“Negative. I have specific instructions not to allow Emmeline Hastings into the house.”

“What? Who told you that?” Emmeline demanded.

The butler paused again. “Instructions given by Lady Hastings herself. Such instructions can only be overridden by Lord Hastings, who has not addressed the matter. So the order stands. Emmeline Hastings is not to enter the house.”

An angry, stubborn look came over Emmeline’s delicate features.

“I used to live here and you have my son in there—let me in!” she exclaimed and attempted to push past the butler, who was blocking the doorway.

But she might as well have tried to push past a stone wall. The Tick-Tock butler was completely unmoving and its broad brass shoulders left no room for her to squeeze past.

“Please!” Emmeline begged, giving up her attempt to force her way in. “Please, if I could just see him for a moment.”

As though to punctuate her plea, a thin, wailing suddenly came drifting out the open doorway. It sounded as though someone had opened the nursery door and now baby Jamie could be heard, crying inconsolably.

“That’s him! I can hear him and he sounds sick!” Emmeline exclaimed. “Please—please just let me see him for a moment!”

But her passionate pleas fell on deaf ears.

“Negative,” the Tick-Tock butler said. “Emmeline Hastings is not to enter the house under any circumstances. Good day.”

Then it shut the door in Emmeline’s face, cutting off the thin wailing of her baby abruptly.

For a moment, Emmeline just stood there looking at the door as though she couldn’t believe what had happened. Then she turned abruptly away, but not before Caroline saw the brightness of unshed tears in her eyes.

“Oh, poor thing! How dare they turn her away like that? It’s her baby!” Sophie exclaimed indignantly.

“I know, but she gave up the rights to him in order that he could be raised in Hastings Hall as the ward of a Viscount instead of in a brothel as the son of a prostitute,” Caroline said sadly. “I think she felt it was a trade that would benefit her baby in the long run, but right now it looks like she’s regretting her choice.”

“Poor thing,” Sophie said again. “She looks like her heart is breaking!”

Indeed, Emmeline’s shoulders were shaking as she covered her face with her daintily gloved hands. For a moment Caroline was afraid she was going to have a break-down right there at the door of her former house.

And who could blame her if she did? She was a young mother who was being refused access to her own child. A child she could hear crying in the background and who might be ill. It was a terrible situation.

“Where is the protector the Goddess promised her?” Caroline demanded, impotent rage over poor Emmeline’s plight filling her. “Richard said that was why he wasn’t allowed to go back to his own world and take care of Emmeline himself because the Goddess was sending someone else. So where is he?”

“I don’t kn—” Sophie began but just then both women gave a low gasp because the scene on PORTAL’s window had abruptly changed.

Like a TV switching channels, Emmeline’s world disappeared and a whole new one took its place.

Instead of the bluish-purple skies of Terra, Caroline and Sophie were suddenly staring at a vast, dim cavern. In the center of the cavern, was a large oval table, big enough to seat at least fifty people, Caroline estimated. And that was about the number seated there—only they weren’t seated, they were up and shouting at each other.

In the middle of the table, glowing with a sickly greenish light, was a huge crystal that looked to be almost as tall as a man. Looking at it closely, Caroline saw that it had a large crack, running down the middle of it and parts of it had chipped away. Was that what all the strange people were arguing about?

“Who are those people? Some kind of barbarians?” Sophie breathed in her ear. “This looks like something out of one of those old Sword and Sorcery movies.”

“I don’t know who they are,” Caroline answered, but she had to admit that was exactly what they looked like.

There were both men and women at the table and all of them dressed in leather skins. Some of the men had war-paint on their faces and the women—who were every bit as big and muscular as the men—had feathers and beads woven into their long hair.

After studying them for a moment, Caroline saw that they appeared to be divided into several obvious factions. The women kept together in one group, and then there was a group of males who appeared to have long, dagger-like fangs, rather like a saber-tooth tiger. Another group had deep, velvety brown skin and slitted golden eyes like a cat’s. A fourth group appeared to have scars all over their bodies, as though they had all been in terrible fights.


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