CougarThe attack had been so sudden, Talia had had no time to avoid the gargantuan mountain lion that now pinned her to the ground. Struggling mightily against the heavy creature, she managed to get an arm free. Simply by instinct, she made a few arcane gestures with her hand and muttered an incantation under her breath, the same spell she had used on Dragon to transform the mighty beast into a tiny lizard.

Nothing happened. Talia’s eyes widened and she gasped. I forgot! Once I entered the portal and was ushered into this world, my powers were gone!

snarling cougarThe cougar snarled and brought his face closer to Talia’s. Suddenly, he stopped, and his brow furrowed. He sniffed at Talia. “You aren’t the one I’m looking for.” He released Talia and stepped back. “I’m so sorry. You aren’t hurt, are you?”

Before Talia could answer, she heard the badger call out. “Hey, Rafferty! You gone crazy or something? Why’d you attack the puny human?”

Talia saw the big coyote snap at the badger and say something to him. The badger hung his head.

The other animals came running over. The coyote pup and the fox kit helped Talia up. The woman stood there, wobbling on rubbery legs.

The vixen nudged her kit aside and sniffed at Talia. “Here, dear, just lean on me and take a couple of deep breaths. You’ll be okay. I don’t think Rafferty injured you. I don’t smell any blood.” The fox then turned to the cougar, clucking gently at him in admonishment. “Rafferty, dear, what were you thinking?”

“I’m sorry.” He turned toward Talia. “I’m sorry lady. I saw you running after my friends and I thought you were the one who was trying to hurt them.” He threw himself to the ground and covered his face with his huge paws.

The giant coyote walked up to the cougar and put a paw on the other animal’s shoulder. “Rafferty, old buddy, that was a long time ago. That person isn’t here anymore. We’re all safe now.”

Rafferty looked up at the coyote and furrowed his brow again. “Are you sure, Chaz? I thought I saw her just yesterday, at the market.”

“Nah, Raff. You couldn’t have seen her. She’s long gone.” The coyote spoke gently.

Coyote pup and TaliaThe coyote pup whispered in Talia’s ear. “The person Rafferty thought he saw hasn’t been around since long before I was born. Poor cat. I don’t know exactly what happened all those years ago, but it must have been horrible for Raff. They say he hasn’t been quite right in the head since. When he gets really bad like this, my pop takes care of him, gets him the help he needs.”

Talia frowned. “But he’s a cougar. Why would your father help him?”

The pup scoffed and shot Talia a disgusted look. “Because he’s a friend.” The pup shook his head and curled his lip at Talia. “Don’t you help your friends? Isn’t that what you and the dragon are doing?”

Talia looked at the circle of animals and nodded thoughtfully.

Rafferty got up and shook, dust flying off his sleek, golden fur. “So, what were you all doing just now? The human was running after you. Were you playing a game?”

Chaz shook his head. “We’re looking for a little girl, a human child, who is lost.”

Cougar pleading“Oh, the poor little thing. I’ll help look for her! Can I help, Chaz? Can I?” The mountain lion closed his eyes and pleaded with the coyote.

“Sure, buddy, you can help. But she’s very small and delicate, Raff. Remember that if you find her. No claws. Velvet paws, Raff. You gotta use velvet paws.”

The cougar nodded and started jigging around, excited to help. “I’ll remember, Chaz. I promise.” Suddenly he stopped and his eyes widened. “Chaz! We gotta find that poor little thing before she gets hurt! What if that woman finds her? She’ll hurt the little girl, Chaz. She tried to hurt all of you.”

“Now, now, Raff. That’s all over, buddy. The woman’s gone. She’s gone, Raff.” Chaz patted his friend’s shoulder again.

“Are you sure he’s safe?” Talia addressed the foxes in a whisper while never taking her eyes off the mountain lion.

The reynard frowned and growled softly. “Of course, he’s safe. Do you think Chaz and I would allow him near our kids if he wasn’t?”

Talia blushed, but still looked unconvinced.

Rafferty and Chaz“Let’s go, then. Let’s find this poor little thing.” The mountain lion bounded off, only to come racing back. “Chaz? Which way do we go?” He looked confused, his whiskers trembling and his eyes unfocused.

“We’re going to follow the scent trail this way. I’ll take the lead. Why don’t you hang back and keep an eye on the young’uns, and on our human visitor? You can make sure they don’t get separated from the group.”

“Okay, Chaz. I’ll take good care of them.”

“I know you will, buddy. I know you will.” Chaz nuzzled Rafferty before loping off to take his lead at the head of the group.

The giant coyote led off, with Benny, the badger, close behind, still looking contrite over his earlier careless comments to Rafferty, the troubled mountain lion. The reynard and the vixen flanked them, and all four animals kept their noses to the ground.

Behind them, the coyote pup and the fox kit escorted Talia. The three of them kept their heads swiveling, their eyes peering at every ditch, furrow, tree, bush, and clod of dirt they passed.

They also kept a good eye on Rafferty, who trailed along behind. Sometimes the mountain lion strode along with purpose and determination; other times, he lagged, confused and unfocused. Several times he ran up to Talia and sniffed at her, then muttered, “No, you’re not the bad person. She’s not here anymore. She’s gone. Chaz said so.”

After one such incident, the fox kit bowed his head and whispered into Talia’s ear. “He’s been like this as long as I can remember. He’ll be fine for months at a time, then suddenly, something triggers his anxiety, and he imagines this woman around every corner or behind every bush.”

Junior nodded. “That’s why we have to watch him real close right now. If we find this missing child, my dad and Benny will want to get to her first. Rafferty might mistake her for that woman, since he keeps saying he’s seen her recently.”

Talia’s eyes flew wide, and her jaw dropped. She put her hand on the fox kit’s leg. “But your dad said the cat was safe.”

“He is.” The kit nodded confidently. “We make sure he stays that way.”

Raff sees DragonIt was late in the day with the sun dropping fast toward the horizon, when Talia and her group spotted Dragon and her troop coming toward them along the berm. As soon as he spotted Dragon, Rafferty stopped dead in his tracks. “What is that?”

“That’s just a dragon, Raff. She’s kinda like a big lizard with wings. She’s from another part of the world and she’s here with the lady looking for the lost child.” Junior spoke softly to the mountain lion. The cat shook his head as if to clear it, then started to back up, eyes wide and mouth slack.

“Dad? Dad!” Junior called to the big coyote several dozen yards ahead of them.

The big animal immediately sized up the situation and ran to his friend’s side. He spoke to the spooked cougar softly and reassuringly. “Hey, Raff, it’s okay, buddy. She’s a friend. She’s gentle as a kitten. See? The deer and the rabbits like her. She’s fine. Come on, Raff, I’ll introduce you.”

But Rafferty didn’t appear to want to meet the dragon. He threw himself down on the ground and covered his face with his paws. He lay there, trembling, until Dragon walked over and spoke to him.

Dragon approached the giant mountain lion quietly and gently. “Hello. You must be Rafferty. Your friends told me about you. I would consider it a great honor to meet you.”

Slowly, the big cat looked up. He furrowed his brow and tilted his head. “You would be honored to meet me?”

“Indeed, I would.” Dragon stood a few feet away, making herself look as small and nonthreatening as possible.

Rafferty looked at the other animals, who smiled and nodded at him. He slowly rose and timidly edged close enough to Dragon to sniff at her. “You smell funny.”

Dragon chuckled. “I imagine I do. My name is Dragon. It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

BearsBefore the mountain lion could respond, two huge grizzly bears broke through the adjacent brush and lumbered into the field about a dozen yards away. The smaller bear was carrying something tiny in her arms, and the larger one looked around until he saw who he was looking for. “Hey! Hab’itt! Come on over here, buddy! Did you lose something?”

Rafferty’s eyes glazed over. “You caught her! You caught that dangerous woman! Good work!” He started bounding toward the bears, but Dragon tripped him.

“Oh, I am so sorry. Did I do that? Are you injured?” The scaly beast spoke gently, but positioned herself between the cat and the bears, blocking his view.

Marisol woke up as Hab’itt hopped over to the bears. “Hey, there, little one!” The giant rabbit smiled at the small girl, then looked at the bears. “Where did you find her?”

“She was asleep in our berry patch. She told us she had been with you in the carrot field but had wandered away. She was too tired to go back, so I offered to carry her. She fell back asleep halfway here.” The female bear gently placed the child on the ground. “There you go, Marisol.”

The bigger bear was looking over at Dragon and the mountain lion. “Is that Rafferty?”

Hab’itt followed the bear’s gaze and nodded.

The bear huffed and shook his head. “You better take care to keep him away from the child. He’s been a bit twitchy lately. If he’s having another of his episodes, there’s no telling what he might do.”

Hab’itt nodded. “I think he’ll be okay. It looks like Chaz is taking care of him. And there’s a dragon with him, blocking his view of the child. She came with the human female who came looking for Marisol. I don’t think that creature would let anything happen to Marisol.”

The bear nodded. “Well, Marisol, it was nice to meet you. Be sure to stop for a visit any time you’re in the neighborhood.”

Marisol smiled. “I will. And thank you.”

Marisol rubbed the sleep from her eyes and looked toward Dragon and Talia. She looked past them and stared at the cougar. After a few minutes, she frowned. “That big cat with my friends seems to need some help.”

Helping RaffWithout a second’s hesitation, the child skipped over to the other group, with Hab’itt following on her heels. Without a word, Marisol reached up and grabbed Dragon and Talia by the hand. She gazed silently at the mountain lion, who was nearby, shaking uncontrollably. “The cat needs your help. Say the words, Dragon. Say the words, Talia.”

“What words are those, child?” Dragon tilted her head and looked askance at Marisol.

The child pursed her lips. “The words that will help the big cat, of course.”

Dragon shook her head. “We have no power in this world.”

“I know.” Marisol smiled. “Say the words, Dragon, please. You, too, Talia.”

Dragon looked at Talia, who shrugged. Then they both began to intone an incantation. When they were finished, Marisol smiled again. The child tugged Dragon and Talia over to the mountain lion. “Hello, Rafferty. Are you feeling better now?”

Everyone fell silent as the big cat stopped trembling and slowly stood up. The cougar blinked several times rapidly, then squinted at Marisol. “I feel fine, thanks. Do I know you?”

Marisol shook her head.

Rafferty looked at Dragon. “I . . . I don’t know you either, do I?”

“No, you don’t know her, either.” Marisol nudged Dragon. “Well, if you’re feeling better, Rafferty, I think it’s time for me and my friends to go home. My mother will be worried.”

Hab’itt scratched behind his ear with one of his big back paws. “I . . . I guess I’ll take you back to the portal.”

“Thanks, Hab’itt, but I can find the way. I think Dragon and Talia want to talk to me.” Marisol patted the huge rabbit on his leg. “I hope you’ll come to our world . . . I mean our part of the world . . . and visit again sometime. I won’t tell my mommy if you eat any of her carrots.”

After a round of goodbyes and best wishes, the trio was on the way. As they began walking back to the portal, Marisol yawned. “Dragon, could you carry me?”

“Of course, little one.” The huge beast held out her arms, and soon Marisol was snuggled against her.

The early-rising full moon bathed the path with light, but Dragon still moved slowly so she would not trip and disturb the child in her arms.

As if sensing the beast’s concern, the child giggled. “It’s okay. I’m awake. We can talk if you’d like.”

Dragon furrowed her brow. “Yes, child, I would like to talk with you. Marisol, how did that spell work? Talia and I have no power here. I cannot even shapeshift.”

Marisol shrugged. “Your power is still within you; you just can’t call it forth. So, I did it for you. I called forth the power for you and for Talia.”

Dragon’s eyes widened, and she exchanged surprised glances with Talia. “But how did you know the mountain lion needed help?”

Saw his heartMarisol tilted her head and chewed her lower lip for several long moments before answering. “That’s harder to explain.” She paused again, choosing her words carefully. “I could see his heart.”

“You could see his what?” Talia furrowed her brow.

Marisol squirmed a bit in Dragon’s arms to better see Talia. “Well, you know how you say of someone who is kind and decent he has a good heart?”

Talia nodded.

“And if someone has lost someone he loves, you say he has a broken heart?”

Again, Talia nodded.

“Well, I could see Rafferty’s heart. I could see it was a good heart, and I could see it had been broken. I could see he needed help.”

Talia’s jaw dropped. “You could see the animal’s inner essence.”

Dragon gaped at the child as well. “That is a step beyond seeing a shapeshifter’s true nature. I have never known anyone who could see the very soul of a creature that clearly.”

Going homeMarisol shrugged, as if it were no big deal to her. She snuggled close to Dragon again and sighed. “I like that place. It was just like Hab’itt said – it’s a place of inclusion and acceptance and peace and tolerance, a place where everyone cares about everyone else, and no one cares if someone is different. I think I’d like to live in a place like that.”

Talia nodded and patted Marisol’s arm. “Perhaps you can, someday, child. Perhaps our world can be like that someday, if we all work hard enough to make it so.”

Be sure to come back next week and see what is happening with my little band of displaced characters. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Tense Moments

Tense Moments

Shock, screamSomething ahead of them on the trail screamed, a prolonged, blood-curdling scream. Before the trio could react, another scream followed, louder, shriller, and more heart-stopping than the first. Then the sound of angry voices ensued.

Dragon and Talia remained frozen for several moments, eyes wide and hearts pounding. Then they leaped into action and began to race toward the ruckus. A dozen strides later, their companion, a giant rabbit, hopped in front of them, forcing them to an abrupt halt.

Hopper chuckled. “No need for alarm. I recognize the voices. This is a common occurrence.”

Still chuckling, Hopper led Dragon and Talia toward the source of the sound that had continued and intensified. Seconds later, they rounded a bend in the path and stopped, watching the scene unfold. Talia’s jaw dropped and she turned deathly pale as she saw the field full of giant animals.

What was screaming

“Ooooooooooooooooooooo! Ooooooooooooooooooooo!” A large badger was screaming at the top of its lungs.

“Ooooooooooooooooooooo! Ooooooooooooooooooooo!” A young coyote joined in the cacophony.

Father and son coyotes“Stop it, Junior! You’re giving me a headache!” The larger coyote next to the howling youngster snapped at him, then glared at the badger. “And you stop it, too, Benny. You’re such a diva.”

Fawn“Yeah, Benny!” A spotted fawn lifted her head from the basket of carrots and spoke around a mouthful of food. “Don’t be such a diva! Just stop already!”

Derick on Benny's tailBenny didn’t stop. “Ooooooooooooooooooooo! Ooooooooooooooooooooo! Get him off my tail. Get him off my tail!”

Coyote and foxesThe family of foxes started yipping along with Benny’s howling until the coyote silenced them with a hard stare.

The fawn looked over at the large deer. “Dad, get off Benny’s tail, will ya?”

The deer looked down, a confused expression on his face, but he did not move.

Twitchy the rabbitA small, two-toned rabbit sighed, looked up at the deer and shook his head, a look of disgust on his furry little face. “Derrick, would you please get off Benny’s tail before he damages our hearing with his infernal caterwauling? You’re always dashing around and never watching where you’re going. You’ve stomped on my paws more times than I can count, so I know it hurts like the dickens. Benny isn’t being histrionic.”

Derick the Deer“I’m sorry, Benny. I’m sorry, Twitchy. I’m sorry, everyone.” Derrick the deer finally seemed to understand. He carefully moved his hoof off Benny’s tail, only to place it dangerously close to a large rabbit’s front paw, a rabbit Dragon recognized as Hab’itt. The rabbit jumped back, narrowly avoiding knocking over another rabbit who had been sitting next to him, munching on some carrot greens. “Sorry, Hab’itt.” Derrick hung his head.

Habitt and Bracken“Oops. Sorry, Bracken!” Hab’itt steadied the other rabbit he had bumped into, as he glared at the clumsy deer.

Hopper laughed and moved lazily onto the field. “What a sorry bunch we have here today!”

brothers 2“Hey, Hopper! Where have you been, you big ox? We got tired of waiting, so we started the picnic without you.” Hab’itt hopped over to greet his brother with an affectionate nose-rub.

“Hey, you little runt! I hope you saved some carrots for me!” Hopper returned his brother’s greeting.

Suddenly, Hab’itt noticed his brother’s companions. “Oh, hello!” He cocked his head and sniffed at Dragon. “I met you while I was on my journey, didn’t I?”

Dragon nodded.

Talia closeup 2Rabbit 2“I don’t think I met you, though.” Hab’itt looked closely at Talia and sniffed at her. “I’m Hab’itt. Are you with the dragon?” He held out a paw to Dragon’s companion.

The woman nodded. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Talia.”

Dragon noted that her companion nodded affably as she shook the rabbit’s paw. Talia had evidentially become much more comfortable around large, talking rabbits since their initial encounter with Hopper, but Dragon saw that the woman nonetheless kept a careful eye on the other animals closing in around them.

“What brings the two of you here?” Hab’itt’s ears moved around like two elongated radar dishes as he spoke.

“They’re looking for a human child, a little girl who’s lost. They thought you may have brought her here, or that she followed you here without your knowledge.” Hopper twitched his nose.

Marisol 1Hab’itt thumped one back foot and gave Dragon a questioning look. “Marisol?”

Dragon nodded.

“Well, I didn’t bring her here, and I didn’t notice her following me.” Hab’itt called to the others, “Anyone see a human child around here?”

There was a lot of head shaking, and more than a few nos.

“How long has she been missing?” Hab’itt turned his attention back to Dragon and Talia.

Dragon frowned. “Her mother has not seen her since before the child followed you to our yard. I am not certain how long ago that is in your world. It was after dark of the day we met you when we tracked you and Marisol to the portal, but it was midday here when we emerged in this world a few moments later.”

Difference in time

Hab’itt nodded. “Yes, we have noticed time proceeds at different rates in different parts of the world.”

“Different parts of the world?” Talia furrowed her brow.

“Oh, that’s right. You weren’t there when I explained it to the dragon.” Hab’itt frowned. “You define world differently than we do. To me and my kind, there is only one world. Wherever there is life, it is part of that one world. You believe the portals connect one world with another world. We believe they connect one part of the singular world with another part.”

Talia raised an eyebrow but nodded her understanding.

Hab’itt scratched behind an ear with one giant back paw. “Getting back to how long the child’s been missing, I’m not sure if it’s still yesterday back where you came from, or if it’s a week from next Verday.” He laughed, indicating he was just joking.

Hopper frowned and twitched his ears. “This is no joking matter. A mother is frantic over her lost child. If the little girl is, indeed, in this part of the world, we need to find her and return her to her home.”

Hab’itt looked contrite, his ears flat against his neck and back, his eyes downcast. “You’re right. It’s nothing to joke about.” He turned toward Dragon. “You said you tracked both me and Marisol to the portal?”

Dragon nodded. “I could not tell precisely how much time had expired between your passage through the portal and when Marisol went through. If you did not go at the same time, if you did not take her with you, she was just moments behind you.”

“And you picked up her scent again on this side?” Hab’itt scrunched up his face as Dragon again nodded. “If she were that close, I should have seen her. At the very least, I should have heard her.” He wiggled his ears back and forth.

Priceless image“Well, the old bloodhound there will just have to keep tracking.” Talia pointed to Dragon, who gave her a stern stare as smoke started to drift from her nose.

“We’ll help.” The coyotes and the foxes raced over. “It should be easy to pick up the scent of a human. Let’s just sniff you a bit, so we won’t follow your scent.”

Talia blinked rapidly at the advancing animals and started backing away. “Uh, that won’t be necessary. Not that we don’t appreciate the offer, but I’m sure we can manage on our own.”

“We cannot.” Dragon frowned at Talia.

“But . . . but . . .” Talia stammered.

Coyote daddy“What?” The adult coyote fixed her with a steely stare. “You have something against coyotes or foxes?”

“Well, you’re carnivores,” she blurted. “I’m small enough compared to all of you, but Marisol wouldn’t even make one good-sized bite!”

Junior ewwwww“Ewwwwwwwwwwwww!” The coyote pup, sitting at his father’s side, made a gagging sound. “Carnivores? You think we eat meat? Gross!”

Dragon rounded on Talia, lecturing her. “This is not your world . . . or your part of the one world. Things are different here.” She turned to the animals milling around and shooting annoyed glances at the strangers in their midst. “Forsooth! My companion meant no disrespect. She is just ignorant of your customs and dietary proclivities. Any assistance you can render would be greatly appreciated.”

Talia with flaming cheeksTalia shuffled her feet and blushed scarlet. “Of course, if you say we need their help, I welcome it. But I thought your sense of smell was sufficient for the task.”

Dragon shook her head. “Under normal circumstances, I would have no trouble tracking Marisol. However, her scent trail goes off in several different directions.”

“How is that possible?” Talia furrowed her brow and raked her hand through her hair.

The young coyote rolled his eyes. “The child you are looking for evidently traipsed around this area, going this way and that, crossing and re-crossing her own trail as she went. She was probably exploring or attempting to remain hidden.” The pup gave Talia a superior look.

The older coyote nodded. “Junior’s right. So, I suggest we divide into two groups, each following the trail in a different direction. Dragon, you are obviously the one with the best sense of smell. You should take the rabbits and the deer with you. Since the badger, the foxes, and my son and I all have exceptional olfaction, we will go in a different direction. We will take the human female with us, as she is known to the little girl and will be able to reassure the child she will be safe.”

“But who is going to reassure me that I will be safe?” Talia muttered under her breath, giving the animals a nervous, sidelong glance.

“We also have great auditory modality,” the pup whispered to Talia with a sharp bark that passed for a laugh.

Reynard and coyote pupThe reynard walked over to the coyote pup and nudged him. He spoke to the youngster in a loud stage whisper. “Junior! Didn’t your parents teach you not to play with your food?” He gave Talia a wide-mouthed grin.

“Dear, don’t make her nervous!” The vixen frowned at her mate.

Too late! Talia thought, as she edged away from the group. She called to Dragon. “Are you sure I shouldn’t come with you?”

Dragon gave Talia a dismissive wave of her taloned hand and started off, leading her group along the scent trail to the west. The animals in Talia’s group headed off to the northeast.

“Come along, Tidbit . . .er, I mean Talia.” The big coyote sneered at her and started walking slowly and deliberately across the field, nose to the ground. After a few paces, he glanced back over his shoulder at Talia, rooted to the spot. He growled. “Do try to keep up!”

Despite her rubbery legs and pounding heart, once Talia started moving, she had but little trouble sprinting along with the long-legged giants in the pack, until something bolted from the hedgerow. It crashed headlong into her and almost knocked her senseless. She found herself flat on her back on the hard ground, looking up into the slavering maw of a giant mountain lion.


Now what? Is Talia about to meet her end? What happened to all her powers? Will Dragon be able to find Marisol and return her safely to her own home? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Search Continues

The Search Continues

End of the branch disappeared“What is it?” Talia was pale and wide-eyed. She stared at the tree branch Dragon was holding, the tip of which had vanished when Dragon had thrust it at the spot where Talia had been about to walk.

Dragon frowned. “It appears to be a portal. That is, a gateway or conduit between worlds.”

“A portal?” Talia peered at the air swirling around the end of the branch, like the ripples from a tiny pebble dropped into a mirror-calm lake. “So, what do we do now?”

Dragon held up her clawed index finger, indicating Talia should give her a minute to investigate. Then the huge reptile pulled the branch back from the portal and examined it. The tip was still intact and showed no signs of damage. Tossing the branch aside, she walked around the portal, giving the area a wide berth. She carefully studied the ground and sniffed all around the area. Finally, the beast turned to Talia. “I see no footprints on the far side of the portal; nor do I detect any scent of Marisol or Hab’itt past this point. It is obvious they went through the portal. Methinks the only course of action left to us is to follow them.”

“Fo . . . fo . . . follow them? Through the portal?

Dragon nodded.

Talia took a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at the beads of sweat that were forming on her forehead and dripping down into her eyes. “Errr . . . I really think Christine would be better suited for such an endeavor.”

Dragon knew the woman was referring to her partner, the other half of the team that managed the Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store. “Christine is not here. You are.” Smoke started to drift from Dragon’s snout.

“She could be here in nothing flat. Just let me call her.” Talia fumbled for her cell phone.going through portal

“No time.” Dragon clamped a taloned hand around Talia’s wrist and pulled her into the portal.

Talia closed her eyes and held her breath as Dragon tugged her along. The trip was short, just like walking through an open door. One second, they were in one world, three seconds and an equal number of steps later, they were in another.

“Well!” Talia smoothed her jacket and looked around. “That wasn’t at all what I was expecting.”

“Oh?” Dragon looked at her questioningly.

Talia shrugged. “In the movies and on TV, when people go through a portal like this, they fall, or they float, and it takes a long time for them to emerge on the other side.”

Dragon nodded. “Some portals are like that. Conduits can be exceptionally long and take a great deal of time and effort to navigate. Gateways, on the other hand, are simple doorways between two adjacent worlds.”

Talia nodded. “I see. Well, now that we stepped through the door into this world, what do we do? How do we find Marisol?”

“We continue our previous endeavor. We look.”

looking upAs she was saying that, Dragon noticed that Talia was already looking. Looking up. And up. And gulping.

“Haa . . . haa . . . Hab’itt?” Talia’s voice squeaked and cracked as she looked up at a giant rabbit.

Hab’itt?” The immense animal towering over Talia threw his head back and laughed. “Do I look like that little runt?”

Dragon raised an eyebrow. “Hmmmm. It disappoints me to hear such words in the homeland of which Hab’itt spoke so fondly, the land to which he longed to return.”

“Oh?” The rabbit gave Dragon a long look. “And why is that?” He sat back and twitched his ears at her.

“Hab’itt spoke of a way of life enjoyed by his kind, a way of life marked by inclusion, tolerance, acceptance, and peace. Such flippant and discourteous speech, such name-calling, does not seem to fit into that idyllic picture.” Dragon wrinkled her nose at the big rabbit and smoke began to drift from her nostrils.

The rabbit laughed again. “Hab’itt described our homeland accurately. And the name-calling to which you refer is just a pet name, a sign of affection for my little brother.”

Dragon raised an eyebrow again and folded her arms over her chest. “Oh?”

Brothers“Indeed.” The rabbit smiled warmly. “I call him the little runt; he calls me the big ox.” Seeing Dragon remained unconvinced, he chuckled. “Have you never had a relative or friend who used a term of endearment that, to others, seemed unkind?”

Dragon blushed, thinking of the times the Old Dwarf had called her beastie. “Forsooth! You make a good point.” She reached out a clawed hand. “I am Dragon. This is Talia.”

The rabbit took her hand as best he could in his massive paw. “I am most pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Hopper.” He shook Dragon’s hand, then extended his paw to Talia, who took it a bit apprehensively.

“Our pleasure.”

“You are strangers to our land. Did you come to see my brother, or just to see the land he spoke of?” Hopper smoothed his whiskers with his front paws as he spoke.

Marisol 1Dragon shook her head. “Actually, we seek another from our land. We believe a small child either accompanied your brother, or followed him, to your land. We need to return her to her own home and family.”

Carrot Patch“A child, you say. Hmmm. Last I saw Hab’itt, he was with a group of friends in the carrot patch. I saw no small child with them.” Hopper looked from Dragon to Talia and back, then scratched behind one ear with a huge back paw. “What species is this child?”

“She is human.” Dragon saw a strange look on Talia’s face, and added, “to the best of my knowledge. At least, her appearance is that of a human.”

Hopper nodded. “Well, a human would stand out in these parts. We don’t have any, you see. But, of course, a young’un could be easily overlooked if she kept quiet. A small creature can find all sorts of places to hide. Not right here, of course.” The rabbit gestured around at the field in which they were standing amid the remains of grain stalks that had been mown for straw.

Nothing could hide here

Dragon nodded. “Forsooth, nothing larger than a small songbird could hide in this stubble.”

“But there, that’s a different story.” The rabbit nodded to the east. “If the human child you seek has entered that savannah, finding her could prove most difficult.” Hopper thumped one hind leg nervously and smoothed his whiskers again.

Dragon and Talia followed the Hopper’s gaze. The landscape beyond the agricultural field was dominated by thick grasses, ferns, and flowering plants rising shoulder-high to the giant rabbit in some places and dotted by ancient trees with girths large enough for even Hopper to hide behind.

Talia tapped her chin with one finger and noticed her fingernail had broken. “Shoot!” Frowning, she fished an emery board from her pocket and filed down the offending nail while Dragon rolled her eyes at the woman. When Talia finished, she turned and addressed Dragon. “I was thinking . . .”

“Always a difficult undertaking for you.” Dragon raised an eyebrow and smirked.

Talia angry 2Talia scowled at Dragon before repeating herself. “I was thinking . . . maybe you could fly over that area and take a look.”

Dragon furrowed her brow. “The vegetation there is so thick, I doubt I would be able to see Marisol from overhead.” The beast shook her head. “No, let me see if I can see her footprints or pick up her scent here in this field.”

Sidestepping the portal, Dragon looked closely at the ground. She grunted and shook her head. “This stubble makes it difficult to follow anyone’s trail.” She started sniffing. “Ah, yes! The child has been here, and rather recently.” She sniffed a few more times, turning her head this way and that. “Here. She went in this direction.” She pointed to the north.Priceless image

“You do make a good bloodhound.” Talia smirked.

Dragon glared at the woman, and smoke drifted from her nose. “Be glad I do. A keen nose may prove the only way to find Marisol.”

She turned her back on Talia and addressed the rabbit once more. “What is in that direction?”

Hopper twitched his nose and thumped his back foot again. “That is the way to the carrot patch. Perhaps the child did accompany my brother.”

Dragon nodded. “Or she followed him without his knowledge.”

Talia snorted. “Followed him or went with him, what does it matter? Let’s just go and get her.”

Watch the portalThe woman stepped forward, but Hopper grabbed her, snagging the collar of her jacket with his teeth and pulling her back. “Watch out for the portal!”

Blushing furiously and mopping the sweat from her brow, Talia murmured a thank you and carefully followed Hopper and Dragon.

The trio crossed the field to the eastern edge, then walked north along a berm for close to a quarter hour before Hopper led them onto a small path. “This way. The carrot patch is about a half-mile further on this path.”

What passed this wayDragon took a deep breath, trying to identify Marisol’s scent among the many around that area. After a few moments of sniffing, she nodded. “The child has passed this way.” She frowned, as she continued sniffing. “So have a number of other creatures – Hab’itt, several other rabbits, a deer, a family of foxes, a badger, and a band of coyotes.”

Talia blanched. “We best hurry.”

Suddenly, they heard a piercing scream from up ahead.

Piercing scream

Who screamed, and why? Is Marisol in danger? Be sure to join us again next week to see what is happening. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Search

The Search

Talia and Dray leaving houseTalia dashed from the house, dragging Dray. The two women made their way down the flagstone walkway, Dray tripping and stumbling as she was tugged along. When they reached the street, Dray stopped dead and jerked her arm free from Talia’s grasp. “Wait! Where are we going?”

“To Marisol’s.”

“Why?” Dray rubbed her wrist where Talia had been holding her in a vice-like grip.

Talia frowned. “Didn’t you say Marisol and some giant, talking rabbit left here together and were supposedly going back to her yard?”

Dray nodded.

“Then, obviously, that’s why we’re going there.” Talia rolled her eyes and shook her head at Dray.

Ferrari“Are we not taking your vehicle?” Dray gestured toward a flashy red Ferrari parked haphazardly at the curb.

“No. I don’t want Bastina to know we’re there. So, stay close to me and be quiet now. I’ll cast a spell of concealment over us.” Talia raised her hand and started to mumble an incantation.

Dray shook her head. “I think we should let Bastina know we are looking for Marisol. She is worried about her daughter.”

Talia angry 2Talia scowled. “You should know better than to interrupt when a spell is being cast. Hush!”

Ignoring Talia’s admonishment, Dray continued talking. “But Bastina . . .”

Talia cut her off. “We told Marge and Miles to tell Bastina we’re looking for Marisol. We don’t have time right now to deal with a frantic mother.”

She raised her hand again and resumed mumbling.

Dray wrinkled her brow. “Bastina will be more reassured if we are the ones to explain what is happening . . .”

Scowling, Talia grabbed Dray by the shoulders and gave her a shake. “I said you should know better than to interrupt when a spell is being cast. Hush!

smoke poured from Dragon 2Dray shimmered as she shapeshifted back to her true form. The angry dragon loomed over Talia and growled, black smoke spewing from her snout. “It is not wise to maltreat a wyrm, or to order one quiet.”

Talia’s eyes narrowed. “It isn’t wise to interrupt me when I’m trying to cast a spell. Some vainglorious reptile might just find herself transformed into a puny lizard and dropped down the nearest storm drain.”

Dragon snarled. “You dare not try; and if you did, you might not survive long enough to regret it.”

Talia scoffed. “Oh, please! Do you really think you could take me on?” She chuckled. “If we had the time, I would love to accommodate you. But right now, it is imperative that we find Marisol. So, get over yourself and come along . . . quietly!”

Gecko in puddleFiery dragonDragon roared, flames erupting from her mouth. The next thing she knew, she was a tiny lizard, swimming with all her might while trying not to drown in a tiny puddle full of fallen leaves next to the curb. Before she was half-way across the water, she was once again a dragon.

Momentarily stunned, she stood gaping at Talia, who crossed her arms over her chest and smirked.

Now can we go . . . quietly?”

Dragon narrowed her eyes and continued to stare at Talia for several long minutes. Finally, she nodded curtly and quietly followed Talia down the street toward Marisol’s house as the smug woman raised her hand and mumbled the incantation that would keep them hidden.

When they reached Marisol’s house, Dragon reached out and clamped a taloned hand firmly on Talia’s shoulder, causing the woman to wince. “Now . . . if you are quite certain you have successfully cast the spell of concealment . . . let us talk.” She raised her other hand traffic-cop style and silenced Talia when the woman opened her mouth to reply. “First, let me say this – do not ever again attempt to cast a spell on me.”

Attempt?” Talia snickered. “I thought I did a lot more than attempt. I thought I was quite successful.”

“For a brief moment at most, and then only because you caught me off guard. Believe me when I say that will never happen again.” Dragon narrowed her eyes, and smoke drifted from her nostrils.

Reached Marisol's house“Fine. Sorry.” Talia shrugged and snickered again, clearly not sorry at all. She attempted to move, but Dragon’s claws in the woman’s shoulder kept her pinned to the spot.

“Now, precisely what are we doing here?” Dragon scowled at Talia.

The woman sighed. “We’ve been through this. Do try to keep up. We are here because you said Marisol and some giant, talking rabbit were supposedly coming back here.”

When Dragon simply blinked and said nothing, Talia rolled her eyes and continued. “If they came back here, you should be able to track them from here, either magically or with your keen sense of smell.”

“Suppose they did not return here? Should we not have started tracking them from Mistress Writer’s yard, the last place I saw them?”

Talia scoffed. “I doubt the rabbit would have taken her anywhere else before coming back here. Even a child her age would be suspicious if the creature suddenly suggested a different destination.”

Dragon took a few moments to consider this before nodding. “So, do you believe the rabbit kidnapped Marisol upon their return here, or do you believe Marisol’s curiosity compelled the child to follow the rabbit when he continued on his journey?”

Now it was Talia’s turn to consider. She furrowed her brow and chewed her lower lip before answering. “I’m not sure. Did the rabbit seem like a kidnapper to you?”

Marisol and rabbitDragon shook her head. “No. Hab’itt seemed too open and too sensitive to engage in a violent transgression.”

Talia raised an eyebrow and giggled. “Hab’itt? Hab’itt the rabbit? You’ve got to be kidding.”

“That was the name he gave.” Dragon did not seem amused. “Do try to stay focused. Now, if Hab’itt did not kidnap Marisol, that leaves the distinct possibility that the curious child merely followed him, perhaps becoming lost somewhere along the way.”

Talia, doing her best to stifle her giggles, nodded. “We better check out this yard carefully and see if we can pick up their tracks.”

Dragon frowned. “It seems to me you have sufficient magic to track them yourself. I resent being dragged along to be used like a bloodhound.”

Priceless image“Bloodhound?” Talia giggled again. “Thank you for that priceless image. I admit that was a part of why I brought you along, but I was actually thinking more of having a comrade-in-arms, should the need arise for self-defense.”

Dragon scoffed. “You expect a murderous confrontation? From a rabbit?”

Marisol and rabbit“A six-foot-tall, talking rabbit.” Talia raised an eyebrow and gave Dragon a steely look. “I don’t suppose you noticed if he was disguised, magically or otherwise.”

Dragon shook her head. “I did observe he was not an illusion. Beyond that, I really did not examine him. I suppose he could have been hiding his true nature, but I should think Marisol would have seen through that. She saw him, as did I, as a large rabbit, capable of speech and coherent thought.”

Talia nodded. “Then let’s take a look around the yard and see if we can find any clues.”

It took about forty-five minutes for Dragon and Talia to thoroughly examine the acre-and-a-half of lawn and flower beds between the back of the house and the fence adjacent to the patch of woods to the north, but they uncovered no clues.

“Did you pick up their scent anywhere?” Talia pushed a lock of hair out of her eyes and squinted at Dragon.

Dragon made a gesture of frustration. “Marisol’s scent is everywhere, which I expected since it is her yard and she plays here daily. Hab’itt’s scent is here as well, but I am unable to determine where he entered the property, or whence he left.”

Talia frowned and tapped her chin with a perfectly manicured nail. “Maybe we should try going a couple feet past the end of the yard and see if you can find their scent out there. That might point us in the right direction.”

Going through the fenceDragon nodded and clambered awkwardly over the split-rail fence at the back of the yard. Talia squeezed through the rough wooden rails. “Darn! I snagged my blouse on the fence.”

Examining the damage to her expensive silk shirt, Talia failed to watch where she was going. She shrieked as Dragon grabbed her roughly and jerked her back.

Talia pulled away from Dragon and rounded on the beast. “Why did you grab me like that?” She glared at Dragon, who ignored her and focused on something behind the woman.

Talia turned around and followed Dragon’s gaze. She furrowed her brow. “What is it?”

Dragon picked up a fallen branch. She walked over to the spot Talia had been when Dragon had pulled her back. Carefully, the beast raised the branch about waist-high and thrust it forward. The end of the branch disappeared.

End of the branch disappeared

Dragon looked at Talia. “I daresay we have found whence they left Marisol’s yard.”

Talia’s eyes bulged. “And whence they left this world.”

What has happened to Marisol? Is she in danger? Will Dragon and Talia be able to find her and return her home? Come back next week for more of this exciting adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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