Another Theory

Another Theory

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.

debrisWe 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.dwarf-facing-right

“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.”

office-and-bookshelf-for-blog-002Miles 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.”

strange-dreams“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?”

Passage of time - real worldPassage of time other world

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.blue dragon facing right

“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.

 

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An Explosive Development

An Explosive Development

Miles' Camera 128Arboretum art exhibit and back road birding 217Having a week just to ourselves had been a splendid treat for Miles and me. We went places and did things together, just the two of us, without any of my characters in tow – something we have not been able to do for quite some time.

But that doesn’t mean we were stress-free for an entire week. On the contrary, we never really stopped worrying about where my characters were and what they were doing, although we were able to put it out of our minds for longer periods of time than normal.

Now, however, it was time to get back to our topsy-turvy, fantastical world, and find out what had transpired in our absence.

“I’m surprised no one showed up for breakfast today.” Miles wore an expression that was half relief at having another breakfast sans characters and chaos, and half concern contemplating the myriad situations that might cause my characters to be absent.

I nodded. “Me, too. Especially my Old Dwarf. It takes dire circumstances to cause him to miss a meal.”

“I wonder if the hex has anything to do with it. Do you think Dragon and her friend were able to determine if the items they placed in the magic container actually were the source of the hex?” Miles finished unloading the dishwasher and putting the clean plates in the cupboard. He handed me the silverware tray, and I placed the clean utensils in the drawer.

“I think we should find Dragon and the Great Wyrm and find out.” I placed the dish towels back on the rack, and headed for the stairs. “They’re most likely in the conference room. Coming?”

Miles looked down at his shoes and sighed. “Wouldn’t you rather deal with them by yourself?”

“Still worried they’re going to char your shoes?” I snickered.

“Yes. With my feet still in them.” Miles frowned. “Isn’t that what Dragon always threatens?”

“I think your feet are safe, honey. Dragon loves to tease you, but she would never really do anything to harm you.” I gave my husband a reassuring pat on his arm. “Besides, it’s important for both of us to know what’s going on.”

“Oh, okay.” His reply was sulky, like a little child who was told they had to eat their vegetables. I laughed as we started down the stairs.

dwarfWe had only made it to the landing in the entryway when my Old Dwarf came bursting through the front door, almost colliding with us.

“Eh, the two o ye be back! Iffin I be knowin’ thet, I woulda been ta tha kitchen ta break fast wit ye this mornin’. Did ye be havin’ a good time this week past?”

“It was wonderful, thanks.” I steadied my husband, who had almost been knocked over by the old reprobate.

“How has everything been here? Have you been keeping a good eye on things . . . other than the refrigerator?” Miles gave the rotund figure a pointed look.

“O course. Do na I al’ays?” My Old Dwarf sounded indignant, and he scowled at Miles.

I smiled. “Good! Then you can fill us in. What’s been happening?”

“Eh, it been pretty quiet here. Nuttin much been happenin’.”

I stared at my Old Dwarf. Here was a character who could talk for 20 minutes, just to say we were out of bread. It struck me as somewhat peculiar that he had nothing more to say about the entire preceding week, other than it had been quiet. Surely something noteworthy must have happened.

“So . . . do you happen to know where Dragon is this morning?” I tried to sound nonchalant.

“I do na be seein’ much o tha big beastie. She been spendin’ most o ’er time wit tha udder one, tha bigger beastie.” My Old Dwarf gave me a sidelong glance. “Ye would na be knowin’ who she be, or where she be from, would ye?”

blue-dragon-2blue-dragon-facing-left

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hesitated, but Miles spoke up. “I seem to recall someone saying her identity was not important.” He studied his fingernails as he spoke.

“Wale, I be thinkin’ it be important!” My Old Dwarf looked thunderstruck. “I be wantin’ ta know jest wat sorta beastie I be sharin’ tha hoose wit.”

“Well, if she didn’t roast you and have you for dinner while Miles and I were enjoying our birthday week alone, I suspect that’s all you really need be concerned with.”

My Old Dwarf sputtered, but apparently could not think up a suitable comeback. Instead, he just turned on his heel and started marching up the stairs.

“Where are you off to?” I wasn’t certain I wanted him wandering around until after I had spoken with the two wyrms.

“I dinna be havin’ me mornin’ meal yet. I be off ta tha kitchen, ta be rem-a-dee-in’ thet sit-ee-a-shun, iffin ye must be knowin’.”

As my Old Dwarf disappeared around the corner at the top of the stairs, Miles touched my shoulder. He placed one finger over his lips, and pointed upstairs with his other hand. He mouthed a single word – illusion.

dwarf-facing-rightI frowned at that notion, but nodded to indicate to my husband that I understood him. We continued down the stairs and around the corner. There, in front of the closed conference room door, was my Old Dwarf, standing guard.

Miles gave me a knowing look, and spoke to me in an undertone. “I did remind you last week that your Arrogant One could create the illusion of any one of us.”

I nodded. “So, what tipped you off that the other dwarf was an impostor?” I kept my voice low, too, as we had not yet been noticed by the dwarf in front of the conference room.

“He was too curious about Dragon’s friend. I figure your Old Dwarf – the authentic one – already knows who she is.”

“Good point! You seem to have gotten to know my characters as well as I do, maybe better!”

My Old Dwarf looked our way, and his face brightened. “Eh, the two o ye be back! Iffin I be knowin’ thet, I woulda been ta tha kitchen ta break fast wit ye this mornin’. Did ye be havin’ a good time this week past?”

Miles looked at me and whispered, “Hmmm…it’s déjà vu all over again. Is it possible that this one is an illusion, too?”

I replied in a low voice. “Anything’s possible.” I greeted my Old Dwarf in a normal tone of voice and replied, “Last week was wonderful, thanks.”

He beamed at me and my husband. Then he pounded on the door and announced us in a thunderous bellow.

There was no response from behind the closed door, so my Old Dwarf banged harder and shouted louder. Then he turned toward Miles and me, winked, and spoke in a conspiratorial tone. “They been in thar for quite a spell. Dragon, ’er double, tha Gypsy laddie, Cleric, and Sorceress.”

“Oh?” I suspected I knew what they were doing in the conference room but I said no more, as I was still trying to decide if this dwarf was the genuine article.

“O, aye!” The rotund figure leaned on his immense war axe, nodded, and took on a very serious countenance. “Dragon gathered us up two days past to help ’er an’ ’er double. They be tryin’ ta find summat wat do na wanna be founded. They set me ta guardin’ tha door here, so’s nobody be disturbin’ ’em. But I do na be thinkin’ they be meanin’ thet tha two o ye be kept outen there.”

He turned back to the door and hammered on it so hard with his fists, I thought the door would splinter. He called out once more, his tone absolutely deafening.

Still, no response.

“Can’t we break the door down, or pick the lock, or something?” My husband’s forehead puckered with concern.

“Nay, laddie! Ye must na try ta force tha door!” My Old Dwarf grabbed Miles by the arm and swung him away from the doorway.

Startled, Miles yelped. “Why not?”

bounty-hunter-facing-other-direction“The probability of surviving an assault on the door is rather slim. I would suspect that one, or all, of the magic users involved have warded the door against physical and magical entry. Some of the wards can be rather innocuous. Others can be spectacularly fatal.”

We all jumped and turned toward the unexpected voice. My Bounty Hunter stood at the bottom of the stairs, leaning against the wall, studying us closely.

My Old Dwarf reacted before Miles or I could say a word. He halved the distance between himself and my Bounty Hunter in two steps and he hefted his war axe over his head. “Wat be ye doin’ here, and wat be ye knowin o wat be goin’ on here?”

My Bounty Hunter sneered scornfully at the old warrior. “It is not a stretch of my mental capabilities to deduce that if you are standing guard here, there is magic transpiring in there. Nor is it a stretch of anyone’s imagination to assume that the door is warded against the possibility that someone could defeat you . . . or lure you away with a ham sandwich and a pastry.”

My Old Dwarf growled – a deep, frightening, feral growl. He would have cleaved my Bounty Hunter in two had Miles and I not grabbed his arms and interrupted the downward swing of his great axe just long enough for my Bounty Hunter to jump out of the way. “I ne’er be abandonin’ me post! Ne’er! And it be takin’ a whole bunch more’n jest a wee snack ta be makin’ me ta even be thinkin’ aboot it, even fer jest a heartbeat!”

I tried my best to calm him, “It’s okay, old friend. No one who truly knows you would think for one moment you would ever leave your post.”

As Miles and I continued to hold the dwarf, I glared at my Bounty Hunter. “I don’t know what your game is, but you’re lucky my husband and I stopped my Old Dwarf. Next time, I might have second thoughts!”

My Bounty Hunter shrugged. “Methinks the old buffoon protests too much. It is obvious the magickers question his ability, if not his resolve; else why ward the door?”

At that, my Old Dwarf struggled harder to free himself from our grasp. “Jest let me at ’em! I be pulverizing ’em!”

“Later. Right now, we have more important work to do.”

“What be more important then defendin’ me honor?” I had never seen my Old Dwarf so angry. His face was scarlet, his eyes were dangerously narrowed, and he trembled with the exertion of every muscle straining against our grip.

I yelled at my Bounty Hunter. “Leave. Now!

Miles and I continued to hold the struggling dwarf as my Bounty Hunter made his way to the stairs. As soon as he disappeared up the steps, I gave my Old Dwarf a shake. “Listen. Listen to me! We must figure out how to breach the wards and enter that room. Something must have happened to Dragon and the others, or they would have opened the door by now.”

I repeated myself several times before the frenzied figure grasped what I had said. He stopped struggling and looked at me. His face crumpled, his emerald eyes filled with concern. “Summat happened? They be in trouble?”

I nodded.

Without another word, my Old Dwarf exerted tremendous effort and wrenched his arms free of our grasp. Before we could stop him, he raced back to the conference room door. He raised his mighty war axe and brought it down squarely in the middle of the door.

The resulting explosion was spectacular.

explosion

 

 

Did my Old Dwarf survive the explosion? Did we find Dragon and her colleagues-in-magic in the conference room? Be sure to come back next week to find out. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

A Break in the Story

A Break in the Story

Elf clericGood morrow, old friends and new readers! Dragon here (in my accustomed form of an elf, to facilitate easier typing).

With the stressful situation of trying to discover who hexed all of us characters and why, determining how to remove the hex, and deciding how to assist the Great Wyrm to return to her own world, we completely forgot about two rather special events. Both our own Mistress Writer and her mate, Master Miles, celebrated their birthdays this week past!

Last year, we had a party for them, complete with homemade cake and ice cream. We also made some beautiful presents for them. You can read about last year’s celebration, and see our beautiful handiwork, here: https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/surprise/

This year, we were so involved in our current mystery, we totally forgot! We are all quite ashamed! Well, all but that annoying elf, the Arrogant One. That one does not shame easily!

Once we remembered, we immediately decided we should do something very special for Mistress Writer and Master Miles. We concluded the best present we could possibly give them was the week off…alone!

They really enjoyed an entire week to themselves, not having to deal with us. Oh, do not misunderstand me, please! The Mistress and her mate are really quite fond of us. Well, most of us. Well, most of the time. But to be able to go out and enjoy themselves without worry or care was a real treat for them.

One of the days, they went to a beautiful spot, full of natural and cultivated beauty – the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. I have taken the liberty of going through Mistress Writer’s notes and photographs, in order to share with you good readers just a few of the images they took.

There was evidently an art exhibit at the Arboretum when Mistress Writer and Master Miles were there. If I am deciphering Mistress Writer’s notes correctly (she has the most illegible script I have ever encountered – no wonder she uses that magic machine that produces the pencraft for her!), the paintings on display were created by three brothers (Bob, Joe, and Jim Hautman) who live here in Minnesota, the state wherein we reside. Mistress Writer and Master Miles must have greatly appreciated these three artists, as they took a plethora of photos of these artists’ paintings. Here are just three of them:

 

Arboretum art exhibit and back road birding 105
Woodies by Bob Hautman
Arboretum art exhibit and back road birding 109
Grey Jay by Jim Hautman
Arboretum art exhibit and back road birding 120
Walking and Talking – Two Trumpeter Swans by Joe Hautman

 

Of course, visiting a place such as the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, one simply must enjoy the flowers.

 

There were also a number of seasonal displays to view, even a few provided by Mother Nature. By some magic unknown to me and my associates, some of the images were lacking in color!

 

Mistress Writer also took some photos of Master Miles. Again, some of the images were magically drained of color!

 

Master Miles managed to get a single image of Mistress Writer, who seems to become most distraught whenever a camera is pointed at her.

Miles' Camera 128

All in all, I believe they had a most enjoyable day without all us characters in tow.

 

Even in the absence of the Mistress and Master, however, our mystery continued. Be sure to come back next week, as we relate the further developments of this suspenseful adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!

 

More Complications

More Complications

speech-bubbleThe tense silence around the breakfast table was broken by an unexpected voice. “Am I late? I’m so sorry. You really shouldn’t have waited the morning meal just for me.”

eyes - try 2bounty-hunter-facing-other-directionAll eyes, which just moments before had been on me, instantly turned toward the source of the voice. To everyone’s surprise, my Bounty Hunter stood in the doorway, with a smirk playing around his mouth. He paused for just a moment to glance around the table before taking his place opposite my Arrogant One.

arrogant-one-facing-rightEveryone gaped at my Bounty Hunter, my Arrogant One most of all. “I thought you said you were leaving.”

“Did I?” My Bounty Hunter assumed an air of innocence.

“You did.” My Arrogant One’s voice was an indignant whine, like that of an aggrieved child. He turned beet red and scowled at his companion, as my other characters smirked or shook their heads. It seemed obvious that they felt my Arrogant One had spun the tale of my Bounty Hunter’s departure merely to garner attention and feed his own ego.

scrambled eggsMy Bounty Hunter glimpsed the expressions on the faces of my other characters. He gave my Arrogant One a sympathetic look. “Perhaps you misunderstood. I would never leave before partaking of such excellent fare.” My Bounty Hunter reached for the platter of scrambled eggs and slid a good sized portion onto his plate.

Dragon tilted her head and stared at my Bounty Hunter through narrowed eyes.fried potatoes

“Something wrong?” My Bounty Hunter cocked an eyebrow at Dragon, as he helped himself to a large serving of fried potatoes.

blue-dragon-2

Dragon answered with an almost imperceptible shake of her head, but I did not fail to notice the further narrowing of her eyes, and the wisp of smoke that drifted from her snout. I studied my Bounty Hunter to see if he had also taken note, but he seemed oblivious, more absorbed by the food he was eating with gusto.

“Mistress, I hope you will excuse me. I find myself lacking in appetite this morning, and I do have other duties which demand my attention.” Without further explanation, Dragon left the room.blue-dragon-facing-left

The Great Wyrm furrowed her brow as she watched Dragon leave. “Mistress, I beg leave to assist my compatriot.” The creature barely waited for my nod, then scurried after Dragon. The sound of their galumphing footsteps faded as they went down the stairs.

After the departure of the two wyrms, I turned my attention again to my Bounty Hunter. I could see nothing amiss as the man continued to eat a hearty meal, ignoring the disgruntled looks his friend, my Arrogant One, was shooting him across the table.

Conversation was notably absent during breakfast. Most of my characters seemed lost in thought, probably still considering what my Arrogant One had said earlier. The Bounty Hunter and I have never stopped trying to find a way back to our own world. And we are sure your pet lizard found a way. If she can, we all can.

I, too, found myself lost in thought. Are the two of them just trying to stir up trouble? Is my Arrogant One just seeking to be the center of attention once more? Or are they really still looking for the way to travel between worlds?

I played with my food, absentmindedly pushing it around the plate with my fork. If they are still seeking passage to the other world, do they seek to rule that world through the use of illusion? I know my Arrogant One could easily create illusions of the weapons and technology he has observed in this world; and that would be more than sufficient to take over a medieval world where such technology is unknown.

BreakfastI jumped, jarred from my thoughts, when someone touched my shoulder. “Honey? Is there something wrong with the food?” My husband gestured at my plate, still full.

“Oh, Miles, I’m sorry. No, there’s nothing wrong with it, sweetheart. I’m just not really hungry this morning.”

Realizing all the others had departed, I helped Miles clear the table and fill the dishwasher. “I think I’m going to talk to Dragon. Something was definitely bothering her at the breakfast table this morning. Do you want to join me?”

“Sure, if you don’t think she and her friend would mind.”

“Why should they? Come on. They’re probably in the conference room.”

“Okay, but let me take my shoes off first.” Miles winked at me and smiled.

I laughed. “Still worried that one of them is going to char your shoes with your feet still in them?” That is one of Dragon’s favorite threats with which to tease my husband. Miles has never fully trusted that she is only teasing.

“No sense taking chances.” Miles removed his shoes and we went downstairs.

We found the wyrms in the hallway next to the conference room, apparently waiting to speak with me. As Miles and I drew near, Dragon placed her finger over her lips and bade us to remain silent. She grasped me by the arm and the Great Wyrm took hold of Miles. They drew us into the room, and Dragon closed and locked the door. She quickly mumbled an incantation, which I knew from past experience was to ward the room against the intrusion of uninvited eyes and ears.

She turned toward us, but before she could say anything there was a timber-rattling banging on the door, followed by a voice that could probably be heard three houses away. “Be ye in there, lass?”

dwarfDragon quickly removed the wards and unlocked the door. My Old Dwarf burst in, crashing the door right into Dragon in his haste.

Clouds of angry black smoke erupted from Dragon’s nose as she glared at the rotund figure. I quickly stepped between them.

“What’s wrong?”

My Old Dwarf placed his hands on his knees and leaned over, taking a moment to catch his breath before he answered me. “I just be thinkin’ ye might be wantin’ ta know.” He continued panting heavily.

“Know what?” Dragon, the Great Wyrm, Miles and I spoke in unison.

My Old Dwarf finally caught his breath. “I be thinkin’ ye might be wantin’ ta know thet there be more’n one Bounty Hunter hereaboots.”

“Another bounty hunter has fallen out of my manuscript?” I frowned, trying to remember if I had written about more than one such person.

“Nay, lass. There do na be anudder one. There be more’n one o the same one.”

 

“You have seen more than one of the same man?” Dragon arched an eyebrow.

My Old Dwarf jutted his jaw. “Aye, Beastie, thet be wat I jest said.”

Seeing my puzzled look, he explained. “I seed the Bounty Hunter walkin’ out onta the deck wit his cohort. I turnded aboot an’ I seed ’em agin, by hisself, goin’ out the front door. I turnded aboot agin’ an’ he be still on the deck wit the annoying elfie. When the two o ’em left the deck, I followed ’em ta the shed. Then I runded all the way back ta the hoose ta tell ye aboot it. But ye do na be in the kitchen. The Bounty Hunter be there, all alone, raidin’ the cold box. So I runded down here ta find ye.”

Dragon frowned. Another plume of black smoke started curling from her nose. “I was just about to inform Mistress Writer of this.”

“Oh? You seeded the two o ’em, too?”

“I did not.”

As my Old Dwarf opened his mouth to say something else, Dragon blew a cloud of thick, black smoke right in his face. As my Old Dwarf stood there choking and waving the smoke away, Dragon turned to face me, a satisfied smile on her face and a twinkle of mischief in her eyes. When she addressed me, however, there was no humor in her voice.

“Mistress, I fear that was not your Bounty Hunter at the table this morning.”

“Oh? How do you know that?”

“I sensed illusory magic as soon as the Bounty Hunter entered the room, so I watched him very carefully. I noticed when he served himself, no food left the platter, although his plate filled.”

What?” I considered what Dragon had just revealed. “But my Arrogant One seemed so irate when my Bounty Hunter appeared, showing the elf up as a liar! Are you certain the man was just an illusion?”

Dragon pursed her lips. “There is no doubt, Mistress. The annoying elf is a far better actor than he is an illusionist. And in light of what the dwarf has observed, can there be any doubt?”

“Aye, lass.” My Old Dwarf had finally stopped choking. “Ye can na be doubtin’ it, wat wit wat I seed and wat the Beastie sensed.”

I turned to the Great Wyrm. “Did you realize my Bounty Hunter was just an illusion?

She shook her head. “No, Mistress. Because I have lost my powers, I am unable to detect the illusory magic your dragon sensed.”

“Oh, that’s right. You mentioned your loss of powers earlier.” I raked my hand through my hair, and I chewed on my lower lip. Too many things were happening, and we needed to sort them out. “Okay, we’ll discuss the problem of your powers later. Right now, we need to figure out what’s going on with my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter.”

The Great Wyrm interrupted. She reached out and touched my Old Dwarf on his shoulder. “Old friend, would you take offense if we asked you to leave before we continue this discussion?”

My Old Dwarf glared at her. “Aye, I be takin’ offense. I be thinkin’ I earned me place in this conversatin’.” He looked at the rest of us. “But I do na be needin’ another invite ta leave. I be knowin’ when I do na be wanted.” He stormed out of the room and clumped up the stairs.

I made a mental note to make a special meal later just for him, to make amends.

Dragon quickly locked the door and reinstated the protective wards. “Let us continue.”

I frowned at her. “Why didn’t you say anything when you first realized that my Bounty Hunter wasn’t real?”

“I am sorry, Mistress. I did not want to alert the Arrogant One to the fact that I was aware of his illusion. I thought it best to come down here and check on the protective receptacle in which I had placed the items from the other world last evening.”box

“Are the items still secure?” My husband looked at the container, worry showing clearly on his face.

“The items remain secure, Master Miles. As of this moment.” Dragon forced a weak smile.

books“We also checked the set of books that were sent to you from the Apprentice to a renowned historian in our world.” The Great Wyrm pointed to four books piled on the corner of the table. “We found them in your office. From the layers of dust covering them, I would surmise no one has touched them for many months.” She and Dragon both wrinkled their noses.

I ignored their tacit disapproval of my rather pathetic housekeeping skills. “So, what are your thoughts?” I sat down and leaned back to listen.

Dragon shrugged. “Well, I think perhaps the annoying elf was attempting to give his cohort time to locate the conduit. The Arrogant One concluded that if we thought the Bounty Hunter was still here, we would not be searching for him, thus allowing the man to continue with his plans unimpeded.”

“That makes sense.” I pondered the situation, tapping my fingers on the table. “Well, since you have ascertained that the items in the chest are still secure, should we confront my Arrogant One now? Let him know we’re wise to him?”

“I do not believe that to be the best course of action.” The Great Wyrm frowned. “I believe it best to just keep the elf under close observation. In fact, it is my opinion that we should spend this day watching all of your characters.”

“To what end?”

“We need to determine if, in fact, the hex has been broken by the magical cloaking of the suspected items. We need to be absolutely positive that the characters can be trusted before we ask for their assistance.”

“How much assistance do you need? I thought the two of you were going to send the items back through the conduit by yourselves.” Miles furrowed his brow.

“That was our initial plan, Master Miles, but without my powers, that will be impossible.”

“Do you know what caused you to lose your powers?”

“I do not know with any certainty, Mistress Writer, but I believe it to be a result of entering this world from my own.”

I frowned. “Dragon entered this world from her own world, and she still has her powers.”

“It is different with Dragon. She fell from the pages of your manuscript.” The look on the Great Wyrm’s face warned me against pursuing the matter further.

“Okay. Let’s discuss what you need from the other characters.”

“We will need to enlist the aid of Sorceress, Cleric and the Gypsy. Their role in this endeavor will be critical.” Dragon explained what she and her companion had decided when they had discovered that the Great Wyrm was unable to call on her powers.

“So you can see how important it is to be certain they are no longer in thrall to the hex.” The Great Wyrm looked at us solemnly.

I nodded. “Well, I think it’s a good bet they’re free of the spell. They seemed a lot more like their old selves this morning. My Foreman and the lads were quite cheerful after spending the morning with their horses, and the lads were engaged in their typical high jinks. Sorceress and Cleric were cooperating again, gathering the components for their spells. They were all very polite and well-mannered.”

“What about the dwarf and the elf?” The Great Wyrm arched an eyebrow.

I chuckled. “Well, as I said before, their behavior can not be attributed to any hex; rather, that is their typical manner.”

“Well, we can take no chances.” The Great Wyrm was emphatic. “We must watch them all and report to each other if we see anything that would indicate they are still hexed.”

I agreed.

magic energy trace“Just be positive that whoever you report to is who you think they are.” Miles rubbed the back of his neck and frowned. “You know, that elf could create an illusion of anyone.”

That thought gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

 

Be sure to come back next week and see if we can get any closer to solving all these problems. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Waiting to See if it Worked

Waiting to See if it Worked

sleeping-dragon-2Lying on her side on the carpeted floor of the conference room, Dragon stirred restlessly. She was trapped at that accursed midpoint, that state of being half-awake but unable to wake completely; half-asleep, but unable to complete the transition to dreamland. Too many thoughts, too many worries, crowded her mind.

When will I know whether or not the items I have placed within the protective container are responsible for the conflict and violence among us characters?

When no answer was forthcoming, the huge beast shifted her bulk and squirmed around, rolling over to her other side.

I still feel agitated and combative. Is it because we did not deduce correctly the cause of the problem? Will my temper still be at the point of exploding when I rise in the morning?

Dragon rolled onto her belly and opened one eye for the briefest of moments, glancing at the Great Wyrm curled up just a few feet from her on the thick carpeting.

What if the others awake in the morning, still in thrall to the curse? How will the Great Wyrm return to her own world, if the others can not be trusted to help locate the conduit?

She squirmed around again, her brain still assaulted by the stream of worries.

If the items I placed in the container are not the source of the conflict and violence among my fellow characters, how will I find the true cause of the trouble?

Dragon rolled onto her back. She struggled to fully awaken from the half-sleep that held her, but she could not. More thoughts raced through her mind.

If the cause of the conflict and violence is not found and eliminated soon, how will I protect Mistress Writer and Master Miles from my fellow characters? From myself?

Dragon continued to toss and turn, moaning softly in her half-sleep, unable to suppress the thoughts that plagued her.

sleeping-dragon-1Nearby, the Great Wyrm sighed happily. She had long since reached the point in her life where she no longer needed true sleep. Instead, she entered a sort of trance or reverie in which she could meditate or dream. Tonight, her mind drifted to events in her distant past.

“What have you brought me, Small One?”

“Wot be givin’ ye the thought thet I mebbe brung ye summat, Beastie?” The dwarf’s emerald eyes twinkled with mischief, and beneath his ginger beard, his mouth twitched in amusement.

The beast stared, unblinking, at the diminutive figure. Slowly, she let her lips stretch in a terrible smile that showed every one of her dagger-sharp teeth. “Because you have no desire to become my breakfast?”

carved red dragon

 

“Aye, thet be true enough.” The dwarf chuckled. “Wale, I dinna bring nuttin special, jest a wee trinket.” He pulled a small object from his pouch. It was a miniature dragon, about the size of his fist, carved from a piece of reddish stone.

The young beast snatched it from the dwarf and looked at it, her eyes wide with delight. She turned the intricately carved figure this way and that, carefully examining it and marveling at its lifelike quality. “It is beautiful! Did you carve it?”

carved dwarf“Aye. An’ here be another.” He held out a second figurine, this carved from a paler, rougher material.

The beast took this one more gently, almost reverently. “This . . . this is you, is it not?” She stared in awe at the figure, its carved hair and beard identical to the dwarf standing in front of her.

“Mebbe.” He shuffled one foot in the sand and looked at the dragon shyly. “Aye, it be meself. I be wantin’ ye ta be havin’ a rememberin’ o me.”

“A remembrance? But . . . why? I see you almost every week. I can not forget you in such a short time.” The beast’s brow furrowed.

The dwarf cleared his throat and took a long time to answer. “I be leavin’ this place fer a while, Beastie. I be goin’ back ta me own lands. I do na be knowin’ jest when I be travelin’ back here agin.” He turned from her, not wanting her to see him wiping the back of his hand over his eyes. After a moment, he turned back and mumbled, “I just dinna be wantin’ ye ta be forgettin’, no matter how long it be afore we seed each another agin.”

The Great Wyrm, deep in her reverie, sighed again. You never did come back, old friend. That was the last time I ever saw you . . . until now.

dwarf-facing-rightThe beast had to remind herself that she had not really seen her old friend the previous evening. The old greybeard living here in the real world with Mistress Writer and her mate was merely an image, a shadow, an echo, a memory of her old friend, somehow brought to life when he fell from the pages of Mistress Writer’s manuscript. He appeared now as he was at the time when Mistress Writer chronicled his tale. Still, it was as close as the Great Wyrm would ever get to seeing him again – him and the others she had known then. She snuggled down deeper into the plush pile of the carpeting and resumed her reverie.

After you left, dwarf, it was so lonesome there in the desert, with nothing but lizards and snakes and scorpions for company. It was many long years before the others came, the Young Hero with his goddess-sworn protector, Cleric, and his best friend, the Gypsy. But, oh what fun I had with the three of them, and with Sorceress when she joined us later!

 

With another little sigh of pleasure, the ancient beast continued reliving her past joys until it was time to awaken to the challenges of a new day.

 

Miles and I were jolted awake by the sound of fireworks – both literal and figurative. We both jumped out of bed, threw on our jeans and sweatshirts, and ran to the living room.

dwarf“It do na be makin’ much nevermind ta me, the whyfore ye be doin’ it, ye consarned id-gee-it! There’ll be none o yer magicin’ in the hoose . . . especially loud magicin’! Ye’ll be wakin’ up the lass an’ her mate!”

My Old Dwarf stood there, blue in the face, jaw jutting, apparently oblivious to the fact that his shouting was almost as loud as my Arrogant One’s illusory fireworks.

I tried not to chuckle as I placed my hand on the dwarf’s shoulder. “Thank you, old friend, but it was time for Miles and me to be up, anyway.”

“But we prefer to awake to the sound of an alarm clock, or a gentle tap on our bedroom door.” Miles glared at my Arrogant One, who was standing there, nose in the air, rocking back on his heels, holding the front of his cloak with both hands. “Just what was your purpose in creating the illusion of fireworks?”

Arrogant One facing rightMy Arrogant One’s voice, as always, was a combination of petulance and arrogance. “That oaf would not allow me passage to knock on your bedchamber door.”

“That oaf was as much protecting you from the consequences of disturbing my husband and me, as he was protecting us from being disturbed.” I leveled a no-nonsense look at the elf, who had the rare-for-him grace to look abashed.

Before we were able to ask the elf why he had wished to awaken us, Dragon and the Great Wyrm joined us.

 

“I see our efforts last evening were without success.” Dragon hung her head.

“You were not able to . . .?”

The Great Wyrm cut me off, noticing as I did the way my Arrogant One moved closer to listen. “We were not. However, Dragon was able to institute a temporary solution. Judging by the brouhaha, however, we presume it failed.”

“Don’t be so sure.” I motioned to my Old Dwarf to escort my Arrogant One into the kitchen, out of earshot. “Give us a few minutes. We’ll get breakfast started as soon as we can.”

My Old Dwarf pushed, shoved, and bullied the elf toward the kitchen, while the two dragons followed Miles and me to the corner of the living room.

I looked over my shoulder and lowered my voice. “What temporary solution did you attempt?”

I had to lean close to the Great Wyrm to hear her reply. “Since I found myself unable to call on my powers, Dragon used her skill to construct a magical container for the items from my world.”box

Dragon nodded. “It was much like the chest in which you secured the keys to Morcant’s tower. If the items I placed in the container are the cause of the tension, the effects should have been nullified.”

“But in light of the altercation between the dwarf and the elf . . .” The Great Wyrm shrugged and quirked an eyebrow, which I took to mean she felt it obvious that the effort had failed.

“I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions.” I shook my head and furrowed my brow. “Remember, my Old Dwarf is immune to magical influences, so we can not attribute his behavior to any hex. And my Arrogant One does not require outside influence to sour his disposition.”

Miles chuckled. “That’s a diplomatic way to say that elf is just plain disagreeable!”

I smiled. “Yup. So let’s wait and see how the others behave this morning.”

“Where are the others?” Dragon looked about.

“I’m not sure. Let’s ask my Old Dwarf if he knows.”

As we headed to the kitchen, a noise drew our collective attention to the deck. My Foreman, my Young Hero and my Gypsy were meticulously wiping their shoes clean on the boot scraper before stepping inside onto the living room carpet. I grabbed Miles’ arm to keep from fainting.

 

using the boot scraper brushDragon cocked an eyebrow and a puff of white smoke shot from her nose as she snorted in surprise. “Perhaps . . .?” She looked at the Great Wyrm hopefully.

“Is breakfast ready? I’m starved! We’ve been working those horses since sunup!” My Gypsy headed for the kitchen, with my Young Hero right on his heels.

“Wash up first!” My Foreman beckoned to the lads as he headed to the bathroom to clean up.

The Great Wyrm nodded to Dragon. “Perhaps.”

“Who made you boss?” My Young Hero scowled and plopped himself down at the breakfast table.

“I don’t care who the boss is, I’m not sitting next to you if you don’t wash up! You smell like a horse! Let’s go!” My Gypsy yanked the other lad up by the arm and shoved him toward the bathroom. My Young Hero took a swing at him, but my Gypsy ducked.

“Perhaps not.” The Great Wyrm sighed.

But the two lads started laughing. They pushed and shoved and pretended to throw punches at each other as they headed for the bathroom.

Before anyone could comment further, we heard the front door open, then slam. Two sets of footsteps raced up the stairs. Cleric and Sorceress tore into the kitchen.

 

“We are . . . so sorry, Mistress!” Cleric addressed me breathlessly.

“We . . . we were collecting bo . . . botanicals for . . . our spell components.” Sorceress wheezed and panted as she tried to speak.

“We lost track of the time.” Cleric collapsed into a chair, still breathing hard.

“It’s no problem. We were just starting to gather for breakfast. My Foreman and the lads are washing up. They were apparently out for a morning gallop, and just came in.” My remarks were addressed to Cleric and Sorceress, but I was looking at Dragon and the Great Wyrm. I raised my eyebrows, and I mouthed in their direction, perhaps, and they both nodded.bounty-hunter-facing-other-direction

Miles and I had breakfast on the table by the time everyone was seated. I looked around. “Where’s my Bounty Hunter?”

arrogant-one-facing-rightThat is what I wished to tell you earlier, when that barbarian would not let me pass.” My Arrogant One appeared very smug.

“So’s now ye kin be tellin’ all o us.” My Old Dwarf scowled at the elf.

“He left.” My Arrogant One folded his arms over his chest and sat there, smirking.

“He what?” I gaped at the elf.

“He left.” My Arrogant One repeated himself. “He is determined to find a way to return to our world. He said he knows the big lizard found a way – he said it is obvious she brought the other beast back with her from our world. He said if they found a way to move between the two worlds, he can too.”

I looked at Dragon and the Great Wyrm. They both shook their heads. “There is no way someone without great aptitude for magic could pass between the worlds.” Dragon sounded definite.

I looked at the elf again. “Do you know where or how he was going to attempt returning to the other world?”

“He did not confide in me. He merely promised that, if his efforts proved successful, he would return for me.”

I sat down and rubbed my forehead. “I thought this nonsense was over and done with ages ago. I thought you all understood there is no way for you to return to your own world.”

“The Bounty Hunter and I have never stopped trying.” My Arrogant One glared at me through narrowed eyes. “And we are sure your pet lizard found a way. If she can, we all can.”

I looked around the table. Every eye was on me as my characters waited to see how I would respond to the elf. I heaved a deep sigh. The day ahead suddenly looked a lot longer.

 

How, exactly, is my Bounty Hunter attempting to return to his own world? Was Dragon successful or not, attempting to disrupt the effects of the hex on my characters? Can she and the Great Wyrm enlist the help of the others to return the Great Wyrm to her own world? Be sure to come back next week to see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

 

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