The atmosphere was grim as my characters took their seats around the conference room table; all my characters save two, the two whose fate we were here to discuss. My Old Dwarf had discovered that my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter apparently had plans to introduce technology from this world into their medieval world if they could find a way to enter that world. Or at least, they would use my Arrogant One’s skill in creating illusions to make it seem as though they possessed advanced alien technology.
I turned to my Foreman, my Gypsy, and my Young Hero, who had been absent during the original disclosure of this matter. “Did anyone explain to you what’s going on?”
My Foreman nodded and folded his arms over his chest. “That annoying elf just can’t seem to stay out of trouble, and he keeps dragging the Bounty Hunter in with him.”
“I think that may be the other way around.” My Young Hero frowned. “I believe that it is the Bounty Hunter who keeps instigating, playing on the elf’s ego.”
“I think there is enough blame for the two of them to share.” My Gypsy quirked an eyebrow and inclined his head toward the other two as he took his seat.
“Wale, I be thinkin’ it be aboot time we be doin’ summat aboot the two o them.” My Old Dwarf was pacing and slapping the flat of his war axe against the palm of his hand.
“I could always roast them.” Dragon wore a sly smile and a thin plume of black smoke drifted from her nostrils.
“No roasting.” My husband and I spoke in unison.
“What is your fascination with roasting?” Miles asked.
Dragon blinked and looked at my husband as if he had just sprouted another head. She spoke to him slowly and distinctly, as if speaking to an obtuse child. “I am a dragon.”
Miles looked at her, cocked his head, and shrugged.
Dragon sighed, shook her head and turned to me. “Methinks by now he should be able to reason it out. Mayhap you can explain it to him?”
“Some other time. Let’s just get down to business.”
The group quieted down and everyone took a seat, with Dragon stretching out on the nearby sofa. I looked around at my characters, all tight-lipped, with many clenching their fists. I heaved a big sigh and began.
“We all know what my Old Dwarf has reported – that my Arrogant One is practicing his illusions and that he and my Bounty Hunter are formulating plans to use the elf’s power of illusion to gain supremacy in your world, should they find a way to journey there.”
“We must not allow that to happen.” Dragon’s eyes were narrowed, the plume of black smoke from her nostrils was expanding, and her tone brooked no argument. The others around the table nodded and loudly voiced their agreement, some banging their fist on the table.
I held up my hands and the group fell silent. “Of course we must not allow it! But let’s discuss the likelihood of it ever actually happening. First, my Arrogant One must perfect his craft. Nothing short of a solid and substantial illusion will gain the results he and his cohort seek. In fact, anything less than a solid and substantial illusion could put their very lives in danger, when the people of your world realize they have been hoodwinked.”
My Old Dwarf stroked his beard. “Hmmm…thet be true enough. But how long be it afore the elfie can make a real-enough illusion?”
I gestured to Dragon, Sorceress, and my Gypsy. “The three of you have the most knowledge of, and experience with, magic. Just months ago, my Arrogant One was only able to create illusions that could be seen and heard, illusions that dissipated quickly if he lost his concentration. Now, the elf is already creating very realistic illusions. The piece of cake he created for my Old Dwarf had aroma, taste and texture. It was solid enough to be picked up, but it dissipated quickly when the dwarf tried to eat it. At this rate, how long might it be before the elf perfects his illusions?”
Sorceress frowned and stroked her chin. “It is difficult to predict. If the elf continues to practice diligently, his proficiency could continue to increase rapidly.”
My Gypsy nodded, but Dragon snorted. “You credit the elf with more aptitude than he possesses. All the practice in the world will not help one who lacks the innate power.”
I quirked an eyebrow. “Are you saying his illusions will never be good enough to carry out his plan?”
Dragon hesitated. “I am saying it is most unlikely. However, when one contemplates the results should he ever succeed, I do not believe we can take any chances.”
I nodded. “I tend to agree. But that is not the only consideration. The second and possibly more important point is this – is there any possible way for my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter . . . or for any of you . . . to find a way into your own world?”
“A way ta be returnin’ ta our own world do na ever be found by any o us yet.” My Old Dwarf’s shoulders sagged and he stared at his hands, which he held clasped tightly on the table before him. “But, ye be tellin’ us more’n once, lass, thet we already be there at the same time we be here.”
I nodded. “Yes, and that is the salient point. As you know, it is my contention that you all exist simultaneously in this world and in your own. So it would not be a question of returning to your world, it would be a question of entering it. My question is can that be done? If not, there is no point to this discussion. If there is no way for them to enter your world, it matters not how proficient my Arrogant One gets with his magic. He and my Bounty Hunter will never be able to take it to your world and carry out the plans they have formulated.”
My characters shifted around in their seats and murmured to one another. Finally, Dragon rose from the couch. “As with the previous question of the elf’s ability to create solid and substantial illusions, I do not believe we can afford to take a chance. Although mayhap there is no way for them to get to our world and implement their plan, if they do, the results would be devastating to our world.”
I chewed on my lower lip for a few minutes while I considered the alternatives. Finally, I raked my hand through my hair and sighed heavily. “Dragon, you are the most powerful of all the magic users among my characters. Could you, with the help of Cleric, Sorceress, and my Gypsy, conduct research and experiments to find if there is, indeed, a way for any of you present here to get to your own world? I do not believe that my Arrogant One can perfect his magic in the time it would take the four of you to make this determination.”
Dragon looked at the other three, who all nodded. She turned back to me and promised solemnly, “We will undertake this task. We will do everything within our power to ascertain whether we can go to our own world or no.”
“Thank you, all of you. Until that determination is made, we can make no decision regarding the fate of my Arrogant One or my Bounty Hunter. However, we all need to keep an eye on them, to gauge the elf’s progress with his magic. And we need to remain on guard around both the elf and his cohort. They must not know that anyone other than the two of them is trying to find a way to get to your world.”
My characters all nodded their agreement and then everyone left the conference room to retire for the night. I turned to Miles. “We better get as much sleep as possible tonight. You and I have a big job ahead of us starting tomorrow.”
My husband quirked an eyebrow. “The books?”
I nodded. “The books.”
The next morning, I ran into Dragon on her way to the conference room. “Are you and the others going to begin your task this morning?”
She nodded. “We will work diligently to determine as quickly as possible if there is any way for us, your characters who have fallen out of your manuscripts into your world, to enter our own world.”
“I appreciate the four of you working on this. First, though, could I trouble you to release the protective grid around the books that came here through the magical conduit from your world? Miles and I would like to begin perusing them.”
“Of course.” Dragon ushered me into the conference room, where the books sat on the table within their protective grid. The big beast mumbled a quick incantation, and the grid disappeared. “Will you want me to return them to the magic grid when you are finished with them?”
“No, I don’t want to disturb the work you will be doing. Perhaps Cleric has another box like the one she gave me for the keys to Morcant’s tower . . . something in which I can place the books that will hide them from anyone searching for them by physical or magical means.”
Dragon frowned. “You will need something slightly more powerful. You will need something that also prevents the books themselves from initiating any transport or other magic.”
I gaped at the beast. “Do you really think the books capable of that? I thought the only indications of magic you found were the trace magic from the conduit and the trace magic you assumed was from a spell intended to prevent anyone from reading the books.”
“Yes, that is all we found. However, improbable though it may be, it is possible that some magic can hide even from magic users as skilled as myself and my companions. We should not take any chances.”
“Okay, do you happen to have such a container?”
“Not at the moment, but it should not take me long to enchant one. I know Cleric has another such as the one she previously gave you. I am certain she will allow us to use it for this purpose, and I will incorporate the magical protective grid into its fabric. Unless you think you will need it sooner, I can give it to you at the noontime meal.”
“Thanks, that will be fine.” I took the pile of books and headed for the door. Cleric, Sorceress, and my Gypsy greeted me as they entered the conference room to begin work on their task. My Old Dwarf nodded to me as he took up his post outside the door where he would stand guard to prevent anyone from disturbing the magic users as they worked.
I went upstairs and found Miles at the kitchen table. He had made a pot of coffee for himself, and a pot of tea for me, and he poured us each a cup as I took my seat next to him.
“Thanks. I have a feeling we may need the caffeine. We may be at this a long time.”
He sighed and nodded. “Which book do you think we should start with?”
I thought about it a moment. “Well, each of the four books contains on its first page an illustration of one of the objects that came through the magical conduit from my characters’ world. So, I guess we should read the books in the order the objects appeared in this world.”
Miles frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. “Are we certain of the order in which they arrived here? I thought we only knew for certain when we found them. How long might any of them have been here before being noticed?”
“Point well taken.” I sighed. “I’m reasonably certain that the talisman, the horseshoe and the ring were found shortly after their appearance, due to the locations in which they appeared. They could not reasonably have gone unnoticed for any length of time. It’s the Royal Seal I’m unsure of. As Dragon so kindly pointed out when I showed her where we found the object in my office, ‘among all this clutter . . . any given object could go undetected for years!’”
Miles chuckled. “Do you think she’s right?”
I blushed. “Well, I don’t really put much effort into keeping my office tidy. I suppose it might have gone unnoticed for some time, but certainly not years.”
“I’ve offered many times to clean and organize your office for you.”
I shot Miles a warning look. “Stay away from my office! It doesn’t need to be any more organized than it already is. I can lay my hands on anything I need within minutes.”
My husband chuckled again. “Okay. But how can we decide the order in which to read the books if we can’t be sure of the order in which the objects appeared?”
I frowned and drummed my fingers on the table while I thought. “Maybe it’s not all that important in what order we read them. Maybe we should just grab one and start.”
Miles reached out and chose a book at random. He opened it to the first page. We saw a beautiful illustration of the Innkeeper’s Talisman, the first of the four objects we had found. Miles himself had found the talisman on Christmas Eve. We examined the illustration carefully. It was a painstaking and detailed depiction of the amulet, but it gave no further clue as to the content of the book.
Miles and I exchanged looks and we both shrugged; then I turned the page and we began to read.
Be sure to come back and read over our shoulders as we explore the mysterious books. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.