More Visitors

More Visitors

gone!

We stood there, looking in all directions, but the cloud-muffled light of early evening revealed no sign of the small horse we had dubbed Mystery, nor the snow devils that had bolted from the garden shed with her.

“It’ll be dark soon.” I heaved a huge sigh. “There’s no sense in trying to track her now. The snow’s been trampled down here. In this light, I can’t even see if any of these tracks are fresh.”

My husband and I helped a group of my characters gather the equipment my magic users had been utilizing that afternoon in their examination of Mystery.

“I fear all our efforts were for naught.” Dragon shimmered as she shape-shifted into her customary guise of an elf maiden, then picked up some of her grimoires. “Not only did we fail to determine if Mystery is real or merely an illusion, we lost her to the snow devils.”

“I would hypothesize she is real, else why would the snow devils have taken her?” Cleric lifted an eyebrow at Dragon.

“You should have allowed me to stomp them.” My Foreman frowned as he and the lads picked up the folding tables.

“I agree.” Sorceress pursed her lips as she gathered her vials, potions, and herbs. “No telling what those demons will do to that little horse.”

I furrowed my brow. “I’m still not convinced the snow devils are evil, or that they meant any harm to Mystery.”

My Gypsy scoffed. “They took her, did they not?”

I shook my head. “No, they didn’t. She bolted out of the shed after them. She wanted to be with them.”

“You are right, Mistress.” Cleric’s eyes widened as she recalled the scene. “She did act as if she feared being separated from them.”

My characters gave that some thought as we walked back to the house.

As we put everything away in the conference room, I saw several of my characters yawning widely and rubbing their eyes.

“Everyone looks as tired as I feel. Let’s have a quick dinner, then hit the hay early tonight. We can look for Mystery in the morning.”

                                                            * * *
I did not sleep well, and I awoke with a horrible pounding in my head. I soon realized the pounding was not in my head, but on the bedroom door.

Pounding on door

The pounding woke Miles, too. “What the devil’s going on?” My usually cheery husband sat up in bed and glared at the door.

“Mistress? Master Miles? Come quickly.”

I recognized the panic in Cleric’s voice, and jumped out of bed. “What is it?” But she was already gone.

Miles and I dressed in record time, and sprinted down the hallway toward the living room. Cleric waited for us at the top of the stairs leading to the front door. She pointed, and we stopped dead. There, in the foyer below, my Old Dwarf was brandishing his battleaxe at two uniformed figures.

Dwarf and police officers 2

“Ye be waitin’ right here until tha lass and ’er mate be comin’ down ta be receivin’ ye. Ye do na be disturbin’ their bedchamber!”

“For the last time, sir, we don’t want to hurt you, but you need to put down that axe!” The speaker had her hand on the holster of her service revolver, and a big frown on her face.

“Wait!” I scrambled down the steps as fast as I could, with Miles right on my heels. “Wait! He’s harmless! The axe isn’t even real! It’s part of his Cosplay costume!”

The woman’s hand didn’t move from her holster.

I turned and faced my Old Dwarf. “It’s okay! Just lower the axe and go upstairs.”

“Be ye sure, lass? I kin be stayin’ iffin ye be needin’ me.” He looked past me and glared at the two officers.

“I’m sure!” I gave the old reprobate a shove toward the stairs.

2 Police OfficersMiles and I turned to the two uniformed figures. Their eyes never left my Old Dwarf as he trudged up the steps. Once he was out of sight, both officers visibly relaxed.

“Sorry about that!” This is all I need. How do I explain him to these officers? I’m surprised they didn’t tackle him and arrest him!

“He needs locking up!” The burly man made the statement in a voice that brooked no disagreement, but neither officer made a move to apprehend my Old Dwarf.

I grunted, raised my eyebrows, and lifted my hands, palms up, in a gesture meant to convey my thoughts: What can I do?

The woman stepped forward, still frowning. “Are you two the owners of this property?”

Miles and I both nodded. “I’m Marge, and this is my husband, Miles.” I forced a big smile as I made the introductions.

Notebook 2The woman nodded curtly as she took a small notebook from her pocket and jotted down our names before introducing herself. “Deputy Melody Whitewash.” She nodded toward the other figure, a barrel-chested man in sunglasses. “My partner, Deputy Dustin Dawg.”

Before we could snicker at Deputy Dawg’s moniker, the man spoke up. His gravelly voice was both commanding and accusatory. “We’re in the neighborhood this morning investigating reports of a loose horse rampaging through the yards last night, terrorizing the residents of this community.”

Terrorizing? I scoffed.

Deputy Whitewash pounced. In a flash, she was standing almost nose-to-nose with me. “What do you know about this horse?”

wide-eyed“Er, nothing.” I stared at her and her partner, hoping they would interpret my wide-eyed look as innocence.

They glared at me for a moment, then turned to Miles. He swallowed hard. “We don’t know anything. We didn’t see or hear any horse.”

Deputy Dawg drew himself up, hooking his thumbs into his belt. “That’s not what your neighbors said.”

I tilted my head and furrowed my brow. “Our neighbors? None of our neighbors were with us last night, Deputy, so I don’t know how they could know what we did or did not see or hear.”

He grunted.Police Officer in sunglasses

I wish he’d take his sunglasses off. It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking when I can’t even see his eyes.

Deputy Whitewash glanced at her notebook. “Your neighbors down the street, Mace and Gloria, informed us that last night’s incident was not the first time a horse was spotted running loose around here.”

I might have known those two were behind this interrogation. Mace did warn us that they’d be watching our property.

https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/the-return-of-the-neighbors/

Deputy Dawg nodded. “They believe you have direct knowledge of said horse, and that you may be harboring this animal in your shed.”

Elf cleric close-upBefore I could open my mouth, Dragon ascended the steps from the area of the conference room and joined us in the foyer. She was, to my great relief, in her customary guise of an elf maiden.

“Hello! I did not realize we had visitors.”

I glared at her. You liar! You can hear a pin drop three houses away! You knew we had visitors. You’ve heard every word!

Dragon smiled sweetly. “I am Missy’s cousin. Missy and her husband are hosting a family get-together this week.”

“Missy?” Deputy Dawg glanced over his partner’s shoulder at the notebook in her hand. “I thought you gave your name as Marge.”

“Oh, Missy is just the family’s pet name for her.” Dragon grinned and squeezed my arm.

That’s right. Keep it up. I’ll take care of you later, just see if I don’t!

Deputy Dawg just glared at us. At least I think he did. Behind the sunglasses, it was hard to see his expression. He turned back to face Dragon. “Deputies Dawg and Whitewash, ma’am. We’re in the neighborhood this morning investigating reports of a loose horse rampaging through the yards last night, terrorizing the residents of this community.”

He sounds like a broken record! Did he memorize those lines? They’re the exact same words he used to explain the purpose of his visit to Miles and me.notebook

“Were you here last night, ma’am?” Deputy Whitewash opened her notebook to a fresh page.

“Oh, yes, we all were. We were all tired, so we went to bed early. We are just now rising for breakfast. Would you care to join us?”

I could feel the color draining from my face. Oh, great, that’s all I need! Two law enforcement officers sharing breakfast with me and Miles and nine medieval characters that have fallen out of my fantasy novel manuscript! How, exactly, do I explain them to the deputies?

“No time, ma’am.” Thank you, Deputy Dawg! “We need to apprehend this wild animal before it does any damage or causes injury to one of the residents of this neighborhood.”

Wild animal? He can’t mean Mystery! I could barely keep from doubling over, laughing, as I pictured the calm little horse.

“Did you see or hear anything last night, ma’am?” Deputy Whitewash had her pencil poised over her little notebook.

“Why, no, nothing at all. As I said, we all went to bed early, and are just getting up now. I am a very heavy sleeper. The horse you speak of could have galloped right through my bedchamber, and I never would have woken.” Dragon simpered at the two deputies.

Deputy Dawg turned back to Miles and me. “Folks, we need to inspect your shed. Your neighbors allege that you’ve been hiding the horse in there for several days.”

three bales of hay in trunk 2“They also said you had transported hay to this location in the trunk of your car.” Deputy Whitewash checked her notes again.

Good grief! She makes it sound as if we were transporting a dead body! “Yes, we did have hay in the car.” I sighed. “As I explained to Gloria and Mace, we had purchased the hay for a friend, for her rabbits.”

“Yes, she said that was your contention.” Deputy Dawg didn’t sound as if he believed that any more than Mace and Gloria had.

“Can we see the shed, ma’am?” Deputy Dawg started to open the front door, apparently confident that we would never refuse his request.

“Can we see your search warrant?” I stopped the deputy in his tracks.

“Oh, pooh! These nice deputies do not need a warrant.” Dragon attached herself to Deputy Dawg’s arm and batted her eyelashes at the man. “We can go look at the shed right now.”

angry faceI am going to kill Dragon. I am! I am really going to kill her!

Left with no other choice, Miles and I grabbed our jackets and followed Dragon and the two deputies out the door.

Walking around the side of the house, I spotted my Foreman and the two lads in the doorway of the barn, across the yard from the shed. Mystery was with them. Great galloping gophers! Don’t let her get loose! Don’t let the deputies see her here!

Dragon led us to the shed. “Here we are, deputies.” She couldn’t have sounded sweeter if she tried.

Miles started to reach for the door, but Deputy Dawg pushed him aside. The two deputies stood on either side of the shed door, drew their weapons, and prepared to breach the shed.Police storming the shed

“Wait a minute!” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “Are you looking for a horse, or a desperate gunman?”

“Procedure, ma’am.” Deputy Dawg glared at me. At least I think he did. He was still wearing those sunglasses.

Deputy Whitewash did glare at me. “There might be more of your relatives in there. We can’t take a chance on confronting any more armed and dangerous people.”

Armed and dangerous? I guess she didn’t believe me when I said my Old Dwarf’s axe wasn’t real. Good grief!

As soon as the deputies opened the shed door, I saw my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. Oh, someone please shoot me. Shoot me now!

 

The two of them rushed past the deputies, who seemed oblivious to their presence. Thank goodness for Dragon’s spell of concealment! She must have extended it to include these two clowns! Maybe I won’t kill her after all.

My Arrogant One confronted me and immediately started protesting our presence. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robes in both hands. “Is not a person to be granted any privacy at all?” Can you say deja vu?

The elf was screeching in his typical glass-shattering tone. I winced, but the deputies seemed not to hear a thing.

My Bounty Hunter glared at the deputies, then turned to me. “Are you giving another tour?”

Miles tried to shush my characters, and shoo them off in the direction of the house. Deputy Dawg looked at him suspiciously. “Did you say something?”

“Nope. Just making some noise in case any critters got in here. I wouldn’t want to surprise a sleeping raccoon.” Oh, thank heaven Miles remembered what I said to Mace and Gloria when the same thing happened with them!

The two deputies slowly entered the cluttered shed, and warily looked around. They nosed into every corner and peered into every shadow. After a few minutes, they returned to the doorway.

“Well, did you find anything?”

ladder to barn loft 2Deputy Whitewash shook her head at me, but Deputy Dawg walked over to the ladder that led up to the loft. “What’s up there?”

“Piles of old junk.” I glared at him. “Don’t tell me you think the horse might have climbed up there?” Please don’t go up there and find the old horse equipment Gloria found. If you see all that stuff, you’ll never believe we don’t have a horse here!

“Of course not.” Deputy Dawg sounded indignant.

“Well, I guess your neighbors were wrong.” Deputy Whitewash sounded disappointed.

Dragon, Miles and I walked the deputies back to their car. Before he slid behind the steering wheel, Deputy Dawg issued a warning. “We may not have found the horse here today, but don’t think we won’t be keeping a close eye on this place in the future.”

Deputies leaving

Deputy Whitewash agreed. “If even half of what your neighbors told us about the goings-on here is true, you’ll probably be seeing a lot of us in the future!”

Oh, goody! I can hardly wait!

Dragon, Miles and I stood there, big smiles pasted on our faces, waving at the deputies until their vehicle was out of sight. Then we raced back to the barn.

apple for Mystery“Mystery!” I petted the little horse, and reached into my jacket pocket for an apple. She took it gently from my hand and heaved a contented sigh.

“Mistress, Master Miles, you had better come into the barn.” My Gypsy led Mystery into the illusory building, and we followed, with Dragon bringing up the rear.

Inside the barn were a half dozen miniature snow devils, whirling around up in the rafters.snow devils in the barn 2

Oh, gee, things just keep getting better and better!

 

Be sure to come back next week, as we continue the adventure of Mystery and the Snow Devils. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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But What If I Was Wrong?

But What If I Was Wrong?

Momentary chaos ensued.

When I opened the door so my husband and I, accompanied by a group of my characters, could leave the shed, a strong blast of frigid air nearly knocked us all off our feet. Then a half-dozen miniature snow devils rode in on the wintry gust, and my companions and I were all shrieking and squealing and yelping as we scrambled out of their way.hiding from snow devils

Cleric and Sorceress jumped for cover behind some sacks of grain. My Foreman, my Gypsy, and my Young Hero dove behind some bales of hay. Miles ducked behind a pile of crates. He tried to tug me along with him, but something, maybe the force of the wind itself, knocked me down. I quickly rolled out of the way of the snow devils, but managed to keep an eye on them.

The rimy creatures headed straight as an arrow toward Mystery. Dragon snarled and moved to protect the small, shaggy horse, but the snow devils danced out of her reach.

Dragon protecting Mystery from snow devilsI watched them, transfixed. They were paradoxical little creatures, their fiercely scowling faces a stark contrast to their graceful moves as they pirouetted around Dragon’s huge mass, deftly avoiding her claws and teeth. I noticed, along with their nimble moves to avoid Dragon, they were giving her illusory fireplace a wide berth.

“Shut the door!” I pointed as I yelled to anyone close enough to hear.

My Gypsy and my Young Hero sprang toward the door, almost falling over each other in their haste, but my husband was there first. Miles quickly pulled the door closed.

“Hotter!” I pointed at the illusory fireplace and immediately Dragon caused it to blaze as hot as a dwarven forge, as another one of my characters was wont to say.

rainingTrapped in the stifling shed, the snow devils were soon raining all over the floor. Within minutes, they were naught but some quickly evaporating puddles. As I looked at the liquid remnants of the whirling columns of snow and ice, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. “I won’t ever again complain about your fireplace!” I grinned at Dragon.

The huge beast shook her head and frowned. “Do not let down your guard! They are demons. They may be able to survive in non-corporeal form.” Then she mumbled a few arcane words, and returned the blaze in her illusory fireplace to its former level. The temperature immediately fell back into the comfort zone.

Miles reached down and helped me to my feet as my Foreman and the lads ran to check Mystery. The little horse seemed more interested in her hay than in the events transpiring around her.

Cleric and Sorceress joined Dragon in an inspection of the puddly remains of the snow devils. Miles and I stood back a bit and watched. When Dragon looked up, Miles caught her eye. “Did you notice?” My husband’s brow was furrowed, and he was rubbing his chin.

 

“Notice what, Master Miles?” Dragon tilted her head.

“The snow devils flew straight toward Mystery, but did not seem to be threatening her.”

The rest of us all gave Miles a blank look, but Dragon nodded. “Some of them could have easily attacked her while the rest kept me busy, but they did not. I do not understand their purpose.”

“Can you learn anything from their remains?” I glanced over at the spot on the floor Dragon, Cleric, and Sorceress had been examining, but it was almost dry.

“Mayhap we could have, had any physical part of them survived the heat.” Sorceress scowled at Dragon and me. “As it is, your plan of defense worked just a bit too well.”

I shrugged. “Well, not knowing what we were up against, I felt it best not to take chances. I spotted their Achilles’ heel and used it to our advantage.”

“Achilles’ heel?” Cleric wrinkled her brow and tilted her head.

“Their weakness, their vulnerability. The term comes from ancient Greek mythos.” I walked over for a closer look at the floor. “What are these?”

squiggly lines

Everyone crowded around for a look. There on the floor was what looked like tiny lines squiggling around. My Gypsy started to reach for one, but Cleric yelped and grabbed his arm.

“Do not touch them!” Cleric’s eyes were wide and her voice was full of fear.

“Why not? They look harmless enough.” My Gypsy reached for them again. This time Sorceress smacked his hand and frowned at the lad.

 

“Listen to Cleric! She understands the danger of demons. Let us all move back so they can not reach us.” Sorceress spread her arms and took a few steps back, propelling those around her away from the spot.

My Gypsy scoffed. “Are you trying to say these little lines dancing around on the floor are demons?”

Sorceress nodded. “They are the corporeal remains of the snow devils.”

mens-991728_1280“Then why not just stomp on them?” My Foreman started to move toward them, intent on crushing them under his boot.

“No!” I grabbed his arm and pulled him back. I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “Just move away from them and let me think.”

blue-dragon-facing-left“What is there to think about?” Dragon looked at me as if I had lost my mind. “They are demons. We must destroy them. Is that not what you intended when you ordered them trapped and then melted?”

“It was.” I paused. I furrowed my brow and chewed on my lower lip. “But what if I was wrong?”

“What?” Cleric’s jaw dropped. “What do you mean?”

“Think about it. When I told you about the snow devils I saw in the yard, you assumed they were demons, like the snow devils in your world. The snow devils in your world, you said, are evil creatures that feed upon a person’s soul the way the mythical vampires of this world are said to feed on a person’s blood.”

“That is correct, Mistress.” Cleric tilted her head. “So why do you hesitate to destroy them?”

“Because, as Miles and Dragon noted, these snow devils had the opportunity to attack Mystery, but they did not. They did not actually attack any of us. We only assumed they were attacking. But what if we were wrong? What if these snow devils are not evil?”

Everyone gaped at me.

Elf facing right“Are you saying we may have harmed creatures that had no intent to harm us?” Cleric’s shoulders slumped. She held her stomach and looked as if she would be sick.Young Hero close-up

“What are we to do?” My Young Hero spoke softly, and he rubbed the back of his neck.

sorceress-facing-right“I will collect their remains and see if we can do anything to save them.” Sorceress quickly retrieved a glass vial from her equipment and looked around for some means by which to gather the wriggling strands.

“I may have something.” I went over to the sack of grain and removed the stiff paper label. “Try to scoop them up with this and place them in your vial.”Filaments in the vial

Once Sorceress had them in the vial, Cleric suggested adding a bit of snow. “Their bodies were made of snow and ice. Maybe if we provide them with some snow, they would revive.”

Sorceress looked at me and at Dragon. We both shrugged. “We have no experience with these creatures. There is no way to know what our actions will do.” Dragon’s tail twitched and a puff of black smoke erupted from her snout. “Whatever you do, be wary. If they are evil, as we originally presumed, we must be on our guard.”

“But don’t react too quickly.” I touched Sorceress on her arm. “We may have been mistaken when we thought they were attacking before. Let’s not make the same mistake twice.”

 

Everyone nodded somberly. Cleric opened the door and scooped up a bit of snow. She carefully added it to the vial in which Sorceress had placed the strands. Then we all crowded around and waited.

Long minutes passed. We were just about ready to give up when the contents of the vial began to move. First, it was just a few twitches. Then, gradually, all six filaments began wiggling. Their movements grew faster and faster until the snow and ice started moving with them, increasingly taking on the form of miniature columns of snow. Within a few moments, the reconstituted snow devils were whirling about. They began making a strange, high-pitched humming sound.Snow devils in vial

Cleric jumped back. “Are they humming? Chanting?”

I shrugged. “I can’t make out any words, but it may be an attempt to communicate.”

We all crowded closer. The sound grew louder. The container vibrated with the snow devil’s mysterious humming. Suddenly, the vial shattered, releasing the snow devils. The creatures quickly grew to their former size.

My Foreman yelled and ducked as the snow devils flew straight at us. “Look out!”

We all dove for cover, as the whirling creatures buzzed over our heads. Dragon snapped at them as they passed, but they eluded her.

The snow devils headed out the door, which had been left slightly ajar when Cleric had procured the handful of snow. Mystery whinnied frantically and bolted after them, barreling into the door and nearly taking it off its hinges.Mystery bolting after snow devils

 

It took us only seconds to regain our feet and burst out of the shed in pursuit. We stopped dead, looking all around. The yard was empty. There were no signs of Mystery or the snow devils.

 

gone!

 

Where did they go? What happened to Mystery and the snow devils? Will any of them ever return? Will we ever discover where they all came from, and why? Or is this to be an unsolved mystery? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

A Devilish Situation

A Devilish Situation

Elf cleric close-upI looked at Dragon, standing there in her familiar guise of an elf maiden. She was trembling, her breathing was rapid and shallow, and her eyes were wide in terror, terror that was reflected in the eyes of all my characters.

My brow furrowed, and I tilted my head to one side. “Calm down! You’re shaking like a leaf! And what do you mean, Mystery could be something much more sinister? What on earth do you think she is?”

Mystery 2Dragon swallowed hard and tried to steady her breathing. Her voice, when she finally spoke, was thin and shaky. “I am not sure, Mistress. We found no evidence during our physical and magical examinations that Mystery is an illusion. However, I question the possibility that she is nothing more than a real horse. None of us, not even Cleric, have been able to communicate with her. Also, we know that she can walk right through my solid and substantial illusions as if they were not there, something a real horse should not be able to do. And now . . .” She paused and looked around nervously. “Now you tell us there have been hordes of snow devils in the yard and around the shed.”

snow devils in yard 2I scoffed. “Well, I wouldn’t say hordes. There were a lot, that’s true – maybe dozens – but the word horde implies sentience. A snow devil is not a living creature – it is no more than a rare meteorological phenomenon.”

“Perhaps in your world, Mistress.” Cleric joined the conversation.

Elf

I raised an eyebrow at Cleric’s statement. “Do I need to remind you we’re in my world? So the snow devils I saw here, in my world, are exactly what I just said – rare meteorological phenomena, rotating columns of snow, mini snownados or snowspouts. They are certainly not sentient, nor are they anything to fear.”

“You don’t understand, Mistress!” Cleric pushed her hair out of her face and sighed deeply. “You said that, in your world, a true snow devil is rare; yet you saw dozens of miniature snow devils in the yard today. Perhaps these small snow devils are not from your world. Perhaps they have crossed into your world through some magical conveyance.”

 

strange-dreams“Magical conveyance?”

“Yes, Mistress. A conveyance such as the magic conduit that, for a time, linked our world with yours. Or the passage that afforded entry into this world to that milky-eyed grackle who was the familiar of the evil wizard, Morcant.”

I blinked. “You think these snow devils are from a different world?”

“I think they may be, Mistress.” Cleric lifted her eyebrows, and raised her hands, palms up, in a gesture of uncertainty. My other characters all nodded.

“Well, why are they so scary? In your world, what are snow devils?” Even though he asked the question, Miles looked as if he really would prefer not to hear the answer.

 

 

Dragon grimaced. “In our world, Master Miles, snow devils are evil creatures that live in the coldest regions of our planet. They are similar to your world’s mythical vampires, only instead of feeding on blood, they feed upon a person’s soul.”

snow devil from other world

 

Miles gulped.

I raised an eyebrow and folded my arms over my chest. “And you think the snow devils in the yard have come from your world and have eaten Mystery’s soul – presuming an animal has a soul?”

“Perhaps not from our world, Mistress, but they may have come from some other world; and perhaps they have not consumed the horse’s soul, if she has one, but they may have possessed Mystery, or at least taken control of her mind. That may be why we can not communicate with her.” Dragon nervously glanced over at the small, scruffy horse, calmly munching her hay.

I snorted. “And why, exactly, would a snow devil want to possess a small, scruffy horse? What would be the benefit of such a deed?”

“Who knows?” My Gypsy was leaning against the wall of the shed, studying his silver stiletto. “My grandmother said that devils, demons, and other evil spirits often do things for no discernible reason.”

 

young-hero-facing-left“Your grandmother was the village witch, was she not?” My Young Hero walked over to stand next to his friend.

My Gypsy nodded. “She taught me many spells to safeguard against evil sprits.”

Elf facing right“And I know a ritual for exorcising demons.” Cleric sounded grim. “Perhaps the two of us should combine our efforts and make certain Mystery is no threat to anyone.”

I balked. “Whoa! Let’s slow down and think about this. I still tend to believe that the snow devils I saw are harmless meteorological phenomena. Is there any way to find out for sure without involving Mystery? I think today’s experiments were more than enough for her to endure.”

“She looks none the worse for wear to me, Mistress.” My Foreman was standing next to Mystery. He reached out and patted the little horse on her neck. “And she was very calm through the entire procedure. She even took a brief nap while the magic users worked.”

 

I sighed. “Well, if you really think there is a need for it, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt anything. Maybe first thing tomorrow, after you have rested.”

Cleric shook her head emphatically. “That may be too late, Mistress. If the snow devils are sentient creatures, evil spirits, then they must know by now we are aware of their presence here. We should start right away.”

I looked at the assembled group. “Are you sure you don’t need to rest first? I imagine what you’re proposing will be grueling. You have already been hard at work for more than five hours.”

“Well, we are exhausted.” Cleric chewed on her lower lip and rubbed her arm. “But I fear what may happen if we leave Mystery alone while we sleep, if perchance we are correct about the snow devils.”

Dwarf“Could someone stay with Mystery and keep watch? Perhaps my Old Dwarf?”

Cleric and my Gypsy considered this, but before they could answer, Dragon shook her head. “No. It would not be safe for him.”

I frowned. “Aren’t dwarves immune from most magic?”

Dragon nodded. “But this is not magic, Mistress. These are malevolent entities. No, your Old Dwarf would be as vulnerable as the rest of you.”

Easter 128“The rest of us?” Miles furrowed his brow and rubbed his jaw. “Are you saying that you are not vulnerable?”

“Not as vulnerable as the rest of you. At least, not in my true form.”

I raised an eyebrow. “How would Mystery react to you in your true form? Even if she is possessed or controlled by malevolent beings, we still don’t need to frighten the poor horse to death.”

Elf cleric close-upDragon raked her hand through her hair and heaved a huge sigh. “I have no wish to frighten the little creature, but the only way to tell how she might react is to let her see me in my true form.”

hobbledI nodded, albeit reluctantly. Miles and I watched as my characters moved everything away from Mystery that could potentially pose any danger of injury to the little mare. Then my Foreman slipped her halter onto her head, and fastened the lead. “Do you think we need to hobble her again, or perhaps use a twitch?”

Dragon shook her head. “I think, should she become terror-stricken at the sight of me in my true form, she would be safer not being so rigidly restrained. Just keep a tight hold on her lead, and do not allow her to flip over backward should she panic.”

My Foreman nodded, and my Gypsy and my Young Hero positioned themselves to lend a hand if needed. Cleric and Sorceress joined Miles and me by the door, well out of the way of potentially flailing hooves.

 

 

Dragon approached Mystery. She held out her hand to allow the little horse to sniff her, and she crooned to the mare in a reassuring tone. Mystery snuffled at her and nickered softly.

When she was sure the horse was calm enough, Dragon looked over at me and nodded. “When I transform, I will take on the appearance of my true self, but I will remain, at first, small and – hopefully – unthreatening.”

scaly dragonSlowly, Dragon began to shimmer. The beautiful elf maiden gradually shape-shifted into a scaly, reptilian figure about the size of a Chihuahua. Everyone present held their breath, but the only reaction from Mystery was a huge yawn and a slight wiggle of her ears.

After a few moments, Dragon began growing. She expanded to the size of a Beagle, then to the size of a Labrador Retriever. Mystery watched, bobbing her head up and down.

Mystery munching hayDragon continued increasing in size. Soon, she was as large as a Mastiff, and moments later she was the same size as the small horse. At that point, Mystery started fidgeting and pulling on her lead. Stretching her neck as far as she could, Mystery snatched a mouthful of hay from the pile behind my Young Hero, and stood there munching on it while eyeing Dragon.

Dragon looked at me. I shrugged and chuckled. “She reminds me of someone at a movie, munching on a handful of popcorn while enjoying the film.”

Dragon waited a few minutes, during which Mystery helped herself to a few more mouthfuls of hay. Then, the beast continued to grow, until she was almost double the height of Mystery. The little mare continued to wiggle her ears back and forth, bob her head up and down, and chomp on her hay. She showed no fear of the large, reptilian creature in front of her; in fact, she seemed entertained by the transformation.

Dragon with smoke bubblesDragon looked rather confused. Her color morphed to a pale blue, and smoke bubbles dripped from her snout.

Miles“Well, that was anti-climactic!” Miles ran his hand through his hair and stared at the small horse, who looked for all the world like she was ready to fall asleep now that the show was over.

“Well, at least we know I can stay with Mystery this night while the rest of you get some sleep. I do not believe she will suddenly decide to panic in the middle of the night.”

My Foreman slipped Mystery’s halter off and hung it up. “Okay, we will take all of today’s paraphernalia back to the house, and return here in the morning.”

Dragon turned to me. “Remind your Old Dwarf to keep your Arrogant One and your Bounty Hunter away from the shed. I do not want any interference from them.”

I nodded. Once we had gathered all the books and equipment again, I opened the shed door. I yelped, and there was a chorus of shrieks, squeals, and screams from the rest of the group. We all jumped out of the way as a horde of whirling snow devils whooshed past us and headed straight for Mystery.

Snow devils surrounding Mystery

 

 

What is happening? Where did these snow devils come from, and why are they after Mystery? Can Dragon and the rest of us protect the little horse from the demons? Be sure to come back next week and find out! We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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What is Mystery, Really?

What is Mystery, Really?

sleeping dragon 2

“I will not do it.”

Dragon was curled up in front of her illusory fireplace, shivering, in spite of the fact the temperature in the conference room rivaled that of a sauna.

Elf

 

Cleric bit her lower lip and wrung her hands. “But we must complete our task with all possible speed! Mistress Writer awaits the determination of our examination.”

shaggy pony facing the other wayEarlier in the day, Dragon and her colleagues in magic had agreed to examine Mystery, the scruffy little horse that had appeared in the yard the day before. They were going to attempt, through methods both physical and magical, to determine if the horse was real or just an exceptional illusion.

blizzardBefore they could organize their efforts, however, the temperature had plummeted and a wet, heavy snow had begun falling, driven by gale-force winds. Dragon had immediately withdrawn to the conference room and the comfort of her illusory fireplace. Her companions had followed her and were now attempting to persuade her to assist them.

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress crossed her arms over her chest, and tapped her foot impatiently. “Yes, as Cleric has stated, Mistress Writer awaits.”

GypsyMy Gypsy nodded. “We have made a commitment and we must honor it.”

blue-dragon-2Dragon growled and a large cloud of black smoke rose from her muzzle. “Go away. I will not do it. I will not venture out in this abominable weather to spend hours in that bitterly cold shed.”

arrogant-oneMy Arrogant One, who had been listening to the exchange from the hallway, stomped into the room. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. His face was red, and his voice rose to its usual glass-shattering range. “I will not have that malodorous beast in my private sanctuary one moment longer than absolutely necessary! You agreed to assist in this magical examination of the creature. Now get your paraphernalia together and take it to the shed!”

Everyone winced and covered their ears. Dragon snarled at the annoying elf, showing every one of her razor-sharp teeth. She thrust her face to within an inch of his. “If you ever again address me in that tone of shriek, no one will ever be able to find the body – if anyone even misses you.”

My Arrogant One whimpered. The color drained from his face and his eyes widened in terror. He backed out of the room so quickly, his feet tangled together and he almost fell. He grabbed the doorjamb to steady himself, then turned and fled without another sound.

“Pity.” Dragon settled herself in front of the fire once more. “I was actually hoping the pompous creature had more to say.” She narrowed her eyes and licked her lips.

A voice from the hallway startled them. “The elf can be annoying, but he has a point.”

bounty-hunterMy Bounty Hunter pushed himself away from the wall, where he had been leaning, and entered the conference room. He kept his posture relaxed and his voice conversational. “The horse should not be in the shed. The sooner you conduct your examinations, the sooner the animal can be evicted, and the sooner you will not have to tolerate the elf’s impudence.”

Dragon scowled at the man. She growled softly and shook her head. “No. I will not do it. This weather chills me to my very soul, and that shed is freezing.”

My Bounty Hunter shrugged. “You could always take your fireplace with you.”

Dragon blinked. The others nodded in agreement with my Bounty Hunter, but Dragon narrowed her eyes and scrutinized the man. She noticed a sly smile playing around his lips, and she observed that he studied his fingernails, rather than look at her and the others. She rose and faced him. “What is the benefit to you, should we decide to conduct this examination?”

He shrugged again. “Oh, just the obvious benefits. The noxious horse is evicted, so I do not have to smell it in the shed – or watch where I place my feet – and the bumptious elf is placated, so I do not have to listen to him whine.”

Dragon continued to stare at him, unblinking. Finally, the man shrugged one last time. “Well, it is, of course, your choice to make; but I would not forget, if I were you, that a promise has been made to Mistress Writer, and she expects results. She is not someone I would ever want to disappoint.” He nodded to the assembled group, then sauntered out of the room.

Dragon waited until my Bounty Hunter was out of earshot. “I do not trust that man.”

Cleric frowned. “He is not one of my favorite people, but nothing he said seems duplicitous.”

Sorceress shook her head. “I agree with Dragon. He is not to be trusted. He has an agenda of his own, or else he promotes one for the annoying elf.”

“Does it really matter?” My Gypsy raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “We did agree to this task, and he did make a sound suggestion.” The lad turned toward Dragon. “Your fireplace would be as effective in warming the shed as it is in warming this room. We would be able to complete the task in relative comfort. Once we complete the task, we would not have to suffer further conversation with the elf or his cohort.”

Dragon sighed, smoke bubbles dripping from her snout.

Dragon with smoke bubbles

* * *

An hour later, the shed was toasty warm, and the flames from the fireplace added to the light provided by the lanterns. Dragon, who had assumed her familiar guise of an elf maiden, directed my Bounty Hunter and my Old Dwarf as they set up tables along one wall. “We need these for the books and paraphernalia we will use during the magical inspection, but they must be placed out of the way so the horse does not knock them over.”

 

After the tables were in place, she turned to my Foreman and my Young Hero. “Once we begin, you need to keep Mystery as calm and quiet as possible. Ideally, the subject of such an examination is completely immobile.”

“We will do our best.” My Foreman slid a halter on the horse’s head and attached a lead, which he handed to my Young Hero. “You hold her head. I will hobble her.”

mens-991728_1280hobbledYoung Hero close-up

 

 

 

 

ElfMy Foreman deftly attached hobbles and ropes to Mystery, and proceeded to lift one of the little horse’s hind legs off the ground. Cleric’s hand flew to her mouth as she watched him. “Oh, do you really need to do that?”

My Foreman raised an eyebrow. “Would you prefer the horse be free to kick, Milady?” Seeing Cleric’s distraught look, the man sighed. “I have used this sort of equipment on many animals, Milady, and never have any come to harm.”

My Young Hero smiled. “Look, Milady – Mystery is accepting the restraints without fear. I suspect she has been so held before. She will be fine.”

Sorceress and my Gypsy entered the shed, lugging the last of the books and equipment. A blast of snow-filled air followed them before they could shut the door. After they brushed the snow off themselves and their belongings, Dragon and Cleric joined them in finding the appropriate spells in the books and setting up the necessary potions and apparatus. Finally, Dragon turned to my Arrogant One. “The four of us are ready. Where are your books and potions?”Table set for spellcasting

arrogant-one-facing-rightMy Arrogant One drew himself up in his typical, superior fashion, rocking back on his heels, and grasping his cloak with both hands. “Books? potions? Those are the tools of lesser magicians. I need no such objects with which to wield my power.”

Elf cleric“You insufferable imbecile!” If Dragon had been in her natural form, she would have been spewing clouds of black smoke. “Lesser magicians, are we? Any one of the four of us has more power and skill in one finger than you could ever hope to possess!”

“So you keep saying. Well, the four of you can rely on your books and your potions. I will rely on my innate power and incredible skill.”

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress stepped between Dragon and my Arrogant One, pushing the two apart. “Fine. How do you propose to assist us?”

My Arrogant One blinked. “How?”

“Yes. How?” Sorceress folded her arms in front of her chest and tilted her head.

Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One turned beet red and started stammering. “Well, I assumed . . . that is . . . well . . .”

Elf facing right

Cleric glared at him. “You have no idea, do you?”

My Gypsy jumped in before my Arrogant One could reply. The lad herded Dragon, Cleric, and Sorceress over to the far side of the shed and spoke to them in a whisper. “I suspect the elf’s purpose here is not to help, but to hinder. Dragon, I know you do not believe the annoying one to have the skill to produce an illusion as realistic as Mystery, but assume for a moment he does. Presume she is an illusion, and he, the illusionist. What better way to keep us from discovering that than to interfere in our work here today?”

Dragon glanced over at my Arrogant One, assessing him through narrowed eyes. Finally she nodded to my Gypsy. “I still do not believe him capable, but you may be right about his desire to thwart our purposes here today . . . for whatever inexplicable purpose.”

Dragon beckoned my Old Dwarf. “Take that one and his companion out of here. They are not to reenter this shed until we have completed our work. Keep them in the house until you hear from me.”

“It be me pleasure!” My Old Dwarf bowed to Dragon. Then he grabbed my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter and escorted them out of the shed, the two of them struggling and howling in protest.

Dragon slammed the door shut, shivering as the wind reached its icy fingers toward her. She brushed off some errant flakes of snow that chilled her cheeks, then nodded to the others. “Let us begin.”

* * *

Performing magic 2

For more than five hours hours, the four companions physically examined Mystery, recited complicated spells, applied potions to the small horse, and probed her through magical means. Through it all, Mystery stood quietly, even dozing off for an hour.

hobbled“I have never worked with such a docile, compliant animal.” My Foreman sounded amazed.

My Young Hero agreed. “Most horses, even if not fearful of the proceedings, would at least be restless. This one stands almost as still as a statue.”

“Have you arrived at a determination yet?” My Foreman looked expectantly at the four magic users.

Dragon sighed. “I remain perplexed. We have found no trace of magic on her, yet her mind remains unreachable.”

Sorceress saw the confused looks on the faces of my Foreman and my Young Hero. “If Mystery were an illusion, there should be some trace of magic about her. If she is real, one of us, most especially Cleric, should be able to reach her mind, communicate with her.”

Elf facing rightCleric rubbed her neck and furrowed her brow. “I have been able to communicate with every form of animal life I have encountered in this world. I can induce birds and squirrels, rabbits and deer, and all manner of wildlife to pose for Mistress Writer’s camera. I have conversed with neighborhood dogs and cats. Yet I, a cleric who serves the goddess of the horse, can not communicate with this horse at all.”

My Young Hero reached over and placed his hand on Cleric’s arm. “I am so sorry.”

My Foreman turned to Dragon. “Is there anything else you wish to try, or should we release Mystery now?”Elf cleric

“There is nothing more we can do. We have failed.” Dragon shook her head and her shoulders slumped.

As my Foreman removed the hobbles and ropes, he instructed my Young Hero to get the horse her evening feed and water. “She will have to remain in the shed. We can not have her walking through the walls of the illusory barn, and roaming the neighborhood.”

“I know two individuals who will not be happy about that.” My Gypsy waggled his eyebrows and grinned a lopsided smile.

“Indeed.” Sorceress scoffed. “We can tell them once we pack up our books and equipment and return everything to the house.”

“And I must tell Mistress Writer.” Dragon heaved a huge sigh.

“Tell me what?” I poked my head in the door. “Miles and I were just coming out to see if anyone needed a warm beverage.”

 

My husband and I entered the shed and quickly closed the doors behind us, but the cold wind and snow had trailed us in. We shivered and brushed ourselves off.

“No thank you, Mistress. We can wait until we are back in the house. But I must confess we have failed to shed any light on our little Mystery.” Dragon explained all she and her companions had done, all to no avail. “I am so sorry, Mistress. I know you were counting on us.”apple for Mystery

I raked my hand through my hair. “It’s not your fault. I guess it’s time to alert the authorities that we’ve found a loose horse.” I went over to see Mystery, and held out an apple for her. She took it gently from the palm of my hand, then she nuzzled my shoulder, and nickered softly.

My characters had gathered all of their trapping together and were ready to go back to the house. “Here, let Miles and I help you carry all this. The wind is ferocious. I’ve seen a bunch of mini snow devils in the yard today. A true snow devil is supposed to be a rare phenomenon, but there were dozens of miniature ones here today!”

“Snow devils?” My characters gaped at me, the color draining from their faces.snow devil

“Yeah, you know – a rotating column of snow. I don’t know the exact science of how they form, but basically they look like mini-tornadoes made of snow.”

Dragon grabbed my arm. “Mistress, were there any of these snow devils around the shed?”

“Well, yeah, they were all over the yard. Why?”something sinister 2

Dragon’s eyes widened in fear. “Mistress, you must not alert the authorities to the presence of Mystery! I fear mayhap she is neither illusion nor real horse. Perchance she is something much more sinister.”

shaggy pony facing the other way

Looking up from her pile of hay, Mystery whinnied.

 

Be sure to join us again next week for our continuing investigation into the true nature of our little Mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

A Puzzling Mystery

A Puzzling Mystery

Sleeping Woman 2“Good morning, sleepyhead.”

I opened one eye and slowly my husband came into focus, already up and dressed for the day, and sounding way too chipper. I groaned. “What time is it?”

Miles chuckled. “Relax. You have time to shower and dress before we have to start breakfast.”

I opened my other eye, sat up, yawned widely, and ran my hand through my hair in an unsuccessful attempt to tame the overnight snarls and tangles before putting on my robe and heading for the bathroom. I felt like a zombie. It had been rather late last night when I finally got to bed.

computer_keyboardMy search of the web had provided no clues to Mystery’s true identity or origin. What I had found were an astonishingly large number of websites and social media pages where missing horses, whether strayed or stolen, could be reported. There were even a number of those dedicated to missing equines just within the state of Minnesota. It had taken a few hours to find all the sites and then sift through all the reports. In the end, however, I had found no horses reported on those sites matching the description of the small, scruffy horse that had shown up in our yard. Nor did my check of local news and law enforcement reports online yield any mention of missing horses nearby. Mystery remained a mystery.

bathroom

I had finished brushing my teeth and was about to turn on the shower when someone started banging on the bedroom door. “Mistress? Master Miles?” I recognized the voice of my Young Hero.Young Hero close-up

What?” I’m sure I sounded as annoyed as I felt, as his response came hesitantly, with much stammering.

“M . . . Mistress? Mistress, er, I think, ah, perchance you should, er . . . I think mayhap . . . ah . . . I think your presence is needed.”

Why?” I had already given up on the idea of a shower, so I returned to the bedroom and quickly threw on a tattered pair of jeans and a slightly worn sweatshirt.

“Well, ah, Mistress . . .”

I threw open the door. “What is it?

One look at my Young Hero’s face told me I wasn’t going to like whatever he had to say.

“What’s wrong?” I tried to control my annoyance.

shaggy pony facing the other way“Mystery is gone.”

“What?” My voice shot up into the range usually occupied by the screeching of my Arrogant One or by irritating operatic sopranos. “Didn’t you latch the stall door last night after you gave her hay and water?”

“I was not the last one to visit her, Mistress.”

“Well, who was?” I raked my hand through my hair.

“Does it matter?” Miles was already urging me out of the room. “Let’s go see if we can find her, before she ends up in Mace and Gloria’s yard, and we get a visit from the county sheriff.”

Gypsy close-upWe were in the living room, struggling into our boots when my Gypsy entered through the French doors from the deck. He spoke to my Young Hero. “We are waiting for you. We have the horses saddled, and we are ready to go search for Mystery.”

Before the other lad could respond, I grabbed the two of them by their coat sleeves. “What? Are you crazy? You can’t go riding through the neighborhood looking for Mystery!”

“But, Mistress! As you know, horses are herd animals. They seek out their own kind. We thought our mounts would lead us right to her.” My Gypsy tilted his head and shrugged. “We often used this method to search for missing horses in our village.”

“Yes. You can use real horses to look for real horses. What you can’t do is take your illusory horses out of the area that is protected by Dragon’s spell of concealment and ride them through the neighborhood, where everyone can see them. And I highly doubt that illusions can be used to track a real animal.” I shook my head. “If you go looking for her, you need to do it in on foot – especially if you plan to covertly trespass in anyone’s yard.”

dwarf“Eh, what be all tha commotion?” My Old Dwarf came into the living room, gnawing on a turkey leg and wiping the grease all over his tunic. “I be thinkin’ ye can be hearded all tha way back in me own-est world!”

I blushed and lowered my voice an octave and quite a few decibels. “Mystery’s missing. I was just explaining to the lads why they can’t . . .”

“I be hearin’ what ye be tellin’ ’em. I be thinkin’ tha dead kin be hearin’ ye!”

“Sorry.” I blushed deeper, and continued struggling into my boots.

Backyard 050I looked at the lads. “Why don’t you two go back out and help my Foreman unsaddle the horses and stable them?” I turned back to my Old Dwarf, who had dropped the remains of the turkey leg into his pouch, trading it for some donuts he fished out of the same sack. He stood there munching them, leaving crumbs all over himself and the carpet. I wrinkled my nose, shook my head, and heaved a huge sigh. “And why don’t you brush yourself off and come with us in the car? With your excellent night vision, you might be able to see her in the dim morning light.”

arrogant-oneAll three of my characters nodded. Before they could move a finger, however, my Arrogant One came bursting in from outside, eyes narrowed and face beet red, screeching in his normal glass-shattering register. “What is that filthy animal doing in the shed? I thought I had made myself quite clear – I will not tolerate such odoriferous creatures sharing my private sanctuary!”

We all just stared at him, slack-jawed, and for about ten seconds you could hear a pin drop. Then we all pushed my Arrogant One aside, almost trampling the elf as we rushed out the door and to the shed.

We found Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden, along with Cleric and Sorceress, in the shed. The three of them stood in front of Mystery, protecting her from my Bounty Hunter, who was threatening the small horse with a crossbow.protecting Mystery 6

I cried out, and my Old Dwarf immediately pushed past me and smacked the crossbow out of my Bounty Hunter’s hand with the flat of his battle axe.

bounty-hunterWhat is going on here?” I glared at my Bounty Hunter, who was rubbing his hand where my Old Dwarf had hit him.

shaggy pony facing the other way“This creature does not belong here. You assured us that the animals would be kept in the barn.” My Bounty Hunter glared at me, eyes narrowed.

Before I could respond, Cleric came forward. “Mistress, we had to bring Mystery in here last night.” Cleric spoke rapidly, and her eyes were wide with fright. “She would not stay in the barn with the other horses.”

“Wasn’t her stall door latched?” I elbowed my way through my group of characters and stood next to Mystery, checking the scruffy horse to make certain she was unharmed. She nickered softly and nuzzled my hand.Automatic Horse Stall Doors Med Art Home Design Posters intended for dimensions 1024 X 768

“Her stall door was latched.” My Foreman entered the shed and joined the conversation. “I always check the barn before retiring for the night. I had filled the water buckets one final time, our horses’ with the illusory water, but Mystery’s with real water. I also gave them each two laps of hay, again giving her the real hay. I latched all their stalls, extinguished the lamp, closed the barn door, and headed back to the house. I heard hoofbeats behind me, and turned around. Mystery was following me.”

shaggy pony facing the other way“Well, she’s a regular little Houdini, isn’t she?” I chuckled and scratched the horse behind her ears, and she sighed contentedly. “I wouldn’t think her tall enough to reach over the stall door and unlatch it.”

“She is not.” My Foreman sounded grim, and his eyes were dark with concern.

“Well, how did she get out of her stall, then?”

Dragon lifted an eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest. “She walked through the door.”

I frowned and tilted my head. “I don’t think I understand.”

Mystery escaping barnDragon sighed. “She walked right through the stall door, and then the barn wall, as if the structures did not exist. I saw her do this, after your Foreman alerted me to her escape and we returned her to her stall.”

My jaw fell open. “I didn’t think that was possible. I thought your illusions are . . . what is the term you use? Solid and substantial? How did she walk through your illusion as if it wasn’t there?”

Elf cleric close-upDragon chewed on her lower lip, and rubbed her arms. She spoke softly, her voice tinged with fear. “I do not know, Mistress. My illusions are as solid as the real object. If you wanted to go through one of my illusory barn walls, you would have to use a sledge hammer or a battering ram to do so. I do not know how this horse walked through my illusion. She should not be able to do so.”

Miles scratched his chin. “Could she do it because she’s not real, because she’s just an illusion?”

Dragon took many minutes to consider the question before answering with a shake of her head. “Even if illusory, she should not be able to act as if my solid and substantial illusions did not exist all around her. None of the illusory horses I created can just walk through their stall doors, or barn walls.”

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress frowned. “Could that be because you created them? Because they are all part of a single illusion of your design? If someone else created the illusion of another horse, perhaps it does not interact with your illusion in the same way as the horses that are part of your own illusion.”

Dragon sighed and tilted her head. “I suppose that is possible. But, remember, I did not detect any magic residue on Mystery. And she will not partake of the illusory hay, feed, and water. She will only partake of the real thing. I still do not believe her to be illusory.”

birthdays-weekend-trip-to-wi-018Miles furrowed his brow. “But you also said that you, and even Cleric, were unable to communicate with her the way you can with a real animal.”

Dragon sighed and shrugged. “You are right, Master Miles. If Mystery is a real horse, Cleric should be able to communicate with her, even if I can not.”

I frowned. “Is there any way to be absolutely certain? Perhaps you and your colleagues in magic should examine her by both physical and magical means, the way you did with the books that came through the magical conduit.”

gypsy-facing-right“That will be very difficult, Mistress.” My Gypsy frowned. “It is very hard to immobilize a living creature in order to perform the examinations of which you speak. A pile of books sits on a table. A horse does not remain still. It wanders around, whether in a pasture or even in a smaller area, like a stall. And if Mystery can walk through the illusory walls, then we would have to perform the spells of discovery in here.” He looked pointedly toward my Arrogant One, who had quietly slipped into the shed in the middle of the conversation and was standing next to my Bounty Hunter, listening intently. “We would need privacy.”arrogant-one

My Arrogant One narrowed his eyes. “You seem to forget that I, too, am one of your colleagues in magic. If you are to examine the animal here, in my sanctuary, I will take part in this undertaking.”

Cleric sputtered, and Sorceress laughed. If Dragon had been in her true form, she would have been snarling at the annoying elf. “There is no way we will allow you to assist us in this endeavor. You have not the requisite skill, nor the ability to work with others.”

My Bounty Hunter’s mouth twitched. “I do not imagine you want the elf to best you at your own craft.”

Dragon glared at him threateningly through narrow eyes. “On his finest day, and my worst, that charlatan could not best me if I had one eye closed and my hands tied behind my back.”

“This is not a contest.” I glared at both Dragon and my Bounty Hunter. Then I turned to my Arrogant One. “But it strikes me as extremely out of character for you to offer your assistance to anyone, if you do not directly benefit from the task.”

“I will benefit, madam, from the quick completion of this examination, resulting in the expeditious removal of that animal from this shed.”

I frowned. It sounded logical, but I knew my Arrogant One well enough to know he probably had an ulterior motive. “You know, I don’t believe I ever asked you – Mystery is not one of your illusions, is she?”

magic energy traceDragon snorted. “I told you before, Mistress, the annoying elf is not capable of creating an illusion that leaves no trace of magic. If she was one of his illusions, I would be able to tell.”

My Arrogant One shrugged and gestured toward Dragon. His meaning was clear – he was not going to contradict her. Still, I wondered.

“Okay, how soon can you complete your examination?”

Dragon grumbled, and gestured toward Cleric, Sorceress and my Gypsy. “If it were just the four of us, we could complete it within a day.” She turned toward my Arrogant One and glared. “Having him to contend with, it might take considerably longer, if we can complete the task at all with his interference.”

 

arrogant-one-facing-right

I sighed. “Give it a good try. I would like to know just what we’re dealing with.”

shaggy pony facing the other way

 

I gave the little mare another pat on the shoulder. Just what are you, Mystery? Why can you do things that should be impossible?

 

 

 

 

 

Be sure to come back next week and see if we have learned anything new about Mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Looking for Clues

Looking for Clues

Elf clericshaggy pony in barnThe ersatz elf maiden, better known as Dragon, led the equine newcomer, whom we had dubbed Mystery, into the open stall and shut her in. Then she turned back to me, her brow furrowed.

“I believe the horse to be real. I can detect no trace of magic on or around the animal. However, I am unable to sense anything from her. I can not tell if she is from this world or another.”

I considered the situation. “Someone go get Cleric. She has a way with animals. She’s the one who always gets birds and wildlife to pose for me when I’m taking photographs. Let’s see if she can shed any light on our little Mystery.”

My Gypsy nodded and headed for the house. A few moments later, he returned with Cleric.

“Your Gypsy has explained the problem, Mistress, and I am more than glad to help. Where is this horse?”

shaggy pony 2Elf facing rightCleric’s eyes lit up as soon as she saw the shaggy creature. The mare seemed to take to her, too. Mystery nickered and pricked her ears forward to listen to Cleric, who entered the stall and spoke softly to the horse. After about 10 minutes, however, Cleric left the stall. She was downcast and wringing her hands. “She seems friendly enough, but I can not communicate with her. I do not understand her the way I do other animals. This is very distressing.”

I patted her shoulder. “Don’t feel bad. Maybe the horse is just an illusion.”

Cleric brightened. “I certainly hope so! Imagine, a Cleric of the Goddess of the Horse, unable to communicate with one of her deity’s favored creatures!”

Dragon shook her head and folded her arms over her chest. “I do not mean to distress you, Cleric, but I do not believe the horse to be an illusion. There is no trace of magic on the animal.”

I raked my hand through my hair and sighed deeply. “Is that conclusive evidence?”

Dragon shrugged. “Well, if she is an illusion, she has been created by a magic user whose skill and power are far superior to mine. That is the only way to account for the absence of a detectable aura of magic. And I have encountered no one in this world more gifted than I at the craft of magic.”

I furrowed my brow and thought. Suddenly, I slapped my forehead. “Duh! An illusionist! My Arrogant One!”arrogant-one-facing-right

Dragon’s eyes widened. Her face turned crimson, and she snorted. If she had been in her true form, she would have been fuming clouds of black smoke at me. She sputtered and tired to speak, but it took several attempts for her to choke out a response. “You can not be serious! The very idea! I said someone superior to me! That buffoon, that . . . that charlatan has not even the slightest hint of talent!”

“Oh, come now! The elf has always been a fair illusionist, and he’s been practicing. Remember, all the way back in April he was already able to create the illusion of a slice of chocolate cake that my Old Dwarf pronounced solid and substantial, with aroma, taste and texture. My Old Dwarf said it was solid enough to be picked up, only dissipating after he had it in his mouth. If my Arrogant One was that good so many months ago, couldn’t he have perfected his illusions by now?”

Dragon refused to entertain the notion, and just kept shaking her head and glaring at me.

“Well, I think I better make sure. Someone find the annoying elf and bring him here.”

This time it was my Foreman who nodded and trotted off toward the house. It was almost a quarter hour later that he returned, alone.

I frowned. “Couldn’t you find my Arrogant One?”

My Foreman shook his head. “He was not in the house, but your Old Dwarf volunteered to track him down and deliver him here.”

A few minutes later, my Old Dwarf came into the barn, dragging my Arrogant One by the collar. Over the elf’s screeching, he asked, “Ye be wantin’ ta be seein’ this un?” He released the squirming, kicking, struggling elf, letting him drop onto the dirt floor.

The elf scrambled to his feet and started dusting off his clothing. “How dare you?” My Arrogant One’s voice was in the register that can shatter glass. The horses were snorting and shying from the commotion.

“Lower your voice! You are upsetting the horses!” My Foreman glared at the elf, and took a menacing step toward him.

My Arrogant One yelped and backed away a few steps. “I am upsetting the horses?” He looked down his nose at my Foreman, then turned to me. His face was beet red, and his eyes narrowed as he glared at me. “I demand to know why I have been abducted and manhandled in such a fashion! That oaf nearly ripped my robes!”

shaggy pony in barnIgnoring his complaints, I pointed to Mystery’s stall. “Why did you create this illusion of a horse?”

He blinked. “Me? I did nothing of the sort. I know nothing of this beast!”

“I told you he was not skillful enough to create such a convincing illusion.” Dragon smirked.

My Arrogant One’s voice started to ascend the scale again. “What?I lack not the skill, you repugnant beast! Merely the motivation.”

“Oh?” I quirked an eyebrow.

“I tell you, I had nothing to do with this filthy beast.” He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robe with both hands. “My time and my talents are too valuable to waste in such trivial endeavors.” He turned on his heel and started to leave.

My Old Dwarf stepped in front of him, brandishing his battle axe, and blocked his exit. “Ye do na be leavin’ ’lessens tha lass be sayin’ ye be leavin’, elfie.”

My Arrogant One turned an even deeper shade of red, and his voice hit a whole new register. “Do not call me elfie!”

The horses started rolling their eyes, wringing their tails and neighing. The black stallion reared up and almost flipped over in his stall. My Foreman grabbed my Arrogant One and clamped his hand firmly over the irate elf’s mouth. “I told you not to upset the horses!”

I motioned to my Old Dwarf. “Get him out of here before he causes one of the horses to injure itself. I don’t believe he knows anything about Mystery.”

As my Old Dwarf hustled the indignant elf out of the barn, my Foreman and the lads calmed their mounts. Cleric and I entered Mystery’s stall, but the little mare did not seem to be bothered by the commotion. I stood there and looked at her again, tilting my head and stroking my chin.shaggy pony in barn

“What are you really, Mystery, and where did you come from?” The little mare nickered. She nosed around the stall some more, snuffling and rooting through the straw. I slowly approached her and placed my hand on her back. She stiffened, but did not attempt to kick, bite, or flee. I moved my hand down over her ribs.

Cleric watched me assess the horse. “She looks thin.”

“She is thin, but not starving. I can feel her ribs, but her backbone’s not sticking up. Let’s see if she’s dehydrated.” I pinched a fold of her skin on her lower chest, but couldn’t really see through all the hair if it sprang back immediately or if it took a few moments. “Let’s look at her gums.”horse-gums

Cleric helped me get Mystery’s mouth open. I pressed gently on the horse’s upper gum and watched. It took several moments for the color to return. I nodded at Cleric, who released the mare. “She needs water.”

We left the stall. Cleric picked up a bucket and filled it with water, while I got a few flakes of hay. We placed the water and hay in the mare’s stall. I motioned to my Foreman, who quickly got a scoop of oats and poured it in the feed trough at the front of the stall.

Mystery sniffed at the hay and feed, and put her nose in the water and splashed it around, but she made no attempt to eat or drink.

“She looks thin under that shaggy winter coat. You would think she would eat!” My Young Hero looked at her with concern.

I nodded. “She is thin. But maybe Dragon’s right. Maybe Mystery’s not an illusion. Maybe she’s a real horse, and needs real hay and feed and water.”

My Gypsy sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “We can get her some real water, but where can we get real food for her?”

apples and carrots“I have some apples and carrots in the refrigerator. I’ll go get some and see if she shows any interest in them. Meanwhile, Dragon, you need to cast a spell of concealment on her. If she is illusory, she should be as invisible to outsiders as the rest of the illusory stable and horses; but if she’s real, we don’t want the neighbors seeing her and calling the police.”

Dragon nodded. As I left the barn and walked toward the house, I could hear her intoning her spell.

I found Miles in the kitchen, still cleaning up from lunch. He looked up when I entered the room. “Oh, there you are! Is everything okay? You and the others left in a big hurry.”

I reached in the refrigerator and brought out a bunch of carrots and a few apples. “We have a visitor.”

Easter 128I must have sounded pretty grim, as Miles dropped what he was doing and came over to listen. “My Foreman and the lads found a new horse this morning. They have her in the barn right now. Dragon and Cleric are with them now. I’m going to see if the horse will eat some carrots or apples.”

“Why don’t you feed it the same food as the other horses?” Miles frowned, then his eyes widened. “Or are you saying that this horse needs real food because it is not an illusion?”

“The horse is a she, not an it. For lack of a better name, we’re calling her Mystery. She may be an illusion, but Dragon can not detect any trace of magic on her.”

telephone-310544_960_720Miles reached for the phone. “I’ll call the police and report it.”

“Don’t do that!” My voice rivaled that of my Arrogant One in its glass-shattering quality.

Startled, Miles dropped the phone. “Why not? If the horse just wandered onto the property, we need to report it. Someone’s probably looking for it.”

“Looking for her.”

“Okay, for her. We better report it . . . her . . . before one of our neighbors sees it . . . her . . . and they call the police.”

“Dragon cast a spell of concealment on Mystery, so the neighbors will be none the wiser.”

“We should still call the police.”

“And tell them what? That a horse, who may either be real or an illusion, is in our yard? That if she’s real, she may be from this world, or she may have come through a magical conduit from another world?” I snorted. “Oh, yeah, I see that ending real well.”

Miles heaved a big sigh. “Well, what do you suggest?”

“I suggest we get her some real food and water, since she showed no interest in the illusory variety. I think I still have some old rubber water buckets in the shed, something I kept all these years since the days when I had a horse farm. Maybe you could look for one?”

“Okay. If I find one, I’ll clean it out and then fill it with fresh water. I’ll meet you in the barn.”

“Thanks, honey!”apple for Mystery

I returned to the barn and offered the little mare an apple. She took it gently from the palm of my extended hand.

Miles brought a bucket of water. I smiled. “Thanks, honey. Just hang that in her stall.”

birthdays-weekend-trip-to-wi-018My husband backed away, his eyes nearly popping out of his head. “Oh, no! You were the horseowner. The only time I ever got near a horse, I tried to ride double with a friend on his Thoroughbred and got bucked off. I haven’t been near one since!”

I laughed.

water bucket“I will do it, Mistress.” My Gypsy picked up the bucket and hung it in Mystery’s stall. She waited calmly at the back of the roomy box stall for him to leave and close the door, then she approached the bucket and dipped her nose into the water. She drank deeply, draining the bucket in just a few moments. My Gypsy retrieved the bucket and handed it back to Miles. “I think she could use some more.”

Miles nodded and left to refill the bucket. I slipped into the stall and placed the rest of the apples and carrots in the feed trough. By the time Miles returned, Mystery was crunching the last bit of her snack.

Miles handed the bucket to my Gypsy. “She’s eating? Does that mean she’s real?”

I shrugged. “It’s a good clue. I think we can go on the assumption she’s real. Feel like doing some shopping?”

“Shopping?” My husband looked at me suspiciously. “You aren’t thinking of keeping her?”

“Well, as I said before, we can’t call the police and report that we found a horse if we aren’t 100 per cent sure the horse is real, and from this world. So, until we can make that determination, we need to keep her existence here quiet. But she needs feed and hay – real feed and real hay. From the looks of her, she could use a good deworming, too. The Farm Supply Store here in town should have some paste wormers.”

Miles sighed. “Then I guess you and I will go shopping.”

I nodded. “When we get back, I’ll do some research online and see if anyone in the area is missing a horse.” I stopped and sniffed. “Oh, and we better figure out how we’re going to dispose of some very real horse manure.” I chuckled at the look on my husband’s face.

 

Be sure to join us again next week, as we attempt to solve the mystery of Mystery, while doing our best to keep her hidden from our neighbors. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays

Elf facing right“Mistress?”

“Hmmm?” I looked up from the table, where I was helping my husband set out the Christmas Eve buffet. Cleric’s brow was furrowed, and she was biting her lower lip. I placed the napkins in a pile at the end of the table, then walked with Cleric over to the sofa. “What’s wrong?”

“If it came upon a midnight clear, why do so many people dream of a white Christmas?”

I chuckled. We had been listening to holiday music on the radio all evening. Evidently, Cleric could not reconcile the various visions of Christmas.

arrogant-one-facing-rightMy Arrogant One did not wait for me to answer Cleric. “And why is Christmas such a big deal, anyway? We have been subjected to this banal music for more than a month now!” As usual, if something did not revolve around my Arrogant One, he felt it a waste of time.

I sighed. “I explained this last Christmas.”dwarf-facing-right

“Thet be a whole year gone away, lass. Ye do na be expectin’ the elfie ta be rememberin’ summat fer thet long, now do ye?” My Old Dwarf chuckled and my Arrogant One turned scarlet.

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress chimed in. “It has been a long time. Since we are all gathered together now, why do you not explain to us again what Christmas is all about?”

gypsy-facing-rightI looked around at my other characters, who all nodded and moved closer to listen. My Gypsy turned off the radio so everyone could hear. “Yes, just what is this Christmas that you make such a fuss about?”

 

“Well, as I explained last year, that’s really a hard question to answer. You see, in my religion, Christmas is a holy day. It is the celebration of an event that took place more than 2,000 years ago. It is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of our God, in human form. But other religions have different beliefs. Many people who celebrate Christmas today celebrate it as a secular holiday, not a religious holy day. For them, it is merely a day for giving and receiving gifts, and sharing good will and good times with family and loved ones. Then, still others do not celebrate it in any form.”

“I remember you reading from your Holy Book last year, the story of the baby being born in the manger.” My Young Hero furrowed his brow. “Could you read that again this year?”

I rose and retrieved my Bible, thumbing through it until I found Luke’s account of the Christmas birth.

angels-and-shepherdsNow it happened that, while they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the living-space. In the countryside close by there were shepherds out in the fields keeping guard over their sheep during the watches of the night. An angel of the Lord stood over them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by all people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven, praising God with the words: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours.

My characters sat, mesmerized as I read. They remained silent for a long few minutes following the reading.

Cleric broke the silence. “That was a beautiful story!” The others nodded in agreement.

I put the book away, and Miles called us over to the buffet table, which was groaning under the weight of sandwiches, salads, casseroles, eggnog and cookies. We all filled our plates, then we popped some CDs in the player and listened to “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Feliz Navidad,” “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Little Drummer Boy” and “Frosty the Snowman.” We finished with two of my personal favorites, “Mary, Did You Know?” and the Dar Williams classic “The Christians and the Pagans.”

 

Everyone clapped and Cleric spoke for them all when she said, “What great songs!”

dwarfBut then my Old Dwarf, on his third pint of eggnog, started to sing. My Foreman winced and covered his ears. “I think that’s our cue that it’s high time the festivities came to an end for the evening.”

He motioned to the lads, and my Bounty Hunter, who helped the off-key singer to his feet. Everyone said their goodnights and headed off to bed, my Old Dwarf still bellowing and hiccupping.

I started gathering the empty plates and glasses while Miles turned off the CD player and the lights on the Christmas tree. As we started to ascend the stairs, I murmured “Tonight felt like déjà vu.”

Miles nodded. “I think you’re right – I think this Christmas Eve is exactly the same as last year, including your Old Dwarf wrapping up the festivities with his off-key singing! At least this year, I have not been talking like the Innkeeper for the past week, and I didn’t find his talisman on the steps tonight.”

“True. I suppose I should be grateful that that mystery has been put to bed after more than a year.” I smiled. “If only I wasn’t so worried about what might happen next. With a house full of fictional medieval characters, one never knows what to expect.”

mistletoe2

I followed Miles up the steps. He stopped on the landing, reached over and switched on the porch light. Then, just like last year, he pointed at the mistletoe overhead and gently pulled me close for a kiss. “Merry Christmas, honey!”

I barely had time to respond “Merry Christmas!” before our lips melded in a tender holiday kiss.

Happy holidays to all our readers. No matter your beliefs, may peace and love be in your hearts now, and throughout the New Year!

happy-holidays-to-my-readers

Be sure to stop back from time to time to see what is happening with my characters. The porch light will always be on for you.