The weather had taken another turn. The month of March in Minnesnowta, Dragon was learning, is unpredictable. The previous day had been reasonably warm; the outdoor thermometer had registered an almost-comfortable 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Last night, the temperature had begun to fall and the area had come under a tornado watch. This morning, Dragon had awoken to see a dusting of snow in the yard, and the thermometer barely reaching 29.
Never a fan of the cold, Dragon retired to the conference room and curled up for a nap next to her illusory fireplace. As she snoozed, basking in the very real heat of the conjured flames, she heard the door open.
“Are you ready to embark upon our tasks? Yestereve you decided that it was too late in the day when the books were first discovered for us to begin our investigation; so we came early this morn, and the day stretches before us.”
Dragon opened one sleepy eye and regarded Sorceress, who was already bustling around setting up her materials and apparatus. The large beast growled softly, closed her eye, and rolled over. “Cold. Sleepy. Go away.”
“We should begin our work. We have much to do.”
Dragon recognized Cleric’s voice, and opened both eyes. A small, dark plume began to drift from her nose.
“It is too cold to do any work.” Dragon scowled.
Cleric mirrored the big beast’s scowl as she opened her pouch and placed several vials on the table. “Well, Mistress Writer is anxious to learn of our progress.”
“Or our lack thereof.” Sorceress frowned as she approached the books, safely enclosed within the glowing grid. “Besides, you can hardly say it is too cold to do any work in here. You have this room as hot as a Dwarven forge!”
Dragon chuckled. “I like the heat. It helps me think.” She slowly rose and stretched, yawning widely. “And, speaking of Dwarven forges, has Mistress Writer found her errant dwarf?”
Cleric shook her head. “No. The Old Dwarf is still missing. He was not at dinner last night, nor breakfast this morn.”
Dragon frowned at that. “It is unlike the rotund one to miss so many meals.”
Sorceress waved off Dragon’s concern. “Mistress Writer does not believe him to be in any peril. However, if you two insist on worrying, perhaps we may be able to assist in searching for him, if we can complete our investigation without further delay.”
Dragon nodded. “Very well, then, let us commence.” She mumbled an incantation, releasing the books from the glowing grid in which she had contained them. “Just be certain not to touch them.”
* * *
The short, round figure stood concealed behind the big maple tree, munching a turkey leg. He carefully peeked around the thick tree trunk and looked out over the yard. The earlier dusting of snow had already melted in the morning sun, and the dwarf could no longer see the white puffs of breath in the air from the horses and riders he watched.
Only a few feet away from him, my Foreman and the lads were exercising their mounts. My Forman rode a spirited black stallion, my Gypsy was on a flashy black and white cob, and my Young Hero was astride a small chocolate palomino pony. They were performing cavalry drills, riding in circles and figure-eights, executing flying lead changes, half-passes, pirouettes, and diagonals. They were completely oblivious of their audience of one.
My Old Dwarf chuckled and took another big bite of turkey leg. Grease dripped into his beard, and he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. Who be needin’ spells o concealment? In me own world, in me old life, I woulda been kilted a hunnert times over iffin I could na keep from bein’ seed when I be needin’ ta go unnoticed! And dwarves do na be havin’ the advantage o magic.
Gnawing the last of the meat from the turkey leg, the dwarf stowed the bare bone in his pocket. He glanced at the riders again, but they were at the other end of the yard. They had dismounted and were checking their equipment. The dwarf looked around the rest of the yard, watching for any movement. Seeing none, the old reprobate stealthily slipped from tree to tree along the edge of the wide expanse of lawn until he was in the back of the yard. After a few moments, he slunk over to the garden shed, opened the door a crack, and slipped inside. His eyes adjusted immediately to the dim light, an innate ability of his race. Hearing voices from the loft, the old one silently crept up the stairs and entered the attic unnoticed.
“I do not see why you feel the need to remain in hiding.” My Bounty Hunter propped his foot up on a box and studied his companion in the flickering light of the lantern.
My Arrogant One gaped at him. “Do you not? If I return now, that odious beast will probably roast me and have me for dinner!”
“Dragon?” My Bounty Hunter scoffed.
My Arrogant One’s voice rose to a pathetic whine. “Of course, Dragon! She has always been jealous of me! She constantly downplays my skill and makes light of my power. And you heard what she called me!” The elf slumped into a chair and sulked.
My Bounty Hunter tried to hide a snicker behind his hand. “Yes, I believe she called you a contemptible, aggravating, pompous, loathsome creature.”
My Arrogant One jumped from his chair and gestured wildly. “Yes! Yes! You see? She is insanely jealous! My life is not worth a single copper should I return!”
“Eh, the beastie do na be jealous o ye, elfie! She just knowed good and well what ye be.”
The elf shrieked at the sudden appearance of the dwarf just a few feet away, and my Bounty Hunter jumped, knocking over the box.
“Ye knowed, elfie, thet dinna be very polite o ye ta just disappear the other night.”
Before the elf could find his voice, my Old Dwarf whirled around to face my Bounty Hunter, who was slowly raising his weapon. “I would na be doin’ thet, laddie, iffin I be ye. Drop yer crossbow and kick it o’er here. And ye can be handin’ o’er them thar knives ye keep in yer vest, too.”
For a long time, my Bounty Hunter stood and stared at the dwarf through narrowed eyes, taking his measure. Finally, he smiled an oily smile and placed his crossbow on the floor. He gingerly nudged it toward the dwarf, then fumbled in his vest pocket for his knives. Suddenly, he dropped to the floor and reached for his crossbow, but the dwarf brought his axe down on it, splintering the weapon.
“Thet coulda just as easy been yer head, laddie. Now, stop bein’ so foolish and hand over yer knives. And elfie?” My Old Dwarf glanced over his shoulder. “Ye best not be tryin’ ta magic me, liken ye did once afore.”
“Magic?” The Bounty Hunter frowned. “Oh, that’s right. I forgot you did that, elf. That was clever. Magic doesn’t work on dwarves, but you didn’t use it on him, did you? You levitated a fallen tree branch and used that to knock him out.”
Since my Arrogant One had not regained his voice, my Old Dwarf answered. “He did. But he’ll not be trickin’ me like that twice. Now, the two o’ye git o’er here and sit down. We be havin’ a lot of conversatin’ ta do.”
* * *
The three companions slumped over their worktable, exhaustion showing in their every expression and gesture. Cleric and Sorceress were dripping with sweat, and even Dragon looked a bit wilted.
The books in the center of the table were surrounded by vials and pouches. Remnants of many potions and powders were strewn about. The three spellcasters had spent the day attempting to magically probe the books to locate their source and purpose, along with any evidence of inherent danger.
“Well, there are several traces of magic on the books.” Dragon sighed, and tiny black smoke rings rose from her nostrils. “We all agree that the one trace is from the magic conduit through which the books entered our world, correct?”
Sorceress and Cleric nodded.
Sorceress wrinkled her brow. “It exactly matches the trace magic found on the four items from our world that have appeared here, so I believe we can presume these books came through the same conduit. That would indicate these books also originated in our world.”
Cleric frowned. “Perhaps, but how do we account for the second remnant of magic?”
Dragon shrank her considerable bulk to the size of a Cocker Spaniel and started pacing the length of the room. “I do not know. I do not recognize the magic, yet these books seem familiar to me.”
Sorceress scowled. “We have exhausted all magical means of examining the books. I fear we must risk the potential danger and begin our physical examination.”
Cleric’s eyes widened. “There are precautions we can take, are there not? Can not one of you cast a protective ward on the books to prevent them from harming us when we handle them?”
“It will take much time to prepare such a spell. We are all fatigued. I believe we should wait until the morrow.” Without waiting for a response, Dragon swelled to her previous size. She immediately went to the table and prepared some spell components. While she worked, she recited an intricate incantation under her breath. When she finished, Dragon sprinkled the mixture over the books and cast her spell, once more creating a protective, glowing grid around the books.
“Return in the morning. We will continue then.” Without another word, Dragon went over and curled up in front of her fireplace once more. Within moments, she was snoring. Cleric and Sorceress shrugged, then quietly left the room.
* * *
I heard the door slam as Miles came in from the garage. “Honey, you home?”
“Right here.” I walked down the stairs.
“Sorry it took longer than I thought it would. The trouble wasn’t in the carburetor, it was the fuel pump. The mechanic didn’t have one in stock and he had to get his supplier to send a new one.” He handed me some bags, took off his jacket and hung it in the hall closet, then gave me a quick kiss hello. He pointed to the bags. “I stopped off and got some rotisserie chicken for dinner.”
“Oh, I knew there had to be a reason I married you! How did you know I wanted chicken for dinner?”
Miles grinned. “So how’s everything on the home front? Anything new and exciting happen today?”
“Nope. It’s been most uneventful here. All my characters must have taken the day off. I’ve seen neither hide nor hair of any of them the entire day.”
“Hmmm…that’s ominous. I wonder what they could be up to.”
Be sure to come back and see what my characters are up to in future episodes. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.