Cleric was sobbing, Dragon was growling, the deer were wailing and bleating, the raccoons were whirring, the birds were chirping, and the rabbit was thumping her foot and glaring at me. I was getting a colossal headache.
I held my hands up and shouted over the racket. “Hold it! Hold it!”
The din quieted for one blessed moment. Then my Arrogant One began screeching in his customary glass-shattering tone.
“I have nothing to do with this . . . this menagerie! I demand you tell this oaf to release me. At once!” He attempted to pull free of my Old Dwarf’s grip, but the stout figure held on tight.
I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at the annoying elf. “You assure me these animals are not illusions you have created?”
Before my Arrogant One could reply, the rabbit thumped her hind foot again. “Ya don’t listen real good, do ya, sista? I told ya before, I ain’t no illusion!” She underscored this pronouncement with another thump of her foot.
I frowned at the furry creature. Then I sighed and nodded at my Old Dwarf. “Let the elf go.”
The old reprobate dropped the elf on his head and snickered. My Arrogant One scrambled to his feet, straightened his robes, stuck his nose in the air and started to sweep regally out of the room. He promptly tripped over the rabbit.
“He’s a clumsy lout, ain’t he?” The rabbit wriggled her nose at the elf, then quickly hopped out of his reach. The irate elf screeched something unintelligible at the furry critter, then stormed out of the room.
I sighed as I looked around. The mother deer’s eyes were pleading, as she stood protectively over her frightened baby. The other animals looked terrified, save the rabbit. She just looked angry. Her anger was mirrored in Dragon’s hard stare.
I turned to Cleric, who was still crying. Tears rushed down her face, silent sobs shook her petite frame. “Suppose you explain what’s going on.” I tried to marshal my tone of voice to be reassuring rather than accusatory, but I must have failed, as Cleric only bawled harder.
Dragon growled. “I should think it obvious. Cleric attempted something for which she is untrained and inexperienced. She failed. These creatures were brought into this world because of her actions.”
“I only wanted to read the children’s story Mistress Writer was creating on her magic box.” Cleric stood there blubbering, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her robes.
I handed her some tissues and she mopped the tears from her face, then blew her nose. I waited for her to finish. “You were in my office? On my computer?” I raised an eyebrow.
Cleric nodded, shuffling her feet and fidgeting with her robe.
Dragon shook her head and growled again. “Why did you not wait for Mistress Writer? Why did you attempt to access the story on your own?”
I had to strain to hear Cleric’s hoarse reply. “Mistress Writer had gone shopping with Master Miles.” She paused, her cheeks burning, her eyes leaking fresh tears. “She was gone for so long! I did not think she would mind if I read the story without her. I have seen our Gypsy friend activate the magic box many times. I thought I remembered how he did it.”
“Obviously, you did not.” Dragon frowned. “Now we must do something about these intruders.”
The mother deer started wailing again. “Don’t let that beast barbecue my baby!”
I held my hand up again. “No one is going to barbecue anyone.”
Dragon growled again, dark smoke spewing from her snout. “We must eliminate them. They are a danger to us all.”
The rabbit thumped her foot. “Us? A danger? That’s rich, sista, coming from the beast with the fiery breath and the temper to match!”
I pushed the rabbit out of harm’s way with my foot, and I faced Dragon. “They don’t look all that dangerous to me.”
Dragon’s tail lashed, and she snarled. “The snow devils did not look dangerous, either. They almost caused the death of seven of our number.”
Miles scoffed. “You still have no proof the illness originated with them.”
“And you have no proof it did not. Dare we gamble that these creatures carry a dangerous, contagious disease that could wipe us out?”
I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “I understand your concern, but we are not going to take extreme measures when we have no proof anyone is in danger.”
Dragon roared. “By the time we have proof, we could all be dead!” Her face was contorted with fear and anger.
I placed my hand on her scaly arm and stared up at her. “Let me take care of this.”
For many long moments, Dragon glared at me. Finally, she lowered her head and nodded. I could hear the whoosh as everyone – including me – let out their collectively held breath.
I turned back to Cleric. “I need you to be calm now. I need you to remember exactly what you did that caused the characters from my story to enter this world.”
Cleric nodded her understanding but was unable to calm down. She continued to blubber, wringing her hands and shredding the tissues I had given her.
Sorceress squeezed her friend’s arm and tried to help her focus. “If we go into Mistress Writer’s office, maybe you can show us what you did.”
Dragon scoffed. “Great idea. Maybe she can bring some more creatures from within the magic box into this world!”
“Yeah, ya did miss a few, sista.” The rabbit wriggled her nose at Cleric. “Ya might wanna bring my kids here, and the raccoons and the birds would, ya know, probably like ta see their moms again.” The furry creature frowned at Cleric and thumped her foot.
“But I do not know how I brought you creatures here!” Cleric was crying again. “I do not know how to bring the others here to you, or how to send you back to them!”
“Let us not capitulate to panic.” Sorceress patted her friend’s arm. “We will figure this out together.”
I furrowed my brow and raked my hand through my hair. “Dragon, I want your word you will not harm any of these animals while Cleric, Sorceress, and I go to my office.”
Dragon stood there, black smoke rising from her nostrils. She narrowed her eyes but said nothing.
“Ye do na be worrin’ none aboot tha wee critters. I be keepin’ an eye on tha big beastie. She will na be botherin’ ’em any.” My Old Dwarf stared at Dragon, a defiant smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. He slapped the flat of his axe against the palm his hand.
Dragon looked down at the diminutive figure and snorted. The dwarf did not back down. Finally, the beast lowered her head and whispered something in her friend’s ear. My Old Dwarf slapped his knee and doubled over. Tears streamed down his face as he whooped with laughter. “Ye be thinkin’ so, beastie? Wale, we just be seein’ aboot thet!”
The rabbit wrinkled her nose. She turned to me and shook her head. “Strange gang ya got here, sista!” She looked at my Old Dwarf again. He was still shaking with laughter. The rabbit tilted her head. “Ya gonna share the joke, bub? What did the ugly brute say ta ya ta tickle your funny bone?”
“Thet be atween me an’ tha beastie. All ye be needin’ ta be knowin’ be thet ye be as safe here now as a dwarf countin’ ’is money.”
“Good.” I beckoned to Cleric and Sorceress. “Let’s go see if we can figure out how to undo this mess.”
Miles started to follow us. I placed a restraining hand on my husband’s arm. “Honey, it’s going to be crowded in my office, and Cleric’s nervous enough as it is. Would you mind terribly if I asked you to stay here?”
“Here?” Miles’ eyes grew round and big as saucers, and all color drained from his face. He looked at Dragon and my Old Dwarf. “I think I’d feel safer with you.”
“Ye be thinkin’ I be lettin’ tha beastie be makin’ good on ’er promise ta be charrin’ yer shoes wit yer feetsies still in em, laddie?” My Old Dwarf chuckled and winked at Miles.
Miles turned bright red and stammered a reply. “No! No, of course not!”
“Good. Then ye be keepin’ us company and be lettin’ tha lassies be settin’ this all ta rights agin.”
I gave my husband an encouraging smile and left the room with Cleric and Sorceress in tow.
In my office, I sat at my computer and brought up the story I had been working on. I read it over quickly, noting that nothing had been changed. I closed the word processing program and put my computer into sleep mode.
“Okay, everything should be exactly as it was when you entered my office earlier.” I pointed to my chair. “Sit here and try to remember what you did.”
Cleric sat down, but looked at the computer as if it were a coiled rattlesnake. “I . . . I do not remember.”
“Well, if you wanted to read the story now, what would you do?” Sorceress prodded her friend.
“I . . . I think I would activate the magic box?” Cleric’s inflection made it more a question than a statement.
I nodded and gave her an encouraging smile. “That’s right. Now, how would you do that?”
Instead of reaching for the mouse, Cleric started pecking at the keyboard.
“Wait! What are you typing?” I looked over Cleric’s shoulder, but only the icon with the words “Owner Locked” underneath it appeared on the screen.
“I am asking the magic box if I may see the story.” Cleric looked at me, wide-eyed and nervous. “Is that not what I should do?”
I frowned, but patted Cleric on the back reassuringly. “How are you asking it? What words are you typing?”
Sorceress intervened. “Mistress, mayhap it would be better . . . safer . . . if you had Cleric write the words on a parchment scroll rather than actually asking the machine.”
I nodded and handed Cleric a piece of paper and a pen.
I watched as Cleric painstakingly wrote out the request she had made of the computer. She was concentrating so hard, she stuck her tongue out the side of her mouth, wrinkled her nose, and squinted. When she was finished, she handed me the paper.
I raised an eyebrow. I couldn’t read a single word. “You wrote this in your native tongue?”
“Well, in the language of my order.”
“Get with it, sista!” I hadn’t noticed the rabbit had joined us, and I jumped when she addressed me. She thumped her foot and gave me a look that clearly said she thought I had just fallen off the turnip truck. “The dame’s a cleric, sista. She used the words she would use ta cast a clerical spell, the words she learned from her clerical order.”
Suddenly, it all became clear. Cleric had summoned the story, not accessed it. I frowned and rubbed my chin. “Then why didn’t all the animals from my story end up in this world?”
“How should I know, sista? Do I look like a cleric?” She thumped her foot again.
Ignoring the obnoxious rabbit, I turned to Cleric. “Do you think you can reverse the spell and send the animals back?”
“I . . . I do not know, Mistress. I can try.”
The rabbit started thumping again, this time with both back legs. “Waddaya mean try? Try ain’t good enough, sista! Ya gotta be sure. I need ta get back ta my babies before they starve, and those baby birds and raccoons need ta get home ta their mommas! Ya can’t go sending us off ta oblivion, or ta the middle of some other story.”
Cleric turned pale as a ghost. Her chin trembled, and tears welled up once more in her cornflower blue eyes. “What if I fail, Mistress? What if I cannot send them all back to the right place within the magic box?”
Sorceress took Cleric’s hand and looked sternly at her friend. “Pshaw! It was a simple spell you used to summon them here. You could cast a reverse spell in your sleep!”
It was obvious Cleric didn’t believe it was so easy. I handed her more paper. “Why don’t you and Sorceress work on it? Write it down and don’t type it into the computer until you know you have it correct.”
Forty-five minutes later, Cleric and Sorceress nodded and Cleric gave me a brilliant smile. I squeezed Cleric’s arm and returned the smile. “Okay! Now don’t touch anything until I return.”
The rabbit and I went to the conference room. The rest of the animals were cowering behind my husband, while Dragon and my Old Dwarf engaged in a standoff in the middle of the room.
“That’s enough of that!” I shot them both a warning look, then walked over to the animals. “It’s okay now. Come with us. Cleric will send you all home.”
The rabbit and I gently herded the other animals there into my office. The mother deer gave Cleric a doubtful look. She sidled up to me and whispered, “Are you sure this lady can send us home?”
“I am. Just have faith and everything will be fine.”
“It bedda be, sista!” The rabbit thumped her foot once more before joining the other animals standing mext to Cleric.
Cleric took a quick headcount. Once she was certain all the animals she had brought into this world were present in the office, she began. Ten minutes later, as Cleric slowly and meticulously typed her spell on the computer keyboard, the animals began to fade. Five minutes after that, all that remained was a voice, sounding as if coming from a great distance. “Ya did it, sista! We’re home!”
Cleric almost collapsed on the keyboard, weeping with joy. I grabbed her and moved her away before she could accidentally push any other keys.
At dinner that night, my Gypsy addressed me. “Your Arrogant One mentioned you had some visitors today. Did we miss anything?”
I raised my eyebrows, Miles turned white, Dragon snorted a huge cloud of smoke, my Old Dwarf doubled over laughing, and Sorceress groaned. Cleric clasped her hands in her lap and looked at my Gypsy with guileless eyes. “No, you did not miss a thing.”
What will my characters get into next? Be sure to return next week and join us for our next adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.