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It was cold. Bitter cold. The wind blew through the roof and walls of the little cottage, as if the structure merely a minor impediment to its fury soon to be covered and filled with snow.
The old woman was shivering as she stirred the kettle over the smoldering fire. Nearby, her husband lay on a makeshift bed, buried under blankets, his eyes fixed on the spoon going round and round. Neither said a word.
It was not always this way. This had once been a prosperous farm, the fields tilled and sown with wheat and vegetables, the nearby orchard tended and laden with fruit. Although the farmer and his wife were elderly, they were able to make a life for themselves.
Then last spring a hole appeared in the roof and the farmer, as he had done in the past, went up on the roof to fix it. He fell. His wife found him later, on the ground, barely conscious. She managed to drag him into the house and then rode into town to summon a doctor. The prognosis was grim. The farmer’s back was broken.
From that point on, her world became smaller and smaller. She could not leave her husband alone as he could not take care of himself. The crops withered and died, since she could not harvest them. She gathered what fruit she could that fell to the ground, but most of it rotted. She sold the livestock, since she could no longer care for the animals and needed the funds to buy food and necessities. When winter came, her world became a single room, in which the fire was the center. A fire for which she was almost out of fuel.
Out of the silence, there began a scratching sound. At first the woman though it was tree branches blowing against the house. But then she realized the sound was coming from the door.
She went to the door and what appeared to be two snowballs came in and shook. A black and a grey tabby cat appeared and went over to the fire. Green and blue eyes regarded her thoughtfully.
“Well, I cannot offer you food, but I can offer a little warmth,” she thought to herself. She went back to kettle and began to ladle out a bowl of stew for herself and her husband. Taking the bowls over to the bed, she helped the farmer eat. She cleaned up the dishes and placed over the fire the few branches that she had left. She went to bed and both her and her husband fell asleep.
Sometime during the night she woke, feeling overheated under the blankets. She was startled to see that the fire was now blazing merrily, with cords of wood stacked neatly by the fireplace. The cats were gone.
(To Be Continued)
The young man stared in the empty glass. He had arrived at Salty’s Tavern a few hours earlier, tired and hungry from his travels. With what little funds he had left, he purchased food and drink. Now sated, he was contemplating his next move when he noted a small black cat watching him. The cat walked towards him and made an indication it wanted to be picked up. The man reached down and picked up the small creature. The car began to softly purr.
The young man sat back in the chair, petting the cat. “It must be nice, he thought, to be so content with life.”
He had left home to seek . . . something. He never knew what he ws seeking, only that it was never where he was. It was not wealth, as his father was a wealthy man and his son could have anything he wanted, just by asking. Ask he did, but he soon realize that things were not what he wanted.
The young man noticed the cat was no longer purring, He went back to stroking its fur.
“My grandmother had cats,” he said softly. “She lived on a farm; I used to stay there when I was little. But father did not like to visit that often. “Too much work for little gain”, he would say. That was why he left. He tried to make her come live with us. But she refused, she loved her home.”
The cat jumped off his lap and looked up at him. “Come”, a voice whispered
He looked at the cat. “Come.”
The cat then turned and ran to the door. The young man followed out of curiosity.
It was daybreak. The cat ran ahead, seeming knowing where it was going, never looking back. The young man followed, the word “come” repeating in his head. Until at last he saw they were heading to an old neglected farm. The only sign of inhabitation was the smoke coming from the chimney. The cat went up to the door and scratched. The door opened and an old woman stood in the doorway, looking at him.
“I followed your cat.” the young man stammered.
She smiled at him. “You must be the person who brought us the firewood. Come in.”
“Firewood?” he thought. He entered the house and looked around. He noticed the fireplace with the neatly stacked wood. He noticed the hole in the roof and cracks forming in the walls. He looked at the farmer and his wife. And as she offered him breakfast, they began to talk.
Spring came. The farm fields are now tiled and ready for planting. The house has been repaired and given a new coat of paint. The farmer is no longer bedridden; he now moving around in a wheeled chair, giving advice and instructions on how to manage a farm. A horse and cart had been purchased and now each week the old woman goes to the village, driven there by the young man who she refers to as her grandson.
The young man, finally content and at peace, calls her “Grandmother.”
The farmhouse always has cats.
Two men sat in Salty’s tavern, one with grey and white hair and blue eyes, the other man with black hair and green eyes.
“It’s time to go back to the Castle,” Leander said.
Birch looked at Lee sadly. “But I have enjoyed helping people; do we have to go back?”
“Yes, I was supposed to report to Sebastien at the end of the year. You need to go back to Poppet.”
Birch sighed. “Perhaps another adventure awaits, and then I can go with you.”
Lee smiled. He had enjoyed Birch’s company on his travels. The two men finished their meal, paid their tab and left. Then both men shimmered and two cats appeared; a tabby cat and a black cat. They both ran towards Midnight Castle.
It was at the front of the inn, that Leander felt that something was wrong. Both the inn and the castle were dark. The shishi were not at the inn, nor were they protecting the castle. The stables were empty. There was no sign of Pixiu.
The cats shimmered and turned into shishi. Blending into the woodwork, they cautiously entered the Midnight Castle.
The players were there, making their rounds at the HOS, trying to finish the Winter Event. But the player ghosts were missing; only the ghosts that were part of the game remained.
They moved on to Sebastien and Belle’s rooms. They were empty. Poppet’s and Ben’s rooms were the same.
Birch became agitated. “There are no felines here; I am going to check the Sanctuary.” He shimmered back into a cat and disappeared.
Lee went back out and searched the village. There was no sign of Grey and the wolves. He went back into the Castle to his room. Just as he had started a fire in the fireplace, Birch rushed in.
“They are gone, all gone.”
Wow! Time really flies when one is busy. Let me get you caught up as briefly as possible. Spring left with a whimper and summer took over. Not long after, I went into labor and bore twin boys. My time since has been doing the family thing. We named them Brandon and Micheal.
Galen reenlisted with the elven military and spends his days on base. Me, when I get the chance, I try to stay up to date with the lodge in addition to caring for the boys. Thank goodness my parents have taken an interest in their grandchildren. Thanks to them, I have a few hours a week to rest and get out.
That is, until winter came around. It has snowed and turned icy outside. With the temps so low, it has been a problem making myself get out. Galen does the shopping on the way home now.
I found time to decorate for the holidays and we had a family party for both Christmas and New Years.
Now that things have settled down and become routine, I have more time for the lodge but I have noticed that I am not getting answers to emails and no new gathering requests have been happening. Something is definitely going on.
I should mention that Lucius has paid us a few visits over the months and brought us news of his family. They had a naming ceremony for their daughter and named her Celine Amethyst. They are doing well.
I didn’t mention Buddy before only because of how much has passed. We got tired of all of his in and out so Galen put in a doggy door for him. Buddy took to it quickly.
One particularly wet and cold day, he brought home a friend. She made herself at home and now we have 2 pets. We named her Lady. Both of them are very good around our babies.
I have noticed that Lady is getting fat, eating a lot and napping more than before. I suspect that we may soon have puppies around.
Galen is at the base right now doing his duty. We had quite the discussion about our future last night. He wants more children and I don’t; at least not yet.
“What is wrong? I thought you wanted lots of children.”
”We have twins and they are quite the handful by themselves. There is no way I can handle them and get pregnant again right now.”
”But by the time you get pregnant again and give birth, they will be over a year old. That is perfect for time between them and the new baby’s ages. I want 1a year for as long as we can do it.”
”No way! I am not doing the barefoot and pregnant thing for you. 1a year? Forget that idea. We may have been only children but our boys are not. I only want 2 more children and I will decide when I am ready.”
”Come on. Do this for me. I have always wished I was surrounded by siblings and I want that for our boys.”
”They will be, in a way, but not until I am ready. You forget, it is my body. Do I look like an incubator? I think not.”
”No, you don’t look like an incubator.” He kissed me at that point and nature took over from there.
Over the months as he came and went, Lucius noted lessening of activity at the lodge and castle. This morning, he realizes that there is no activity. “Hmmm, it couldn’t be what I think” he says quietly to himself.
Lucius lands, changes to his Elvyn form and walks up to the door of the lodge and finds it locked. The windows are dark and there is no activity inside when he looks through the windows. He takes a walk around but no one is there.
His next place to check is the pet enclosure. As he approaches, he doesn’t hear any activity. The place is just as empty as the lodge.
In fact, the only activity is from the winter ghosts which he notes there are 3 new ones flying about.
Next, he heads for Salty’s to see if anyone there knows what happened. But even there, it was nearly empty with the exception of Salty and a few customers from the village.
He sits at the bar, orders hot tea and listens for clues about what happened.
Anabel quietly sits on my lap as I contemplate the last few months. The warmth and peace of the Elven Sanctuary soothes my soul. The so far unsuccessful search for the Black Magic Sorcerer and his clan brothers obliterated the holidays leaving me empty inside. I miss Birch, family life, and old friends.
I hear Anabel’s sorrow as she asks about Jenny Wren. I stroke her gently and tell her I also worry that Jenny has been unsuccessful in her mission. She bats my nose so that I toss a wad of paper into the middle of the cabbits. She jumps down to lacklusterly chase it. Suddenly there is a blur of rolling fur and cat chirrups. Birch lands on my lap purring delightedly. Anabel follows and the two curl up together happily grooming each other’s head.
I fall asleep with the stream babbling and the circling butterflies my lullaby.
While Lucius is out, Antheia, having seen to her children now meets with her advisery council; 5 people from around the kingdom.
“Majesty, the people are happy their queen has returned but there are rumors of unrest.” Devan says.
”What do you mean? What rumors?” She asks.
”From what we hear, there hadn’t been a queen for so long that you aren’t needed.” Julian says.
George adds “They say there is no need for a queen or any ruling party; that they can rule themselves.”
Antheia thinks before speaking. “We need to do something about this. Any ideas?”
”No, Majesty” they all say together.
”Then this meeting will reconvene tomorrow morning and I want ideas from all of you.” Antheia says. “You all may go.”
Her council rises from their seats, bow and leave. Antheia remains to think on this.
Lady Dragon comes up quietly behind her, “Majesty?” She says quietly.
Antheia turns to look at her. “What is it?”
”I heard what was said and I am worried. What are you going to do?”
”I don’t know yet, but I do know that we need to get the people to understand that I am not here to interfere in their lives.”
“You haven’t gotten out much since the weather turned for winter, perhaps a walk in the garden would help to clear your head.”
”Thank you, Lady Dragon, that would be a good idea.” They walk together through the garden and discuss their families.
“Doctor Poppet! Doctor Poppet!” ***tori’s*** cries startle me awake.
I jump up unceremoniously dumping Anabel and Birch.
Running into the hospital, I call “what’s wrong?”
I stop dead. Grim is sitting in front of her laptop with the screens furiously changing. My fear is confirmed. Jenny has failed. I wonder what went wrong. I check Grim carefully. She’s still exceedingly weak but in good health so something went right.
“***tori***, it looks like Grim is here to stay. Hopefully she’ll communicate with us through her laptop and we’ll be able to meet her needs.”
Eyes are boring into my back. Anabel and Birch are staring at me in disgust. “Sorry guys. We’ll do more lap time in a few minutes.”
***tori*** and I watch as Grim shows us what she can eat and other items she needs. ***tori*** tells her to order the items and starts prepping food. It feels good to be taking care of an old friend.
I scoop up Birch and Anabel on my way outside and slam into Grey Nightwalker as I stand up. I almost drop the cats with the shock of seeing the pups.
“The pups no longer need to guard the nexus. Jenny Wren has been returned to Alpha realm in corporeal form completing the permanent closure of Alpha realm. There is no access from Alpha realm to any other realm and the evil that dwells there is frozen in time,” Grey Nightwalker explains.
“What about the Black Magic Sorcerer?”
“He and his clan are still a threat. There is always evil to counterbalance good.”
Sadly acknowledging this truth, I return to the peace of the patio.
Lucius talked to Salty while he tried to get useful information but “I don’t know what happened, Lucius. Everyone was just gone one day and no one has been back.” He went back to wiping mugs and tending his bar.
Lucius stuck around for a few hours but the only talk was the usual drunk boasting so he left. Taking his dragon form he takes to the sky and flies over the Elvyn Sanctuary.
From the sky, it appears empty but he gets the feeling it isn’t. He circles, flies low and spots Poppet and company napping. Not wanting to disturb them, he flies on.