It was after midnight. Dragon crept silently around the house, moving like a shadow from room to room. This house, a modest suburban bi-level in a small town in the Midwestern United States, had been her home now for longer than she could rightly remember. Dragon shared it with eight other fictional characters who, like herself, had fallen from the pages of some manuscripts; Mistress Writer, the creator of those manuscripts; and Master Miles, Mistress Writer’s spouse.
This house was far different from some homes Dragon remembered from sometime in the echoes of her long life – the huge mountain caverns filled with treasure, the great expanse of sand and wind and starlight of the desert, the majestic palaces of those who thought to own her. Compared to those, this frame dwelling was a humble house, an unpretentious house, a rather lowly and commonplace house.
Dragon was going to miss this house.
She crept along the hallway, peeking in at her companions, saying her silent farewells. The gentle Cleric, the regal Sorceress, the exasperating Old Dwarf, the valiant Young Hero, the waggish Gypsy, the reliable Foreman . . . Dragon would miss them all. The unscrupulous Arrogant One and the treacherous Bounty Hunter were a different story. Those two, Dragon never trusted, and they grated on her every nerve. Even now, Dragon could feel an almost uncontrollable urge to rip them apart as they slept. The big beast hurried away before she gave in to her violent impulse.
At the end of the hallway, Dragon listened discretely at the door of the master bedchamber. Hearing only the sounds of sleep, she entered and stood next to the bed. For a long time, Dragon gazed at Mistress Writer and her spouse as they slumbered. Finally, the huge creature leaned over and tenderly kissed the woman on her cheek, and gently tousled the man’s hair. Then she left, a single tear slipping down her reptilian face as she quietly closed the door behind her.
* * *
“If you do not like it, why do you not do something about it?” Cleric glared at Sorceress through narrowed eyes. Her hands, balled into fists, hung at her sides.
“Do not tempt me.” Sorceress sounded like a common fishmonger, her voice shrill and grating. She started to conjure a fireball, but my Old Dwarf smacked her hands with the flat of his axe, destroying the spell.
“Ye do na be tossin’ fireballs aboot in the hoose!” His chin jutted out stubbornly and he glared at the two women. “I do na be likin’ ta be singed! Iffin ye be wantin’ ta fight, do it outside!”
“Oh, no! Don’t be throwing those fireballs around outside, either!” My Gypsy’s voice was almost a snarl as he addressed Cleric and Sorceress. “The three of us are going to be riding our horses.”
My Foreman and my Young Hero nodded in agreement. “You spook one of our mounts, and see what happens.” My Foreman curled his right hand into a fist and thumped it menacingly into the palm of his open left hand.
“Why don’t you all go outside? And play nice!” Neither my tone of voice nor my steely glare left any room for argument, and in two shakes of a lamb’s tale, my characters had all scooted out the door.
“It’s getting worse, isn’t it?” Miles watched my characters drift into several groups, each seemingly intent on intimidating the others and taking charge of the outdoor area for their own activities.
I nodded. “They are at each other’s throats almost constantly. I have had to intervene in numerous confrontations to prevent serious injuries. Even Cleric, usually as mild and pleasant as a little lamb, has been acting more like a rabid wolf.”
“And still no idea where Dragon is?”
I shook my head. “She did warn us she might have to leave, for our protection, but she hurried off before I could ask her where she would go or how long she would stay away. I just hope she’s okay, wherever she may be.”
* * *
Dragon blinked against the bright desert sun. She reveled in the feel of the hot sand between her clawed toes. She flopped down and rolled onto her back, squirming and writhing, letting the gritty matter scratch away her itches and burnish her scales. When at last she finished, she rose and shook the sand from her bulky carcass. Then she raised one clawed hand and shielded her eyes from the brilliant blue of a cloudless sky. She gazed toward the distant horizon and recognized the royal city with its gold-and-ivory crowned spires and minarets of rose, black, and white marble.
The desert and its royal city felt familiar to Dragon; but it was the familiarity of a place oft heard about, not a place ever visited in person. Still, Dragon felt this spot held an importance in her life. She frowned and wondered. Would she find answers here?
While she stood pondering how to proceed, a slight movement between two dunes caught Dragon’s eye. She cautiously approached. There, stretched out asleep in the sand, was a huge wyrm, a mirror image of Dragon. Not daring to startle the great beast awake, Dragon sat and waited.
It was three days before the beast stirred. She – Dragon could see it was female – woke slowly, stretching and shaking the sleep from her muscles, and the sand from her scales. Presently, she padded over to a nearby oasis and took a long drink from the small pool. Then she looked around and sprang into the air, quickly flying off toward the royal city. Dragon watched her until she was just a small dot over the city.
Dragon frowned. The creature had given no indication she had seen Dragon sitting right there, so close their wings had almost touched. And something more bothered Dragon about her near encounter with the great wyrm, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
Dragon decided to follow the other dragon to the royal city. She spread her wings and launched herself toward the north. The city, which had seemed so distant, was beneath her in less than a dozen wing-beats. Dragon landed just outside the walls of the city, and shapeshifted quickly into her customary form of an elf maiden. She took a few steps toward the city gates, then stopped, shaking her head. What am I thinking? She quickly changed again, taking on the guise of a desert dweller.
Entering the city, Dragon immediately headed for the palace, although she could think of no reason why she should go there, nor any reason she should know exactly where to find it. Along the way, she passed through the bustling bazaar, where merchants and tradesmen hawked their wares. Observing them, something bothered Dragon, just as something about the other dragon had bothered her. Again, she could not quite figure what it was.
When she came to the palace, Dragon stopped dead in her tracks. She knew this place. It was more than a place she had heard of, but not a place to which she had ever actually been. She sensed this had not been a happy place in her personal history . . . but if she had never actually been here, how could that be? Dragon shuddered, and was overcome by an uncontrollable urge to flee this place. She assumed her true form, expecting to cause panic in the crowded streets. Instead, not a head turned in her direction.
Dragon looked around. Everyone was going about their business, completely ignoring her, a huge dragon standing there in the middle of the street. Dragon’s eyes narrowed. She took a few steps toward the palace and snarled at the guards. They ignored her.
Dragon sat back on her tail. Was all this an elaborate illusion, conjured by some unknown trickster? Dragon reached out and touched the nearest guard. She could feel him, although he showed no sign of feeling her touch. If he was illusion, he was a solid and substantial illusion, the type of illusion that only a master magician could conjure. Yet, why would a master illusionist create people and creatures that did not act as they should when confronted by a dragon? Dragon cocked her head and scratched her chin. She quickly cast a spell of detection, but no magic was revealed. These were not illusions.
Dragon studied the guards. They may not be illusions, but they did not look quite real. The guards appeared almost two-dimensional. They weren’t quite flat, Dragon realized upon closer inspection, but they lacked a certain substance. As Dragon pondered the situation, she realized that was what had bothered her about the other dragon – she, too, had not appeared quite real. She had looked more like a moving picture of a dragon – flat, two-dimensional, like some poorly animated cartoons Dragon had watched every now and again on Mistress Writer’s television. And in the bazaar – the people, buildings, wagons, animals had all shared an underlying two-dimensional feel. Dragon scratched her head, puzzled by this realization.
Dragon decided to leave this place. She took to the sky and winged her way south again. In no time, she was out of sight of the royal city. A few moments later, the desert gave way to mountains, then to forests and plains. Presently, Dragon found herself over another city. This one she did not recognize, although she somehow sensed this was where she needed to be. Here she would find the answers she sought. She hoped.
* * *
The bickering among my characters had continued the entire day. Miles and I had broken up countless squabbles before they could escalate into physical confrontations. This time, we were too late.
“Do na be blamin’ yerself, lass.” My Old Dwarf lay on the kitchen floor, skewered by a carving knife. I tried, without much success, to stem the bleeding. The old rapscallion’s breathing was becoming labored. The light was leaving his eyes and his skin was growing gray and sweaty.
“Where is Cleric with her healing herbs?” I tried to keep the panic from my voice. I failed.
“I am here. But why should I waste my herbs and my skills on that saddle-goose?”
I gaped at Cleric. “Because I order you to?”
She arched an eyebrow and looked down her nose at me. “Phht! And why should I obey orders given by such a dullard?”
“Because my Old Dwarf will die if you so not help!”
“No great loss.”
I scrambled to my feet and grabbed Cleric by the arm. I could feel my face contort in anger. “By all that’s holy, I swear if you let him die, I will destroy you. You have heard me threaten many times to delete one or more of you characters from the manuscripts. Trust me, I am not threatening now. It is a fact – if my Old Dwarf dies, you, Cleric, will cease to exist.” I whirled toward my Bounty Hunter. “As will you, you murdering scum!”
My Bounty Hunter scoffed. “It wasn’t murder. It was self defense. He charged me, waving that ax of his. I merely protected myself.”
I ignored him and forced Cleric to a kneeling position next to my Old Dwarf. “Do something! Now! Don’t let him die!”
Cleric sighed and rolled her eyes. She pulled some healing herbs from her pouch and applied them to the wound. She recited several prayers. My Old Dwarf did not respond. I grasped his hand, and felt his life slipping away.
Miles knelt down next to me. He had a pen and a pad of paper. “Here. I want you to try something.”
“What?” My face was wet with tears.
“Write him back to life.”
“You’re the writer. He’s one of your characters. Write him well again.”
I gaped at my husband, uncomprehending. “Write him well?”
I took the pen and paper and searched my mind for the right words. Could this really be done?
* * *
Dragon had been watching the manor house at the sprawling horse farm a few miles outside the city. It was easy to wander around in plain sight of the occupants, who paid her no more heed than had the other dragon, or the palace guards in the royal city. Dragon recognized many of the people who came and went throughout the day. There was the Young Hero, and the Foreman. The Gypsy, the Cleric, and the Old Dwarf were there, too. There were others, many others, whom Dragon did not know. One of them was a blacksmith. Dragon followed him to his workshop behind the barn and found a barrel of old horseshoes. Horseshoes . . . Dragon was drawn to them, yet wondered why on earth she would have any interest in old horseshoes.
What is this strange yet familiar place where Dragon has gone, and why doesn’t anyone there see her? What is the significance of the horseshoes? Can Mistress Writer write her Old Dwarf back to health? Be sure to join us again next week to find the answers to these and other mysteries. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.