“He actually cried?” My husband’s eyes widened as he listened to my description of my meeting with my Arrogant One and Dragon.
“Wow! I always thought the elf had no feelings. He’s always so pompous, so snide, so aloof, so . . . so . . .”
“So arrogant?” I quirked an eyebrow.
“Exactly!” Miles took a few more minutes to digest the idea that my Arrogant One did, indeed, have feelings, even if those feelings were rather ego-centric. “So.” He finally looked at me again, his brow furrowed. “What are you going to do?”
“I thought I’d give Dragon a day or two to think about it, then approach her again . . . this time, sans elf.”
* * *
Almost three weeks later, Miles was supervising a group of my characters. They were helping him with the removal and storage of the Christmas decorations when I walked into the family room, a room which had grown to take over the space usually occupied by the conference room.
My Gypsy and my Young Hero were taking down the decorations. Cleric and Sorceress were wrapping them and placing them in boxes. My Foreman and my Old Dwarf were placing the boxes in totes and crates and hauling them to the storage space under the stairs. Notably missing were my Arrogant One, my Bounty Hunter, and Dragon.
I walked over to Miles, who was directing the procedure like a traffic cop. “Well, I guess the holidays are officially over.” I sighed.
“Actually, they were over about a week ago, but I just hated to dismantle my Christmas Village.” Miles managed the Christmas decorations, and every year he outdid the previous year’s display.
“Well, don’t feel too bad, sweetheart. You can start putting the decorations back up in just about 46 more weeks.” I grinned.
“I was thinking I might start early next year, maybe the end of October.”
“Oh, no you don’t! You know the rules – Christmas decorations don’t go up until after Thanksgiving!” I laughed as Miles scuffed one foot back and forth and feigned a disappointed little-boy look.
He gave me an exaggerated pout, then smiled and gave me a quick kiss on my forehead. “Oh, all right. Say, on another topic, have you spoken to Dragon yet? I saw your Arrogant One moping around earlier today. He really looks miserable! I tried to convince him to join us, but he just hung his head and walked away. He didn’t even say anything nasty! Your Bounty Hunter tagged along with him. I think they went out to the shed.”
I shook my head. “With all the hustle and bustle around the holidays, I didn’t get a chance to see Dragon. I’ll go speak to her now.” I looked around the room uncertainly. “I presume I’ll find the conference room at the back of the walk-in closet in our bedroom. I don’t imagine she would have moved it again, would she?”
“Don’t ask me, honey. She’s your character.” Miles quirked an eyebrow at me, then turned back to the task of dismantling and storing the decorations.
I went up the stairs and down the hall to the master bedroom. I walked into the big closet and saw the back wall was still shimmering. I assumed that meant I would find the conference room still there.
I approached the barrier warily, still not comfortable with the sensation of passing through the preternatural veil. As I got closer, my hair stood on end, and I could feel goose bumps on my arms. I stood there for several minutes, working up my nerve. Finally, I squared my shoulders and walked through the shimmering curtain into the conference room.
Dragon was reading in front of her illusory fireplace. She looked up as I entered the room. “I have been expecting you.”
“Oh?” I shook off the tingly feeling the magical curtain had produced. I walked over and glanced at the book she was reading, but I could not comprehend the symbols and glyphs. “Why were you expecting me?”
“I presumed you would wish to further discuss the elf’s predicament.”
“I would indeed.” I gestured to the book. “Have you been researching something concerning my Arrogant One’s malady?”
Dragon nodded. “Understand, however, I do so only because I fear I or one of your other magic users might be at risk of falling victim to the same malady. I care nothing for the elf’s discomfort with his situation.”
I nodded. “I know he’s not your favorite person.”
Dragon snorted, and a cloud of acrid smoke erupted from her nostrils. “No, he is not. I doubt he is anyone’s favorite. In fact, he is detested by most. Even his closest associate, your Bounty Hunter, is scornful of him most of the time.”
I nodded in agreement. “Be that what it may, it would be nice to find the cause of my Arrogant One’s malady and – if possible – eliminate it and restore his power.”
Dragon frowned. “It is not a matter of restoring his power – he never lost his power. What he lost was his ability to control that power, to wield it in a consistent manner. When he attempts to create an illusion or cast some other minor spell, the result could be anything from a perfectly cast spell, to no outcome at all, to some unforeseen and unintended result.”
I nodded again. “Yes, that is how he described his problem. So, what do you think has caused it? He says he has not had any physical ailments that might have created the problem.”
Dragon shrugged. “I have not been able to find anything in my books that might explain it.”
I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “Well, my Arrogant One believes the problem started shortly after our return from the world to which the wish listeners transported us. Could something have happened there to cause his affliction?”
Again, Dragon shrugged. “I have no way of knowing that.”
I furrowed my brow and rubbed my chin. “Is there any way to return to that world and explore the possibility?”
Dragon shook her head. “I do not know how to open the passage between the two worlds.”
I paced up and down the room several times, thinking. “Perhaps you and my Arrogant One should come with me to that park from which we were transported.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/05/27/lost/ I looked hopefully at Dragon. “Maybe you could find the passage there.”
Dragon shrugged. “I doubt I will find anything useful. Remember, it was the wish listeners who opened the gateway.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/06/03/our-little-odyssey/
“Perhaps if my Arrogant One wishes hard enough at that precise location, they will open it again.”
Dragon furrowed her brow. “If they do not, I know of no way to cross into their world. However, since I have no other ideas how to investigate this problem, we might as well try. But, first, I must talk with the elf. He must understand the importance of expressing his wishes precisely and unequivocally. We do not want any wishes granted that worsen the existing situation or cause another predicament.”
I nodded, and the two of us made our way out of the conference room through the ethereal barrier, then headed to the garden shed.
“So, beast, you have decided to help.” Although the elf’s words were arrogant, his tone of voice was meek. He sat across from my Bounty Hunter, his shoulders stooped, his head hanging so low, it almost rested on his chest.
“Know that I do so not for you, but to ascertain the true cause of your malady. I do not wish to fall victim to the same condition; nor do any of our fellow magic-users.”
My Arrogant One nodded listlessly. His friend placed his hand on the elf’s shoulder, offering support.
Dragon continued. “We will go to the place whence we were transported into the other world by the wish listeners. We will attempt to gain access to that world, to investigate the source of your malady.”
“How will we enter that world?” My Bounty Hunter furrowed his brow. “Do you know how to open the gateway?”
“You will not. The elf and I will attempt to do so.” Dragon snorted a cloud of black smoke at my Bounty Hunter, who frowned at her in return.
“I thought I would accompany you and assist . . .”
Dragon cut him off. “You thought wrong.” She turned to my Arrogant One. “When we reach the spot where we left this world, we will attempt to attract the attention of the wish listeners, that they might transport us once again into their realm.”
“And how will you do that?” Again, my Bounty Hunter attempted to inject himself into the conversation.
Dragon glared at him but pointed to the elf and replied evenly. “He will wish.”
The large beast turned her gaze back to my Arrogant One. “But you will take care with your wish, lest you do more damage than good.” She thrust her reptilian face toward his pale elfin face. “Do you understand me?”
The elf nodded listlessly once more.
“Good. Now this is what you are going to do . . .”
I beckoned to my Bounty Hunter, who followed me out of the shed, leaving Dragon and my Arrogant One to make plans.
* * *
The next day, I drove Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden, and my Arrogant One, to the picnic grove by the woodland lake where my husband and I had taken my characters for a Memorial Day picnic. My Arrogant One sat in the back seat, sullen and silent, for the entire 90-minute drive. Dragon sat in the front, her nose buried in her books.
When we finally got there, the scene was very different from that day more than seven months past. Snow now covered the picnic grove and lake, and the trails were difficult to navigate. Hiking got easier, though, as we got further from the lake and deeper into the woods, where the snow wasn’t as deep.
“There!” My Arrogant One pointed. “Is that not the trail?”
We walked over to the snow-covered steps, and I examined the sign. Secret Trail.
I frowned. “This does not look right. The sign states that this is the Secret Trail, but it is the wrong color. The sign that was here during our fateful hike was darker, and it had yellow lettering.”
My Arrogant One shrugged. “So, something damaged the sign and it was replaced.”
“Perhaps.” Dragon narrowed her eyes and looked closely. “But the trail, too, seems wrong.”
“It is the same trail.” My Arrogant One sneered at Dragon. “It just looks different with the snow.”
“No. Dragon’s right. These steps are too narrow. They look like the steps in the other world.” I looked around, but nothing else seemed amiss.
“Well, I say it is the correct trail. I will walk up the steps and make my wish.”
My Arrogant One started to move, but Dragon grabbed his arm. “You will wait.” She turned to me. “You may go home. I do not wish you to become entangled in any unforeseen events here.”
I gaped at Dragon. “And how do you propose to get home?”
“When our work here is completed, I will summon you.”
I furrowed my brow and wrinkled my nose. “Magically?”
“Yes. I do not have one of those devices you in this world use to communicate over distances.”
Dragon started to shimmer. In a moment, she had assumed her natural form. She waved her clawed hand at me dismissively and turned to my Arrogant One. “Now you may proceed. But remember our conversation of last eve and heed my warning. Take care with your wish.”
My Arrogant One contorted his face into a snarl. “I wish only to regain control of my power.”
Dragon grabbed him. “No! We have no idea what is behind your malady. If the wish listeners attempt to grant you that wish, they may do more harm than good. We must wish to return to their land, that we might investigate the source of your affliction. Only when we have identified the source can we hope to cure your condition.”
My Arrogant One glared at Dragon for many long minutes. Finally, his shoulders slumped, and he nodded. “Very well, beast. But you best know what you are about.”
I turned to go, but quickly turned back. “How long . . .?” But they were gone.
Will Dragon and my Arrogant One succeed in finding the cause of the elf’s affliction? Will my Arrogant One regain control of his magic? Join us again next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.