It was another typical January day in Minnesota. The temperature was stuck in the twenties, the wind was raw, and there had been a spate of snow flurries throughout the day. My Gypsy and I were commiserating over the weather as we walked into the living room. I stopped short in the middle of a sentence. I placed my hands on my hips and gaped at Dragon. She had shrunk to the size of a common housecat and was curled up in front of her conjured fireplace, basking in its heat. “How can an illusion radiate heat?”
Dragon lazily opened one eye and regarded me with amusement. “How can it not?” She closed her eye and continued her nap.
I sighed and my Gypsy chuckled. “From what I learned from my Granny, a good illusionist can create a realistic representation of a person or object to fool the sense of sight. But, if someone touches the illusion, it dissipates. A really great magic user can conjure all the attending details to fool the other senses. They can create the illusion of solid matter that can be touched and felt, as well as details such as taste, odor, sound, or – in this specific case – heat. But they must possess extraordinary skill with magic to accomplish this.”
“And the Great Wyrms are the most powerful practitioners of magic in our world.” Sorceress had entered the room unnoticed and now joined the conversation. “Dragon would have little trouble conjuring anything imaginable – a desert sandstorm, with wind enough to knock you down, and heat enough to bake you . . . or a blizzard, with snow enough to bury you and cold enough to freeze you in your tracks; a banquet to delight your taste buds, a garden of the most fragrant flowers, or a deafening clap of thunder.”
“But it is all just illusion,” my Gypsy said. “Once the illusion was dispelled, you would find yourself in the same condition as before – not baked or frozen or deaf, although you would remember how you felt during the illusion.”
“Dragon is really capable of all that?” I was impressed.
“I am.” Dragon’s voice was matter-of-fact. “Now, why do you not find somewhere else to hold your conversation, before I demonstrate some of my other powers?” She growled softly at us, and a small puff of black smoke drifted from her nostrils.
The three of us retreated hastily, Sorceress and my Gypsy to the kitchen to join their other companions, and me to my office to catch up on some work. I had just started reading my e-mail when Miles knocked on the door. “Got a minute?” He was frowning.
“Sure, honey. What’s up?”
He raked his hand through his hair and sighed loudly. “It’s Dragon.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What about her?”
Miles rubbed his jaw and cleared his throat. His voice was strained, and he kept fidgeting. “Well, you know, I, um . . . I thought she and I were getting along so much better lately. She, ah . . . hasn’t charred a pair of my shoes in ages, and she’s been much more civil when she speaks to me.”
“So what happened?”
He scowled. “I just walked into the living room, and she’s curled up in front of a fireplace.” He looked at me, obviously waiting for a reaction. When I just sat there, he burst out, “Honey, you know we don’t have a fireplace!”
“And you made the mistake of pointing that out to her?”
Miles nodded. “A little louder than necessary, I suppose.”
I snickered. “And she . . . ?” I left the question hanging.
His eyes flew open and he threw his hands up in frustration. “She threatened to char my shoes . . . with me still in them!”
I laughed. “Honey, it’s nothing personal. Dragon’s just very cranky in the winter. She hates the cold and snow even more than I do.”
Miles crossed his arms over his chest. “I see. Well, what am I supposed to do – avoid the living room until spring?” He snorted, and didn’t wait for an answer. “I don’t suppose you’ve had a chance to speak to her yet about the items we found?”
“Sorry, no, not yet. I was hoping to catch her in a better mood. I don’t care to have my shoes charred whilst wearing them, either.” I winked at Miles.
Just then, my Old Dwarf burst through the door, wide-eyed and wildly waving his war axe. “Lassie, ye be needin’ ta do summat aboot thet great beastie o yourn!”
I gaped at the old reprobate. His shield and parts of his armor were singed and caked with soot. “I thought dwarves had more common sense than to disturb a sleeping dragon!”
Miles gasped. “What has she done now? She hasn’t set the house afire, has she?”
“Nay, not the house, laddie, just me.” He ducked his head, and looked chagrined. “I do na be supposin’ I ken rightly blame the beastie, though. I did step on her tail.”
“You what?” I blinked.
“Wale, she be makin’ herself so small there in front o the hearth, and I be edgin’ over ta warm meself. It be a good long time, lassie, since I be havin’ a real fire ta warm meself.” The rotund graybeard stared off into space with a wistful look on his face. Then he shook himself and continued. “Anywho, I guess I just do na be lookin’ where I be puttin’ me feet.”
I chuckled. “I’ll speak to her, but if I were you, I’d stay out of her way for a while.” I turned back toward Miles. “And I will speak with her regarding the other matters as well.”
Nodding, Miles and my Old Dwarf left the office, and I turned back to my desk to put my computer into sleep mode before going upstairs to approach Dragon. Moments later, as I was leaving the office, I almost collided with my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One.
My Arrogant One sneered and looked down his nose at me. He grasped the front of his cloak with both hands, rocked back on his heels, and began a tirade in his annoyingly superior tone. “Just what are you going to do about that dreadful beast? She growls at anyone who enters the room, she threatened to eat your Gypsy, she threatened to char your mate’s shoes, she almost roasted your Old Dwarf, and just moments ago she almost singed my best robes!”
“Dragon, of course! Of whom do you imagine I speak?”
I shrugged. “Hard to tell, when you just start in whining without even a polite howdy-do.”
My Arrogant One flushed and he clenched his fists. His voice was a full octave higher when he spoke. “Well? Are you going to do anything about this?” He took a step toward me.
I crossed my arms in front of me and stood squarely in the doorway, preventing the elf and his companion from entering my office. “Sorry, complaint department is closed for the day.”
My Arrogant One’s eyes narrowed dangerously. He clenched his jaw, then turned on his heel and marched off down the hall.
My Bounty Hunter turned to me. “Mistress Writer, he may be annoying, but the elf is right. Something should be done about Dragon before she does serious harm to someone or damages your home.”
“I know. I was actually just on my way upstairs to have a chat with her.”
A few minutes later, I entered the living room and cautiously approached Dragon, who was still basking in front of the ersatz fireplace. I noticed that she had grown to the size of a lion, and her tail was curled tightly against her body. Her reptilian eyes were narrowed to slits as she kept watch over the room. As I walked toward her, a plume of smoke began to drift from her nostrils, and I heard the deep rumble of her warning growl.
I stopped a few feet away from her and waited. Finally, she acknowledged my presence. “Are you so brave as to disturb me, human, or are you just that foolish?”
“Is that any way for one friend to greet another?” I looked Dragon in the eye, kept my voice even, and stood my ground.
After a few moments, she chuckled. “Have you something of great import to discuss, or do you just seek a kindred spirit with whom to commiserate over this detestable weather?”
I smiled. “A little of both, I suppose.” I paused, stroking my chin. “Why don’t we retire to the conference room? You can bring your fireplace.”
Once ensconced in the conference room, with Dragon comfortably lounging by the conjured hearth, I bade my companion to place the appropriate wards on the room. “What I have to say is for your ears alone. Let’s be sure no uninvited guests are privy to our conversation.”
“Of course.” Dragon mumbled an incantation, rendering the room impervious to eavesdropping by means physical or magical.
For a few moments, we just sat and enjoyed a companionable silence and the considerable heat of the conjured fireplace. Finally, Dragon rolled on her side and looked at me expectantly.
I leaned forward and cleared my throat. “I have need of your skill and your discretion, my friend.”
“I offer you both.” She rolled back onto her belly and tucked her front legs under her chest.
“I asked you previously if you, Sorceress, and Cleric could discover the reason Miles was speaking and acting like the Innkeeper, a person from your world who is friend to several of your fellow characters now in this world. You told me at that time there was insufficient information to determine the reason.”
Dragon inclined her head in agreement.
“I now ask you to examine these two items. They have both recently been found here in this house.”
Dragon reached out and took the talisman and the horseshoe and examined them. “To whom do these items belong?”
“The talisman appears to be the one the Innkeeper owned. The horseshoe might have been crafted by his friend, Old Smyth, the blacksmith who was employed by my Young Hero’s father.”
Dragon nodded and continued examining the items. “How and when did they come to be in this world, in this house?”
“I don’t know how, only when. Miles found the talisman on the steps on Christmas Eve, a week after he began to occasionally speak and act like the Innkeeper. A week later, on New Year’s Eve, I found the horseshoe in the hallway. I was troubled by it, as Miles had referred to Old Smyth when he was acting like the Innkeeper. When I showed him the horseshoe, he again spoke as if he were the other man. He said I told the boy-os not to fret. The Blacksmith will lend a hand. Old Smyth could always be relied on!”
“And what information do you seek from me?”
“First, are these two objects real, or illusions? I would never have considered them to be unreal, but for the conversation you heard earlier between Sorceress, my Gypsy, and I, regarding illusions.”
“They are quite real. Other than myself, no one here possesses the skill to produce solid illusions.”
“Not even my Arrogant One?”
“Especially not that insufferable elf!”
I nodded. “Then these objects fell out of my manuscripts, as did you characters?”
“Judging from their feel, from the trace of magic on them, I do not believe so. No, I believe, much like the keys to Morcant’s tower, these objects traveled through a magical conduit between worlds.”
My eyes widened. “First, Miles starts talking and acting like the Innkeeper. Then, the Innkeeper’s talisman and a horseshoe possibly forged by Old Smyth appear in this world.” I puzzled over it. “Could it be a coincidence?”
I spoke softly, little more than thinking aloud, but Dragon answered. “It is most doubtful.”
I gave her a penetrating look. “What do you know? What can you tell from these objects?”
She shrugged. “I know nothing, other than what we have just discussed. However, it seems highly unlikely to me that the incidents would be unrelated. We just need to determine how they are related. I will give this considerable thought. If I arrive at any conclusion, I will let you know.”
With nothing further to discuss, Dragon dispelled the wards she had cast on the room, and I opened the door. “Coming?”
“No, I think I will remain here by the fire.”
I took the talisman and the horseshoe and headed up the stairs. I paused on the landing to turn on the porch light. As I started up the second set of steps, Dragon called from downstairs. “Mistress!”
I detected an urgent note to her voice. I raced back down the stairs and stopped dead in my tracks. Dragon was holding a ruby ring.
“I saw this on the table, and thought you had left it there. But when I picked it up, I could feel the magic in it.”
I gasped. “I know that ring. I last saw it in the hands of . . . of someone in your world.”
What is going on? Why have these things appeared? What is the connection between these items and the fact that Miles has been speaking like the Innkeeper? Be sure to come back and see if we can solve this mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.