Real or Illusory?

Real or Illusory?

Dragon and the Boss“Arthur?”

Dragon – still in her guise of an exotic and delicate maiden – gaped at the figure standing before her.

Arthur?” Cleric’s voice sounded incredulous as she pushed past her companions. “Why, it is Arthur!” Her eyes widened and she took a step back.

The Gypsy jostled to get a glimpse of the man in question and scowled. “What is he doing here?”

The Young Hero frowned. “Arthur? Are you sure that is Arthur?”

Tor and BossThe Foreman, Tor, gaped at the man he knew as the Boss. “I should have recognized him! When I first saw him here in the barn with the farrier, I thought he looked out of place, but I did not realize he was someone I had met in the real world.”

“I can hear ya, ya know. Ya don’t hafta talk about me like I ain’t right here!” The Boss sneered.

Dragon approached the man and studied him carefully. “You are Arthur, are you not?”

The man gave her a smug look. “Maybe. Maybe not. What’s it ta you, sista?”

Not his sisterDragon gave him a cold stare. Smoke started to drift from her nose, despite the fact that she was not in her true form. “Most assuredly, I am not you sister.”

“Whatever.” The man gave her a curious look. “So, who are ya, and what’s yer business here?”

Dragon ignored him and turned to the Foreman. “What do you know of this man?”

Tor took off his hat and raked his hand through his hair. “I know him as the Boss, but nothing more. I did not recognize him as Arthur, though I sensed he might not be from this world. For several hours now, I have repeatedly asked him who he is and how he came to be in this place. I have gotten nothing but evasion and double-talk.”

The BossThe other man tsk-tsked and smirked at Tor. “Whatchya talkin’ about? I already told you. I’m the Boss. I came here from the town, same as you probably did, and I got here by walking, same as you probably did.”

“Yes, yes, you have told me that. But you refuse to reveal the identity you held before you came here and became the Boss. You refuse to reveal where you came from before you were in the town, or how you got to the town.” Tor’s voice was strained, and a vein in his temple throbbed.                                                                                                                    Flopped back down on hay

Dragon studied the man closely through narrowed eyes. He seemed singularly unconcerned as he flopped back down on the bale of hay.

After many long minutes, Dragon turned back toward her companions and addressed Sorceress, the Arrogant One, the Bounty Hunter and the Old Dwarf, none of whom had ever met Arthur. Their confused looks faded as Dragon explained, “This man appears to be Arthur, the man who runs the writers’ group, Lost in the Words, and who has – on numerous occasions – caused serious problems for us.”

“Yes, he does appear to be Arthur,” Cleric interrupted, still sounding incredulous. “But can we be certain? How could Arthur be in this illusory world?”

Dragon frowned. “I do not know how he could be here. And, no, I am not certain he is Arthur. The physical resemblance is exceptional. However, his manner of speaking is all wrong. And, if he were Arthur, he should recognize some of us.”

Dwarf and the Boss“Be there no way ta be sure, beastie?” The Old Dwarf moved closer to the seated figure. “Mebe I can be gittin’ ’em ta be more forthcomin’ wit ’is answers?”

Another voiceDragon started to reply when another voice drew everyone’s attention to the far end of the barn. “If you folks’er here lookin’ ta buy some horses, yer just gonna hafta wait. I’m jus’ giving ’em their grain and water now. Come back later in tha day an’ they’ll be ready ta show ya.”

Tor gestured toward the newcomer. “That is the stable hand.”

Dragon and stable handThe other companions stared at the figure while Dragon walked down the length of the barn aisle and studied the lad closely. “You are from this place, are you not? Like Sangree, the guide, you have a specific function here.”

The youth nodded. “I’m from here. I tend tha horses.”

“Do you know that man? The one sitting on the bale of hay?”

The stable hand scowled. “Calls himself the Boss. Ain’t my boss. I won’t work fer that man no more.”

Dragon nodded. “How long has he been the Boss?”

The stable hand frowned and scratched his head. “Not sure, really. Can’t remember but seems like maybe there usta be another boss. Don’t matter, though. Ain’t gonna work for that one no more.”

Dragon turned back to the group at the other end of the barn. “Sangree? Are you still here?”

“I am right here, milady! Do you need me to guide you to another place?” The self-proclaimed best guide in the town scurried down the aisle toward Dragon and the stable hand, a broad grin on his face.

Sangree and the stable hand“Not yet. I do need you to stand here, next to the stable hand, please.”

Sangree took his place without question, grinning like a fool.

“Now you.” Dragon pointed to the man who called himself the Boss. “Come here and stand with them.”

“Whatchya got in mind, sista?” He made no move to join them.

“Tha beastie been tellin’ ye afore, she do na be yer sister.” The Old Dwarf had retrieved his axe from his satchel and stood before the Boss, smacking the flat of the blade against the palm of his open hand. “Now, be ye walkin’ o’er there on yer ownest two feetsies, or be I slicin’ ye inta little bitty pieces wat I kin be carryin’ there?”

The Boss narrowed his eyes and took the Old Dwarf’s measure. He rose slowly and stretched. “All right, all right, I’m goin’. No need ta git yer tin can all steamed up.” He started strolling lazily down the barn aisle but picked up his pace considerably when the dwarf whacked his derrière with the flat of the axe blade.

Boss, Sangree, Stable handOnce the Boss stood with Sangree and the stable hand, Dragon motioned to Cleric, Sorceress, the Gypsy, and the Arrogant One. She drew her four magic colleagues close and spoke in a whisper. “Share your power with me, please.”

The elf drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, grasped his cloak with both hands, and sneered. “My power? For what purpose?”

Dragon silenced him with a raised eyebrow. “Not just your power, elf. I need all of you to strengthen a spell I will cast on those three. We know two of them are illusory – residents of this illusory world you helped me create for the Foreman. We need to determine if the third one – the one who calls himself the Boss, but who looks like Arthur – is also illusory, or if he is real.”

blue auraThe Arrogant One frowned but nodded. The others agreed with no hesitation. They all joined hands and concentrated as hard as they could. Brows became furrowed, shoulders grew tense, and tongues peaked out of the corners of several mouths. Finally, Dragon intoned a spell in an ancient and arcane language.

After several minutes, Sangree and the stable hand were outlined in a soft blue light. Several more moments passed before the third figure also started glowing softly.

WrithingSuddenly, the light around the Boss intensified. He fell to the ground, writhing in a carnelian glow.

“What has happened?” Cleric broke the circle, pulling away from her companions and rushing toward the thrashing figure.

“Do not touch him!” Dragon reached out and grabbed Cleric.

“But he may need healing.” Cleric was already reaching for her pouch of herbs and her clerical emblem.

“I doubt he has been harmed, and even if he has been, I doubt you would be able to help.” Dragon kept a tight grip on Cleric’s arm, moving her away from the Boss, who lay, groaning, in a fading aura of reds and blues.

Slowly, the man’s spasms slowed, and he lay there still, with only an occasional twitch.

“He dead?” The stable hand sounded hopeful.

“No.” Dragon shook her head.

The man rolled over and glared at the stable hand. “It takes more’n a few fireworks ta finish me. I’m the Boss!”

“Sez you,” the youth muttered.

The Boss dragged himself into a sitting position. “What’dya do ta me, sista?”

Dwarf threatening sitting Boss“Ye be callin’ the beastie sister just oncet more, and ye be seein’ wat it be gittin’ ye.” The Old Dwarf glowered at the Boss, and vigorously pounded the flat of his axe blade into the palm of his open hand again.

The Boss scowled at the dwarf, but kept his mouth shut as he finished dragging himself to his feet. He stood there, leaning unsteadily against a stall door, shaking his head.

Once they were certain the man had sustained no serious or permanent injury, the companions huddled together and looked at Dragon.

“So, do we know any more now than we did before?” The Gypsy asked the question that was obviously on everyone’s mind.

“Yes and no.” Dragon pursed her lips. “The soft blue aura that surrounded the three figures marked them as illusory beings. The reddish radiance showed the one to be real.”

“How can that be?” Sorceress gaped at Dragon. “One is either real or illusory. One cannot be both.”

Dragon shrugged. “He is.”Arthur or the Boss

How can the Boss (or is it Arthur?) be both an illusion and real? How are the companions going to solve that mystery? And will they ever find their way out of this illusory world and back to the real world where Mistress Writer and Master Miles await their return? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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A Reunion . . . or Two

A Reunion . . . or Two

Farther awayTClose enough to hithe companions, led by the strange local, Sangree, zigzagged their way toward the distant complex of barns. At times, the barns seemed close enough to hit with a well-thrown rock. Most times, they seemed to be getting farther and farther away. Every time Sangree changed direction, the landscape changed.

Puffing and panting, the Arrogant One grabbed Sangree’s arm. “We need a rest.”

“Past that copse of trees.” Sangree smiled and pointed to their right. “We can stop there for rest and refreshment.

The elf watched as the trees Sangree had pointed to seemed to slip towards their left. He looked down his nose at Sangree and scowled. “Are you quite certain you know where you are going?”

Arrogant One and SangreeSangree looked woundedSangree looked wounded. “Of course. I am the best guide in the town.”

“But we are not in the town now, are we?” the elf muttered.

“Of course not. We are on the road. The road goes away from the town.” Sangree gave the Arrogant One a look of pity. “I thought you were intelligent. I thought you could understand that.”

Sangree and DrayBefore the Arrogant One could react with his usual glass-shattering screeching, Dragon, still in her guise of a delicate maiden, stepped between the two figures. “How long will it take to get to the barns?”

Sangree smiled broadly. “Not long now.” He looked past Dragon, and his smile faded. He glared at the Arrogant One. “Unless some of your company are not able to keep up, and we have to make more than one rest stop. Then it could take much longer.”

Dwarf and Arrogant One“Do na be worryin’ aboot thet. Tha elfie be keepin’ up. I be makin’ sure o thet, even iffins I be havin’ ta be carryin’ ’em on me back.”

The Old Dwarf shot the Arrogant One a superior look, then quickly covered his ears as the elf screeched, “Do not call me elfie!

Surprised at elves“Elf?” Sangree looked surprised, as if he had not noticed the Arrogant One, as well as some others in the group, sported the pointed ears, slanted eyes, and delicate features characteristic of the race. “You are fey-kin?”

“What if I am?” The elf drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, grasped his cloak with both hands, and glared at the guide.

“The fey usually do not enter this world. You could be the reason the Changes are changing more rapidly.” Sangree scratched his head and chewed on his lower lip. “We may have to take a different route.”

“Are you saying that the presence of . . .?” Cleric started to question Sangree, but Dragon cut her off.

One of two things“Take whatever route is needed to get us there as quickly as possible.” Dragon turned toward her companions and lowered her voice. “The Foreman was lost before the Arrogant One, Cleric, or I entered this illusory land. That means one of two things. Either the fey have entered this land, or the rapid changes in the landscape have been brought about by our presence. Any of us – even the Foreman himself – who fell out of Mistress Writer’s manuscripts might be the catalyst for the rapid changes.”

“How?” Cleric wrinkled her brow in confusion.

“By virtue of the fact that none of us are from what the Mistress terms the real world.” Dragon’s tone was somber and edged with concern.

The Gypsy frowned. “Are you certain the Foreman became lost because of the changing landscape? Could that not be merely coincidental to his disappearance?”

Dwarf closeup“It do na be makin’ much nevermind wat the reason be fer ’is disappearin’. We be havin’ ta be findin’ ’em, and right quick-like. I be havin’ a bad feelin’ thet tha longer we be in this place, the harder it be ta be gittin oot agin.” The Old Dwarf looked about nervously as he spoke.

Dragon nodded and turned toward Sangree. “Let us proceed.”

The guide smiled broadly and started off at a trot in the opposite direction of the one he had previously indicated. “Come. Since speed is of the essence, we will see if the short-cut is still there.”Young Hero and Sangree

The Young Hero grabbed Sangree and pulled him to an abrupt stop. “See if it is still there? What if it is not?”

Sangree shrugged. “Then it will take us longer.” He smiled broadly. “But I will get you there. I am the best guide in the town.”

* * *

Foreman facing right closeupThe Foreman, Tor, heaved a huge sigh. He had been trying for hours to get information from the one called the Boss, but that man seemed incapable of giving a straight answer.

Tor looked out the barn door and beyond the stable yard. The landscape adjacent to the stable yard had changed again. The last time Tor had looked, it had been an orchard, the apple trees already heavy with ripe, red fruit ready for the harvest. Before that, it had been a hazy cypress swamp, and before that, a woodlot with a railroad track leading from the stable yard. Now, it was a sandy beach.

Tire of evasionHe sighed again and turned back toward the Boss. “I tire of your evasiveness. Where did you come from, how did you get here, and who were you before you came here and became the Boss?” He glared at the other figure, still squirming on the bale of hay, where Tor had none-too-gently seated him.

“I guess I come from the town. Ain’t that where you come from? And I guess I walked here. Ain’t that how you got here? An’ I guess I’ve always been the Boss . . . or I figured I always oughta been.” The man spoke glibly and had an infuriatingly smug look on his face. Tor could feel his patience stretching to the breaking point.

Before you were in the town. Where did you come from before you were in the town? And how did you get to the town?” Tor’s voice was strained, and his hands were balled into fists.

Another building out back“Sounds like them horses are getting’ restless. Ain’tcha gonna give ’em no feed or water?” The Boss pointed toward the door at the other end of the barn. “I think there’s another building out there, where they keep the grain and the hay. Ya can draw water from the well out back.”

When Tor made no move toward the door, the Boss scoffed. “Hypocrite! You were so concerned that the farrier did his job right and didn’t lame them up, but ya don’t give a rat’s arse if they go hungry or die of thirst.”

Tor grabbed the Boss and started dragging him toward the door. “You are right. The horses must be fed and watered. Come. You can answer my questions while you show me where everything is, and help me . . .”

“I’ll take care of them. That’s my job.”

Stable hand returnsTor whirled around to find the stable hand walking back into the barn. He gaped at the approaching figure. “I thought you had left for good.”

“Changed my mind.” The youth blushed, scuffed his boot back and forth in the dirt, and fidgeted with his collar. “Nowhere else ta go. Unnerstan’, I don’t wanna work for him no more. He ain’t my boss.” He jutted his jaw in the direction of the Boss. “But tha horses . . . gotta take care of ’em. It’s my job.”

Tor nodded. “May I offer some assistance?”

The lad shook his head. “Nah. I can manage. It’s my job. You jus keep that one outta my way.” He jerked his thumb at the Boss and glared at him before turning and walking down the barn aisle toward the back door. Tor could hear him talking softly to the animals as he passed each stall.

Tire of evasionWhen he turned back to the Boss, Tor was all but growling. “Now. You will answer my questions now.

The Boss settled back onto the bale of hay. “Sure thing! Whatcha wanna know?”

* * *

Twice in the next hour, the companions approached so close to the barns, they could hear the horses inside nickering and snorting. Once, they were sure they heard voices.

“Is that the Foreman?” The Young Hero started running toward the barns.

Gypsy grabs friend by tree“Look out!” The Gypsy grabbed his friend’s arm and swung him around, keeping the lad from running headlong into a massive oak tree as the landscape changed again.

“Wow! Thanks! That was close.” The Young Hero’s eyes widened as he stared at the tree that had seemed to pop out of thin air into his path.

“Did thet be tha Foreman wat ye be heardin’?”

“Mayhap, but I can not be sure, dwarf. I could not hear the voices well enough to make out any words.” The Young Hero hung his head.

Cleric patted the boy’s arm. “Do not worry. None of us could hear clearly.” She turned toward Sangree. “Why is it every time we get close to the barns, the landscape changes and we are farther away?”

“It’s the Changes. That’s what it does. I told you it was a treacherous region.”

Smoke drifting from Dragon's nostrilsDragon scowled at the man. Despite the fact she was not in her true form, smoke drifted from her nostrils. “Are you quite certain you are able to get us to the barns? Not just close enough to see and hear, but actually to the barns, so we may enter?”

“Yes, yes, quite certain. I am the best guide in the town. Trust me.” Sangree was wearing his too-broad smile again. “If we leave right this minute, we should be there within the hour.”

Amost walked off the cliffHe turned and almost fell off a previously non-existent cliff. “Oops. Wrong way. Be careful there! Watch your step!” He turned and led the group, muttering and grousing, away from the cliff’s edge.

Two hours and a dozen changes of landscape later, Sangree triumphantly led the weary group along the railroad track and into the stable yard.

Arrived

Smiling Sangree“See? I told you I’m the best guide in the town.” He smiled so broadly that Cleric feared his face might split wide open.

The Gypsy and the Young Hero started to run toward the open barn door, but Dragon grabbed them. “No! Do not run. Did you forget the incidents of the tree and the cliffs?”

“Oh, it’s okay. You can run now. We’ve departed the Changes. This area isn’t part of that region.” Sangree demonstrated by running to the building. Stopping by the open door, he gestured for the companions to follow. He was almost trampled as eight figures made a mad dash past him and entered the barn.

ReunionIn seconds, the companions spotted their lost comrade standing next to a figure seated on a bale of hay, and he spotted them. Tor and his friends ran to each other and suddenly everyone was talking at once.

Tor and the BossIn the pandemonium, the seated figure edged off the hay bale and started to slink toward the back of the barn. Tor ran back and grabbed him by his shirt collar. “You are going nowhere.” His thunderous voice silenced everyone else. Everyone except the person he had grabbed.

“Well, if you insist. I jus’ didn’t wanna intrude on yer reunion with yer friends here. Didn’t wanna git in tha way.”

The figure turned toward the companions and Dragon’s jaw dropped. “Arthur?”

Dragon and the Boss

What would Arthur – leader of the writers’ group Lost in the Words, and major antagonist to Mistress Writer and her characters –  be doing in an illusory world created by Dragon and her colleagues in spell casting? Be sure to come back next week and find out. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Change, Change, Change – What’s the Story?

Change, Change, Change – What’s the Story?

Continued along the roadThe companions continued along the road in the direction of the distant barns. Dragon, in the form of an exotic and delicate maiden, led the group. The Bounty Hunter brought up the rear, keeping an eye on the figure that appeared to have followed them from the village.

Farther awayLess than fifteen minutes later, the Gypsy lad yelped and grabbed Dragon by the sleeve. “Does it seem to you that the barns are farther than they were just moments ago?”

Dragon narrowed her eyes and stared toward the barns. “You may be correct. They do appear more distant.”

Landscape is changingThe Young Hero chimed in. “And the landscape is changing. The horses and fencing are gone, and the fields are less lush and full of weeds.”

Road is starting to twist“And the road is starting to twist.” The Arrogant One pointed to the road ahead, which was no longer straight. “The barns are no longer directly ahead, either.”

“Is that . . . a railroad track?” Sorceress gaped at the steel rails emerging from a copse of trees and merging with the road ahead.RR Tracks

“Not something one would expect to find in a medieval world.” Dragon gathered the companions closer and addressed the Bounty Hunter. “Are we still being shadowed?”

The man nodded.

“Perhaps we should find out who is following us and why, and what he knows about this changing landscape.” Dragon gestured for the Bounty Hunter and the Old Dwarf to go back and intercept their apparent pursuer.

“Wait!” The Arrogant One stopped them. “Dragon, you were concerned that if we separated, some of us might become lost, as the Foreman did. I suggest we either all wait here and see if our stalker catches up with us, or we all go back and confront him.”

Dragon furrowed her brow. “Excellent point. We do not wish to search for more than one lost soul.”

“Waiting seems the best option, as the person in question appears to be almost upon us.” Sorceress pointed to a rapidly approaching figure.

“Indeed! He seems to be getting closer at about the same rate the barns are becoming more distant.” The Young Hero furrowed his brow and kept glancing back and forth between the approaching man and the barns.

Moments later, the figure slowed his rapid advance and gave the companions a wary look. Nervously, he edged closer.

SangreeDragon and the others checked him out as he drew nearer. He appeared a singularly nondescript man, of indeterminate age and average height and weight. He was clad in an unremarkable brown leather tunic, dingy gray leggings, and well-worn boots. He carried nothing – neither weapon nor staff nor pouch.

“Thet one do na be much o a threat.” The Old Dwarf shook his head and gestured dismissively.

The figure stopped and bowed when he reached the companions. “Hail, travelers! I am Sangree. I saw you in the town and thought mayhap you were in need of a guide.”

Sangree and DrayDragon raised an eyebrow. “Travelers? Why do you believe us to be travelers?”

Sangree flashed a broad smile. “I know everyone from the town. I do not know you. So . . . travelers.” He puffed out his chest as if inordinately proud of having made that deduction.

Dragon nodded, apparently satisfied with that answer. “Sangree, have you seen any other travelers of late?”

Sangree furrowed his brow and put his hand to his chin. The tip of his tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth and his eyelids almost closed. He remained in that position for so long, Cleric whispered to Dragon, “Is he in a trance?”

Dragon shrugged and reached out to give him a shake. Her hand was only an inch from his shoulder when he opened his eyes, smiled broadly, and shook his head. “No, you are the only travelers I have seen.”

Dragon raised an eyebrow again.

Sangree and Bounty HunterThe Bounty Hunter rounded on the man. “Perchance, do you know where this road goes?”

“Away from the town.” Again, Sangree flashed a broad smile.

“We do na be carin’ where tha road be leadin’ from. We be wantin’ ta be knowin’ where it be leadin’ to.” The Old Dwarf scowled.

“The road leads to away from the town.” Sangree’s exasperated tone of voice tacked a silent Duh to the end of his statement.

The Gypsy chuckled. “Sangree, if we continue following this road in this direction, where will we end up?”

“Away from the town.” Another broad smile shone from Sangree’s face.

“Wonderful guide!” Sorceress snorted.

“Mayhap you are in need of a guide?” Sangree gave her a hopeful look.

“To what place can you guide us?” The Young Hero gave Sangree an encouraging smile.

“Away from the town.”

“This is getting us nowhere!” The Arrogant One scoffed.

Sangree and Cleric“Sangree?” Cleric approached the man. “Do you see that complex of barns in the distance?” She pointed to the barns, now barely visible on the horizon.

Sangree nodded.

“Can you guide us there?”

Sangree nodded again and set off across the field. “It is fortunate you asked me to guide you. You would most likely have gotten lost in the Changes if you had stayed on the road.”

“The changes?” Cleric looked confused as she and the others scurried to keep up with Sangree.

“Yes, that is what this area is called. Very treacherous region.” Sangree offered the companions his widest smile yet as he led them on a zig-zag route through the ever-changing landscape.

Ever-changing landscape

* * *

Stays the sameTor waited for the Boss to begin his story. The man hemmed and hawed but said nothing of import as he gestured to the barn and stable yard. “…stays the same. Always the same.”

Tor scowled at the man. “Yes, yes, you have said that several times now. I am more interested in knowing about you and how you came to be here, and what you really know about the phenomenon of the changing landscape.”

The stable hand nodded. “Me, too.”

The boss backhands the stable handThe Boss backhanded the youth, knocking him on his rump before Tor could intervene. Reaching down to help the young man to his feet, Tor gave the Boss a steely look. “I strongly advise against such actions.”

The Boss frowned. “You gonna stop me?”

“I will.” Tor met the man’s gaze.

Tor and Boss

The Boss shrugged again, then started wandering toward the barn. Tor followed him. Once inside the barn, the Boss made a big show of checking each horse. When he reached the bobtail at the far end of the barn, he opened the stall door, clipped a lead on the horse’s halter, and led him out into the center aisle. “There! See, he ain’t limpin’ none.”

Tor raised an eyebrow. “You were going to tell me your story . . . and what you know of this place.”

Shrugging again, the Boss led the horse back into the stall. Closing the stall door, the man looked toward Tor again, then beyond. He frowned. “Go on. Go on!

holding pipedropping pipeIt took only seconds for Tor to realize the Boss was talking to someone else. Tor whirled around to see the stable hand standing there with a length of pipe in his hand. The youth looked from the pipe to the Boss and then to Tor. Finally, he dropped the pipe.

“Ya can’t do that! I’m the Boss.” The other man’s face was like thunder, but his voice sounded more like that of a petulant child.

“Are ya?” The stable hand furrowed his brow and tilted his head.

The man looked taken aback by the question. “Well, I always have been.”

“Not no more.” The youth shook his head. “Don’t know how ya ever gots ta be Boss in the first place.” He turned and walked out of the barn.Stablehand leaves

The Boss gaped at the departing figure. “Well, that ain’t supposed ta happen.”

“What is?”

“Huh?” The Boss looked back at Tor.

“What is supposed to happen?”

“Well, I’m supposeta be the Boss. He’s supposeta work for me, do whatever I tell ’em to.”

“How did you get to be the Boss? For that matter, how did you come to be in this place?”

TalkWhen the Boss started to shrug again, Tor grabbed him and pushed him down onto a bale of hay. “You will sit there, and you will tell me what I wish to know.”

“Or what? Whattaya gonna do?” The Boss looked and sounded smug.

Tor narrowed his eyes. “Or I will leave you here with no one. It is hard to be the Boss when you have no one to follow your orders.”

“All right, all right. Don’t get yer knickers in a twist.” The Boss squirmed around until he found a more comfortable position. “So, waddaya wanna know?”

Tor sighed. I fear this may take a considerable amount of time.

Passage of time

Will Tor ever get to hear the Boss’ story? Will Sangree ever lead Dragon and the companions to this barn? And where has the stable hand gone? Be sure to come back next week as we continue this exciting tale. I’ll be sure to leave the porch light on for you.

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Confounding Developments

Confounding Developments

Glaring at the other two men

The Foreman, Tor, glared at the other two men. The first, the one called the Boss, was bound hand and foot on the ground. The other, the stable hand who had attacked Tor, stood, slouched and nervous, next to him.

Foreman closeup“Need I repeat myself?” Tor’s voice was a deep growl again. When neither man responded, he reiterated his earlier question. “What do you mean you cannot get there from here?”

The Boss snorted. “Ya stupid or sometin? I mean jus’ what I said.”

Tor glared at the two men again. He furrowed his brow and rubbed the back of his neck; then he paced back and forth. He looked up and down the road again, more carefully this time, but still nothing looked familiar. He scowled at the two men. He took off his hat, raked his hand through his hair, and plopped his hat back on his head. Finally, he spoke.

confused“Mayhap you are correct. I would allow I must be stupid, as I cannot grasp how I would be unable to get to one place from another, when I already came from that first place to the second. Nor do I understand the other thing you said – this is the stable where we met. Just the world around it changed.

The Boss snickered. “Untie me, an’ maybe I’ll explain.”

Tor shook his head. “I think I would feel safer if at least one of you remained secured.”

The Boss managed a shrug despite his restraints. “Your choice. But I don’t give out information when I’m . . . secured.”

Tor furrowed his brow again and chewed on his lower lip. Finally, he nodded. “I will untie you then. But if either of you move to assault me again, both of you will deeply regret it.”

The Boss shrugged again.

Tor addressed the stable hand. “You! Stand over there and do not move.” He pointed to a spot about ten feet away.

untiedAs the boy scrambled to do his bidding, Tor reached down and untied the Boss. As the Boss awkwardly struggled to his feet, Tor backed away to a safe distance.

The Boss rubbed his wrists and ankles. “Well, those bonds weren’t too tight. No harm done, I guess . . . lucky thing for you.” He sneered at Tor.

Tor merely raised an eyebrow at the other man.

“So, ya needs some answers. Maybe I gots ’em.” The Boss chuckled. “So, waddya gots ta trade? Money? Service? Goods? Information?”

Tor frowned. “I have nothing of value to you.”

seems to be fitThe Boss 2The Boss studied Tor, looking him up and down. “Ya seem to be fit. Ya could always work for me in payment of the information.”

Tor sneered. “I doubt the value of the information would be worth lowering myself to work for the likes of you.”

The Boss placed his hands on his chest and assumed an injured look. When he spoke, sarcasm dripped from his voice like thick syrup. “The likes of me? I’m hurt! How can ya say that? Ya don’t even know me.”

Tor scoffed. “I know you do not care for the horses in your charge, else you would have instructed your blacksmith not to lame the horse by trimming its hoof so short. I know your stable hand attacked me, presumably at your behest. And I know you are extremely rude. I do not believe I need know any more.”

The Boss laughed. “Ya might have sometin’ there. But if ya gots nuttin ta trade, I gots no information for ya.”

Tor studied the man for many long minutes. Finally, a smile tugged at the corners of Tor’s mouth, and he raised an eyebrow at the other man. “I believe I have already paid for the information. I contend I have already performed a service for you by freeing you from your bonds.”

The Boss scoffed. “Bonds ya wrapped me up in yerself. Hardly counts.”

Tor frowned, then squared his shoulders and set his jaw. “Then I shall take my leave and find my own answers.”

He turned to leave and stopped dead. He gasped, rubbed his eyes, and looked again. He closed his eyes tight and waited several minutes before slowly opening them again. He gaped at what he saw. It has happened again!

road ran straightThe sight he beheld confounded Tor. When he had first come to this place, a wide dirt road had run straight from the town to the stable yard, passing lush, white-fenced pastures full of magnificent horses. Nothing looks familiarWhen he had attempted to leave earlier this day, he had found the road was running past the stable yard, not into it. The horses had disappeared, and scrubby fields enclosed in rickety, brown post-and-rail fencing had replaced the lush pastures and pristine white fencing. This had led Tor to believe the stable hand and the Boss had taken him somewhere other than the place where they had first met, but the men insisted this was the same stable.

Now, the scene had changed again. No fields or fences of any sort were in sight, and instead of a road, Tor saw railroad tracks leading from the yard and meandering through a meager woodlot.railroad tracks

Railroad tracks? In a medieval world? Tor shook his head in disbelief and struck the side of his head with the palm of his hand, as if trying to knock loose some cobwebs.

Tor was so shocked by what he saw, he didn’t notice the other two men coming up behind him. He jumped when the Boss clapped him on the back, laughing.

stable yard stayed the samerailroad tracks“Now ya see what I mean? The stable where ya met us, it ain’t changed, see?” The Boss gestured at the barn and the stable yard. “Only the world around it changed.” He pointed to the woods and the railroad tracks.

Tor’s brow furrowed. “How? Why?”

The stable hand muttered. “Don’t know, do we?”

The Boss rounded on the boy, backhanding him hard across his face. “He weren’t askin’ you.”

The boy rubbed his cheek and mumbled.

“Wadidya say?” The Boss glared at him.

The boy ducked his head. “Said sorry, Boss.”

Tor stepped between the two men. “So, you are unable to explain this phenomenon, yet you expected payment for information you cannot provide.” Tor raised his eyebrow at the Boss.stepped between

The Boss chuckled. “Can’t blame a man fer tryin’.”

Tor snorted. “That is a matter open for debate.” He rubbed his chin. “So, do you know anything?”stable yard stayed the same

The Boss shrugged. “I know the barn and this stable yard are the only things what don’t seem ta change.”

“But you do not know why they remain unchanged and the rest of this world apparently transforms.” Tor phrased it as a statement.

The stable hand nodded, then cringed when the Boss shot him a threatening look.

Tor cocked his head and eyed the other two figures. “Are the two of you native to this world, or have you traveled here from another world?”What do you mean

The stable hand snorted. “Waddya mean, traveled from another world?”

Tor nodded, his expression showing he had expected that answer. Then he turned to the Boss. “And you?”

BossThe man stuffed his hands in his pockets and stood there belligerently, saying nothing, so Tor turned back to the stable hand. “You. How long have you worked for this man?”scratching head

The boy scratched his head. “Dunno. Always?”

Tor nodded. “But you.” He studied the Boss. “You have not always been the Boss. Am I correct?”

The man nodded.

“So, what is your story?”

The Boss sighed. “Well, I don’t suppose it would hurt any ta share it wichya. Maybe ya can even help figure it all out.”

 

What story will the Boss share with Tor? Will it help Tor figure out what is happening and how to get back to the real world? Be sure to come back next week. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Not a Good Way to Start the Year

Not a Good Way to Start the Year

Bounty Hunter full body 2It makes me most anxious to see what the coming year will bring. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/12/29/the-year-in-review/

Bah! What caused me to utter those words? Why should I care what the coming year brings? I daresay it will not bring me any closer to home.

*Sigh*

manuscriptI have been in this horrible place for nigh on four years now, reckoning by the measure of time used in this place. I first arrived in their month of March in their year 2016. Upon my arrival, I met others from my world. They explained to me that we were here through a mysterious accident. It seems we fell out of the pages of a manuscript. Yes, you heard me correctly. We – flesh-and-blood, sentient creatures – fell out of a manuscript. We slid off some parchment that had been inked with words and symbols, and landed here. Preposterous, I say!

The sorceress who created this manuscript makes wild, unbelievable assertions. She claims we – myself and my fellow victims of this accident – are living in two places at the same time. We are here, bumbling around in this foreign world, while at the same time – she claims – we are in our own world, continuing with the lives we were living when we were ripped from that world and trapped here. Again, I say preposterous!

original bounty hunterI have been here for nigh on four years. When I arrived, I was a pint-sized man of indeterminate age. I was leathery-skinned and bald as a billiard ball. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/how-did-i-get-here/
characters have changed

Bounty Hunter full body 2Do I look small or bald to you? No, I thought not. I – like my fellow accident victims – have changed since arriving in this land. Dragon has changed color. Sorceress has changed species. The Old Dwarf is now a loyal, noble, principled being, hardly recognizable as the amoral, ego-centric, cunning creature he was in our world. I could continue, detailing the changes in each of my fellow expatriates, but I think I have made my point.

We are no longer what we were, what we should be, what – according to the sorceress who calls herself The Writer – we still are in our own world.

Me

TechnologyI do not know if having to live in, and adapt ourselves to, this world with its strange magic system known as technology has caused us to change, or if the changes have been the whim of The Writer, who continues to chronicle our lives, both in this world and in our own.

Bounty Hunter full bodyWhat I do know is I am the Bounty Hunter. My last memories of my life in my own world are of pursuing my prey. When I arrived here, I thought perhaps I had come of my own will, following my quarry, even though I had no memory of doing so. Alas, no. I am, like the others, here by accident. And The Writer has informed me in no uncertain words that in this world, I am not to pursue my objective.

So, what is a bounty hunter to do when he is no longer allowed to hunt his bounty? I have continued honing the skills needed for my profession in the hopes I will someday be able to return to it, either in this world or back in my own.

eavesdropping 2I practice my stealth. Many are the conversations I have overheard, completely unnoticed by The Writer or any of my companions. Many are the times I have followed one of my associates throughout an entire day without once being seen, either by my subject or by anyone else.practice weapon skill

I practice my weapons skills. I regularly parry with my comrades who are proficient in swordplay, and I continually sharpen my aim with my knife, often in the guise of a game.

busom buddiesI practice my subterfuge on many levels. Frequently, when in conversation, my companions know not that I am lying. Often, when challenging an opponent to a knife-throwing game, I intentionally lose, thus concealing my true weapons proficiency from them. I strive – with great difficulty and frequent failure – to comport myself in a mild manner, speaking softly and assuming a non-threatening stance. And no one suspects my true feelings toward my bosom buddy, the pretentious elf – not even the loathsome creature himself.

I practice my negotiation skills. I have lost count of the times I have gone to the defense of that pompous elf, justifying his actions to the other exiles, and even to The Writer, saving him from their wrath.

PatientI practice my patience. I continue to do my best to fit into this world. I listen without rancor to the prattling of my companions. I carry out the orders of The Writer and her spouse. I remain close to the elf and do his bidding. I do all this while biding my time.

Someday, somehow, I will once again be the Bounty Hunter in truth and not merely in name.

* * *

in officeAll morning long, I had had the feeling of being watched. It was unnerving. I kept looking up from my computer, expecting to see one of my characters at the door, ready to barge in and disturb me at my work. Each time I looked, there was no one at the door, although several times I swore I saw a quickly retreating shadow.

At lunch, Miles noticed how distracted I was. “Honey? Marge? Marge!spilled tea

“Huh?” Startled from my thoughts, I dropped my cup of tea, breaking the delicate porcelain vessel and splashing hot tea over the table.

As my husband rushed to grab a towel and help me clean up my mess, he gave me a look of concern. “Sweetheart, I’ve been talking to you, trying to get your attention, for the past five minutes. You’ve been a million miles away. What’s up?”

I took the towel from him and started sopping up the spilled tea, and he began sweeping up the shards of the broken cup. As we worked, I explained. “I’ve just had the feeling all morning that I’m being watched. Whenever I look up, there’s no one there. I don’t know if I’m being paranoid or if someone really is watching me, either physically or by some magic means.”

6-19-13 - Miles 001Miles frowned. “I don’t like the sounds of that. Do you think it could be someone from another world who has a grudge against you, like that evil wizard, what’s-his-name?”Morcant

“Morcant.” I shuddered, my eyes widened, and I could feel my mouth go dry. When I found my voice, I tried to reassure Miles. “No, no, no, no. It can’t be Morcant. We forever ended any threat from that depraved being more than three years ago.”

Miles sighed. “But was he the only one who held a grudge against you?”

I frowned and raked my hand through my hair. “I honestly don’t know.”

Miles took my hand and gave it a squeeze. “Maybe you should talk to you characters. Maybe one of them knows something. Maybe it’s your Arrogant One, playing a prank again. Or maybe Sorceress is giving your Gypsy more lessons in scrying. There’s any number of possibilities.”

I nodded. “You’re right. I’ll talk to my characters.” I looked around, suddenly bewildered. “Wait. My characters! Why aren’t any of them here? They never miss a meal!”

Miles sighed and gave me a look of pity. “You really are stressed out over this. They told you yesterday they wouldn’t be around for a while. They’re giving us a treat – a few days to ourselves. Remember?”

I frowned, then sighed. “Oh, that’s right. They did tell me that. But do you know exactly where are they?”

Miles shrugged. “Dragon said something about taking an illusory trip. Maybe they’re in the conference room?”

I nodded. “I’ll look for them there after lunch.”

But when I opened the door to the conference room, no one was there.

Empty conference room

in officeI spent the rest of the afternoon in my office, trying to work, researching some facts for an article I was planning to write. I ended up jumping at shadows so often, I finally gave up and went back upstairs.

Miles took one look at me and shook his head. “Still feel like someone is watching you?”

I nodded.

Miles sighed. “You know, sweetheart, your characters gave us this gift of time alone. I think we should try to enjoy it. Why don’t we go out to dinner tonight, and then catch a movie?”

“Sounds like a great idea. Let’s go.” I gave my husband a warm smile and a big hug.

Woken by noiseBy the time we returned later that evening, I had forgotten all about my earlier discomfort. Then, in the middle of the night, a noise awakened me. I opened my eyes and thought I saw a shadow rushing out the door, which closed slowly behind the unsubstantial image. I jumped up, scrambled into my robe, and bolted into the hallway, but the corridor was completely empty. I made a quick search of the rest of the house but found nothing.

When I returned to bed, I couldn’t sleep. I lay there, tossing and turning for what seemed like hours. The only sound in the room was the steady rhythm of my husband’s breathing accompanied by the faint whoosh of his CPAP machine.

I looked at the clock. Morning was quickly approaching. As I rolled over once more, I glanced up toward the ceiling. There, a huge pair of eyes looked down at me.

Being watched

My scream echoed on and on.

 

Who or what is watching me? And why? When my characters return from their illusory trip, I shall have to enlist their help in uncovering whoever or whatever is behind this matter. Be sure to come back next week and see what we find. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

The Year in Review

The Year in Review

Dragon looks up from fireplace“The year in review?” Dragon opened one sleepy eye. She raised her head and gave me a curious look. “What is that?”

I wrinkled my brow. I thought it quite self-evident, but I shrugged and offered Dragon an explanation anyway. “It’s just a brief summary of the events of the past year.”

“Oh.” She went back to basking next to her illusory fireplace, curling up tightly, dropping her reptilian head onto her arms, and tucking her tail around her nose.

Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One shuddered. “Who in their right mind would want to dwell on the events of this year past?”

I shrugged. “Many people would. It’s fun to recall some of the good times we had.”

wish listeners“Not everyone had good times. This year did not start out well for some of us.” The elf’s usual smug, superior look was replaced by a pensive expression. “Do you not remember? At the end of the previous year, I had developed a problem controlling my power. At the start of this year, Dragon and I returned to the land of the Wish Listeners to search for the cause and – mayhap – a remedy for my affliction.”

My Arrogant One grasped his cloak and pulled it tight around himself. His voice was so soft I had to strain to hear him. “Dragon almost died there. And I almost abandoned her to her fate, shaming myself and dishonoring the elven race.” His face was pale, and he drew his cloak even tighter around his shivering body.

the knights paced

Tendrils of black smoke 2

Dragon raised her head again, studying the elf through heavy-lidded eyes. “Yes, I remember that. The elf is right. It was not a good start to the year.” A small plume of black smoke drifted from her nostrils, underscoring her words.

Unicorn and dwarf 2My Old Dwarf walked over to Dragon and caressed her scaly face. “But thet you-nee-corn been tookin’ me ta tha udder world ta be savin’ ye, beastie. An’ tha elfie been doin’ right by ye in tha end, when it really been countin’ fer summat.”

Dragon considered this for a moment before nodding and resuming her basking.

bounty-hunterMy Bounty Hunter cleared his throat and nodded. “It was a long and frightening eight weeks. Those of us who remained here had no way of knowing where you were, what was happening, or if we would ever see you again.”

“There were a number of other frights and scares this past year.” My Young Hero blushed as he remembered. “I was beset by nightmares for a long spell.” He smiled warmly at me. “You helped me understand that even heroes can have nightmares.”

“Your fears were nothing compared to the terror I faced after meeting our young neighbor, Marisol. She quickly demonstrated not only the capability to see through my spell of concealment, but the capacity to see my true nature.” Dragon sat up again, dark smoke drifting from her nose.

Stu-04-NatGalSorceress entered the room as Dragon was speaking. She placed a tray of eggnog and Christmas cookies on the table, then turned to Dragon and nodded. “That was a frightening predicament for all of us. The child’s inexplicable ability may have revealed our existence to the inhabitants of this world beyond Mistress Writer and Master Miles.”

MilesTaking Marisol by the hand“Marisol and her mother, Bastina, were not the only new acquaintances this past year.” Miles helped himself to a glass of eggnog and a few cookies as he turned to me. “You and Dragon met that repairman who came out to fix the heat element in our rain gutters when we had a problem with the formation of ice dams. You remember him and his alleged griffin, don’t you?”Crawford and Griffin

“I assure you, Master Miles, there was nothing alleged about the griffon.” Dragon got a sappy look on her face, and her cheeks glowed bright red. “It was nice to meet someone who understood my nature and my presence here, and with whom I could communicate in the old ways of my race.”

Dray and Griff

Miles gave me a questioning look.

“The griffin apparently arrived here much the same way Dragon and my other characters did – falling out of someone’s manuscript. And, according to Dragon, Griff has the ability to communicate telepathically, the same way the Great Wyrms of Dragon’s world communicate.”Dragon and Griffin

“Oh.” Miles furrowed his brow and nibbled another cookie as he digested this information.

CrawfordGriff2I nodded. “Yes, I had almost forgotten about meeting Crawford. He and his friend, Griff, proved themselves to be allies and valuable resources. After the meeting of the writers’ group Lost in the Words, Crawford directed us to Christine and Talia, the owners of the Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store. He said they might be able to help us determine just what Marisol is and whence she gets her power.”

Dragon chuckled. “But getting Talia to help was most difficult. Christine had to exert a great deal of persuasion on her partner. Still, the spells the two ladies provided remedied the problem, and we remain undiscovered by most in this world. And Talia did say when Marisol is older, Talia can teach her, train her to use her power rather than be used by it.”

Foreman facing right closeup“We made another new friend this year as well.” My Foreman raised an eyebrow as he settled into the recliner with a glass of eggnog in his hand. “And a new enemy, mayhap?”Gypsy

“By friend, of course, you mean either Didi or Arthur.” My Gypsy waggled his eyebrows and smirked. “But whoever could be the enemy of whom you speak?”

My Foreman guffawed. “Arthur is no friend.” He turned to me. “Mistress, did not Crawford predict you had made a powerful enemy in Arthur?”

I sighed. “He did. I thought after Cleric had put Crawford’s mind at ease over the circumstances surrounding the death of his nephew, the danger he represented was over. But then Crawford apparently interfered with my Arrogant One’s magic, causing one of the elf’s spells to go awry.”

“Didi turned out to be a friend, though.” My Gypsy smiled broadly. “She wrote an excellent article on Colton and his new pony, Blue.”

“Blue!” Cleric exclaimed. “The therapy pony is another new friend we have made this year!” Her smile faded as quickly as it had appeared. “Of course, we lost a good friend when Colton’s first therapy pony, Peaches – who we knew as Mystery – passed away.”

We all nodded somberly.

Young hero 2“But not everything that happened this past year was bad or sad or frightening,” my Young Hero reminded us. “Because of your strong bond with Mystery, and your ability to communicate with animals, Cleric, we attended the auction and found Blue for Colton.”

Colton and Peaches 2John, Casey, and Old Blue 2My Gypsy agreed. “We helped them both deal with their depression over losing their closest friend – Colton had lost his pony, Peaches, and Blue had lost his owner, Casey. Later, after Colton and Blue were working well together, we got to enjoy a wonderful trail ride with them and Colton’s mom. Colton and I had another outstanding competition identifying birds. That blind boy can identify birds by sound better than most sighted people can identify them by visual observation! And then we had a delicious barbecue after the ride.”

“Ye dinna been toldin’ me there be a barbecue at thet trail ride.” My Old Dwarf frowned. “Iffins I been knowin’ thet, I been learnin’ how ta be ridin’, too!”

We all laughed.

camera for blog“The trail ride was not the only fun any of us had this past year.” My Bounty Hunter rejoined the conversation. “Do you not all remember the debate over magic versus technology? We all went on a nature hike and were afforded the opportunity to use Mistress Writer’s magic box that she calls a camera. The wildlife pictures taken by the magic users were no better than those taken by those of us unskilled in the arcane arts.”

ruby-ring2My Old Dwarf scoffed. “Aye, lad, but I already been ‘splainin thet ta all o’ ye. It do na be becausin’ anythin’ thet tha lass be callin’ tech-nol-o-gee. Tha magic box really be magic, but tha magic be in tha object, liken me old ring o takin’ me places.”

I leaned closer to Miles and explained, “He means his ring of transportation.”

“Aye, lass, me ring o trans-port-tatin’. Tha magic be in tha ring, so’s even non-magic folk kin be usin’ it, same as tha magic box ye all be callin’ a cam-er-ah, what holds tha magic inside it.” My Old Dwarf shook his head at our lack of understanding.

I laughed. “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on the technology issue.”

“That was not the only time we got to use the magic box . . . er, camera.” Cleric grinned.

“That’s right. We saw many different birds and animals when Mistress Writer took us on another nature hike at the beginning of summer, as well.” My Bounty Hunter smiled as he remembered. “Dragon had created illusory cameras for us, so we did not have to share. We all took a large number of photographs that day.”

“I remember.” I nodded and turned toward my Arrogant One. “And there was another time when you took some outstanding nature images, too.”

The elf flushed with pride and sat up a little taller.

“And when you and Master Miles were sick with pneumonia this past spring, Mistress Writer, I took a lot of pictures of the birds in your yard and on our deck to share with you after you recovered.” Cleric smiled at the memory.

“We should have taken pictures the previous month, when the weather was so bad, and all those robins were on the deck.” Dragon shivered as she remembered.

Cleric chuckled. “You were so fascinated by the robins, you shrank to the size of a housecat and climbed up on the back of the sofa to watch them.”

“The robins may have been the most numerous that day – I think there were almost a hundred on the deck – but they were not the only birds we saw,” my Gypsy recalled. “I think we identified 11 different species in the snow and ice, including two different hawks.”

“See?” My Young Hero grinned. “I told you not everything about this past year was bad or sad or frightening. We shared a lot of fun and good times as well.”

My Bounty Hunter nodded. “It makes me most anxious to see what the coming year will bring.”

We hope, dear readers, you have enjoyed following the adventures and misadventures of my little band of displaced characters this past year, and for all the years they have been creating chaos in this world. And we hope you will continue to join us in the coming year as we face whatever comes our way – good, bad, sad, or frightening. It will always be nicer for us if you come along and keep us company. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Happy New Year

Heading For The Trail Ride

Heading For The Trail Ride

Morning

The day of the trail ride dawned clear and bright, with a cool autumn nip in the air. A gentle breeze carried with it the sharp tang of woodsmoke from several fireplaces throughout the neighborhood, and birdsong fell from the trees like rain.

Grooming horses

My Foreman and the lads had been up since before dawn, first feeding and watering the illusory horses, then grooming them to a shiny gloss before saddling them. Dragon, Cleric, and I joined them at a more reasonable hour.

“Well, it looks like thanks are in order.” I nodded my appreciation to the three horsemen, who had taken care of our mounts as well as their own.

“We could not wait for you slugabeds to join us.” My Gypsy waggled his eyebrows and grinned at us, as Cleric tried to stifle a big yawn.

“Oh, prithee, stop being so jocular this early in the morn!” Cleric scowled at my Gypsy, then rubbed her eyes and tried unsuccessfully to stifle another yawn.

“Indeed,” Dragon agreed, glowering at the lad. “If such annoying gleefulness continues, I may be forced to start this evening’s barbecue a bit early.”

“He’s been like this all morning.” My Foreman chuckled and reached over to tousle the lad’s hair. “Now, if you ladies are sufficiently awake, mayhap you should mount up and walk your horses around the paddock to loosen up a bit.”

Dragon scoffed. “Is it not too early?” She turned to me. “What time are Anna and Colton expecting us?”

what time is it

“They thought we could begin our trail ride from their place between nine and ten this morning.” I checked my watch. “If we leave now, we should have no problem arriving at their place by then.”

Dragon sighed. “Then let us mount up, and I will cast a new spell of concealment over horses and riders alike, so we can leave this property unseen by any of our neighbors. I can release the spell once we are on the backroad, hidden by the trees and brush.”

We all nodded.

Appaloosa for meAs I swung up onto the compact blanket Appaloosa Dragon had created for me, I called to my characters, “Everyone needs to remember the names we used last time. Do not slip and call me Mistress. You may call me Missy, as is your custom in public, even though Anna and Colton will be calling me Marge. This black and white appy I’m riding is Scribe.”

Tor and Centaur

My Foreman nodded as he stepped up onto his ebony stallion. “I am called Tor, and my mount is Centaur.”

Rocky and Gypsy

My Gypsy vaulted into the saddle of his black-and-white cob. “My name is Rocky, and this is Gypsy.”

Cab and Hero

My Young Hero gave his chocolate palomino pony a pat on the neck as he mounted. “I am Cab, and this is Hero.”Clara and Blessing

 

Cleric led her tall, strawberry roan mare over to the mounting block. “The name I use is Clara, and I ride Blessing.”Dray and Dragon

Dragon clambered onto her stocky Palomino. “I am known as Dray and my mount is Dragon.”

I smiled, satisfied that everyone would remember. As Dray nudged her horse to stand next to mine, I raised a questioning eyebrow at her. “Have you completed casting your spell?”

Dray nodded. “We can leave the property unseen.”

We walked our horses single file along the side of the house and onto the street. As we proceeded past the other houses in the neighborhood, invisible to all and sundry, we had to dodge several cars pulling out of driveways as people headed off for work and school. When we passed Bastina’s house, I saw her and her daughter, Marisol, standing in their front yard.Riding past Marisol

Squirrel and horsessquirrelI almost fell off my horse in a dead faint when I saw the little girl’s eyes widen, and I watched her tug on her mother’s skirt. When she pointed in our direction, Dray and I exchanged looks bordering on shear panic. Our wide-eyed dread turned to relief, as Marisol continued to point, her gesture following the path of a fat, sassy squirrel that had been running alongside our horses. The child and her mother laughed at the animal as it scrambled up a tree, and sat there, clutching an acorn and scolding loudly. We continued trotting along the street and headed, still unseen, toward our destination.

Dirt roadovergrown two-trackIt took us less than an hour to make the trip to Anna’s farm. Half-way there, after traveling for fifteen minutes along a wide dirt road remarkably devoid of traffic, Dray released the spell of concealment that had kept horses and riders hidden from passersby. Moments later, we left the road and walked our mounts carefully along an overgrown two-track that would take us to our destination.

As we trotted up the driveway, we saw Anna saddling her flashy dapple-gray mare, Rosie. We waved and exchanged greetings.

“Where are Colton and Blue?” Clara was looking around, a worried expression on her face. “The last time we came here for a trail ride, Colton was already mounted and waiting for us.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/02/an-old-mystery-revisited/

“Oh, don’t worry! Colton’s been waiting for you for over an hour now. He was so nervous you wouldn’t be able to come today, even though I told him a dozen times or more you accepted the invitation.” Anna smiled broadly. “He just took Blue into the barn a few minutes ago. He forgot his jacket there when he fed Blue this morning, and he thinks he might need it today.”

Colton and BlueMoments later, the young boy came out of the barn, shoving one arm into the sleeve of his jacket as he held his pony’s lead with the other hand. “Did I hear voices?”

“Hi, Colton!” A chorus of greetings brought a huge smile to Colton’s face.

“Hi, everyone! I was hoping you’d come! I can’t wait to get on the trail and show you all how great Blue is!” Colton, blind since birth, continued walking toward our voices, unaware his therapy pony, Blue, had stopped dead, feet planted firmly. Colton came to an abrupt halt when he reached the end of the lead that attached him to the pony.

“Wha…? What’s wrong, Blue?” Colton felt his way back along the lead line and stroked Blue’s neck once he reached the balky pony. “It’s okay, Blue. These are our friends.”

Anna furrowed her brow. “What’s wrong? Blue never acted this way around the other horses and ponies at the training facility.”

“It’s not surprising.” I motioned to my characters to move their horses back a bit. “Blue knew all the other animals at the facility and was comfortable around them. He probably just needs a few minutes to get to know us and our horses. Maybe if we introduced our mounts one at a time . . .”

But Blue wasn’t having any part of it. He pinned his ears back, turned, and trotted back into the barn, practically dragging Colton along with him.Colton and Blue going back to barn

 

 

What’s happened to Blue? Why is he acting this way? Be sure to come back next week and see what’s happening. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

It Worked!

It Worked!

Meeting up with Dragon outside conference room 2Scrolls from Chris-Tal ClearI was just heading for my office when Dragon, in her preferred guise of an elf maiden, emerged from the conference room. She had been in there working with the scrolls she had obtained at the Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store.

Should be safe from MarisolDragon looked tired but wore a satisfied smile. “I have cast the first spell, the one provided by Talia. I should now be well protected from our young neighbor, Marisol – or anyone else. No one should be able to see my true nature when I have used my shapeshifting ability to assume another form. And, unlike the previous ward I used when Marisol was around, maintaining this spell should not drain all my energy or use all my power.”

I smiled. “That’s good. Now, what about the scroll Christine provided – the incantation to prevent Marisol from seeing through your spell of concealment?”

Conference roomDragon shrugged and chewed on her lower lip. “I have prepared the spell components and I have committed to memory the words of the incantation. Now, I just need to be in the presence of the child so I can cast the spell.”

I frowned. “Should you take a walk through the neighborhood and see if you can get close enough to her to cast the spell, or should I invite her and her mother over for a visit?”Where to cast the spell 2

Dragon sighed. “Let me see if I can cast the spell without her seeing me. Then I can recreate the illusory horses and barn, restoring everything to its previous state, and cast the spell of concealment on it all. After that, we need to have Marisol visit. That way we can see if the spells provided by Talia and Christine are effective.Cast second spell

Several days later, Dragon found me in my office. “I was successful today! Marisol was playing in her front yard and I was able to approach unseen and cast the spell.”

I nodded. “And have you recreated the illusory horses and barn?”

Horses by barnDragon shook her head. “I will do that now. I will cast the spell of concealment on the property first, so any illusions I create will be hidden from all but those of us who live here. Everything that is real will remain visible to all and sundry, but the horses and barn, as well as anyone riding them or working with them in any way, will go unnoticed by your neighbors and guests.”

I wrinkled my brow. “How long will that take? I don’t want to invite Bastina and Marisol over before you have completed.”

Dragon stroked her chin as she considered this. “It should take me a mere few hours, longer if I have unforeseen interruptions. Mayhap you could invite them for luncheon or tea tomorrow.”

“Okay, I’ll call Bastina later this afternoon and extend the invitation.”

The next day was a beautiful, sunny, crisp autumn day. At a little past noon, Dragon, Cleric, Sorceress, and I welcomed Bastina and Marisol to a picnic on the gazebo.

Picnic 2

Me and Marisol“Oh, my favorite! Creamy peanut butter and orange marmalade on Anadama bread!” Marisol danced around with a huge smile on her face. “How ever did you know?”

I returned her smile. “When I invited you and your mother over for a picnic, I asked your mom about your favorite foods.”

“That’s cheating!” Marisol giggled. “I imagined you had read my mind!”

Marisol accuses Dragon 2Dragon was pouring beverages. “Milk, Marisol? Or lemonade?”

“I would rather have the lemonade, but I’ll have the milk, please. Mommy prefers I have that, especially when I’m eating anything sweet.” The precocious five-year-old rolled her eyes and leaned closer to Dragon, whispering in a conspiratorial voice. “Mommy says I need the calcium and vitamins more than I need the sugar.”

Dragon and BastinaDragon smiled and poured the child a large tumbler of milk. “And you, Bastina?”

The woman cast a wistful look at the lemonade, then glanced in her daughter’s direction. “Milk for me, too, please. I need set a good example for Marisol.”

Gypsy galloping horse at gazeboThe six of us were enjoying our lunch, when I almost choked on a mouthful of food. I watched, wide-eyed with trepidation, as my Gypsy galloped his mount straight toward us. He was less than a foot from the gazebo before performing a rollback and racing off in the opposite direction. I quickly glanced at Marisol and saw her mesmerized by something in the same spot by the gazebo where my character had just ridden his horse. I started sweating.

The entire scene had not gone unnoticed by Dragon. “Marisol, what has captured your attention, child?”

Marisol and I with hummingbird“Look!” Marisol pointed. “Can you see the hummingbird?”

I looked where the girl was pointing and was surprised to see the little Ruby-throated male hovering right next to us.

Marisol and Dragon with hummingbird“Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red.” Marisol looked accusingly at Dragon. “If you were still a dragon, I would say you were the cause of the bird’s interest, but you refuse to be a dragon anymore. Perhaps he is attracted to my red hair-ribbon.” Marisol pulled the ribbon from her hair and held it out for the bird to see. After a quick inspection of the item revealed it not to be a food source, the tiny bird flew off.

Dragon and I exchanged looks of relief. The child obviously could not see Dragon’s true form, nor could she see the horses being ridden all around the yard. Both spells had been a success.

talking about herbsBirdwatchingThe rest of the afternoon went splendidly. Cleric and Sorceress discussed various herbs and their curative properties with Bastina while Dragon, Marisol, and I engaged in birdwatching. I was sorry to see the visit end as the mother and child thanked us for a lovely day and took their leave.

After our neighbors left, my Foreman and the lads cantered their horses up to the gazebo.

“I presume all went well?” My Foreman circled his high-strung ebony stallion.

“It did.” We all beamed.

My Young Hero patted his chocolate palomino pony on the neck. “I am so glad! That means we get to keep our horses. It has been so good to get back to riding! You know, the weather is forecast to be crisp and clear for the next few days. Perchance, could we all go on a trail ride?”trail ride

Anna, Blue, ColtonMy Gypsy edged his black-and-white piebald closer to the gazebo and snatched a piece of cake. “You know, a trail ride would be wonderful. Maybe we could drop in on Anna and Colton. They should be home from the training facility by now.”On phone with Anna

I grinned. “As a matter of fact, they are. Anna called me this morning, but I hadn’t had time earlier to tell you the news.”

“Oh, prithee, do tell us now, Mistress!” Cleric’s eyes were bright with interest. “How is Blue? Was the training facility able to develop his talents so he could work with Colton?”

“How is Colton?” My Gypsy nudged his horse closer again so he could hear. “Has he been able to get over the loss of Peaches, aka Mystery, and form a strong bond with Blue?”

“Well, you all remember the last time we heard from Anna, she reported a slight improvement in the relationship between the boy and his new pony.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/06/09/news/

My Gypsy nodded. “Yes, it was after Cleric and I went over to talk with Colton.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/26/an-anxious-day/

I smiled. “Well, since then, Colton and Blue have made tremendous strides. Several times at the training facility, Colton went missing at night from the dormitory where the clients and their families sleep. Each time, a staff member found the boy sleeping in Blue’s stall, snuggled up to the pony. And Blue has started standing at the gate, nickering for Colton as the time for their lessons approaches.”

 

My Gypsy and my Young Hero whooped for joy.

Colton and Blue in round penI grinned and continued. “As for the training, Blue took to it like a duck to water. Anna, Colton, and Blue have been at the training facility all this time, just arriving home a few days ago. Blue was evaluated and found to have the proper temperament to work with a blind rider, so the instructors began building on the training he had received when he was at the facility previously.”

Cleric interrupted. “That training was before John and his daughter found Blue at an auction. Did the staff at the facility ever find out what happened to Blue’s original owner, or how a highly-trained and valuable animal ended up at a second-rate auction?” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/19/a-good-deal-or-crazy/

I shook my head. “They have not been able to track down the family who acquired Blue from them those many years ago. They’re no longer at their former address, and no one at the stable where that family boarded Blue knows where they went or what happened to the pony. The family just settled their board bill one day, took the pony, and left. The stable owner thought they might have purchased their own farm, but he said the family was very closed-mouthed about it.”

“Strange.” Cleric wrinkled her brow and tilted her head. “Sorry, Mistress, please go on. How did Blue’s training progress?”

Everything he could ask forI smiled again. “He’s everything a blind rider could ask for. Blue seems to have a sense about the dangers he needs to watch for. He is exceptionally calm and gentle under all sorts of trying and potentially dangerous circumstances. He watches for all the things Colton is unable to see – overhanging branches, traffic, loose dogs, unfriendly horses being ridden too close, obstacles in their path. The trainers were so impressed with Blue! They said the only animal they have ever had at their facility who showed the same innate ability to work with a blind rider was Peaches.”

Cleric smiled smugly. “Mystery . . . er, Peaches . . . told me we would find the right replacement for her, a pony who would take care of Colton just as she had.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/a-new-mystery/

I nodded. “I’m really glad you convinced me to get Anna to go to that auction. We were all dubious, but you were right!” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/12/what-will-we-find-at-the-auction/

My Gypsy dismounted but held his reins so his horse couldn’t wander off. He snatched another piece of cake before asking, “So can we ride over there soon?”

“Is next week soon enough?” I grinned. “Anna has invited us over for an all-day trail ride and sunset barbecue next Wednesday. That will give them some time to get settled in back home.”

Cleric blushed. “It will also give some of us time to get in some riding. We need to work up to a long trail ride, so we do not end up unable to move after many hours in the saddle next week.”

I grinned. “Wonderful! I’ll call Anna tonight and let her know we’ll be there!”

Be sure to join us next week to see how Blue and Colton manage on the trail together. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

An Unfulfilling Resolution

An Unfulfilling Resolution

Dragon studying scrollDragon was in the conference room for what seemed like an eternity. She had closeted herself in the room with the scroll Talia had given her at the culmination of our visit to Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store. When she opened the door and beckoned, she appeared to be vacillating between extreme agitation and looking like the cat that ate the canary.

I entered the room with trepidation. “I sense there is a wee problem.” My raised eyebrow underscored the sarcasm dripping from my words.

Dragon narrowed her reptilian eyes and a growl rumbled deep in her throat. “There was.” The beast began pacing around the room. “While not precisely deceitful, Talia was not quite straightforward with us regarding the information on the scroll.” She stopped pacing and looked at me. “When she handed me the scroll, Talia said this will explain, did she not?” Not waiting for me to reply, she continued, her tail lashing and her voice strained. “Unfortunately, it does not explain. It neither names the form of magic exhibited by Marisol, nor identifies the source.”

I frowned. “Then the scroll is useless?”

Marisol accuses Dragon who changes 2“Not entirely.” Dragon furrowed her brow as she resumed pacing. “It does contain a spell to shield me from Marisol’s power, so she will no longer be able to see my true nature, nor cause me to shapeshift to my beastly form if she says something in the presence of others. Of course, that enchantment works directly on me, not on Marisol.”

I wrinkled my brow and raked my hand through my hair. “I don’t think I understand. If the child is no longer able to see your true nature or force you to shapeshift, how can you say the spell doesn’t affect her?”

Dragon explaining to meDragon stopped pacing and rolled her eyes. “After all this time, you still do not understand wards?” She scoffed. “The spell works on me, not on Marisol, because the spell is constructed to protect me. It is like placing a ward on your door. The ward keeps thieves out, not by affecting the thief, but by preventing their lock-picking skill or magic from affecting the door.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Hmmm . . . I think I understand.”

Nodding curtly, Dragon explained, “The spell from Talia is merely a more advanced version of the spell I have been using, but one that requires far less energy to cast and maintain.”

Gaping at the childI smiled. “That’s good. Now what about her ability to see through your spell of concealment?”

“Well, that is interesting.” The way Dragon pronounced the word interesting, I knew she found it anything but.

I rubbed my chin. “Explain?”

Dragon began pacing again. “Included in the information Talia shared in the scroll was the suggestion that it would be very difficult to cast a spell on the child. Of course, I took offense at that suggestion, as I am sure my power would be adequate to the task.”

I nodded, not daring to comment.Angry Dragon

“But because Talia evidently did not deem me powerful enough, she did not share a spell to prevent Marisol from seeing through my spell of concealment.” Smoke started to drift from her snout and her tail was twitching.

“I sense there’s more.” I gestured at the beast to continue.

2 scrolls“Indeed, there is.” The smoke disappeared and a hint of a smile tugged at the corners of Dragon’s mouth. “When I reached the end of the scroll Talia had given me, I noticed that the parchment felt strange. It felt as if it were too thick. I examined it, and found a second scroll adhered to the first, like two pages of a book stuck together. It took me considerable time and effort to separate them without damaging either one.”

I wrinkled my brow. “And what did the second scroll contain?”

dragon talkingTalia closeup 2Dragon smiled widely, the canary-eating cat look returning to her face. “It contained the spell Talia did not share.”

“Are you certain she didn’t share it? Maybe she placed it on a second parchment rather than putting both on the same one.”

Dragon shook her head. “No, I am certain Talia did not mean for me to have this spell. It is not in the same hand that wrote the other one.”Christine closeup

I gaped at Dragon. “Do you think Christine gave it to you?”

The behemoth nodded. “That is what I surmise.”

I chuckled. “Boy, did Crawford have things all catawampus regarding the nature of those two women! So, do you have the components you need for both spells?”

Dragon shook her head. “Unfortunately, no. With the miserable, wet weather we have had all summer, Cleric, Sorceress, and I have been unable to gather and prepare the botanicals we need for our spells. Our stores are very low, and I am missing some key herbs and other components.”

I sighed. “Then I guess we’ll be visiting the herbal shop.”

At the farmAn hour later, I turned my vehicle into the driveway at the organic farm where Marisol’s mother and aunt ran a shop specializing in herbs and other botanicals. Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden, was sitting next to me, and Cleric and Sorceress were in the back seat. All three had long lists of supplies they needed to purchase.

As we wandered around the displays outside the big barn that housed the shop, my three characters added various herbs and botanicals to their baskets, while I checked out the organic produce. We were just heading toward the shop when Marisol’s mother, Bastina, saw us and came over. She had a thin smile pasted on her careworn face. “Hello, ladies! It’s so nice to see you again! Are you finding everything you need? We have so much more inside.”Elf

sorceress-facing-rightCleric nodded. “We found some items here, but we have many items to procure this day.”

Sorceress agreed. “We were going to look inside for the rest.”

Elf clericDragon furrowed her brow. “Perhaps if we show you our lists, you could save us some time by pointing us in the right direction for the rest of these items.”

Bastina“Of course.” Bastina smiled as she took the lists. She started to skim the contents, and her smile slowly disappeared. “These do not look like the ingredients for a curative broth.” She gave Dragon a sharp look. “What on earth will you be doing with these?”

Dragon merely raised an eyebrow at the question.

Bastina turned beet red. “Oh, my! Where are my manners? It’s none of my business what items you get or why. Here, I will show you where to find everything.”

Talking with BastinaI noticed Sorceress nudge Cleric and nod toward some nearby hay bales. Cleric smiled and cleared her throat to get Dragon’s attention. She used her chin to point at the heap of hay, and Dragon gave an almost imperceptible nod.

“Wait, Bastina.” Dragon’s lips twitched, and she winked at Bastina. “Perhaps it is best you know.”

I gaped at Dragon, worried about what she was going to say.

“We use these herbs and botanicals, along with other components, to cast spells.” Dragon smiled slyly at Bastina. “Right now, we are working on a spell that will prevent your daughter from seeing my true nature, that of a dragon. And she will no longer be able to see the horses on our property, or other things over which I have cast a spell of concealment.”

“I knew you were a dragon!” Marisol jumped out from behind a stack of hay bales, where she had been hiding and eavesdropping. “And I knew you had horses in your yard!” The precocious five-year-old turned to her mother and stamped her little foot. “And you didn’t believe me, mommy!”Dragon talking to Marisol

Dragon squatted down next to the child. “I was hoping to keep it our secret, but I suppose it is only right your mother knows the truth.”

Bastina picking up MarisolBastina picked up her daughter, swung her high up over her head, and then gave her a hug. “I’m sorry I ever doubted you, little one.” She smiled and exchanged a conspiratorial look with Dragon. “So, Dray, tell me how this spell works. Will Marisol have to drink some awful-tasting potion? Or will she have to spend the night alone in the forest during a full moon?”

“Oh mommy!” The child giggled. “That’s not how magic works.”

“You are right, it is not.” Dragon chuckled. “No, there will be no yucky potions to drink, nor any cold, lonely nights in the woods with only the creatures of the dark for company. I will prepare the spell components and recite the incantations and poof! You will never see me as a dragon, nor will you see any of those things I have hidden by means of magic.”

Bastina smiled gratefully at Dragon, but Marisol’s face crumpled, and a tear slid down her cheek. “I will never see your shiny red scales again, or your fearsome teeth and claws? And I will never get to pet your horses?”

“I am afraid not, my little friend. Perhaps when you are older, I can introduce you to someone who will help you understand.”

Marisol brightened, but her mother’s brow furrowed. “Child, why don’t you go and help your Aunt Danica?”

“Okay, mommy. Goodbye, Dragon! Goodbye, witches.” Marisol waved at me and my characters and ran off to find her aunt.

BastinaElf clericBastina was wringing her hands. “Dray, you were just . . . well, you saw my daughter hiding behind the hay bales and you were just making sport, right? Just going along with her and her imagination?”

“Of course, Bastina. What else?” Dragon’s face was the picture of innocence.

“It’s just that . . . well, when you mentioned someone who could help her understand . . . well, I just thought . . .” Bastina’s voice trailed off, and she shrugged. “Well, I don’t know what I thought.”

“You thought, perhaps, I was suggesting your daughter really does posses some sort of power, and that I knew someone who could help her learn to control it and use it properly?” Dragon raised an eyebrow and made a moue.

“Silly, isn’t it?” Bastina scoffed.

“Silly,” Dragon agreed.

As we headed to the barn to complete our shopping, Dragon smiled wistfully and leaned toward me. In a voice so low I had to strain to hear, she whispered, “I know this is an issue that needs to be revisited at some point in the future, but for now I am relieved to have a temporary resolution, even if it means not being quite honest with Marisol and Bastina.”

I nodded, and looked over my shoulder Bastina. I saw her furrowing her brow and chewing on her bottom lip as she trailed along behind us. I sighed.

Does Bastina suspect Dragon isn’t just joking? Will the woman ever figure out the truth about her daughter? At least we won’t have to worry anymore about Marisol seeing things she shouldn’t. I wonder what misadventures await my little band of displaced characters next. Be sure to come back and join us again next week. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Do We Get Any Answers?

Do We Get Any Answers?

Christine and TaliaI stood in the middle of Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store, gaping at the two proprietresses. I looked again from the woman identified as Christine, with her medieval gown and ethereal appearance, to the woman claiming to be Talia, in her modern-day, business casual attire and down-to-earth looks.

Crawford’s words echoed in my head – when you go, be sure to talk to Talia. Christine is a nice girl, but she’s pretty clueless about real magic.

ChristineTalia2The diaphanous figure gliding about the store was clueless about magic? The businesswoman curiously watching me gaping at her was the expert on things magical and mystical? I was having a hard time wrapping my head around that thought.

Finally, Talia grinned. “I guess I’m not what you were expecting.”

“Actually, no.” I realized I was still staring and shook my head to dislodge the cobwebs that seemed to be slowing down my thought process and enmeshing my conduct. “Please pardon my lack of manners. I’m Marge and this is Dray.” I motioned toward Dragon, in her customary guise of an elf maiden. “We’re acquaintances of Crawford and Griff.”

Still grinning, Talia raised an eyebrow at Dragon. “Dray, huh? Interesting name.” She winked at Dragon, then turned back to me. “And Marge, is it?”

I nodded.

Talia leaning on display“Hmmmm…nothing unusual or mysterious about that name. So, Marge and Dray, Crawford sent you to see me?” Talia leaned back against a display of geodes and crystals and looked at us expectantly.

“He did.” I nodded. “Crawford mentioned that you were very knowledgeable about magic, and . . .”

“And you’d like to pick my brain for you latest book, short story, article, cosplay or fantasy role-playing adventure game?” She sighed, then gave Dragon a sharp look. “I should think you would know enough about magic to give her whatever help she may need.”

“Unfortunately, milady, that is not the case.” Dragon narrowed her eyes and gazed at Talia. “We seek information I do not possess, and for a reason of far greater import than that which you have suggested.”

Talia raised an eyebrow at Dragon but met her gaze with an unwavering stare of her own. After a few moments, she nodded curtly and turned to her partner, who was unenthusiastically dusting some displays. “Christine, I’ll be in conference in my office. Please see that we are not disturbed.”

Christine dusting shelves

Christine at cash registerThe young girl answered in her small, reedy voice that raised the hair on the back of my neck. “No prob.” She took a few more swipes at the display with her feather duster before gliding across the showroom floor and positioning herself near the cash register. “I can handle any retail transactions that might occur in your absence.”

I gave the gowned figure another hard look before following Talia and Dray, who were already walking toward the back of the cavernous store, but Christine studiously ignored me.

Talia's officeUpon entering Talia’s office, the co-proprietress of Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store motioned for Dragon and me to sit on the small sofa, a piece of furniture that looked out of place with the antique wooden desk, wingback chair, and glass-fronted display cabinet. Talia eschewed a seat, and remained standing just inside the door, which she closed as soon as we were seated. I was startled to see this side of the door. It appeared to be a Gothic-arched wooden structure, with ornate, medieval-looking hinges, and door-pull handle. It looked nothing like the other side of the door, leading from the store to the office. That was a drab, gray, rectangular, metal door with a standard round doorknob.Doors

“So, what answers do you ladies seek?” Talia’s bored voice startled me from my thoughts about the door.

I furrowed my brow, trying to decide if I should use the ploy of having a character I needed to develop. I decided on the truth instead. “Crawford suggested you might have some knowledge of a form of magic we have encountered.”

MarisolTalia closeup 2Talia’s expression remained the same. She appeared disinterested, but I pressed on. “In a nutshell, there is a five-year-old girl in our neighborhood who has magic but is not a magician. She sees through spells of concealment, and she sees the true nature of any person or creature who has shapeshifted to another form. She can also cause others to see what she sees just by telling them what she sees. The child suspects there is something different, something special, about herself. She has even speculated she might be a witch, but she’s neither witch nor sorceress, at least not as we understand those terms. She cannot create illusions, she cannot conjure, she cannot enchant, she cannot cast any sort of spell.”

I paused, giving Talia time to digest the information. She furrowed her brow and tilted her head. Finally, she spoke. “So, you wish to know just what she is, and how to defeat her magic?”

Dragon and I nodded eagerly, moving to the edge of our seats.

Talia sighed. “I’m sorry. I don’t believe I can help you.”

I felt my shoulders slump, and I saw Dragon’s face fall. “I see. We had hoped you may have encountered magic of this particular nature and could explain it for us.”

Talia raised an eyebrow, crossed her arms defensively over her chest, and made a moue. “I never said I hadn’t encountered such a phenomenon before. I said I don’t believe I can help you.”

Dragon gaped at Talia. “You mean you are familiar with this magic?”

The woman nodded and narrowed her eyes. “That does not mean I will share what I know.”

“Why wouldn’t you?” I could feel my face flush with anger.

“Because, little writer-person, some things are best left alone by those outside the circle.” Talia sneered.

“Am I outside the circle?” I heard the threatening note in Dragon’s voice.

alleyway“You are outside your domain, Dray.” Talia gave Dragon a withering look. “Now, I believe it is time for you to leave.” She opened the door, and I gaped at the scene beyond the threshold. The door through which we had passed coming from the store into the office now opened onto the small alleyway behind the shop. I started to say something but found Dragon and I were suddenly out in the alley with the door closed behind us, without either of us having taken a step.

Dragon upsetIn a second, Dragon was in her beastly form. She swung her tail around with enough force to splinter a normal door, but all she achieved for her effort was a badly bruised tail. When she opened her maw and breathed fire at the door, it bounced back with such force, it almost fried us both.

“Dragon! Dragon! Stop!” I snatched her scaly arm and tried to get her to listen. “This isn’t accomplishing anything. Talia, for reasons of her own, will be no help. Let’s go home.”

Slowly, Dragon let go of her anger and shapeshifted back to the form of an elf maiden. “You are right. I am sorry for my actions. Let us go.”

Christine outside the storeWe trudged along the narrow alleyways back to the street. We were surprised, and a bit apprehensive, when we saw Christine standing in front of the store. She approached us and addressed us in her small, reedy voice. “Umm . . . don’t mind Talia. She gets a bit testy when she thinks any in her circle are being threatened.”

I frowned. “We threaten no one. In fact, the child about whom we seek information is a threat to us, to Dray and her companions who live with me.”

“Is the child in Talia’s circle?” Dragon lifted a delicate eyebrow. “Does Talia possess the same powers?”

Christine shuffled her foot in the dirt on the sidewalk. “I don’t know. You would have to ask Talia.”

I shrugged. “I don’t think Talia wants to speak with us.”

Christine laughed. “She will speak with you. Come.”

We followed Christine back into the store, exchanging puzzled looks behind her back.

Talia angry“You’re back?” Talia glared at us from half-way across the store.

Christine closeup“Oh, Tal, you’re being silly!” Christine laughed again, a melodious sound, like the tinkling of wind chimes. “They simply seek to protect themselves and theirs. Like you.” Christine’s eyes narrowed and she stared at her partner. “Now, be nice and tell them what they need to know.” Her voice was much more robust now, with an authority that was hard to ignore.

Talia looked at Christine, then at us. Her eyebrows squished together, and she ran a hand through her hair. She tilted her head and rubbed her chin. Her lips thinned, and her eyes narrowed. Finally, she sighed and nodded. “Fine.”

Christine led the way back to Talia’s office. As Dragon and I took our seats on the small sofa once again, I was startled to see the big glass-fronted display cabinet had been replaced with a different piece of furniture, one containing books, scrolls, and other items.Second time in Talia's office

Christine stared pointedly at Talia, who huffed at her partner. The disgruntled woman reached into a cubbyhole in the bookcase. She extracted a scroll and handed it to Dragon.scroll 2a “This will explain. There is a spell you can cast which will protect you from her energy. You should have all the necessary components; they are all rather common.” She sighed and lowered her eyes. “This is all I can do for now. When the child is older, she should come to see me. I can teach her, train her to use her power rather than be used by it.”

Dragon took the scroll, holding it close to her chest, but not opening it. “Thank you, Talia. Thank you, Christine. You do not know what this means to us.”

“I think we do.” Christine’s voice had returned to the ethereal, reedy sound that raised the hair on the back of my neck. “And if you ever need any more assistance, be sure to come back. Talia would be ever so delighted to help you.” She giggled at the murderous look on Talia’s face.

Dragon would not open the scroll in the car. “This is delicate and needs to be handled correctly. I will open it in my chambers, when I can concentrate properly.”

scrollrecipeI scowled. “But what if Talia deceived us? What if you open the scroll and it’s blank, or all it contains is . . . oh, I don’t know . . . a recipe for chocolate cake? Wouldn’t it be better to know that now, so we can turn around and go right back and confront her?”

Dragon smirked. “I do not believe Talia would have attempted deception while Christine was watching. I believe your friend, Crawford, was mistaken when he said Christine has no knowledge of magic. I believe she not only possesses great magic, she also possesses a will much stronger than that of her partner. I believe Talia is aware she would suffer great repercussions if she displeased Christine.”

“Well, let’s get home quickly, then, and see if this mystery is solved.”

What will Dragon find when she opens the scroll? Will it explain Marisol’s power? Will Dragon really be able to defeat the child’s magic? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.