Amelia was taking the time to get to know more about her demonic companion. Nicholas seemed to be sulking, but was doing so with Frederick, so it might be counted as him communing with his demon.
Paul had decided to take a step back and study more of the basics. Although he instinctively knew much of what he needed to know to perform a summoning, there were a few details that he felt that he should more fully understand.
Mah Zah and Ginh Zah were perched on his shoulders as he read, not only following along with what he was doing, but also staying aware of their surroundings, both potential threats and things that Paul might find to be of interest.
Ginh Zah started a low rumbling purr and Paul looked up from his reading.
"Do you mind if I talk to you for a moment?" Mr. Gilbert asked quietly as he approached.
"No. That's fine. Go ahead." Paul said as he put down his book.
"Earlier, you said that you were able to perform multiple spells at the same time. I wonder, do you know how many you can do at once?"
"I think it depends on the spells. If it's little wizard's lights, I could probably do hundreds. If it's wizard's light diagrams, maybe about a dozen at once. But as far as actual summonings... two, maybe three, and that's only if they're low-level and don't take too much magic to cast."
"So your magical limit keeps your ability in check?"
"Yeah. I guess so. I'm still learning about how things work, so I don't have it all sorted out in my head yet. But if I'm understanding what I learned in Astrology, then when it's a 'natural' spell I have less magic available to me than if it's a 'demonic' spell. Besides that, the magic behaves differently depending on which one I'm using."
"By 'demonic spell' are you referring to spells written in demonic languages or spells from this realm that call upon demonic forces to fuel them?" Mr. Gilbert asked curiously.
"I'm talking about using magic that comes from the demonic realm, the dark magic. If my spell uses that type of magic, I have more access to it. If the spell calls on natural forces only, I can still do it, but I'm way less powerful."
"Can you give me an example?" Mr. Gilbert asked cautiously.
"I don't know..." Paul began to say but was interrupted by Ginh Zah's purr.
After a moment of listening, Paul smiled and said, "Okay. Yeah."
Paul turned his head as a smooth stone wall erupted from the floor beside him, causing Mr. Gilbert to jump back.
"Here's the spell you gave me to create a fireball." Paul said as the text of the spell appeared in glowing letters on the left side of the wall.
"Yes. I recognize that." Mr. Gilbert confirmed.
"Here's the demonic version of the same spell." Paul said as another field of text appeared, this one being on the right side.
After reading for a moment, Mr. Gilbert quietly said, "They're virtually the same."
"Right. But the demonic version sources dark magic. See there, where it calls on the currents of pain and fear flowing from the bowels of hell?"
"Yes. I see it." Mr. Gilbert said slowly, then quietly added, "It paints quite a picture, doesn't it?"
"Yeah." Paul said with a quick grin, then continued, "I can use both spells, but if I need to do something big with fire, I'd use the demonic one because I can channel more of that type of magic."
Mr. Gilbert made a few quick hand motions as he spoke the words of the demonic spell.
As expected, a fireball appeared in the palm of his right hand.
"See? The magic feels different, doesn't it?"
"No. I can't say that I can feel any difference. But I can certainly see what you're saying about the magic to fuel the spells being sourced differently."
"I'm not sure if this is going to cause a problem for me when the astrological forces align against me, but I guess that's another good reason for me to try to develop my natural magic."
"Tell me, where did you learn the demonic version of the fire spell?"
"Ginh Zah just told it to me. Her native realm is a hell dimension, so all her spells are based in demonic power."
"Can she use natural magic as well?"
Paul looked to the kitten on his left shoulder and listened for a moment, then said, "There are a few natural spells that she can use, but she's very weak with them. It's foreign magic to her, so it takes a lot of extra work for her to channel it."
"So it's like what you were saying about your own access to natural magic?"
"A little bit. I think that she has to work a lot harder than I do to use natural magic. For me, it's really not that big of a deal. I notice the difference, but that's about it."
"Thank you for speaking with me. I'll leave you to your study now." Mr. Gilbert said formally.
"Sure thing. All I'm doing right now is trying to get a handle on the basics."
"That sounds like a very good use of your time. I'll leave you to it."
* * * * *
"How can I make Frederick my familiar?" Nicholas asked abruptly, interrupting Paul's reading.
"I don't know." Paul answered honestly.
"You have two familiars, how can you not know?"
"Mostly because Ginh Zah and Mah Zah were given to me. I didn't have to say or do anything to convince them to become my familiars or go through any binding ritual. All I can tell you is to do some research and find out what steps you have to take."
Ginh Zah mewed slightly into Paul's ear and Paul nodded in response.
Nicholas waited, but when Paul didn't volunteer it, he finally asked, "What did she say?"
"It doesn't translate directly, but she basically said that she doesn't think that you'll choose to go through with it. Her impression of you is that if it takes work and commitment, that you'll choose to whine about how unfair it is that I have familiars and you don't."
"She said all that?"
"Cat is a very efficient language."
* * * * *
Having been interrupted, Paul decided that it was a good time to check on Amelia.
"How's it going?"
"This is great! Even though it may take a while before we both decide that we want to go through with it, Nomia is at least willing to work with me until we've decided." Amelia said happily.
Mah Zah gave a slight whimper which informed Paul that 'Nomia' wasn't the tiny demon's real name.
"What kind of a demon is Nomia?" Paul asked curiously.
"I'd almost call her a 'greenman' except that those are based in nature and she's a demon."
"So, she's more of a 'red man'?" Paul guessed.
"I suppose so, except that she isn't red."
"Or a man. But besides that, she looks like she's more of a nature sprite, except that she's a demon..."
"I like that. I'll call her a demon sprite until someone comes up with a more accurate description of her." Amelia said happily.
"Yeah. I think that describes her fairly well." Paul agreed.
The little brown and gray conglomeration of dust, dirt and debris made a chattering clicking sound which drew Amelia's attention.
Amelia smiled and said, "She likes it. She says that it makes her feel beautiful."
"Good." Paul said warmly, then turned to Nomia and said, "It's nice to meet you Nomia. My name is Paul."
Nomia chattered and clicked in response, then Amelia said, "She says that it's nice to meet you too, and that she thinks that you're pretty."
Paul laughed, then said, "Thank you, Nomia. I think you're pretty too. You're the cutest demon sprite that I've ever seen."
He didn't tell her that she was the only demon sprite that he had ever seen. But there didn't seem to be any need to mention that fact.
"Do you think that I'll be able to summon Nomia when I'm on my own? I mean, it's different when I'm here in class with all of you. I don't have to worry about it as much if something goes wrong." Amelia asked seriously.
"You should be fine as long as you remember to make the correction in the spell terminus in your written version. If you do that, then you should be able to summon her whenever you want to." Paul said frankly.
Mah Zah gave a slight whimper into Paul's ear, catching his attention.
"Oh, that's right." Paul said quickly, "Since Nomia can't transform herself into a natural creature from this realm, she won't be able to visit for as long or as often as Mah Zah and Ginh Zah do. You'll need to be careful about that."
"Yeah. I wouldn't want for her to get sick. I'll be careful." Amelia assured him.
"Okay. Well, I still have some studying to do, so I'll get back to it. If either of you need anything, just let me know." Paul said before walking back to the table where he had been reading.
* * * * *
Once Paul was able to get back to his book, he had a long and productive study session.
Just as he was wrapping up, he heard Nicholas casting his spell to return Frederick to his native realm.
Apparently, that inspired Amelia to do the same.
"Are you guys ready to go back?" Paul asked casually.
Ginh Zah answered for both of them, then began climbing down Paul's body, digging in with her claws every step of the way. Mah Zah followed, quite a bit less painfully.
As soon as they were on the floor, Paul quietly said, "I'll see you later."
A gray misty blur appeared for a moment, then faded, taking Mah Zah and Ginh Zah with it.
* * * * *
"It was nice to meet you, Nomia. I hope that I'll see you again soon." Paul said gently as Amelia continued to recite her spell.
Nomia clicked and chattered for a moment, then disappeared.
Paul looked at Amelia inquiringly.
"She likes you." Amelia said simply.
"I got that." Paul said with a smile, then asked, "So, what do you think of your summoned demon?"
"I always assumed that I'd be summoning a monster. I mean, it's a demon, right? I never even considered that anything else was possible until I saw your demons."
"Try to keep in mind that the yaggoral are shape-shifting beings. Don't be fooled into thinking that they're nice or innocent. I can trust them because of our bond but you should always be on your guard with them. They would attack you without hesitation if they saw you as a threat to me." Paul said seriously.
"Ever since I found out that I was a summoner, I've been afraid of what would happen if I summoned something too big for me to control. But now I'm seeing that there's a lot bigger danger. I can see how someone could trust and care for a demon... even love them. That's a whole lot scarier to me than just having to vanquish a monster back to its own realm."
"Remember, I'm a Cambion. I think that's proof enough that what you're afraid of is very real."
"So your mom fell in love with a demon?" Amelia asked cautiously.
"She's never talked to me about it, so I can only guess at what happened. But no matter how many different scenarios you imagine about how I got made, I think they all prove that your fears about getting emotionally entangled with summoned creatures is justified."
"You say that like you see your own existence as being a bad thing." Amelia observed.
"Yeah. From the way I see it, there are different points of view and lots of shades of gray but in the end, some things are just wrong. I'm one of them."
"So, you think that you shouldn't exist?"
"I do exist. I don't regret that. But what I'm saying is that it seems to me that demons and humans weren't meant to live together. In fact, due to the energies of the different realms, they literally can't live together. As long as the people who do summonings act responsibly, everything's fine. But when they let their hearts override their good sense... things like me happen." Paul finished regretfully.
After a long considering moment, Amelia quietly asked, "Is there a hotline or something that I need to call for you?"
Paul laughed at the question, then explained, "No. It's nothing like that. It's just that if I had a say in how things went back then, I would have chosen for things to be different."
"I think most of us would." Amelia said frankly, then explained, "Your stuff is different from mine, but I promise, we all got our stuff."
"Yeah. I guess we do."
* * * * *
Since Paul had created Nicholas' summoning diagram, there was no cleanup involved. Once Frederick was returned to his realm of origin, Nicholas left without saying a word to anyone.
Paul offered to help Amelia clear her spell diagram, but she was nearly finished.
After gathering his backpack and gym bag, Paul walked out of the study room where a number of other students were gathered.
"Hey! Paul!" A voice called out and Paul looked around to try and determine who had called to him.
He broke into a smile when he spotted Karras.
"How's it going? Do you have a big project in the works so that you can show off on Friday?" Karras asked as Paul approached.
"I don't know yet." Paul said honestly, then explained, "I guess that I could make some spell diagrams or do a little summoning, but it's nothing that everyone hasn't already seen before."
"What about that stone wall thing you did in gym class? I don't think I've ever seen anyone do that." Karras suggested.
"I could do it, but it doesn't have anything to do with Wizardry." Paul said frankly.
"Really? How did you make that, anyway?" Karras asked curiously.
"Have you ever done the 3D plotting exercises in Numerology?"
"Yeah. Lots of times."
"Good. Well, I just took that spell that did the 3D plots and made the plots solid."
"Alchemy is the study of changing the fundamental properties of matter... So I did." Paul finished with a shrug.
"So it was all made up on the spot?"
"But there wasn't any matter to change, was there? What did you turn to stone?"
"What I changed was the air and I didn't turn it into stone, I just made it solid. It looked like stone because I altered the display properties of the plotting spell to look like that."
"Why? I mean, I get what you're saying about the plotter spell and the alchemy, but why would you make it look like stone... or anything else? Doesn't that just make it more complicated?"
Paul actually had to think about that for a moment before he finally responded, "I've used the spell with the stone wall a few times now, so when I had to pull it up in an emergency, I did the whole thing in one go without thinking about all the little parts that made it up. It actually would have taken longer and been harder for me to pull up a solid blue wall because I'd have to think about what the different display properties were and where I'd have to work them into the spell."
"What'd we miss?" Vinda asked as she approached with Nazzy following close behind.
"Karras and I were just talking about what I can do for Friday's demonstration. He suggested that I make a stone wall, but I really don't think I should because that spell doesn't have anything to do with Wizardry." Paul said honestly.
"I just naturally thought that you would do a summoning." Vinda said frankly.
"I could. I just don't want to do the same thing that a dozen other people have already done since the beginning of the year. It'd be like me being the sixth singer in a row in a talent show to sing 'We Are the Champions'."
"Yeah. I can understand that..." Vinda began to say.
"...and thank you." Nazzy interrupted.
"No problem." Paul responded with a grin.
"But I really think you should come up with something for Friday. Even though I don't think it'll change your grade if you don't, it kind of matters what Professor Ortega and the teachers think of you. If they think that you're too shy to get up in front of people, then they'll probably be less likely to recommend you for any special projects or honors." Vinda said seriously.
"Special projects?" Paul asked curiously.
"Yeah. It's a community thing. Different businesses will set aside some little jobs that someone our age with our skill level should be able to do. When the teachers get asked, they'll recommend someone to do the job. We've noticed that people who refuse to participate in class or demonstrate their abilities in front of everyone don't get chosen as often..."
"...or ever." Nazzy corrected.
Vinda reluctantly nodded her confirmation.
"So, do we get paid for doing this stuff or something?" Paul asked curiously.
"No. If you get chosen, it's for an intern position. But it gives you the chance to do real work at a real job and it also lets the employers get to know who you are so you might be able to get a job for the summer or when you get out of school." Vinda explained seriously.
"You really want to get chosen for an internship, don't you?" Paul asked cautiously.
"I really do." Vinda admitted. "Even if I don't get a job right out of high school, having an internship will help me a lot on my college application."
"I'd just like to get a feel for what it's like to work in the real world. I think I'd work a lot harder in school if I had a better idea of what I'd be doing or what kind of skills I'll be needing." Nazzy said frankly.
"I haven't even thought about what I'm doing this weekend." Karras whispered to Paul.
"Oh, good. I thought it was just me." Paul said with a grin.
"But I think they're right about it being a good idea to present something. If you don't take the chance to use your magic and show what you can do, then what are you doing here?"
"Okay. Okay. I'll do something on Friday." Paul finally relented.
"Remember, it doesn't have to be summoning. You have all the different disciplines of Wizardry to choose from... well, except for ghost summoning. If you upstage me I might have to hurt you." Vinda gravely informed him.
"No. After seeing what you went through in Scotland, I can't see me having anything ready before Friday anyway." Paul said seriously, then thought to ask, "Do you have everything that you're going to need for tonight?"
"Yeah. I already told my mom about it and she volunteered to drive us over. You can expect us between four and four-thirty." Vinda said with a smile.
Karras looked from Vinda to Paul curiously.
"We're going to work on a Spelling project together. Would you like to come over? It'd be nice if we had someone who could stand back and tell us how it looks." Paul asked hopefully.
"Are you sure that your parents won't mind?" Karras asked uncertainly.
"They're already expecting Nazzy and Vinda, so I can't see them having any problem with it." Paul said frankly.
"Where do you live? We can swing by and pick you up, if that's okay." Vinda offered with a smile.
"Let me call my mom first. Even though I'm sure that she won't care, she'll get all bent out of shape if I don't call and ask permission first." Karras said as he took his cellphone out of his pocket.
The others waited as Karras turned his phone on.
Once it was ready, he pressed a speed dial number and waited for it to connect.
"Mom? I was invited over to a friend's house after school..."
"No. It's not Charles. This is a new guy who just started in my class. His name is Paul."
"Yes. That's right. He's D's new son."
"No. I've got a ride lined up. I just wanted to be sure that it'd be okay with you before I accepted his invitation."
"The bell's about to ring, I'll tell you about it when I get home."
"Okay. I will. I've got to go..." Karras said as the bell rang.
"Bye." Karras said, then hung up the phone.
"So, it's okay?" Paul asked to be sure.
"Yeah. No problem." Karras confirmed.
"We'd better get going before G comes looking for us." Nazzy said with a grin.
Paul smiled at the thought, having no doubt that G would actually do it.
* * * * *
As they walked away from the classroom, Karras told Vinda how to get to his house.
Paul was quiet as he looked down the length of the hallway until he finally spotted G approaching.
"How was your class?" G asked warmly.
"Pretty good. I don't think I volunteered for anything..." Paul trailed off as he replayed the day in his mind.
"Except for something to present on Friday." Vinda quickly added.
"Well, yeah. Except for that." Paul muttered.
G laughed, then swooped in to give Paul a quick kiss.
"Are you ready with your part for our Spelling project?" Vinda asked curiously.
G put an arm around Paul as they walked and said, "Yeah. I think you're really going to like what I came up with."
"I invited Karras to come over to help us. That's okay isn't it?" Paul asked G cautiously.
"Sure. Except that he isn't in our class, so he can't really help out with our spell."
"I thought that if we could show him the whole thing, that he could give us feedback and help us to make it even better." Paul said honestly.
"That's a great idea!" G said happily.
"So, you don't think the parents will mind that I invited someone over?" Paul asked uncertainly.
"No. I'm sure that they'll think it's great, but I should call ahead so that they'll know how many we're having for dinner." G said as he took out his phone.
Since the house did all the cooking, Paul wasn't exactly sure how that worked, but trusted that G knew what he was doing.
"Hey Dad. You know Nazzy and Vinda are coming over tonight, right?"
"Yeah. Well, we've got a last minute addition, his name is Karras."
G got a curious look, then turned to Karras and asked, "Are you any relation to Oliver Karras?"
"That's my dad." Karras timidly replied.
"That's his dad." G relayed.
After listening for a moment, G took the phone away from his face and asked, "Will your parents be coming over too?"
"No. Vinda said that she'd pick me up on her way over." Karras said shyly.
G nodded, then said into the phone, "No. Just him."
After another moment of listening, he continued, "You can ask him about that yourself over dinner..."
G took the phone away from his face and quietly asked, "Karras, you'll be having dinner with us, won't you?"
After a long indecisive moment, Karras said, "I guess so."
"Yeah. Talk to him about it over dinner. We've got to catch the vans now." G said seriously.
"Yeah. Love you too. Bye." G said with a smile before turning off his phone.
"Real world." Nazzy warned.
"Thanks." Paul said gratefully, then thought to tell Karras, "We've got a friend named Curtis who sometimes walks with us. He's not a witch, so be careful what you say around him."
"Really? I don't think I've ever gotten to know anyone who wasn't a witch before." Karras said slowly.
"Then it's probably about time." Paul said with a grin.
"I never really thought about it before. I just kind of assumed that we went to school with normal people so that we'd get into the habit of hiding who we are from strangers. But since we've started talking with Curtis, it's got me to thinking that maybe it's also to give us a chance to get to know them as people." G said thoughtfully.
"I've wondered about that. It would have been a whole lot safer and easier if they'd just built two schools and kept us separated." Karras admitted.
"Whatever their plan is, it'd be nice if they let us in on it so we'd know what we're expected to do." Nazzy said frankly.
"I don't think this is a test. It's an opportunity." G said quietly, then raised his hand as he called out, "Hey, Curtis!"
"Hi guys. How are you doing?" Curtis asked as he approached.
"It's been a good day. Curtis, this is Karras, he's in my gym class." Paul said casually.
"Karras? That's an unusual name." Curtis said with a smile that indicated that he meant 'unusual' in the sense of 'cool'.
"My first name is Alexander, but so are about twelve other guys around the school. Karras is easier for everyone."
"I guess I'm lucky. I'm the only Curtis that I know... at school, anyway. I've got a grandpa and a cousin both named Curtis."
"Well, Paul is pretty common, but my middle name is so horrible that I'd never want to be called it." Paul said gravely.
"What is it?" Vinda asked with a grin.
"It doesn't matter. Forget that I mentioned it."
"Yeah. Like that's going to happen." Nazzy chuckled.
"If you don't tell us, I'm just going to have to ask your mom. Since she's my mom now, she'll probably tell me." G said with a grin.
"Yeah. She probably will." Paul said then let out a long sigh of resignation.
"So, what is it?" Curtis asked curiously.
Paul looked him in the eyes for a long moment, then reluctantly said, "Auren."
"Oh..." Vinda said with a bit of a cringe.
"Yeah. I told you it was bad."
"What about you, G? You never told us your middle name." Vinda said with a smile, possibly to distract attention from Paul's discomfort.
"I don't have one." G said simply.
"If you don't tell us I'm going to have to ask your dad." Vinda warned.
"Go ahead. It won't do you any good." G said without concern, then continued, "I guess after sticking me with the name Gwayne they decided that they wouldn't give me a second name, so that I'd be forced to use it."
"I kinda like Gwayne." Curtis said honestly.
"Yeah. When I hear it, I don't think of you, but as a name I think it's cool." Nazzy said frankly.
"Great." G said with a withering look at him.
"Wait. That sounded a lot nicer in my head..." Nazzy said slowly.
"We've got to go. The vans are ready." Vinda said with a chuckle.
"Yeah. See you guys later." Paul said as Nazzy, Vinda and Karras took off to the right.
"Things going okay?" Paul asked Curtis quietly.
"Yeah. Things have been a lot better since I stopped caring about what the future convenience store workers think of me."
"Good. Fill your life with people who build you up and you'll have them to stand with you when you reach the top." Paul said seriously.
"I need to get that one on a poster." Curtis said with a grin.
"Yeah. That was one of my better ones." Paul said with a smile, then reluctantly added, "We'll see you tomorrow. Have a good day."
"Yeah. You too, Auren." Curtis said past a laugh.
Paul rolled his eyes, but then smiled as he and G walked toward their van.
* * * * *
Paul and G automatically took their customary seats in the back.
Sandy very conspicuously made a point of not looking at them.
Cathy was in the front seat, silent as usual and Paul began to wonder if he had actually ever heard her speak. She might not be shy or unfriendly. It was entirely possible that she was mute.
"Is that everyone?" Joe asked from the driver's seat.
"I had class with Dex today, so as far as I know, he should be here. Can we wait for him?" Paul asked slowly.
"Officially, it's time for us to go. I have no problem waiting, but if one of you insists, we'll leave."
"I don't mind waiting a few minutes." Paul said honestly.
"I think that if we really try, we'll be able to find some way to pass the time." G said with a mischievous grin.
* * * * *
"I'm sorry I'm so late. Thank you for waiting for me." Dex said nervously as he hurried to get into the van.
"You can thank your friends here, they're the ones who asked me to wait for you." Joe said frankly.
"Really?" Dex asked in astonishment.
Paul was certain that if Dex hadn't been surprised, he wouldn't have said anything at all.
"I can understand if you don't like us for some reason, but nothing says that we can't at least be decent to each other. We don't have any reason to want you to be stranded here or in trouble with anyone, so of course we asked the driver to wait for you." Paul said seriously.
"It's not that I don't like you..." Dex trailed off uncomfortably.
The van pulling away from the curb interrupted their quiet discussion.
"So, what is it?" Paul finally asked.
"I can't talk about it." Dex whispered.
"Okay." Paul said simply.
Once again, Dex looked at him with surprise.
"Trust me when I tell you that I know what it's like to have something that you can't talk about." Paul said seriously.
Dex looked at him warily, but remained silent.
"How about this? You don't have to tell me anything... ever. I won't bug you about it and I won't even call you my friend if that bothers you. But when I see you I'll still say 'Hi' and ask how you're doing... you know, like decent people do. How does that sound to you?" Paul asked hopefully.
"It wouldn't bother me if you called me that." Dex muttered uncomfortably.
Paul thought back over what he had said, then smiled when he realized what Dex was actually saying.
"Okay. And if you ever need to talk to someone... you know, I can listen. I mean, you don't have to, but I'm here."
Dex slightly nodded, but wouldn't meet Paul's eyes.
Before Paul could think of what to say next, G reached past him and handed Dex a slip of paper.
"What's this?" Dex asked cautiously.
"That's our home phone number. You can reach Paul or me whenever you need us." G said frankly.
Paul smiled, then said, "Yeah. That'll probably make the whole talking thing work out a lot better."
"Here's our stop." G said as he pointed ahead of them.
"Have a good night, Dex. Be sure to call us if you need anything." Paul said gently.
Dex gave a single, surreptitious nod.
Paul accepted it for what it was, and leaned forward to open the door.
* * * * *
Paul and G walked around the side of the house and up to the outer door to G's room.
"I guess with me borrowing your uniforms and leaving the country, I've never thought to ask before, but where do we do our laundry?"
"The laundry room is behind the kitchen." G said simply.
"Really?" Paul said with surprise, then explained, "Somehow, I just kinda figured that if the house cooks our food for us, that it'd wash the clothes too."
"Yeah. It does that. If you put your dirty clothes in the hamper in the bathroom, later you'll find them clean and put away where they belong. But if you need them fast, you can always go and wash them for yourself." G said simply as he took off his backpack.
"So I can just drop my gym clothes and towel in the hamper and it'll take care of itself?" Paul asked cautiously.
"It depends. When's your next gym class?"
Paul looked at his schedule to verify before answering, "Next Wednesday."
"Yeah. When you need them again, they'll be where you'd expect to find them." G said with a smile as he began to undress.
"This is a whole lot easier than what I'm used to." Paul said honestly as he followed G's example.
"Well, in case you haven't noticed, we stay busy enough around here to fill every minute of the day. Not having to worry about the chores is nice, but it doesn't make us lazy. It frees up time for us to do the things that we need to do." G said seriously.
"That sounds like something that your dad would say." Paul said speculatively.
'D's adopting me.'
'That makes him my dad as much as G's.'
'It could be argued that it makes him more my dad, since he chose me, even though he didn't have to.'
'Why can't I just call him that?'
'I've already said that I love him...'
'...and I do.'
'Even so, I still can't.'
G smiled at the comment, then said, "I guess it is. I've probably heard it from him a thousand times."
Once they were both standing wearing only socks and underwear, G moved forward to give Paul a long slow kiss.
Paul enjoyed it, but finally pulled back enough to say, "We have company coming over."
"Yeah. But I needed that." G whispered.
"So did I." Paul admitted, then shyly asked, "Do we have time to do more?"
"We probably could, but then we'd run the risk of being interrupted." G said honestly.
"Yeah. Let's not do that. I like Nazzy and Vinda, but I'm not ready for them to know me that well."
"What about Karras?"
"He's seen it all, so I'm not as worried about him."
"Do you like him?"
"Yeah. But just as a friend. He's nice and everything, but I have zero interest in ever doing anything with him."
"If you did like him that way, would you tell me?" G asked curiously.
While Paul knew that the question was somewhat dangerous, he got the sense that G wasn't setting him up. He was just honestly curious. After a prolonged silence, Paul quietly answered, "Yeah. I'd tell you."
"I'd tell you, too." G promised, then smiled as he said, "Let's change into our regular clothes, then make sure that everything is cleared out of the way in the parlor. I think that'll be the best place for us to work."
Paul thought about it and agreed that due to the open layout, it was the ideal space.
* * * * *
"Do you have your part of the spell written down?" Paul asked curiously as they walked into the main house.
"No. It's all in my head."
"We're going to need it written down before we finish for the night."
"Yeah. But I'm not going to bother with it until after everyone's seen it and we've decided on what changes need to be made." G said frankly.
"Are you going to be able to start casting your part of the spell before the rest of us are finished?"
"I can start at the same time as the rest of you. It's just that nothing's going to show until the structure is complete."
"I don't know how that works, but if you can cast your spell at the same time as the rest of us, that should work out great."
"We'll just have to wait and see how long it takes for Nazzy and Vinda to do their parts. I think the timing's going to be the trickiest thing."
"Since I do my stuff all at once, I should be able to help coordinate things."
"Things don't always go the way that you expect. Be ready to modify the original plan if we can't make it work." G warned.
"Yeah. If I had more experience, I'd have a better idea of what to expect."
"If you had more experience you probably wouldn't be doing this at all. If you asked anyone who knew what they were doing, they'd tell you that you're crazy for even trying it."
"Then why are all of you willing to go along with it?"
"Because you believe in it... and we believe in you."
"Worst case, it doesn't work. Even if that happens, I think Mrs. Herdez will be impressed that we tried."
"I was thinking about removing the castle from the construct to simplify it."
"Well, from what I saw of it, the castle is just a couple of stacked boxes, so there's not much to do to make it. But without it, the scene is going to be missing a major element. If you think about it, the scene is of a castle and everything else is just decoration surrounding it."
"I'm just worried that the spell is so long that we might not be able to finish it in time."
"I noticed that you simplified the pillar for Dad when he was trying to do it. If you cut back on that, it doesn't really show that much and it's not that important to the overall project."
"The stone was one of the first things that I did, so I didn't know that I'd have to cut back on detail back then. I suppose it wouldn't hurt anything if I made the pillar solid black or dark gray."
"Don't do anything about it yet. Let's wait until we've tried the full version, then if we need to cut something, we'll know where to start."
Paul was quiet for a long moment, which caused G to finally ask, "Is there something wrong?"
"You're doing this all for me, aren't you?"
"The whole project. You and Nazzy and Vinda are all doing this insane project for me."
"We're doing it for all of us. We're doing it because of you."
Paul thought about that for a moment, then finally reluctantly agreed.
"Do you have any other schoolwork that you need to do tonight? There's a really good chance that we're not going to be able to do anything else once everyone gets here."
"I can't do much more with my 'basic' class until I can talk to Filipe. The only other thing that I'd like to do is come up with something to present for wizardry class on Friday."
"Can't you just summon something? I mean, it's your first week. What do they expect from you?"
"It's not about doing what they expect, it's about me wanting to do something that isn't a waste of everyone's time."
"I don't know. I just don't want to do the same thing as everyone else when they first started."
"Do you have any idea what kind of thing you want to do?"
"Not yet. I need to do a lot of reading to come up with some ideas."
"If Mah Zah and Ginh Zah can shapeshift, do you think that they might know some other magic?"
"Yeah. In fact, Ginh Zah told me her version of a fire spell in Wizardry class today. She might know some demonic magic that no one in class has ever seen before."
"Then why don't you go ahead and summon her right now and ask her?"
"Hey! That's a good idea!" Paul said happily.
"Will you bring Mah Zah, too? She can keep me company while you and Ginh Zah are plotting."
"Yeah. With any luck, we'll be able to come up with something before everyone gets here." Paul said, then looked at the floor beside him.
Mah Zah and Ginh Zah emerged, side by side, from a blurry gray void.
"Ginh Zah, we have people coming over later but there was something that I wanted to get done first."
The puppy let loose with a lusty little bark, then waited for Paul's decision.
"I think Ginh Zah and I can handle it, but I was hoping that you could keep G company while we're doing that."
The puppy joyfully yelped and scampered to G's foot, then proceeded to paw at his leg.
"Come on up here, Mah Zah." G said as he picked the puppy up and held her to his chest.
Paul smiled at the action, then looked to Ginh Zah and said, "I have to give a presentation in my Wizardry class at school on Friday and I was hoping that you might know of a spell that's easy enough for me to be able to cast but something that everyone hasn't seen already."
Ginh Zah was still and silent for a moment, then she started trying to climb Paul's leg with her little claws.
"Let me help you with that." Paul chuckled affectionately as he plucked her from his leg and perched her on his shoulder.
Ginh Zah began to alternately mew and growl as she explained what she was thinking.
* * * * *
G looked on curiously as Paul created a spell diagram on the floor.
He had never studied anything to do with Wizardry or summoning, so he didn't have any idea of what Paul and Ginh Zah were trying to do.
A second spell diagram appeared next to the first as Paul set the kitten down so that she could inspect it up close and personal.
G petted Mah Zah while working through the details of the illusion he was going to be performing.
Paul conjured a third spell diagram just as a knock sounded from the front door.
"We'll work on this some more later." Paul said to Ginh Zah, then the spell diagrams vanished.
* * * * *
Paul and G walked together to answer the door, but Beth arrived just ahead of them.
"Hello! Nazzy and Vinda, it's good to see you again. Who is this you've brought with you?" Beth asked delightedly.
"Beth, this is Karras." Vinda said properly, then turned to Karras and continued, "Karras, this is Paul's mom, Beth."
"It's nice to meet you, Ma'am." Karras said timidly.
"Please come in. I hope all of you brought your appetites. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes." Beth said warmly.
"You never have to worry about that with Nazzy." Vinda chuckled.
"I'm not worried. I've never left here hungry." Nazzy said confidently.
"Why don't I take everyone to the parlor so they can put down their stuff?" G volunteered.
"That sounds like a good idea. I'll come and get you when dinner's ready." Beth said pleasantly.
"Come on guys. It's this way." G said as he started off in a different direction.
* * * * *
"This place is huge!" Karras said as they walked.
"Yeah. I live here and I still haven't seen all of it." Paul said honestly.
"I can believe that." Nazzy said simply.
"I'd say that we should go and explore it now, but we've got too much work to do with the spell." Vinda said anxiously.
"Are you ready with your part?" G asked curiously.
"Yeah. We're both ready, but I don't see how it's going to work with four of us casting at once. It's nearly impossible for me and Nazzy to synchronize with each other."
"Paul knows this spell inside out, so you won't have to worry about him missing his mark. And my stuff doesn't interact with yours. When your spells come together and become solid, mine will just slide down over everything." G said confidently.
"Like a condom." Nazzy said with a smile.
G looked at him uncertainly, then slowly said, "Yeah... Just like that."
"Nazzy and I have been through it a few times, so I think we've got the timing just about right."
"Can anyone think of anything we'll need before we get started?" G asked curiously.
"I thought it might be easier on all of us if we had the spells written out for us so that all of us can see them. That way, if we need to make any changes, everything will be right there for us to look at." Paul cautiously suggested.
"Yeah. We haven't made any changes, so you don't have to worry about that. But it might be nice to have the words where we can see them." Vinda said honestly.
"How's this?" Paul asked as four stone walls suddenly emerged from the floor.
"Spooky." Nazzy said frankly.
Paul rolled his eyes, then looked to each of the stone walls in turn as they filled with writing.
When he got to the last one, he looked to G and said, "You'll have to do this one, I don't know your spell."
"I'd rather not write it down in case I have to make changes." G said honestly.
"This has almost the same spell as the Numerology workbook. If you want to make a change later, you can just touch it and it'll change." Paul said simply.
"Okay." G said reluctantly, then asked, "Do I need a pencil?"
"No. Just touch it. I have it all set up." Paul assured him.
G stepped forward and touched the smooth stone-like surface.
The face of the stone wall immediately began to fill with lightly glowing writing.
After only a few lines of the spell, Paul admitted, if only to himself, that he was well and truly lost.
It wasn't just the complexity of the spell, but also the spell itself that was far beyond Paul's ability to understand.
Whereas spells involving Wizardry almost seemed to be written in a native tongue that Paul had learned as a child and halfway forgotten, this drastically different form of magic was completely foreign to him.
In Paul's eyes, the words combined to form nothing less than incomprehensible gibberish.
"Do you think that you can do all that in the time that we'll have?" Nazzy asked slowly.
"I guess that there's only one way to find out." G said as he stepped back to look over his handiwork.
"Come on into dinner." Beth said from the doorway.
"We'll be right there." Paul immediately responded.
Beth smiled at his response, then hurried away.
"Mah Zah, Ginh Zah, it's time for us to eat. You need to go back." Paul said seriously.
"I'm sure that Dad wouldn't mind if we gave them a few table scraps." G said as he scratched Mah Zah behind the ear.
"They can't eat or drink anything from this world while they're here. It will make them sick." Paul said seriously.
"Oh. I didn't know that." G said as he placed the puppy on the floor.
"I think it would be mean to eat in front of them when they can't have any." Paul said honestly as he took the kitten from his shoulder, then he quickly added, "I can summon them again as soon as we're done."
"Okay." G said with a look of concern at the puppy.
Paul placed the kitten beside the puppy and within a few seconds, they were both gone.
"Is all this going to go away when you leave the room?" Vinda asked curiously as she looked around at the stone walls.
"I don't think so." Paul said simply, then explained, "It should maintain itself as long as I don't get knocked unconscious or die."
* * * * *
"So you'll be lending your magic to maintain the spell while we're eating?" Karras asked curiously as they walked as a group out of the parlor.
"Yeah. But it's no big deal. These spells are so simple that I could probably have a dozen of them up and running and not even notice it." Paul answered.
"I don't know how you do it." Karras said honestly, then explained, "Anything that I conjure or summon disappears the minute that I stop concentrating on it."
"Really?" Paul asked with surprise, then after a moment to consider, he finally said, "I guess it's something like that for me too. Except that a little part of me can keep concentrating on one thing while I'm working on another."
"Okay. I know that this is probably none of my business and at first I wasn't going to say anything, but I'd really like to know. Did you just banish your dog and your cat to a demon realm?" Karras asked cautiously.
Paul laughed good naturedly at the question, then answered, "They're actually demons. I asked them to shapeshift into creatures native to this realm. Don't worry about them. I'll summon them again later."
"This way. It's over here." G said when Paul started down the hallway to the left.
"Are you sure?" Paul asked as he changed direction.
"Yeah. Pretty sure." G said with an affectionate grin.
* * * * *
"Karras, you already met Beth. This is my dad, D." G said as they walked into the dining room.
"It's nice to meet you, sir." Karras said a bit nervously.
"It's a pleasure to meet you. I've done some business with your father over the years. Oliver's a good man." D said pleasantly as he stood.
Karras reached across the table and shook the offered hand as he mumbled, "Thank you sir."
"Please call me D. Everyone does."
"Yes sir." Karras nervously responded.
D smiled at Karras as he retook his seat.
"Go ahead and help yourselves. Dinner is served." Beth said as she reached forward and took a domed cover off one of the serving dishes.
"I love lamb chops!" Nazzy exclaimed when the main course was revealed.
Rather than respond, Vinda uncovered the serving dish nearest her.
"I knew it!" Vinda said happily, then said to Beth, "For some reason I had a feeling that you'd be serving Rajma. I've been so hungry for this."
Karras was reluctant to serve himself, but being surrounded by Paul and G, he soon came to the realization that he had better get in there and get something on his plate or he could very well end up starving.
"Are these mashed potatoes?" Karras asked cautiously, thrown off a little by the hints of red and green throughout.
"Yeah. Red potato garlic mash. They're the best." G said with a grin.
"The mint jelly's over here if anyone needs it." D announced.
"Pass it this way!" Nazzy immediately responded.
"Karras, would you send the brussel sprouts down here?" Beth asked hopefully.
"Sure." Karras quickly replied.
"Did you want some Rajma?" Vinda asked curiously.
It took a moment for Karras to realize that she was talking to him.
"Yeah. I'll give it a try." Karras said simply.
"I think it's best with rice..." Vinda began to say when Nazzy interrupted.
"Have it with the lamb chops. It's one of those 'best of both worlds' things. I promise."
"Um, yeah. I'll try it both ways." Karras said, then noticed that Paul and G were both trying to hand him dishes at the same time.
"Thanks." Karras said as he quickly dished a few spoons of the Rajma onto his plate, then turned to his other side and hurriedly served himself some rice.
"So, how goes the project?" D asked casually before taking a bite of his food.
"We were just getting set up. We'll be doing a run-through right after dinner." G answered.
"Well, with what we saw yesterday, I have no doubt that it's going to be a big hit." Beth said warmly.
"If we can pull it off, it's going to be great." Nazzy agreed.
"Beth and I have been talking about doing something special this weekend. If all of you are available, maybe you can come over and show us how your project turned out." D suggested hopefully.
"Yeah. It shouldn't be any problem for me." Nazzy said simply, then looked at Vinda with question.
"I'll have to talk to my mom about it, but I doubt that she has anything else planned." Vinda said easily.
"Be sure to invite your families. Basically, our whole plan is to have a cookout by the lake; the more the merrier." D said with a smile.
"You know how my mom is about meat... as long as that's not a problem, I'm sure that she'll jump at the chance to get away from the house for a while." Vinda said happily.
"We'll be sure to have some vegetarian options. And just so there's no misunderstanding, the invitation includes any of your brothers and sisters who are in town too. I wouldn't want for anyone to think that they were overlooked." D said seriously.
"I'll be sure to tell them." Vinda promised.
"Karras, that goes for you too. If any of your family are available, be sure to invite them along. All we'll be doing is sitting by the lake, but for some reason it usually turns out to be a pretty good time." D said as he looked Karras in the eyes.
"But they don't need for me to be here to show you their project. I'm just here to give them feedback." Karras said slowly.
"That's just the entertainment. We'll be doing plenty of other things... do you play an instrument?" D asked curiously.
"I play guitar... a little. But I'm not good enough to get up in front of people." Karras finished shyly.
"No one has to get up in front of anyone. All those who can play an instrument are invited to join in. Everyone else can sing along, if they feel like it." D said simply.
"Paul, did you bring your clarinet?" Beth asked curiously.
"We sold it last year." Paul said simply.
"Oh. That's right." Beth said quietly.
"We'll see about getting you another one before this weekend." D assured him.
"That's okay. I never really got good with it." Paul said uncomfortably.
"You don't have to be good. You just have to have fun." D said simply.
"Is there anyone that either of you would like to invite from school?" Beth asked curiously.
Paul thought for a moment, then shrugged.
"How much trouble would it be if we invited a non magical person?" G asked cautiously.
"We'd have to postpone you showing off your group project, but besides that I can't see it being any trouble at all." D said simply.
"Would you mind? We've made a new friend at school and I think it'd be nice if we invited him and his family over." G said honestly.
"I wouldn't mind at all. Do you have his number? You could call him right now and ask if he's available." D asked simply.
"No. But he'll probably be eating lunch with us tomorrow. We can ask him then." G answered.
"Remember to tell him that the invitation extends to him and his whole family. We'll be leaving from here at noon."
"Is that all?" D asked cautiously, then turned to Paul and asked, "Do you have anyone that you'd like to invite?"
"Well, I've only had one class with Filipe so far, but he seemed like he was nice. He came here from New Mexico to go to school and he's staying with a host family while he's here." Paul said thoughtfully.
"Go ahead and invite him." D said simply, then asked, "Anyone else?"
"Dex... maybe?" Paul said, then looked at G uncertainly.
"I can pretty much guarantee that he won't accept, but we can ask him." G said simply.
"Is there a problem?" D asked curiously.
"Yeah. But we don't know what it is." G said frankly.
At D's inquisitive look, G felt compelled to explain, "Dex just acts really weird and awkward and shy. I don't know what's behind it, but as far as I know, he's always been that way. I've been riding the school van with him for years but thanks to Paul I've talked more to Dex this week than the whole rest of the time that I've known him."
"Shy, huh? Go ahead and invite him. He'll come or he won't." D said frankly.
"Do we need to warn everyone about Curtis?" Paul asked cautiously.
"The non witch."
"Right." D said, then paused for a moment to consider. Finally he slowly said, "Let everyone you invite know about the possibility. However it works out, it's really not that big of a deal. We'll all have fun either way."
"Yeah, okay." G easily agreed.
"Hey Paul, what about your Wizardry teammates? Would you like to invite them?" Nazzy asked suddenly.
"No." Paul answered simply, then added, "I don't think they'd get along well with everyone else... or anyone else, for that matter. Let's just say that the whole 'fun' thing D's going for would be a lot more difficult with them here."
"Good point." Nazzy conceded.
* * * * *
As everyone was finishing their meals, Beth said, "We'll be having dessert in a little while. I'll come and get you when it's time."
"Thanks Mom." Paul said as he walked with the group out of the dining room.
As soon as they were well away, Karras quietly asked, "Why do you want to invite a non magical person to your cookout?"
"He seems like a good guy. It'd probably be fun to have him along." Paul answered simply.
G nodded his agreement, then added, "Besides, he told us that his family moved here over the summer, so it sounds like he probably doesn't have a lot of friends here."
"His parents probably don't either. It might be nice for them too." Paul added.
"I just wondered because... well, I don't think my parents even know any non magical people. They sure haven't invited any over to our house."
"Where are you going?" G asked Paul curiously.
"To the parlor."
"It's this way." G said, then turned to the left.
"I need a map." Paul groused as he changed direction and followed.
* * * * *
Everyone immediately took their places, each standing opposite the stone wall that held their spell.
"What do you need for me to do?" Karras asked from just inside the door.
"You might as well sit down. This is going to take a few minutes." G said frankly.
After a long silent moment, Paul quietly asked, "Vinda, do you want to start it?"
"Yeah." Vinda answered, then slowly began to recite the words of her spell.
Nazzy started in next, followed almost immediately by G.
Paul waited a moment longer as he listened.
At some instinctive cue, Paul began to recite the words to his part of the spell.
Karras stood and began to walk around, reading from the stone walls as he tried to make sense of what each of them were doing.
It didn't take long for him to realize that each of them were casting very different spells.
He paid particular attention to Paul as he enacted a strange manifestation of Alchemy on the exact same coordinates that Nazzy and Vinda were trying to affect.
It came to his attention that the spell that G was casting seemed to be wholly unrelated to the others.
The strange spellcasting seemed to be more based in perception than making any tangible changes.
* * * * *
After what seemed to have been a long time, Karras was surprised to see a stone pillar erupt from the floor.
He recognized the stone as being the same as the stone walls surrounding them.
Perched atop the pillar was a scene of beauty; a castle surrounded by a forest and next to a lake.
Although he didn't want to interfere with their spellcasting, he couldn't resist the urge to step closer and get a better view.
One by one, the others fell silent as their parts of the spell were finished.
"Well, I guess this is it." Paul said as he stepped to Karras' side.
"What do you think?" Vinda asked with a smile.
"It's amazing." Karras said in wonder.
"It looks good, but let's see if we can make it even better." Paul said determinedly.
"I don't know what else we could do. With G's illusion, the whole thing looks perfect." Vinda said honestly.
"It needs people." Nazzy said thoughtfully.
"I don't think so." G said slowly.
"Why not?" Nazzy asked curiously.
"Look." G said as he motioned to the construct.
Paul looked at the tiny landscape and before he could think better of it, he said, "It's Lex!"
"Yeah." G confirmed.
"So what's the problem? He could probably use a suit of armor or something to tie him in with the scenery, but besides that, he looks great!" Nazzy said happily.
"Too great." G confirmed.
"I still don't get what's the problem." Nazzy said honestly.
"He becomes the focal point of everything. All the work that all of you did means nothing because he's all that you notice." G carefully explained.
"I see what you mean." Vinda said slowly.
"Yeah. He looks great, but he steals the show." Nazzy finally relented.
"But if we take him away, then we have a scene without a point for being seen." Paul said with difficulty.
"So, what do we do? What can we add that won't hijack the whole landscape?" Vinda asked thoughtfully.
"What about a deer?" Karras suggested cautiously.
"I don't know if I could craft one in time, and even if I did, it'd still run the risk of stealing the show." G said thoughtfully.
There was a long moment of silence until Paul suddenly said, "What about...."
"I'm one step ahead of you." G interrupted as he turned his attention toward the little landscape.
Lex vanished and was replaced by some absolutely tiny animals, looking like little more than specks in the grass.
"What are those?" Karras asked slowly as he strained to see.
"Hedgehogs." G answered simply.
"What are they doing?" Nazzy asked in a whisper.
"Frolicking." G said with a smile.
"Are they going to take a long time to incorporate into your spell?" Vinda asked curiously.
"No. I've already got them crafted. That's the part that takes the most time. Plus, in scaling them down so much I don't need to include as much detail." G said as he walked to 'his' wall and touched it, altering the spell that was displayed.
"That doesn't look too bad." Vinda said thoughtfully as she examined what he had added to the spell.
"Let's take a step back and be sure that we really want to do this before we go any further." G suggested.
Paul literally took a step back and closed his eyes for a moment.
When he looked at the scene again, he was pleased by what he saw.
Although the hedgehogs drew his eye, they were so small that he wasn't inclined to focus on them for too long.
His gaze moved from there to evaluate the rest of the scene.
"Yeah. It works." Nazzy concluded.
"I agree. I wouldn't change a thing." Vinda said happily.
"What do you think Karras?" Paul asked curiously.
"It's like it's alive. It makes me want to smile." Karras said quietly.
"I think we have our final version. The next question is, can we do it again?" Paul asked the group seriously.
"I guess there's only one way to find out." G said unenthusiastically.
"Do you need to do anything else to your 'skin' before we start again?" Vinda asked curiously.
"No. Thanks to Paul, I have every detail written down. Let's do this."
Editor's Notes (1):
Talking about secrets earlier, I really do wonder what Dex's secret is.
I kinda think he might turn out to be nicer than he seems.
This story gets more interesting with each new chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Editor's Notes (2):
Another exciting chapter of an ever increasingly compelling story.
The project seems to be coming along nicely, and apparently Karahs seems impressed as well.
I can hardly wait for the next chapter!
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher