Miles and I were knocked back by the force of the explosion. We crashed into the wall and landed in a heap on the floor. I was seeing stars; then, through the stars, I saw Miles pull himself unsteadily to his feet.
I tried to focus on my husband. His lips were moving. I leaned closer to hear him over the ringing in my ears.
“Are you okay?” The furrowed brow and the look of concern in his eyes told me Miles had already asked me this, perhaps several times.
My ears were still ringing, and it felt like a Dwarven blacksmith was using my head for an anvil, so it took a few moments before I could think straight to answer.
“Ah . . . yeah . . . I guess so. Nothing seems to be broken. What about you?”
“I’m okay.” He leaned over and helped me up.
We looked around at the mess. The explosion had shattered the door to the conference room, virtually reducing it and the doorframe to a jumble of splintered planks and bent hardware. From under the debris, we heard a low moan. Then the wreckage shifted, and a rotund figure clambered to his feet.
“Oooooooo. I be guessin’ I shouldna been doin’ thet.” My Old Dwarf looked at us apologetically. His armor was singed and dented, and there was a deep cut over his left eye.
“No, you should not have done that!” An angry voice spoke from inside the conference room. “Whatever were you thinking? You were specifically instructed not to attempt to enter this room under any circumstances!” On the other side of the splintered doorframe, the Great Wyrm scowled at the stout figure in the middle of the rubble. Behind her, Dragon, Cleric, Sorceress, and my Gypsy gaped.
My Old Dwarf turned crimson. He lowered his eyes and shuffled one foot back and forth. “Sorry. When ye dinna be openin’ tha door at me knock, or even be answerin’ me shout, we be afeared summat been happened ta ye!”
Dark smoke curled from Dragon’s snout. She stepped forward and scolded my Old Dwarf. “We explained to you when we commenced that the wards I would place on the door would not only prevent anyone outside the room from hearing us, they would also prevent us from hearing anything outside the room, so we would not be disturbed or have our concentration broken!”
My Old Dwarf’s shoulders slumped. “I fergot.”
I stepped forward and placed my hand on the old reprobate’s shoulder. “Please, it isn’t his fault. I didn’t know that you were unable to hear us. When you didn’t answer, I told my Old Dwarf that we had to somehow breach the wards and enter the room, as I feared the worst. But I didn’t intend for him to attack the door!”
The Great Wyrm raised an eyebrow. “Well, it matters not who was at fault, nor what your intentions. We must mend the injuries, repair the damage, and continue with our work with all possible speed.”
I nodded. Cleric hurried forward, wringing her hands. “Are your injuries extensive, Mistress?”
“No, actually I’m okay. I think Miles is, too.” I glanced at my husband, who nodded. “Just see to my Old Dwarf, please.”
As Cleric led the hapless dwarf to the far corner of the conference room where she could administer some healing herbs, I turned to the Great Wyrm. “Do you have time to fill us in on what’s been happening?”
“Let me just give the others some instructions, so they can complete these repairs as swiftly as possible. I will meet you in your office in just a short while.”
Miles and I walked down the hall to my office. “Do you think they’ll really be able to fix that mess?” He looked at me skeptically. “I mean really fix it, not just create the illusion that it’s been fixed.”
I frowned. “I suspect that they will have to really fix it, so they can ward it again and continue with their work without prying eyes and ears learning what’s happening. I’m not sure they could place wards on an illusory door.”
“You are correct, Mistress Writer. It is not possible to ward an illusion.” The Great Wyrm ducked her head and squeezed her bulk into my office. “It is, however, possible to effect real, physical repairs through the use of magic. Dragon and her friends will have the door fixed as good as new in short order.”
I smiled with relief.
“Now, let me apprise you of our progress. You will recall that Dragon had placed the four objects that had traveled through the conduit to this world from mine – the talisman, the horseshoe, the ruby ring, and the Royal Seal – into the magic container. It became apparent within a few days that those items had, indeed, been the source of the hex. Once the items were placed within the protective crate, all of your characters were freed from the violent impulses that had plagued them.”
I nodded my understanding. “Then, that’s why you and the others were in the conference room. You were attempting to return to your world with the items in question.”
“Well, we were attempting to summon the conduit. But it seems to be more of a problem than I anticipated. Since I lost my powers upon entering your world, I can not perform the necessary magic myself. I must instruct the others. But, even with all of their combined experience, skill, and power, they have not been successful.”
My husband rubbed his chin and frowned. “Are you certain that the characters in the conference room with you are who they appear to be?”
The Great Wyrm tilted her head and looked confused.
I explained. “We encountered my Old Dwarf by the front door as we were on our way down to the conference room to look for you and Dragon. Only, of course, it wasn’t my Old Dwarf. He was down guarding the conference room door.”
“Oh, I understand. You fear that one of the magic users assisting me might be an illusion, and therefore, not possessing the requisite power to cast spells.”
Miles and I nodded.
“No, Dragon would have detected the presence of illusory magic and exposed the fake.”
“If Dragon is real.” Miles gave the Great Wyrm a pointed look.
“Oh. I see what you mean.” The Great Wyrm shook her head. “No, Dragon is quite real. She is the one who cast the wards on the door, and as you saw for yourself, they worked.”
I frowned and raked my hand through my hair. “Do you have any other theories why your group has been unable to summon the conduit?”
The Great Wyrm narrowed her eyes and balled her clawed hands into fists. “I fear that someone in my world may have tampered with it.”
Miles and I both gaped at the huge beast. “But why?”
The Great Wyrm hesitated. She looked around, then leaned toward us and lowered her voice. “Perhaps this is not the place to discuss why. I can not cast the wards necessary to keep our conversation private.”
“Can we ask Dragon to cast the necessary wards?”
The Great Wyrm looked alarmed. “I do not believe she should be privy to this information, either.”
Miles and I exchanged worried glances. What could the Great Wyrm know that she would not want even Dragon to learn?
I chewed my lower lip and narrowed my eyes in thought. “Is there any way for Dragon to cast wards on this office without her being inside with us? Wards that would last for only a specific amount of time?”
“There is. Let me go beg her assistance.”
Moments later, Dragon returned with the larger creature. She remained in the hallway as the Great Wyrm once again squeezed her bulk through the doorway into my crowded office.
“Dragon understands what is necessary. She will ward the room against intrusion, physical or magical. The wards will remain in place for exactly 15 of your minutes.”
Miles and I nodded. Dragon reached in and closed the office door. We heard her chanting, and as she continued to cast her spells, her voice faded. When we could no longer hear the drone of her voice, the Great Wyrm turned to us and began without preamble.
“Mistress Writer, I do not believe you are the target of all that has transpired here. I believe I am. I fear I have fallen victim to an elaborate plot to remove me from my world.”
I frowned. “Why would anyone want to remove you from your world?”
The beast sighed. “Among the events of my world that you chronicled, Mistress Writer, was the rumbling of a great war. There were leaders of two disparate groups of desert dwellers who faced each other in battle.”
I paled. “Don’t tell me they’re at it again!”
The Great Wyrm chuckled. “Not unless they have continued their conflict in the next world.”
My eyes flew open. “They’re both dead?”
The big beast nodded. “You see, Mistress Writer, time passes much differently in our two worlds. Here, it has only been a matter of years since you chronicled the events of which we speak. In my world, lifetimes have passed. Now there are other men, the descendents of those you knew, preparing to lead their people into a vicious and savage onslaught. I alone might stop them.”
“You alone?” Miles looked skeptical.
“I alone, Master Miles.” The Great Wyrm nodded. “I say this not out of conceit or hubris. It is fact. I am the Great Wyrm, the Ancient Beast. I command the knowledge and power that uncounted centuries of life imparts.”
I raked my hand through my hair again. “While you may be the only one who can stop this war, how did anyone orchestrate the events that brought you here? How would anyone know that Dragon would find a way into your world, or that she would bring you back here?”
“I do not know how anyone in my world became aware of the existence of Dragon or your other characters who have fallen out of your manuscripts and who now live with you. But they must have. They knew that Dragon would find a way to enter my world in order to protect you from the danger your hexed characters presented. They knew I would not be able to resist returning with Dragon to this world. Once I did, I was trapped.”
I shook my head. “I just can not imagine anyone having enough power to do this. You are arguably the most powerful creature in your world. Whoever has done this has power at least equal to yours, perhaps exceeding it.”
“I know.” The Great Wyrm spoke so softly, I hardly heard her words.
“Well, what are you going to do? How are you going to return to your world?” Miles folded his arms across his chest and gave the big beast a penetrating look.
“I do not know, Master Miles.” The creature sighed. “I just do not know. I suppose the only thing I can do is continue to work with Mistress Writer’s characters. Together, we may be able to find a way to thwart this plot, to free me from this trap.”
The sounds of the world outside my office started to intrude.
“We are done here. If all goes well, I will ultimately return to my world. If not, I suppose you best resign yourselves to having two wyrms at your dinner table henceforth.”
Will Dragon and her magically gifted colleagues be able to summon the conduit? Will the Great Wyrm be able to return to her world? Will we ever discover who orchestrated this trap? Be sure to join us again next week to see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.