“Mistress! Wake up! Please wake up!”
I heard the softly whispered words as if they came from a great distance; they were barely a tickle in my ear. I rolled over, my subconscious content that the voice was part of a dream.
“Mistress? Mistress! You must awaken!”
This time, the dream voice was louder, more urgent. And in my dream, someone was shaking me.
I tried to shrug it off, but the voice and the shaking persisted and became more demanding. Finally, I opened one eye. I was not dreaming.
Cleric and Sorceress were bending over me, trying their best to wake me without disturbing my husband, who was sleeping next to me. They almost succeeded.
“Hmmmm? Whasamatter?” Miles turned over. “You say something, honey?” His eyes fluttered, but remained closed.
“Ah, no, sweetheart.” I spoke in a soothing whisper. “You must be dreaming.”
“Mmmmmmm. ’K.” He snuggled further into his blankets.
I motioned to Cleric and Sorceress to keep quiet. They responded by grabbing my arm and dragging me out of bed. They handed me my robe, and helped me pull it on. Then they tugged me toward the door.
When we got out into the hallway, Cleric and Sorceress both started to whisper urgently, but their voices were jumbled together, and I could not understand them. Finally, Sorceress placed her hand over Cleric’s mouth and opened her own mouth to speak. Before she could say a single word, though, we heard someone behind us.
We whirled around to face the sound. Miles had followed us into the hallway, and was leaning against the wall, watching us.
“So . . . I’m dreaming, huh? I’m dreaming that my wife is being kidnapped by two of her characters?” He raised an eyebrow sardonically.
“Kidnapped? Oh, no, Master Miles! We would never kidnap Mistress Writer!” Cleric’s eyes were wide and her cheeks burned scarlet.
Sorceress grabbed both Miles and me by our arms. “You must come right away! They are gone!”
I pulled my arm free of her grip. “Who is gone?”
“Dragon and the Great Wyrm.”
If I hadn’t been awake before, I certainly was now. “What do you mean, they’re gone?”
This time it was Cleric who placed her hand over Sorceress’ mouth. “We have been working for days with little rest, Mistress.” She shuffled her feet and shrugged. “After repairing the damage from the explosion, we all needed a respite.”
Sorceress pushed Cleric’s hand aside, and continued the tale. “We fell asleep. All of us. Well, at least Cleric and I, and the Gypsy lad.” She frowned. “We thought the other two were asleep as well – or in a trance, or reverie, or whatever replaces sleep with Dragons.”
My Gypsy came up behind us and joined the conversation. “Obviously, they were not asleep. When the three of us awoke, the two wyrms were gone.” He turned toward me. “Your Old Dwarf was still awake and at his post, guarding the conference room. I just finished questioning him. They did not leave through the door.”
“Are you sure?” Miles looked skeptical. “They might have left without him seeing them. Maybe he fell asleep, or went upstairs to get a snack.”
My Gypsy shook his head. “After the mess he made of that door, he was determined not to fail again at his task. He said he never left his post, and I believe him. And that dwarf would never fall asleep on guard duty!”
“Was there any indication that the conduit finally appeared, and they went through that, back to the other world?” I pulled my robe closer around me and thought of all the possible reasons the two wyrms might have disappeared.
“No.” Sorceress shook her head. “If the conduit had appeared, Dragon and the Great Wyrm would not have been able to use it to return to the other world until certain alterations were made to the spell controlling the passageway.”
“They were going to instruct us, so we could make the alterations.” Cleric was wringing her hands.
“Could they have been taken by force?” As soon as the words left his mouth Miles ducked his head sheepishly, as if he realized just how absurd that sounded. Who could take two huge, powerful beasts by force, and not awaken the others in the room?
I frowned and shook my head. “I don’t see how. But standing here talking about it isn’t going to help us solve the mystery. Let’s go down and look around the conference room. Maybe we can figure it out.”
We descended the stairs and found my Old Dwarf still standing guard at the conference room door. He looked at me, his eyes red-rimmed and his cheeks wet. “I be swearin’ ta ye, lass, I dinna e’er be leavin’ this spot, not tha whole o tha time since they been tendin’ me cuts and mendin’ the door. Tha big beasties dinna been leavin’ thet room through this door.”
“I know.” I patted him on his shoulder.
“Be they all right?” His voice cracked with emotion.
“I’m sure they’re fine.” I silently wished I was as confident as I sounded.
I stepped through the door and studied the room. The magic users’ grimoires, spell components, and magical paraphernalia were strewn across the table. I raked my hand through my hair, heaved a deep sigh, and turned toward the magic users. “Does everything look the same as when you went to sleep?”
My three characters examined the clutter on the table.
“It appears so, Mistress.” Cleric started to straighten her area.
My Gypsy followed suit, gathering his belongings in a somewhat neatened jumble. “Yes, nothing appears to be missing . . . well, except for two very large dragons.” He wiggled his eyebrows, but his attempt at humor fell flat. He sighed.
Sorceress frowned. She moved away from the table, and walked to a protected alcove at the rear of the room. She turned back toward us, her face drained of color. “The magic container is gone!”
“That can’t be good.” Miles frowned. “Are you sure?”
“Quite certain, Master Miles. It was right there when last I saw it.” She pointed to an empty spot in the alcove.
We all took a quick look around the room, checking under the table and chairs, but the big, ornate chest that held the four hexed items from the other world was no longer in the conference room.
I bent down and picked up a stray book I noticed under the settee by Dragon’s illusory fireplace. I realized after a quick glance that it wasn’t one of the magic users’ spell books. This was one of my manuscripts, and it was open to a passage describing the desert scene wherein Dragon had first met some of my other characters.
Suddenly, I knew where Dragon and the Great Wyrm were.
* * *
I blinked, trying to adjust my eyes to the azure of the cloudless sky and the endless expanse of sun-drenched sand gleaming gold in the early morning light.
I stretched, digging my claws deep into the sand. Then I slowly lowered my bulk and rolled onto my back, writhing. My intent was to use the fine particles of sand to burnish my scales to a polished finish, but it was not working. Although I could see and feel the sand, it was different. It lacked substance. I sighed and stood up again.
I looked around. In the dubious shelter of a nearby copse of insubstantial palm trees, Dragon – the shadow, the echo, the memory of my younger self – still slumbered, exhausted by her efforts to bring us here. Her first trip here, back into the book from which she had fallen, had been difficult by her telling. This time, bringing along a creature not from this world, it was infinitely more strenuous. Still, the trip was imperative.
Dragon and her colleagues in magic, under my tutelage, had been unable to summon the conduit that connects my world with that of Mistress Writer, the world the Scrivener terms the real world. I am convinced that someone in my world interfered with the conduit.
Since it is essential that I return to my world, Dragon offered to make this sacrifice, first taking me into her world, the world inside the manuscript from which she fell into that real world; then, from the manuscript world, taking me into my own world. The first stage of the journey has left her totally exhausted. The next stage might well leave her dead.
Will the journey be the end of Dragon? Will she sacrifice her life so the Great Wyrm can return to her own world, hopefully in time to save it from the ravages of a terrible war? Be sure to come back next week and join us for the next chapter of this adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.