“I’m really glad you agreed to participate in my charity auction, James. We’re going to help so many children this way. I actually had a hand in the new hospital’s design, though Lady Pendreigh used her sway over the Pendreigh Group to make a few alterations. They were improvements in a way to be perfectly honest, but I don’t really care for Lady Pendreigh at all. She’s so… stuffy.” I explained.
“What sort of improvements?” he asked, finally taking the bait on a line of conversation.
How deep did Lady Pendreigh have her hooks in him? I wanted to save him from her.
“For example, I had a grand entryway designed which I felt would lift people’s spirits as they entered. Hospitals are so dreary. I failed to consider how some of the sculptures would affect traffic flow, and Lady Pendreigh added a sterilization system to the fountain that will work with the ventilation to clean the air while spreading an airborne sanitizer. For all her stuffiness, she really is brilliant. The design was very elegant.” I admitted.
If he was particularly invested in her, I couldn’t speak too negatively of her without putting him on guard. I found myself wondering if ever I had wanted someone to join my cause so much before.
“I can’t say I’ve actually seen any of her designs myself. She’s always working, and I hate to bother her.” he replied.
I shrugged and said, “Oh, I’m not surprised. She had her fingers in countless pies throughout Europe, and her influence here is growing rapidly. To be frank, I don’t feel spending time with her is safe.”
I carefully watched him to gauge his reaction. Hopefully, I hadn’t said too much.
“She’s not so bad.” he argued.
I resisted the urge to sigh and forced myself to laugh instead. “If you believe that, you really don’t know her well. What’s one good thing about her?’
He paused to think for a moment before saying, “Well, her desire to see things done right will help that hospital.”
Shaking my head I asserted “No-no. You can’t turn her obsessive need for control into a good thing. Can you think of any positive qualities she possesses?”
I watched him struggling to come up with something. A seed of doubt was successfully planted. Hopefully, the seed would flourish.
“Sorry, but your time’s up. We’ve arrived.” I informed him.
“How did you..?” he started to ask.
“The smell, James. This parking lot always smells fresher than most of the city.” I replied.
I wasn’t even lying. The change in smell was distinctive to this place, and I only looked to verify afterward.
James stepped out of the limo and offered his hand to me, so I accepted it and followed after him.
“Pardon my asking, but do you have partial vision?” he asked.
He was more observant than I had thought. I needed to be more careful.
“Oh, no. I’ve been completely blind since birth.” I explained. No one could know that I overcame my condition through technology of my own design. Not yet at least.
He seemed to accept my admission at face value, casually taking me into the restaurant. This part always baffled me. We stepped across the threshold, and I found myself in an impossible room. The inside was quite obviously larger than the outside and appeared to be constructed of smooth crystal of the highest clarity. Rugged patches of crystal stretched beneath us, never reaching the forested ground far below. The dimly lit forest was embraced between mountainous peaks to our right and a large moon off to the left. The moon was quite obviously not our own, making this structure and its environs seem to be on another world.
I changed the mode on my glasses to gather as much information as possible while we were here. If I could unravel the technology causing this illusion, I would easily be able to implement it for all manner of uses.
“How is it, James? What is the room like?” I asked, wanting to hear his take on it.
His voice was barely a whisper as he said, “The room is transparent, and we’re surrounded by a moonlit valley so beautiful that I lack words to describe it.”
Yes, this view was incredible, but I felt he could do better at describing it. Perhaps he wasn’t so observant after all. Before I could pursue the matter, a girl yelled to him.
“James! How’s it going?” as a curly-haired brunette with bright blue eyes.
She was shorter than me and quite pretty. Her curls seemed far less disorderly than mine, probably due to thinner hair. What was she to James if not an employee as her dress suggested?
“Evanna, right? I thought you were a driver.” he commented.
She rolled her eyes and said, “I am, but Carl insisted I fill in for a moment between shifts. Can’t argue with the boss. if you follow me, your table is just over here.” She showed us to a table before enthusiastically telling us “I’ll bring your food in just a sec!”
I reached for his hand purposely missing and feeling along the table before clutching it. “Details, James.” I told him. “I feel like there is a soft breeze in here.”
For just a moment, I thought he was put off by something, but then he said, “There is a great, crystal dome above us suspended by archways around the giant circle of a room. Each archway appears to be completely open, allowing the night air to reach us. The moon looks different to me somehow, as if it’s not our moon but that of another world. It’s absolutely enormous and tinged with blue. The forest beneath us is hard to make out, but it’s quite expansive, stretching into the distance.”
I squeezed his hand encouragingly and asked him to continue.
“I didn’t notice at first, but the crystal appears to be glowing faintly. Even looking away from the moon toward the mountains, I can make out the outline of the floating structure by the dim glow.” he explained. Then he paused for a moment, looking around before saying, “I… I have no idea where our server went from here. She seems to have vanished entirely.”
I knew he could be more observant. There were numerous times I had tried figuring out how the servers seemed to slip away, but I never was able to follow them. Something always pulled my attention away before they slipped out of the illusion. Magic might well be involved in this place, but Camila never could detect any. If there were spells in place, they were beyond her. I would suspect the Slayers, but they weren’t allowed in here for some reason. Perhaps the proprietor was a match for them. Carl was an enigma.
Smiling at James, I told him “I’m not surprised. I’m guessing some of the patrons here aren’t even real. I think this room utilizes some very advanced technology to create realistic screens on the walls. Then there must be some sort of environmental control for the temperature and breeze. You’d be amazed at some of the theories I’ve read.”
He seemed to be considering my words as he looked around, missing Evanna’s approach from behind him. I had heard her footsteps quite distinctly in this room.
“Sorry. I didn’t see you return.” stated James, having jumped when a bowl was set in front of him.
Laughing, she assured him “I’m the one that should be apologizing. I’m supposed to be making people feel comfortable. Playing host really isn’t my thing. Who wouldn’t get distracted in a room like this.”
“Evanna, is it? Do you happen to know how this illusion is created?” I asked.
Laughing again, she said, “Sorry, but I’m not allowed to discuss any of the inner workings, even with a friend of James. Please enjoy your meal.”
She knew!? I needed to put this restaurant under surveillance and have my men grab her from the parking lot the moment she got off. She should have known better than to flirt with my date.
A scent distracted me, and I exclaimed “Moqueca!” in delight.
“Pardon?” asked James.
“The dish, silly. I had this when I was in Brazil a few months back. You’re in for a treat if you’ve never tried it.” I assured him.
The host left us, and I began my normal routine of “finding” everything’s location as my niñera had showed me when I was young. I couldn’t leave James wondering again if I might not be blind. Once finished, I quickly took a bite. The taste was incredible, even better than I remembered. The secrets of this restaurant’s recipes would be worth a fortune by themselves.
“This is even better than I remembered. How do you like yours?” I asked.
“Oh. It’s great! I’ve never had anything quite like this, but the flavor really is wonderful.” he insisted.
“I’m glad you think so too. My chef can’t quite get the flavor right, so I told him to give up. I’d fire him, but he really does quite well on most things.” she explained.
James seemed to earnestly enjoy meal. Though he ate slowly, savoring each bite, a smile continually came to his lips. I enjoyed watching him far more than I would have thought possible and found myself wishing to keep him around constantly. Perhaps one day.