"You can't be serious." Paul said wearily.
"You were included in the project as part of a work-study program. Now that the project is complete, you have to go back to school." D calmly explained.
"I don't have a problem with that, but why can't we get a day or two off before we go back? I'm wiped out." Paul said quietly, revealing just how tired he really was.
"No one would miss us if we didn't show up tomorrow. I mean, it's Friday, that's the day you finish things off, not start them up." G reasoned in support of his brother.
"I don't think you understand just how important this is." D countered.
Paul looked into the back seat quizzically and found two equally bewildered expressions looking back at him.
"As far as I know, we're going back to school. Is there more to it than that?" Paul asked curiously.
"Yes." D said without prevarication, "Quite a bit more, that is, if you play your cards right."
"As tired as I am, I have a feeling that what you're about to tell us is something that I'm not going to want to do." Paul said hesitantly.
"Probably not... at least, not at first. But I'm hoping you'll see the wisdom in it and decide to go along with it anyway." D said frankly.
"Okay. Just lay it on me. How bad is it?" Paul asked with weary acceptance.
"When your group was chosen, it was because you had the skills and potential to do a difficult job. Right?" D asked in a leading tone.
"Yeah. And we deserve to get extra credit for the amount of scope creep. If we knew going in that we were going to have to completely recast three completely different barriers based in three different elements, I think all of us would have said 'no'." Paul said bluntly.
"That has very little to do with what I'm talking about." D calmly informed him.
"What are you talking about?" G interjected.
"The group was chosen. You accepted. You went. You succeeded. That's all that most people will know about your mission." D said informatively.
"I guess since it's such a big secret, that's all they can know. Anything we tell anyone has the potential to hurt the Wudewas, the Nephilim and the Brynns." Paul said somberly.
"Right. So how do you think anyone, students or teachers, are going to judge how you performed during your work-study?" D once again prompted.
"They'll watch us when we come back for any clues on how it went." G said immediately.
"If you go to school tomorrow and do your best to get through the day, you'll not only get yourselves back on track to start the new school week on Monday, but you will have shown everyone that you're capable of completing a job and following through on a commitment without wimping out or whining. Later on, when one of your professors is called upon to recommend their former students, something like this could tip things in your favor." D said earnestly.
"Here all this time I thought having a dad would be about piggyback rides and learning to ride a bike. I never thought you'd be giving me business advice." Paul said with a smile that was verging on breaking into a chuckle.
"As far as I'm concerned, being a dad means passing on the things that I was taught as a kid, as well as the things that I learned on my own since."
"Am I going to have to go to school?" Lex cautiously interrupted.
"Of course." D said without hesitation.
"But how can he? The school is going to want birth certificates and social security numbers and stuff, aren't they?" Paul asked cautiously.
"Do you think that Lex is the first elemental who was accidentally conjured in the field? Not only will the school accept him, but since it was their 'work-study' that was partially responsible for him being brought into being, they're also going to bear some responsibility for getting all his legalities in order." D said firmly.
"But if he's not a real person, why does he have to go to school?" G asked curiously.
"What's a real person? Someone you can touch? Because from my point of view he looks pretty real right now." D said seriously.
"Maybe someone who was born is real." Paul said uncertainly.
"In my experience, the circumstance of people's birth's are not only the least important things about them, but are also the most over-used excuses justifying a variety of, frankly, horrible things." D said honestly.
"Sorry, Lex. I'm not trying to say anything bad about you." Paul hurried to explain.
"That's okay. I'm trying to understand, too." Lex said without offense.
"Paul, you're a demon. G is a witch and Lex is an air elemental. Can you honestly tell me one single thing that makes any of you better or worse than the others?" D asked firmly and almost seemed to be angry.
"No. No one's better than anyone else." Paul immediately answered.
"Good. I'm glad you think so. That's over half the battle. Now we just have to convince you that Lex is a real person."
"I remember him when G was making him. I remember how at first he barely looked human..."
"He's not human. I'm not asking you to pretend that he's human. He's a formation of elemental magic that's taken on corporeal form." D carefully explained, then added more quietly, "You're not human either."
Paul was obviously jolted with surprise at D's words.
"Please don't say that." Lex urgently asked D, then explained, "I've never thought of myself as human, so reminding me that I'm not doesn't hurt me. I know that Paul grew up thinking that he was human. I can only imagine how it must hurt to be reminded that you're not who you thought you were."
"It doesn't exactly hurt, it mostly just feels weird." Paul reassured his newest brother.
"I'm glad it doesn't hurt you. I wouldn't want that." Lex said, sounding relieved.
"And maybe it is because of the way that I was raised that I'm having a little problem accepting who and what you are. It doesn't mean that I don't like you or feel anything bad toward you. I guess that I grew up thinking that the world worked a certain way. Even though I've expanded some of my definitions since I found out about witches, there are still some things that I automatically believe or assume and it freaks me out a little when they turn out not to be like I thought they were." Paul fought to explain.
"So what bothers you about me being a sprite?" Lex asked cautiously.
"Nothing. I mean, I'm not bothered at all by that part of it." Paul said hurriedly.
"Then what part does bother you?" Lex asked curiously.
"That you didn't exist last week. I think that part bothers me the most." Paul said thoughtfully.
"Do you remember when you first met G?" Lex asked cautiously.
"Yeah. Mom and I walked through the house for what seemed like forever, and when we finally got to the room where G was, he gave us a message from Dad." Paul said slowly as he fought to remember.
"It was the green parlor. G was decoding an ancient grimoire in hopes that the old style of magic would inspire him in his sorcery." Lex said very carefully.
"Are you remembering G's memories or did you exist to some degree as part of him?" Paul asked carefully.
"That's a hard question. I don't recall having a separate sense of 'self' when I think back to those times, but I don't feel like I'm remembering someone else's memories either. I was me and I'm still me... I don't know how else to describe it." Lex finished helplessly.
"When you were brought into being in the vinculum and filled to overflowing with magic from the Mikael Spear, you became your own person. We kind of branched off at that point and your life became your own." G carefully explained.
"No. At least, that's not all there is to it." D interjected.
"What are we missing?" G asked curiously.
"You could pour unlimited magic into an illusion for as long as you wanted and it wouldn't ever create a sprite. In fact, if it were that easy, the world would probably be overrun with them." D said frankly.
"Can you just tell us? After the week that we've had, we still have to get home and be ready for school in the morning." Paul asked irritably.
"So you're not going to fight me about going to school?" D asked hopefully.
"No. I understand what you were saying and I agree that this is an opportunity for us to shine... or to stink up the place." Paul finished with a grin.
"If putting high magic into an illusion doesn't make a sprite, what does?" G asked his father firmly.
"A gift from the gods?" D suggested, only half seriously.
The glare that he received from G told him that the flippant answer was not appreciated. However, the grin from Paul assured him that it at least was funny.
"Was it me? Did I somehow actually create a living being?" G asked hesitantly.
"Yes. And take it from someone who's created two, I completely understand why it freaks you out a little." D said simply.
"Two?" G asked in confusion.
"You and your sister. Your creation is no less a miracle than Lex's." D said firmly.
Paul glanced over in time to see the smile that put on Lex's face.
"Okay. If I created Lex, how did I do it?" G asked anxiously.
"You would know better than I would. Although I recall Paul having a theory about it that seemed quite plausible in the heat of the moment." D said thoughtfully.
"What was that?" G asked desperately.
"When Lex became animated, Paul seemed to assume that it was because the flow of magic had awakened a magical ability within you which was something like mine and your grandfather's. He and I both have a gift for animation, and your grandfather can even bestow some basic instincts in the figures that he controls. It makes perfect sense that you could have inherited a variation of that." D explained.
"Maybe. But since I don't know how I did it, I don't know if I could do it again." G said thoughtfully.
"That's probably something that you won't have to worry too much about." D said reluctantly.
"Why not?" G asked cautiously at his father's change in mood.
"Dr. Williams is going to have a look at you when we get back and make a determination about your newfound ability." D said very diplomatically.
"Wait. What's that all about?" Paul asked with concern.
"It's simply a precaution. Dr. Williams will investigate the extent of G's magical ability and his control. Considering that G probably needs access to the Mikael Spear to use that ability again, I doubt that Dr. Williams will do much more than tell you that you need to be sure to be careful if you tap into an enduring source of air magic again."
"But what happens if G has the ability to create someone else like Lex, I mean, right here and now, or whenever he wants?" Paul asked curiously.
"If something like that were to happen, then steps would be taken to mitigate the situation as quickly and simply as possible." D said carefully.
"Which means?" Paul prompted.
"Which means that they would do the same thing to G that they would do to you if you started summoning demons willy-nilly and releasing them into the world unsupervised. Certain things cannot be allowed and we have to accept that reasonable precautions have to be taken." D said gravely.
"So they might curse me to keep me from using that ability or they might counsel me to keep me from wanting to." G quietly explained to his brother.
"Are you in trouble for creating me?" Lex asked cautiously.
"No. I'm glad you were created. You helped us out when we needed it." G quickly reassured him.
"Lex, no one has suggested that you shouldn't have been created or that you should be destroyed. Things like this sometimes happen. If I recall correctly, some air and water elementals have been known to have been created by gods to protect special magical places from mundane people. I also happen to know that elementals can be born to magical parents." D carefully explained.
"Yeah. Dex is an earth elemental and just his mom is a witch. His dad is a mundane human." Paul interjected.
"That's right. And sometimes there's no 'reason' that anyone can discern. Some things just 'are'." D finished somewhat distantly.
"How much longer before we get home?" G asked tiredly.
"Just about five minutes." D said with a smile, then thought to add, "I called your mom from the airport and told her that we were on our way, so she's sure to have a big meal waiting for us when we arrive."
"What should I do while you're eating? Would it be better for me to go somewhere else?" Lex asked anxiously.
"You should go with us, and maybe even try some food if anything looks good to you." D said with a comforting smile at the nervous boy.
"But I don't eat..." Lex said hesitantly.
"You don't have to eat. But you can if you want to. Your body is sustained by magic, so you'll never have to worry about starving." D easily explained.
"I didn't know that." Lex said slowly.
"Neither did I." G quietly added.
"Do you think it's the same for Dex? I mean, he's had dinner with us. Do you think he just eats because he doesn't want to feel different from everyone else?" Paul asked thoughtfully.
"It's hard to say. Up until the time when he fully joined with the earth, he might have needed the food to some degree. Now that he has completely embraced being an oriad, I doubt that he needs to eat food at all, but he probably does it anyway, simply out of habit." D said speculatively.
"Did you tell Beth about me?" Lex asked cautiously.
"No. I feel that this is one of those things that's better explained face-to-face."
* * * * *
"I don't have any suitcases or anything. I don't know what I'm supposed to do." Lex said as they walked through the outside entry into G's room.
"Well, since we're pretty much identical, I'm kinda hoping that you would help me take care of my stuff, since you'll be using it until you get stuff of your own." G said as he led the way through the living room area to his bedroom.
"We're practically the same size, so you can borrow things from me too. Remember, I know how it is. I was the one borrowing things for a while." Paul said warmly to his newest brother.
"I just feel like I'm intruding..." Lex began to say but was interrupted.
"You're not." Paul said firmly, then added more gently, "But I know that there's nothing we can say that will convince you of it. Take it from one who's recently been there, swallow your pride and allow the people around you to help you. If you'll do that, pretty soon you'll get to a point where you can pay people back and validate the trust they had in you."
Lex blinked with surprise, then stammered, "Thank you. I'll try to keep that in mind."
"Boys, your father told me how hungry you are, so dinner will be waiting for you in the dining room whenever you're ready. You can start without us, your father and I will join you in a few minutes." Beth's voice said over the intercom.
"I need to drop my stuff in my room. Don't leave without me." Paul rushed to say.
"We'll go with you." G said reasonably.
* * * * *
Paul set his backpack and luggage just inside his bedroom door, then hurried to join G and Lex in the glass hallway leading back to the main house.
"Do you think Dad told her about Lex yet?" Paul asked as they walked as a group at a deliberate pace.
"Knowing Dad, he'll probably tell her just enough to keep her from being too surprised and everything he says will be technically true but he'll probably hold back from telling her the whole truth until we're all together." G said speculatively.
"So what do you think is the best thing for us to do?" Paul asked cautiously, then glanced at Lex with concern.
"Let Dad handle it. Follow his lead. I bet he's got this planned through the third Tuesday of next month. Anything we try to do to help him will probably just mess things up for him." G finished confidently.
"I can't help but think that my being here is an intrusion. I mean, if they wanted another kid, they've got the room and the money to arrange that." Lex said quietly.
"Sometimes you don't realize what was missing in your life until you have it unexpectedly given to you." Paul said seriously.
"Does that mean that you're happy here?" G asked with a smile.
"Stop fishing for compliments." Paul said with a grin, then took firm hold of G's arm and drew him into a kiss.
Lex stopped and stared with surprise at the abrupt, yet heartfelt action.
As the kiss ended, Paul whispered against G's lips, "That's how happy I am to be here."
"Good to know." G said breathlessly.
"Should I leave you two alone?" Lex asked cautiously.
"No. Besides, the dining room's right up here, on the left." Paul said with an easy grin at him.
"Okay. Thanks. But actually, I think the dining room is down this hallway and to the right." Lex said frankly.
Without a word, G walked between the two and placed a hand on the back of each of their necks.
Gently, yet firmly, he guided both his brothers to turn to the right and step through the doorway.
* * * * *
"Oh, this dining room." Paul said with feigned surprise, almost sounding sincere.
Catching on, Lex quickly said, "Yeah. Everyone knows where this dining room is."
"Hi." A small voice cautiously said from the other side of the room.
"Lucky?! What are you doing here?" G asked with surprise.
"My mom said that I'm going to be living here now." Lucky timidly answered.
"Wow. Okay. I bet there's got to be some kind of story behind that." G said thoughtfully.
"Are you waiting in here for dinner?" Paul asked curiously.
"Yeah. Aunt Beth sent me in here to wait with you while she talks to Uncle D about me being here." Lucky said in a small voice.
"Well, it's probably not going to be as bad as you're thinking." G quietly assured the boy.
"Yeah. I guess Mom had a surprise for D and D had a surprise for Mom, so it kind of works."
"It has symmetry." G said with a nod.
"I'm D's surprise. My name is Lex."
"I know. I remember you from when I visited before."
"Well, I remember you too, because G remembers you."
"Did G make you real?"
"Yeah. We think so, even though none of us are really sure how it happened."
"I just wanted to know so that maybe I could make Zah Zah real too."
"Have you been working on Zah Zah since you left?" G asked with a smile of anticipation.
"Yeah. I worked on some other things too. But Zah Zah's the only one that really does anything. Even though there's more I want to do, I don't think I know all the stuff I need to know to make it work right." Lucky carefully explained.
"Do you think we should start eating or wait for the rents?" Paul asked cautiously.
"I'd rather wait. Even though Mom said to start without them, I'd feel funny about it." G said frankly.
"Well then, maybe Lucky can show us what he's been working on." Paul said to G, then turned his attention to Lucky and continued, "If you wouldn't feel too weird about it."
"Nothing I've done is as good as Lex. The best thing I've done is Zah Zah. I've been working on other stuff too... but I always seem to get stuck before I can finish it." Lucky said timidly.
"We probably don't have much time before the parents get here. Just whip something up so we can see what you've been up to. None of us will probably get much of a chance to show off until after dinner." Paul said encouragingly.
"Can you bring Ginh Zah so she can see what I've been doing?" Lucky asked hopefully.
"How about we wait until after dinner for that? Ginh Zah can't eat our food so it'd be kinda rude to just bring her here for a couple minutes or to make her sit and watch while we eat in front of her." Paul carefully explained.
"That's okay. I'll show her later." Lucky confirmed before starting to cast his spell.
"Nice form there, buddy." Paul said as he recognized the vast increase in Lucky's precision of hand movements.
"Yeah. Good job on the chant, too. Nice and tight." G quietly added, careful not to miss a moment of the spellcasting.
"That's not an illusion, is it?" Lex asked curiously.
"In some sense of the word, I suppose it is. But the weird way Paul and Lucky have combined different magical disciplines, they've made it solid and given it weight." G said absently, whilst keeping the majority of his attention on the spellcasting.
"But you did that with me too, didn't you?" Lex asked curiously.
G was surprised enough by the question that he turned his attention away from Lucky.
"I created an illusion. I rigged it with the mechanics so that I could pose it, and potentially one day animate it. How that empty thing became you is still not entirely clear to me. But what Lucky is doing is something completely different from what I did." G said firmly.
"There! How does she look?" Lucky asked happily.
The disturbing sight of the scribbled and jagged cat-like creature was worse than Paul remembered.
"Oh my God! What did you do to her eyes?" G asked as he took a literal step back.
Paul turned his attention to Zah Zah's face and froze in horror at the freakish sight.
"I thought that I could do better than the little red dots that I was using for eyes. I worked really hard to make her eyes look as real as possible." Lucky carefully explained.
"I think that's the problem." Paul muttered.
"What do you mean?" Lucky asked cautiously.
Paul immediately noticed the younger boy's anxiety.
Deliberately adjusting his voice to sound a bit more relaxed, Paul gently said, "The way her eyes were before, they were a little creepy, but that was mostly in a spooky movie way. Having her eyes looks so real is really disturbing."
"Do you think that I should change it?" Lucky asked cautiously.
"I think that you should reevaluate how you feel about her eyes. If you think she looks better this way than with the red dots, then you should keep them like this." Paul said decisively.
G slowly nodded his agreement, then added, "If you're making something for someone else, then you need to worry about their vision of how it should look. But Zah Zah is your creation. You need to make her look exactly how you see her in your own mind."
"At the same time..." Lex interjected, "...you might also want to consider how you want people to react to your creation. Do you want them to be afraid of her? Do you want them to feel sorry for her? Or do you just want them to take one look at her and be so creeped out that they'll refuse to look at her ever again?"
"I think he's saying that you should consider how Zah Zah feels." G said uncertainly.
"Zah Zah doesn't feel anything." Lucky said simply.
"I didn't used to either." Lex succinctly countered.
Paul thoughtfully nodded, then slowly added, "It doesn't matter how or if Zah Zah feels anything. Right now I think it's more important to look at not only what you're doing and why you're doing it, but also take into account how it looks to others."
"I didn't think you worried about things like that." G said honestly.
"I'm usually not. But what I'm talking about is more general. The people around you judge what kind of person you are by your observable actions. I think it would be irresponsible of us to tell Lucky not to worry about what other people think. If he listens to us, people might think that he's creepy or weird." Paul said frankly.
"So, you think Lucky should try to make Zah Zah look more 'normal'?" G asked cautiously.
"No. I'm saying that Lucky needs to take into account that if he makes Zah Zah look really freaky and disturbing, that people might think that he's too weird to be trusted around non-witches or that he might even need 'professional' help." Paul said seriously.
After a long silent moment Lucky hesitantly asked, "Should I change Zah Zah or not?"
"All we're asking you to do is decide what you really want. If you really like her eyes that way, then you should keep them that way. But if you do, you'll need to realize that there will be people who will think she's too creepy to have around."
"Her eyes really do look human. I don't think I could make such real looking eyes on anything other than a human form." G quietly admitted.
"It's not just that they look real, it's how they react. They blink and shift toward the sound when one of us talks. It's almost like she understands what we're talking about." G said quietly as he carefully studied Zah Zah's eyes.
"You modified the animation that Dad taught you, didn't you?" Paul asked carefully.
"Yeah. Except that I had to tie it together so the eyes wouldn't move in different directions at the same time. After that, I made them look like they were focusing in on whatever Zah Zah was listening to." Lucky explained.
"Still, there's something about the expression in her eyes that makes it seem like she's listening and understanding everything that we say. It's really very chilling." G said gravely.
Lucky made a quick hand gesture and Zah Zah immediately reacted by standing on her hind legs and letting loose a low guttural growl.
G and Lex scrambled back as Paul watched with interest. After a moment to consider, he finally asked, "So you can operate her like a puppet?"
"Yeah." Lucky said, then made another gesture in Zah Zah's direction.
Resting on her haunches, Zah Zah appeared to focus her attention on Paul, then she made a quick swipe in Paul's direction with her jagged claws bared.
"Is she as dangerous as she looks?" G cautiously asked.
"Not really." Lucky admitted, then explained, "I think she could probably hurt someone if she scratched them, but casting the spell to make her move takes so long that anyone could see what I was doing before I did it."
"Yeah. Animation is like that." G easily agreed.
"Maybe you could help him." Paul suggested.
"Actually, Dad's the best one for that. Everything I know about animation, I learned in school. And I've never been able to make most of it work." G said honestly.
"Do you think that I'll be able to learn about illusions and animation?" Lex asked curiously.
G and Paul looked at each other with question for a moment, then Paul slowly said, "In some sense of things, you are an animated illusion."
"Yeah. But more than that, I've also got G's knowledge of Sorcery. If they don't want me learning animation and illusion magic, then I'm going to have to go back and start at the beginning." Lex said frankly.
"I kind of just thought that you'd be in classes like Dex, except that Dex doesn't have any magical ability of his own, just access to a pure element." Paul said thoughtfully.
"I not only have access to the pure element of air, but I also have the training and abilities in Sorcery." Lex said seriously.
"Can you make a copy of yourself?" G asked curiously.
"You mean, like a self-portrait?" Lex asked to confirm.
"Yeah. If you have the same abilities that I do, can you do the most difficult school assignment that I've ever done?" G explained.
"I don't know... I can try." Lex said before starting to form hand signs.
"Can you create another copy of Lex?" Paul cautiously asked G.
"I should be able to. Let's see what happens." G immediately answered.
"While they're doing that, why don't you show me your Zah Zah spell again. I'd like to see if I'll be able to cast it." Paul said warmly to Lucky.
"I take a lot of shortcuts." Lucky warned him.
"That's okay. I can see through most spells. Just go through your spell for me and I'll let you know if I need for you to explain something." Paul assured him.
"Okay." Lucky said with a smile, obviously not only happy to be receiving attention, but also with being taken seriously.
* * * * *
"Sorry to keep you waiting..." D was saying as he hurried into the dining room.
Beth was right behind him, pushing K in her stroller. She stopped at D's side and froze in place, just as D had done.
Silence reigned as eight pairs of eyes looked back at them from the other side of the room.
"Please tell me that we're not adopting all of you." D finally said.
"Just a few of us." Paul said from the group.
"What's going on in here?" Beth asked as she pushed the stroller past her husband to her customary place at the table.
"Lex and G kinda challenged each other to make copies of themselves while Lucky and I were making Zah Zahs." Paul answered.
"Well, anyone who's interested in having dinner had better take a seat." Beth said simply.
Two of the Gs and both Zah Zahs immediately disappeared in little puffs and poofs.
D smiled with appreciation at his wife's ability to handle such an unexpected situation.
To Be Continued...
Oh my, what an interesting addition to our story, or stories,
It's nice that it hasn't taken as long between chapters/stories as it sometimes has.
I really am enjoying getting to know Lex better. I was really glad to know that Lex wasn't just going to vanish into thin air. It's also nice to see more of Lucky. I think he and the boys will become even closer and that now maybe Lucky can have a good amount of good luck for a change.
I hope the next chapter will come along soon.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher