STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN – PRESENT DAY
Inez Mac Paidin was gazing out a large, leaded glass window onto a vast and frigid landscape, the last remaining glimmer of daylight rapidly diminishing over the horizon. Though it was only 4:15 in the afternoon, you would have expected it to be much later in the day. But in this remote corner of the world, the moon ruled many more months of the year than the sun did. Darkness was the norm rather than the exception.
Thin and gaunt, with skin the color of cooked oats and dark hair pulled back tightly into a knot on the top of her head, Inez rarely cracked a smile. She was not a happy person by nature. Wearing a slate gray, high-neck dress with stiff little ruffles that touched her chin, her demeanor was cool, removed, and unforgiving.
“Time is running out, Dreadfort; there is no denying it. Sadie will be coming into her powers soon, and action must be taken to assure her devotion well before that happens.” She turned around slowly to face the others in the room. There were six of them, all seated around an enormous ebony table; Phinneas Dreadfort, Earl O’Brien, Genevieve Whisperstill, Thaddeus O’Brien, Desmond Radcliff, and her younger sister, Clara Mac Paidin.
“I’ve observed no indication whatsoever that Sadie’s abilities have begun to show themselves,” Genevieve said, gazing down longingly at the cloudy rose quartz and gold ring she wore on her right-hand ring finger. “But she is nearing her eleventh birthday, so I agree time is short.” She casually set down her fork and wiped her mouth with a white cloth napkin. Then, raising a crystal goblet half-full of red wine, she took a sip before continuing on.
“She and I have built a meaningful bond these past nine years, and I believe she truly thinks of me as her mother.”
“Well done, Gen.” Clara smiled. Her wild mass of pumpkin-colored hair stood out in sharp contrast against her porcelain skin and vibrant green eyes. “That bond will be required in order to achieve our objectives.”
Strolling toward them and seating herself at the head of the table, Inez once again took control of the discussion.
“Is there a problem with Ethan, Thaddeus? I was under the impression things were progressing splendidly between the two of you.”
Thaddeus O’Brien cowered slightly under Inez’s cold, hard stare. “No, no. There is no problem. It was not my intention to cause undue concern.” He reached up to twist the ends of his closely cropped black beard between his fingers. The nearly identical ring on his right hand was glowing a brilliant sapphire blue.
“It’s just that, well, Ethan can be very demanding, especially so now that he is getting better acquainted with his powers. His confidence and, dare I say, arrogant tendencies are increasing substantially. This means it is becoming more of a…challenge, shall we say, to manage him. My only fear is that he may want to “go rogue” at some point, and that could be disastrous for all of us.” In an effort to avert Inez’s gaze, O’Brien now looked down at the partially eaten plate of food in front of him. Picking up a knife and fork, he very deliberately sliced a piece of meat, put it into his mouth, and began to chew.
“Yes. Disastrous, indeed.” Inez raised her left eyebrow with disdain. Her deep-set eyes were drilling an imaginary hole right through the man’s bowed forehead. She detested any sign of weakness, especially in men.
“It is your job, Thaddeus, to ensure that does not happen. You…” she emphasized, “are the adult in the situation. Use whatever means necessary to bring the boy into full compliance with our plans. Otherwise, well…” and without shifting her gaze, she lifted the steak knife from the table in front of her. She sank the tip of it deftly into the beef on her plate, twisting so that bloody juices oozed out, pooling on the plate, “the consequences could be dire.” Her eyes glazed across each face around the table; This was not a warning meant for only one.
“And what of Jack, Earl? Have you any news to report on him?” she shifted her gaze and was now looking intently in his direction.
Earl O’Brien, a big man with a paunch belly and striped bowtie, was the group’s financial expert. He was mostly bald, and what was left of his salt-and-pepper hair graced the sides and back of his larger-than-normal head like a pair of oversized earmuffs. He wore little, round, wire-rimmed glasses perched down close to the end of his nose, and they framed his dull-looking, gray eyes in a way that said, “No nonsense allowed.”
“Nothing much to report about Jack. He appears to be the same boring, nerdy kid he has always been. Keeps to himself mostly, working numbers on his phone. Though…he did mention the other night that he has had some sleep disturbances lately, and we have noticed his voice is beginning to crack, which I know can be an indicator, so I’m keeping an eye on that.” He sat back in his chair, eying Inez carefully as he continued. “Lizzie and I are watching for signs of anything unusual, what with his thirteenth birthday coming up next month.”
Inez rolled her eyes in exasperation as she opened her mouth to speak when suddenly the golden ring on Earl O’Brien’s right hand lit up like a fire engine; The previously dark red garnet stone was now pulsating with a brilliant light from within.
All conversation in the room came to an abrupt halt as each person at the table turned their attention to Earl’s hand.
Apparently, Jack was about to become a much more interesting boy.
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