"How does everyone feel about the pacing? Do we need to speed anything up or slow it down?" G asked cautiously.
"I'm good. I think that if the spell were any longer that I might feel rushed, but this is fine." Vinda said thoughtfully.
"Yeah. It's perfect for me too." Nazzy added happily.
"I wouldn't change a thing." Paul said simply.
"Does anyone still need the words or do you want to try running through it blind this time?" G asked curiously.
"I know mine." Paul said immediately.
"Of course you do." G said with a grin at him.
"I think we're okay." Vinda said thoughtfully.
"Can I see the notebook? I'd like to get G's spell written down before I get rid of the walls." Paul asked hopefully.
"Sure. Here it is." Vinda said as she handed the spiral bound notebook to him.
"I can do that if it'll be faster." G quietly offered.
Paul looked at the stone wall, then down at the notebook before saying, "Let me try this first. I think I can make it work."
As Nazzy, Vinda, G and Karras watched, Paul began to transfer the written text from the wall to the pages of the notebook.
"You're really getting scary powerful." G said under his breath.
Paul smiled at him, then explained, "All I did was transfer the contents of my spell on the stone wall to my spell in the notebook. If I hadn't cast both the original spells, I wouldn't be able to transfer the information between them."
"Still... If you can do all this, I'm scared to think of what you'll be able to do after your second week." G said frankly.
"I think that as the spells get more and more complex that I'll find fewer ways of manipulating them to do new things. Right now I'm just making good use of some very basic, very all-purpose spells." Paul said as he finished transferring G's spell to the notebook.
"Yeah. Whatever you say." G said warily.
"Are we ready?" Paul asked as he looked around.
Everyone seemed to be in agreement.
With a thought, all the stone walls vanished at once.
G withdrew his illusion, then Paul, Nazzy and Vinda withdrew their spells in turn.
"That was almost as impressive as the casting." Karras said quietly.
"What was that?" Paul asked curiously.
"The way you deconstructed it. It was like watching a time-lapse of something dIsintegrating." Karras said thoughtfully.
"Maybe we should make a point of including that in our demonstration." G suggested.
"Since we're going to have to collapse it either way, we might as well make it part of the show." Paul said easily.
"Yeah. Okay." Nazzy agreed.
"Are we ready?" Vinda asked cautiously.
G looked around to see if anyone had any objection, then said, "Yeah. Go ahead Vinda. Start us off."
* * * * *
The second casting of the spells seemed to be a lot more comfortable and controlled than the first.
Each person exhibited confidence in what they were doing as they all kept a steady pace.
Karras watched carefully, being able to appreciate the 'craft' in what they were doing.
The stone pillar emerging from the floor was less of a surprise than it had been before, but it was still abrupt enough to startle him to some degree.
Like before, Karras stepped forward to get a better look at the end result of the spellcasting.
"Even though I've seen the spells and I can understand how all of it works, it's still amazing to me." Karras said honestly.
"I think that's the difference between slapping some paint on a canvas and actually 'painting'. Even though I can't explain exactly why, I feel like what we've done here is art." Vinda said thoughtfully.
"I've never been very artistic, but I feel like whatever artistic talent I have has been expressed here." Nazzy said quietly.
"Yeah. We all contributed to realizing this vision and I think it shows." G agreed.
"What do you think, Karras? As an observer, what did you think of the presentation of the spellcasting?" Vinda asked curiously.
"I think that anyone who has ever cast a spell would appreciate what all of you did. Not only did each of you cast your own spells with strength and confidence, but all of you worked together as a group... it was almost like a symphony. All your parts combined to create something wonderful." Karras said quietly.
"Is everyone ready for dessert?" Beth asked from the doorway.
"Yeah. That was perfect timing. We're at a good stopping point." Paul answered for all of them.
Beth carried a tray filled with small glasses of milk and freshly made chocolate chip cookies into the room and placed it on the coffee table.
"Help yourselves." Beth said as she walked over to their project to take a look.
"Thanks Mom." Paul said happily.
"It's even more beautiful than I remember it. This is some incredible work." Beth said quietly as she looked at their achievement.
"Thanks. I think we're getting better at the casting of it. The last run through felt really comfortable." G said as he waited for Nazzy to finish getting his cookies.
"To be honest, I've never participated in a multi-disciplinary spellcasting like this. I think that this is going to be a good experience for all of you." Beth said slowly.
"It's not something that I'd want to do all the time, but I think it's good to know that I can do something like this and use my specialty in combination with other people's magic." G said frankly.
"That's a good thing to learn. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities."
"But do you think that it makes it look like you can't do a complicated spell on your own? I don't mean this spell as much as I mean in general. If you do group projects, will people think that you're hiding the things that you can't do?" Paul asked curiously.
"Some might. There are those who are always looking for fault, even where none exists." Beth said frankly.
"You see, the thing is, I've got to give a presentation in Wizardry on Friday and I can't decide if I want to do it all myself or ask one of my classmates to help me, so that we can synchronize our spells." Paul said frankly.
"Can you do it by yourself?"
"Yeah. All the spells are little. That's part of why I thought that it might be more impressive to do them as a team. Coordinating them adds an extra level of difficulty."
"If you're asking my opinion, I think you should do it alone. You'll be establishing yourself and declaring your power in front of a room full of wizards. While a group effort might be appreciated for the skill needed to execute it properly, I think that it would probably be best to do that later, after you've established your position in the power hierarchy." Beth said seriously.
"It's a classroom, not a war council." G said slowly.
"Among wizards, there's really no difference. We have an instinctive need to assess the abilities of all those around us and then compete for the best, most dominant position that we can effectively manage."
"Paul isn't like that." G immediately defended.
"Tell me, what are all of you doing here tonight?" Beth asked with a smile.
"Paul didn't dominate or bully us into doing anything, he just had a good idea and we wanted to help him." Vinda explained.
"An effective leader never has to raise his voice." Beth countered simply.
"What about you? You don't do that." G challenged.
"I'm 'The Mom'." Beth said simply.
G seemed to be poised to respond, but then took a moment to think about it.
When he finally found his voice, all he could say was, "Wow."
"Like I said, it's instinctive." Beth told the group, then turned to Paul and said, "But to answer your original question, I think you should go in there and do your best work. They're going to be judging you on your performance, so give them a clear demonstration of your abilities. If you do that, things will end up falling into their proper place."
"Okay. Thanks Mom." Paul said sincerely.
Beth smiled, then asked, "Is anyone going to need a ride home when you're done here?"
"No. My mom said to call when we're ready and she'll pick us up." Vinda said easily.
"Okay. But remember that I'll be in the baby's room if any of you need anything at all." Beth said before slipping out the door.
There was a long moment of silence before Paul hesitantly asked, "The baby's room? Where's that?"
"I have no idea." G admitted.
"So, what now?" Nazzy asked as he went back to the coffee table to get another cookie.
"Well, I like Karras' idea about finishing this project as strongly as we started it. Let's go ahead and bring this thing down with style." G said with a grin.
"Okay. We just go in reverse order, right?" Nazzy asked to be sure.
"I have to go first. The rest of you can work out what happens after that. And if you can think of some way to make it a little more... flashy, it wouldn't hurt." G said thoughtfully.
"When you remove your 'skin', everything goes pixelated. Maybe we could fix it so when Paul removes his alchemy that something visible would happen. Maybe the whole thing could go transparent... you know, like the next step in the deconstruction process. How much work do you think that would take?" Nazzy asked curiously.
"I don't know. That's really more a function of the Wizard's lights than the Alchemy." Paul said thoughtfully.
"Yeah. But you could do it, couldn't you? While you're making the air solid, couldn't you also make it darken?"
"I guess so. I'd just have to change, like, three words in my spell."
"If you'll do that, then I can adjust the opacity down a little so my coloring will show on top of your dark background." Nazzy said thoughtfully.
"Maybe. It sounds like it might work. Let's try it and see what happens." Paul suggested.
"G, will you remove the skin?" Nazzy asked seriously.
"Yeah." G said as his illusion dissolved.
"Paul, can you adjust the darkness?" Nazzy asked slowly.
"Yeah. It's done."
"Good. I'm going to make my adjustment and we'll see if it makes any difference at this stage of things." Nazzy said in concentration.
Everyone watched, but nothing seemed to happen.
"Okay. That should work. Paul, go ahead and dispel your alchemy." Nazzy said firmly.
Paul released his spell and the entire pillar suddenly became transparent, almost like the whole thing was made of cubes of jello.
"Wow! That looks awesome!" Karras exclaimed.
"Nice effect. It's better than I imagined." Paul said with a slow considering nod.
"We'll have to remember to make the change to the master document." Nazzy said as he stepped closer to look at the detail.
"Yeah. But you'll have to do it to yours. I don't know exactly what you did." Paul admitted.
"Here's the notebook." Vinda said as she handed it to Nazzy.
"Does this work just like the Numerology workbook?" Nazzy asked curiously.
"Yeah. Except that you don't need to use a pencil. You can just touch it with your finger." Paul explained.
"Okay." Nazzy said as he leafed through the notebook and found the proper place in the spell.
"That's fixed. Now I'll remove my part." Nazzy said as he turned his attention back to the pillar.
Paul took the notebook from him and noticed what changes Nazzy had made. In a matter of seconds his own spell was also updated and he handed the notebook back to Vinda.
Nazzy focused on the pillar and as he did, all the color suddenly washed out of the whole thing, leaving it looking like a clear glass structure made of tiny cubes.
"Instead of making it vanish all at once, I can deconstruct it layer by layer." Vinda slowly suggested.
"Let's give it a try." G said simply.
Vinda nodded, then focused her attention on the clear glass pillar.
The effect was like icicles shattering and evaporating into nothing before their eyes. The scene was mesmerizing and everyone watched silently until every trace of the pillar was finally gone.
"Wow! Do you need to make any adjustments to the master spell to make that happen?" G finally asked.
"No. I just changed the way that I dispelled the plotter spell." Vinda said simply.
"What do you think, Karras? Is that flashy enough?" G asked curiously.
"Yeah. That was great... well, except that you might think about coordinating what you do while you're dispelling it... I mean, the spectacle of it is great, but you all standing around staring at it is... it kind of makes it look like you're not connected to what's happening." Karras said with difficulty.
"So, we need to add some theatrics." G summarized.
"Just a little. You don't want to draw attention away from what you're doing. But I think it'd be better if it actually looked like it was you who was doing it." Karras tried to explain.
"I do a lot of that with my spell diagrams." Paul said thoughtfully.
"How's that?" G asked curiously.
"Sometimes I make gestures that aren't part of the spell, just to signal that I'm making the change, so people won't think that the diagram is out of control." Paul explained, then held his hands out in front of him.
He made a clockwise arching motion with both hands as the spell diagram formed on the floor.
With a little twitching motion, balls of fire appeared at each of the points.
A gray swirl of mist appeared, then Mah Zah and Ginh Zah tumbled out.
Once the gray mist had cleared, Paul made a sweeping motion and the diagram and balls of flame disappeared.
"I could have done the whole thing without even raising my hands. Everything I just did was for show." Paul said seriously as he reached down and picked up Ginh Zah.
"So what do you think we should do when we dispel the project?" G asked curiously as he picked up Mah Zah and cuddled her to his chest.
"I don't know. Maybe each of us should just make the natural movements that go with what we're doing." Paul said uncertainly as he perched Ginh Zah on his shoulder.
"But do you think that Mrs. Herdez will dock us points if we do that?" Vinda asked cautiously.
"I don't think so. I feel like she'll appreciate that we wanted to put on a good show. Not only does the magic work, but doing it this way makes it look like we really meant for it to work the way that it does." G said thoughtfully as he continued to cuddle the puppy.
"Yeah. Instead of just poofing it away, now it looks like we're almost 'uncasting' the spell." Nazzy said consideringly.
"I like the sound of that." G smiled as he petted Mah Zah gently.
"It looks like we have time, why don't we run through the whole thing again?" Vinda suggested.
"Yeah. Okay. But why don't we go to my room this time? I feel like it'd be good to try conjuring in a different setting. That way we'll be less likely to get thrown off when we're doing it in the classroom." G asked as he looked to see what everyone thought of the idea.
"Yeah. Just give me one minute." Nazzy said as he hurried over to the coffee table and picked up the last few cookies.
G smiled at the action, then said, "Come on."
* * * * *
"You mean you have your own house?" Karras asked as he realized what he was seeing.
"Yeah. When my dad decided that I was old enough that I didn't need someone watching over me every minute of the day, he had my room built." G said simply.
"Maybe my dad will do that if he ever thinks that about me." Karras chuckled derisively.
"He still treats you like a little kid?" Paul asked curiously.
"It's not like he tries to hold my hand when we cross the street or asks me if I need to 'go potty'. But I just get the feeling that he doesn't trust me to do or decide anything on my own." Karras said quietly.
"He probably doesn't." Paul said honestly.
Karras looked at him with surprise.
"I grew up without a dad, so I'm probably the last one who should be guessing at what's going through his mind. But it seems to me that the people who know you get used to seeing you a certain way and even though you get older, they keep that image in their minds. He may not be treating you like a kid because he doesn't trust you, he may be doing it because when he looks at you, he still sees you like you were when you needed him to do everything for you."
"I don't know how I'll ever prove to him that I'm ready to stand on my own."
"I don't know either, but if you come up with anything that we can help with, let us know." Paul finished with a smile.
"Here we are." G said as he opened the door.
* * * * *
"This is your room?" Karras asked to confirm as he looked around.
"Yeah. Well, mine and Paul's, at least until Dad can build Paul a room of his own."
"This place is insane! I love it!" Karras said with a huge smile.
"Check out my anime collection. I've got a few that are nearly impossible to find." G said as he gestured beside the big screen television.
"Do you want to go ahead and get started?" Vinda asked cautiously.
"Yeah. Paul, will you help me clear the blankets out of the way."
"I got it." Paul immediately responded.
"That should be enough room. Vinda, go ahead and start whenever you're ready."
She looked around to see that the others were paying attention, then started her spellcasting.
Nazzy began casting next, followed closely by G, and Paul jumped in when his time came.
Karras watched the four of them, casting their different spells, and wasn't startled at all when the stone pillar finally emerged from the floor.
"That seems to be getting easier." G said as he looked over their handiwork.
"Yeah. It's like I've got a solid copy of it in my memory now. I could probably recite it in my sleep." Nazzy agreed.
"That might be fun, waking up to wizard lights all over the place." G said with a grin.
"How'd it look from your point of view, Karras?" Paul asked curiously.
"It looked smooth and professional. No one missed a beat." Karras answered confidently.
A small mew from Paul's shoulder drew his attention, he listened for a moment, then announced, "Ginh Zah agrees. She couldn't spot anything that we did that needed improved on."
Mah Zah barked once.
"Mah Zah thinks so too." Paul added.
"Well, now's the part where we don't have to do much of anything. Mrs. Herdez will look it over and maybe ask us a few questions about it. Then the next part will be to take it back down." G said seriously.
"Lead the way." Paul said with a smile.
G slowly raised his hands in the direction of the pillar, then suddenly dropped them. As he did, the illusion fell away from the construct, revealing the colorful pixelated structure before them.
"Nice." Paul said appreciatively, then held one hand out toward the pillar with his palm open toward it. He held it there for a moment, for dramatic effect, then slowly closed his fist as he pulled his hand away.
As he did that, the entire pillar became a colorful arrangement of transparent cubes.
"I don't know what it means, but it works." Karras whispered as he kept his focus on the pillar.
Nazzy made a grand counterclockwise gesture in the air with one hand and all the color drained from the structure.
"I like that." Vinda said warmly, then pointed at the pillar as she said, "Be gone!"
When she said that, all the little glass or ice crystals making up the pillar seemed to shatter in a cascading effect from top to bottom.
"I don't think it's casting the spell that's making my heart race. That was just awesome!" Nazzy said with a big grin.
"That was perfect! Who wants to kick back and watch some anime for a little while to celebrate?" G asked hopefully.
"I don't think Mom wants me out too late on a school night." Vinda said cautiously.
"It's not as late as it feels. We have time to watch a few episodes before we have to start worrying about it."
"That won't cause you any trouble, will it Karras?" Vinda asked cautiously.
"No. It's still early."
"Vinda, I know that you're sometimes offended by my choice of videos, so why don't you pick out what we'll be watching tonight."
"I know just the one that I want to see." Vinda said as she walked to the shelves of movies.
As Paul sat next to G on the couch, Mah Zah and Ginh Zah took their honored positions in the boys' laps.
* * * * *
"Regular people can't possibly believe that witches are like that, can they?" Karras asked between bouts of laughter at the silly animated show.
"I can't speak for all regular people, but I never believed that any of it was true. I didn't believe in magic at all." Paul said honestly.
"I can't even imagine growing up that way. What a bleak worldview." Karras said slowly.
Paul thought about that for a moment, then amended, "Okay, maybe I didn't believe in magic in my head, but in my heart and soul, I always had this... something... like my inner self knew that magic was real. My logical mind would see something and dismiss it, but my emotional inner self would embrace it as being an example of something that was true."
"Like what?" G asked curiously.
"Little things like walking over to the phone before it rings or taking an umbrella to school with me when there's no hint that it's going to rain... just little things like that." Paul said thoughtfully.
"So you have precognitive abilities?" Vinda asked curiously.
"I might on some level, but it's not like I get visions of the future or anything like that. Sometimes I just happen to be in the right place at the right time when, if you think about it later, I have no reason for being there."
"Have you noticed if you've been scheduled for an Augury class?"
"Yeah. I have that tomorrow morning. I meant to ask about that. What is it?"
"It's a class about spotting portents and omens. You'll probably be in the second level class. I took the first level class, the one for the people who don't have 'the gift'." Vinda explained.
"So, what will I be doing in there?" Paul asked cautiously.
"I've talked to some people who've taken Augury 2, they all seemed to like it." G said frankly, then continued, "It sounds to me like everyone who has 'the gift' accesses it differently. So you might be able to see glimpses of the future in tea leaves or tarot cards..."
"...or goat entrails." Nazzy added with a grin.
"If I have to look at goat entrails to see the future, the only future I'll be seeing is me hunched over the toilet, puking my guts up." Paul said frankly.
G laughed, then said, "Just, whatever you do, don't let it get to you. Getting peeks of the future is a nice trick if you can do it, but don't fall into the trap of giving up today because you're looking at tomorrow."
"Does that happen a lot?" Paul asked curiously.
"It happens. I don't know how much." G said frankly, then broke into a grin as he continued, "But with all the amazing things you've done this week, the last thing we need is for you to start knowing everything before it even happens."
"You'll be insufferable." Vinda said with a grin in Paul's direction.
"Knowing when the phone's going to ring and when I need to carry an umbrella is probably good enough for me for right now." Paul said honestly.
"It won't hurt to learn what they have to teach you in Augury class. It might end up being a nice tool to have in your toolbox... as long as it ends up being the tool." G finished in a warning tone.
"Do all of you really think that I'm going to go off the deep end with this?" Paul asked as he looked around.
"It could happen." Vinda said easily.
"Remember that the big monster spell we're all working on is something that you came up with all by yourself." Nazzy added.
"You do kind of jump in feet first when you explore new things." G told him frankly.
Paul looked to Karras, hoping for a bit of assurance.
"One of the first spells I ever learned was Wizard's lights. I was about four years old. I can't do what you did, making that spell diagram." Karras said frankly.
'When did I become like this?'
'I always did what I had to do and nothing more.'
'All of a sudden, I'm all gung ho about everything?'
'Oh my God!'
'If I become a cheerleader, someone just shoot me!'
"So what you're saying is that no matter what I do, I'm probably going to become an insufferable prick?" Paul asked weakly.
Vinda and Karras nodded their agreement.
"So, I guess when that happens, all that I can do is count on all of you to knock some sense into me." Paul said weakly.
"No. Violence is never the answer..." G said firmly.
Paul easily nodded his agreement.
"...sex is." G added happily.
Paul looked at him with surprise and more than a little interest.
"I think that if I really try that I'll be able to catch your attention. By the time I'm through, you should be in the right frame of mind to listen to reason." G said with a grin.
"What about the rest of us?" Nazzy asked cautiously.
"That's 'Plan B'." G said simply.
Paul audibly gulped his suddenly dry throat.
"You know, I think it's probably a good time for me to call for our ride." Vinda said with a grin as she stood and took out her phone.
"Yeah. I feel really good about the project. I think it's going to be incredible." Nazzy said as he also stood.
"Thanks for inviting me over. The dinner was great and I really enjoyed being included in your project. I'm just a little bummed that I can't be there to see you show it to your teacher." Karras said honestly.
"Well, we'll be presenting it third period on Friday. If you don't have anything too important going on then, you might ask for special permission to attend. If your teacher doesn't have a problem with it, I'm sure that Mrs. Herdez won't mind." G said frankly.
"Yeah. I didn't think of that. I'll see what I can arrange."
"And don't forget about this weekend. You and your whole family are invited. Don't forget to bring your musical instruments."
"There's no way I'll forget that." Karras chuckled.
"Mom said that she's on her way... which probably means that we have time to watch one more episode before she gets here." Vinda said as she put her phone away.
"I'm not complaining, but I just want to know why you want to watch a cartoon show with witches wearing pointy hats and riding brooms. What do you get out of it?" Paul asked curiously.
"I get the same thing as anyone else, I guess. Just because I'm a witch doesn't mean that my sense of humor has magically disappeared." Vinda finished with a grin.
"I don't know. It just seems... wrong, like it's making fun of our culture or something like that." Paul said uneasily.
"Toughen up, Buttercup. If you can't handle an unflattering Halloween costume, there's no way you're going to be able to deal with demons." Vinda said frankly.
"I'm not offended. I'm just saying that it seems disrespectful to keep spreading a ridiculous stereotype." Paul tried to explain.
"Actually, that stereotype is one of our biggest defenses from being discovered by the outside world. When we say 'witch' we mean one thing, when they say 'witch', they mean something that's completely different. The misunderstanding works in our favor." Vinda patiently explained.
"Kick it on, Vin. Your mom's on the way." Nazzy urged.
Vinda smiled as she clicked the remote.
* * * * *
As Paul and G were walking back to G's room after seeing everyone off, Paul quietly asked, "Did you want to watch some more videos?"
"No. That series is only fun to watch when Vinda's here." G said simply, then added with a grin, "Besides, I seem to remember you saying something about us showering together tonight."
"Oh yeah. I did promise that, didn't I?"
"You don't have to... but if you still want to... I'm interested." G said a bit shyly.
"I want to." Paul assured him.
"Good. Because even though we've done things, I haven't had the chance to really explore you."
"Hmm. That sounds like it could take a while."
"It could, if we take the time to do it right."
"Then I guess we'd better get started."
* * * * *
Paul arrived at school the next morning feeling unusually tranquil and settled in his soul.
The ride in the van had been the perfect way to put Paul into a good mood.
'The calm before the storm.'
The van arrived at the school a few minutes behind schedule, so Paul said his goodbyes to G, then hurried off to his first class.
The classroom was located in a different wing of the school that Paul hadn't visited before, but he was still able to find it in plenty of time.
"Hello. My name is Paul Darroch. I'm supposed to be starting your class today." Paul said as he stopped at the teacher's desk.
"It's nice to meet you, Paul. I'm Mr. Stokes, I'll be your history teacher."
"Thank you sir." Paul said respectfully, then cautiously asked, "Is there anything special that I'm going to need to do since I'm starting in the middle of the school year?"
After a moment to consider, Mr. Stokes said, "No. I don't think so. Although, as with history, one thing naturally builds on and grows from what came before, I think that you'll be able to get the gist of most things based on their context. If you find yourself at a loss, simply come to me and I'll direct you to the proper resources to clarify whatever you're having difficulty with."
"Yes sir. I'll do that."
"And I suppose that I should warn you about how I choose to conduct my classes. My specialty happens to be in Sorcery, so I use illusions to augment the study of the historical events that we explore."
"That sounds really interesting." Paul said honestly.
"I like to think so." Mr. Stokes agreed, then hesitantly added, "However, some of my students don't react well either to the disorientation caused by my illusions, or to the subject matter."
That caught Paul's interest.
"It is for that reason that sickness bags are located at each desk."
"I should be alright." Paul assured him.
"Take any available desk. Class is about to begin." Mr. Stokes said pleasantly.
* * * * *
When the class started, Paul was totally lost.
One minute he was sitting in a classroom, the next he was sitting with his class in the middle of a public street in what appeared to be a peasant village at some point during the middle ages.
The experience was eye opening to say the least.
In the first few uneventful minutes that they were present, Paul determined that the townspeople appeared to be filthy and by all measures, morally reprehensible. The squalor surrounding them was enough to make him want to gag.
Eventually, Paul's attention was drawn by two men having a rather loud discussion in some language that he didn't understand.
As they got louder and more aggressive toward each other, more and more men gathered, picking sides by getting behind one man or the other.
People began spilling out of their hovels and shacks to witness the excitement.
The screaming fight escalated and the crowd of people grew even bigger as the first few punches were being thrown.
Paul wasn't sure what drew his attention, but for whatever reason he turned as a surprisingly tall and muscular man walked toward the escalating fight.
The man bellowed at the top of his lungs in a language that Paul didn't recognize.
The mobs of fighting people didn't seem to take any notice. If anything, the fight intensified.
The man bellowed again, but this time, much to Paul's surprise, pillars of flame erupted all around the town.
Paul was shocked by the sight, but it seemed that the fighters weren't the least bit intimidated by it.
Being mostly ignored by the fighting people and onlookers alike, the large man started chanting at the top of his lungs with his arms outstretched.
The fight continued unabated.
Paul didn't know what the man was saying, but he felt his adrenaline rising at the obvious spellcasting.
He didn't recognize enough about the spell to predict what it was meant to do, but Paul could tell that whatever it was, it was powerful.
Trails of fire began to branch off from the fiery pillars surrounding the town and it took Paul a moment to realize that the spellcaster was invoking an absolutely enormous summoning diagram made entirely of fire.
Before Paul could gather his wits, a series of ghostly forms began to rise up from all around them.
Once the ghosts were above ground, the slender monstrous creatures began attacking the townspeople.
Paul watched in horror as more and more of the ghostly beasts emerged from the summoning diagram all around them.
After subduing the fighting men, the nightmarish beasts proceeded to go into the hovels and shanties and began dragging the women and children from their homes.
There was certainly some wailing going on and Paul even thought that he might have detected some gnashing of teeth.
The huge brutish man who had performed the spell loudly and clearly called out one last magical phrase.
All the ghostly entities immediately began dragging their prey, kicking and screaming into the open vortex in the middle of the massive summoning circle.
In the space of less than a minute, the last of them were gone.
The village faded around them as the classroom came back into being.
"According to official records, sometime in the late 13th century, the town of Glanzenberg was mysteriously abandoned. No traces of the former inhabitants were ever found. Glanzenberg remains uninhabited to this day. Please enjoy your morning." Mr. Stokes said just before the bell rang.
Paul was dazed, amazed, and not quite sure if he were going to need one of those sickness bags or not.
Regardless, the one thing that he was certain of was that History had suddenly skyrocketed to the top of his list of favorite subjects.
* * * * *
As Paul walked into his next classroom, he was greeted by a not too welcome sight.
"So, Paul, I see that you decided to come back. I would have thought that you'd have daddy hire a tutor for you by now." Carla said snottily.
"I don't have any dog treats, so you don't have any reason to come sniffing around me." Paul said, then walked to the teacher's desk at the front of the room.
"Mr. Darroch, I assume." The teacher said pleasantly.
"Yes, Ma'am. Are you Mrs. Adkins?" Paul asked curiously.
"Yes. That's right. Do you happen to have a bit of a psychic gift?" Mrs. Adkins asked curiously.
"Maybe a little, but to be honest, I saw your name written on my class schedule." Paul hesitantly admitted.
"Yes. And now that you mention it, I seem to recall seeing yours on my class roster. Tell me, what do you know about my class?" Mrs. Adkins asked curiously.
"I heard that you teach us how to recognize portents and omens." Paul said honestly.
"Yes. Have you attended an Astrology class yet?"
"I had that yesterday."
"Good. I like to think of it this way. Astrology, with its constant flow and movement causes eddies and currents to form in reality. Those with the gift of prognostication can see those striae and make predictions based on them."
"Okay. A lot of that didn't make sense to me, but if you're saying that you can help me get the good things and avoid the bad things that are coming at me, then I want to learn."
"Yes. I think that's an honest assessment of what we're doing here." Mrs. Adkins said pleasantly, then quietly asked, "Do you have any special precognitive gift?"
"Yeah. Maybe. Just every now and then. I sometimes know when the phone's going to ring before it does and other little stuff like that." Paul said uncomfortably.
"Then it sounds to me like you're in the right place. In this class you'll be exposed to a variety of tools, some of which may be useful to you in trying to divine the future."
"Okay. What do I need to do?" Paul asked curiously.
"Since we're already so deep into the school year, why don't I get one of the better students to partner with you and help you get up to speed?"
Paul didn't betray any outward reaction.
"Arjun, would you like to work with Paul and help him find his divining method?" Mrs. Adkins asked hopefully as she led Paul to one of the workstations.
"Yes Ma'am. I already gathered a few things, just in case they might be needed." Arjun said timidly.
"I thought you might have." Mrs. Adkins chuckled before walking away.
"Are you new to the school or did you just find out about your precognitive gift?" Arjun asked curiously.
"Both, I guess. I mean, I just found out about magic being real last week. But when Dr. Williams did all the testing and stuff on me, he never mentioned that I might be able to tell the future." Paul rambled.
"You won't tell the future. The most you'll do is make good guesses at it. The future isn't written, so you can't read it. But thanks to the forces at work, you can see patterns, some of which aren't visible to others, and based on those you can make predictions." Arjun carefully explained.
"Wow. Did that come from a book? Because if you just made that up, right off the top of your head, I'm really impressed." Paul said honestly.
Arjun laughed, despite himself, then admitted, "It's from a book that's recommended in our textbook. If you're interested, I'll get you the name."
"So, where's this textbook? Am I going to need to do anything with that right now?"
"No. Not until we've found you a divining method."
"Okay. I don't know what that is."
"It's typically a physical object or objects that you can use to reveal the stress patterns to divine the future."
"Oh? Like goat entrails?" Paul guessed.
"Um... Let's try the tarot cards first." Arjun suggested hopefully.
"Okay. Just tell me what I have to do." Paul easily agreed.
* * * * *
It only took a few minutes with the tarot cards to reveal that they held no meaning for Paul.
He liked the runes, he thought that they were cute and kinda cool, but they didn't yield any better result.
There were some wooden pieces that Arjun called 'bones'. Again, in Paul's eyes, they didn't reveal any of the mysteries of the universe.
While Arjun and Paul were waiting for the tea to finish brewing so that Paul could try and read the tea leaves, Paul quietly asked, "How close are we to having to look at goat entrails?"
"That's still quite a way off. People have been attempting to predict the future since before recorded history. There are as many different divining methods as there are civilizations that have ever existed." Arjun said informatively.
"And that's just here on Earth, in the natural realm. I bet that there are even more methods in the Angelic and Demonic realms." Paul said speculatively.
"Perhaps. We typically do not speak of such things." Arjun informed him.
"Okay. But, I'm just curious, in all the reading and studying that you've done, have you come across any demonic methods for fortune telling?"
"Why would you want to know such a thing?" Arjun asked with concern.
"My demonic magic is stronger than my natural magic. I just thought that if my fortune telling ability is tied to my demonic magic, then it might make sense for me to try to access the ability that way." Paul carefully explained.
"I don't understand. Your demonic magic?" Arjun asked carefully.
"Oh, yeah. I guess everyone can't taste the magic like I can. Depending on where it comes from, different magic has its own distinct flavor. Because of that, I can tell that I'm stronger with demonic magic than natural magic."
"Can you tell about me and my magic?"
"No. I mean, maybe if I watched you do some spells and saw that you only used one type of magic all the time, I might notice that. But that wouldn't really prove anything..."
"How are we doing over here? Have we had any luck?" Mrs. Adkins asked pleasantly.
"Not so far. We've tried quite a few things, but nothing's worked, not even a little." Paul said honestly.
"Paul was just asking if we have any tools that are typically used by demons to divine the future." Arjun said carefully.
"I have a few things. They're replicas, of course. But not many people like to be reminded of them so I keep them locked away in the cabinet. They're right over here." Mrs. Adkins said as she started to walk toward the back of the room.
Paul and Arjun immediately followed.
It took a moment for Mrs. Adkins to unlock the overhead compartment, but once she finally had it open, she stood aside.
"A skaalix!" Paul said with a smile.
"What was that?" Mrs. Adkins asked curiously.
"It's a game. You just... can I touch it?" Paul thought to ask.
"Yes. Go ahead. Show me how it works." Mrs. Adkins said slowly.
Paul took the small spherical metal object down from the shelf and placed it on the bench before him. The shiny metal surface was covered with ornate engravings as were the surfaces of each of the progressively smaller inner spheres.
"Wait. This isn't right." Paul said slowly as he tried to turn one of the inner spheres through the cutout opening in the outermost sphere.
"What's wrong?" Mrs. Adkins asked curiously.
"I don't know. I think it's this metal, it's wrong. These spheres are supposed to turn with the slightest touch." Paul said as he turned the device over and tried to turn another one of the inner spheres through another cutout.
"As I said before, this is a replica. I think it was made as a show piece, not to be used." Mrs. Adkins said quietly.
"Would you mind if I changed it?" Paul asked in concentration, not giving any indication if he had heard her or not.
"How do you mean?" Mrs. Adkins asked slowly.
"This metal, it's too heavy. The pivot points are too soft... And I wouldn't trust the shells of the spheres not to warp after one or two uses." Paul said thoughtfully.
"Are you proposing that there's something that you can do to remedy the situation?" Mrs. Adkins asked curiously.
"Yeah. I should be able to change the metal to act the way it's supposed to. I mean, I've never done it before, so I can't be one hundred percent sure, but I know how it's supposed to be and I think that I can fix it to be that way." Paul said frankly.
"If there's something you can do, go ahead." Mrs. Adkins said as she looked on with interest.
"Let's see... I think I'll need to tweek the natural elements for this, so I'll have to use an elemental diagram to start with." Paul said as a Wizard's light spell diagram appeared on the bench.
"What dwells within the house of earth, let that remain. I call upon the house of fire to temper the metal and bring forth the strength. I call upon the house of air to incite the flame to new heights. I call upon the house of water to restore order and balance once our goals are met." Paul said solemnly.
When nothing happened, Paul glanced at Mrs. Adkins and Arjun before reluctantly saying, "I need more power. It'd be better to use natural magic, but since it's fire, I think I can make it work."
Before either could question what he was doing, Paul continued casting his spell, "Drawing the currents of pain and fear, flowing from the bowels of hell, heed my word and fuel my spell, I command it to be so."
Paul brought his hands up in a protective gesture as the skaalix began to glow brightly.
"Is it going to explode?" Arjun asked as he backed away.
"No. I just had to temper the metal so that it would be strong enough to stand up to some use." Paul said, mostly confidently, as he forced himself to lower his hands.
Everyone in the room had stopped whatever they were doing by that point and were all gathered in a semicircle to see what had nearly exploded on Paul's workbench.
"Did it work?" Mrs. Adkins finally cautiously asked.
"It should have." Paul said as he dispelled his Wizard's light diagram and created another one, this one being a triangle inside a circle.
To the onlooker, Paul was standing silently and staring at the mechanism and nothing appeared to be happening.
Finally, Paul dispelled the alchemy diagram and let loose a gust of breath in relief.
The skaalix looked a little worse for wear, not nearly as shiny and new as it had been before.
"I think that's got it. Let me try it out." Paul said as he carefully touched the little device, not certain if it were going to be hot.
Everyone was silent as Paul finally held the device in his left hand, then barely brushed it with his right.
The various spheres, encapsulated within each other began to turn in different directions and at different speeds, each on their own pivot points. All the various spinning spheres were plain to see.
"It's like a clockwork." Mrs. Adkins finally said.
"Yeah. To play it, you just get it going, like it is, then you try to touch as many of the spheres as you can in sequence before it loses its momentum." Paul said, then proceeded to try and play the game.
"Where did you learn this?" Mrs. Adkins asked slowly.
"I don't know. I learned it when I was a kid, I guess." Paul answered distantly, then stopped as he said, "I only got three."
"According to the lore connected to this 'toy', it has also been used as a divination tool. Do you have any idea about that?" Mrs. Adkins asked slowly.
"Let me see..." Paul said as he placed the skaalix down on the bench, then lightly brushed the outer edge of one of the spheres to set it in motion again.
"If you look down into the cutouts of all the different spheres while it's running, it sort of makes all kinds of different shapes in really quick flashes. Let me try something."
With a thought, Paul created a few Wizard's lights to make it easier to see.
"Yeah. If I cleaned this thing up, it'd probably be easier to see everything, but if you look right there, you can probably make it out." Paul said as he stepped away and invited Mrs. Adkins to take his place.
After a moment of staring into the device, Mrs. Adkins quietly said, "I have to admit that I don't know what it is that I'm looking at, but there's no doubt that this could be used to help express the visions of a clairvoyant mind."
"How would you do that?" Paul asked curiously.
"I suppose the easiest way is to look into the device and speak aloud what it is that you see. It will probably end up being more of a stream of consciousness than anything else. But with some practice, you might be able to direct the formation of images to provide a narrative on a subject of your choosing."
"So I can look into this thing and kind of ask it a question and then wait to see what answers it shows me?" Paul asked curiously.
"Yes. In theory, that's how it should work." Mrs. Adkins confirmed.
"According to what I was able to see in my crystal, Paul's going to end up in hell." Carla said smugly, loudly enough for everyone to hear.
"What have I told you about giving negative prophecies? If you can't provide hope and motivation, then it's your duty to keep it to yourself." Mrs. Adkins scolded.
"It's alright." Paul said easily, then enacted his clothes changing spell as he let his demon form come into being. "Besides that, she may be right about my future. There's a good chance that one of these days I will be in hell... probably visiting relatives."
Everyone stared in horror at Paul's demonic visage.
"But while we're at it, let me see what I can see about your future, Carla." Paul said as he picked up the skaalix with one clawed hand and started it in motion with the other.
After looking for a moment, Paul set the skaalix aside and said, "Oh, that's too bad."
"You couldn't do it, could you?" Carla said triumphantly.
"I could see into your future just fine. I just couldn't find anything positive to tell you about it." Paul said simply.
"I think we've had more than enough of this." Mrs. Adkins said firmly.
"Yes Ma'am." Paul said as he returned to his human looking appearance.
"What did you see?" Carla demanded.
"Trust me, you don't want to know." Paul said seriously, then turned to Arjun and asked, "Do you still want to help me or have I scared you too much?"
"You won't attack me or try to steal my soul, will you?" Arjun asked cautiously.
"No. I don't do harm to people who help me." Paul said, then spared Carla a glance out of the corner of his eye.
"What are you?" Arjun asked anxiously.
"A cambion." Paul answered simply.
"A half witch, half demon."
"So, are you evil?"
"Not usually. No more than anyone else, I guess." Paul answered honestly.
"What else can you do?" Arjun asked curiously.
"Well, from what I've heard, demons don't use spellbooks, they just know the spells that they need to know. I guess because of that, I have an instinctive understanding of certain kinds of magic. That doesn't mean that I know it all or that I don't have anything to learn, but I guess that there are things that are easier for me than some other people." Paul said as he picked up the skaalix and motioned for Arjun to walk with him back to their workstation.
"So what you changed into, is that what you really look like?" Arjun asked curiously.
"No. This is what I really look like. That's just the form that I change into when I'm doing heavy duty magic... or trying to scare someone." Paul finished with a timid smile.
"It worked." Arjun assured him.
"Sorry about that. If Carla hadn't pulled her evil bitch routine on me, I wouldn't have even thought about changing in front of everyone." Paul said frankly.
"Did you really see something about Carla when you looked into your... toy?" Arjun asked carefully.
"It's called a skaalix and yeah, I did." Paul said uneasily.
"Was it really as bad as you let on, or were you just messing with her?"
"It was bad. If seeing the future means that I'll get to see stuff like that about the people that I know... it's too much. I don't want it."
"Whether you want it or not, you've got it. We've got it. Not seeing the bad things means that you don't get to see the good things either. And you won't be able to help people avoid what's coming toward them." Arjun said sagely.
Paul looked into his eyes, then slowly said, "You've had this conversation before."
"Yeah. A few hundred times, with my bathroom mirror." Arjun chuckled wearily.
"It still seems like too much." Paul quietly admitted.
"Tell me what you saw about Carla. Maybe I can help you deal with it."
"I didn't see it as much as I heard or felt it. It was like for just a split second the flashing images put me into a trance. There was this declaration being made and I knew it was about her. It was really loud and firm and sounded like... I don't know, a judge or a president or something. Anyway, it said, 'You will die with your hands bound. And it will be celebrated as justice'."
"Okay. That's a little darker than any of my visions." Arjun said slowly.
"But I shouldn't tell her, right?" Paul asked anxiously.
"Mrs. Adkins will tell you to never tell people bad things. See everything, but only report the positive. I think that that's lying to them, not only are you telling them what they want to hear, but you're also preventing them from receiving a warning that might actually do them some good." Arjun said seriously.
"Even if I told her, she probably wouldn't believe me. She hates me." Paul said honestly.
"That has nothing to do with this." Arjun said dispassionately.
Paul looked at him curiously.
"This is about you deciding what you think is right and wrong. Carla doesn't come into it."
"So, do I lie to people to make Mrs. Adkins happy and to make my life easier or do I tell the truth and sometimes have people upset with me for telling them things that they don't want to hear?" Paul asked speculatively.
"Yeah. When you hear that there's a fortune telling class, you don't think about there being any kind of moral dilemma that comes along with it." Arjun agreed.
As Paul was about to respond, he felt something bump his shoulder and turned in time to see a girl across the room fly off her feet and back about four feet, into a wall.
"Did you do that?" Arjun asked when he noticed the correlation between the two events.
"Maybe. But if I did, it wasn't on purpose." Paul said as he watched several people gather around the girl to see that she was alright.
"What did you do to Katie!?" Carla demanded at the top of her lungs.
"I was over here minding my own business. I don't even know who Katie is." Paul responded.
"You did it! I know you did! What did you do!?" Carla screamed.
Paul looked to Mrs. Adkins to keep order, but she was kneeling on the floor beside Katie, doing her best to assess the girl's condition.
"I protected myself." Paul said as his voice lowered and became more reasonable.
"She never did anything to you! You attacked her for no reason! You're a monster!" Carla screamed.
"As I was saying, I protected myself. When I realized that someone might try to magically attack me, I cast a spell on myself to deflect any attack made against me back to the attacker." Paul said firmly.
"You're just making that up! There's no such spell! And even if there was, you've only been here a week, you couldn't cast a spell like that if you wanted to." Carla sneered.
Paul decided that spelling class wasn't the only time that theatrics should be used. He silently cast his clothing spell and took his demon form before saying in his low dramatic voice, "From the depths of hell, the darkest night, the deepest fear, from Him without mercy. I call forth the power to vanquish mine enemies. Let the damned be horrified by their fates. Show mercy not, for those who would cause me harm. Thrice-damned retribution, I call upon mine attackers. Allow them to survive to lament their choices. Give them not the peace of death."
Everyone stared at Paul in horror.
"Now, does anyone else want to fuck with me?" Paul asked into the silence that followed.
Paul noticed that Mrs. Adkins was looking at him, but seemed to be afraid to respond.
He quickly reverted to his resting form and quietly said, "I'm sorry Mrs. Adkins. I promise that I won't use profanity in your classroom again. I just had to let everyone know that if they attack me, there will be consequences."
"Perhaps I can overlook this incident if you can tell me what you did to Katie. I can't wake her up." Mrs. Adkins asked hopefully.
"That really depends on what she was trying to do to me. Whatever spell it was came back to her times three."
Before Paul could explain further, Dr. Williams hurried into the room with Indra following close behind, pushing a gurney.
Paul noticed Arjun looking at him warily and gave a weary smile in his direction.
"I'll understand if you don't want to work with me in class anymore. It looks like I'm kind of a trouble magnet." Paul said quietly.
"You didn't cause this. They attacked you. As far as that protection spell... or curse... I'm really not sure... it seems to do the job. I mean, what was your other choice? Let them pick on you whenever they feel like it? Screw that!" Arjun said firmly.
"Thanks Arjun. I never want for anyone to get hurt, but sometimes, no matter what you do, life gets messy."
"I think a life that never gets messy is a life that was never lived."
"Oh, that's a good one! I need to write that down. A friend of mine has been talking about making motivational posters." Paul said with a smile.
"Let me know when they're ready. I'll buy one." Arjun laughed.
Their smiles faded as Dr. Williams and Indra guided Katie on the gurney out of the classroom.
After a long moment of silence, Paul turned to Arjun and quietly asked, "I wonder if things will be easier in my second week?"
"You can only hope." Arjun responded with a weak smile.
Paul looked up at the clock and noticed that it was nearly time for the next bell.
He picked up the skaalix and started carrying it toward its cabinet when Mrs. Adkins called, "You may take that with you, if you wish. It serves no purpose being a display piece, on display in a locked cabinet. Put it to good use."
"Thank you Ma'am." Paul said sincerely, then felt compelled to add, "I'm sorry about going all demony in class. I'll try not to let it happen again."
"Please, do me a favor and see if you can't come up with some less... 'hellish' answers to your problems. If you'll do that, I'll accept your apology and your assurance that there will not be a repeat of this incident." Mrs. Adkins said firmly.
"Yes Ma'am." Paul agreed, then thought to ask, "Do you think that I'll get called to the office because of this?"
"Perhaps. I'll do my best to explain that you were attacked without warning or provocation and that your magical response was triggered automatically. Someone may still have some questions for you, but then again, they may not. Either way, try not to look at it as being in trouble. If they call on you, it will probably be to aid them in their search for answers."
"I'll try to do that." Paul said anxiously.
Mrs. Adkins looked up as the bell rang.
"Try to have a good day." She said to Paul sympathetically.
"You too. Thank you." Paul said as he hurried to gather his backpack then headed off to his next class.
Editor's Notes (1):
It looks as if the project is going to be really awesome.
I am glad to see that Paul isn't trying to be all uppity about his abilities. I suspect he is at least considering the possibility that he actually has limitations, even though he has sort of coasted through a lot of things, I expect as he explores new things, he will see that different people have different talents and abilities. He is maturing nicely, I think.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Editor's Notes (2):
It looks as if the project is going to be really awesome.
I am glad to see that Paul isn't trying to be all uppity about his abilities. I suspect he is at least considering the possibility that he actually has limitations, even though he has sort of coasted through a lot of things, I expect as he explores new things, he will see that different people have different talents and abilities. He is maturing nicely, I think.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher