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Galen and Lucius find themselves locked out of the lodge so they search for a way in. They check all of the doors but none are unlocked. At the door that leads into the kitchen, Lucius manifests a key and tries it. It opens the door but not without a lot of wiggling and turning of the knob.
“Smells musty in here” Galen says as they enter. Galen goes for the light switch while Lucius pulls the shade on the single window.
”It smells like it has been empty for a long time.” Lucius answers as the darkness goes away. “Let’s try the office first.”
”Then we can take a look around.” As they cross the kitchen, “Looks like it was cleaned up before everyone left.”
”Then again, maybe not.” They find piles of dirty laundry along the wall leading into the office and the musty smell worsens there. “Smells like this is the source of that musty smell.” Lucius says.
Inside of the office, all seems to be in order. Galen goes to the file cabinet to find the employee files but all of the drawers are empty. He checks the desk but there is nothing there either. Without a word, he quickly heads to the lobby to use that computer, but it too is missing.
”What do we do now?” Lucius asks.
Stunned, Galen has no answer for him.
“Perhaps we should have a look around” Lucius suggests.
Nodding, Galen moves from the entry desk and heads first to the private dining room and goes through there slowly. With nothing to see, they head to the conference rooms beyond the lounge area.
In the first conference room, they find the computers and the boxed files. They agree to come back to those later and continue to the other conference rooms, then the guest rooms. With each taking a side of the hall, they quickly check the rooms on each floor.
On the top floor, at the dragon rooms, Lucius enters his room and finds an older dragon napping there. He quietly closes the door and moves on; wondering who left the door open. Signaling Galen to be quiet, he leads them back down to the conference room.
“What was that about?” Galen asks.
“There was a strange sleeping dragon in my room. It is best if we don’t disturb him.”
“How did he get in?” Galen asks.
“Someone left the outer door open. He is okay where he is for now; we can worry about him later. In the meantime, lets go through this stuff for answers.” Lucius picks up a box and takes it to one end of the conference table. Galen follows his lead and does the same thing.
Hours later, they discover that over the months, many employees left their job and it appeared that only a few were left. The final corporeal employees were let go due to dwindling customer numbers. As for the ghostly employees, it is noted in their files that they just vanished; a few at a time and never returned.
In the computers, they discover the dwindling business numbers until the final entry was such a low sales amount had the final accounting in the red.
“Looks like we got our answer as to what happened here.” Lucius says as he stretches and starts to yawn.
“Yeah, but what we need to find out, is what caused it.”
“We certainly do, but I am hungry and tired. Let’s get back to the house, have a meal and get some rest.”
“Good idea. Let me get a key for this place so we can lock up then we can go.” Galen gets up, heads for the front desk with Lucius following. Key in hand, they head out the back-kitchen door, lock up and head for the house.
Spring has come and gone and summer is upon us. Galen and Lucius returned home with a disappointing report a week later. It seemed that for some reason first the people then the ghosts followed by the animals, just left. Where they went and why remains a mystery.
Galen, me and the boys along with our dogs temporarily moved to the lodge to clean it up. The feeling of deja vue was strong. When we were done there, we moved to the big house in town.
Galen has been distant since we moved into the house and I don’t know why. I have tried talking to him but he won’t engage. He only talks about the local news and gossip. I wish I knew what was wrong. I have a feeling there is more to the story than he told about his time away. Otherwise, he helps with everything inside and outside.
We have put the puppies up for adoption. I made flyers and he put them up around town. So far there haven’t been any takers but it has only been a couple of days.
In the Mandrake Kingdom, things aren’t going well for Antheia and Lucius. The anti-royalty movement has caught on and is spreading through the towns like wild fire.
I haven't been in the castle for many months. As I open the door to our room, I call "Surprise, I'm home" but Ben isn't there. I knock softly on Belle's door before opening it but the room is empty. Where is everyone? As I walk down the hallway, I'm run over by blue ghosts. The fall event and castle challenge must be going on. I find Ben, Belle, and Sebastien in the game room. I touch Ben's shoulder and he swoops around, picks me up and twirls me through the air as he kisses me. "Sweetheart, I've missed you so much. How is the dragon queen?" "Hon, she's about the same. I left Cinder with her. I needed to see you so badly that I slipped away for a few days." I wave to a smiling Belle and Sebastien as we leave the room. We grab some food and drinks before heading to our room to catch up.
Ben and I cuddle on the bed. We talk about the big things for a short time and then move to the little day to day things that make us feel like we haven't been separated. Just like Facetime or a Zoom meeting, keeping in touch through our amulets or mirrors just doesn't cut it. Lying in his arms, I feel relaxed and at peace for the first time in forever. I fall asleep and am soon making the sound he calls my purr.
Another day and another season are upon us. The puppies all now have new homes and Buddy and Lady have settled down in our new home. I pray we don’t have more puppies any time soon. I would hate to have to do something about that.
The boys are growing quickly and are getting difficult for me to handle alone. Yes, I said alone. Galen left out of the blue, he just got up, walked outside and kept walking.
“Galen,” I say as I watch him get up from the table after breakfast. My eyes follow him across the kitchen to the back door. “Where are you going?” But he doesn’t answer me so I get up and follow.
”Galen, answer me. Where are you going?”
He is out the door and crossing the yard as I get to the door. I want to follow but I have the boys to consider. I remember the dogs are still inside and how much Buddy adores them so I go after Galen calling his name. He still doesn’t respond and disappears into the trees that surround our backyard. I only go as far as the trees. I need to get someone to watch the boys before searching.
After knocking on a few doors, a young woman with a child of her own agrees to help me. She bundles her daughter up and brings her to the house.
I begin my search but somehow he has left nothing to track him. Hours later I return home. I need to figure out what to do now.
He hasn’t been back since. I reported his disappearance after a couple of days to the sheriff’s office but they can’t seem to find him.
That was a month ago.
Exhausted, I lay down on the couch. Luckily, the boys are napping right now. Wanting to take a minute to rest, my body has other plans and I am soon asleep.
I dream of a mountain cave that runs deep into the mountain to its fiery heart. The path runs past many entrances to other places in the mountain but I don’t explore, I just keep heading along the main path.
I wake from my dream screaming “NO” when someone I don’t recognize just steps off the edge and drops into the lava pool.
Breathing hard, I look around but it takes me a moment to recognize that I am at home. I cry and pray that Galen is coming home.
A horrible rumbling growl wakes me. I jump out of bed looking for the big cat about to attack me. Anabel, Birch, and Ben are the only ones in the room. It must have been a bad dream.
Then I hear it again. Oh boy. It's my stomach. I need to find something to eat. I quietly open the door surprised that I haven't already woken Ben. There's a softly lit lantern on the floor (actually a bright companion) and a fragrant pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Sebastien found a way to use all the morphing pumpkins collected by the ghosts and provided me with a perfect middle of the night snack. I pick up the pie, cream, and lantern which automatically dims a little more when I enter our room and slip into bed with my bounty. I'll worry about the crumbs and spilled cream in the morning.
Ben and I thoroughly clean up all the pie crumbs and cream, practice water conservation and dress for breakfast with Belle and Sebastien. As we pass through the game room, I see many ghosts sporting an avatar with Pegasus. Sebastien makes sunny side up eggs and bacon while we all catch up.
"The Queen isn't doing well. She's missing her mate tremendously and is losing the will to live. I understand her sadness but I don't know how I can help her unless I can find her mate. I have no clue where to begin."
"Hon, don't worry about that now. This break is so you can reconnect with me and your personal needs."
Belle noticed my wistfulness when I entered the kitchen, "Poppet, what is making you slightly disappointed?"
"I missed out on the Pegasus avatar and I love it. It reminds me of your immortal duties and time we've spent caring for your charges."
"Sweetie, the castle challenge is still occurring and we'll help you get caught up. There's a day and a half left."
I jump up from the breakfast table and run to the game room to my computer. I look at the tasks and my shoulders slump. There are a lot of ghost collecting tasks which take so much time. Sebastien walks up behind me and softly says, "I'll make sure Salty knows he needs to lose at dice if he wants Zarknorph to let him keep his liquor license." I beam. Maybe I have a chance.
I hit the first ghost task and yellow ghosts line up to float across my screen; my daily quests are all 3 of 3 different candies; blue, violet, green and azure ghosts all line up to float across my screen. I'm more than 2/3 through the challenge but I've reached the red ghosts and there's not a single one in the castle. Oh no! I need to think of a strategy.
In the Mandrake Kingdom....
Though there have been many meetings on the issue, they have yet to come up with a solution.
”I am their queen, that should be good enough.”
”Majesty, please try to remember that for thousands of years they did not have a queen.” Lord Septen says.
”But they did have the lower ranked royals. What happened to them? Did they abandon the people?” Antheia asks as she realizes that she is speaking to a few of those lords.
”We did not abandon the people. Instead, we watched over them and let them rule themselves. Might I suggest we take a more democratic move and let the people decide who they want to rule over them?” Lord Gineran says.
”Why would we do that?”
”It might placate the people and put these protests to bed.” Lord Septen answers.
Much bickering ensues among her council as Antheia sits back to listen to what is said and contemplate the idea of an election.