Will This Work?

Will This Work?

can't sleepDragon was exhausted. Sleep had eluded her most of the previous night, as she had tossed and turned, examining the mystery of the Foreman’s disappearance from every conceivable angle. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/you-cant-get-there-from-here/ could barely keep eyes open

At breakfast, her head drooped, and she could barely keep her eyes open.

sitting next to Dragon 2Foreman closeupMy Young Hero, sitting next to the huge beast, furrowed his brow and picked at his food. “Have you no further thoughts on how we might find the Foreman?”

Dragon shook her head.

Sorceress and DragonSorceress cleared her throat. “Mayhap I might be of service?”

Dragon did not respond; she merely regarded Sorceress through bloodshot eyes and waited for the magic user to explain.

“I thought . . . perchance . . . I might be able to find the Foreman by scrying.”

Dragon’s head shot up and she immediately brightened. “Yes! Yes, it might be possible.”

Gypsy close-up facing rightMy Gypsy whooped. “That is an excellent idea! Why did I not think of it?”

Sorceress raised an eyebrow. “Because you are but a child, and not nearly as wise as I?” The twinkle in her eyes belied her sarcastic tone of voice.

Several other characters snickered at my Gypsy, and my Young Hero elbowed his friend in the ribs. My Gypsy responded with an exaggerated waggle of his eyebrows. “But I thought I was born wise.”

Sorceress close-up 2Sorceress snorted, then turned serious. “Also, because your forte is Gypsy magic. Although I tutored you in the art of scrying, divination is not your strong suit. Therefore, your mind would not necessarily turn to thoughts of scrying when confronted with a situation like this.”

“Well, I am glad your mind turned in that direction. When do we start?” My Gypsy was already halfway out of his chair and several other characters were following suit.

stopI held up my hand in the fashion of a traffic cop. “Hold on! You can get started as soon as everyone has finished breakfast.”

There were a lot of muttered protests, and I glared at my characters. “You’re all going to need your strength, especially Sorceress. Scrying can wait a few minutes. Eat!”

Dwarf with apple“Eh, tha lass be right.” My Old Dwarf, already on his third helping of everything, reached for another apple. “We be needin’ ta be keepin’ up our strength!”

Sorceress reluctantly took another mouthful of cereal and quickly washed it down with some goat’s milk. She delicately dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her white linen napkin, then turned to me. “Will you and Master Miles be joining us?”

I nodded. “We will meet you in the conference room as soon as we have cleaned up the breakfast dishes. That should give you sufficient time to gather your materials.”

Less than an hour later, Miles and I walked into the conference room. Dragon had created a small amphitheater so we could all sit above and behind Sorceress and see into the scrying bowl.

getting ready to scry

Sorceress addressed us all as we were taking our seats. “You must remember to remain silent, no matter what you see. If I am distracted, I can easily lose the image.” She turned to my Old Dwarf. “Would you mind remaining outside the door, standing guard?”

“Nay, lass, I be havin’ no objection ta bein’ guard o tha door. It be me usual place.” He quickly took up his position in the hallway.

Door

Checking that the rest of us were present and seated, Dragon closed the door and intoned an incantation. “This room is now warded against intrusions both physical and magical. Sorceress, you may proceed.”

Taking a deep breath, Sorceress unstoppered a flask, and poured the contents into the bowl. She began intoning the incantation that should allow us to see my Foreman, adding certain botanicals and other ingredients to the liquid as she chanted. Gradually, as Sorceress fell into the magic, we could see a change in the surface of the liquid.silvery liquid

First, the silvery liquid grew cloudy and began swirling lazily, counterclockwise. Beads of sweat formed on Sorceress’ forehead, and her breathing became labored as she worked to strengthen the spell.

vague outline appearedGradually, shadowy forms began to appear in the liquid. The vague outline of fences and horses appeared, with a wavering image that might have been my Foreman.

The lads squirmed on the edges of their seats, but a stern look from Dragon quieted them. My Gypsy did nudge my Young Hero and point to the images in the bowl. His thumbs up gesture seemed to indicate that he felt certain it was, indeed, my Foreman, and the other youngster nodded enthusiastically.

followed him to barnAll of us watched with bated breath as the shadowy figure reached over the fence and patted a horse on the neck. Then we followed him as he walked along the lengthy expanse of fence and down a path toward a barn. The figure seemed the right height and build for my Foreman, and his bearing was similar. We looked toward Dragon for confirmation.

Studied imageDragon cocked her head and studied the image in the swirling liquid. She leaned over the bowl, doing her best not to distract Sorceress. The big beast examined the image carefully, taking note of every shadowy detail. Finally, she rose and shook her head. “It is not enough. The man in the image is, I believe, the Foreman; but his location is uncertain. He could be anywhere. Can you expand the image, so we can look for any of the landmarks of the illusory world we created for him?”

As the image disappeared into the depths of the bowl, Sorceress fell back, exhausted. She shook her head and panted for breath as she spoke. “No. That was the best I could manage. But because the image was so shadowy, I think we can presume it to have been the illusory world. If the Foreman were here, in this world, the image should have been much sharper.”

Blue dragonDragon nodded. “That makes sense.” She paced back and forth, turning from her usual vivid red to a pale blue. Smoke bubbles dripped from her nose as she considered the problem. Finally, she transformed again, her scales a brilliant red once more. “I will just have to return to the illusory world and search for him again.”

The lads“We will come with you!” My Gypsy and my Young Hero spoke in unison as they jumped from their seats. “When do we leave?”Dragon sighs

We do not. I will leave immediately.” Dragon punctuated her comment with a puff of black smoke.

Sorceress close-up 2They lads immediately started to object, but Sorceress held up her hand and silenced them. Turning to Dragon, she crossed her arms over her chest and spoke firmly. “No, we will go. If you remember, it was not you alone who created the illusory world for the Foreman. All of us proficient in the use of magic helped, and all of us who helped should accompany you in this search.”

Arrogant One full body 2Dragon frowned, but before she could argue, my Arrogant One stepped forward. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, grasped his cloak with both hands, and scowled. “I have little desire to go traipsing off into that illusory world in search of a man for whom I hold no regard. However, Sorceress is correct. All of us who assisted you in the creation of that world should go.”

The others gaped at the elf. My Gypsy almost choked. “You are offering to go? Why? What possible benefit can you derive from helping us?”

My Arrogant One turned beet red. “I seek no gain from this expedition. But unless all who assisted in the creation of this illusory world now join in the effort to examine it, the task may well fail.”

Dragon sighsDragon studied the elf through narrowed eyes, black smoke spewing from her snout. Finally, she nodded. “Very well. If even the Arrogant One is willing to go, I capitulate. All of the magic users will go.”

Dragon turned toward the door and, with a few words and gestures, dismissed the wards on the room.

Bounty Hunter head shotMy Bounty Hunter stepped in front of the beast as she opened the door. “I will accompany the group, also. I have no magic, but my skills may be of use, nevertheless. I am most proficient at tracking.”

Dwarf closeupStill standing guard at the doorway, my Old Dwarf slapped the flat of his axe on the palm of his open hand. “Iffin I be hearin’ right, ye be mountin’ a search party. Do na be thinkin’ fer one minute thet ye be leavin’ me an’ me axe behind.”

Young hero 2My Young Hero protested. “I will not be the only one left behind! The Foreman is no less my friend than he is any of yours. There must be something I can do to help.”

Do not think about goingDragon shook her head, but the youth stood there defiantly, hands balled into fists, jaw jutted, eyes flashing. Finally, the beast sighed. “Very well, you may go with us.” Quickly rounding on Miles and me, she growled. “But you two do not even think of offering to come.”

“Don’t worry! The thought never entered my head.” Miles shuddered.

I scoffed. “I know we would be of no use to you in the illusory world. Miles and I will wait here for your return.”

could barely keep eyes open 2Dragon lowered her voice. “It is not that you would be of no use, Mistress, although – truth be told – you would not. But I worry more of the danger to you and Master Miles should you venture into that world before we find the cause of your Foreman’s disappearance.”

I smiled warmly, and patted Dragon’s forearm. “I understand, my friend, and I am grateful for your concern. Just be careful yourself. The danger exists for you and the others as well.”

Dragon gathers the othersDragon nodded. She turned quickly and gathered the others around her. “Go prepare. Magic users, gather whatever components you think you will need for spells of protection and spells of seeking. Cleric, bring as many of your healing herbs as you can carry. The rest of you, arm yourselves heavily, but discreetly. We may need to defend ourselves, but we do not want a show of arms initiating a fight that we could avoid.”

“An do na be forgittin’ ta be bringin’ vittles. We do na be knowin’ how long we be lookin’ afore we be comin’ back. Lookin’ be mighty hungry business.” My Old Dwarf rubbed his belly and nodded somberly.

“We will leave within the hour.” Dragon herded everyone out of the room to make their preparations.

arm around shoulderMiles put his arm around my shoulder and squeezed tight. “Don’t worry, honey. They know what they’re doing. They’ll return, safe and sound, and they’ll bring your Foreman with them.”Question marks

I sighed. “I would like to think so. But if they really knew what they were doing, would my Foreman be missing in the first place?”

 

Will my other characters find and retrieve my Foreman? Or will they all be lost forever in the illusory world they created for him? And how does one get lost in an illusion, anyway? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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One Step Closer to . . .

One Step Closer to . . .

injured dragondwarf-facing-rightDragon thrashed and convulsed. The pain was excruciating, burning through her shattered body. But she heard a voice, a voice she knew well, the voice of a dear friend, a voice that should not be there. She must warn him! She struggled to say something, but only a scream of agony leapt from her lips. Then she fell silent.

* * *

dwarf“Oh, Beastie! Ye mus’ be keepin’ still! Ye mus’ be restin’ so’s ye kin be healin’ yerself!” The Old Dwarf swiped at the tears that streamed down his cheeks and soaked his grizzled beard. “Ye mus’ na be dyin’ on me, Beastie.”
Arrogant One
The rotund figure turned toward the Arrogant One. “Do ye be finished wit thet spell o hidin’ out yet?”

The elf frowned. “It is a spell of concealment, and I do not know if I am finished yet.” He wiped the sweat from his brow and dried his hands on his robes. “I have enunciated the proper incantation, but I have no idea if the spell was cast. If you will remember, I have been having difficulty controlling my power. Sometimes I cast a spell perfectly. Other times, my incantations produce no result at all. Still other times, a spell is cast, but it produces unintended results.” The Arrogant One lifted his hands, palms up, and raised his shoulders. “I have no idea if we are hidden from the drake.” He threw himself on the ground next to a tree. “I did warn you I would most likely be of no help.”
Sir Daniver 2
“Is there any way to check the results of the spell to see if it was cast and that the desired results were achieved?” Sir Daniver stared down at the elf.

“The only way we will know if it was successfully cast and produced the intended results is if the drake does not find us.” The elf looked apologetically at the knight. “I fear the only course open to us now is to wait.”

The Old Dwarf’s jaw dropped, and his eyes popped. “Ta be waitin’? Iffins we be waitin’ an’ tha spell do na be workin’, then we be tha creature’s dinner!”

The dwarf started pacing. He walked all the way around Dragon’s prone body which lay deathly still now, save an occasional shudder. He gave the beast a desperate look, reached down and stroked her muzzle again, then squared his shoulders and faced the others. “I do na be much likin’ thet plan. I be thinkin’, as wee as I be, I do na be easy ta be seen in tha dark. I be thinkin’ I best be skedaddlin’ outten here and be spyin’ on our unwanted neighbor, mebbe be coaxin’ ’em away.”

All three knights protested. “That is far too dangerous, good dwarf!” Sir Daniver shook his head emphatically.

“It be no more dangerous then it be ta jus’ be settin’ here on our bums, an’ be waitin’ fer tha monster ta be comin’ and eatin’ us.” The dwarf shouldered his axe. “Iffins yer spell be workin’, elfie, where be tha edge? Where do tha protected area be stoppin’ and tha unprotected area be startin’?”
Arrogant Oneinjured dragon
The Arrogant One stood and pointed at Dragon. “The beast is in the center of the area that should be encompassed by the spell. It is a roughly circular area that extends twice her length in every direction, to allow room for her thrashing and writhing. Everything inside should remain completely concealed to anyone outside that perimeter. No one outside should be able to see or hear those of us within the spell area.”

The Dwarf nodded. “Wale, I be leavin’ tha area. Iffin I do na be seein’ or hearin’ ye, I be supposin’ thet be meanin’ tha spell be workin’ good an’ proper like, and all ye be safe enuf while I be sayin’ me howdy-do’s ta tha drake.”

The Arrogant One grabbed the dwarf by the arm. “That will not work. First, you are a dwarf. You are not affected by magic, so you will still be able to see and hear us even if the spell worked properly. Second . . .”

But Sir Jenneseer interrupted, squaring his shoulders and grabbing his sword. “Then, it is up to one of us to test the spell. I will go.”

Sir Daniver stopped him. “No! I am the ranking knight. I will go.”

The elf shook his head. “No. I do not believe that will not work, either. That is the second thing I was going to explain to the dwarf. You were all within the affected area when I cast the spell. None of you are concealed from any of the others here. If one of you left the area, you would still be able to see and hear the rest, as well as be seen and be heard by us. And once you leave the protected area – presuming the spell actually took, and there really is a protected area – you would be seen and heard by anyone outside the area. The spell would not travel with you.”

The Old Dwarf scowled. “Ye be yammerin’ aboot too many iffins an’ whatnots. I be goin’. Mebbe I kin na be tellin’ iffin tha spell be workin’, but I kin be findin’ thet drake an’ be makin’ sure he do na be knowin’ tha whereaboots o all ye.”

Before anyone could stop him, the dwarf took off at a dead run and was promptly swallowed up by the dark shadows in the forest.

* * *

Drake watching 2The green drake had stopped his slow descent down the hillside. He could still taste the fear in the air, but it was much less pronounced than it had been just minutes before. He narrowed his reptilian eyes and scratched his chin with one long talon. What has changed? Why do they not fear as they did?

The behemoth risked raising his head and looking around. The moonless night had grown dark, but the drake’s exceptional night vision allowed him to see as clearly as in broad daylight. He looked down the hillside to the clearing, to the spot from which the smell of fear had emanated. The small clearing appeared empty. The drake reared back. What? How could they have moved the wounded dragon?

Out of the corner of his eye, the drake caught a slight movement. Something was making its way from the clearing through the trees and up the hillside. He sniffed the air. Intriguing! This creature does not smell of fear; rather, it exudes the overpowering scent of rage. Not as tasty as fear, but not too bitter a mouthful.

The creature slid down into the cover of the vegetation. Come to me, my tasty tidbit. You will make a satisfying appetizer. He smiled, his lips stretching over dagger-like teeth dripping with venom.

* * *

The Old Dwarf slipped silently from tree to tree, staying in the cover of the shadows. He moved slowly, with the skill and patience of one boasting centuries of practice stalking peerless foes.Dwarf hiding

He paused, cocking his head and cupping one ear. He could still hear the faint moans of his friend, Dragon, and the whispered conversations of the elf and the trio of knights. I be hopin’ real hard thet tha elfie’s magickin’ be workin’, causin iffin it do na be, thet drake’ll be hearin’ ’em fer sure! Do na they be havin’ brains enuff ta be keepin’ their moufs shut tight?

The rotund figure peered about, his sharp eyes almost slipping right over his quarry, so well camouflaged was the green drake in the shadowy vegetation. Once the Old Dwarf spotted the creature, he studied it for several minutes before making a move.

The dwarf turned and stomped loudly on a twig. Making sure the drake had heard him, the grizzled warrior took off at a dead run . . . and promptly tripped over a protruding root. He struggled clumsily to his feet, and started limping away, cursing under his breath. He could hear the drake bearing down on him.

The Old Dwarf tripped and stumbled his way along the hillside, farther and farther from his friends in the clearing. The drake was catching up with him quickly. The dwarf strained to stay out of reach of the deadly fangs and claws. Finally, he reached an area of almost impassable vegetation. His limp vanished, and he disappeared into the underbrush, scampering along like a mouse. Hehe. Be seein’ iffin ye kin be keepin’ up wit me now, ye accursed monster! Every so often, the dwarf made sure to make some noise, to keep the drake from abandoning the chase.

* * *

Unicorn and mermaidThe mermaid, resplendent with emerald green hair and scales, sat in the water by the edge of a pool. She stared into a large bubble hovering above her hand at eye level, watching a distant scene unfold. The green drake was crashing through the thick forest and dense underbrush, hot on the trail of the grizzled old dwarf. The plucky dwarf always managed to keep a few feet ahead of his pursuer.

“Why, that cunning rascal! He faked tripping over those protruding roots, to lure the drake away from the other dragon and her companions while the elf and the knights plan a defense. And the dwarf’s limp disappeared as soon as he reached adequate cover! He’s staying in an area of thick undergrowth, so the drake would be unable to see him at all if the monster took to the air! The dwarf has virtually grounded the drake.”

The unicorn, peering over the mermaid’s shoulder to see, bobbed his head and stamped his front hoof, splashing the shallow water. He placed his horn gently along the mermaid’s head, by her temple. She listened carefully to the voice in her head.

“You want to see the other dragon?” The mermaid wrinkled her brow.

The Lord of the Forest nodded again.

The mermaid waved her hand over the bubble, and the scene changed. She and the unicorn watched intently as the dragon convulsed. They could see the expression on the faces of the knights. The men were obviously distraught, but impotent to do anything for the ailing beast.

The unicorn laid his horn against the mermaid’s temple once again, and she closed her eyes to concentrate on the instructions the Lord of the Forest was conveying. After a long few moments, she nodded. “Yes, the dragon needs help. The drake’s venom must be neutralized. The knight called Jenneseer has a sister who is a hedge witch. She would be able to provide the antidote to her brother and his companions.”

The mermaid waited until the unicorn nodded his approval. “I will send someone to arrange it. I just hope we can get it done in time.”

The Lord of the Forest whickered softly and nodded, a faraway look in his eye.Unicorn 2

Will Dragon receive the antidote in time? Will the Old Dwarf be able to keep the drake away from Dragon and her companions? Will the elf be able to help the knights mount a defense against the drake? Be sure to return next week and find out what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Mystery Continues

The Mystery Continues

We were stunned. My Foreman, my Gypsy, my Young Hero and I had just witnessed the apparent images of four of our friends floating dead in the pond. The lads collapsed in tears, and my Foreman and I struggled to control our emotions.

“They’re all dead. I can’t believe they’re all dead!” My Foreman’s voice cracked, and he buried his face in his hands.

“Don’t be too sure about that,” Miles said, entering the room.

I gave him a blank look. “But we just saw them in the scrying bowl — Cleric, my Old Dwarf, Dragon and Sorceress. They were all dead.”

Miles grinned. “Maybe this will make you feel better.” He reached around the doorjamb and drew someone into the room.

“Sorceress!”

Stu-04-NatGal

We were immediately on our feet, taking turns embracing her.

“Really! I rather doubt I have been gone so long as to warrant this welcome!”

“But, you’re alive! If you’re alive, maybe the others are, too!” My Gypsy was grinning ear-to-ear.

“Alive? Well, of course I am alive! What ever made you think I was not?”

Then we were all talking at once, explaining what we had just seen. Finally, Sorceress raised her hand and we all fell quiet. “I believe I understand. Please, sit down. Master Miles and I will share with you what we know.”

GypsyAs we sat, my Gypsy cleared his throat. “Sorceress, I am so glad you are okay, but I know we saw your corpse floating in the pond, along with the other three.” He wrung his hands and fumbled for words. “Did…did I do something wrong? Did I not pronounce the words of the incantation properly? Did I add the spell components in the wrong order, or in the wrong amounts?”

Sorceress smiled at him, and patted his hand. “I am sure it was nothing you did, my friend. I believe there was another force at work, interfering with your efforts.”

My Gypsy frowned, and cocked his head, but I understood immediately. “Morcant!”Morcant

Miles and Sorceress both nodded. Miles said, “I came downstairs to see if your Gypsy had finished his attempt at scrying. I heard a voice in your office. I went to the office door, and I could hear chanting. I couldn’t understand the words, though.”

“I had just returned from collecting spell components,” Sorceress said. “I saw Master Miles standing outside your office, Mistress. When he saw me, he looked relieved. He motioned to me to join him near the office door. I heard Morcant, and I could understand enough of the wizard’s incantation to know it was a spell of deception. After Master Miles informed me all of you thought I had gone missing, and the Gypsy was attempting to locate me or our missing friends by scrying, I realized Morcant was attempting to thwart the Gypsy’s spell.”

“So Morcant wants us to believe that you, Cleric, Dragon, and the Old Dwarf are all dead. But why?”

“Yes, why? I thought you said Morcant wasn’t involved,” Miles said.

I shrugged. “I believed he was, until my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter convinced me he wasn’t. Sorceress, do you remember when we questioned Morcant? When you threatened his familiar in order to get the wizard to confess? My Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter interrupted us, claiming Morcant knew nothing, and the wizard didn’t contradict them.”

“Yes, but something bothered me about that. The Arrogant One seemed to be there against his will. If you remember, when they burst into your office and stopped me harming the bird, the Bounty Hunter was prodding the Arrogant One with his crossbow.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Yes, I remember. At the time, I couldn’t understand why he’d do that, but in my surprise at learning none of them were involved in Cleric’s disappearance, I failed to question them.”

“Mistress? I realize something now I should have discerned then. Neither the Arrogant One nor the Bounty Hunter actually denied kidnapping Cleric. They only denied being in league with Morcant.”

I gaped at her. “You’re right,” I said, slapping my forehead.

My Foreman raked his hand through his hair and sighed. “Nothing makes sense! If they’re the ones who kidnapped Cleric, but they’re not working for the wizard, why would Morcant attempt to keep us from finding Cleric and the others?”

“Maybe we should ask the three of them.”

My Foreman nodded. “The lads and I will find the first two, and invite them to join us.”

“Miles and I will bring Morcant’s familiar in here, where there’s enough room for everyone.” I turned to Sorceress. “Does Morcant know you were listening to him?”

“No, so I shall stay hidden. If Morcant sees me here, through his familiar’s eyes, we may loose the advantage in the interrogation.”

I nodded, and motioned Sorceress toward a large closet, where she could observe covertly. My Foreman and the lads went off in search of my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter, while Miles and I went to my office. We collected the box containing Morcant’s familiar, the milky-eyed grackle, brought it to the conference room, and set it on the floor.box for bird

Within the hour, my Foreman and the lads returned, all but dragging my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One, struggling and protesting.

Arrogant One“Get your hands off me!” There was a loud rip, as my Arrogant One pulled away from my Gypsy. “Now look what you’ve done!” His face was almost as purple as his torn robe, and his voice was approaching a pitch that only dogs would be able to hear. “I demand to know why we have been dragged here!”

“Sit. Down.” I jabbed a finger at him and scowled. He paled, and immediately sat down, with no further argument.

“You, too!” I rounded on my Bounty Hunter who stumbled all over himself trying to get into his seat.

My Foreman blocked the door, and the lads stood behind my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. Miles positioned himself next to the box containing Morcant’s familiar. I stood for many long minutes, just glaring at the two characters, squirming in their seats. Finally, I broke the silence, struggling to control my voice. “Where is she?”

“Who?” My Arrogant One raised his eyebrows and cocked his head.

“You know who! What have you done with Cleric?”

Bounty Hunter“We told you we had nothing to do with Cleric’s disappearance.” My Bounty Hunter’s voice remained even, but his eyes darted around the room as if looking for an escape route, and he continually clasped and unclasped his hands.

“No, you told me you had not kidnapped Cleric for Morcant. You never said you had nothing to do with her disappearance.”

My Arrogant One started to jump to his feet, but my Gypsy pushed him back into his seat. The elf tossed his head and assumed an injured air. He brushed off his robe and glared at my Gypsy. “I told you from the start that it was most likely the Old Dwarf who kidnapped her!”

“Enough of your deceptions! We know it was you two.” I indicated the scrying bowl and spell components on the table.

My Arrogant One scoffed. “You can not have seen anything in that! You would have said so earlier.”

“Not if my Gypsy just discovered a spell allowing him to use the scrying bowl to see into the past.”

My Arrogant One paled. He swallowed several times, and tried to speak, but no sound came out.

“Can’t you see she’s bluffing?” My Bounty Hunter shook his head and snorted. “If you saw Cleric’s abduction in that bowl, then why don’t you know where she is?” He sneered, and waved his hand dismissively.

“That was my fault.” My Gypsy played his role perfectly. His cheeks colored, and he shuffled his feet. “I got so excited when we saw the two of you abducting our friend, I lost the spell and we were unable to see where you took her.”

“The two of us?” My Bounty Hunter was on his feet. “You never saw the two of us do anything.”

Morcant’s familiar cackled and flapped his wings. As Morcant started to say something, Miles threw a towel over the screen top on the bird’s box, cutting Morcant off.

I nodded approvingly at Miles. “We’ll get to you later, wizard!” I turned back to my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One. “Talk. Now.”

“Or what?” My Arrogant One laughed.

“Or I will eradicate every mention of you from my manuscripts. You will cease to exist.”

My Arrogant One’s eyes grew large as saucers, and he began to sweat profusely. My Bounty Hunter started rocking back and forth in his chair, wringing his hands. Finally, they both nodded.

“I took Cleric,” my Arrogant One said in a small voice, forcing us all to lean toward him to hear. “At the time, it was my intent to trade her for the keys and make a deal with Morcant. While I was attempting to carry Cleric off, the Old Dwarf saw us, and came to her defense.”

I nodded and smiled, glad to have been proven right about the old scoundrel. “Go on.”

“I subdued the Old Dwarf by magic, and used magic to take them both to the shed loft. I left them there, bound and gagged, and created a magic barrier so no one could enter the loft. But somehow, someone defeated my barrier and removed them. I assumed it to be the Bounty Hunter.”

I turned to him. “Did you remove them from the loft?”

“How could I have? Am I a magician? How could I get past his barrier?”

“If not you, then who?” My Arrogant One glared at the smaller man. “I know that you, too, had contemplated capturing Cleric in an effort to obtain the keys and make your own deal with Morcant.”

“I admit the thought had crossed my mind, but Cleric vanished before I could act. By the time I had decided you were the one responsible for her disappearance, you had sealed off the loft and I was unable to get to her.”

“Then who breached my barrier and took her and the Old Dwarf?” My Arrogant One raised his palms and shook his head.

I scowled and turned to Miles. “Uncover the bird.”

Morcant's familiar

The milky-eyed grackle squawked and flapped violently as Miles removed the towel covering the box.

“Okay, Morcant, your turn!” I hoped my voice sounded sufficiently menacing. “We know you cast a spell of deception when my Gypsy was attempting to scry. Why?”

The wizard’s screechy response poured from the bird’s beak. “I was merely providing myself some entertainment. It is rather boring in this tower.”

I snorted. “Did you abduct Cleric and the Old Dwarf from the loft?”

“Tell me, witch, what do you plan to do to me if I do not talk? You can not eliminate me from your ridiculous scrolls and parchments.”

“Maybe not, Morcant, but I told you before I can place your familiar in a completely dark, totally soundless place, effectively plunging you into eternal blackness and silence.”

Morcant’s already shrill voice raised an octave. “Nay, beldame! Prithee, do not condemn me to such a fate! I admit to having a hand in the disappearance of the elf maiden and her stocky companion. But I did not abduct them, simply magically concealed them from all, including the elf who closeted them within the loft.”

“To what purpose?” my Arrogant One demanded. “I was willing to make a deal with you.”

“I did not believe you capable of obtaining the keys.”

My Arrogant One waved dismissively at the grackle. “With the Cleric to bargain with, I would have had those keys the moment I asked for them!”

I pushed my Arrogant One aside. “At this point, none of that matters. Morcant, release the spell. Immediately!”

The grackle cocked his head and studied me with one milky eye. “Very well.” His voice was sulky.

“And don’t try any tricks. If you do, I will make good on my threat.”

The grackle opened its beak, and Morcant began chanting. Five minutes later, he stopped. “It is done.”

I nodded, and beckoned the others. “Let’s go to the shed and rescue our friends.”Shed

We rushed pell-mell to the shed and scrambled up the stairs. As one, we stopped dead in the center of the loft, gaping.

The loft was completely empty.

 

shed loft

 

Did Morcant fail to release his spell? Did someone remove Cleric and the Old Dwarf from the loft? What ever happened to Dragon? Join us again next week, for the next installment of this mystery. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Gruesome Discovery

Gruesome Discovery

“What do you mean, Morcant is not involved?” Miles gaped at me, wide eyed, as if he thought I had gone crazy. “Ever since his familiar showed up here, you have said he was after the keys.”MorcantMorcant's familiar

“Oh, he is, I’m sure of that. And he will do whatever he can to secure them. But I do not believe he is behind Cleric’s disappearance.”

Miles cocked his head and wrinkled his nose. “But ever since Cleric disappeared, you have been convinced that someone snatched her in order to ransom her for the keys for Morcant. Why the change of heart?”

“My two chief suspects, my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter, have sworn they would not deal with Morcant.”

Miles quirked an eyebrow and shook his head. “And you believe them?”

“I do, actually. They have a rather compelling reason to not deal with Morcant. They realize he is not to be trusted. They fear they would not only not get the payment he promised for giving him the keys, they might actually lose their lives. So I think they are sincere about not dealing with him.”

Miles considered that, then nodded. “I suppose their fear would override their greed. But then who took Cleric? And where are your Old Dwarf and Dragon?”

“And Sorceress.”

Miles and I whirled around. My Foreman stood at the door to the conference room, white as a sheet.

“What?” I gaped at him. “Sorceress is missing, too?”

Stu-04-NatGal

He nodded. “I have been looking for her for the past hour. I wanted to know if she had salvaged enough of her spell components from Morcant’s familiar to attempt locating Cleric, or the Old Dwarf, or Dragon, through scrying. Sorceress is nowhere to be found.”

“You’re certain?”

“Reasonably so, but the lads are still searching. They’re pretty shook up.”

“They aren’t the only ones.” I slowly sank into a chair and leaned my arms on the table. “First Cleric disappeared, and from the evidence I found on the porch and the front walk, I presumed her to be kidnapped. At the same time, my Old Dwarf disappeared, and the signs pointed to the fact that he, too, might have been the victim of foul play. Then Dragon disappeared after she, in the form of a mouse, was knocked off the shed by Morcant’s familiar. Now, Sorceress is missing.” I looked at Miles and my Foreman, hoping one of them might have some answers.

“Let’s think this all out.” Miles took the seat next to me at the conference table. “You give no credence to your Arrogant One’s theory that your Old Dwarf is not a victim? You don’t believe his accusations that the dwarf could have kidnapped Cleric?”

I frowned and shrugged. “I’m not sure what to believe anymore. I find it hard to believe that anyone would have been able to take my Old Dwarf against his will, but I find it even harder to believe he would have abducted Cleric. First off, kidnapping isn’t his style. If he wanted the keys, he would try to obtain them by brute force. Second, he’s mostly a lot of bluff and bluster.”

“Don’t be fooled by the Old Dwarf, Mistress. He can be fierce, even downright vicious, if it serves his purpose.” My Foreman scowled. “I have had many encounters with him, remember.”Dwarf

“I don’t believe he would harm Cleric, though. He seems to hold her in high regard.”

“Don’t you remember what he tried to do to his own nephew? He believes the ends justify the means!” My Foreman clenched his jaw and narrowed his eyes.

“But there is no motive. As I said, if he were after the keys, he would attempt to take them, not bargain for them.”

Miles stood up and started pacing. “So, if he did not abduct Cleric, does the fact that they vanished at the same time mean the disappearances are related, or is that mere coincidence?”

“We really have no way of knowing, do we?” I sighed, and raked my hand through my hair.

“And we have no way of knowing if the subsequent disappearances of Dragon and Sorceress are related.” My Foreman banged his fist on the table. “How are we to find them? We don’t know how they went missing, or why, or who might be behind their disappearances!” His voice started to crack.

Just then, my Young Hero and my Gypsy joined us. They both slumped into nearby chairs, both staring at the floor and shaking their heads.

“I take it you had no success finding Sorceress.”

Young hero 2I had to lean forward to hear my Young Hero’s mumbled response. “We looked everywhere. In the house. In the yard. In the shed. Around the neighborhood. Nothing. There were no signs of foul play, as when Cleric and the Old Dwarf disappeared. Sorceress has simply vanished, just like Dragon.”

 

Gypsy“Mistress?” My Gypsy lifted his head. He squared his shoulders and licked his lips. “I think I may be able to find our missing friends. Sorceress has been teaching me to scry. I would like to attempt it. I checked her supplies, and there seems to be enough of the necessary spell components to try one time.” His eyes were pleading.

“Is that really wise? It could be dangerous.” I rubbed my chin. “What if Sorceress has placed wards on her scrying bowl and spell components to deter theft?”

“I do not believe she has, since she has allowed me the use of the bowl to practice. And nothing happened to Morcant’s familiar when he pilfered her supplies. But I can check for wards and protective spells before we start.”

I hesitated. “The spell itself is safe enough, right? To the caster, to the subjects, and to any observers?”

“Yes!” My Gypsy leaned forward and nodded. “This is one spell where there is no danger of injury to anyone. The worst that could happen is the spell won’t work. We won’t be able to see where our friends are. If so, we’ll be no worse off than we are right now. But if it does work…” My Gypsy didn’t need to finish that thought.

“Okay, get what you need and bring it here.”

He shot out of his chair and was half way up the stairs before I had completed the sentence.

“Do you really think it wise to let the lad play with such magic?”

I snorted at my Foreman. “That lad has been playing with magic since he was a babe! In fact, I remember a time that lad rescued you from a serious situation through the use of magic!”

“I haven’t forgotten. But that was Gypsy magic, learned at his grandmother’s knee. This is different.”

“If Sorceress has been working with him, I doubt there is any danger, except possibly to his ego, should he fail.”

Miles edged toward the door. “If you don’t mind, honey, I think I’ll go upstairs and make some coffee while your Gypsy does his thing.”

I did a double-take at my husband. “You don’t want to stay and observe? I thought you were always curious about my characters’ magic. You were ready to accept the invitation from Sorceress to join the group the night she used her powers of scrying to hear what the dragonfly was unable to hear.”

“Yeah, well, I’m afraid I would just be in the way. If your Gypsy lad is inexperienced with this spell, I wouldn’t want to distract him. Besides, honey, I haven’t had any coffee yet today. You know I need my coffee!”Coffee

I laughed, as Miles scurried out of the room.

A half hour later, my Foreman, my Young Hero, and I arranged our chairs in a semicircle flanking my Gypsy, who was seated at the conference table. On the table in front of him, my Gypsy had placed the scrying bowl, a vial of silvery liquid, and several pouches of herbs and powders. “I’ve already checked all these for wards and protective spells. They are all safe.”

 

 

He also had a notebook with the spell components and the words of various incantations written in a magic ink visible only to him. “The notebook is a safeguard for me while I am learning a new and complicated spell. It prevents me forgetting the order in which to add spell components, or fumbling for the words of an incantation at a critical juncture. The magic ink is insurance that no one else will acquire the knowledge without my permission.”

 

My Foreman nodded. “If I understand how this scrying is done, you need to concentrate your efforts on seeing just one person, not the entire group, right?”

“Yes, especially since we don’t know if they are together or in different locations. I think I should concentrate on finding Cleric or Dragon. They are the two with whom I have the strongest ties. I think maybe the better I know someone, the better chance I would have of finding them through scrying.”

I shifted in my chair, and considered the options. “Given a choice, I think I would prefer you find Cleric first. She’s been missing the longest.”

My Gypsy nodded. “Just remember, though, there is only enough of the liquid for one session. Whether I locate Cleric or no, I can not attempt to find a second person until I procure more spell components.”

As my Gypsy prepared himself for the task ahead, the rest of us tried hard not to squirm or in any way distract him. We all remembered how exhausted Sorceress was at the end of a session of scrying, and she was a powerful magic user, proficient in the art of divination. My Gypsy was a novice at this type of magic. It would, no doubt, be far more taxing for him than for Sorceress.

Clearing his throat several times, my Gypsy opened his notebook, unstoppered the flask, and poured the magic liquid into the bowl. Glancing only occasionally at the notebook, he began intoning the incantation that should allow us to see Cleric, adding certain ingredients to the liquid as he chanted. Gradually, as he fell into the magic, we could see a change in the surface of the liquid.

First, the silvery liquid grew cloudy and began slowly swirling. Little by little, it turned a murky green. Beads of sweat formed on my Gypsy’s forehead, and his breathing became labored as he worked to strengthen the spell.

Shadowy forms appeared in the liquid. Long, thick tendrils waved back and forth like dense underwater vegetation.

Murky aquatic vegetation

Gradually, a vague outline started to take form. It looked as if it were trapped by the waving tendrils.The form became progressively more defined. Eventually, an image emerged, floating up from the depths of the scene. Horrified, we gaped at the bloated form of an elf maiden, her skin grey, her lips blue, her sightless eyes wide open.

“Cleric!” My Young Hero practically leaped from his chair, bumping into my Gypsy. The image in the scrying bowl started to waver and fade. My Foreman and I pulled the dismayed lad back into his chair, while my Gypsy struggled not to lose the spell. After a few minutes, the image grew steady once more. We let out a collective sigh of relief.

As we forced ourselves to watch the repulsive image, other shadowy forms began to take shape in the murky depths. One by one, the distended corpses of my Old Dwarf, Dragon and Sorceress drifted up from the tangled bed of weeds. My Gypsy held the spell as long as he could, then collapsed back in his chair, gasping for breath. The images in the bowl disappeared, leaving naught but the silvery liquid.

The four of us sat there, too stunned to move. Finally, my Foreman jumped from his chair, and grabbed me by the shoulders. “They’re in the pond!” He let go of me, and fell to his knees. “They’re in the pond! They’re…they’re all dead!”

“Don’t be too sure about that.” Miles said, entering the room.

What does Miles know about Cleric and the other missing characters? Can the images in the scrying bowl be believed? Will the Writer and her remaining characters ever discover the truth? Come back next week and find out. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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