We eat in mostly silence. They eat slowly; carefully watching me chew each bite, swallow each sip of wine.
“Guys, I need you to help protect the portal. I am not poisoning you.”
“You slipped us a mickey last night,” Nick points out.
“Yeah, well, you needed to sleep and I had a few things to do.”
“So what are we doing tonight? Are you going to explain any of this?” Logan asks, taking another bite of lobster.
“Yes and no,” I say, meeting his eyes.
“Yes and no?” Nick asks spearing a bright red miniature tomato.
“Fine, yes, I’m going to explain some things to you. No, I will not do it all tonight.” I motion to their plates with my fork. “The sooner you finish, the sooner we get to the tonight’s entertainment.”
Then the silence falls and diner is over rather quickly. They work with me, clearing and washing dishes in the kitchen just off the dining room.
Everything shining and in its place, I lead them from kitchen drudgery and show them their rooms.
“We can’t stay,” Nick says gazing at the decadent room. A fireplace rages in the corner. A four-post bed sits in the center with blue velvet curtains hanging from the posts. There is a window with matching velvet curtains. For Nick, I’d arranged books on the shelves of all the walls and a chair with a table and lamp next to it.
“We have enough time for you to make yourselves at home,” I say. “There are clothes in the closet for you as well as tools to clean your weapons.
“I’d prefer to get some answers first.”
I look at him. Stubbornness has to be an ingredient for the Chosen Ones, the ones who have a Destiny all lined up for them. Or maybe it just comes from messing with magic.
“Fine. First, I show Logan his room. Then we all shower and change. After that, I’ll come get you.” I turn my back to him and lead Logan down the hall.
Logan’s room is almost the same as Nick’s, except that instead of books, there is room for him to move, to train, to pick any weapon from the many choices on the wall and practice.
“Same as before. Take your time. Right now, we have plenty.” I leave him to return to my room.
I do exactly what I expect them to do, shower and change.
Nick answers the door before I finish knocking. He has taken me up on the shower, I can smell the soap and his hair is still wet. Logan meets us in the hall, freshly shaven, having heard my knock. They have also taken advantage of fresh clothes. Logan wears a nice green button down, untucked, the sleeves rolled up. This must be the first pair of jeans he’s put on in years that don’t have a hole somewhere. Nick draws up the sleeves of a dark pullover and looks equally uncomfortable in new jeans. The only things I don’t have ready for them are the boots. You just can’t rush some things.
I lead them down the hall, through pics of past questers and family members decorating the walls. There are so many and not all of them reside in this world.
Bringing them into a smallish room at the end of the hall, I close the door and wave my hand over the locks and the two windows on the far wall. Not every room in my house stays as protected as my inner sanctum. I only wrap them in individual magic when I need to.
The boys pace the room, assessing weak points. I’ve picked another bottle of wine. It’s a white this time, from Dragon Valley.
Logan watches me. “Got anything stronger?”
“Yes, but you’re not getting it tonight.”
The fire is already burning in the fireplace. I drop a couple of logs and build it higher mundanely, and draw a large pillow closer. Sitting on the pillow, pulling my knees in, I turn to the boys. Looking up at them, I gesture to the chairs facing me.
They are still reluctant.
“Look, I’m going to give you a few answers right now. Make yourself comfortable.”
They sit, glasses in hand, not drinking, not relaxing. I’ll have to magic them to sleep later.
I sigh and wave my hand over the fire, making it larger, drawing the picture out.
In the flames, a building appears. It is large and square. Windows line only one side, the side facing a dock on a small man-made lake. The other three are unbroken brick walls. The entrance from the street is a dark wooden door with brass fittings. Above, lit by lamps hanging from the roof, the name of the place hangs in brass calligraphy: Milton’s Gate.
The side with the windows sparkles in the reflected sunlight from the lake. The windows open to the dock and have an amazing view at night.
This is a small get-away with high-priced cabins dotting the lake and the actual town a few miles down the road, leaving the lake unpolluted by light at night.
Milton’s Gate is a coffee bar during the day, with pastries and fancy beans pressed and served to residents that visit throughout the year.
At night starting at the five o’clock happy hour, the jukebox plays, the pool table opens, and the tap runs freely.
Sawyer, the owner emerges from the back office and adjusts the tubes leading to the taps. He says something to the bartender who laughs.
The bartender is tall, blonde with a ready smile, aimed mainly at the waitress with long, light brown hair curling down from a pony tail. Her blue eyes twinkle at him each time she places an order.
A man stands on a small stage, a microphone in one hand, the other pointing at a computer screen in front of him, guiding his eyes through the song. He belts out “Send Me All Your Angels” as if he can actually sing. His grey hair is mussed. His eyes are bloodshot. His tie is halfway undone. Although he is still wearing the suit, the tail of his shirt hangs out. A woman sitting not far from the stage relieves the customers of the musical agony by going to him. She pulls him gently down from the stage and redirects him to a hot cup of Irish coffee at their table.
There are mirrors on the wall behind the stage. I draw the focus in on one panel.
“What’s going on there?” Nick asks moving from the chair to kneel beside me.
The mirror doesn’t exactly reflect the bar. The images inside are darker, morbid things. The man who’d been singing, his back now faces the stage. His hand, reaching for the mug on the table drops pieces of skin on the floor. The woman who’d pulled him from the stage grins up at him without lips. Darkness warps the borders of the mirror, dripping down like clotting blood, slow and black.
“This is where you are going, boys.”