Lying 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.
Nearby, 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?”
“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?”
“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.
The 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.
“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?”
My 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.”
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.
Dragon 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.
Miles and I had breakfast on the table by the time everyone was seated. I looked around. “Where’s my Bounty Hunter?”
“That 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.