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Otherland

By MultiMapper

© 2017
All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 5

Nazzy and Vinda were waiting for Paul just inside the 'magic' hallway. Paul was disappointed that G wasn't waiting there too, but understood that G needed to be on his way to his Sorcery class.

"Are you ready for Wizardry?" Nazzy asked as Paul approached.

"I'm as ready as I can be." Paul said honestly.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Vinda asked curiously.

"I've written all that I can on my Wizardry report, but I need to check with Nicholas to see if he's done his part."

"So it's not ready to submit?" Nazzy asked curiously.

"No. Besides that, I've got to make one little change since I found a better way to draw the circle."

"If you need to use a computer, you'd better jump on as soon as we get into the main classroom. They usually go quick." Nazzy said frankly.

"I have to talk to Nicholas first. If he's not ready with his part, then there's no need for me to rush on mine."

"That's the downside of team projects. If you've got one person who doesn't pull their weight, the whole team suffers because of it."

"Yeah. Tell me about it." Paul muttered and seemed to be lost in thought.

* * * * *

When they walked into the main classroom, Paul noticed that all the computers had already been claimed.

"We'll see you after class." Vinda said quietly before hurrying away to join the rest of her team.

Paul looked around and spotted Amelia and Nicholas standing next to the door of the study room that they had used the day before.

"Do we have to wait around out here, or can we go into our room?" Paul asked as he approached.

"Professor Ortega usually talks to us for a minute and tells us what we'll be focusing on before we separate into study groups." Amelia said informatively.

"Nicholas, were you able to get your part of the report finished?"

"Yeah. It's just the summoning spell. Amelia's got it. She said that she'd look it over before we turn it in. I suck at reports." Nicholas admitted.

"Amelia, if you're helping us, you should get credit for it. Your name should be on the report along with ours." Paul said frankly.

"But she didn't have anything to do with casting the spell." Nicholas whined.

"If she contributes to the report, then she deserves to have her name on it. Besides that, if she does any fact checking and actually finds a mistake, then she will be in some part responsible for whatever grade we end up getting." Paul said reasonably.

"If you want, I could include what I observed when you were doing the summoning. I already had my scrying spell thrown wide open, so I could see all of what you were doing." Amelia interjected.

"Since you already have the information, you might as well include it." Paul said thoughtfully.

"So does that mean that your part of the report is ready?" Amelia asked cautiously.

"For the most part. I have to make one little change. I found a better way to draw the casting circle."

"What did you..." Amelia began to ask, but stopped when Professor Ortega led a group of teachers into the room.

* * * * *

"Good afternoon! I hope that this day finds all of you well." Professor Ortega said formally.

"Today your teachers are going to be focusing on how you are balancing forces in regard to your individual spells. Although it may seem to some of you that you have a bottomless reserve of power to draw upon, as you progress in your magic, you'll discover the need to use it efficiently. Learning the proper techniques now will serve you well in the future."

Paul could see the importance of what Professor Ortega was proposing.

"Now, if you will proceed to your study rooms, we will begin this day's adventure."

* * * * *

"Do you want to make your changes to your report before we start?" Amelia asked as they walked into their room.

"Yeah. I'll need to use the computer for that." Paul said as he looked toward the computer at the side of the room.

"You can use the computers in the outer room whenever you want, but Mr. Gilbert has to sign you into this one." Amelia informed him.

Just as she said so, Mr. Gilbert walked into the room, looking professional and prepared for a productive work session.

"How are we doing today?" Mr. Gilbert asked as he placed his messenger bag on a table at the side of the room.

"I've got my report for Professor Ortega almost finished, but I need to make one little change. Can I use the computer for a few minutes?" Paul asked hopefully.

"Yes. And if you wouldn't mind, I'd very much like to have a look at your report as soon as you're done with it."

"Yes sir. I'd be interested to hear your opinion of it."

* * * * *

After signing in, Mr. Gilbert surrendered the chair to Paul, allowing him to work.

It took a minute for Paul to bring his report up, but he was soon working to replace the section where he described how he drew the circle with the much simpler pi plot from his numerology class.

Paul briefly scanned what he had written to be sure that the changes fit in with the rest of the report. Once he was done, he looked around to see if Amelia were ready to add her part.

He found Nicholas and Amelia watching him from across the room.

"How do you want to do this?" Paul asked as he walked to them.

"I thought that I'd compile what you've both done, then I'd add my own information." Amelia said frankly.

"That sounds good to me. But would you mind if I looked over the report when you're finished with it? I'd like to read the whole thing at once before we turn it in." Paul asked hopefully.

"Yes. I'd feel better about it if you did." Amelia said honestly.

"What should I be doing while you're working on the report?" Paul asked cautiously.

"If you don't have anything else assigned, get with Mr. Gilbert."

"I'll do that now."

* * * * *

"Mr. Gilbert, I've finished working on my part of the report, do you have something else for me to work on right now? I mean, I'm starting off behind everyone else, so there's probably something that I should be studying." Paul chattered nervously.

"There are many things that you could be studying, but the way this class is organized, every student is encouraged to compete with their own achievements thus far. What do you think should be the next step in your training?"

"Well, I made the summoning diagram and was able to come up with the missing locus. So I guess that the next step would probably be for me to actually summon something... except that I don't have a clue where to start."

"Yes. From what I witnessed yesterday, there is no doubt that you are fully capable of summoning. I believe that the most productive course we could take right now is to capitalize on what you've already mastered and take that next step. To do this properly, you might need the assistance of your classmates."

"Okay. What do I have to do?" Paul asked cautiously.

"You have a library of magical texts at your disposal. Rather than tell you specifically what you should conjure, I'll let you choose for yourself. There is no shortage of low-level summoning spells."

"Okay. So I just pick one and summon it?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Correct. But I will ask that whatever you choose have a physical form. Even if it's just a little speck of a demon, I would like for it to be fully manifested within this dimension. It's too easy for monstrous demons to hide their true natures by tricking new wizards into summoning them and only manifesting the smallest fraction of their true selves." Mr. Gilbert warned.

"Yeah. I noticed that limitation was built into Xaphan's summoning spell. I'll be sure that whatever spell I use has the limit built into it." Paul said thoughtfully.

"Also, whatever you summon, you must also be able to command. Again, from what I saw yesterday, I'm not concerned about that. You have more than enough strength of will to dominate whatever you are able to conjure."

"I'm not comfortable thinking of myself dominating anyone or anything, but when I know that what I'm doing is right, I can make myself do it."

"Good. The final part of your task will be to take that which you have summoned and return it to its place of origin. It shouldn't be much of a problem at this level. Later on, it can become more of a challenge due to the fact that what you have summoned may not want to leave."

"Put it back where I got it from. Got it." Paul said thoughtfully.

"Let me know when you've chosen which spell you're going to attempt. And, it goes without saying, do not attempt to summon anything without supervision." Mr. Gilbert said firmly.

"Yeah. Don't worry. I'm not ready to work without a net." Paul assured him.

Mr. Gilbert smiled at Paul, then walked across the room to where Amelia and Nicholas were working on the computer.

* * * * *

Paul was fully aware that magic was real.

He knew without a doubt that there were unseen forces at work that he didn't understand.

Yet he couldn't account for the 'need' that he was feeling to find one particular spell.

He bypassed hundreds of books without ever considering them, simply because he somehow knew that they weren't 'the one'.

When he finally did stop to look through a book, he'd leaf through, looking for the exact summoning spell that he wanted, without consciously knowing what it was that he was looking for.

All he knew is that he was feeling intense frustration at his inability to find exactly the right spell.

* * * * *

After going through approximately half the library, Paul happened upon a rather ordinary looking book that made his heart jump for some inexplicable reason.

He took the book down with shaking hands and flipped directly to a section toward the back, as if already knowing what the book contained.

While leafing page by page, he slowly walked toward one of the tables at the periphery of the room.

He was somehow able to ease himself down into a chair, despite having all of his attention focused on the text before him.

A sudden rush of relief washed over him as he found the spell that he wanted. The strange thing was, he didn't know why he wanted it. He couldn't think of any reason that he should know about the existence of the spell in advance.

Regardless, he looked through the spell and found that it contained everything that he would need to do a simple summoning. There wasn't a spell diagram drawn out for him, but he had everything that he would need to construct a diagram on his own.

As he read through the spell, he realized that it didn't give any clues about 'what' it would summon. However, the spell was incredibly limited in what it could summon. In fact, the number of limitations on the spell made it likely that it was specifically tailored to one or two types of demons, disallowing all others from that same realm.

Paul turned his attention toward the realm that the spell targeted. Being completely new to summoning, he felt that it would be wise for him to do some investigation before committing himself to casting the spell.

Glancing across the room, Paul saw that Amelia, Nicholas and Mr. Gilbert were all gathered around the computer, working on the report.

* * * * *

Although he didn't want to interrupt, he was on a mission and reluctantly made his way across the room to them.

"Could one of you help me with something?" Paul asked hopefully as he approached.

"Certainly. What can I do for you?" Mr. Gilbert asked as he turned to face Paul.

"I've found a spell that I'd like to do, but before I try it, I'd like to do some research on the realm that it taps into. It doesn't look like it's anything dangerous, but I get the feeling that sometimes spells are written like traps to look like they're something safe when actually they're opening a doorway into an absolute nightmare." Paul finished anxiously.

"There is always that possibility." Mr. Gilbert conceded, then continued, "Although most of the spells in our library have been vetted over the years, I think that investigating the properties of the dimension you'll be accessing is an extremely good habit to develop early."

"Okay. But I don't know where to find information on different hell dimensions." Paul said honestly.

"Amelia would be your best resource for that type of information. It ties directly into her specialty." Mr. Gilbert said frankly.

"She looks like she's busy right now. Can you just point me in the right direction?" Paul asked hopefully.

To Paul's surprise, Mr. Gilbert literally pointed to the second bookcase inside the door they had entered through.

"Thank you." Paul said with a smile, then hurried away.

* * * * *

It only took a matter of fifteen minutes before Paul had found the information that he had been looking for.

The specific 'hell' dimension that he was planning to tap into had been well documented as being one of the more 'civilized' demonic planes. The Meayithan Realm had an authority structure in place, by all accounts something like a monarchy, although since demons typically aren't born, don't live in the classical sense of the word, and aren't known to significantly age or die of natural causes, the concept of heirs and succession wasn't present in their society.

The documented demon population was such that Paul couldn't really pinpoint exactly what he might summon if he used the spell that he had found. There were a variety of low level demons with several magical specialties that might possibly fall under the terms of his spell.

Although most of them wouldn't be particularly useful to Paul in his current situation, being able to summon any of them might be beneficial later on, if only as a source of information about what The Meayithan Realm was like.

Satisfied that he wasn't about to do something monumentally stupid, Paul returned his reference materials to the bookcase, then walked back across the room to where Mr. Gilbert, Nicholas and Amelia were still gathered in front of the computer.

"I'm ready to try, whenever you have time." Paul quietly interrupted.

"Already?" Mr. Gilbert asked with surprise, then said more calmly, "Let me see what you're proposing."

Paul handed him the book, already opened to the first page of the spell.

"While I'm familiar with this realm, I'm not sure if I've ever seen anyone attempt to summon from it." Mr. Gilbert said absently as he read.

Paul waited with anticipation for Mr. Gilbert's decision.

"Yes. There seem to be sufficient safeguards in place to prevent you from summoning something too overpowering. However, I think that as an added precaution, I should ask Professor Ortega to join us. Not only will he be invaluable if something were to go wrong, but I also get the sense that he would be rather interested to see what you can achieve."

Before Paul could agree, object or even consider what was being proposed, Mr. Gilbert hurried out of the room.

* * * * *

"You're going to summon a demon right now?" Nicholas asked as he approached, leaving Amelia to work on the computer alone.

"I'm going to try." Paul said timidly.

"It's only your second day here. Are you trying to prove something or are you just stupid?"

"I'm trying to do my best." Paul said coldly to Nicholas, then added, "And next time, I'll try to do even better."

"No matter what you do, it'll never be enough. They'll always expect more and more out of you until you can't give them what they're asking for. But if you do just enough to get the next grade, then you'll always have more that you can do. You can finish with strength instead of ending in defeat." Nicholas said informatively.

"Maybe. But I think that you're missing one important thing."

"What's that?"

"You're doing what you do for them. You let their minimum expectations dictate how hard you work and what you try to achieve. I'm doing what I do for myself."

"What's the difference?"

"One difference is that I don't care if you can do something better than I can. I don't feel threatened by you. You're my teammate in the group, so I'm just as happy to work with you and help you as not. Another difference is, doing it this way, I can feel good about myself. If I know that I'm trying my hardest and giving my best, then no matter how it ends up turning out, I'll be able to look in the mirror and be proud."

Nicholas snorted with laughter at the proclamation, then said, "Feel good about yourself all you want. In the end, it means nothing. When you crash and burn, I'll still be here, marking time until I can get out of this place and into a college where I can learn some 'real' magic."

"I have a feeling that you've already refused to learn what's most important."

"Yeah, whatever. We'll see who's right in the long run." Nicholas said knowingly.

"I guess we will." Paul agreed.

* * * * *

"Young Mr. Darroch, Mr. Gilbert has informed me that you are preparing to attempt a rather ambitious summoning." Professor Ortega said inquisitively.

"Yes sir. I'm going to try to summon an entity from The Meayithan Realm." Paul said quietly.

"While the summoning could have its hazards, it also has the potential to yield better than average results. I'm interested to see what you're able to summon."

"Yes sir." Paul said quietly, then asked, "Do you want for me to go ahead and do it now?"

"Make whatever preparations you need and proceed in your own time. I assure you that we won't rush you."

"I'm ready. I just wanted to be sure... never mind. I'll do it over here." Paul said as he walked to a more central location in the room.

As he was bracing himself for what he was about to do, he noticed Amelia getting up from the computer to join them.

"Amelia, do you want to do any of your scrying spells or anything before I start?" Paul thought to ask.

"Give me one minute." Amelia said as she ran to her cabinet.

Paul watched and waited as Amelia retrieved her supplies, then unrolled a mat, which had been embroidered with a spell diagram.

"I'm ready." Amelia said as she sat cross-legged before her mat.

Paul raised his arms and began performing the hand-sign gestures as he spoke aloud the long-form version of the spell to draw the spell diagram. He reasoned that since what he was doing was, in essence, putting on a show, that he might as well show them every detail of what magics were at work.

Professor Ortega, Mr. Gilbert and even Nicholas were carefully watching and listening to every detail of what Paul was doing.

A glowing pentagram appeared on the floor at Paul's feet and it was notable that the circle was nearly twice as big as the one Paul had created for Nicholas to summon Xaphan. Following the establishment of the circle, magical phrases began to appear in different areas, each explaining a different requirement of the spell being cast.

Five little balls of flame came into being, one at each point of the pentagram, which signalled more than Paul's words that the actual 'summoning' had begun.

At a certain point during the recitation of Paul's summoning spell, Professor Ortega and Mr. Gilbert turned to look at each other with surprise at one particular phrase that Paul had uttered.

Amelia watched intently as the vortex began to open, creating a filmy transparent interruption in reality.

Once the 'mechanics' of the spell had been completed, Paul realized that he had forgotten one small detail in his preparations.

He decided that since it wasn't part of the spell being presented, that it was alright for him to perform the spell to change his clothes internally, so it didn't disrupt the rest of his presentation.

As his personal magic began to flow out of him to fuel the summoning, Paul let go of his human form and allowed himself to flawlessly slip into his demon visage.

"The time has come."

"Follow my voice."

"Your master summons you."

"Come to me now."

Those in the room were enthralled by the change not only in Paul's appearance and his deeper voice, but also in his suddenly forceful demeanor.

In his demon form, Paul's presence became almost frighteningly powerful.

"Heed my command."

"Come forth."

"I demand it!"

Paul's entreaty seemed to come from a place of pure power. He was simply summoning his minions to do his bidding, as was his right.

Professor Ortega, Mr. Gilbert, Nicholas and Amelia watched breathlessly as something began to emerge from the gauzy orifice suspended above the glowing pentagram.

When the dark, misshapen salamander was finally able to make its way through, it dropped to the floor with a sickening ::splat::.

"Your master summons you!"

"Come forth!" Paul screamed toward the vortex.

Professor Ortega and Mr. Gilbert exchanged another concerned look, but their attention was drawn back to the summoning diagram as another grotesquely deformed amphibian dropped to the floor with a wet squelching sound.

"What I have opened, I now close. What I have closed, I now seal." Paul said as he made a grand gesture over his spell diagram.

"You should really leave the gate open so that you can return them." Mr. Gilbert warned.

"I'll open it again when I need to." Paul assured him, then realized that his much deeper voice might be construed as defiant or less than respectful.

"What the hell are those?" Nicholas asked with disgust.

"Yaggoral." Paul said simply, then looked down to the two disgusting slimy things and said, "While you're on this plane of existence, you need to take on the forms of native beings."

The two squirming little... things... didn't make any show of having heard his words. But both were looking up at him with slightly glowing red eyes.

"I command it." Paul said as a simple statement of fact.

Both the slimy creatures began to writhe. It wasn't clear if they were in pain, ecstasy or if they were just having some sort of seizures.

"What..." Amelia asked as she backed away.

First one, then the other began to reshape themselves. What had been slimy a moment before was now furry. The long thin bodies became more compact and took on a more conventional appearance.

When the transformation was complete, sitting in the middle of the glowing circle were a small white kitten and a small black puppy. The kitten had a black patch of fur surrounding one eye, just as the puppy had a white patch.

"How did you do that?" Nicholas asked in confusion.

"I didn't. Yaggoral have a natural shape-shifting ability. I just told them to change into something that belongs in this world." Paul said simply.

"Mr. Darroch. I have a feeling from your method of spellcasting that you intentionally summoned these exact demons." Professor Ortega said slowly.

"Yeah. I got that feeling too." Paul said uncomfortably.

"Would you care to explain?" Professor Ortega asked as more of a demand than a question.

"I don't know. That's the truth." Paul said simply, then explained, "I never met my dad, so I don't know if maybe he has some influence on me or something. I've also never met my grandparents, my mom's parents. I guess they're demon summoners too. So there could be magic at work on me from any or all of them. All I know is that I was sort of 'pushed' to summon my familiars, Mah Zah and Ginh Zah."

"Familiars? Are you sure?"

"Yes. We have a magical binding pact."

"Are you planning on keeping them with you?" Professor Ortega asked cautiously.

"No. I'll summon them when I need them." Paul said simply.

"Can you tell me more about this compulsion that led you to summon these creatures?"

"Not really. Every now and then I'll get this feeling like something is a really good idea, so I'll go ahead and do it. When I go back and think about it later, I'll realize that the idea kind of came out of nowhere... but it usually works out. I mean, I don't end up doing stupid things that get me in trouble."

"Do you think that you can recognize this compulsion when it comes over you?"

"Yeah. Most of the time when it happens, it's about things that really don't matter, I just have to make a choice about something and it pushes me one way or the other. You know, like deciding between pepperoni or supreme pizza or something like that."

"But just now it drew you to summon two familiars." Professor Ortega cautiously prompted.

"Yeah. But since I had to summon something anyway and I didn't have any reason to summon one thing over another, I just decided to go with it."

Professor Ortega looked to Mr. Gilbert to see if he had anything to add.

"I think he completed his first summoning without significant issue." Mr. Gilbert offered weakly.

"Yes. The method of casting was flawless. The presentation was appropriate for what he was attempting. The resulting summoning was successful, twice. Young Mr. Darroch had full control over those whom he had summoned. And although he has not as yet returned the summoned beings to their native plane of existance, I have no reason to doubt that he will do so in nothing less than an exemplary manner. This was a successful summoning by any measure, but being his first summoning in this class makes it that much moreso."

"Thank you sir." Paul said respectfully.

"You've set the bar rather high for yourself."

"Yes sir. I like it up there." Paul finished with a smile.

"A very good attitude to have, young man." Professor Ortega said pleasantly, then added more grimly, "But please do try and be aware of what you are being compelled to do. If you find it troubling, come discuss it with me and we'll look deeper into it."

"Yes sir." Paul immediately agreed, then added, "But like I told you before, it usually only happens with stuff that doesn't matter, you know, like choosing between Pepsi and Coke."

"Young man, I'll have you know that I'm a veteran of the cola wars." Professor Ortega said with a restrained smile.

"Yes sir." Paul said respectfully.

"Don't forget to send your new friends home before class ends." Professor Ortega said before turning to leave.

"Yes sir, I will." Paul called after him.

* * * * *

When Paul turned his attention back to the others, he noticed them all staring at him.

It took a moment for him to realize what they were looking at.

With a little internal push, Paul made his demon visage subside.

Paul then waved one hand in the general direction of the glowing spell diagram and it faded from existence.

"Come on, guys." Paul said as he sat cross legged on the floor beside where the diagram had been.

As soon as he was seated, the excited kitten and puppy both scrambled to climb onto his lap.

"Forming attachments to summoned beings is generally frowned upon." Mr. Gilbert said in a warning tone.

"I know. They're familiars, not pets." Paul said simply, but seemed to be determined to give the two creatures equal amounts of cuddles and scratches behind the ears as he said it.

"I don't understand the difference between the demons that Nicholas summons and Paul's familiars." Amelia said cautiously.

"Loyalty." Mr. Gilbert said simply.

When he didn't seem to be inclined to explain, Amelia cautiously asked, "How does that work?"

"Nicholas commands his demons to do his will. They obey because of his dominance over them. Paul's familiars serve him because they are loyal to him. Even if Paul were to become incapacitated for some reason and couldn't command them, they would remain at his side and defend him to the best of their abilities."

"But why are they loyal to Paul? Did I miss that part when it happened?" Amelia asked curiously.

"No. That is the result of something that must have happened elsewhere. The yaggoral have sworn their loyalty either to Paul or to another and are serving Paul at the other's bidding." Mr. Gilbert said slowly, then looked to Paul and asked, "Do you have any idea of how this happened?"

"Not really." Paul answered honestly, then said, "I guess it could have something to do with my dad... but maybe that's just my wishful thinking."

"And your father would be..." Mr. Gilbert said in a leading tone.

"A demon. That's all I know about him."

"And you suspect that he commanded the yaggoral to serve you?"

"Like I said, it's probably just wishful thinking. There's no reason for him to know that I even exist, much less to care about how I'm doing."

"This may be a stupid question, but since demons aren't alive or human or anything like that, how could someone... you know... have a kid that way?" Nicholas asked uncomfortably.

"Actually, if you'll look at Paul's lap, you'll see the answer." Mr. Gilbert said simply.

"Excuse me!" Paul said with immediate offense.

Realizing the way that sounded, Mr. Gilbert blushed as he explained to the group, "I was referring to the yaggoral in Paul's lap. They are demonic beings physically transformed into natural creatures. In this form they could enjoy sexuality with a member of the species that they appear to be and were they older, they might be capable of producing viable offspring."

"So you're saying that Paul's mom got it on with a demon who shapeshifted into human form?" Amelia asked cautiously.

"Perhaps. Just as with other types of magic, there are many levels of shape-shifting. An arch-demon might exist in a fully human form at all times, simply because it pleases him to do so. I've heard various accounts of that. However, most average demons who have the ability to shapeshift only do so when there is a need. The shapeshifting spells simply require too much magic to maintain."

"I don't understand about familiars. To be honest, I kind of thought that they were just made up stories." Amelia said frankly.

"The concepts of duty, trust and loyalty seem to have fallen out of favor in recent years, so the demand for honorable companions has lessened. These days people tend to only believe in what they can absolutely control for themselves." Mr. Gilbert said frankly.

"But are familiars really a thing? I mean, what can they do that other demons can't?" Amelia asked curiously.

"Again, it simply comes down to trust. In most cases a summoned being absolutely loathes their master and they only follow his orders because they are compelled to do so by the conditions of the summoning spell. If they were given an opportunity, they would gleefully betray him and delight in his agonizing death." Mr. Gilbert said dispassionately.

"And a familiar would fight to defend their fallen master, even to their own death." Amelia quietly provided, completing Mr. Gilbert's thought.

Mr. Gilbert considered for a moment, then said, "Paul, good work. You may spend the remainder of the class 'motivating' your familiars, if you would like."

Paul easily nodded his acceptance to the arrangement as he continued cuddling and scratching the squirming little balls of fur.

"Since Nicholas was able to perform a successful summoning yesterday and Paul was able to do so today, I think you can guess what I'll be expecting tomorrow." Mr. Gilbert said as he looked askance at Amelia.

"Yeah. No pressure. Like my grandma says, 'It's like following Streisand.'." Amelia said sourly.

"What?" Paul asked in confusion.

"Not to worry. I promise that you'll be graded on your own merits and not compared to your classmates." Mr. Gilbert assured her.

Amelia glanced at him with undisguised irritation, then turned to Paul and said, "We've got the report compiled if you want to take a look at the final product before we print it out."

"Yeah. I'll do that now." Paul said as he gathered his yaggoral.

"Before you do that, could you make a summoning circle for me so that I can summon Frederick?" Nicholas grudgingly asked.

"Sure." Paul said easily, then glanced at the floor beside him.

Within a few seconds, Frederick's summoning septagram and seven fireballs appeared.

"Thanks." Nicholas reluctantly choked out, then started his summoning ritual.

* * * * *

Paul settled himself on the chair in front of the computer and ended up with a yaggoral perched on each shoulder.

"Did you study Nicholas' spell diagram?" Mr. Gilbert quietly asked as he approached.

"I wouldn't say that I 'studied' it, but I read through it enough to understand its construction. If you'll look at the primary transit locus and the bounce coordinates, you'll see that I cleaned it up a little." Paul said absently as he read.

"Do you know where Frederick's home dimension is?" Mr. Gilbert asked cautiously, not wanting to draw too much of Paul's attention from his reading.

"No. I think you're right. The only way to trace it all the way back is going to have to be Amelia's way. There's not enough information in the spell to tell me where it's drawing from."

"Yes. I just thought that since you seemed to have such an aptitude for summoning, that you might have some insights."

"Nope. Frederick comes from one of many demonic realms... or maybe New Jersey. That's all I've got."

"What do you think of the report?"

"I like it. I'm glad that Amelia added her observations. It makes it read a little more like an eyewitness account than an instruction manual." Paul said honestly.

"I agree. If you ever have to submit a report for publication, I suggest that you attempt to use this format. It's very readable."

"Yeah..." Paul began to say, but was interrupted by a tiny mewling cry from his left shoulder.

"What was that?" Paul asked.

The kitten purred, then gave one quiet little growl from deep in it's throat.

"Ginh Zah noticed that I didn't put the locus in the spell diagram that I drew. I forgot to ask you if that was alright."

"Yes. If you had included it, I would have seen that it was removed before it was submitted for review by a larger audience." Mr. Gilbert assured him, then cautiously asked, "You can understand what the kitten says?"

"Yes and no." Paul said as he looked away from the computer to meet Mr. Gilbert's eyes. "Actually, Mah Zah and Ginh Zah can make themselves be understood by whoever they want. They learned the spells so that they could carry messages for me or gather intelligence."

"They told you this?"

"Yeah. They've been sort of introducing themselves to me while I've been petting them." Paul said as he turned his attention back to the report.

"This sounds to me like ancient wizardry from an age long past." Mr. Gilbert said thoughtfully.

"Things that go can come again, like a circle..." Paul began to say, but was interrupted by a yipping little bark.

"Excuse me. Like a pendulum." Paul said with a smile at the puppy on his right shoulder.

Mr. Gilbert watched as Paul went back to reviewing the report, with the puppy and kitten intently reading from his shoulders.

* * * * *

"Paul. Do you have a minute?" Amelia asked hopefully.

"Sure. What did you need?" Paul asked as he turned.

"You heard Mr. Gilbert. I have to do a summoning tomorrow. Do you think... I mean, is there any way that you know that I could summon a familiar like you did?" Amelia asked hopefully.

"I didn't really plan to summon these guys. Things just kind of worked out..." Paul was saying when the kitten on his shoulder meowed, rather loudly, into his ear.

"What?" Paul asked as he focused on the kitten.

The little mewling cry that the kitten emitted sounded to Amelia almost to be a form of speech.

"Okay. We could try that." Paul said simply, then turned to Amelia and said, "Ginh Zah said that she knows someone who might like to be your familiar. If you'll summon her tomorrow, you two can talk it over and decide what you both want to do."

"Really? That would be great! What do I have to do?" Amelia asked happily.

"I'll go ahead and give you everything that I had so that you'll be able to do the summoning. Do you want for me to make the diagram for you or would you rather do the whole thing yourself?" Paul asked curiously.

"I think it would be better if I did it on my own. That way I won't have to wonder if I'll be able to do it if you aren't around."

"Okay. I can respect that." Paul said simply, then carefully took the puppy off his right shoulder.

"I'm going to send Ginh Zah and Mah Zah back so that they can talk to their friend. When you do your summoning tomorrow, she'll be waiting to answer your summons." Paul said as he placed Ginh Zah and Mah Zah on the floor.

"What's her name?"

"Knowing her name gives you power over her, so you'll have to find that out for yourself." Paul said frankly.

"Did you have to find the names for your familiars?" Amelia asked curiously.

"I already knew them... I just don't know how." Paul said simply, then added, "They don't know either."

Amelia watched as Paul made a gesture. A pentagram and flames suddenly came into being.

"I'll probably summon you again tomorrow, after Amelia does her summoning. While you're there, remember to find out whatever you can about what we talked about." Paul said seriously.

Ginh Zah gave a single 'meow' just as Mah Zah barked.

"Good. I'll see you tomorrow." Paul said as the vortex opened in the middle of the spell diagram.

The kitten and puppy promptly passed through the gauzy gray twist in reality and vanished.

Paul made a subtle gesture and the portal dissipated, then he turned his attention to Amelia and asked, "Do you think that the report is ready to submit?"

"What? Oh, yeah. I think so."

"Will you show me how to submit it?"

"Yes."

* * * * *

"How was your day?" Nazzy asked as Paul walked out of the study room into the main classroom.

"Pretty good." Paul said honestly.

"Did you volunteer for any more big projects?"

Paul had to think about that for a moment, but finally said, "No. Actually, I was able to submit my report, so I've got one less thing hanging over me."

"Good. It looked like you were overloading yourself."

"Where's Vinda?"

"She's talking with her friends about ghost stuff. Since she's one of the most successful ghost summoners in the class, they all go to her with their questions."

"What about you? Don't you get the same thing from the zombie summoners?"

"Actually, I'm the only one. The teachers put me in with the ghost summoners because our spells are so similar, but no one else in our class can pull up a physical manifestation... well, except your team, but that's something completely different."

"I guess that works out. This way your 'army of the undead' only has one general to lead them."

"So, are you planning on working on the big spelling project with G tonight?"

"Yeah. Whenever he's ready I'll pull up the 'construct' so that he can start working on his 'skin'."

"Vinda and I are going to work on our parts of the spell. After reading it over, she said that we can do our things without using your Alchemy elements, so even though what we do won't have any substance, we can still be sure that our parts will work."

"Good. That's what I thought too."

"What are you doing over here, being antisocial? Why don't you give the rest of us a chance to get to know the new guy?" A girl with a bit too much makeup asked as she approached. To Paul it looked like she had used the makeup to mask all her actual facial features then painted on the ones that she wanted.

"Paul, this is Carla, our own personal welcome wagon." Nazzy said with disdain dripping from his words.

"Hi." Paul said simply.

"So you're Mr. Darroch's new son? Isn't that wonderful? I can think of a dozen people that you absolutely have to meet." Carla said delightedly as she linked her arm through Paul's and attempted to guide him away.

"No thank you. If you'll excuse us, I was talking to Nazzy about a project that we're doing." Paul said as he planted his feet and refused to be moved.

"You know, there are advantages to being seen with the right people. You're new here. You should really think about that." Carla said persuasively.

"Actually, considering who my dad is, I'm pretty sure that I can hang around with whoever I want to. And just so there's no confusion, you are not included on that list. Now get off me." Paul finished firmly.

Carla looked shocked, but Paul was faIrly certain that the emotional reaction was as false as everything else about her.

"You're going to regret that." Carla finally said in a low voice.

"No. I really don't think that I will." Paul said with reasonable certainty..

Carla stomped away in a huff as Paul and Nazzy watched her go.

               'And people look down on demons.'

               'They call them monsters.'

               'I wonder how many of those same people have bothered to look in a mirror.'

"You keep surprising me, Paul. You're usually so quiet and willing to go along with anything, then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you take a stand."

"I choose my battles." Paul said simply, then explained, "When it's something that matters, I do what I have to do. Besides that, if I let some makeup-based life form make me her bitch, how am I ever going to be able to command a demon?"

"I wonder what you'd find if you excavated down through all that makeup?" Nazzy asked with a smile.

"More makeup... all the way to the core."

* * * * *

"Paul! What did you do?" Vinda asked as she rushed to join him and Nazzy.

"About what?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Well, according to Carla, she came over here to introduce you around and make you feel welcome and you practically assaulted her!" Vinda said disbelievingly.

"Well, she came over here, that part's true." Paul said simply.

"We were talking when Carla interrupted and tried to drag Paul away to show her new pet off to her minions." Nazzy said simply, then added, "Paul said 'no'."

"So you didn't hit her?" Vinda quietly asked, sounding somewhat disappointed.

"I wouldn't dare. I'd be afraid of scraping my knuckles on the stucco." Paul finished with a grin.

"Paul thinks she's a makeup golem." Nazzy stage whispered.

"Considering her personality, or lack thereof, he might be right." Vinda reluctantly agreed.

"So, what do you think she'll do to get back at me?" Paul asked cautiously.

"I think the worst thing that she'll do is spread ugly rumors about you and try to poison your name around the school." Vinda said honestly.

"Do a lot of people listen to her?"

"Yeah. Mostly the snotty stuck-up types."

"So, basically, she's going to put a hit out on me. She'll let it be known through the grapevine that she would be pleased and look favorably upon anyone who caused me to be hurt or humiliated."

"Yeah. Sort of, I guess."

"I'm going to need you guys' help. I don't know how to defend myself against magical attacks."

"Actually, you don't have to worry too much about that. Anyone caught using magic against another student would get into real trouble." Nazzy said seriously.

"What would they do to them?" Paul asked curiously.

"First, they'd be kicked out of the school. Then, depending on what they did, even worse things might happen to them in the outside world."

"Because someone who can't control themselves in school might be seen as a threat to the entire community." Paul slowly reasoned.

"Yeah. So with magical retribution off the table, that kind of puts all of us on the level of second graders on the playground." Vinda added.

"Maybe, but they still might be willing to try something if they think that they can get away with it. Remember that when you're privileged, the rules are for other people to follow. They don't apply to you."

"Actually, you may be right about that." Vinda reluctantly agreed.

"So, what can I do to defend myself?" Paul asked seriously.

"If you were trying to defend against ghosts, I might be able to come up with something that would help. But Carla could rally people from just about any discipline." Vinda said cautiously.

"Isn't there some... I don't know, 'protection from magic'... magic?" Paul asked hopefully.

"Yes. Of course! I hadn't thought about them in years, but there are quite a few protection spells and charms. We learned all about them in grade school. Most of them aren't too complicated." Vinda said with increasing enthusiasm.

               "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."

"If you want, I can probably find a protection spell or two in some of my old spell books at home. I'm pretty sure I've still got them." Vinda quietly offered.

"No thanks. I think I've got it covered now." Paul said thoughtfully.

"Wait. Did you just come up with a protection spell, right here on the spot?" Nazzy asked cautiously.

"Yes. I don't think I really have to worry about being attacked, but if I am, you might want to worry for whoever attacks me. I'm pretty sure that the spell that I just cast isn't from this plane of existence." Paul finished timidly.

"Ouch! That sounds nasty." Nazzy said cautiously.

"Well, if they don't try to magically attack me, it won't matter." Paul said weakly.

"You're scaring me." Vinda said honestly.

Paul smiled at her, then said, "Yeah, well I'm a half-demon. I think it kinda comes with the territory. If you can't handle it, I understand."

"Nah. We'll be fine." Nazzy said with an easy grin. "If we can't handle being around someone a little dangerous, we might as well join the 'fluffy bunnies'."

At the sound of the final bell ringing, all of them gathered their things and proceeded to the door.

* * * * *

"How was your class?" G asked as he caught up to the group.

"Pretty good. I made some new enemies today. How was yours?" Paul asked casually.

"Fine." G responded uncertainly, then cautiously asked, "Is someone causing you trouble?"

"Carla." Vinda supplied, knowing that the one word answer would be enough for G to grasp the entire situation.

"I would have thought that she'd try to be your best friend. She's been sniffing around me since we were eight years old when she realized that my dad was someone important." G said frankly.

"Yeah. She tried that. It didn't work." Paul reluctantly responded.

"Paul called her on her bullshit and shut her down. You would've been proud of the way that he stood up for himself." Nazzy said with a big smile.

"I wouldn't worry about it too much. Carla only hears what she wants to hear. I think that in her delusional little world, everyone loves her." G said thoughtfully.

"What I'm more worried about is one of her vapid minions coming after Paul. Don't underestimate the power of the clique." Vinda said frankly.

"There's my locker. Do you want to show me the locking spell now?" Paul asked as he pointed ahead of them.

"Nazzy? Do you want to show him? This is more your thing than mine." G asked hopefully.

"Sure. Which one is it?"

"1402." Paul immediately responded.

"This is a basic spell, so you should be able to do it without a problem." Nazzy explained, then slowly and carefully spoke the words of the spell while performing a series of simple gestures.

"Wait. Can you do that again?" Paul asked as he watched carefully.

Nazzy dismissed the first casting of the spell, then went through it again.

"Okay. So physical forces are manifested to create a matter plug in just the right configuration to pop the lock." Paul said thoughtfully.

"I never thought about how it worked, it just did." Nazzy said honestly.

"Okay. I think I've got that." Paul said slowly, then continued, "G said something about using a locking spell, so that someone couldn't go behind me and pop the lock. That's something totally different, isn't it?"

"Yeah. It's not actually a lock in the physical sense. It's a binding seal that prevents anyone else from being able to magically open it." Nazzy said instructively.

"I'm ready." Paul said as he watched carefully.

Nazzy went through the process of forming a spell not only on the locking mechanism, but also on the structure of the locker.

"So this prevents someone from making the locker door insubstantial and reaching through it." Paul said slowly.

"Yeah. But it also keeps them from manifesting a portal inside your locker or doing anything to the lock or hinges. As far as I know, it's pretty secure. I know that there's a 'next-level' spell that you can use, but I haven't learned it. I don't keep anything important in my locker anyway."

"Yeah. But if I have rabid 'fluffy bunnies' after me, they might try to set me up by planting something illegal in my locker." Paul said frankly.

"I can't tell if you're being paranoid or smart." Vinda said slowly.

"Maybe I'm being both. They are out to get me." Paul said seriously.

"Why don't you go ahead and try the locking spell? We need to get out to the vans." G suggested.

Paul nodded, then duplicated Nazzy's casting of the locking spell.

"That didn't look right." Nazzy said slowly.

"What's wrong?" Paul asked cautiously.

"That's a really easy spell. From the way you cast it, it seemed like it took a lot more power and effort than it should have." Nazzy said seriously.

"Yeah. It felt that way too." Paul said slowly, then explained, "It's something like when I try to speak Spanish. I can see the words, but I'm not comfortable with the pronunciation. It's like my mouth hasn't been trained to form those sounds."

"And that's what it's like casting the locking spell?" G asked to confirm.

"Yeah. Most spells so far have felt like they're in my native language, but this one feels... foreign." Paul explained with difficulty.

"We've got to go before our vans leave. Keep track of any other foreign spells and we can try to see if they have anything in common." G said decisively.

Paul slowly nodded his agreement.

Nazzy did a quick gesture toward the locker and nothing happened.

"I just wanted to make sure that your spell actually worked. From the casting of it, I wasn't completely sure."

Paul nodded at him, then followed along as the group walked toward the main part of the school.

* * * * *

"How are you doing, Curtis?" Paul asked when he spotted him.

"I'm okay. I've been waiting for you. Is everything alright?"

"Yeah. Why?" Paul asked as they walked.

"I don't know. You seem to be a little down, that's all."

"Yeah. Well I guess every day can't be filled with unicorns and rainbows."

"I guess not. So you're okay? No problems?"

"None worth worrying about. How about you? How were your classes?"

"Boring as hell. I mean, sure, I guess I probably want to learn about American History, but seriously? Do they have to make it soooo dull?"

"Do you like hot wings?" Paul asked curiously as he stopped to look Curtis in the eyes.

"Um... yeah." Curtis stammered at the sudden non sequitur.

"What about plain chicken wings, without any seasoning?"

"I don't think I've had them that way, but they sound kinda gross."

"I think so too. The point I'm trying to make is that American History, or any history for that matter, is full of exciting stories of regular people achieving incredible things. But when they 'condense' the history to put it into a text book, they boil it down to the facts and take out all the flavor."

"Okay. I think I see what you're saying..."

"If you want to find an interesting story about history, you have to go looking for it. Read biographies and actual eyewitness accounts. Try to look at the same events from different perspectives. If the event was big enough to be included in your history book, there's a good chance that there's an incredible story behind it. You just have to find it."

"Or you could just regurgitate what it says in the textbook and get the grade." Nazzy added.

"Yeah. You could do that too." Paul said with a smile.

"Guys... Vans." Vinda urged.

"Right. Sorry Curtis, we'll talk to you again tomorrow." Paul said as they started walking again.

* * * * *

"How are you doing, Joe?" G asked as he climbed into the van.

"I'm fine. Tony's going to be out for another couple of days, I found out that his wife just had a baby and he wants to spend a few days at home with them before going back to work." Joe said with a smile.

"Good. I was worried that he might be sick." G said as he got into the back seat.

As Paul climbed into the van, he noticed that everyone else was present. Sandy and Dex were sitting side by side, as was customary for them. And in the front seat beside the driver was Catherine, who Paul had yet to speak one word to.

G automatically put an arm around Paul as he settled into place.

Paul smiled at the gesture and snuggled in close to enjoy the sensation of being held.

"Would you two stop it!?" Sandy sneered at them.

"No." G and Paul answered simultaneously.

* * * * *

Paul was enjoying the incredibly comfortable ride when he noticed the red haired boy, Dex, glancing back at them.

"This is what makes it all worth it." Paul said quietly.

Dex looked away uncomfortably, but Paul got the sense that it wasn't with disgust.

Paul felt a little kiss on his ear lobe and smiled as he let all his worries drift away for a few blissful moments.

* * * * *

"We're supposed to go to the parlor. I think this must be your mom's handwriting." G said as he read the note that was posted on the outside door to G's room.

"I wonder what that's all about." Paul said as he followed G inside.

"I'm guessing that your mom's going to show you the 'family secret' summoning spells." G said frankly as he took off his backpack.

"Oh yeah. You're probably right. Do you want to go with me?"

"I'll go, but if it starts getting boring I might decide to duck out for a snack."

"Not without me you won't."

"Let's just see how things go before deciding anything." G said, then gestured toward the hallway that led into the house.

* * * * *

"Mom?" Paul asked cautiously as he led the way into the parlor. As he looked around the room, he remembered that it was the same room where he had first met G.

"I'm almost ready." Beth said from down on her knees at one side of the room.

"Do you need any help?" Paul immediately asked, rushing to her side.

"No. I'm just finishing this spell diagram." Beth said in concentration.

Paul looked over the diagram and was surprised at just how complicated it appeared to be.

After a moment, Beth quietly asked, "What do you see?"

"An eight pointed summoning diagram." Paul answered simply.

"Made of..."

"Two squares, turned at a forty-five degree angle to each other, a circle surrounding them, a circle within them, a star terminating at each of the eight points of the squares... there's another square, no two squares inside the inner circle and more triangles than I can even count."

"What's your first impression of the diagram?" Beth asked as she stood and brushed off her knees.

"It's more than a summoning diagram, it's like one diagram woven inside another."

"That's exactly what it is." Beth said with a smile.

Paul closed his eyes and shook his head slowly as he tried to sort through the permutations of having a summoning diagram inside a diagram.

"Your whole family does this?" G asked, drawing Paul's attention.

"It's the family legacy, but not every member of the family has access to it. It's only passed down to those who have shown that they have a talent for summoning and embraced it." Beth explained.

"How do you use it?" Paul asked slowly as he once again focused his attention on the spell diagram.

Beth began to chant in an ancient language that Paul couldn't identify.

Although he didn't know the word for word translation, he could still catch the gist of what she was doing.

"Can you do that?" G asked in a whisper.

"Not even close. This diagram is about twelve times more complicated than anything that I've tried to do." Paul whispered in return.

"In the time of Nedra, in the year of Thoth, under the light of Taurus with Sagittarius ascending in glory whilst Selene be in Scorpio. Now I do entreat that balance be achieved and maintained, it is by my will, should the universe consent."

Paul looked at his mother curiously at her strange invocation.

Before he could ask, a bright light began to form over the spell diagram.

Unlike Paul's gauzy little flaw in reality, Beth's manifestation was definitely able to be seen.

Paul and G watched in awe as the tear between dimensions grew bigger and bigger until it was taller than either of them.

"Our family has the capacity to do several high level spells at the same time. This diagram was developed by us to make use of this unique ability. No single witch can perform one of our spells. In fact, even a group of witches would be hard pressed to duplicate one of them because of their need to synchronize them exactly." Beth explained.

"If I'm understanding what I'm seeing, what you just did was manifest a summoning spell inside a reverse summoning spell." Paul said cautiously.

"Yes. In other words, I made a fully traversable portal." Beth confirmed.

"I'm still new to this, but aren't all portals traversable. I mean, if you summon something with a portal, you can send it back the same way." Paul asked slowly.

"That's only true for what you summon. The terms of a typical summoning include limits on what you will allow to traverse the passage. The primary reason being that otherwise you could potentially summon something beyond your ability to control. But along with that, there's also the amount of magic it takes to maintain a less limited passage. A one-way passage is, by its very nature, unstable so it takes a formidable amount of magic to open and maintain it. A stable two-way passage can take almost nothing to maintain once it's been established."

"So I could walk through that?" Paul asked as he looked through the portal into an intense light.

"Probably not." Beth admitted, then explained, "You see, that portal doesn't lead to a hell dimension."

Paul looked at her with confusion for a moment, then suddenly realized what she was implying. "It's a heavenly realm?"

"To tell you the truth, the whole heaven and hell thing is kind of subjective. We tend to use the classic terminology as a matter of convenience, but in reality what we're looking at are two opposing forces. Humans and witches tend to be more or less neutral, able to access either sets of realms, but at the same time they are incapable of surviving in either for any significant length of time."

"Wait. Wait. Are you saying that you have access to both angelic and demonic realms of existence, and not only can you summon from either, but you can actually visit them?" Paul asked anxiously.

"Yes. That's true. And when you say visit, that's exactly what it is. You can't survive more than a few hours away from the prime materia plane. The energies present in both realms are toxic to us in the long term." Beth said seriously.

Paul strained to look through the vortex, but could only see the bright light.

"Is that true for the creatures from the other realms? Can they only exist here for a short time, too?" G asked curiously.

"Some of them." Beth responded, then turned her full attention to him and explained, "Different beings have different tolerances. Those who can shapeshift to adapt to their new environment have a distinct advantage. As a rule, most diabolic creatures have a fairly high threshold and can stay longer. The divine creatures tend to be less so."

"Did you open a doorway to a heavenly realm because you knew that I wouldn't be able to walk through it?" Paul asked suspiciously.

"It had occurred to me that your mixed heritage might come into play at this stage of things." Beth said carefully.

"So you opened the heavenly doorway to test Paul?" G asked curiously.

"I wanted to give him an opportunity to discover something about himself. There have been a lot of things that I wasn't able to give him along the way. I can give him this." Beth said sadly.

"What does it mean that I can't even try to walk through it?" Paul asked cautiously.

"It could be a self-defense mechanism that you were born with." Beth said simply.

"Or maybe you're just a pussy." G said with a teasing grin.

"Not helping." Paul growled at him.

"Seriously. Is it that you can't or won't?" G asked curiously.

"Okay. I'll try, but if I turn into a pillar of salt or something, I'm going to be very very pissed off." Paul said firmly.

"Got it." G said in what seemed to be a completely serious voice.

Paul glanced at G and then his mother before haltingly taking steps toward the vortex.

"You don't really have to do this." G barked suddenly.

"Yes. I do." Paul said as he slowly reached into the shiney bright vortex.

* * * * *

As soon as Paul's hand entered the realm of divinity, the blood in his veins began to boil.

He snatched his hand back and clutched it to his chest as he screamed out in pain.

"Get him away from the portal." Beth called to G as she did her best to use her own body to shield Paul from any influence that the portal might be projecting on him.

"Are you alright? What can I do?" G asked in panic as he did what he was told and helped Paul across the room, to one of the couches.

"I don't know. It hurts. I've never felt anything that hurt so bad." Paul said as he held his hand against his chest protectively.

"Let me see it." G said softly, doing his best to comfort Paul.

"It hurts." Paul whimpered.

"I know. Let me see." G said again as he guided Paul to ease his injured hand away from his body.

Paul consciously looked away as he asked, "How bad is it?"

"Um... Bad." G said honestly, then looked at Beth anxiously.

"Give me a minute." Beth said as she knelt on the floor and rushed to make changes to her spell diagram.

"Paul's hurt! Do you really have to worry about your magic now?" G asked angrily.

After quickly chanting a long magical phrase, Beth stopped her spellcasting and said over her shoulder, "I know what Paul needs to help him recover, but this is the only place to get it."

Before G could ask, Beth stepped through a purplish-black portal hanging in the air.

Paul chanced a look at his hand, then looked away in horror. It appeared as though much of the flesh had literally been burned away. There was little, if any blood visible, since it appeared to have burst from his veins and been incinerated. Glimpses of the bones of his hand could be seen between chunks of cremated flesh.

"I feel like I'm going to pass out." Paul said as his breaths started coming shallowly and more quickly.

"DAD!" G called out, not having any idea of where his father was in the house.

"Hold him still. This might hurt a little." Beth said as she rushed out of the portal.

"He's been hurt enough." G said as he felt tears streaming down his cheeks.

"Hold him!" Beth commanded, then gripped Paul's forearm and forced his entire hand into a bucket that she had carried through the portal with her.

"What's that? What are you doing to him?" G asked as he held Paul's face in his hands and tried to see any sign of consciousness in Paul's vacant half-lidded stare.

"Cursed water. It's supposed to have magical healing properties for infernal creatures who have been injured by divine magical forces." Beth said as she fought Paul's little bit of resistance and kept his hand in the bucket.

"So you had to go to hell to get cursed water to heal him?" G asked dubiously.

"Do you know how many churches there are in hell?" Beth asked as she finally seemed satisfied that Paul wasn't going to fight her anymore.

"I have no idea." G said honestly.

"Exactly one." Beth said simply, then added, "They've got more than their fair share of priests, but as far as churches, there's just the one. Fortunately, I was able to port in right next to the baptismal and get what I needed to help Paul."

"They have baptisms in hell?" G asked curiously.

"Yes. Well, no. Actually, it's the exact opposite... you know what? Why don't you ask me about that some other time. Right now, we need to see how Paul is doing." Beth said as she pulled his arm out of the bucket.

G was amazed to see that Paul's hand had been restored, almost as good as new. In fact it was exactly as good as new. The color of the skin of his hand didn't match the skin of his arm. There was a clear delineation where the flesh had been burned away and then later restored.

"What's going on in here? Is there a problem?" D asked as he rushed into the room.

"Yeah. About five minutes ago." G answered his father without looking away from Paul.

"What happened?" D asked as he took a seat on the couch beside Paul, the other side from Beth. G was kneeling on the floor in front of Paul, trying to gain his attention.

"I didn't think there would be any harm if I let Paul touch a divine dimension, just to see if he were going to be limited in that regard." Beth said softly as she watched carefully for any sign of consciousness in Paul.

"When he touched the heavenly plane his hand exploded." G said as fresh tears started to fall.

"I had heard before that injuries caused by divine magic could be healed by diabolic cursed water, so I went and got him some... and it seems to have worked." Beth explained.

"So what's wrong with Paul right now?" D asked cautiously.

"Shock, I think." Beth said simply.

"G. Will you walk ahead and open doors for me?" D asked as he stood.

"Um, sure." G answered uncertainly as he scrambled to his feet.

D scooped Paul up into his arms, then slowly started walking toward the door.

"What are you going to do?" G asked anxiously as he did as he had been asked and opened the door ahead of his father.

"I'm going to take him to his own bed and wait with him until he regains consciousness." D said simply.

"I'm sure he'll love that." G said with a smile, then thought to add, "Except that Paul doesn't really have a bed of his own. We kind of just fall asleep wherever we happen to be when we get sleepy."

"G, don't you think your brother deserves a space of his own?" D asked quietly as he walked.

"He's more than my brother, Dad. You know that." G said frankly, then added, "It feels right to share what I have with him."

"Regardless, he deserves a space of his own. Whether the two of you choose to share his space or yours is of no concern to me, but at the end of the day, I want for Paul to have the peace of mind to know that he has a place that he can call his own. I want him to have things that are his. I'm concerned that he may feel that he's an extension of you, or worse, that if something happens between the two of you, that he will feel that he doesn't have a place here with us."

"I guess I've just been thinking with my dick." G said regretfully.

"You've been a wonderful brother and an incredible friend. And honestly, I don't think that Paul has suffered for a moment because of it. I'm just saying that Paul is my son now. It's time to act like it." D said firmly.

"This is a nice start." Paul muttered from D's arms.

"How are you feeling? Does it hurt?" G asked anxiously.

"Door." D said firmly.

As much as he didn't want to, G hurried ahead of them and opened the door to the connecting hallway.

"I think I can walk." Paul said uncertainly.

"We're almost there. Let me do this for you." D said gently.

"So what were you talking about when I woke up?" Paul asked slowly.

"I was just telling G that I'd like to build you your own room, so that you'd have a place of your own."

"Cool. Just make sure that it has one of these glassed in hallway bridges. I love that." Paul said with a smile.

There was a long silent moment as D carried Paul into the bedroom and carefully placed him on the bed. Being that D was only slightly taller than Paul, it was a notable feat, but D seemed to have pulled it off rather well.

"So, a glassed in hallway... that's all you want?" D asked as he sat on the edge of the bed and looked at Paul curiously.

"I've lived in so many places that I can't even remember them all. I've had to adapt to every place that I've ever lived, so I never really got into the habit of wishing for things, I just kind of accepted them and adapted however I had to."

"I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm verrrrry rich." D finished with a smile.

"I might have picked up a clue here and there." Paul grinned.

"Just let me know if there's anything I can do to make you feel at home here." D said sincerely.

"You're doing it right now."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes (1):

As much as I would like to see Nicholas figure out that he doesn't have to be such a dick, but I still have my doubts on that subject.

I seem to remember from somewhere, that I have heard of yaggoral before.

I have a feeling I might have learned about them during a visit to Camp Little Eagle.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher


Editor's Notes (2):

D is certainly trying to impress upon Paul that he really does belong.

I think Paul's mom really screwed up with her attempt see if paul could enter the heavenly realm. I'm sure she didn't do it to hurt him, but maybe a little research would have come in handy. That seemed a little less than sensible to me.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher