“We should have stuck with the dragon,” Jerry complained to his mom and to Fred, the Chocolate Lab, as the three walked along a mountain path with tall grass on either side of them.

“The Scary Stanley?” Dorothy replied. “That would have been hard to do, remember? He flew away to find the other dragons.”

“I know, but I mean, we should have waited for him. He said when magic was fixed that he could take us to Dad.”

“No need,” Fred chimed in confidently. “I know he’s this way.”

“How can you be so sure?” Jerry challenged. Dorothy, meanwhile, seemed content with trusting her old friend.

“Well…” Fred began, before pausing as if to question it himself. “Uh, instinct, I guess.”

A shadow passed quickly overhead, causing Jerry and Dorothy to tense up. Back home, this meant a bird of prey, so their instincts kicked in and they ducked under Fred’s body.

“Oh, that’s nothing to worry about,” Fred reassured them.

The shadow circled around, and then the shape suddenly changed as the creature the shadow belonged to closed its wings. This smaller ball-shaped shadow quickly grew larger and larger just a few feet in front of Fred. Larger and larger. Larger and larger. Until a black bird with a colorful beak came crashing down to the ground in a pile of body parts and feathers. Dirt flew up in a small cloud, and when it cleared, the bird was standing facing them.

“Ugh, that landing thing hurts so much,” the bird said.

“How nice to see you on the ground, Toucan,” said Fred with a hint of animosity.

“Isn’t that good?” Toucan replied excitedly. “I just learned it. Pretty great, right? Painful, though. Who are these two?” he indicated, wasting no time.

“These two are under my protection, Toucan,” Fred replied.

“Oh, hush up with your ‘under my protection’ thing, Fred. I just wanted to tell you there are two others like them back over that way” – he indicated behind him – “just thought you might want to know, that’s all…”

Jerry and Dorothy jumped out from under Fred. “Two others?” they asked, almost in unison.

“Yup. You want me to show you where they are?”

Dorothy smiled with satisfaction and relief, and nodded her head. “Yes, we would like that very much.”

So the group traveled together, with Dorothy and Jerry on Fred’s chocolaty back, and Toucan flying above, and circling around occasionally to avoid getting too far in front of them. Jerry occasionally tried to ask questions of the bird above, like “Do you know their names?” or “What do they look like?” but Toucan never responded. Jerry wasn’t sure how to take that – whether Toucan just couldn’t hear him, or just didn’t care.

Toucan led them down a hill towards a stream, then over some rocks – “be careful not to touch the water,” he warned, to which Fred replied sternly “Yes, yes, I know. I’ve lived here longer than you, y’know.” Jerry tried to ask how long Fred and Toucan had known each other, but Fred just grumbled in reply and Jerry knew he wouldn’t get a response from Toucan. Dorothy laughed gently at the whole thing, like she was seeing a side of Fred she hadn’t seen in a while.

Some time passed as they hiked – as usual in this strange land, they couldn’t tell if it was five minutes or fifteen hours – but eventually the path they were on, now shaded by tall coconut trees, brought them to a small cave.

“This is it!” Toucan shouted with a mixture of excitement and trepidation as he came barreling to the ground, head tucked under his folded up wings for protection. Fred jumped out of the way as Toucan crashed to the ground.

Over moans and cries of agony from the bird, a voice from inside the cave spoke. “Toucan?” it asked.

Jerry almost cried with excitement and relief. It was his brother.

“Tommy?” Jerry cried and ran towards the cave. Sure enough, his brother was there, holding on to the entrance-way with one hand as he stepped out to see the commotion. They locked eyes and both teared up. They hugged and spoke over each other, both saying how much they missed each other and had been wanting to find each other ever since coming to this place. Dorothy came running over and hugged them both, but she was also looking past them to find the other person in the cave. Then she heard a voice speaking from further in the cave – a voice she hadn’t heard for years. It sounded so familiar, and yet different.

“It sounds like others have just arrived too,” the voice said. “Maybe together,” it said, “maybe together we can get you back.”

Dorothy stepped further into the cave. It was dark, but she could see light ahead. And close to the light was the person she had missed for so many years. He has his back turned, and was looking towards the light, but she knew from his shape that it was him. Michael.

He turned to face her. He looked almost exactly the same as the last time she’d seen him, all those years ago. It felt like a lifetime ago – Jerry and Tommy were both toddlers at the time, after all.

His eyes widened, and his heart skipped a beat. “Dorothy!” he said. “You found me!” He came running towards her, pulling her in close for a hug. They held each other tight, and she kept her eyes closed, ignoring how he looked and just enjoying his smell, and the feel of his hair in her hands. When she opened her eyes, though, she saw past him to the source of the light. It was fading as it shrunk in size.

“Wait!” Tommy shouted, running back in. “The Great G’n-zalo! There are rocks. There is soil. There are people. This… is my mother.” The source of the light stopped shrinking, and stayed steady. Dorothy looked more closely at it now, and saw that it was another tear in reality, floating in the air, and on the other side was a huge blue dragon, chained up and imprisoned in a cell of some kind. The dragon looked exhausted, like it just wanted to sleep, but its eyes opened when it heard Tommy speak of his mother. It opened its mouth to speak.

“Hhhhhhelllllp meeee…” it said softly and slowly, as if that was all it could muster.

“What’s going on?” Dorothy asked Michael matter-of-factly. Nothing was making sense to her, but she could sense the urgency from this grand creature and sensed that everything else could wait.

While Tommy kept describing his surroundings to the dragon on the other side, Michael replied with the same sense of urgency. “We need to go through and get him out of there. I’ve been here for the last few weeks by myself, but then Tommy came along…” He seemed to get distracted by his last few words. “Dorothy, how can Tommy be the same Tommy? I’ve only been gone for seventeen days.”

“Seventeen days?” she answered with sadness for the time they had lost. “Michael, it’s been more than eleven years.”

Michael felt dizzy with shock. His legs wobbled and he held on to the wall. “Eleven…?” he asked, and fell backwards to sit on the ground.

“It’s okay, we’re all together again now,” she said with tears in her eyes, before turning to the business at hand. “Now, how do we get that dragon out?”

She looked at Michael, who seemed lost in thought even as he stared at Dorothy from where he sat on the cave floor. “Umm… what…?” was all he could manage.

Tommy jumped in. “That dragon in there is The Great G’n-zalo. He’s in another dimension – another reality – and he’s the only thing keeping this portal open. Dad (that still feels strange to say) went through to try and get him out, but the portal started to close before he could get him out – The Great G’n-zalo needs to focus on this world to keep the portal open. So he came back through and keeps him attached to this world – anchored to this world – by describing things here in as much detail as he can. If we stop doing that, he starts fading. When I arrived it was the first time he had someone else to help, but he didn’t want me to go through…”

“I couldn’t lose him again so soon after…” Michael interjected, before losing his voice as he still grappled with the truth of how much time he’d lost with his family.

“So we waited for someone else. Toucan flew through, but he couldn’t get The Great G’n-zalo out. The chains holding him are too much.”

The large blue dragon reared its head with exhaustion filling every fiber of its being. It opened its mouth to speak, and as it drew breath, everyone on the other side of the portal focused to listen.

“Some… one… strong… er…” the dragon spoke. “Get… the… moose…”

Click here for Chapter Thirty-Two.

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