As you might have guessed, I am a Moose, the archivist and distributor of tales for all my moosey (no matter what their shape) friends. In the ordinary sort of way, I live in a floating castle on a travelling cloud based out of Moose Valley, built and piloted by my friend Mjölnyr (no not the hammer, he is another moose).
Of late, however, I have been staying with a number of friends in the United States, a country on the earth, trying to share the stories I record with the beings of that place. My friends and I like nothing so well as to help others be the best and happiest they can be. We each have our own methods, however, and the telling of tales is mine.
If you should like to look for me elsewhere, I am on twitter @codyeliastower
Sam and Dr. Drake watched the three student mooses head off toward the village clustered around the base of the very big tree. Willhalm was walking mostly on the snow with his bottom pooves morphed into very large feet. This allowed his feet to act like snow shoes and give him more surface area to walk on the snow. That meant he would not sink deep into the snow. Maison was listening to Willhalm explain how to morph her feet to act as snow shows. Meralda had already mastered the idea once she had seen the idea being done by the Snowfall Tree moosen. Little Abe was riding on Willhalm’s shoulder. The small green moog looked very skeptical at the large amount of snow. He had been exposed to snow in Moose Valley, but the snow here near Snowfall Tree was truly a vast amount.
Once the others were well out of hearing range, even for the exceptional hearing of a moose, Doctor Drake turned to present an inquiry to Sam, “So how has the tree been?”
“Well, Doc, the tree is growing well…” replied Sam.
“I hear a qualifying, unspoken conjunction in there, Sam. The tree is well, but what else?” said Dr. Drake.
“The patrols out in the hinterlands have found massive tracts of mundane forest destroyed along with immense furrows in the ground. The conclusion is that something big has plowed through the snow, soil, and forest for a very long distance,” stated Sam.
Dr. Drake frowned, “That sounds like something only a Titan could and would do.”
“That is what we speculated as well. There is even some concern that it might be Nidhoggr himself, trying to get at the roots of the Snowfall Tree,” replied Sam.
Sam walked beside Dr. Drake as they strolled across the deep snow drifts toward the large mega oak tree and the village buildings in and around it. The two thought about the last time the titan serpent attacked the Snowfall Tree. Nidhoggr enjoyed snacking upon the roots of mega oaks. but the serpent was so destructive that it often uprooted and killed the large trees.
The Moosgardians often had to counter the destructive habits of that particular titan. But the Moosgardians had only ever been able to drive it off, never truly defeating the titan serpent. They had never been able to fully capture it or put it to sleep as they had with so many other Titans.
The moosen of Snowfall Tree are a happy bunch, even though it is cold two thirds of the year there. These moosen have many festivals and celebrations to make the long winter months go by with glee and cheer. There is always much work to do, but they do it with helpful pooves and a quick smile.
Winter was just giving way to a brief but bright spring when Dr. Drake came to visit for the Snowfall Tree’s annual checkup. With him came a number of mooseveristy students on a field trip. There was Maison, Merelda, and Abe all traveling out of the Valley on this very distant trip. Fortunately they had access to a slide which went straight from the Valley to the big Snow Fall Tree. Many of the more important and often visited sites from the Valley had permanent slides set up by Milton and his apprentice.
Dr. Drake was the last of the four moosen to step out of the slide. The slide opened up onto a small wood platform with stairs reaching up from the snow below to the platform. Down on the snow in front of the platform were Sam and Willahalm. Sam waved, “Dr. Drake, so glad you could make it today! And I see you have brought friends along!”
Dr. Drake walked to the edge of the platform to look out over the sights to see. Below the platform, standing atop the thick snow stood Sam and Willahalm. Dr. Drake could tell they spent a lot of time around large snowfalls because they keep their bottom pooves large, like snow shoes. Beyond the two greeting mooses there were half a dozen multi-story houses in sight. All of them were built up on stilts with stairs. That was due to the heavy snowfall that often blanked the ground in the area.
Doctor Drake replied, “Yes the Mooseveristy thought this would be an ideal field trip for several of their students. Let me introduce Maison, Meralda, and Abe. The two moosen and the moog waved their pooves at the greeting party. They did not say anything more just yet, waiting to see the customs of the Moosgardians of Snowfall Tree.
Willahalm moved to the fore. He was slightly smaller than Sam, with lighter fur. He waved at the students. “Come on down, and we’ll get you settled, and show you around” Wilahalm bounced up and down in the snow with enthusiasm as he spoke and waved, to encourage the students to come down off the platform. The three students looked to Doctor Drake for guidance, and he motioned them to go ahead.
Maison showed her excitement by yelling out as she leapt from the platform and out into the deep snow, sinking up to her chest as she impacted.
The Brigadier General of the Bunny Brigade stood up from the center seat of the top table. Silence quickly flowed out from the lean, tall figure, and hundreds of long, erect ears turned his way.
“I should like to propose a toast,” he called out. The deep, rich voice carried across the large room easily from one used to making himself heard across a battlefield.
In response to his words, almost a full half of the fore-pooves in the room sprang into the air, waving a heat dried square of bread overhead.
Several voices called out almost in unison, “Honey, jam, or butter, Sir?”
“Honey, of course!” boomed the commanding voice.
Another voice called out, “Um, Sir… we are out of honey. The shipment from the honey dragons had not arrived before the banquet started!”
“Then we will soldier on and endure the deprivation. Jam it will be!” replied the general.
A square of toast slid onto his plate from one direction and a pot of wildberry jam converged on the location from the other. Without another word, the General sat down, surprising everyone.
“Did you not have something to say to the troops sir?” the company sergeant asked, while everyone else stood and stared.
“Yes, but that can wait. Would not want everyone’s toast to go cold now, would we?” the General asked rhetorically. He waved everyone to their seats for a little preprandial snack before he tried the speachifying, again.
The unit members all took their seats to much their toast and jam. There was no use trying to get one over the General, he always took everything in stride. Besides, it was very good toast. They had a wide range of jam flavors and toasted bread, or bread like things to suit every taste.
The crunch of toast from a hundred munching mouths filled the banquet hall for a good few minutes. When the last snack plate was clean, all the faces turned with expectation to the head table, waiting for the General to give his speech another go.
When he had the attention of the whole room, the General stood back up. “Now that we have had a quite satisfying round of toasts,” he started, leaving a little pause for a round of laughter. “I shall do my speech! Tonight we are here to welcome a new member to the Bunny Brigade. I want all of you to welcome a wonderful hippopatamoosen, Haas!” A big, taupe hippopatamoose wearing a white bunny suit patterned with multi-colored bunny heads stood up and bowed extravagantly, one poof over his heart, to general cheers.
The general lifted his voice slightly to bring his people back into order. “Also, I would like to inform you that we have had more than enough of Corporal Sandy, and have decided that no such person shall be tolerated any longer within our ranks.”
Gasps and even some muted cries of protests broke out across the big room, and the sand colored dog in the proud pink ears started to his feet in shock too profound to allow for dismay to break through.
After only a slight pause to let the words spread properly through the room, the general talked over the building protest, bringing order once again to the room. “In furtherance of this decision, Sergeant Sandy, please take your place on the stage.”
Sandy walked stiffly towards the stage as the General rattled off a number of other names to join him on the stage. It is only as Sandy took the stairs to the stage as one might expect someone climbing to the top of a scaffold that Sandy realised what the General had said. “Sergeant Sandy,” the puppy repeated to himself, and his step grew suddenly much lighter, even jaunty.
The general was still sending people to the stage when the frog next to Sandy muttered, “Oh my, but that was a dirty trick, was it not.”
“It certainly was. The general always knows,” Sandy replied softly, without moving his lips.
“What was he after knowing?” the frog asked.
“The thing with the toast…I started it,” Sandy admitted.
The frog almost choked on his startled laugh as a loud voice cut through the room, “Attention to orders!”
The winter holidays bring many supernatural beings and agencies out into the moral during these magical times.
On this particular night of December, the fifth, one group of sinister supernatural creatures that were about were the Krampus demons. These monsters use ancient pacts to justify their actions of abusing many children on the fifth of December, even kidnapping a few. This was the dreaded Krampusnacht, a time dreaded in parts of central Europe. On this night, the yule devils came out seeking naughty children. Now punishing children is sometimes necessary, but what Krampus did was medieval and archaic. Krampus’s idea of naughty was harsh and mean. The mooses felt that such drastic codes of conduct were unfair and unjust, especially when applied to children.
This night two mooses were on assignment to keep Krampus from his goal of beating and kidnapping those children he felt were naughty. This night he would find Moosletoe and Mōseki in opposition to his diabolical plans.
Mōseki lead Moosletoe over the forest landscape. The sun was going down and the temperature was slowly dropping on this December dusk.
It was a good partnership. Moosletoe was an expert upon winter travel and Mōseki was an expert on stealth. Together they were truly prepared for the mission. And it was a very important mission. They had set out for the Mountains of Austria on a splashy world to counter Krampus’s plans.
On the afternoon before the Krampus nacht the two mooses where standing upon the peak line of a village. The majestic, snow-covered Alps rose all around the village. The mooses were small enough that they did not fear being seen.
Mōseki said, “These roofs are very steep so the winter snows do not pile up. Be careful and not slip, Moosletoe. I am sure the fall won’t hurt you, but just be cautious.”
Moosletoe laughed with good cheer, but respect over the concerned caution of her companion.
She stood on one poof. “Never fear, my spying companion. I shall practice due caution and not endanger our mission. We have too many children depending upon us tonight.”
Mōseki nodding in agreement with her words. She was known to be a very solemn moose, who took her missions very seriously. Knowing that Moosletoe might be playful, but still be concentrating upon this serious objective, reassured her. “Then we should get into position before sunset.”
She motioned with a poof toward the south end of the village. “Our intelligence indicates that the target will approach from that direction, coming down from the high mountain pass.”
Moosletoe looked at the direction in which Mōseki pointed. “You are the expert on stealth and espionage, but I know winter conditions and travel the same. This hoofed foe has mountain goat hooves. He will be good at climbing, but will be slow crossing deep snow drifts.”
“Snowshoes,” replied Mōseki.
“Cunning devil,” responded Moosletoe.
“Very smart. That is why we have had so much stopping him over the years,” said Mōseki.
“Then, shall we try our pooves at thwarting his malicious intent?” queried Moosletoe.
“Yes. Let us make our attempt.” Mōseki pulled a long line and a climbing hook out of her knapsack. She placed the hook over the peak of the roof and threw the rope down off the side of the house upon which the two small moosen stood.
“I meant to ask before,” Moosletoe said quietly, looking down the rope and sneaking glances over at Mōseki’s back. “Why the knapsack? Why not just keep things in your moose pocket?”
“It is much easier to collect a knapsack on go, and hand it off to someone else, than it is to pull the individual things out of my moose pocket to hand over, and we do not know who might need to carry the things at what point.” Mōseki said, as if the answer should have been obvious.
“But what if the knapsack gets caught on something, or lost, or stolen?” Moosletoe asked, biting her lower lip. Ever since she got involved keeping the Community Center organised, she had gotten more conscious and conscientious about keeping track of her gear.
“I have spares of everything in my pocket, of course,” Mōseki said and the corners of her eyes crinkled in the faint expression she mostly used for a smile. “And the straps have quick release tabs if needed.”
Moosletoe’s concern lingered for a moment, but then she let it go and turned away from potential problems and back to the task at hand, or poof.
The two moosen belayed down the side of the house. When you are only half a meter tall, a simple two story house is a very tall edifice, indeed. The two moosey agents rappelled down the house into the cobblestoned old street. The villagers had cleaned all of the snow away from the village, so the mooses could make good progress while still being stealthy.
Mōseki led the way, dodging from wall to lamppost, and then onward to other features of the street. Soon the two mooses were at the north end of the village.
The sun had moved well across the sky by the time the mooses arrived at their destination. Mōseki had picked this spot the first time he had scouted out the village.
Their destination was in an old horse corral. There had been no horses kept there for decades, but the stables had been preserved as a historical feature of the village. The place was used as a gardening display space in the spring and summer. For winter, there was very little activity in the stable barn and yard.
Mōseki pulled out a set of binoculars from the knapsack. “I thought this would be the best place to hide and still observe the target’s approach to the village tonight.”
Moosletoe morphed just a bit. She stretched up and out to a little over twice her former height, and climbed up onto the stableyard fence. Looking around to get the lay of the land she asked, “As the stealth and tactical expert in this situation, how do you think he will approach the village after night fall?”
“I think he will use darkness of night to sneak up on the village well into the evening, after everyone is slumbering,” replied Mōseki.
“Then we wait, but I suspect that there will be some bedeviling magic involved as well as in hiding his mischief,” said Moosletoe.
Mōseki continued to study the terrain south of the village, leading toward the southern high mountain pass. “You are the holiday magic expert. I am just here to help you with reconnaissance and surveillance.”
“Then we have a few hours to appreciate this lovely winter alpine scene. Soon the stars will be out and it is going to be a beautiful night,” stated Moosletoe.
All right. Minion has had enough of a break after her lonesome nighting. Now she has to try to catch up with her NaNoWriMo.org ing, and get back into posting. She has had time enough to be shocked and surprised she made it through last month. *starts some appropriately inspiring music for the Minion and gives her a hard stare* https://youtu.be/YdXQJS3Yv0Y
The stairs down to the basement were dark and narrow, even with Father holding one of the electric lanterns high over his head. Previous owners had run power, telephone, tv cable and even wires for a house wide intranet throughout the old house, but one could still tell that the original building had been designed and constructed without electricity in mind. It had none of the ceiling lights ignited by the flip of a switch by the door which Maddy was used to. The switches were there, but the switches controlled power sockets into which they currently had not lamps to plug.
Some of the plugs were in weird places, like by these little shelves along the walls of the stairway, two on the left, one on the right, that would light the way, when they found lamps small enough.
The first room, at the bottom of the stairs, came as quite a surprise. Not only was it far smaller than Maddy expected, considering the attic dimensions, but the room seemed entirely modern if one excused the flagstones instead of cement under foot. Almost new drywall surfaced the walls, and panels of a similar material hung in a light metal framework overhead, to bring the ceiling down to a more usual height. It even had light panels inside that lit without a flicker when Father tried the switch.
The staircase occupied one corner of the room. Across the space along the short wall, sat the laundry area. A long sturdy table built into the wall led to the hook ups for washer and dryer and then a big, deep sink, big enough for Maddy to bathe in, if she did not mind sitting up the whole time.
The long middle section of the room held a small collection of thoroughly modern appliances mingled with a hold out to the old. In spite of the age of the house, it had been adapted to benefit from an electric water heater, furnace, and air conditioning system, but it still retained an arrangement to heat water and air by burning wood or coal, and had a system in place to switch relatively easily from one means of climate control to the other, leading one to have doubts as to the reliability of the power supply to the house.
“I am going to have to ask around about electrical outages in this area, I think,” Father said after studying the strange set up a bit closer. “If they happen often and last long, we’ll have to put in a generator and come up with alternatives for days when the internet goes out and we still have work to do.” He always referred to Maddy’s classes and school work as her ‘job’, and just as important as the work he and Mum did.
After days and days of rain, overcast, and fog, from a hurricane to the south, the sun finally found its way through the day before. After a whole day to dry out, the day dawned relatively warm, and far less squashy under foot.
Mrs. Hillary, in her earlier guise as a suburban soccer-mom, had registered to help arrange part of the village Trick or Treating alternatives for a properly pandemic conscious and socially distanced celebration. She got permission to use the empty church as a staging post for her minions’ efforts, so there was no problem when it came to setting up the altar and indoor fire arrangements in and around the other activities.
As agreed, the ladies brought by their contributions to the wood store with D/OG and Maximus along as guards. It was startling to watch how quickly a crowd of ordinary-looking, pleasantly chatting people can go from carefully opening sealed containers of individually wrapped candies and sorting them for goodie bags for the children, to a mob of mask-wearing, gloved cultists, glaring almost hungrily at their enemies. The setup made for an almost perfect ambush. The ladies were outnumbered four to one, and no one could easily observe or interrupt.
When the nearest two cultists started to set aside their tasks in hand, Maximus and D/OG pointed out that it would not be twelve against three. It would be twelve against five. I do not know if it was Maximus’s almost subsonic growl; D/OG’s quiet yet perfectly audible and understandable murmur of ‘Good morning’; or the way each lady hefted a rather club-like stick of firewood in their dominant hand; but the cultists, as a collective, thought better of the ambush (especially those nearer two) and went back to their more charitable activities.
D/OG stayed behind to watch for sneakiness, and scan the candies stickers, and other things for tampering of the sort a cult of the Old Gods might get up to. He did not find anything, but the work crew did flinch and move away when the scanner emerged through the fur on D/Og’s forehead and whirled faintly.
The ladies departed with no further exchanges of unpleasantness. On the walk home D/OG commented mildly. “For a bunch of humans who react that badly to me, one wonders how they expect to cope with a return of the Old Gods.”
To pass the time until midnight, the ladies carved pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns, carefully saving the seeds for salty, toasted snacks, and the removed pith for making soups and pies. Most notable among their efforts were the owl of light flying across the face of a dark full moon above a familiar church steeple. A black dog stood guard against a fiery background. A bunny raced across the face of the moon after half-formed creatures, and three, pointy-hatted women stood around a huge cauldron.
These would serve to help light and guard the main event. The thing from the trunk provided the fires inside, and the thing from the wardrobe came downstairs to enhance their effectiveness as wards against the agents of darkness. The thing or things from the circle had nothing to contribute. In fact, at some time in the last day or so, the wide metal circle had disappeared from the basement floor, though no one commented on it.
Eventually, after a light dinner and the washing of the dishes, Maximus and Magnar went to stand by the front door. “I guess it is time,”Jan said, looking one last time around the kitchen for anything they might have forgotten. Then, they simply walked out. They left the front door unlocked, just in case. Rather than flying along with the rest, Marius quickly rose up and disappeared from sight. Noone commented on that either, but every eye in the group watched him go.
For effect, they decided to enter the sanctuary directly, through the side door, rather than pass through any…surprises that might have been left in the foyer. Janet unlocked the door with a skeleton key of her own design, made for the occasion.
The ladies, Magnar, Maximus, and D/OG arrived before midnight, of course, but they cut it close enough to give Mrs. Hillary and Mr. Yates hope for a no show. They certainly looked disappointed enough when the open door made the fire flicker in its barrel, announcing the new arrivals.
Mrs. Hillary wore her high priestess robe, with the cowl pushed back. Mr Yates wore his sigil decorated, demon-summoning robes. By contrast, the ladies looked distinctly pedestrian in loose jeans, running shoes, and warm sweaters in their signature colors.
The smell of the fire gave ample evidence that Mr. Yates and Mrs. Hillary had already started feeding it what ingredients they managed to acquire that month, a heavily smell, with a sharp edge of herbs.
The ladies quickly stepped forward to add bundles of their own. Janets’ smelled of molten iron and oregano. JAne’s smelt of burning silk and peppermint. Jan’s filled the air with the smell of cinnamon and wet clay, which is an odd smell to get from a fire. Maximus and Magnar’s additions did not give off a light or smell as such, but Magnar’s hummed a clear, sweet note, and after Maximus made his offering, a wave of peace and ease washed through the room. D/OG’s contribution sent up a fountain of blue-white sparks that burned out before touching anything.
“What happened to the owl?” Mrs. Hillary asked, hatred naked in her face. Marius had stolen away two of her sacrifices, after all.
“Thank you for reminding me,” Jane said, quickly bringing a last little bundle out from her pocket, and tossing it into the flames. “Don’t worry about him. He is around, somewhere, making certain things go as they ought.”
The bells in the steeple overhead started ringing out the midnight hour, though no one pulled their ropes.
Jan looked down at Magnar and asked, “How goes the night?”
“All right so far, why do you ask?” Magnr replied.
“Just checking to see if our phantom bell ringer kept good time,” she responded. The Closers variously laughed, snorted, and smiled, but the Openers were unimpressed.
Venomtongue coiled around his mistress’s person and busily whispered in her ear. Highwire crouched miserably in a very small circle, inscribed around with runes and diagrams. A long, silver knife lay nearby, and she seemed unaware of anything else in the room.
Mr. Yates strode over to stand in his own circle, but even before he reached it, Mrs. Hillary made an opening gesture in a grand sweep of her wide sleeve. Nothing happened. She made another. It produced the same complete lack of reaction.
“You must have made a mistake when trying to adapt for the missing ingredients,” Mr. Yates sneered, and they could all hear the deeper, horribly evil echo that now rang behind his voice. In spite of the limitations, Mr. Yates had not come to the conflict alone.
He picked up his knife and smiled an awful smile. “Now, let me show you what a real opening looks like.” The dirty little sorcerer knelt down and kissed the blade.
Before he could do anything else, Janet said, “Well, that is enough of this.” Without any thought of Mrs. Hillary’s continuing Opening gestures, Mr. Yates’s careful designs, or even the demon lurking behind the man’s eyes, Janet strode across the room.
With one sneakered foot, Janet broke the circle around Highwire. Immediately, the monkey started to panic, but muscles made weak by privation and abuse could not move fast. Strong blacksmith’s hands snatched Highwire into such a warm, comforting, and protective embrace that Highwire calmed instantly, partially in shock.
“What in all the hells do you think you are doing?” Mr. Yates screamed, jerking to his feet and trying to grab his abused companion without breaking his circle.
Janet ignored the noise, heading for the door through which they entered. “Good luck,” she said to Maximus and the others as she passed. Jane and Jan followed closely upon their elder’s heels.
“Bring her back!” Mr. Yates demanded.
Mrs. Hillary snickered. Maximus yawned. Magnar seemed to have fallen asleep which seemed frankly implausible under the circumstances.
“Oh do shut up,” Mrs. Hillary said at last, cutting into what was rapidly growing into a full blown rant. “You should be used to losing sacrifices by now.
“At least, with those three chickening out at the last minute, we have the Opening way clear of any opposition. I think that is more than worth your little, animal sacrifice.” Clearly, Mrs. Hillary did not count the ‘mree’ animal companions as opposition.
It was a pleasure to watch her get disabused of that notion. “Actually, you have that completely the wrong way around,” Maximus called out, a deep layer of amusement supporting his words.
“He is right. At this moment, the Closer’s are shutting the way back down without a single one of you Openers to interfere.” Magnar smirked.
“That’s impossible!” Mrs. Hillary yelled. “The last Closers just left.” She stabbed one finger towards the side door.
Magnar could not help it, though it was not nice. Final proof that they had pulled off the deception made the urge irresistible. He collapsed into a puddle of laughter.
Maximus had a better control of himself. His voice was steady as he explained. “The ladies were not Closers, though they definitely supported that cause. The ladies were never players at all. They just went through the motions, so that none of you would look too hard for the real players and their homes, Marius, Magnar, and I.”
“How can you be the players?” Mrs. Hillary sneered.
At the same time, My. Yates demanded, “If you are the players, where are your companions?”
“Our companions are us, too.” Magnar smiled. “It is rather like you and your demonic companion, only completely voluntary on both parts, and far less hazardous for both parties.”
“But then,” Mr. Yates started, but Mrs. Hillary clawed at the air with both hands, cutting him off.
“Shut up, you fool. It doesn’t matter what, why, how, or who! The problem is where! If these are the players with unknown homes and those… witches are not,” (She clearly meant to use a much ruder term, probably with some nasty adjectives, but her tongue could not shape the sounds, and there were more important things to worry about.) “then the real problem is where! This isn’t the real center.”
“Of course not,” D/OG said in his emotionless voice. “If this really was holy ground, the demon riding Mr. Yates would never have been able to cross onto the property.”
“It told me the possession would circumvent that restriction,” Mr. Yates said in a hollow voice.
“I am sure that is the impression it gave, but in fact, it never said that this ground had been sanctified and it would be unable to enter any other way,” D/OG responded flatly. The sick look that washed over Mr. Yates’s face made it clear D/OG had it right.
Mrs. Hillary stalked forward, a long knife of her own in one hand and murder in her eyes. Mr. Yates quickly broke his circle and followed her example.
Without batting an eye, Maximus pointed out, “Right now, the Curse Keeper and Marius are Closing the way. You can stay here and try to kill us, letting all your hard work go to waste, or, if you hurry, you might be able to do something to stop them.”
The two Openers hesitated, but did not stop, so Magnar pushed them again. “We will even give you a fighting chance. The real center is in the old Wood Henge by the East Wood Haven Bed and Breakfast.”
For an eternal instant or two, ambition and revenge warred within the Openers, but ambition won out. Mrs. Hillary ran for her suburban, with Mr. Yates close on her heels.
“Why did you give them the center?” D/OG asked.
“I did not want to get into a fight in a church,” Magnar responded. “Even one that is not really a church yet. It would be disrespectful.”
“Besides, things will work out better if we are all together for the denouncement,” Maximus added. “They have already burned all their ingredients, so they can do little harm.”
“Still, you two should go. I will stay and make certain the fire goes out without doing any harm,” D/OG volunteered.
“Thank you,” Maximus said, and Magnar echoed. The path to the center of it all was much shorter the way Magnar and Maximus took than Mrs. Hillary could manage by roads. Even still, suburban versus four feet nearly dead heated the finish.
Even through the intervening trees and underbrush, anyone could see that they had found the right place. The sky glowed overhead with a clear, green radiance that transmitted the activity in the center to all the players long before they achieved anything like line of sight.
The Curse Keeper stood by a small, bronze brazier filled with crystalline green flames with the Closing Wand in his hand. Under the light of a full, blue moon that would touch the entire globe with its light before waning, the way had opened from the other side.
Mouche stood in the ruins of the Jack O’Lanterns fighting off a swarm of shadowy little creatures trying to get at the Curse Keeper. Even as the others ran, the green light showed them the dark mottled tentacle weaving its way out of the wide, circular hole in the ground that led from that world to somewhere far stranger.
It, too, stretched out for the Curse Keeper and his wand. Mouche had no attention or energy to spare for this new threat but he need not have worried.
Marius dove down from his perch, striking the tentacle talons first. In spite of the owl’s small size, the tentacle flinched back, violently. Guided by who knows what terrible intelligence, the tendril from another reality tried to strike from a different direction. The owl intersected that thrust as well.
When the third thrust proved that the tentacle meant to persist, something changed. The owl deflected the attack as before, but when he flew up again, something, or rather someone followed the initial downward trajectory, all the way to the ground. The owl settled back onto his branch, ceeding the defence to his other self.
A rather short, stocky, anthropomorphic moose stood en garde between the portal and the man. In spite of the kneehigh boots, tabard, and plumed hat he wore Marius, for this moose was the real Marius, wielded a two- handed, straight sword with a long tassel pendant from the hilt to fence with the invader. As one might expect, the sword worked even better than scratch owl talons.
Instead of simply driving the tentacle back, the jian lopped large pieces from the tentacle with every stroke. The lost pieces quickly liquified and then evaporated before hitting the ground. It is unclear whether Marius drove the tentacle back through its gate, or if he pruned the limb back until there was none left on this side, but just as Mrs. Hillary stepped into the small clearing the Curse Keeper had hacked into the middle of the wood, the way closed with an organic sucking sound.
Mrs. Hillary did not stop her charge, aiming for the back of Marius’s tabard with her drawn knife in an ice pick grip. She did not exactly run quietly. Even if Marius did not hear Mrs. Hillary’s approach, he could not miss Mr. Yates groaning pants as he stumbled into the clearing behind her. The Jian deflected the plunging knife easily. Mrs. Hillary turned, searching for another target. The Curse Keeper stood smiling faintly with his knife in his hand, and Mouche, no longer beset by shadows, sitting ready at his feet. Mrs. Hillary turned on the smaller pair, with Mr. Yates still lumbering up behind her.
The dog and bunny watched the stumbling charge calmly enough. At a little more than arm’s distance, they stepped apart, leaving their other selves behind. Maximus, or Maximoose to give his proper name, did not stand much taller than Marius, but he had an impressive increase in muscle mass. Now, Magnar was an entirely different story. He stood nearly twice as tall as Mrs. Hillary, and he was every bit as stocky as Marius, if not as well developed as Maximoose.
Even as her momentum dragged her forward, Mrs. Hillary started trying to back away from that towering figure. Rather than press his advantage, Magnar scooped up his bunny companion. He stroked the furry back, only until Mrs. Hillary managed to halt her forward progress. Then he gave the bunny a momentum boost as it jumped from a height to hit Mrs. Hillary with all four feet right below her collar bones.
The bunny bounced from there and landed neatly on the ground at Magnar’s feet, but Mrs. Hillary fell back. She tried to catch herself, stumbling a step, but Mr. Yates was in the way. They both fell in a tangle of limbs.
They did not, however, hit the ground. Marius had slipped the metal circle onto the ground behind the falling pair. This time the swirling portal needed no elaborate activation or stabilization. Mrs. Hillary and Mr. Yates fell out of that place into somewhere else.
That, however, was not the end of the portal’s usefulness for the night. The swirling water slowed, and began to spin in the other direction, even faster. First, it spit out a grumpy old fae, still dusty from the imminent collapse of his house. Then the missing children started sliding out, laughing with delight, each one landing in a clear space as a moose greeted them and led them away from the arrival area.
Suddenly, the clearing filled with humans. They wore no uniforms or insignia, but I am certain most if not all of them owned such things. The Curse Keeper and the Dark Fae slipped away in the ensuing chaos. The newcomers let the two Closers go. They had enough to be getting on with as they greeted the children by name, and started funneling them towards the Bed and Breakfast. When the missing adults from the city across the river started showing up, things got really exciting.
Somehow, after the first few of Special Agent Whitfield’s friends stepped forward to accept the arrivals, everyone stopped noticing the moosey people in the clearing. By the time the last person returned to his or her own time, if not quite the right place, the mooses had faded out of sight entirely, though someone had to retrieve the metal ring once the portal closed.
Only Special Agent Whitfield saw and remembered the whole thing. He never forgot anything, after all, but explanations of the inexplicable could be so difficult. The officer of the law let the saviors of the world go with little more than a wave. It was enough to have the Happy Ending, without a trip to the sanitarium…again.
All the plans were made; All allies enlisted, all preparations made. All the mysteries had been explicated, at least the ones we wanted explicated. All that remained for us to do was to wait patiently, and not give away those last little surprises until it was too late for the other side to recover and disarrange things.
The ladies met with Mrs. Hillary and Mr. Yates met, in public and properly social distanced in a local park so that they would not be over heard while they arranged how they might build the necessary fire inside the unused church without drawing unnecessary attention, succumbing to smoke inhalation, or burning the building down around their ears.
The meeting would have been far more comical if they did not all have to wear masks over nose and mouth just in case one or other might have the big ick running around the world at that time. Mrs. Hillary had trouble controlling her face while they made their plans, especially when anyone mentioned the possibility of starting a building fire, but the mask hid most of it. Mrs. Hillary kept her hands steady only by knotting the fingers together in a white knuckled grasp. An air hovered around the woman that at any moment she might go off like a bomb and start screaming and throwing things. The mild, cheerful home schooling, suburban soccer mom from the beginning of the month had vanished without a trace. Everyone (who did not know better) blamed the change on her husband’s sudden departure and the loss of her child, and gave her sympathy and a wide birth. Dennis Yates needled his soi dissent ally and enjoyed her helpless fury as her real nature paraded out in public for all to see.
Dennis Yates made a determined and surprisingly subtle effort to find out who had what game tools, without revealing he had none. At a signal from Marius, Jane let slip that the Curse Keeper had the Closing Wand, and let the others guess what they liked about what happened to it after the collapse. Janet (who can do subtle with the best of them, though she seldom bothers) managed to convince the others that the Icon might be buried in the collapsed remains of the Dark Fae’s home, and the Ring disappeared with John Feste, though she never actually said either. The lady blacksmith also left Mrs. Hillary and Mr. Yates suspecting the other had the Bowl and the Closing Wand even as they tried to come up with a way to dig out the Icon by the next evening, without drawing official sanctions.
My friends left them to it, glad to have given both something to occupy their minds and distract them from their frustrations.
It turned out that not all the mysteries had been explicated to everyone’s satisfaction. Technically, this occured mostly on the thirty-first, but all involved were still up rather than getting up, so I put it here.
Just before midnight, when the household was settling down in the living room for one, last confabulation before the conclusion, a gentle, polite knock came at the front door.
“I wonder who is coming to call at this hour,” Maximus said, rising to his feet.
Janet rose also, but she only said, “It seems like our clocks are running a little slow,” to indicate she understood.
At a nod from Maximus, Janet opened the portal part way, and if she had a heavy war hammer decorated with glowing sigils in the hand behind the door, one could hardly blame her. (Janet had it on loan from another of my friends for the duration. The ladies had several relics of the sort stashed about the place. It is all very well to invite your friends to help in such a dangerous escapade and ring them around with defenses and leap in to any breach you find. It is better to make certain that your friends can defend themselves, too, in case you are not around, or too vastly outnumbered.)
“Sorry to come calling at such an hour,” Special Agent Whitfield said from behind his purple mask, “but my information indicates that this is the only hour I might question some of you and expect an intelligible response.”
The man in the purple mask looked past Janet, down at Maximus and asked, “Could I have a few words with you and your two friends?”
Janet opened her mouth to make the sort of noises one might expect an ordinary human to make if an officer of the law stopped by and asked to interrogate her dog, but Maximus saw something that she did not. A small, furry, round eared head popped out of one of the Special Agent’s pockets for a quick wave, before disappearing again.
Maximus had been inclined to approve of the Special Agent to begin with, the Pocket Bear’s testimonial just bumped approval up to trust, so he said. “Let him in to the living room, plase, Janet.” Maximus turned to trot back to his spot by D/OG without waiting for a response.
Janet frowned and disappeared the hammer back into its hiding place, but she stepped back to allow the Special Agent to pass, anyway.
Jane and Jan both stood up to receive their visitor, faces blank yet thoughtful. Magnar settled more firmly into his bunny-loaf position, all paws tucked and ears alert, while Marius might be a particularly life-like statue on his perch, and D/OG sat as a canid sphynx, cool and untouched by the situation.
Special Agent Whitfield stood at one side of the door arch, looking at the two sisters…three after Janet slipped past him to stand with the younger two. “I do not want to be rude, but would you ladies mind leaving us alone for this little conversation? If I ask you these questions, or ask them in your presence, which some might interpret as the same thing under the circumstances, I shall have to take official note of this interview, and record the results in my case notes.
“If I am just having a conversation with a bunch of animals, those same people would begin questioning my sanity a bit more strenuously than usual if I were to take official notice of the results. “If you would not mind stepping across to the kitchen? You will be close enough to hear and intervene if I am up to anything, but far enough to qualify as not officially present.” He sounded a little embarrassed, to tell the truth, but still firm.
When the ladies hesitated, he explained a bit further. “I am an agent of the law, even though my particular position sometimes leads me into the gray areas that the legislative branch has not yet considered. What I am officially aware of, I have to act upon, even if I personally feel that the act is unjust in that particular circumstance because of factors that most sane judges and juries would never consider, please.” He bowed with one hand over his heart, and with the other, he waved towards the kitchen.
“Go on, ladies,” Maximus half laughed. “If you keep him standing there too long, our hour will run out, and we may never know what this was all about.”
Jan put her tongue at the dog and growled, “We get let out of all the good bits,” but they left, as required.
Rather than settling in any of the really rather comfy furniture, the Special Agent settled easily into a cross legged position by the door. “Just to verify my information, since we have not been formally introduced, on the mantelpiece is Marius, in the corner is Magnar, and in front of the fire sits Maximus, and the new resident is called D/OG, former associate of the individual known as the Good Doctor.
“I am particularly glad to see you here, as you may be able to settle some questions I have there with first hand information, which is always helpful.” SA Whitfield pronounced Maximus’s name properly, rather than the slightly adulterated version he had been using all month, which gained him some thoughtful looks, and Marius shifted around a bit, officially joining the conversation.
“Your information is very good,” Marius offered. “Please ask your questions. Things get more complicated if your time runs out.”
Wasting only a second to consider that statement, but not the additional minute or more that an explanation might take, the human did what he was told. “I need to know about the recent disappearances in the neighborhood, and I do not just mean the children. Several of the suspects in the initial kidnappings have departed to points unknown in the last few days, and I need to know that they are not absconding villains who need chasing. I may as well tell you now that contrary to the evidence most of my more ordinary colleagues have accepted, I am aware that there were no real human remains in either the collapsed mine, or the house in the sinkhole.”
Magnar looked at the others and shrugged. Marius stepped in to answer. “Mr. Feste left to set up a sanctuary for the simulacrum Mrs. Hillary made of her husband and his daughter who she intended to sacrifice tomorrow night. Mr. Talbot facilitated the escape of those two, and is staying out of the way so that she can not use him to track down her victims. Neither the man in the mine, nor the owner of the house in the sinkhole had anything to do with the vanishing children, and there should be no more of them, either.”
Special Agent Whitfield did not even blink at the word simulacrum, or sacrifice. He simply nodded. Even the news about the Curse Keeper and the Dark Fae’s innocence came as more of a confirmation of things he already suspected rather than new information.
“You would not have been able to prosecute the beings responsible for the missing children,” D/OG informed them. “Once the beings responsible were dealt with, my Master and his companions moved on to another task which required their urgent intervention while I stayed a little longer to make certain this world would not be destroyed tomorrow night. He shall come back for me when they finish what they were doing.”
With the orderly sort of mind that takes one thing at a time rather than latching on to the bigger thing and losing track of the smaller, the man asked, “Beings?’
“You might call them Crying Seraphim, though in this case, they were acting as tools for Discordia, or perhaps her tools were acting as Crying Seraphim. It can be difficult to tell with her,” Magnar offered.
The involvement of an ancient Roman goddess took a little swallowing, but the questioning went on, “Did you say that the world might be destroyed tomorrow night?”
“Well, not destroyed exactly,” Maximus clarified. “Changed beyond all recognition and plunged into chaos and madness is more accurate.”
“It is not very likely, now,” Marius soothed.
“We have it well in poof,” Magnar added.
The human’s eyes widened on the word ‘poof’, as if he knew just what it might imply about the beings he was talking to. It took Special Agent Whitfield almost half a minute, a very long time for him, to reassess and reinterpret everything that had been going on in the light of that new information.
“So the Great Game really is being played out in this area this year. I noticed the oddities and the unusual congregation of unusual individuals in this location, but I could find none of the strange killings and grave robbings that go along with it, though there were what appeared to be very clumsy attempts. With you involved, however…” His voice trailed off in another bit of heavy cogitation.
At last, he simply asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Well,” Maximus said, exchanging speaking glances with Magnar and Marius. “If you and perhaps a few friends could be available tomorrow night, around one AM to help deal with the aftermath, we would appreciate it.”
“What kind of friends?” the Special Agent asked.
“Preferably ones who are good with children,” Marius said, and his tone smiled, even if his face could not.
Everyone in the house made it past breakfast before the outside world intruded that morning. Not the police or a player, this time. Jimmy’s dad called the house to invite the ladies out for lunch. He had heard from Jimmy and had news to share.
Though the man invited Maximus, Marius, Magnar, and even D/OG to come along, the latter four opted to stay behind rather than trying to find room for all seven together in the one van. Marius was easy, but the other three were all persons of significant heft.
On the other paw none of the furred or feathered people wanted to send the ladies across the river unguarded, so far from their defenses, at that time of month. The lunch might have been put off until Sunday, after everything was settled, but there might be something Lynne, or one of the gentlemen needed, or needed done. No one said that they might not be around to assist on Sunday, though they all knew the possibility existed.
In the end, everyone agreed that D/OG would go along with the ladies. He was, to some extent, an unknown factor, but the mirror incident spoke in his favor, and Marius and the others had done their homework, investigating his background and bona fides. He was a very good D/OG. Not to mention, his digital and mechanical components gave him some very surprising defensive abilities, and as a non-player, he did not labor under the same sort of restrictions, if the need arose.
After the luncheon party departed, those left behind made a quick circuit of the remaining things in their various abodes, and then went on a grand tour of all the month’s significant scenes.
Dennis Yates amade a determined snatch at them not far from the mine collapse. He used a net, perhaps hoping to repeat Magnar’s abduction. Unfortunately for the man’s plans, his woodcraft was execrable, so his quarry knew just where he was, and had a good guess what he was about and how long he had been following along. Also, net throwing is a skill that takes some practice. One does not just fling it out, any-old0how, and really expect to catch much. Magnar and Maximus took off in widely divergent directions, while Marius went up and back over the man’s head. They left him where he and his net had gotten tangled up in two thorn bushes and some tree limbs.
A lot of activity centered around the ruins of the Neighborhood Watch building. A sizable group of both cultists and concerned neighbors had turned out to search through the remains for anything salvageable as part of clearing the site for rebuilding. Mrs. Hillary scowled and tightened her hands on her shovel, but there was nothing she could do in front of so many witnesses.
My three friends variously perched, fidgetted, and stood, talking quietly in the center of the sunken cercle near East Wood Haven when an unexpected fourth approached on silent feet. “Do you fellows mind if I join you?” Mouche asked politely.
“Be our guest,” Maximus invited, settling into a seated position.
“How have you been?” Marius asked politely.
“And your master?” Magnar asked with a trace of a smirk in his voice, if not on his face.
Mouche huffed a brief laugh. “However did you figure that one out? I thought we had everyone fooled.”
“In spite of the spectacular nature of the collapse, none of the officers or special agents suffered more than scrapes, bruises, and a very few broken bones, mostly acquired in the investigation and rescue attempts,” Magnar pointed out.
“If the collapse was natural, it would have taken more than their investigatory robot to set it off,” Maximus pointed out.
“If it were a triggered defense, it would not have collapsed the living space as well,” Marius added.
“We are also aware that your Master would never have made the mess that drew all the official attention if it was not for the collection of curses he keeps.” Maximus sounded almost apologetic.
“We have some friends who can and would help with those, by the way,” Magnar offered.
Mouche sat and stared for a minute or so as his brain ran faster than he could give tongue to. “And here I approached you to offer an alliance, and reassurance that you were not the only Closer’s left, with hopes of finding out just what you were planning, to make certain we did not unintentionally spike your wheel with our sudden reappearance at the last moment.
“I expected to be calm, withdrawn, and mildly superior from my position of superior experience, but I think, while I seem to know more than any of the others, there is still more for me to learn,” Mouche settled into a comfortable position.
“I have already calculated that you three are the players, and all, or at least I thought it was all of what, that implies,” he prompted.
The others exchanged speaking glances, and then, for once, Marius started to talk. The whole plan was initially his idea, after all. Overhead, the moon grew rounder, and the power rose.
They knew where the new center was, of course. Marius worked it out as soon as he had the Curse Keeper’s three significant points, on the same day he worked out the spot in the pond, but he had to be seen figuring it, or someone nasty might figure out more than we wanted them to know. He considered flying the whole pattern, just to make sure, but decided not to put such a temptation in the way of the unpleasant.
Marius was fairly certain that he could avoid, evade, or escape any attempt to capture him, but there was not much he could do against a rifle with a scope. Neither Mrs. Hillary nor Dennis Yates would get any power from such an act, but it might go a long way toward relieving their feelings. The bother and inconvenience of getting shot was definitely more than an additional bit of theatre was worth.
On his way out, Marius passed not far above Special Agent Whitfield, where he stood outside the remains of Mr. Sallus’s house. More of it had collapsed since the initial damage, and there was talk that the remains would be demolished as unsafe. Though Marius passed almost directly behind the man, the FBI man turned his head in an almost owl-like manner and called out, “Marius, I would like to speak to you.” It felt rude, but Marius kept going without hesitation. They could probably trust that the Special Agent served on the side of right and justice, but still… ‘Probably’ just was not good enough with the stakes as high as they were. Maybe they could engineer another opportunity when Magnar, Maximus, and Marius could all see what the man wanted together.
Marius settled into his sheltered thinking spot under the empty church roof. He made a great show of staring off in the directions of each of the relevant homes in series. Then he flew twice around the steeple, and headed out again.
The new center lay in the empty church, of course. It is true that the building had never housed a congregation, but the thing that makes the difference between a church and any other building is the consecration, not the decor, and everyone called it a church. It should suit well enough in the minds of people like Mrs. Hillary and Dennis Yates.
Marius flew home by way of the East Wood Haven. There was no sign of the mid-sized sedan with government plates, or any other unusual activity in the area. They only had three more days until the plan would either succeed, or the whole world would fail. It is amazing how very long the month grew in those final days when they had no attacks or upsets to fill the passing time.
Marius arrived at the house to find something of a party attitude reigning in the place. The ladies reacted to the growing tension by turning on some music, and really pushing the boat out in the kitchen. With D/OG around to serve as interpreter for Magnar and Maximus they were all telling stories and jokes and dancing around the house. Marius was not the type to plunge into the middle of things, but he knew a great many stories to share, and sometimes had a delightfully dry wit that snuck in from the shadows and tickled the mind when one least expected.
When life weighs most heavily, there is nothing like friends and family to ease the gravity of the situation for a while.
For a class of people who typically do most of their work by dark of night, this game involved some really early mornings. The sky was still a damp blue grey, that would probably grow into an even damper blank white, when the door received another good knocking.
Jane and Marius were on duty, though Jane still wore her sleep suit. The cowl completely hid her face, so that she might be a druid wannabe, or a more brightly colored member of Mrs. Hillary’s cult if one ignored the way the figured torso flowed into a pair of footed trousers instead of loose skirts.
Speak of the devil, and all that; Jane’s shuffling progress slowed even more when the knocking shifted to kicking. Mrs. Hillary’s screeching penetrated the door easily enough, but if any sense started out within the noise, it stayed outside.
Jane leaned one shoulder against the wall and crossed her arms while Marius perched on the other. It was impolite to leave a caller beating the door unanswered like that, but Jane had no interest in fighting with the woman. Plus, someone would need a bull horn or maybe a microphone and some high powered amplifiers to be heard over all the noise.
Eventually, the screaming harridan stopped for breath, and Jane got in a few words. “Who in their right minds would open their door and invite that type of temper tantrum into their home? Especially so early.”
As one might expect, Mrs. Hillary’s response was unprintable where it was not incoherent. “If only the Village Council could see her now,” Jane laughed to Marius.
During the next lull, Jane dearly wanted to say, “I hope you realize we will expect you to pay for any damage you do that door,” but she had better things to do than to stand in the hall all day.
Instead she asked, with what tolerant patience she could find before breakfast, “Did you want anything in particular, or is this a new exercise regime you decided to try out on our front porch?” “Give them back!” Mrs. Hillary demanded, at last.
Jane considered pretending not to know what, or rather who, ‘them’ referred to, just to further irritate the woman, but Jane still had better things to do.
“I don’t have any ‘them’ to give. Your husband and his daughter are not here.” Jane shifted so her back rested against the wall, careful of Marius.
“Don’t give me that!” Mrs. Hillary half shrieked.
“I know they came here after that interfering mongrel drugged me and snuck them out of the house!”
“So they did,” Jane agreed easily, momentarily disarming the would-be intruder. “They did not stay long, however.”
“They have not set foot on the ground outside your house since entering it,” Mrs. Hillary insisted, “and none of my divinations can find any trace of them after entering here.”
“You will just have to take my word that they are not here,” Jane said, and she smiled as she imagined how Mrs. Hillary would react to that.
“Let me in or send them out right now, or I will summon the police!” Mrs. Hillary screamed.
“But you can’t do that, can you? As far as they know, your husband had every right to leave you without notice if he chose. You can’t exactly tell the police that he was only the animated corpse of your husband that served as a cross between your slave and your puppet, can you?
“You can’t even accuse him of kidnapping Lynne. You are only her step-mother, and you never adopted her.
“Now run along home before I report you for disturbing the peace. You have some recalculating to do, unless you want to just chuck in the sponge and take up knitting. Then I could give you some very good patterns.”
Mrs. Hillary took up yelling and kicking again, and Jane left her to it. Before too very long, Mrs. Hillary went away.
As twilight dripped its way into night, a polite, faintly digital voice echoed through Magnar’s private tunnel once again. “I say, is there anyone home within there?”
Maximus trotted through the kitchen to the empty sun room, “Please come through, D/OG. It is rather soggy out there, and there is a good fire going in the living room.”
When both dog forms lay before the blaze, D/OG spoke again. “I thank you for the courtesy. I did not expect to stay, but the warmth is welcome.”
“You are welcome to stay as long as you like,” Maximus assured his guest. “One of the ladies should be down to start dinner soon, and we would be pleased to have you stay,” his soft voice preceded Marius into the room. Magnar hopped in not far behind.
“I only meant to inform you that this planet will have no further troubles from the Crying Seraphim, at least not from those particular Crying Seraphim. My master and his companions have uprooted the last of them and departed,” D/OG said.
“Departed?” Maximus asked. “You mean he has taken his box and moved on?”
“That is correct,” D/OG responded.
“But what about you?” Magnar asked.
“As I informed you upon the occasion of our first encounter, my Master has tasked me with assisting the closers, such as yourselves, in your tasks. I shall be retrieved after month’s end.”
“So, with the Good Doctor vanished from the scene, do you think the remaining players will figure out he was never a player soon?” Magnar asked. He lay with his eyes closed, but one ear turned from person to person, like an elongated radar dish seeking out a signal.
“I certainly hope so,” Marius said with unwonted feeling. “I am thoroughly tired of trying to calculate what silly ideas they have had for the center.”
“Just the one more,” Maximus soothed. “We are almost done.”
Magnar let his ear relax, pinning D/OG with one eye, instead. “You better stay with us, at least until the first. Neither Mr. Yates, nor Mrs. Hillary are going to be safe to be around. They have both suffered too many setbacks of late.”
D/OG started to demur, but the three hard stares aimed his way led him to say, instead, “If your ladies repeat the invitation, I will stay.”
Dinner was very good, as usual. Before the meal was half over, the spot before the fire was ceded to the new resident. Things were coming together.