The return to the twenty-first-century outside world was uneventful, it was just a matter of using Christie’s knowledge to find the safest route back to the front door. Joe and the others rejoined those they had left at the front door and enjoyed a bumpy ride in Mabel back to their camp on the edge of the clearing. They packed up carefully, making sure to leave behind them as little trace as possible.
They made a brief stopover in the Elven enclave. Lindir and Valeriya had taken over the reins of rulership under the guidance of the lady Corrina. Valandir was still sulking in his room and refused to come out. “The people shall judge my father and maybe the Gods shall judge him too.” Lindir proclaimed. However, the trio made a formidable and complementary team that proved highly effective. Lindir provided strength and nobility of character while Corrina and Valeriya beauty and boundless compassion. As a result, the entire feel of the enclave had changed, the atmosphere vastly less oppressive and more welcoming.
Joe went and visited with the keeper showing him the brass lantern “So that’s what all the fuss was about eh?” The old elf quipped, “Not much of anything if you ask me. But it must have a point. I’ve got something for you too, my friend.” He shuffled off into the back of his house and returned five minutes later with a scrubby little seedling in a clay flower pot, the keeper smiled massively, “I managed it at last, after all this time. I got a pair of seedlings of my tea plant to root properly. Believe it or not, I watered it with some of the tea that I inadvertently allowed to go stale. This is one of the two.”
“It’s also yours my friend, I hope it grows well where you want to grow it. May you use it in peace and friendship. And when you drink the bounteous tea it will no doubt provide...think of me.”
“Thank you, I don’t know what to say except thank you very much. I’ve got to admit I used the last of the tea you gave me, I’ve got a few leaf tips left.”
The old elf gurgled a laugh, “A pleasure, do you fancy a cup then?”
The next morning the group left, in Natalie’s case somewhat reluctantly, she hugged both Lindir and Valeriya before she kissed her mother’s cheek. “I’ll be sure to come back as often as I can. Now I’ve found you I don’t want to lose you. But I need to finish this with Joe first.” She was on the verge of tears.
Corrina stroked her daughter’s face, “I understand completely. Look after yourself Nataliya. I have spent twenty-one years without my daughters, eternity would be interminable! Know that if ever you or Joe need the aid of the elves, we shall be here for you!”
Thanks to Lindir’s directions they had a much easier return to the airbase than the midnight trek through the root-infested forest, though even the atmosphere had shifted there with the absence of the wolf pack. Mabel rumbled along the road back to the base as Joe smiled to himself.
With Mabel and all their belongings then loaded onto a newly arrived heavy Tupolev TU-two one four transport plane, they made the return flight to Moscow in one trip. Joe slept like the dead for the whole flight, cradling his pack in his lap with the precious brass lantern inside, oddly the candle inside the lantern continued to twinkle and you could swear was a good inch longer than it had been.
At the Kremlin, Dmitri Ruseskoi gave a halting report on the result of his mission to the president personally. Vladimir Putin sat unmoved and listened dispassionately as Dmitri described the death of the private to the creature that Nerissa had called a carnivorous mimic. Dmitri’s blackout and mental confusion had disappeared like someone had lifted a veil cast over him as he left the tower. Thankfully that blackout had the fringe benefit of meaning he had no memory of the six actual Nazis they had encountered so he made no mention of them in his report. His reports however of the monsters like the carnivorous mimic, the gigantic wolf pack and the orc war band were taken under advisement, as well as a few well-raised eyebrows by his superiors. A subsequent spy plane flight over the Chelyabinsk area produced an altogether strange result, the spy plane, you see, found no trace of any tower of any sort at the location. There was no evidence of any six-mile diameter circular clearing around it either. The trees of the forest now formed a continuous carpet of green. Thus the whole matter was quietly relegated to a vault that the Russian authorities might call their version of the X-files with the word ‘В ожидании’ or ‘Pending’ stamped in large letters on the outside of the folder.
The now seven-member group, Nerissa having been included as a personal assistant to Natalie, while Christie lay quietly curled up in Natalie’s backpack purring softly as he slept, were then afforded the experience of a lifetime. They got to fly back to England, courtesy of the presidential air flight, in the opulence and splendour of the president’s own plane. Mabel and the military gear they were assured would be sent on arriving later courtesy of the Russian diplomatic bag. That was if they still wished those antique items returned. Mike growled, “Just you try and take ’em. We’ll have ’em thanks, make sure you keep them in one piece too.”
Thus it was on a late rainy afternoon at the end of May that a rather surprised air traffic controller at Heathrow got flustered towards the end of his shift. An Ilyushin Il-ninety-six three hundred PU widebody quad jet has just appeared on his radar screen and he had been handed ground control. They were unscheduled and reported to be heading into Heathrow. A radio comms check had caused his eyebrows to try and leave the top of his head when the plane had identified itself using the callsign reserved for the presidential flight of the Russian president himself, the Russian equivalent of airforce one to the US president. After he recovered his composure, consulted with his supervisor, who had then consulted with his supervisor and a lengthy conversation with the flight crew to reconfirm all the details. The RAF had hastily scrambled a pair of typhoon fighters to intercept. After their radioed confirmation that it was indeed as had been reported they had then been hurriedly assigned to fly as an honour guard escort, the plane was then cleared for landing as the sun touched the horizon at sunset.
Equally hastily in the VIP terminal, celebrations were prepared and the red carpet duly rolled out, many staff looked flustered as they primped and prepared to receive the Russian president so unexpectedly. Tensely they waited for the cabin door to open and were therefore stunned into silence when Joe, dressed in his old trainers, blue jeans and sleeveless leather jacket accompanied by his friends walked out of the doorway of the plane in the place of Vladimir Putin and his aides.
Finally, late in the evening on that last day of May, they arrived back at Joe’s quiet little home. Joe stretched his back as he stepped from the taxi, his muscles crackling, “I feel like I could still sleep for a week! Nat, I’m going to go to bed, don’t wake me before July...unless it’s important OK?” Joe smiled, patted Nat’s hand and kissed her cheek before he crossed the road to his front door. Ay met him at the door, he merely smiled at her, kissed her cheek too and passed her.
“Good trip?” Ay smiled at Nat.
Natalie nodded, “We got what we went for but it was certainly eventful.”
“I love the blonde hair, really changes your character.”
“That’s something else I’ll have to tell you all about. Maybe inside over a drink, I’m just dying for a Chardonnay, want to join me? How’s everything been here?”
“Hmm, Well, OK I suppose...we had a rather strange visitor a week ago. There was something very familiar about him but I can’t quite put my finger on it. He showed up claiming to be from the local council. Mister Johansson saw him off, he was quite masterful about it!”
“Well, I’m sure we can sort it out, once we get a chance to get ourselves sorted out. I found out I can speak German and Russian like a native. I’ve never had a single lesson, it just flowed out of me like I was born to it. But there is just so much to tell you Ay. Oh, before I forget, Ay we’ve got a couple of new friends to stay. Ay, this is Nerissa, Nerissa, say hello to Ay.”
Ay looked Nerissa up and down, “She’s a dryad!”
Nerissa smiled winsomely, “A Hamadryad actually, and you appear to be a succubus so neither of us is under any illusions are we? I feel I need to commune with my plank. Natalie is there somewhere I can go? Do you think the magus will be OK to start looking for my sapling tomorrow?”
“Yes Nerissa, let him rest tonight it’s been a bit stressful for him. We’ll discuss it all tomorrow.”
Ay smiled, “You said a couple of friends, Nat, who’s the other one?”
Natalie very gently removed her backpack and opened it, she peeked in and whispered, “Shhh! He’s asleep, don’t wake him. He’s called Christie and he’s just the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“So?” Ay peeked into the neck of the bag, “Hold on he’s a pseudodragon, isn’t he? I didn’t know they could be that colour.”
“Shhh! Yes, keep your voice down! He is and he says he trained himself to be that colour. You could say he’s my ninja-dragon companion...we’ve bonded.”
“But he’s a pseudodragon! You’d best be careful!”
“Oh no Ay, he’s just wonderful. Joe says I mustn’t do or even think certain things; like he’s a P-E-T! But he’s incredibly intelligent, and just excellent company. We can talk with our minds and I can even see through his eyes if I want to. Joe says his anti-magic and protective abilities are passed to me as well. Christie is to me what Draco is to Joe. But let’s let him sleep, I do hope Draco won’t be jealous!”
“Ah, speaking of Draco, he’s not exactly here at the moment.”
“What? Is he alright?”
“Wherever he is I’m assuming he’s fine, he’s just not here.”
“Where and when did he go?”
“Well the where, I don’t know, one morning he was by the fire like normal, the next poof, he wasn’t. As to when it was the day you and the others went to the airport. Now you’re back I’m sure he’ll come back. Dragons can be like that sometimes. Ell thinks he’s probably catching up on other jobs. I think he probably just took a break while he wasn’t needed.”
“A dragon took a holiday?” Natalie sniggered, “Now there’s a thought! Sun-tan oil on all those golden scales, beach towel, super cool sunglasses and an ice-cool sangria. Do you suppose he wears Bermuda shorts or do you think he prefers Speedos?” Nat snorted a laugh through her nose.