The Risky Reunion – Preview

THE RISKY REUNION – JACK AND THE MAGIC HAT MAKER – BOOK FOUR

Chapter 1

Ethan, Inez, Magda, and Valdis

(Continued…)

BLARJORD, DYRRHEIM – PRESENT DAY

The trio emerged inside a cavern not all that dissimilar to the one they just exited. However, Ethan immediately noticed a stream of water bubbled through the center of this one. Following it to the west, just beyond the cave’s opening, he identified its source; an enormous, inky-looking body of water.

“I haven’t been inside this den for years now,” Inez murmured as they climbed up the craggy ledge leading from the water’s bank. “Not since…”

Magda cleared her throat and shot a cautionary look at her apprentice.

“Not since when?” Ethan asked, glancing at his aunt.

“Never mind that.” A new voice arose from within the shadows at the far end of the grotto. “It was a long time ago. And I’m here to meet my great-grandson.”

This woman, previously obscured, came forth into plain view. She wore flat, black suede boots that completely covered her knees, matching leggings, and a rich, red tunic grazed her thighs. A dark woolen cape covered her slender body from shoulder to calf, and several thick, woven silver chains dangled down her torso, making a clinking sound as she moved. Glossy black hair fell in loose, abundant waves down her back, and a spikey-looking silver crown sat upon her head. However, most distinct of all was the opaque, black veil draping the lower half of her face.

The two visiting women dropped to their knees, tugging Ethan down with them.

“You’re Highness.” Magda proclaimed.

“Grandmother,” Inez whispered.

Ethan jerked his arms free and shot to his feet arrogantly.

The queen raised one ebony brow, dipping her head in the boy’s direction, and the corners of her eyes turned up.

“You most certainly are of my bloodline,” she cooed, moving to stand directly in front of Ethan. She met him, eye-to-eye, and they stared at one another for a long moment. Ethan didn’t flinch as the woman raised a gloved hand to lift his chin. She turned his jaw from side to side and ruffled his loose, black curls.

“Ethan, I presume?” She laughed and turned around, striding confidently away from them.

“Were you expecting someone else?” He asked, with a snarky tone in his voice.

The Demon Queen spun and gazed at the young man before her, no hint of amusement in her ebony eyes.

“But some manners wouldn’t hurt,” Valdis hissed, and she lifted two rounded fingers beneath her black veil. A shrill whistle erupted from her mouth, and within moments a burst of flames in shades of burnt orange, red, and yellow blazed from the shadows behind her.

Malgore, come!” She shrieked in a high-pitched voice, and immediately Ethan both felt and heard a thundering that made the cave rumble and shake. A deafening roar assaulted his ears, and the three guests shrunk back, covering their heads. Huge pale-green reptilian eyes with black vertical pupils were the first visible feature Ethan saw of the dragon. The eyes glowed brightly against the cave’s darkness, each one the height of a full-grown man.

As the beast emerged, the most massive, ebony-scaled head Ethan had ever seen was revealed, and he dropped to his knees, bowing down to the rock floor in front of him.

Ok, ok!” He screamed. “I give! I’m sorry.” The words tumbled out of his mouth. “Don’t let it eat me!”

“But you look so tasty,” the deep, resonant voice filled Ethan’s head, “if a little on the scrawny side.” And the boy scrunched his brows together tightly, tipping his head to the side just enough to peek up into the gigantic creature’s face.

Sure enough, the dragon appeared to be looking right at him.

Ethan glanced at Valdis, then twisted his head to look at Magda and Inez behind him. Both women had their heads bowed, and their eyes squeezed shut tightly.

“Are you talking to me?” Ethan asked the question in his mind, not using his mouth to speak.

“My dinner doesn’t usually talk back,” Malgor silently replied, and Ethan cautiously rose onto his knees to gaze at his great-grandmother.

“Did anyone else hear that?” Ethan asked out loud, looking from one woman to the other.

“Shut up, boy, and bow!” Magda screamed. But Inez lifted her head and squinted at her nephew.

“Just as I suspected.” Valdis walked to where the dragon crouched next to her and patted him on the snout. “You sense the connection?” She addressed the dragon aloud, and the creature nodded his head one time. The demon queen then turned back to face Ethan.

“You’re a natural.”

 

Chapter 2

Arrival

MAC PAIDIN MANOR, DUBLIN, IRELAND – PRESENT DAY

Jack and Grandpa Edward materialized into the observatory on the upper level of Mac Paidin Manor. Each quickly balanced themselves, grasping the wooden edge of the enormous locator globe.

Ahh..” Edward sighed, casting his eyes around the spacious room, “it’s so nice to be home. I’ve missed this old mansion.” He glanced down to his left at the dark-haired youth steadying himself next to him. “Are you quite alright, Jack?” He asked, reaching out an aged hand and placing it comfortingly on the boy’s shoulder.

“Yes, Grandpa. I’m ok. It’s always a little disturbing traveling through portals.” He inhaled deeply then looked at the globe before them. Scrunching his brows together tightly, he tipped his head to the side, pursing his lips.

Umm…Grandpa,” Jack inhaled, “is it just my eyes adjusting, or do you see a new dot flashing on the globe there?” He pointed to the surface of the device, and Edward followed the boy’s arm to see what his grandson was indicating. There, in addition to the red and blue dots representing Jack and Ethan’s magical energy, was a brilliant pink light flashing like a beacon. They both turned immediately to face one another. “SADIE!” They shouted.

“But she’s too young.” Edward giggled, pressing buttons on the device’s control panel. “There must be some error in the software.”

“Where does it say she is?” Jack asked breathlessly. “It looks like California, right?”

Edward Mac Paidin pressed a few more buttons, then licked his lips.

“Yes, San Diego.” He said, blinking rapidly. “And it appears all is in order. Sadie’s magical abilities must have manifested early, which isn’t that surprising when I think about it. Girls frequently mature sooner than boys. But eleven?” He took in a big lungful of air then exhaled slowly. “Well, this is an exciting development!” He beamed, the smile reaching his hazel eyes and making them sparkle. “But first things first,” he turned to Jack. “We have some people we need to reconnect with. You said Bill and Bart Flanagan are staying here at Mac Paidin Manor?”

“Yes, at least they were when I left.” Jack pulled his mouth to the side and shrugged his shoulders. “We really should let them know we’re back.” Edward nodded his head. “And Arthur. Grandpa, he has missed you so much.” Jack gazed up into the wrinkled face of the older man. “He’s going to be very happy to see you.”

“Yes, good, old Artie!” Edward moved away from the globe and headed toward the small staircase leading down to the second level of the home.

“Let’s take care of that before we start thinking about other things.” Edward looked over his shoulder at Jack. “Don’t forget to bring that with you,” he indicated the golden telescope lying on the floor at the boy’s feet.

“Oh, yeah!” Jack bent over, grabbed the device, then dashed to follow his grandfather down and out of the observation room.

Opening the door and exiting into the lavish upper hallway, the two were greeted by familiar paintings, woven tapestries, walnut crown molding, and warm lighting that gave this mansion its’ inviting ambiance. Standing in the lengthy corridor, they glanced to both ends of the hallway, then cocked their heads. The sound of muted voices arose from the lower level, down the massive main staircase.

“The kitchens!” They smiled at one another, then rushed for the stairs. Edward cautiously gripped the glossy wooden railing, and Jack lifted a helpful hand to the man’s elbow as they quickly descended to the roomy foyer. Turning the corner to the left, they made their way through the formal sitting room and dining area, then paused before the heavy swinging door leading to the kitchens.

Jack looked up at his grandfather, smiled, and nodded enthusiastically as they listened to the recognizable voices. He turned and pushed the door open, walking into the stainless and cream-appointed space. At once, the chatter stopped, three faces turning in their direction.

“Jack! Bart shouted, shoving his chair back, away from the breakfast table, and dashing toward his friend.

“Bart!” Jack echoed, and they threw their arms around one another in an earnest embrace.

“Master,” Arthur Loyal breathed from across the room, and a small smile turned up the corners of his mouth. The family butler shook his head slowly back and forth before striding assertively across the room and pausing before Sir Edward.

“Artie!” Edward grinned, and when his servant extended a hesitant hand to shake, Sir Edward brushed it aside and wrapped his arms tightly around his devoted friend.

There was a moment of silence in the room, and Bill Flanagan stood by, observing, eyes wide and brows high on his forehead. Then the moment passed, as the four friends parted and excited chatter broke out.

“Bill!” Edward exclaimed when he looked up and noticed the man standing across the room. Bart’s father stepped away from the breakfast table and moved to where the others stood next to the oversized kitchen island.

“Sir Edward,” Bill began, thrusting his hand out, and the two men gripped one another in a powerful handshake. “How is it that the two of you are together?” Bill looked at Jack talking to Bart. “Last we heard, Inez was holding Jack captive at her home in Sweden. And you were,” he paused, blinking rapidly, “hiding in the past. So, I’m completely baffled.” He cocked his head and scratched his chin. “But, what a relief to have you back here with us, where you belong.”

Edward placed his other hand on top of Bill’s. “We have a long story to tell.” He glanced at the two boys talking excitedly next to them. “It seems you have done what I asked of you, and then some.” He said.

“Oh, yes, Sir. Lots of catching up to do.” Bill tipped his head, and they both withdrew their hands, turning toward the boys.

“Young Jack, here, has shared quite a bit of the story with me,” Edward patted his grandson on the shoulder, interrupting the boys’ conversation.

“Oh, ya! Bart,” Jack interjected. “I want you to meet my grandpa, Sir Edward Mac Paidin!” Jack stepped back and gestured to his grandfather. “And Grandpa, this is my best friend, Bart Flanagan.”

“Very nice to make your acquaintance, Bart.” Edward smiled at the boy.

“Great to meet you, Sir Edward,” Bart replied. “I’ve heard so many interesting things about you!”

Edward chuckled. “I’ll bet you have.” He turned to Arthur and the others. “Why don’t we move into the library where we can be more comfortable?”

They turned toward the swinging kitchen door, and Edward addressed his servant. “Arthur, would you please bring a tray of refreshments? I’m sure Jack is hungry, and we could all use something to drink.”

“Of course, Sir.” The butler replied, and the group headed for the library.

“Now,” Edward began once everyone was seated. “I know there is a lot to tell for each of us here, but,” he held up a finger and dipped his chin, “our top priorities need to be two things. First, and most importantly, we now know my wife, Lady Lydia, is alive and well but has been stuck in the past, with no way back, until now.” He turned and grinned at Jack and the golden telescope he held in his gloved hands.

Arthur entered the room carrying a silver tray on which sat a crystal pitcher and a variety of snacks.

“I’ve just learned that Lydia enabled that telescope as a beacon to alert Jack to her existence. Then she further taught him that not only can it be used to deliver pre-recorded messages, but it also functions as a time-travel and teleportation device.” Edward shook his head slowly, blinking his eyes and grinning.

Lively chatter broke out in the room from Bill, Bart, and Arthur, for whom this was new information.

Edward raised his hand. “Yes, quite clever. But the point being, Jack has just recently made me aware that Lydia lost the magical traveling hat I created to send her on her mission to the future. The story about how she ended up nearly 250 years in the past will have to wait until she returns.” He paused, inhaling deeply, and accepted a glass filled with some pink beverage from Arthur, taking a small sip before continuing.

“My top priority will be to create a new hat that Jack can transport to her, using the golden telescope, so that together they may return to us, safe and sound.”

Everyone in the room nodded in agreement, and there were murmurs and gasps as this news registered with the others present.

Again, Edward raised his hand.

“Second, you should all be aware that, upon our arrival in the observation room upstairs today, Jack and I noticed that a third light is now blinking on that locator globe.” He paused, taking time to gaze at each person individually. Surprise registered on every face, as together they all whispered, “Sadie.”

“Yes, Sadie.” Edward agreed. “Apparently, her powers manifested earlier than anticipated. So,” he took another drink. “we will explore the implications of that as soon as we conclude our objectives with Jack and Lady Lydia.”

Edward stood and faced the others.

“Jack can fill you in regarding what he experienced during his journey. But I’m afraid I feel a sense of urgency to work on creating that hat. We can discuss everything else related to me after we rescue my wife.”

He headed for the library door, then turned. “It is excellent to be home and see you again.” He smiled, dipping his chin, then left the room.

 

Chapter 3

The Time-Travel Expert

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN – PRESENT DAY

At the appointed hour, Inez Mac Paidin stood expectant in the upstairs conference room of her luxurious home. She was gazing out floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a vast expanse of lawns, walking trails, and forest on the outskirts of Ostermalm.

Behind her, seated at the mostly vacant, enormous ebony table, were her uncle, Earl O’Brien, and nephew, 16-year-old Ethan Mac Paidin.

“Inez,” Earl blurted, “the portal.”

Inez turned around to face the table, and to her right, behind the table, the normally blank black wooden panel on the wall was beginning to shimmer in shades of gold, aqua, and pink. The portal grew more and more vibrant, hovering in midair until, at its’ center, a person became visible. Suddenly, a tall man wearing a full-length black wool overcoat and Porkpie hat emerged. Inez walked to meet him, and he bowed deeply.

“Ms. Mac Paidin, I presume?” He asked, standing erect once again.

“Yes, thank you for coming. And how shall I address you?” Inez reached out a hand in the man’s direction.

“I am Jothan Stratham, Time-Travel and Teleportation Specialist for the Cabal, at your service,” he said, taking her hand and shaking it lightly.

Inez nodded briefly, then extended her hand toward the conference table and the others seated there.

“Allow me to introduce my associates, my uncle, Earl O’Brien, and our nephew, Ethan Mac Paidin,” she said. Pulling a black, Gothic wooden chair out from the table, she motioned for the man to take a seat.

Inez sat at the head of the table, and the three family members gazed at their visitor.

“Yes, well, shall we get right down to business, then?” Jothan started, lifting a briefcase and placing it on the table. He slid two chrome latches to the side and lifted the lid. He removed a manila file and laid it on the table, then closed the case. Withdrawing a stack of papers clipped together, he reviewed the information, then looked up at the others.

“It is my understanding that you are searching for two or three missing persons you believe are lost in the past, is that correct?” He looked directly at Inez, then to Earl, and lastly to Ethan.

“Yes, that’s correct,” Inez replied.

“I see here that they are all family members?” He glanced up, dipping his chin at Inez.

“Yes, my mother, Lady Lydia Mac Paidin, my father, Sir Edward Mac Paidin, and my nephew, Jack Mac Paidin.”

Mm-hm…” The man confirmed, continuing to review the document in his hands.

“And why, if I may ask, haven’t you looked into this before now? My records show that your mother has been missing for… twenty-four years, at this point.” He raised his brows high on his forehead and rolled his lips together as he stared at Inez.

“Yes, well, that is true. But only recently have we received news that my mother is alive and lost in the past.” She replied.

“Ah-ha. Interesting.” Jothan nodded. “And your father? What makes you think he is lost in time?” He asked, but didn’t wait for her response before continuing on. “It says here that Sir Edward died two years ago. Or, rather, went missing and has been presumed dead. Funeral services and all.” He looked up, then glanced at Earl and Ethan again, before looking back to Inez.

“Well, that story is interesting, indeed.” Inez began. “We all believed him dead, but again, we have received recent news leading us to believe he is actually alive. And to clarify, we don’t believe he is lost in time, like my mother. It is our understanding that he is deliberately hiding in the past to avoid responsibility for his actions in the present.” She pursed her crimson lips and blinked slowly at the man.

“I see.” He said. “And this Jack Mac Paidin? “He flipped the page he was looking at. “How does he fit into all of this? It says here that he is being held prisoner, and the situation is urgent?”

“Correct. Jack is Ethan’s little brother.” Inez motioned toward the teenager at the table. The man looked at Ethan, who nodded briefly in response. “He has just passed his thirteenth birthday. It is through the recent activation of Jack’s magical abilities, due to the hormonal shift at puberty, that we have come into this new information. He had an interaction with a magical teleportation device, a golden telescope. My mother, Lady Lydia, has been communicating with him through this device. We believe Jack has joined my mother in the past. But he is not lost, hiding, or stuck there. We believe he is there with deliberate intent. He appears to be searching for his grandfather, my father, Sir Edward. Though it seems he is currently being held in some prison cell, suspected to be a German spy.” She raised one black brow, tapping her glossy red nails on the tabletop.

“Can you help us locate any or all of them?”

“Well,” Jothan inhaled deeply. “That depends on several factors.” He began. “Do you possess anything that belonged to them? Especially helpful are personal items containing a fragment of their DNA, such as a hairbrush, a toothbrush, or any other such item.”

At this, Earl spoke up, extending his hand across the table in the man’s direction.

“We have this ring,” he began. “It contains a drop of Jack’s blood.” He removed the golden ring with the large red stone from his right-hand ring finger and gave it to Jothan.

“Perfect!” The man puckered his lips and his eyes flew open wide. He reached out to take the ring from Earl’s chubby hand.

“Yes, our nephew here, Ethan, is a Mentalist. He was able to connect with Jack’s energy, across space and time, using that ring. The connection was erratic and unreliable, but still, he did have some success. Ethan can fill you in on the details he learned.” Inez looked at Ethan and nodded.

After Jothan spent some time questioning Ethan, he gazed down at the ring in his hand.

“May I take this with me? I’d like to analyze it in my lab. Using certain very specialized equipment, I should be able to calibrate the ring, access all the information contained in that drop of Jack’s blood, and come up with a fairly accurate estimate of when and where he is located at the present time. And that may provide leads to the whereabouts of your parents, as well.” He looked at Earl, then Inez.

Inez turned to her uncle and she and Earl exchanged a long look before they both nodded agreement.

“We’ll need it back, of course. How long will this assessment take?” Inez asked. “We’d like to take action as soon as possible.” She stared at Jothan, who was tucking the ring into a small bag.

“Of course. The analysis does take some time. But I should be able to get this back to you, with the results, within 2 -3 days. Will that work?” He was placing the papers back into the folder, inserting it into the briefcase, then closing the lid.

“I suppose, if it requires that much time.” Inez exhaled a loud huff. “But sooner is better than later. If you could speed things up, that would be greatly appreciated.” She scowled at the man.

“I understand, madam. But these things do take time, and the process really can’t be rushed. I will do what I can to expedite things for you.” Jothan pushed back his chair and stood.

Inez, Earl, and Ethan also pushed away from the table and stood. The two males simply nodded at the specialist as he turned to shake Inez’s hand, then summoned the portal once again.

“I’ll get back to you with my results as soon as possible.” He said with a nod. Then he entered the shimmering portal and disappeared from sight.

Chapter 4

Jack and Bart

MAC PAIDIN MANOR, DUBLIN, IRELAND – PRESENT DAY

“So, Dude, I want to hear all about what has happened to you since I last saw you.” Bart said, flopping down on the end of the queen-sized canopy bed in Jack’s bedroom. He crossed his legs, pulled off his forest-green and bright-yellow Oregon Ducks ball cap, and shoved long, sandy bangs off his forehead. “We’ve been so worried.” He added.

“Oh, my gosh!” Jack began, joining Bart on the bed. He also crossed his legs, and leaned in toward his friend. “You are not going to believe the stuff I’ve been through!” He shook his head from side to side and licked his lips. “I mean, when was the last time we saw each other?”

Umm..” Bart scratched his chin. “The last time I saw you was after Ethan and your evil aunts showed up in that portal. Remember?”

“Oh, yeah!” Jack joined in. “That seems like forever ago! Freaking Ethan! Shoving Inez through that magical gateway to their house in Stockholm. Like, as if he wasn’t on her side the whole time!” Jack scoffed, rolling his eyes.

“Yeah! Jerk that he is.” Bart blurted. “So, after all that, we showed Ethan that big painting of your Grandma Lydia on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. The last thing I know is we went up to our bedrooms to go to bed.” Bart tipped his head to the side and squinted at Jack. “But then, the next morning, both you and Ethan were missing, and we found your inhaler in your bedroom. So, we figured Inez must have discovered a way to kidnap the two of you.” He paused, putting the ball cap back on his head. “So, now I need the real story. What actually happened, Jack?” He didn’t wait for him to reply, but quickly added. “By the way, I have some pretty incredible things to tell you, too. But you go first.”

Ok, so, what actually happened was that, after we went upstairs to get ready for bed, I realized I hadn’t seen my big brother in nine years, so I decided to open the adjoining door between our bedrooms to hang out with him.” Jack shook his head and closed his eyes. “But when I did,” His eyes flew open again and he jutted his chin out, glaring at his friend. “Ethan was naked to the waist, and when he turned around, there was this huge, blue glowing pendant hanging in the middle of his chest.” He licked his lips.

“What?” Bart’s brows shot up high on his forehead. “So, he already had one of those magic pendants with him when he got here?”

“Apparently so.” Jack replied. “Because he was in the middle of summoning a portal to Inez and Clara’s place in Stockholm. When he saw me, he got really angry that I interrupted him, and grabbed me, pulling me into the portal with him.”

“Oh, man! So, your own brother kidnapped you? That’s completely bonkers.” Bart leaned back on his hands.

“Yeah, I know, right?” Jack asked. “And, to make a very long story shorter, Inez and Ethan, and her thugs broke into the house here, one night when you, and your dad, and Arthur were out. They found and stole the golden telescope. And they wanted me to do a demonstration for them. You know, show them how I connect to Grandma Lydia with it.”

“Whoa. No kidding?” Bart inhaled sharply. “So, did you do it?”

“Yes. They really didn’t give me any choice.” Jack replied. “But, there’s a twist to the story that they were not expecting!” Jack snickered, a broad smile breaking out across his face. “And this is where the story gets really crazy, Bart. You are not going to believe this!”

“What?” Bart lurched forward again, his blue eyes wide. “How could this story get any more insane? Do tell, Dude!”

Ok,” Jack began. “So, when I connected with Grandma Lydia, she told me that the telescope can do more than just send pre-recorded messages. It can also be used as a time-travel teleportation device.” He laughed out loud. “And she was really clever about it, too. You know how, if I touch the surface of the telescope, my own magical abilities engage with it, and I have one of those visions?”

Bart nodded his head enthusiastically.

“Well, because of that, Grandma Lydia told me to have someone else twist those weird-looking ends on the thing a certain way, then hand it to me. And…“He paused, a sly little grin turning up the corners of his mouth, and his chocolate-brown eyes sparkled. “This part I improvised. I told Inez all about this, and had her twist the ends for me. Which she was happy to do, because I told her that doing so, then handing it to me, would transport her mother to where I was as soon as I touched it. But…” He paused again, the grin on his face growing even larger. “I lied. What Grandma Lydia told me was that doing that would transport ME to where she was. And that’s how I escaped.”

Jack fell back onto his bed and belly laughed out loud.

Bart sat silent for a moment, then he also broke out in laughter.

“Oh, Brother! You are freaking brilliant!” He said, holding his stomach as he laughed.

“But, wait a minute.” Bart stopped laughing and cocked his head to the side. “If the telescope transported you to where your grandma is…then, doesn’t that mean you time-traveled back to 1879?” His mouth dropped open and he sat there, wide-eyed, staring down at his friend laying on the bed in front of him.

Jack sat back up and stared at Bart.

“Yup. That’s exactly what it means. And…” He paused, raising his eyebrows. “Grandpa Edward?” He dipped his chin. “I also visited him in 1917…inside the basement of Buckingham Palace. Now, that was a trip!” He finished and sat back on his hands again.

“Oh, wow.” Bart blinked hard. “That is just too much. So, you used the telescope to time-travel both times?”

“Yes. And you know what was really freaky? The royal guard threw me into a jail cell beneath the palace. And get this…they thought I was a German spy.” He raised his brows high on his forehead. “I mean, I was there during World War 1 when the Germans were bombing London. So, that was a very scary situation for a minute there. Until my great-grandpa, William rescued me and took me to meet Grandpa Edward. And the rest is history.”

Bart whistled. “That’s incredible! I can’t even imagine.” He sighed, and the two of them sat silent for a moment.
“Oh,” Jack interjected. “You said you have some stories to tell me, too? What happened to you while I was gone?” He asked.

“Oh, my gosh! Yes!” Bart sat up with new enthusiasm. “Well, Inez and Ethan pulled a fast one on me, too. Pretty much exactly like what Ethan did to you. Only Ethan’s bedroom was empty when I went in there. I was exploring for clues about where you two might be. But then, both of them materialized through one of those magical portals. And she grabbed me and just vooped me right out of there, to her house in Sweden, too.”

“No kidding?” Jack asked. “Why would they want to kidnap you?” He wiggled his head and made a screwy look with his eyes and mouth.

“Well, I’m not exactly sure, but I think they wanted to try to get info out of me about you, and what I know about how the telescope works.”

Jack nodded his head with understanding. “So, how’d you get away? Did your dad rescue you, or something?”

Kind of.” Bart started. “But not until after I got out of there on my own.” He smirked and wrinkled his nose. “My magical abilities just happened to manifest while I was held prisoner in her basement dungeon.”

“What?” Jack shook his head. “I’ve gotta hear this story!”

“Ya, so, after they kidnapped me and took me to her house, Inez thought I needed to be taught a lesson for being a loudmouth.” He rolled his eyes and pressed his lips together. “Anyhow, she threw me in her jail cells beneath her house! And after I figured out you weren’t there, I kicked the wall when I was frustrated in the middle of the night. And, well, my leg went right through that wall.” He started laughing.

“Wait, what?” Jack stuck his chin out and licked his lips.

“I’m serious,” Bart controlled his laughing. “Apparently, one of my gifts is…I’m like a mole! Ha!” He snorted. “Seriously. I burrowed right through that dense stone wall. I swear, it’s about six feet thick. But that’s how I got out of there.”

The two boys sat, shaking their heads back and forth.
“What incredible stories we have to tell,” Jack said.

“Yeah, some things I wish I hadn’t experienced, personally,” Bart replied. “Anything else you have to tell me?” He looked at Jack.

“Oh, like the fact that I met this girl, Samantha, on a ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean back in 1879. And according to a prophetic vision my grandma had, apparently Sam and I are going to get married one day?”

 

Chapter 5

Clara’s Conversations

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN – PRESENT DAY

Clara Mac Paidin materialized into the shadows of the Gothic conference room located on the upper floor of her Oestermalm home. Smoothing the front of her black slacks, then patting her mass of pumpkin-colored hair into place, she strode across the expanse and opened the door. Walking down the hallway, she stopped before the entrance to her sister’s bedroom and twisted the knob.

Vacant.

Twisting back to the direction she’d come, she turned at the top of the wide-open staircase and descended to the home’s ornate foyer. Stopping to listen, she could hear Inez in what sounded like, a phone conversation. The voice was emanating from the music room to her right. And she waited, silent until the call was finished. Then, walking slowly to the doorway, she grabbed the brass knob and entered.

Inez glanced up in her direction, then the expression on her face changed.

“Sister!” She shrieked and bolted up off the rose and gold brocade sofa to dash toward Clara.

“Inez.” Clara echoed, and the two embraced briefly before the elder pulled back and held her younger sister at arm’s length.

“How are you? Were you mistreated? You’ve been gone much longer than I anticipated. What news have you?”

Clara put her hand in the air and pushed past her sister to the brass and glass beverage cart. It was positioned across the room, in front of an enormous picture window. Lifting the cut crystal stopper off a decanter, she filled an etched tumbler with a portion of amber liquid. Then she replaced the top on the bottle and turned, drink in hand, to face her sister.

“It wasn’t pleasant.” She stated matter-of-factly. There was no hint of amusement anywhere to be found on her ashen face. Clara blinked slowly and bit her upper lip, rolling one eye. Then, pursing her mouth and inhaling deeply, she strolled to the seat next to the sofa and sat down, tossing one leg over an arm and reclining casually back into the chair.

“Well,” Inez chimed enthusiastically, thrusting a manicured hand in the air, “do tell! I want all the details!” She moved back to the sofa and sat down, facing her sister.

Clara stared at Inez blankly, for a long moment. Then took a substantial sip off her beverage. She lowered the drink and swirled its contents, gazing into the cup, and blinking slowly.

“Clara?” Inez urged her sister. “Has the cat got your tongue? What happened?”

Clara’s brows inched up on her forehead. “Well, Sister,” she began, “things did not go as planned.” Reflexively, she reached up and grasped the amber pendant at her collarbone.

“Mm-hmm…” Inez intoned. “I see you managed to keep your pendant. And you’ve returned here to us, safely. What’s the problem, then?” A tone of irritation edged into Inez’s voice.

“The PROBLEM?!” Clara shrieked. New energy engulfed her entire body, and she shot up off of her seat. “The problem, dear SISTER,” she hissed the last, “is that no, I did NOT keep my pendant. It has only recently been returned to me.” She paced the room like a caged animal. Then she turned on her sister, towering over her. “They removed the pendant from me as soon as I was taken into custody.” She glared down at Inez. “I have been incarcerated, in the most vile of conditions, for these past weeks! And did you not think to investigate, when you heard nothing from me for days and weeks on end??”

Her eyes could have shot daggers at Inez, who sat, motionless, observing the outburst.

Inez stood, slowly, strategically, with one black brow raised high on her forehead above penetrating aqua eyes. She dipped her chin at her sister, who shrank back, cowering beneath Inez’s domineering presence.

“I did, Sister, consider that you hadn’t sent any kind of beacon or message. But, I trusted that, since this was YOUR plan, one you orchestrated with precision and fidelity, that all was going as you’d predicted. And you must have been so busy gathering valuable intelligence on our adversaries, that you hadn’t felt the need to communicate.” She blinked pointedly. “I presume my confidence was misplaced?”

Clara rolled her eyes and turned to refill her glass at the beverage cart.

“Your _confidence_, Sister, was not misplaced,” she spat. “I could not have anticipated the treatment I suffered at the hands of those people.”

She turned with a newly filled tumbler in hand. “I was locked in a cold, dark cell, without decent lighting, bedding, or even toilet facilities. I subsisted on thin broth and dry bread for weeks. And was hauled before an entire roomful of their council people to account for YOUR actions!”

Maybe her confidence received a boost from the liquid inside her glass, but Clara inhaled deeply and stood a little taller as she accused her older sister.

“How dare you act as though my behavior somehow deserves less confidence, when it is YOUR choices that have landed us in our current circumstances.” She took another healthy swig off her drink, then continued. “I am not the one who decided to shove our father off The Cliffs of Moher! I am not the one who orchestrated and planned the murder of our little brother and his wife. And I am certainly not responsible for arranging the abduction and isolation of our nieces and nephews!” She screamed at her sister uncontrollably. “How DARE you speak to me in such a way when YOU are responsible for ALL OF IT!”

Inez stood, staring at her sister for a long moment before speaking.

“You are correct, little sister.” She pressed her lips together into a tight line. “I am the responsible party. I am the elder sister. And as such, it is my obligation to look out for you. Apparently, I have failed in that regard. I’m very sorry if you have suffered due to my negligence. Please, come. Sit down, and tell me about what you have endured.

Inez walked to where Clara stood quivering. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and she was shaking visibly.

“Come.” Inez put her arms around Clara’s shoulders. “Tell me what has happened to put you in such a state.”

Inez helped Clara to the sofa and they sat together, as Clara disclosed all that had transpired during her imprisonment at the Flanagan estate.

All but the fact that Ardal Flanagan, and others from The Order of Light, were listening in on everything that took place while she was wearing that pendant.

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