou has surmised, milady, we are descendants of three of the witches from the coven that entrapped Morcant.” Zephyrean furrowed her brow. “We seek to undo a terrible misdeed enacted by our predecessors.”

“Misdeed?” I gaped at the trio. “You believe they were wrong to imprison Morcant?”

Deoiridh shook her head. “Nay, Mistress, thou misunderstands! The misdeed was not in trapping him, but in their handling of the keys.”

I frowned. “I’m not sure I understand.”

Helewys sighed. “When the coven learned that Morcant was communicating with his henchmen, through his familiar, they feared his henchmen would overpower the coven and obtain the keys. They could not permit the wizard to escape, so they used their considerable magic to send one member of the coven to another world. She took the keys with her, and found an order of militant clerics to whom she entrusted the guardianship of the keys. She impressed on them the danger of the keys ever falling into the wrong hands.”Elf cleric

“So that is how they came to exist in Cleric’s world.” I cocked my head. “But legend has it that they disappeared from that world. What happened?”

“The witchs’ magic was flawed.” Zephyrean rubbed the back of her neck and lowered her voice. “A magical conduit remained between the worlds. Somehow, Morcant discovered the location of the keys, and sent his familiar to retrieve them. The clerics managed to thwart him, but they realized it was just a matter of time before he succeeded. They petitioned their deity to be released from their sworn duty.”

“And were they?”

Deoiridh shrugged. “They must have been, milady, as the keys disappeared from their midst. Ever since their disappearance, many generations of the coven have been searching for them, as has Morcant, through his familiar. Somehow, through means unknown, the keys found their way into thy world, and thy possession. It has been a race between us and Morcant to retrieve them.”

magic-energy-traceHelewys looked at me, eyes wide. “When the milky-eyed grackle followed the magic signature of the keys to thy world, we thought for sure he would seize them!”

Zephyrean raked her hand through her hair. “We tried everything to recover those keys, milady! We tried to contact thee, to bring thee here as we finally did today. Unfortunately, we ended up taking others by mistake – the ones thou call the Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter, and later, the Cleric. But when we took them, we were unable to bring them all the way through the conduit. They remained trapped within its magic for some time before returning to thy world.”

“The same thing happened the first time we took thee, as well. We could not bring thee all the way through” Helewys blushed, her face turning as red as her hair. “We suspect Morcant interfered with our magic.”

“I see. So then, Morcant was not responsible for my disappearances and that of my characters, at least not directly.”

The three women nodded.

“At length, we resolved to enter thy world to talk with thee. We decided to take the undignified form of those small, furry creatures.” Deoiridh grimaced. “We knew they were common on thy world, and would attract less attention than three crones appearing within sight of thy neighbors.”

I nodded. “I thank you for that discretion. On too many occasions, my neighbors have been alarmed and unsettled by unexplained events spawned by my characters.”

Deoiridh inclined her head. “When we realized Morcant’s familiar was present and spying on thee, we could not risk further exposure. We left quickly, but continued trying to communicate with thee. We tried to enter thy dreams, but, alas, once again our magic failed. We ended up causing thy dreams to enter the minds of others.”

dreams3

I smiled and raised an eyebrow at them. “So that is what caused us to share dreams. We blamed that on Morcant as well.”

“When all else failed, we just waited and watched.” Helewys hugged herself tightly, pulling her cloak snug. “We feared we would never be able to get to thee and retrieve the keys. But today, thy Dragon and Sorceress secured the bird. This distracted Morcant so he could not interrupt our spell, and also prevented his familiar from following thee. We finally made good our attempt to bring thee here through the magic conduit.”

I looked at them and sighed. “I’m afraid you have gone to a great deal of trouble for nothing. I no longer have the keys.”

The trio looked at me dumbstruck, and Deoiridh protested. “But we never felt their magic signature leave thy possession!”

box“I had them in an enchanted box that hid their signature from all, even those searching for them by magical means. I asked Dragon to ascertain if we could destroy the keys, so that Morcant would be unable to obtain them. She determined that the destruction of the keys would release the magic locks, freeing Morcant. So we decided on another solution. Dragon has transported the enchanted box, with the keys still secured within, to an undisclosed location. She assures me that no one will ever find them again.”

The three witches sighed. Smiles slowly spread over all three faces. “If the ancient Wyrm says the keys will never be found, then we are safe. Morcant will remain in his eternal prison.” The shy Helewys jumped up, ran to me and gave me a jubilant hug.

I laughed. “What can we do about his familiar? I’m rather tired of having to deal with the bird and its master; yet I lack the heart to destroy it and plunge Morcant into eternal darkness and silence.”

“When we send thee back to thy world, we will retrieve the bird and collapse the magical conduit. Thou will never be troubled by Morcant or his familiar again.” Zephyrean smiled.

The three women stood and faced me. Deoiridh lowered her eyes, clasped her hands in front of her face, and curtsied deeply. Zephyrean once more took my hands and pressed them to her forehead as she curtsied to me. Helewys bobbed another quick curtsy and then the three of them quickly joined hands and began chanting. Before I even had the chance to say goodbye, I was engulfed in the dense fog. When I arrived home, Sorceress was still in mid-scream, and Dragon still held the milky-eyed grackle in her talons. Everyone else was running towards us, probably in response to the scream.

morcants-familiar

As everyone crowded around, trying to see what was wrong, the milky-eyed grackle squawked loudly. Then, it was just . . . gone. I motioned to everyone to calm down. I beckoned them inside, hoping the neighbors had not noticed the strange and abrupt comings and goings. I herded them all downstairs to the conference room.

I shared with everyone the incredible events of the day. Miles and my characters had many questions and we discussed the matter well into the evening hours. Finally, my characters retired for the night. Miles and I headed upstairs to enjoy a bit of television before we, too, went to sleep. As we reached the landing, Miles turned and gave me a penetrating look. “So, they’re gone? They’re really gone?”

“Well, Morcant and the milky-eyed grackle are gone, as are the keys.” I paused and cocked my head. “But my characters remain, and who knows what mischief they will get into next?”

Miles groaned as he reached past me and turned on the porch light.

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Perchance to Dream

Perchance to Dream

I had been tossing and turning for hours. Finally, sleep, illusive sleep, seemed about to overtake me. But something began to tug me back from the very threshold of dreamland.Insomnia

“Mistress? Mistress, please wake up!” It was my Cleric, tugging on the sleeve of my nightgown, and whispering urgently in my ear.

“Wha? Wassamatter?” I forced one eye open and tried to focus.

“Please, Mistress, I must speak with you!”

“Now?” I demanded, trying to ignore the panic in my Cleric’s voice. I checked the clock on my nightstand. “It’s two in the morning!” I grumbled, getting ready to roll over and court sleep again.Elf facing right

 

 

 

“Please, Mistress?” Her quiet voice was raw with emotion, and she rocked back and forth on her feet.

“Oh, very well, then. Talk!” Sleep is so overrated!

My Cleric glanced over at my husband, who was starting to stir on the other side of the bed. “Maybe we should adjourn to the conference room…or at the very least, step out into the hallway?” she suggested.

I gave my Cleric a dirty look, but allowed her to pull me out of my nice, warm, cozy bed. She handed me my robe, and after three attempts, I managed to pull it on. As she led me out of the room, I tripped over my own feet and crashed into the door.

“Oh, Mistress, do be more quiet,” my Cleric begged. Her wide eyes darted up and down the hall, as if she was expecting the hounds of hell to pop out of the bathroom.

 
I sat bolt upright in bed, wide awake. Had I been dreaming? I had the distinct feeling of déjà vu. I pondered the scene I had just . . . dreamed? Relived? Slowly, it came into focus. The incident had occurred many months previous. My Cleric had roused me in the middle of the night, in a panic. It was when my Bounty Hunter had found himself in this world, fallen out of the pages of my manuscripts, just like the other characters who now made their home here. But I hadn’t thought about that night in ages! Why should it have invaded my dreams this night?  I shrugged and shook my head. Who could understand the workings of the subconscious mind? I slowly nestled back into my blankets and courted sleep once more.

 
for-blog-empty-half-of-bedI awoke with a start. Where am I? Wait! Let’s not start that again. I know where I am. I am in my own bed, sleeping next to my husband! I reached over to the other side of the bed, only to feel cold, empty sheets. Wait! Where’s my husband?

 

I awoke with a yelp. I immediately checked the other side of the bed. Miles was there, sleeping soundly. I could see him snuggled under the blankets, and I could hear the steady rhythm of his breathing accompanied by the faint whoosh of his CPAP machine. The scene from my dream was real, though. It had happened just yesterday. But, why dream about it? Nothing bad had happened. When I had gotten up yesterday, disoriented and concerned over Miles’ absence in our room, I had found him already in the kitchen. He had greeted me cheerily, and presented me with a cup of hot tea. Not much fodder for dreams.

Or was it a dream? I raked my hand through my hair and sighed heavily.

No, surely it was more than that. In the words of a famous baseball personality, it was like déjà vu all over again. For the second time that night, I had dreamed . . . or relived . . . something that had happened to me before. I had not just remembered it, I had experienced it again. Every detail. Every word. Every thought. Exactly as it had originally occurred.

I scowled and looked at the clock. It was still hours before first light. I huddled back into the warmth of my covers and closed my eyes. I needed sleep. Contemplating my dreams, and the reasons behind them, would wait until morning.

 
dwarfFirst thing in the morning — well, right after his seven-course breakfast — my Old Dwarf went outside. Miles and I stood by the French doors and watched him. First, he meandered about the perimeter of the property, hands behind his back, whistling. Then he wandered around the yard, going from tree to tree.

He peered up into each one in turn, smiling and nodding as if they were the most fascinating things he had ever seen. Then he ambled around the garden, stopping to bend over and sniff each and every variety of flower, still grinning and nodding. Each bird, rabbit, squirrel, chipmunk and butterfly he saw was blatantly scrutinized.

Miles shook his head. “Can your Old Dwarf possibly be any more obvious?”

“Oh, I’m sure he could be, if he really tired.” I winked.

We turned at a noise behind us. My Foreman cleared his throat as he, and my Young Hero entered the room.

 

Only. . . only it wasn’t my Foreman and my Young Hero.

 

There, in the grass, was a trio of small, furry creatures, each no more than half a foot tall. I cautiously approached and looked closely at them. With their handsome golden-tan, sable-brown, and creamy-white markings, they appeared to be common Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels. One stood there on its hind legs, eyes closed, paws clasped in front of its face, as if in prayer or supplication. A second huddled in the thick grass, staring at us wide-eyed and ready to bolt. The third peered about curiously, taking in the entire scene and boldly eyeing us over its shoulder.

 

Wait. There, in the grass? Huddled in the thick grass? But, weren’t we in the living room?

I started thrashing about, and awoke with a thud as I fell out of the bed. What was happening? Why was I having these strange dreams?

The bed started creaking. I craned my neck, and I saw Miles prop himself up on one elbow and remove his CPAP mask. He looked at me, sprawled out on the floor, and furrowed his brow.

“Honey? Are you okay?”

“Just peachy!”

“What are you doing down there?”

I glowered at him. “Why, I’m feeding the dust bunnies that live under the bed, of course!”

Miles chuckled and raised an eyebrow at me. “Really?”

“No, not really. What do you think I’m doing down here? I fell out of bed!”

“Well, ask the dust bunnies to help you back up. Just be careful they don’t bite you. I hear dust bunnies can be very vicious, especially if they haven’t been fed recently.” Miles kept a straight face, but merriment danced in his eyes.Easter 128

I pulled myself up from the floor, crawled back into bed, grabbed my pillow and beaned my husband with it.

“Hey! What was that for?” Miles tried to look indignant, but his grin belied any annoyance.

“That was for being sarcastic.”

“I’m sorry. How did you manage to fall out of bed?”

“I was having a dream.”

“Nightmare?”

“Not exactly. And it wasn’t just one dream.”

Miles listened attentively as I detailed the strange dreams, and the feelings of déjà vu they engendered. When I finished, Miles looked a bit pale.

“What is it?”

“I remember bits and pieces of dreams I had tonight. They match what you just described.”

I gaped at him. “What?”

He shrugged. “I have no idea why we would have the same dreams. Maybe we didn’t. Maybe just hearing such vivid descriptions of your dreams made me think I had dreamed it all, too. You know, power of suggestion? I’m not sure now.”

I raked my hand through my hair. “Well, even if we didn’t have the same dreams, I think something’s going on. The dreams were more than just dreams, more than memories. It’s as if I was there again.”

Miles furrowed his brow, and stroked my hair gently. “Honey, I know the dreams felt real to you. But you know as well as I do, when we sleep our minds tend to jumble things together and take unexpected twists and turns. If I were you, I wouldn’t let the dreams upset you.”

I sighed and nodded. “You’re right, of course.”

“Look, it’s starting to get light outside. Why don’t we get up and get our breakfast? A nice cup of hot tea will help you feel better.”cup-of-tea

A half-hour later, showered and dressed, we entered the kitchen and stopped short. My Cleric was slumped over the table, fast asleep, her head on her arms. My Foreman and my Gypsy, sitting on either side of her, looked as if they hadn’t slept all night – their eyes were bloodshot, their hair was uncombed, and their clothes were rumpled.

Slowly, the rest of my characters stumbled in and collapsed into chairs. Each looked as bad as, or worse than, the first three.

All except one.dwarf-facing-right

“Eh, what be goin’ on here?” My Old Dwarf fairly skipped into the room, eyes bright, and a wide smile not quite hidden by a well-groomed beard. He looked about the kitchen, from person to weary person.

“Quiet, please.” My Gypsy moaned and held his head, much like a person suffering a hangover.

“Ye all look like ye been samplin’ me good dwarven brew!”

“It is not libation that has caused our misery.” My Sorceress shook her head and yawned.

“It seems we were all troubled by dreams last night.”

“Really? I sleeped liken a log all the night long.”

I frowned. “That’s strange.”

“Not really, lassie. I al’ays sleep liken a log. Clear conscience.” The old reprobate winked at me, but I ignored him and addressed the others.

“Anyone else enjoy a dreamless sleep last night?”

Everyone else shook their heads.

“I want to hear about everyone’s dreams. Cleric?”

Elf facing rightCleric roused herself, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and yawning widely. “I dreamed of the night the Bounty Hunter arrived here, and I woke you in the middle of the night, Mistress, fearing what his presence in this world might signify.”

bounty-hunter-2My Bounty Hunter rose from his chair, frowning. He stepped toward Cleric, eyeing her closely, then he turned toward me. “That was my dream, too.”

“How could it be? You were not present when I awoke the Mistress!” Cleric furrowed her brow.

“But I saw it all in my dream last night.” My Bounty Hunter went on to describe in perfect detail the incident as it had occurred, first many months previous and again, last night in our dreams.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Did anyone else dream about that?”

Everyone else shook their head.

sorceress-facing-right“My dreams were of you, Mistress.” Sorceress stifled another yawn. “You were in your bedchamber, sleeping. You woke suddenly, and seemed afraid when you did not find Master Miles in the room with you.”Arrogant One

My Arrogant One’s eyes widened, and he jumped to his feet. “But . . . but that was my dream as well!”

I paled and my legs started to feel like rubber. I grabbed a chair and sat quickly.

My Foreman rose and started pacing. “I . . . I dreamed of the morning you and Master Miles stood by the doors in the living room and watched the Old Dwarf in the yard, Mistress, as he searched for Morcant’s familiar.” He paused, chewing his lower lip. “I entered the living room with the Young Hero, and I cleared my throat. But then . . . then the dream changed.”

My Young Hero interrupted. “Yes, it changed. We were in the yard, looking at those creatures that appeared here yesterday.” My Foreman gaped at the lad, who frowned and bit his lower lip. “I had the exact same dream!”

“As did I,” My Gypsy said, rubbing the back of his neck.

“And I had all those dreams and more.” Dragon thumped her tail on the floor.dragon

Miles looked at me. “What does it mean?”

“I’m not sure, but I think we better spend the day in the yard, looking for our furry little visitors from yesterday.”

Sorceress raised an eyebrow and nodded at me. “And verifying a certain bird did not steal back in the middle of the night, bringing mischief with him.”

Miles stared at her. “Do you think Morcant is behind this?” He swallowed hard.

“I do not know, Master Miles, but I think it best to find out.”

“I agree.” I pointed at my Old Dwarf. “It strikes me as odd that the only one here who enjoyed dreamless sleep last night was my Old Dwarf, who has a natural immunity to magic.”

Breakfast was a hurried affair that morning. No one felt much like eating, or conversing. No one except my Old Dwarf. He ate enough for all of us, and kept up a cheerful monolog until a cranky Dragon threatened to put him on the menu.

It was not yet mid-morning when we all took to the yard, searching. We needed to find the trio of Thirteen-line Ground Squirrels who had appeared and spoken to us yesterday. We also needed to see if the milky-eyed grackle who served as familiar to the evil wizard, Morcant, had returned during the night.

I found the bird almost immediately.

“Good morrow, beldame.” Morcant’s screechy voice spilled from the beak of the bird, who was sitting in the tree closest to the front porch. “Where, pray tell, are your diminutive visitors of yesterday?”

“What business is that of yours, Morcant?”

“Dost thou truly not know?” The bird’s beak opened wide, and the sound of Morcant’s cackling laugh poured forth.

“Morcant, I do not have time for your games.”

“But time is all I have, thanks to you.” His voice changed to a bestial snarl. “Every second, a lifetime; every moment, an eternity.”

“For the last time, Morcant, I had nothing to do with your present situation. You committed the crimes, the judicial system of your world tried and sentenced you, and the coven of witches carried out that sentence. I merely chronicled the events.”

Before Morcant could reply, Dragon slipped around the corner of the house and leapt upon the grackle, snatching it from the tree. She held it firmly in her taloned hands, and brought it to me.

“Place it in the box it was in previously.”

Sorceress, dashing up from the side yard, frowned and shook her head. “It escaped from that box once.”

I grimaced and rubbed the back of my neck. “Can the two of you secure it magically within the box?”

Sorceress tilted her head and thought for a moment, then nodded. “I believe we could accomplish that. We can get the Gypsy and Cleric to assist, so the bird does not free itself while we work.”

I nodded. “I’ll find them and send them to you in the conference room. The rest of us will remain here in the yard.”

As I prepared to go find the others, I stopped short. A thick fog was rising quickly from the ground. The last thing I saw before the fog enveloped everything was Sorceress, her eyes wide, and her mouth open as if she were screaming. Then, she was just . . . gone.

 

 

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Be sure to come back next week for the conclusion of this mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!

A New Development

A New Development

for-blog-empty-half-of-bedI awoke with a start. Where am I? Wait! Let’s not start that again. I know where I am. I am in my own bed, sleeping next to my husband! I reached over to the other side of the bed, only to feel cold, empty sheets. Wait! Where’s my husband?

I quickly rose. I hurriedly washed and dressed, and headed toward the kitchen. Miles greeted me with a smile and a cup of hot tea. “Good morning, sweetheart! I heard you moving around, and figured you’d like this.”cup-of-tea

I thanked him with a kiss, then took a long swallow of the warm, soothing liquid. I sighed contentedly as I took a seat at the table. “Where is everyone?”

“They’re all outside, helping Dragon and Sorceress.” He handed me a container of yogurt and a spoon.

“All of them?”

“Yup, every one. They may not have been overly concerned before, when your Bounty Hunter and your Arrogant One disappeared and reappeared without explanation; but the fact that it also happened to you seems to have them quaking in their boots.”

“I think that’s because they’re all feeling very vulnerable. Especially since Dragon has postulated that Morcant was not the one behind the incidents.” I raised an eyebrow and started slowly stirring my yogurt. “We really don’t know who or what we’re dealing with.”

“Well, good day, lassie! I seed ye finally be up and aboot!” My Old Dwarf made a bee-line for the refrigerator, my Young Hero and my Gypsy following in his wake. “Do na be mindin’ us. We just be gittin’ a wee snack fer everyone, so’s we kin be keepin’ up our strength.”

I raised an eyebrow at his wee snack. He piled the two lads’ arms full of items from the refrigerator, then pushed them in the direction of the living room. He grabbed another armload from the cabinets and followed the lads as they went out the door and onto the deck.

“That’s enough food to feed an army!” Miles shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Or one hungry dwarf.” My Foreman entered the room and headed to the coffee maker. “Mind if I help myself to some of your brew?”

“Sorry, I just drank the last cup. I’ll make a fresh pot. It will only take a few minutes. Sit down.” Miles bustled over to the counter. My Foreman nodded appreciatively and took a seat opposite me.

yogurtI continued to absentmindedly stir my yogurt. “How are things going? Have they made any progress?”

“Some. Dragon and Sorceress think they may have found something. I’m not sure I understand the specifics, but they have apparently found some sort of residue in common to the locations of the disappearances and reappearances.”

“Residue?” I wrinkled my brow.

My Foreman shrugged. “Nothing tangible. I believe Sorceress termed it an echo.”

“Intriguing, but not very informative.” I stopped stirring my yogurt and ate a spoonful.

magic-energy-traceMiles handed my Foreman a steaming cup of coffee and took a seat next to him. “Residue? Echo?” He furrowed his brow. “Are you talking about some sort of magic energy trace? Something like the magic signature the keys emitted that allowed the wizard’s familiar to follow them here?”

My Foreman raised his eyebrows at Miles and nodded. “Yes, Master Miles. If I correctly understand Dragon and Sorceress, it is very like that magic signature, except it does not seem to lead anywhere. They are unable to follow it to its source.”

“You said they have found it at the sites of my disappearance and reappearance, as well as the sites where my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One disappeared and reappeared?”

My Foreman nodded.

I quickly finished my yogurt, stood up, and threw away the empty container. “I think I’ll find Dragon and see if she has any further news.”

My Foreman promptly drained his cup, then he and Miles joined me. We found my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter on the deck, helping my Old Dwarf set up a buffet. “Anyone know where Dragon is?”

arrogant-one-facing-rightMy Arrogant One bowed respectfully. “She was examining some magical residue in the grass by the steps a few moments ago, Mistress. I am not certain where you might find her now.” Will I ever get used to the idea of a polite and humble Arrogant One?

“Last I seed her, lassie, she be headin’ toward the back o’ the yard.” Preoccupied with the food, my Old Dwarf raised a fork and used it to point to the reeds by the pond.

“Thanks.”

dragonWe soon found Dragon in the garden shed. She was frowning and puffing clouds of black smoke from her nostrils.

“Uh-oh. Something wrong?”

“Ah, Mistress!” She heaved a deep sigh and another thick cloud of smoke drifted upward. “I am just becoming frustrated. Sorceress and I detected a faint magical residue on the upper stairs of the house, the site of your recent disappearance, and on the front steps where you reappeared. Cleric and the Gypsy believe they have found the same residue, or a similar one, on the ground by the back steps where the Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter disappeared, and here in the shed where they reappeared.”

“Well, that’s good news, right?” I raised my eyebrows and raked my hand through my hair.

sorceress-facing-right“It would be, but the residue from the earlier incidents is already too faded to be of much use.” Sorceress and my Gypsy walked into the shed. Sorceress was carrying several pouches, while my Gypsy carried a tray of sandwiches and drinks.

“Do not spill anything in here!” Dragon shot my Gypsy a stern look and growled softly. He replied by waggling his eyebrows and sticking out his tongue at Dragon when her back was turned, which earned him a slap to the back of the head from my Foreman.

Sorceress ignored their byplay and continued her explanation. “We are hoping these components will intensify the echo of the magic.”

I gave her a blank look.single-footprint-in-the-sand

“What we have found is akin to a single footprint in the sand, with no other footprints around it to indicate the direction from which something came or the path it took when it left. Since we can not trace it to its origin, the next best thing is to identify what left the residue. However, because it is fading quickly, we have been unable to identify any likely source. By intensifying the echo of the magic, we hope to be able to identify it, if not trace it.”

I chewed on my lower lip and furrowed my brow, trying to understand. “So, suppose you can identify the source or trace it to its origin. Then what? How do we deal with an entity powerful enough to perform the magic of transportation and memory deletion?”

“It is impossible to answer that until we know more about the nature of the entity and its power.” Sorceress handed one of the pouches to Dragon, then turned to my Gypsy. “Put that food down and make yourself useful!”

He ducked his head and wiped his hands on his trousers before reaching for the pouch Sorceress held out to him.

“We will let you know if we are successful, Mistress.”

I nodded and beckoned Miles and my Foreman to leave with me. “Let’s let them do their work.”

As we left the shed, I saw my Young Hero next to the staircase to the deck. He was waving frantically at us. “Come quickly! Quickly! It’s Cleric!”

The three of us broke into a run.

“What is it? What has happened to Cleric?” My Foreman grabbed my Young Hero by the shoulders as if to shake the information out of him. I placed a restraining hand on his arm.

 

“What’s wrong? Where is Cleric?”

My Young Hero looked at me, his green eyes bugging out and his normally ruddy face ashen. His voice faltered. “She . . . she was just here. She was showing me the two areas where she and the Gypsy found the residue earlier. She was explaining its significance, and in the middle of a sentence, she . . . she was just gone!”

foremanMy Foreman almost collapsed against the steps, his hands balled into fists. His strong chin quivered and his soft gray eyes, full of concern, darted about the yard as if he hoped to catch a glimpse of Cleric.

I turned to Miles. “Get Dragon and Sorceress. Now!”

He nodded and took off across the yard at a trot.

My Old Dwarf, my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One came down the stairs wearing matching looks of concern. I held up my hand. “Stay there! Do not walk on the grass! If Cleric’s disappearance was perpetrated by the same power that caused the earlier disappearances, perhaps Dragon and Sorceress will be able to trace the fresh residue from this site.”residue-on-grass

I saw Miles bursting out of the shed with Sorceress, Dragon and my Gypsy following in his wake. Before they could get half-way across the yard, however, Cleric was suddenly just there, beside us, looking slightly weak-kneed.

My Foreman jumped up and caught her. “Milady! Are you injured? What happened?”Elf

Cleric raised her hand to her forehead. “I . . . I do not believe I have sustained an injury. I am just a bit dizzy and disoriented.”

My Foreman gently guided her to the bottom step, and eased her down. “Sit here until you regain your strength.” He looked around. “Bounty Hunter! Fetch some water!”

My Bounty Hunter ran up the steps, returning moments later with a glass of water. Cleric accepted it with shaking hands, and took a few sips.

I stepped forward. “Cleric, you were gone for several minutes. Do you know what happened, or where you were?”

“She was with us.”

Everyone whirled toward the voice. There, in the grass, was a trio of small, furry creatures, each no more than half a foot tall. I cautiously approached and looked closely at them. With their handsome golden-tan, sable-brown, and creamy-white markings, they appeared to be common Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels. One stood there on its hind legs, eyes closed, paws clasped in front of its face, as if in prayer or supplication. A second huddled in the thick grass, staring at us wide-eyed and ready to bolt. The third peered about curiously, taking in the entire scene and boldly eyeing us over its shoulder.

“Is this another of your tricks?” I rounded on my Arrogant One, but the way he was gaping at the creatures, I knew this wasn’t one of his illusions.

“Nay! We assure thee, Mistress Writer, we art no illusion, nor is this thy elf’s trickery.” The voice, faint and reedy, seemed to come from a great distance, and it was impossible to say which of the small creatures was speaking.

“Explain yourselves! Who or what are you and where do you come from? Are you responsible for all of the recent disappearances? Why are you here? What do you want?”

“Prithee, calm thyself, Mistress Writer! Our troth, we shalt answer all thy questions. First, though, we beg thy kind indulgence for having heretofore inconvenienced thee.”

“Inconvenienced?” I realized I was shouting. I swallowed hard and tried to control my voice. “I would call it slightly more than a mere inconvenience!”

“Forsooth. We . . . we intended no offense. Let us assure thee, we mean no harm. Verily, ’tis just the opposite.”

I folded my arms over my chest and raised an eyebrow. “Oh really? How reassuring!”

“We understand thy vexation—”

“Do you now? How can you possibly understand my . . . my vexation?”

“Prithee, Mistress Writer, do calm thyself! Our time here is short. We must speak with thee. It is of vital importance.”

I raked my hand through my hair and scowled. “So speak.”

“We have been trying for . . . for an incalculable period of time to . . . to . . .” The voice began to fade; then the trio of squirrels was just gone.

Miles blinked. “Where’d they go?”

“I do na knowed where they be gone to but methinks I knowed why they be leavin’.” My Old Dwarf jerked his thumb in the direction of the maple tree. “I be afeared somebody be havin’ a look-see from that tree.”Morcant's familiar

The milky-eyed grackle that served as familiar to the evil wizard, Morcant, had returned to his customary roost in the tree by the window. I could see him observing our little lawn party, bobbing his head up and down for a better look.

I nudged Dragon. “That bird needs to go.”

“Permanently?”

I sighed, pondering the torment of Morcant’s eternal exile without the eyes and ears of his familiar. Total darkness. Complete silence. Forever. I just couldn’t do that, not even to him. “No. It just needs to go far, far away.”

She nodded. She took two hops and spread her leathery wings, launching herself toward the hapless bird. The grackle squawked and fled, streaking over treetops and buildings.

Dragon landed next to me. “I do not believe it will return this day.” She stretched her reptilian lips in a reasonable facsimile of a grin, her razor-sharp teeth glinting in the sunlight.mn-landscape-arboretum-229

Miles moved over to join us, taking great care not to walk too close to the spot where the three Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels had been. “So, any explanations?”

Dragon and I both shook our heads. “We will continue our examination of the residue, but I doubt that we will know anything until our visitors return.”

Miles continued to star at the spot in the grass. “Think they’ll come back soon?”

“There is really no way to know, Master Miles.”

While the magic users continued to search for clues, the rest of us stayed on the alert for the return of the Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels. By the end of the day, however, the secrets held by the residue had not been unlocked, and the trio of creatures had not reappeared.

Before retiring for the night, Miles and I checked the front yard, searching the lawn and hunting through the butterfly garden. Finally we sat on the porch, hand-in-hand, and watched as the deep rose and gold of the setting sun faded.

sunset

As the velvet twilight deepened, and the stars began to wink into view, Miles turned to me, yawning. “We better go inside, honey, before we fall asleep right here.”

I nodded and heaved a weary sigh as Miles and I went inside, turned on the porch light, and headed upstairs to sleep.

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We never noticed the milky-eyed grackle swoop silently into the tree just outside the halo of light.morcants-familiar

Looking For a Link

Looking For a Link

question markWhere am I?

I furrowed my brow. No, that’s not the right question. I know where I am. I’m on the couch in the living room. But how did I get here? Hmmm . . . I suppose Miles must have brought me here after I had . . . I had . . . fainted? Yes, fainted. But where was I before I fainted?

I pulled myself up into a sitting position. Miles and a group of my characters were gathered around the couch, eyeing me with worried looks and murmuring among themselves. I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. So . . . where was I before I fainted? I rubbed my forehead and sighed. No, that’s not the right question, either. I know where I was before I fainted. I was standing on the front steps. Miles and the others were on the front porch, gaping at me.

I shook my head to clear the cobwebs. No, the question should be where had I been before that? And how did I get from wherever I was to the front steps?

Elf facing rightCleric entered the room, her soulful cornflower-blue eyes wet with concern. She wordlessly placed a steaming cup of tea on the accent table in front of me, and dabbed at her eyes with a crumpled handkerchief. Then she hastily joined the others gathered around the couch.

Easter 128Miles sat down next to me and took my hand, squeezing it reassuringly; but his expression was far from reassuring. His face was white, his breathing hard, his lips and chin trembling. He looked frightened half to death, and his concern was mirrored on the faces of all my assembled characters. “Honey, do you remember anything? Anything at all?”

teacupI shook my head and my voice cracked when I spoke. “Not really. One minute, I was heading down the stairs to my office. I needed to finish the work I had been doing before Morcant’s familiar had shown up in the guise of Dragon. The next thing I knew, I was on the front steps, and you were all on the porch staring at me.” With trembling hands, I reached for the teacup, and took a long swallow, letting the warm liquid soothe me.

Cleric stepped forward, wringing her hands. “Mistress, Master Miles told us it was just past the noon hour when you left the living room and went down the stairs to go to your office. I had been waiting for you downstairs by the conference room door since mid-morning. I went upstairs to look for you around one o’clock. You had never arrived downstairs, but Master Miles said you never returned to the living room and he never heard you open the front door to go outside.”

“When Cleric reported you missing, we started looking for you immediately. It was after six in the evening when we saw you on the front steps, Mistress.” My Young Hero furrowed his brow and swallowed hard. “One minute, you were nowhere to be seen, and the next minute, you were just there, standing on the steps.”

I continued sipping my tea. When I had drained the cup, I handed it back to Cleric. I noticed my hands were still trembling. “What happened to me sounds exactly the same as the description you two gave of your recent disappearance.” I nodded toward my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter.

My Bounty Hunter nodded. “But what has caused these phenomena, and why are the three of us the only ones affected?”

My Gypsy crossed his arms over his chest. “Don’t you mean you are the only three affected thus far?”

The others gaped at him, but I nodded. “He’s right. Just because it has only happened to three of us thus far, that doesn’t mean the rest of you aren’t vulnerable. We really don’t know.”

Stu-04-NatGal

“Let us review what we do know.” Ever poised, ever calm, Sorceress stepped up to take the lead. “First, both the Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter recently disappeared from the back yard, near the bottom of the steps to the deck. Days later, when they were found in the garden shed, they claimed no knowledge of how they had disappeared, how long they had been gone, where they had been, or how they came to be in the shed.”

I looked at the other two, and they nodded. My Arrogant One replied softly, “Yes, that is an accurate account, milady.”

“Today, Mistress, you went missing from the upper stairway in the house. You remained missing for several hours and you reappeared on the front steps, with no knowledge of the circumstances or the elapsed time.”

I nodded in agreement.

“We need to find a link.”

Miles frowned. “What do you mean?”

“What do these separate incidents, or the people involved in them, have in common?”

I furrowed my brow, and chewed on my lower lip before answering. “Other than the fact that we disappeared, reappeared in a different place, and have no memory of it happening, let alone any understanding of how it happened, I’m not sure there is a link.”

Sorceress waved her hand dismissively. “There must be, and the sooner we find it, the sooner we can determine if any others are at risk. Let us start with the people involved.”

“Well, two of the people who disappeared are characters from a different world who fell out of my manuscripts, one a bounty hunter, the other a prestidigitator. I, a writer, come from this world, and I am, for lack of a better term, real.”

I could see by their scowls that the term real was not appreciated by my characters, although no one condemned the designation aloud.

“All right, we will accept that for now. What about the locations?”

“The other two were outside, and together, when they disappeared, and they reappeared inside the shed. I was in the house, alone on the upper stairway, when I disappeared, and I reappeared outside, on the front steps.”

Sorceress frowned. “Duration?”

“They were gone for days. I was gone for hours.” I shrugged. “Really, the only thing we have in common is the fact that none of us can remember what happened, or how long it was between the time we disappeared from one spot and reappeared in another.”

“I agree. I see no other similarities, either in our persons or in the disappearances and subsequent reappearances.” My Arrogant One spoke softly and respectfully, still shaken from his recent ordeal.

“You may have one other thing in common.” My Young Hero stepped forward. His brow was furrowed and he rubbed the back of his neck. “The keys.”

Keys 003

“The keys?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Mistress, you were in possession of the keys to the locks of the tower in which the evil wizard, Morcant, is spending his eternal exile.” He turned toward my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One. “And you two had an overwhelming desire to obtain them for Morcant’s familiar. That way, the bird might return to his own world and present the keys to his master, so the wizard could free himself.”

morcant“Then Morcant is the link. Morcant is the one who caused these incidents. He was still trying to obtain the keys, first from my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter, and when that didn’t work, then from me.” I could hear the panic in my own voice.

“I do not believe Morcant is responsible.”

“Dragon!” I greeted my friend with a warm smile. “When did you get back? I thought you were staying to visit with Ollie and James.” My smile quickly faded. I narrowed my eyes and scooted away from the creature. “Wait. You are Dragon, aren’t you?”

Another dragonThe large beast looked at me solemnly. “I am. I returned as soon as James informed me of your difficulties.”

“Oh? And how are James and Ollie?” I tried to sound nonchalant.

“My good friend and his human are quite well, thank you.” Dragon tilted her head and chuckled. “You need not test me, Mistress. I assure you I am not an imposter.”

I shook my head and continued to eye her suspiciously.

“Should I describe Skygate Farm to you? It is really quite beautiful at this time of year, you know, with the glorious fall colors as far as the eye can see.”

I still hesitated.

dwarfMy Old Dwarf stepped toward Dragon, brandishing his axe. “Ye better be tellin’ the truth, ye big lizard! Iffin ye be misrepresentin’ yerself, it’ll be the sharp edge o me blade that ye be feelin’!”

“Do not make me laugh, small one. You know perfectly well that not even your excellent blade can do me the slightest harm. Now, be a good dwarf and sheathe your weapon, before I have you for a bedtime snack.”

“Eh, thet be Dragon all right, not the wizard’s familiar in disguise!” My Old Dwarf returned his axe to its holder and chuckled. “Judgin’ by the way he skedaddled when I threatened ’em, I do na believe thet Morcant’s little birdie be knowin’ thet me blade be useless a’gin a dragon’s hide. Even iffin he do be knowin’ it, he must also be knowin’ thet his hide do na be so tough.”

I nodded and turned back to Dragon. “I’m sorry I doubted you.”

Dragon inclined her head graciously. “It is understandable, considering the wizard’s familiar deceived you once.”

“Indeed! So, why don’t you think Morcant is responsible for the disappearances?”

“Do you remember when the Arrogant One kidnapped Cleric, and the Old Dwarf was knocked unconscious when he tried to rescue her?”

I nodded and my Arrogant One blushed furiously.

“Well, the Arrogant One magically concealed them in the shed loft. Then Morcant used his own magic, through his familiar, to further conceal them, so even the Arrogant One could not find them.”

“Yes, I remember that.”

“When we finally did find them, they were exactly where the Arrogant One had left them. Morcant had not moved them from one place to another.”

I rubbed my chin and chewed on my lower lip. “Are you saying Morcant is not capable of moving his victims about?”

“If he was, I think he would have removed Cleric and the Old Dwarf from the shed loft, making it more difficult for us to find them.”

I slowly nodded. “But . . . well . . . if not Morcant, then who?”

“Ah, yes, that is the question, is it not? Who else has the power to make others go missing?”

“Well, beastie, hereaboots thet would only be ye and Sorceress.”

dragon facing rightDragon narrowed her eyes and snorted a blast of smoke at my Old Dwarf. “You dare accuse me? Or Sorceress?”

The old miscreant coughed and waved his hand to clear away the smoke. “Nay, nay, ye blasted beastie! I just be sayin’ who here be powerful enough ta manage it.”

Dragon snarled a warning, and Sorceress stepped between her and the dwarf. “Cease this immediately! We have no time for petty squabbles amongst ourselves. Dragon, the dwarf may not be the most diplomatic being, but he is correct. The two of us are the only ones here capable of such magic.”

“Then the logical assumption is this act was perpetrated by someone not here.”

I scowled. “That doesn’t exactly narrow down the suspect pool.”

“No, I do not suppose it does.” Dragon sighed, smoke rings drifting from her nostrils. “Mistress, you have had a long and harrowing day, as have the others; and I have had a long and tiring journey. I suggest we all retire for the night. Tomorrow, Sorceress and I can begin investigating the areas of the disappearances and reappearances Perchance we will be able to detect something that would help us trace this magic to its source.”

“May I be of assistance?” Cleric raised her eyebrows in a questioning manner, and offered a hopeful smile.

“And me!” My Gypsy lifted his head and jutted his jaw.

Sorceress smiled at the two of them. “I am sure everyone will be able to assist. Let us discuss this further at breakfast.”

I nodded. “It has been a long day, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who would welcome some rest.” I started to walk toward the stairs.

“You need not check the porch light, Mistress. It was shining like a beacon when I arrived here.”

“Thank you, Dragon!” Miles smiled gratefully and took my hand. “Let’s get some sleep, honey.”sleeping

 

 

 

home-purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-134Cleric and I would like to dedicate this week’s blog to the memory of our dear friend, Arlene, who recently passed from this world. Arlene was fond of my characters and enjoyed their adventures almost as much as I do. Her feedback and encouragement will be sorely missed. We’ll always leave the porch light on for you, Arlene!

 

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