“Where is he? Where is my grandson?” Arthur had barely materialized and removed his hat when the words escaped Sir Edward’s lips.
The butler grimaced. “Things did not…go as we had hoped, Sir.”
“What do you mean, they didn’t go as planned? What happened?” Sir Edward rose from his chair, his eyes wide, frantically searching Arthur’s face for answers before he spoke.
“He knew I was there,” Arthur stated bluntly. “He sensed me in the room before I was able to make my presence known.”
At this news, Edward’s knees buckled a little beneath him. Dashing to his side, Arthur quickly took the older man by the arm and carefully led him to a seat.
“And he wasn’t receptive to your message? What about the photo?” Edward asked.
The butler gently eased his master into his chair and then pulled up another for himself. He sat opposite the older man, his expression grim.
“Ethan was indeed at the location you determined using the globe, but what we hadn’t anticipated was that his uncle, Thaddeus, would also be in the room with him.”
Sir Edward’s eyes widened, prompting Arthur to continue. “But Ethan did not, and this part is a bit of a mystery to me, betray my presence to his uncle. In fact, he made no indication whatsoever that he knew I was there until after his uncle left the room.”
“Yes, that is curious…” Sir Edward’s wrinkled brow gently furrowed.
“It was only after Thaddeus left the room and closed the door that Ethan compelled me to show myself. And I had no choice but to take off the hat.”
“And what was his reaction?” Edward prompted, leaning closer.
“Naturally, he wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there in his bedroom. I showed him the photo, and he did consider it for a brief moment. But I couldn’t even get him to take hold of and examine it. So, I then told him about you.”
Sir Edward watched, worry and sadness clouding his eyes, as Arthur leaned over and set both hats on the floor so that he could wipe his sweaty hands on his trousers.
“But, Sir…” Arthur said, his expression suddenly grave. “When I arrived, Thaddeus was talking to the boy about joining some sort of organization. In exchange for substantial material wealth, they would have access to the boy’s powers.”
As he spoke, the color drained from Sir Edward’s face. His previously rosy cheeks, flushed with anxiety and frustration, turned a deathly white.
“Your daughters, I’m presuming,” Arthur spoke slowly, as if not entirely sure himself. “O’Brien gave him a timeline…” he continued. “Ethan has to let him know by tomorrow whether he will pursue this path or not. It was after this conversation that Ethan let me know he was aware of my presence. He thought I must be one of them.” Arthur bowed his head, pressing his lips tightly together. “So, you can see why he would be suspicious of me.”
“I see…” Edward said somberly.
“I tried to show him the photo, Sir, but he was convinced the only people he needed protecting from were you and me! He opened the door and began yelling for his uncle, so I left in haste.
“Dear Lord, this has gone horribly awry,” Edward stood up, finally steady on his feet, and walked to the giant globe in the center of the room, leaning both hands on the railing surrounding it.
“No doubt this means the girls will know of our attempt to remove Ethan from them by now.” He turned back to his butler. “We must be vigilant, Arty.”
The portal initially appeared as a shimmering oval of gold, rose, and aqua dust, suspended in midair on the far side of the room. Arthur’s gaze shifted immediately toward it, eyes widening.
The older man was focusing intently on the apparition. He watched it cautiously, stepping back to stand beside his butler, who had risen from his chair, wary. The sparkles of light danced closer to each other, increasing in density until the light was almost too bright to look upon. Arthur squinted, turning his gaze away, but Sir Edward’s eyes remained pinned on the unwelcome doorway that was opening in his home.
Without warning, four armed men dressed in black military gear burst out of the opening and rushed at Edward and Arthur. Two of them grabbed hold of each gentleman, immobilizing them as they all stood looking toward the portal, where yet another form was emerging.
This time, however, the image was a familiar one: Inez.
Her hair was long and flowing, blowing this way and that with the energy generated inside the portal. She wore a form-fitting black dress that blossomed out at her feet, the neckline deep and revealing. There, pulsating brilliantly in the center of her pale, white chest, was an enormous pendant set with a glowing, faceted stone.
She strolled through the portal slowly, with deliberate intent, and came to a stop directly in front of the men, a smile of satisfaction spreading across her cold, hard face.
Tsk, tsk, tsk, she clicked her tongue as she wagged the finger in front of Edward, slowly turning her head from side to side.
“Naughty, naughty, Father. I specifically warned you not to make contact with the children,” she said sweetly, walking past the men and pausing before the globe in the middle of the room.
“What have we here?” she asked in a lilting, sing-song voice. “A special locator device, I suppose?”
She grazed her fingertips across the control panel before turning to move back in their direction. “Of course, you do realize you are going to have to pay for your indiscretion.”
It was a statement of fact, not a question.
“Take them!” she ordered, her voice now loud and commanding.
“WAIT!” Edward bellowed. “YOU LEAVE HIM ALONE! Arthur is innocent. He has no power of his own. He was only acting on my orders.”
Inez was already on her way to the opening, but she stopped sharply at Sir Edward’s words. The shimmering portal continued to vibrate before her, expectantly waiting for someone to enter.
She spun around and stared at her father, then shifted her gaze to Arthur and back again, pursing her lips in thought.
“I suppose I am rather fond of the old butler…” Inez started. “He did care for us all those years while you were off on your…crazy exploits…” She lifted her chin as she looked down on the two gentlemen restrained before her. Her tongue clicked one more time before she answered. Whipping around to face the portal, she spoke with her back to them.
“Alright, your last wish, so to speak. We haven’t time to debate things. Let the servant stay. The old man comes with us.”
Arthur’s jaw dropped as his gaze shifted from the woman to his master.
“WAIT! WHERE ARE YOU TAKING HIM? WHAT DO YOU INTEND TO DO WITH MY MASTER?!?” Arthur shrieked across the room. He pulled away from the man holding him, but his grip was hard as stone.
Inez turned at his shout and was observing him from a distance with narrowed eyes. “You’ve served long and well, Arthur,” she said, her voice projecting across the room. “Don’t bother looking for my father. He is finally getting what he deserves.”
She turned to her thugs. “GO! Before the portal collapses!”
Arthur watched, helpless, as the thugs shoved Sir Edward roughly past his daughter, who turned to glance at the butler one last time before stepping into the portal, and the 5 of them vanished into the night.