"Conrad, have you got a minute?" Agent Roberts asked hopefully.
"I have several. What can I do for you?" Agent Fastbeck responded easily.
"We have a question to ask Rhuru-wra and I was hoping that you could translate for us."
"I thought you could speak to him without a translator." Agent Fastbeck said cautiously.
"I can usually get his meaning and I think he mostly understands what I'm trying to say to him, but this is one of those cases where I think it's probably better to have a more accurate translation. I just don't want to take the chance of getting Rhuru-wra to agree to something and then find out that he didn't understand what I was asking."
"Is this about what Paul was talking about, us not being anchored?" Agent Fastbeck asked curiously.
"Yes. Dag and Filipe have a fix for that, but they're going to need a few people to help them."
"There's not much for them to do but agree to it. The ceremony is actually quite simple." Mr. Hansen quickly interjected.
"I think that I can safely speak on Rhuru-wra's behalf when I say that he will be happy to help you however he can." Agent Fastbeck said as he motioned for the others to walk with him toward the doorway where Rhuru-wra was standing.
"Roo, these guys wanted to know if you'd like to help them with something." Agent Fastbeck said gently to the large beast.
Rhuru-wra loosed a low tranquil growl that revealed just how relaxed he was at that moment.
"The Vinculum Chamber and the barriers are drifting, thanks to the movement of the multiverse. We just wanted to know if you'd like to help us anchor it." Agent Roberts explained as succinctly as he was able.
A shorter, sharper growl was his response.
"He wants to know what he has to do." Agent Fastbeck translated.
"If he will agree to allow us to put a spell on him to make him the embodiment of Taurus, then the most we might do is ask him to move to another part of the chamber and possibly say a few words of a spell." Mr. Hansen explained.
Agent Fastbeck relayed what Mr. Hansen said, then listened for a moment as Rhuru-wra responded.
"He says that he'll be happy to help however he can and that he wants you to ask him if you need anything at all."
"Yes. We'll be happy to do that." Mr. Hansen immediately agreed.
"One above many. One of many. One alone. Strength of hand, strength of will and strength of word. Such is Taurus." Filipe said reverently as he performed the gestures.
Once the spell was complete, Rhuru-wra scooped Filipe up into a gentle hug.
Filipe laughed and did his best to hug Rhuru-wra in return, although his size made it nearly impossible.
"Who's next?" Agent Roberts asked with a smile as he waited for Filipe to join them.
"Ares and Dark." Mr. Hansen said simply.
"How many do we have left after that?"
"Do you already know who they're going to be?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"Not exactly." Mr. Hansen admitted.
"How does that work?" Agent Fastbeck asked curiously from Agent Roberts' side.
"I don't know their names, but I saw people who would fit by virtue of their animal transformations." Mr. Hansen said slowly.
"That's no problem. Just tell me who you've got and I'll round them up for you." Agent Fastbeck said simply.
"I was thinking that the young centaur would serve well as Sagittarius."
"Jim." Agent Fastbeck said with a nod.
"And I thought that I saw a goat faun earlier..."
"Tannis, he's Jim's younger brother."
"That works out well. The next one wasn't a transformation, but I noticed a set of identical twins..." Mr. Hansen said slowly, hoping to see a spark of recognition in Agent Fastbeck's eyes.
"Cain and Deimos. Cain transforms into a dog... sort of. Deimos turns into a half-dragon. Which one do you want?"
"How close are they? I mean, some twins seem to be almost psychically connected." Mr. Hansen asked cautiously.
"I've been around them quite a bit and they seem to be close, just like you'd expect. They're not 'freakishly' close, but they sometimes finish each other's' sentences and they're usually fairly considerate of each other." Agent Fastbeck said cautiously.
Noticing that Filipe had joined them, Agent Roberts asked, "Are we ready?"
"Are you going to need me for anything right now?"
"No. Not that I can think of. We're just going to be talking to Ares and Dark for a few minutes."
"Good. Then I'll go get Tannis and Cain while you're doing that." Agent Fastbeck said decisively.
* * * * *
"How are you doing, Ares?" Agent Roberts asked gently as he approached.
"One perfect day..." Ares said peacefully.
"What was that?" Agent Roberts asked curiously.
"That's what it feels like to have all this magic flowing through me. It feels like one perfect day when there aren't any worries and nothing can go wrong."
"That sounds really nice." Agent Roberts said honestly.
"It is." Ares said with a smile, then asked, "What did you want?"
"Oh. We were just wondering if you'd like to help us with anchoring the Vinculum Chamber and the barriers so that they won't drift over time." Agent Roberts carefully explained.
"I don't know how much help I'll be, but if there's something I can do, I'll be happy to do it." Ares said honestly.
"From the way I understand it, we just need for you to represent one of the Houses of the Zodiac so that the anchor can be made through you. As far as I know, you won't actually have to do much of anything except maybe stand in a certain place or say a few words."
"Is there any danger involved in this? I have quite a few people who depend on me." Ares quietly explained.
"No. No danger." Mr. Hansen assured him.
After a glance at Dark and receiving a nod, Ares quietly asked, "What do I have to do?"
"Just let Filipe put a spell on you to make you one with the astrological sign of Aries."
"Okay. Whenever you're ready." Ares said simply.
"I can see the path behind, filled with memories and great rewards. I can see the path ahead, filled with new adventures and exploration. What has been and what will be are united in this invisible point, this incalculable time and place. This nothing, this everything, is Aries." Filipe said as he made a rapid series of complicated gestures.
"Wow. You're getting kind of deep there, Filipe." Agent Roberts said cautiously.
"Yeah. Aries is like that." Filipe said simply, then turned to Dark and asked, "Do you want to be Cancer?"
"As was, so is. Now and forever. Cancer." Filipe said as he formed four hand signs in succession.
"That's it?" Agent Roberts asked confusedly.
"Uh huh. Each House is their own thing." Filipe explained, then looked to Dark and asked, "Is that okay?"
Dark laughed a full deep belly-laugh, then said, "That's perfect! I love it!"
Although Filipe was certain that there was something that he was missing in the interaction, he had no clue of what it was. Just as happy to let it go, he turned his attention back to his companions.
"You are performing beyond my expectations. I didn't realize that you had such an in depth understanding of astrology." Mr. Hansen said frankly.
"I don't really." Filipe hesitantly admitted, then explained, "When I was taking regular classes in a regular school, I had to learn times tables. When I was doing it, I didn't have to understand how or why they worked, I just had to memorize them."
"While I admit that I don't closely follow the academic practices of the mundane world, I thought that they had moved away from teaching by rote and were presenting beginning math in a more algebraic form."
"I guess it depends on the school. The one I went to was... poor. I don't mean in quality as much as I mean the people who go there don't have much money. I think my teachers were great. They did as much as they could with what they had to work with. But sometimes we had to share books or use copied charts and graphs from books that we couldn't afford to get for everyone." Filipe quietly explained.
"It sounds to me like Filipe learned how to memorize things that he didn't understand at the time. Maybe that's a good skill to have, since it's turned out to be so useful." Agent Roberts suggested.
"Yes. While memorization by rote doesn't necessarily help with understanding, it can be a benefit in and of itself." Mr. Hansen agreed.
"Who's next?" Filipe asked curiously.
"Deimos or Jim. Whichever you'd like to do first." Mr. Hansen said frankly.
"Um, neither." Filipe reluctantly responded.
"How's that?" Mr. Hansen asked curiously.
"They each have an 'other' who needs to be included in their spelling. Doing either of them without their 'other' would make their spelling incomplete." Filipe fought to explain.
"So you're looking at the assignment of astrological roles to the people present as being part of a bigger spell rather than individual spells being cast?" Mr. Hansen cautiously asked.
"If you think about it, this is part of casting the barrier spell. We've been casting this spell ever since the first barrier came down. When we didn't automatically do what was supposed to happen next, it was revealed to us... well, to Paul. Him and his father are probably the only ones here who can sense the movement of the Vinculum in relation to the rest of the multiverse." Filipe said thoughtfully.
"Then why didn't V notice it first? I assume that he's more powerful than Paul by at least an order of magnitude." Agent Roberts quietly asked.
"Probably because V isn't actively casting the spell. He's helping out here and there, but he's not up to his neck in the casting of it like some of the rest of us." Filipe said thoughtfully.
"I think he's right. This spell that we're performing... it was written long ago, by beings that might no longer exist..."
"Or they might exist outside our time and space." Filipe suggested.
"Yes. This could have been orchestrated by a being outside our ability to perceive or conceive. All of this which is so grand and complex to us might be no more consequential than a comma in the course of a sentence that they were writing in an epic that we will never know of." Mr. Hansen said distantly.
"You're getting kind of poetic there, Dag. Want to pull it back? Conrad's back with the boys, so we can get this done." Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"Yes. Of course." Mr. Hansen chuckled, then turned to Filipe and asked, "Do you want to ask them?"
"Yeah." Filipe immediately agreed, then turned toward the nearer of the twins and asked, "You're Deimos, right?"
"Yes." Deimos responded warily.
"If you guys are up to it, we could use your help." Filipe said seriously.
Deimos looked around and noticed that Tannis and Cain had joined them.
"All of us?" Deimos asked cautiously.
"Yes. If you wanted, you and your brother could represent the astrological sign of Gemini."
"Both of us?" Cain asked to be sure.
"Yes. Just like your dad was chosen to represent Aries because his name is Ares, you two are chosen to represent Gemini because you're twins."
"Will it hurt?" Cain asked cautiously.
"Nope. I'll cast a spell on you and then you might have to stand in a certain place and speak a few lines if we end up doing a full ceremony." Filipe said frankly.
The twins looked at each other in unison, then seemed to reach simultaneous agreement as they both looked at Filipe and nodded.
"Into the world, eyes wide open. Into the world, ears uncovered. Into the world, tongues unleashed. Into the world, Gemini." Filipe said as he formed symbols before each of the twins in turn.
"That's it?" Cain asked uncertainly.
"Yeah. That's it." Filipe confirmed.
"I don't feel anything." Deimos said frankly.
"I could kick you or something, if you wanted." Filipe weakly offered.
"No. That's alright." Deimos chuckled.
"Who wants to go next?" Filipe asked as he looked at the older and younger brother, side by side.
"Do you want to?" The older brother asked quietly.
"Yeah." The younger one answered with a smile.
"Could you do your transforming thing, where you turn into a faun? It'll make this easier." Filipe asked hopefully.
"Yeah. Just give me a second. I'm not as good as everyone else at this." Tannis said as he started weaving hand signs.
"That's fine. I didn't know you could do any magic besides your transformation." Filipe said honestly.
"I've been practicing forever and this is all I can do." Tannis admitted, then as soon as he was finished, he began to transform.
Tannis' clothes faded away and seemed to be absorbed into his body as his more animal features came to the fore.
Filipe smiled at the boy's little buds of horns, then started his incantation.
"Virtue exists in completion. History favors those who follow through. Thus Capricorn."
"You okay?" Jim asked his brother quietly.
"Yeah. That was fun." Tannis giggled.
"Are you ready?" Filipe asked the next boy in line, then quickly added, "It will only take a second."
After transforming into a centaur, Jim answered, "Yeah. Go ahead."
"That which is the center. Joyous and fun-loving. In opposition and in harmony, your existence is sacred. Sagittarius." Filipe said as he made three simple bold symbols before Jim's chest.
"That's it. We've got them all now." Agent Roberts said happily.
"No. There's still one more." Filipe said cautiously.
"We've done twelve people haven't we?"
"Yes. But Cain and Deimos were both imbued with the identity of Gemini." Mr. Hansen confirmed.
"Oh. Right. Then who do we have left?"
"Pisces." Filipe immediately answered.
"That's the fish, isn't it? What does Pisces do?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"You see, that's the problem. I don't think the description applies to anyone here, and it's such that if it did, I wouldn't have any way of knowing. I don't know any of these people in those terms." Mr. Hansen said uncomfortably.
"How bad is it? Lay it on me." Agent Roberts demanded.
"Pisces are... romantic. They're highly imaginative and sometimes it's said that they're more style than substance because they tend to cloak themselves in illusions."
"Does it have to be a flesh and blood person? I mean, can Obby do it?" Agent Roberts cautiously asked.
"I... I don't know. Let me think it through." Mr. Hansen said uncertainly.
"Do you think what Mr. Hansen said sounds like it's Obby?" Filipe asked curiously.
"Well, yeah. Romantic, imaginative and cloaked in illusion... all that's missing is a picture of him." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"He is able to walk away from you by his own free will, isn't he?" Mr. Hansen slowly asked.
"Yes. At least, right now he can. We can't be sure what capabilities he's going to have when the barrier spells are complete." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"Actually, that shouldn't matter. If it did, all the participants would have to be immortal for the anchor spell to be maintained." Mr. Hansen said thoughtfully.
"So, can he do it?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"I believe so. If Filipe can imbue him with the identity of Pisces, then I don't foresee any problems with the anchoring ceremony." Mr. Hansen said more confidently.
"What do you say Obby? Do you want to help us out?" Agent Roberts asked as he looked toward the floor.
The blackness of his shadow began to thicken before welling and rising up at his side. As everyone watched, the vaguely humanoid fluidic black goo transformed itself into an exact, albeit darker, replica of Agent Roberts.
"I wasn't paying too close of attention. What did you need for me to do?" Obby asked curiously.
"We're going to be doing a ceremony to anchor the room that we're in and the barriers in place, so that they won't drift over time. To do that, we have to get a group of people to take on the identities of the different astrological signs. If you'll agree to it, we'll put a spell on you to make you an avatar of Pisces. You become a representation of Pisces and it becomes part of who you are." Agent Roberts carefully explained.
"Is that what you were talking to all those people for?" Obby asked curiously.
"Yes. If you agree, you'll be the thirteenth person that we sign up for it."
"So I'll be doing something just like twelve real people?"
"I guess so. If you want to look at it that way. You weren't chosen because you're a shadow, you were chosen because you have the personality traits of a Pisces."
"Thank you, Shawn. I can't even tell you how much it means to me to know that you look at me as someone who can contribute. Yes. I'd like to do it." Obby said shyly.
"Filipe, are you ready to do one more?" Agent Roberts asked optimistically.
"I'm ready to try." Filipe said with a smile, then turned slightly to face Obby.
With grim certainty, Obby met his gaze.
"This I state: Personification of love, personification of life, eldritch horror beyond the reach of what is known. This I request: Imbue within this being the essence of what it is to be Pisces. This I give: My power and my will for it to be so. Make it be." Filipe said firmly, then finished his incantation with one long-held hand symbol.
"Was that a heavy-duty spell or what?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"I didn't want for there to be any doubt. If it sticks, we're good. If it didn't, then we don't need to try it again. That was the absolute best that I could have done it." Filipe said frankly.
"Oh. Okay. Good job." Agent Roberts said, not seeing any reason not to take the boy at his word.
"What do I need to do now?" Obby asked excitedly.
"Just be ready to help us when you're called upon. From the way I understand it, the ceremony that we'll be doing is kind of a free-form thing and we can't really be sure of how it's going to end up. It might take some time, so stay available." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"Actually, there's no reason to delay and several very good reasons to make haste." Mr. Hansen said firmly.
"Okay. Just let us know what we need to do." Agent Roberts said immediately.
"Let me join with the earth for a moment to clear my vision and identify all the anchors, then I'll know what steps need to be taken next." Mr. Hansen said seriously.
"I'll watch out for you while you're doing that." Agent Roberts said firmly.
"Within the purity of the element, my vision becomes clear. I see the pillars that serve as a foundation. Further I see the origin and formation. In so doing, I see the points where what has been created can be made secure, withstanding the torrents and tides, stresses and streams of the multiverse." Mr. Hansen slowly muttered to himself.
Agent Roberts watched and waited for something to happen.
"I see...." Mr. Hansen said more loudly.
Agent Roberts was sorely tempted to ask him just what it was that he was seeing, but knew better than to interrupt.
"I see..." Mr. Hansen said again, then began walking.
Agent Roberts, Obby and Filipe followed along, not knowing just what it was that they were supposed to be doing.
Finally, Mr. Hansen stopped and seemed to be looking at Warren without seeing him.
"Thus the avatar be enjoined. Pay heed and follow the entreaties of Leo."
"Um, what?" Warren asked, then looked at Agent Roberts inquiringly.
"I think Dag's saying that if you feel like going over there and standing by the door, you should do it. Don't fight it." Agent Roberts quietly explained.
"I made you part of Leo. Mr. Hansen brought you into the spell. The rest of it should happen on its own as long as you don't fight against it too much." Filipe said seriously.
"Hi. I'm Obby. I'm going to be helping people just like you are!" Obby said proudly.
"What are you?" Warren asked as he stared at the solid black figure before him.
"Milo said that I'm a shadow demon, even though I'm not a demon at all, not even a little bit. I promise." Obby explained.
"It's just a name, Obby. No one judges you by it." Agent Roberts assured him, then added, "And besides that, so far all the demons that I've met have been pretty cool."
"But what are you?" Warren persisted.
"He's a shadow... my shadow, to be precise. And thanks to Milo and a little magical overflow from the barrier project, Obby is here with us, solid and able to speak." Agent Roberts finished with a smile.
"Your shadow came alive?" Warren asked dubiously.
"Yeah. We've got to follow Dag around right now, but catch us later and Obby might do some shadow tricks for you." Agent Roberts said before hurrying to follow where Mr. Hansen had gone.
* * * * *
"Did Dag just cast a spell on you two?" Agent Roberts asked quickly as he approached.
"I don't know. He said something about joining avatars and entrails and stuff." Kirwin said confusedly.
"That young man seems to be a bit..." Steven faltered.
"Out of his freaking mind?" Agent Roberts suggested.
"Yes." Steven reluctantly agreed, then added, "Although I'm sure he has only the best intentions."
"Dag's a good guy. He's just a little... enthusiastic at the moment."
"Are you going to be part of helping everyone too?" Obby asked excitedly.
"Yeah. Does that mean that you're going to be part of the spell?" Kirwin asked curiously.
"Yes. Obby has been made Pisces, so he's going to stand alongside both of you."
"For some reason I thought this was something just for the regular people." Kirwin said frankly.
"From the way that I understood it, the only people who are disqualified are the Magi and the ones who are actively casting the spells... well, there's V too, but that's just because he's so powerful that he might hijack the whole spell without meaning to." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"Shouldn't we be following Mr. Hansen?" Filipe cautiously asked.
"He's right there, talking to Linnaeus and Den. From the look on their faces, I'm guessing that he's speaking to them in a language that neither of them comprehend." Agent Roberts said speculatively.
"Shouldn't we go and help him?"
"If he needed or wanted our help, he could ask us. And while I don't actually have a problem chasing after him doing damage control, I really don't see the point. If someone can't figure it out, I'm sure they'll ask someone more knowledgeable." Agent Roberts explained.
"But what Mr. Hansen is doing right now is part of the anchor spell. Aren't we supposed to be helping him?" Filipe asked anxiously.
"According to who... whom... whatever. I'll help when I know what I'm supposed to do, but right now, standing here with all of you is just about as productive as anything else that I can think of at the moment." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"If I'm done with my part, I should probably get back to casting the Southseid barrier." Filipe said honestly.
"Do you want to take a break for a couple minutes before you get back to the grind?" Agent Roberts asked gently.
"No. It's not fair to leave Dr. Williams and Professor Everstone with all the spellcasting. I'd rather do my part." Filipe said solidly.
"That's a good attitude to have. It will serve you well in life." Agent Roberts said as he impulsively pulled Filipe into a quick hug.
"What you think about me is important to me. Thanks for saying it." Filipe said as he returned the hug.
"We'll talk more later. Go on." Agent Roberts said as he released Filipe.
Filipe smiled at him, then hurried away.
* * * * *
"What do we need to do now?" Kirwin asked cautiously.
Agent Roberts turned his attention back to Kirwin, then said, "I think it's best if you listen to your instincts and impulses for the next little bit. I'm not sure how all of it works, but the whole astrological thing seems to kind of work by itself as long as you don't try to overthink it."
"I don't notice feeling any particular urges at the moment." Steven said frankly as he noticed Warren joining them.
"I'm not sure how or when it's going to happen. In fact, I can't be sure if it's going to happen. I was just told that you should be ready for it and not fight it." Agent Roberts told the group.
"That boy, G, is trying to get your attention." Obby quietly interrupted.
Agent Roberts noticed where Obby was looking and said, "That's not G, that's Lex, he's an illusion that G made."
"So he's a not-real person like me?" Obby asked cautiously.
"I don't know. I suppose that he is in some ways, but since he came to be in a completely different way, there are some ways that he isn't." Agent Roberts tried to explain.
"I think he wants to talk to you about something."
Agent Roberts thought for a moment, then quietly asked, "Would you go over there and talk to him for me?"
"What do you want me to say to him?" Obby asked cautiously.
"Just talk to him and find out what he needs. If it's something that I can help with, then you can come and get me." Agent Roberts said seriously.
"I'll do it, but I don't understand why." Obby said honestly.
"To be honest, I don't understand why either. Maybe it has something to do with the two of you having things in common, or maybe you have an answer for him that I don't."
"Okay. I'll talk to him." Obby said slowly before walking away.
"Your shadow is its own person." Steven stated more than asked.
"More and more every day." Agent Roberts confirmed.
* * * * *
"You were motioning to Shawn. He sent me over here to see what you needed. My name is Obby."
"Hi. I'm Lex. They just got to a part of the spell where they don't need my help. I've got a question about something and since it's about G's dad and since Paul's busy with his own stuff, I thought that maybe Agent Roberts could help me decide what to do." Lex said anxiously.
"If you really want for me to go get Shawn, I'll do it right now. But he sent me over here to see if maybe I could help you. I think he thinks that since we're the same in some ways that maybe I'll be able to help you somehow that he can't."
"Like how?" Lex asked curiously.
"I don't know. Maybe because I can understand what you're feeling when you talk about being 'made' instead of 'born'." Obby said frankly.
"Actually, that does have something to do with it." Lex said quietly.
"Well, I'm here if you want to talk about it. Believe it or not, shadows are really good at listening." Obby finished with a smile.
Lex smiled at that, then responded, "I was just thinking about what I'm going to do if I keep existing after the barrier spell and all of that is over."
"What do you want to do?" Obby asked curiously.
"That's what I wanted to talk to Agent Roberts about. I couldn't really talk to G's dad because it'd be like me asking him to adopt me or take me in or something."
"Would it be bad if he wanted to adopt you?" Obby asked curiously.
"No! It'd be wonderful! It'd be the best thing ever. But I wouldn't want him to do it because he felt like he had to and didn't have a choice. The only way it would be right is if it was because he wanted me to be his son."
"So what did you want for Shawn to do?"
"I thought that maybe he could come up with some other ideas about what I can do when the barrier spell is over. I mean, where can I go? How can I live? Will I even want to keep existing?" Lex finished quietly.
"I've thought about some stuff like that, but not exactly the same."
"Do you want to talk about it?" Lex cautiously asked.
"No. But I will. Maybe it will help." Obby said simply, then continued, "I don't have to worry about not existing when everything is all over. If all the magic suddenly stopped, I'd just go back to being Shawn's shadow. I don't know if I'd still be me... I mean, if I'd know that I was me. But there's not anything I can do about it either way, so I'm not too worried about it."
"But what are you going to do? How are you going to live if you keep on being like you are now?"
"I don't know. I hadn't really thought about it. I always thought that I'd go back to being a flat shadow when I wasn't doing things. If I had to be 'real' all the time... I could probably live with Shawn. He has a big house and lives there all by himself. We get along great. I think he'd probably like to have someone else around."
"But what if G's dad doesn't want me there? What could I do then?"
"Hold on." Obby said, then turned to walk away.
"But I'm not done!" Lex called after him.
"I'll be right back. Just hold on." Obby said again, then hurried back across the room.
To Be Continued...
Well, at least we aren't being left hanging from that darn cliff again.
I hope that both Obby and Lex can continue to live.
I would hate to see either of them vanish into nothingness, or just empty shells of themselves.
Hopefully, we will find out more, soon.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher