"I thought I was getting chicken wings, I ended up with a whole chicken." G said in wonder.
"If it's too much, ask Talbot to wrap what's left so that you can save some for later." Agent Fastbeck suggested.
After a bite, G said past a mouthful of food, "Don't worry about it. This is so good I might be able to eat two whole chickens of it."
"How about everyone else? Did you get what you expected?" Agent Fastbeck asked as he looked around.
"I believe that this may be the biggest, thickest steak that I've ever been served." Mr. Hansen said as he stared at his plate in awe.
"Give it a try. I'll bet that it's probably the tenderest, too." Agent Fastbeck said with a smile.
"I'm not sure what this is that I'm eating, but it's really good." Filipe said from beside Agent Roberts.
"Just as long as you're enjoying it." Agent Roberts said fondly.
"I've had that before. It's cabbage rolls that have been baked into kind of a casserole. The name is completely unpronounceable, but it tastes like heaven."
"Yeah." Filipe easily agreed.
"So Paul, were you and Corabeth able to come up with anything in regard to your water-based wall of force?" Miss Oaken asked between bites of food.
"I think so. What do you think of this?" Paul asked as he made a quick, complicated gesture.
"Was that a water based alchemy transformation?" Miss Oaken asked slowly.
"Yeah. Try to take another bite of your food." Paul said simply.
Agent Roberts watched as Miss Oaken attempted to move her fork toward her plate, but was apparently prevented.
"I used alchemy to change the humidity in the air and some of Corabeth's 'wall of force' to make that changed humidity into an invisible barrier." Paul happily explained.
"It's not like a wall of force though. This is soft, like a pillow." Miss Oaken said with surprise.
"Yeah. Because of the force dynamics involved, I can't make it completely solid. But I've been thinking about it and I'm not sure that I need to. Anything that tried to fly or shoot into my barrier would bounce off. I'm pretty sure that it would stop anyone who tried to 'push' through it, too." Paul said seriously as he made a quick gesture and Miss Oaken was once again able to reach her food.
"After seeing how Paul did that, I worked on my 'wall of force' and was able to make it softer. I'd never thought of doing something like that before. I was always trying to make it stronger." Corabeth said happily.
"How do you think this will work in the Southseid barrier?" Professor Everstone asked curiously.
"It solves a few of our problems. Anyone attacking with drones or guns wouldn't be able to fire in from outside. But I still need to find something to defeat motion sensors, lasers and night vision." Paul said honestly.
"If you want to defeat motion sensors, you might look at getting rid of their shadows." Agent Roberts said simply.
"I hadn't thought of that." Paul muttered in surprise, then fell silent as he absently continued to eat his food.
Agent Roberts was fascinated by the expressions that flitted across Paul's face as he contemplated the new idea.
* * * * *
Many of the others around the table had started their own conversations, discussing detailed plans of what they were going to do to improve their barriers. However, Paul was silent and seemed to be unaware of the others around him.
As Agent Roberts continued to watch, Paul suddenly seemed to have an idea and reached into the air beside him and his arm seemed to disappear past the elbow.
"Mom would freak if she saw you doing that in public." G told his brother with a grin.
"I'm careful about who I do it in front of, but all of us are here because we're the best and we're being asked to give it our all. Now's not the time for me to be hiding my abilities." Paul said as he seemed to be searching for something with his missing hand.
"Pray tell, what are you doing Paul?" Professor Everstone asked cautiously.
"Agent Roberts may have just solved one of my problems, but I need something from my locker to make sure that it can work." Paul said as his hand came into view with a textbook in it.
"I wasn't aware that you had progressed to the level of making traversable portals." Professor Everstone said cautiously.
"Yeah. Well, I'm not quite there yet. I can only make little ones and only if I've left a spell diagram at the other end to link up to." Paul said as he opened his textbook and began searching for the section that he wanted.
"Even so, that's quite an achievement." Professor Everstone said frankly.
"Not really. An achievement takes hard work. This is just a talent that's strong in my family." Paul said absently as he tried to find what he was looking for.
"So, if I'm understanding correctly, you have a spell diagram inside your locker at school that you can link up to so that you have access to your school books no matter where you are?" Miss Oaken asked curiously.
"Yeah. But it's not as nerdy as it sounds. I just don't like having to go halfway across the school to trade out books between classes." Paul said distractedly as he kept the majority of his attention on his textbook.
Everyone seemed to be as curious as Agent Roberts as to what Paul was reading.
"You were right, Agent Roberts." Paul said suddenly as he looked up from his book.
"Yeah. At first I was trying to think of how to block someone who was using advanced technology from being able to see through the barrier. But the only things I could come up with would cause more problems than they would solve, mostly by leaving everyone inside the barrier in the dark. But when you said that thing about losing your shadow, it got me to thinking. Rather than trying to block the visible spectrum, I could tweak the enchantment on the 'wall of force' to magically diffuse the perception of shadows from within the barrier. That shouldn't do anything at all to the people inside, but someone looking in from outside with technology would only see emptiness because from a magical standpoint everything that they would be looking at would be considered 'reflections'." Paul carefully explained.
"What did you need to look up, if you don't mind me asking?" Mr. Hansen asked curiously.
"I just wanted to confirm that the alchemy spells that I'd need to use could be done completely with elemental water. I figured that with all the reflection and refraction properties in water spells that I should be able to magically disperse reflections, but I wasn't one hundred percent sure."
"So it appears that you've been able to come up with effective shielding for the Southseid barrier." Professor Everstone said with a slight smile.
"Yes sir. It looks like I have." Paul said timidly.
"That's an achievement." G declared with pride for his brother.
"Yeah. It is." Paul reluctantly agreed.
* * * * *
As Agent Roberts was enjoying his meal, he kept watch on all the kids to see how they were dealing with things.
Paul and G seemed to be thriving on being given new challenges to face, not that he was surprised by the revelation. He had already determined that both boys were brilliant, in different ways. Beyond that, they both had the drive to excel, not to show off their impressive abilities but to push themselves to do their absolute best.
Corabeth appeared to be rising to the occasion and it was a beautiful thing to see. It was almost like, right before his eyes, he could see her opening herself up to take her first tentative steps into the adult world of maturity and responsibility on her own terms.
Zanner, while not noticeably developing in maturity, seemed to be more confident in himself and had become more willing to take risks. Professor Everstone's words earlier seem to have driven home the point that Zanner had some measure of control of the situation and by extension, would bear responsibility for the consequences of his decisions. To his credit, Zanner didn't appear to be shying away from the responsibility, as one might expect. By all appearances he was devoting his full attention to every detail of what was going on so that he would be prepared to take action when called upon to do so.
Agent Roberts looked from Dex to Filipe on either side of him and although both had sought the additional security of sitting next to him, neither appeared to be having a problem dealing with the stress of the responsibilities being placed on them. After consideration, Agent Roberts accepted that people deal with things in their own ways. If the boys felt more secure being near him, he had no problem going along with it.
"Before we proceed, does anyone have any concerns of an astrological nature with what we're planning to do?" Professor Everstone asked, drawing all attention to him.
After a long pause, Mr. Hansen said, "I tend to keep watch on the astrological state in the event that it might impact the work of my students. The only astrological influence that I'm aware of at this time is that Mars is in retrograde, which might negatively impact fire based spells. But to my knowledge, that shouldn't have any effect on anything that we've been planning. Everything else should be reasonably stable."
"Thank you. It's always good to be aware of the prevailing climate before embarking on a challenging spelling project." Professor Everstone said soberly.
"Even though Mars is in retrograde, the demonic realms are unusually close to this plane right now. So if anyone needs fire, I should be able to help you out." Paul said frankly.
"Yes, regarding that, I don't recall if you've been notified. We have decided to enact a 'Holy Ground' protection spell within the Nevermore barrier to serve as an additional layer of defense, should the pocket dimension be deactivated or breached. You will need to keep in mind that the entire Nevermore colony will be toxic to you from this point forward." Professor Everstone warned.
"Actually, I had assumed that it was toxic to me before, since the Nephilim live there. But either way, I'll be sure to steer clear of it."
"Miss Oaken, at this point in time, what do you think you would need to do the restoration and upgrade to the Brynn barrier?"
"Time. I'd like to go through the spells that Corabeth and G are intending to use to be sure that they're all stable and have the capacity to be enduring."
"But other than the time to develop your strategy and spells, do you believe that you have all else that you will need?"
"Yes. I'm certain of it. The barrier is in good shape to begin with. We'll just be adding a few touches here and there to augment what's already there. The only thing I might be worried about would be having enough magical energy to fuel such a big spell. But I think with the Spear of Mikael, that won't be a problem."
"Very good. Mr. Hansen, what do you feel that you're going to need to perform the proposed modifications to the Nevermore barrier?" Professor Everstone asked seriously.
"Luck." Mr. Hansen said with a weary chuckle, then explained, "While I couldn't possibly create a pocket of folded space anywhere near as big as the one that we'll be dealing with, I have the knowledge and skill to suspend existing folded space and bring Nevermore fully into our reality. The only problem I foresee is that while I have the knowledge and skills, I don't have the raw magical energy."
"I had assumed that you would link to the power of the earth element through Dexter." Professor Everstone said simply.
"I should be able to do that, but I'm reluctant to put that much stress on Dex right before Zanner needs to draw on him heavily to work on the barrier. If there's another way, I'd like to have Dex fresh and ready to go when Zanner needs him."
"Before we discuss other considerations, perhaps we should verify that your assumptions are correct." Professor Everstone said seriously, then turned to Dex and asked, "What say you, young Mr. Mulryan?"
"I can do this. Mr. Hansen can take what he needs and if it starts to be too much, I can stop him. It's not my magic that they're going to be drawing, it's the earth's. I'm strong enough to control the flow of magic through the bond." Dex said confidently.
"Yes. From what I have observed, I believe that you are." Professor Everstone said sincerely.
"That being the case, the only other obstacle I can foresee is the blessing of the land within the barrier. If Archdruid Highley is unwilling or unable to bless the land, we have no contingency plan." Mr. Hansen said seriously.
"Actually, unless I am mistaken, Agent Roberts may be the key to overcoming that obstacle." Professor Everstone said simply.
"There's no way that I could do a blessing." Agent Roberts quickly interjected.
"With what you've been able to accomplish thus far, I wouldn't put it past you. But I was actually referring to the satellite phone that you mentioned earlier. If you find that Archdruid Highley is unable or unwilling to confer his blessing, you can call Mr. Darroch and request the necessary personnel to complete your mission."
"Yes. Of course." Agent Roberts agreed.
"As to the Southseid barrier, I have the utmost confidence that we will be able to make the necessary adjustments to protect the Wudewas people for years to come." Professor Everstone said firmly.
"Professor, I just want to be clear on one point." Miss Oaken said into the silence that followed.
"What would that be?"
"Are you expecting the students to perform the upgrades with our supervision or are we supposed to participate?"
"From this point forward I expect each group to act autonomously to complete their assigned task. While I am certain that this has been a learning experience for all involved, the most important thing from here on out is to complete our mission and protect these vulnerable people to the absolute best of our abilities."
"Thank you Professor. That will allow us a few more options." Miss Oaken said thoughtfully.
"Do you want me to go with the Brynn team or would it be better if I made myself scarce?" Agent Fastbeck asked cautiously.
"As valuable as I'm sure you would be, we wouldn't want to run the risk of your active curse accidentally interacting with whatever spells are being used. I don't believe there would be any danger if you remained here, in Brynnhollow, but I would advise against you being anywhere near any of the teams while they were casting their spells. Of course, I suppose it goes without saying that there would be the least chance of an interaction if you returned to Waxell until we had completed our tasks."
"The truth is, I should be in the office today anyway." Agent Fastbeck said simply.
"I know that you'd rather be in the thick of things, but speaking strictly for myself, it'll be good to know that you'll be a phone call away if we run into something unexpected and need some FBI intervention." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"Don't worry Shawn. I've got your back." Agent Fastbeck assured him.
"It sounds like we're going to be leaving right away to work on the barriers. Where are we supposed to meet when we've finished?" Mr. Hansen asked curiously.
"While I suppose that we could theoretically complete our work on all three barriers in one evening, more realistically, it's probably going to take a matter of days. That being the case, as we make our plans, we should all include break points in the process where we can stop and rest, then return to tackle the next part of our projects." Professor Everstone said thoughtfully.
"Considering the scale of what we're going to attempt, I think that's probably a good idea." Miss Oaken interjected.
"So, when we've decided that we need a break, where do we meet up?" Mr. Hansen asked again.
"Unless Agent Roberts objects, we could meet at his house." Professor Everstone said simply.
"I don't mind, but I only have the one key..." Agent Roberts began to warn them.
"I don't think that will be a problem for any of us." Filipe said frankly from his side.
"Except for Paul." G chuckled.
Paul shot his brother a dark look, but didn't dispute his words.
"Don't worry Paul, I'll be with you so you won't be left stuck outside." Filipe assured him.
Agent Roberts couldn't help but smile at the playful banter between good friends.
As he smiled, the image of another smile filled his mind's eye and he felt the slightest ache in his heart.
* * * * *
Once a few more details had been ironed out, Professor Everstone stood and said, "I believe that we've done all that we can collectively. Before we begin our separate undertakings, I want to remind all present not to do anything to in any way alter the primary elemental properties of any of the barriers. The magically augmented elements were no doubt established for a very good reason. All we're here to do is update the barriers to make them effective in the modern age."
"Remember, the village elders want to be brought up-to-date on what you intend to do to the Brynn barrier." Agent Fastbeck reminded him.
"If you wouldn't mind, would you go with Miss Oaken's group to talk to the village elders? Since she and the students will be doing the upgrade, they will be able to answer questions most effectively." Professor Everstone said seriously.
"Do you want to wait for us here until we're done talking to the elders? You're going to need me to guide you back to the cars." Agent Fastbeck said cautiously.
"No. I would rather not wait if there's another choice."
"I could try to find someone to guide you. Mason's place is just down the street and he should be able to spare someone for a few hours." Agent Fastbeck said seriously.
Since it seemed that they had something vaguely resembling a plan, everyone got up from the table and seemed to be hovering, waiting for Professor Everstone to lead the way.
* * * * *
When the group began to funnel out of the tavern onto the wood-plank sidewalk, they were immediately approached by three people.
Agent Roberts recognized one of them as being Cain and assumed that the nearly identical boy at his side was his twin brother, Deimos.
"Ares! How are you doing? It's good to see you." Agent Fastbeck said as he shook the man's hand firmly.
"It's nice to see you too, Conrad." The man responded, then continued, "We received your message that Paul and G were going to be visiting today, so I brought the boys into town."
"Everyone, this is Ares Brynner and his sons, Cain and Deimos." Agent Fastbeck said with a smile.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Brynner. I'm afraid that we have some rather urgent business to attend to at the moment, but hopefully we will have a chance to stop and chat later." Professor Everstone said firmly, leaving no doubt that he wouldn't allow them to be diverted from their task.
"The professor's right, we need to be going right now, but if you have the time, maybe you could help us out with something." Agent Fastbeck asked hopefully.
Agent Roberts was curious as to what Agent Fastbeck might have in mind.
"Sure. I kind of dropped everything when we heard that G and Paul were going to be here. What can we do to help?"
"Like the professor said, we've got some urgent business to take care of. If you wouldn't mind it, I was hoping that maybe you could lead a group of people back to the cars while the rest of us talk to Carn and the elders." Agent Fastbeck said hopefully.
"Yes. Of course. I'd be happy to help you." Ares said pleasantly.
"Thank you Ares. The rest of us will be along as soon as we're done with our talk." Agent Fastbeck assured him.
"What's going on?" Ares asked curiously.
"Too much to tell right now. As soon as we've got everything settled, I'll tell you as much as I'm able." Agent Fastbeck promised.
"Which I'm guessing won't be much." Ares chuckled, then continued, "If this is urgent, then we should be going."
"G. If this gets to be too much for you, give it to Miss Oaken for a bit." Professor Everstone said as he handed The Spear of Mikael to G.
"I think I can handle it." G assured him earnestly.
"Dad, can I stay here with G?" Cain asked Ares hopefully.
"Sure. Stay with his group and I'll meet you at the parking lot when you get there." Ares said with a smile.
Agent Roberts noticed that Deimos and Paul were holding their own hushed conversation and had no doubt that Cain's twin would be accompanying them on their journey.
Ares gave his son a quick hug around the shoulders, then looked to the group and said, "If everyone's ready, let's go."
* * * * *
Paul and Deimos quietly talked nonstop as the group left the town and headed back the way they arrived, with Ares leading the way.
Agent Roberts noticed that he had Dex and Filipe on either side of him as he walked.
"How are you guys doing?" Agent Roberts asked carefully.
"I'm a little bit scared. I know that Paul is going to be doing the biggest part of the spell, but I don't know how I'll handle that much magic all at once." Filipe said honestly.
"You'll have Professor Everstone there to watch over things. He's been watching everything that everyone has been doing so far. If he tells you that you can do it, then listen to him and trust what he says." Agent Roberts said seriously.
"Yeah. I believe that, but I'm still scared."
"Being scared causes you to be careful and sure of what you're doing. That's not a bad thing. Be scared. Just don't let it stop you from doing what needs to be done."
"Yeah. I'll remember that." Filipe assured him.
"How about you, Dex? How are you doing?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"I think I'm okay. With everything we've done so far, I've gotten used to tapping into the earth and controlling the flow of magic. Even though it might get scary when we use a lot of magic at once, I'm not scared of getting hurt; only of messing something up and making the spells go wrong."
"Don't worry. You've got this. I'll be right there with you if you need anything." Agent Roberts said seriously.
"Thanks. That makes me feel better."
* * * * *
After walking a while in comfortable silence, Dex quietly asked, "Agent Roberts?"
"Ever since you lost your shadow I've noticed that you've been distracted. Not all the time, but now and then I see it in your eyes that something's on your mind."
"I suppose that's true."
"Is it something bad? Is there anything I can do to help?"
"It's nothing to worry about. In fact, losing my shadow for a while might end up being a good thing."
"So it's not hurting you?"
"No. It's made me realize that I've been putting off developing meaningful relationships with people. It's made me face the fact that I've never risked my heart."
"Are you talking about falling in love?"
"Yes. Well, maybe. Eventually. Love doesn't spring fully formed from nothing. First you have to take a chance and let someone get close to you. If that works out, then many steps later love may eventually follow."
"Is there someone that you're in love with?"
"No. Not yet." Agent Roberts admitted, then slowly added, "But there's someone I like and I'm attracted to. I think that if we had the chance to spend some time together and get to know each other that maybe it could end up being something more."
"But your shadow was keeping you from talking about how you feel?" Dex asked uncertainly.
"Up to now I always ignored it when I was attracted to someone. I just hid the feelings away so that I could focus on more important things. But when Milo stole my shadow, he took away my hiding place and I had to feel my feelings."
"What's going to happen when you get your shadow back?"
"I hope that I'll have the courage to face my feelings and do something about them." Agent Roberts said honestly.
"Be scared. Just don't let it stop you from doing what needs to be done." Filipe said from Agent Roberts' other side.
"It's no fair using my own words against me." Agent Roberts said to him with a grin.
"Are you going to have the guts to at least take a chance?" Filipe asked challengingly.
"I guess I don't have much of a choice in the matter, that is, if I want to be able to look you in the eyes next time we meet."
"Okay." Filipe said seriously, then added a little more quietly, "We just want for you to have a shot at being happy."
"I want that for you too, both of you. Don't make my mistake and think that your school or your job is more important than your own life. Find a balance. Too much of any one thing will lead you to an unhappy place."
That having been said, Agent Roberts continued to walk with the boys at his sides. He had a slight smile on his face as he remembered a beautiful smile, made even more beautiful for the fact that it was just for him.
* * * * *
Upon reaching the parking lot, Ares said, "This is as far as I go."
"Are you going to be alright here on your own?" Agent Roberts asked with concern.
"We'll be fine. If we get too bored either Deimos or I can change and fly back into town to see what's keeping them." Ares said simply.
Upon hearing his name, Deimos ran up to his father and excitedly asked, "Can I show Paul? No one here will care if I change in front of them."
Ares glanced around the group to assess the mood, then said, "Okay. But don't take too long. They need to be leaving."
Upon receiving his father's approval, Deimos quickly called out, "Paul! Look!"
Agent Roberts was interested to see what had the young teenage boy so excited.
Deimos began performing the gestures that Agent Roberts had come to associate with spellcasting.
"Be careful! You're going to blow yourself up!" Paul said in sudden panic.
"Just watch!" Deimos called in return as he continued unabated.
Agent Roberts glanced at Paul and could see the genuine concern for his younger friend.
As Agent Roberts turned his attention back to Deimos, he was surprised to see a sudden burst of fire erupt, completely engulfing the boy.
Although Agent Roberts wanted to react, he was at a loss for what to do. None of his military or FBI training had prepared him for what to do when someone spontaneously combusted right in front of him.
Before he could formulate a course of action, a large scaled reptile emerged from the flames, spreading its wings wide.
There was a long moment of silence that followed, then Paul reluctantly said, "Okay Deimos, you got me. That was impressive."
Agent Roberts couldn't help but agree.
The monster before him, which could only be defined as a 'dragon', began to shrink at the same time as the fire extinguished itself.
Within a minute, Deimos was standing before them looking perfectly normal.
"How did you do that with the fire and not burn yourself up or burn up your clothes?" Paul asked curiously.
"I just did the clothes changing spell before I did the fire spell. Right before I let the fire spell loose, I let go of my transformation."
"I guess there's an advantage to having a transformation ability that's always primed and ready to go off." Paul said frankly.
"Jim and Cain have both been able to do the clothes changing spell you showed us. Tannis can't do it yet, but I think that if he keeps trying that he's going to be able to before too long."
"It seems that despite being told that they don't have access to their witchcraft, the boys have decided to ignore that and practice the spells they want to use anyway." Ares said frankly.
"I got my fire from Agent Fastbeck's curse on me. That was my one big wish. But I don't know if the clothes spell counted as part of my wish or if you can get past the curse if you work hard enough and keep at it." Deimos said honestly.
"I can't speak for the entire history of Brynnhollow, but from what I've personally witnessed, not too many people have really tried to overcome the limitation of their magical powers. The witches on the mountain are the only ones I'm aware of; they have been able to make at least some of their magic work." Ares said thoughtfully.
"What are the chances that the curse wasn't to limit your magic but instead, your interest in learning magic?" Agent Roberts asked curiously.
"There is a magical limit, without a doubt. As far as the rest... who knows? Maybe there is some sort of compulsion that stifles the desire to learn the craft." Ares conceded.
"Perhaps we can ponder such mysteries once our work with the barriers has been completed." Professor Everstone suggested.
"Go ahead. We'll wait here for Cain to arrive." Ares assured them.
"Be scared, but do it anyway." Filipe said to Agent Roberts seriously.
"You too." Agent Roberts responded with a smile, then gave Filipe a quick firm hug before releasing him.
Agent Roberts watched as Professor Everstone, Paul and Filipe walked to Professor Everstone's rental car and Mr. Bentley Brown walked to his own car.
"Are you ready?" Mr. Hansen asked as he approached with Zanner at his side.
"I'm not sure exactly what you expect me to do, but whatever it is, I'm ready to do it." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"Then let's do it. Boys, you'll be riding with me so that we can finalize our plans." Mr. Hansen said seriously.
Dex turned to Agent Roberts and looked him in the eyes before saying, "Be scared."
Agent Roberts smiled at the words and responded, "Do it anyway."
With that being said, Dex walked with Zanner and Mr. Hansen to Mr. Hansen's rental car.
Agent Roberts walked to his own car as he seriously contemplated just what part he was supposed to play in the upcoming events.
To Be Continued...
Editor's Notes: Well, it looks as though some barriers are going to get reinforced. It's so cool to see everyone cooperating and enhancing what others can do.
No one seems to be selfish, or antagonistic, even Mr. Bentley Brown seems to have mellowed a bit. I love the line, "Be scared, but do it."
That sends chills down my back.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Please sir, may I have some more?
Author's Note: This book is broken into three sections. The next section is titled 'Nevermore'.