"I don't believe we've met." Mr. Ingram said as he attempted to shelter himself under his broken umbrella.
"Not formally, although I'm beginning to feel as though I know you. Fancy seeing you out here in the middle of nowhere after being on the same plane just this morning. Saying it's a small world doesn't begin to cover it." Agent Roberts said knowingly as he glanced around to see that the rest of the group had stopped and were gathered behind him.
"I suppose not." Mr. Ingram said anxiously.
"What do you want?" Agent Roberts asked impatiently, wanting to cut straight to the point.
"Please calm down. I'm not here to cause you difficulty..." Mr. Ingram said in a slow, soothing voice.
"Then why are you here?" Agent Roberts asked abruptly, letting it be known that he wasn't in the mood to be toyed with.
"There are many things that I'm not at liberty to discuss. In the near future, there is going to be an event that will require us to take specific action..."
"That wasn't anything like an answer to my question, was it?"
"Please, you won't understand the necessity of what we're doing unless you understand the stakes involved. There is a calamity on the horizon and it has been foretold that two of the children travelling with your group will be instrumental in preventing it."
"How is your calamity our problem?"
"I understand your reluctance to believe the importance of what we're telling you, but this is the one and only action we can take that has been foreseen to lead to a favorable future. There is no other avenue open to us."
"Fine. What's this big threat that you're facing?" Agent Roberts asked impatiently.
"That's difficult to explain."
"Too bad. From what you've told us so far, if we do nothing, you'll be destroyed. Right at this moment, I'm not seeing that as being a bad thing. This is your one and only chance to convince me otherwise." Agent Roberts said, stating it as a simple fact.
"We won't be destroyed, but those we strive to protect may be lost forever." Mr. Ingram said carefully, obviously trying not to reveal too much.
"Again, how is this our problem?" Agent Roberts demanded coldly.
"Perhaps we could go somewhere a bit less rainy to continue this conversation." Mr. Ingram suggested as he wiped the rain from his face that his ineffective umbrella hadn't protected him from.
"If you want to go, just go ahead and leave. While you're at it, you can stop following us and being creepy around the kids, too." Agent Roberts said firmly.
"No. This is too important." Mr. Ingram said gravely.
"If you really believe that, then why don't you tell us what the hell you're talking about?" Agent Roberts asked impatiently, seeming to be on the edge of losing his temper.
"There are things that I don't know and others that I am not at liberty to discuss. We were sent to find the two boys and bring them back with us..." Mr. Ingram began to say, but was interrupted again.
"Hold that thought. Before we go any further, I think that I should probably let you know that I'm Agent Shawn Roberts with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. So naturally I'm going to assume that when you talk about bringing the boys back with you, that you're meaning with the approval and consent of those legally acting as their guardians."
"Yes. Of course." Mr. Ingram stammered, obviously taken off-guard at discovering Agent Roberts' identity.
"Good. I thought that's what you meant." Agent Roberts said calmly, then continued by asking, "Who sent you?"
"Archdruid Highley..." Mr. Ingram answered. Although it appeared for a moment that he was going to say more, in the end he seemed to think better of it.
"I have no idea who that is, but why does he want the kids?" Agent Roberts asked firmly.
"The Archdruid has been blessed with the gift of second sight. He foresaw your arrival and arranged for me to be on your flight. When my mission failed..." Mr. Ingram started to explain.
"Why does he want the kids!?" Agent Roberts interrupted.
"He has the gift of visions and foretelling the future..." Mr. Ingram began again.
"Am I not speaking your language? Answer my question!" Agent Roberts barked.
"I don't know, alright?" Mr. Ingram snapped in return, breaking through the facade of calm that he had been trying to affect. "Jarvis told me that he had a vision of two boys, closer than brothers, one with hair white as snow, the other red like copper in the noonday sun. He said that they could restore the integrity of the protectorate before it's too late... he told us where and when to find you."
"Agent Roberts, could you hold on for a minute?" A voice interrupted from nearby.
"I'm kind of busy right now, Paul." Agent Roberts said without turning his gaze away from Mr. Ingram or his female companion.
Paul leaned in closer and quietly said, "I know, but this could be important. It sounds to me like he might be talking about another barrier."
"No. Your father would have told us if there were another barrier in the area..." Agent Roberts quietly responded, then paused before amending, "That is, if he had been told."
"Agent Roberts! I don't think what you're seeing is real!" Dex screamed from behind him.
"Huh?" Agent Roberts asked in confusion, fighting not to turn and see what had frightened Dex. Instead he kept his gaze firmly on the two strangers before him.
Agent Roberts felt Filipe take his hand and heard him muttering something that sounded like either poetry or some kind of frenetic chant, being chattered at high speed.
All of a sudden Mr. Ingram and his female companion were no longer standing in front of them. When Agent Roberts turned, he saw that they were now behind him, closing in on Dex and Zanner from opposite directions.
Agent Roberts became aware of a low rumble beneath his feet and before he consciously knew what he was doing, he instinctively pulled Filipe by the hand to dash across the clearing to Dex and Zanner.
"Stop right there!" An unfamiliar and impossibly low voice bellowed, but Agent Roberts didn't slow his pace until he had Zanner and Dex safely protected behind him, shielded by his own body.
The trembling of the earth seemed to intensify as cracks formed in the ground all around them and flames began to erupt.
"Professor. What do you want me to do to them?" The low growling voice demanded.
Secure in the knowledge that Dex and Zanner were safe, Agent Roberts surveyed the situation and found that an enormous beast with horns, claws and hooves was the one who had asked the question. To top it off, he was stunned to realize that the monster was wearing Paul's clothes.
"Before I answer, I would like to know if G is able to counteract their magic, to prevent another such incident." Professor Everstone asked calmly as he seemed to be surveying the situation.
"No. I'm sorry Professor. This isn't sorcery, at least, not any kind of sorcery that I've ever used." G responded, looking like an evil maniacal clown.
"It's not sorcery, it's a kind of mind control." Filipe supplied from Agent Roberts' side. "Paul and I have studied about this kind of stuff and we know how to counteract it."
"Thank you Filipe. Please do so. We cannot proceed until we have nullified whatever it is that they're able to do to us." Professor Everstone said seriously.
"Paul, if you'll do the light, I'll target it and do the enchantment." Filipe called out from Agent Roberts' side.
"You got it." The demonic horned monster immediately responded, confirming to Agent Roberts that it was, in fact, Paul.
A bright light formed above the clearing and Agent Roberts squinted to keep watch on Mr. Ingram and his companion.
Agent Roberts felt Filipe release his hand and was aware of him making a series of descriptive hand gestures as he began to very precisely say, "Revealing light will burn through falseness and leave only truth. Clear from our sight that which is unreal."
While Agent Roberts was beginning to become accustomed to the harsh light, he could see that others of their group were looking around, trying to interpret their new reality. Mr. Hansen, Miss Oaken, Corabeth and Mr. Bentley Brown apparently hadn't been able to throw off the mind control when they were made aware of it.
Agent Roberts chanced a glance behind him and did a quick visual survey of Dex and Zanner before asking, "Are you guys alright?"
"Yeah. They didn't get too close." Zanner responded quietly, then timidly added, "Thanks for protecting us."
"Thank Dex for speaking up. If he hadn't said something, we might not have known there was a problem until it was too late." Agent Roberts said as he focused on the two strangers before him.
"I think this is the first time I've ever been thankful that magic doesn't work on me." Dex said shakily.
"What are we going to do with them?" G asked as he looked at Mr. Ingram and his companion with disgust.
"Just say the word and I'll send them someplace where their bodies will never be found." The demonic monster that was Paul growled ominously.
"Before you do that, I'm interested to hear what prompted this action of theirs." Professor Everstone said simply, then fixed his gaze on Mr. Ingram.
"What I told you was true. We need the boys. We were told to get them by any means necessary." Mr. Ingram explained as he fought to maintain a facade of calm.
All of a sudden, Mr. Ingram's companion took off running, heading directly for the tree line of the forest.
As suddenly as she had started, she stopped, apparently running into a solid wall, even though nothing appeared to be there.
"You didn't want them leaving, did you?" Corabeth asked cautiously, directing her question to Professor Everstone.
"No. I didn't. Thank you, Corabeth." Professor Everstone said gratefully, then explained, "Although their methods may leave something to be desired, it is possible that their need is genuine. We need to evaluate their claims and decide what action, if any, should be taken."
"Whatever you say, Professor." Agent Roberts reluctantly acceded, then turned to Mr. Ingram and firmly said, "Let's try this again. What do you need Dex and Zanner for?"
"Is Christine going to be alright?" Mr. Ingram asked as he looked at his companion's unmoving body on the ground.
"The sooner you answer our questions, the sooner you can take her to a doctor and find out." Agent Roberts said reasonably.
"No. Despite what they have done or intended to do, we will not withhold medical attention from an injured person." Professor Everstone stated firmly to Agent Roberts, then turned to Mr. Ingram and said more gently, "You may leave and take your companion with you to seek medical attention, but rest assured that you will 'not' be afforded another opportunity to abduct our children."
"Hold on." Miss Oaken said from the wounded woman's side. "She's not hurt that bad. She's just a big faker, probably waiting for another opportunity to attack us or make a run for it."
Professor Everstone slowly nodded, then said to Mr. Ingram, "You are still free to leave, but please realize that in doing so, you may be giving up your only opportunity to explain yourselves and possibly gain some measure of our cooperation."
"Okay. But I don't know how much more I can say than what I've already told you. Jarvis had a vision that the two boys were necessary to restore the protectorate..."
"Pray tell, just what is this protectorate you speak of?" Professor Everstone asked calmly.
Agent Roberts glanced around the gathering to find that everyone was listening intently. He was surprised to find that Dex and Zanner had moved closer to him, only inches away.
On impulse, Agent Roberts put his arms around Dex and Zanner to try and afford them some small measure of comfort and security after the harrowing experience of their near abduction.
"I don't know everything. Jarvis is the only one who has ever been inside. But our order has been given the responsibility of watching over the protectorate and keeping it hidden from the outside world." Mr. Ingram explained.
"It is a barrier! I knew it!" Paul said triumphantly.
"Perhaps." Professor Everstone responded noncommittally, then looked back to Mr. Ingram and said, "Continue."
"Jarvis has the gift of visions. He has foreseen that the protectorate will fall and those inside will then be exposed to the outside world, causing the loss of their sanctuary and their ultimate destruction." Mr. Ingram finished gravely.
"Do you happen to know what impending disaster will cause the destruction of this protectorate of yours?" Professor Everstone asked reasonably.
"Jarvis hasn't told me that. I don't know if he knows. I was only told that the boys were essential. Without them, there's nothing that we can do. It's completely hopeless."
"What would the boys be expected to do if they were to go with you?" Professor Everstone asked carefully.
"You can't be thinking of letting them go!" Agent Roberts asked in astonishment.
"I'm simply trying to determine their intentions, nothing is being decided at this point." Professor Everstone assured him.
"I was told that the boys have to be there when it happens, they have to be physically present. As far as what they're expected to do... I have no idea. That's all that Jarvis told me." Mr. Ingram finished helplessly.
"When would they be expected to do what you're suggesting?" Professor Everstone asked carefully.
"We were told to do it right now. Today. He said that our opportunity would be lost forever if we didn't act immediately." Mr. Ingram implored him to understand.
* * * * *
"Agent Roberts." Paul said quietly in his low rumbling voice.
"What can I do for you Paul?" Agent Roberts asked as he guided Dex, Zanner and Filipe to take a few steps back with him to speak to Paul privately.
"Stop and think about the timing of this. If this guy's telling the truth, then his barrier might be reacting to what we're doing to our barrier." Paul said firmly.
"We haven't done anything yet." Agent Roberts reminded him.
"But we're dealing with someone who can see into the future. What if their barrier and ours are connected somehow? What if by us fixing the Southseid barrier, we cause this guy's barrier to fail?"
"I seem to remember you and G talking about another barrier, surrounding Brynnhollow." Agent Roberts said in a leading tone.
"Yeah. But it's a whole lot different from the Southseid barrier." Paul confirmed.
"If that's the case, then by working on the Southseid barrier, the Brynnhollow barrier might also be at risk." Agent Roberts said slowly.
"Since we just got a good look at the magic inside the Southseid barrier, we need to do the same with the other barrier to see if we can find out if they have anything in common." Paul said carefully.
"If what you're thinking is right, it wouldn't hurt to take a good look at the Brynnhollow barrier too." Agent Roberts said with a slow nod.
"Do you think Professor Everstone will let us?" Paul asked cautiously.
"I think that if you tell him what you just told me, he might. Of course, Professor Everstone has other things to deal with right now. If he can get these people to give up on the idea of abducting Dex and Zanner, then maybe we can work something out with them."
"Even if he gets them to promise, I'm not going to change back to myself until I know for sure that they're not going to pull anymore mind tricks on us."
"Were you able to break out of their mind control on your own?" Filipe asked Paul curiously.
"Yeah. The funny thing is that I thought I was already protected from stuff like that. It should have rebounded on them. But when I heard Dex scream, I let my demon power flare to burn their spell away."
"When I heard him, I did the spell of seeing on me and Agent Roberts." Filipe said quietly.
"When Mrs. Cualla had us do that 'Seeing' charm, I didn't think I'd ever have a practical use for it. But now I might think about making one up so that I can keep it with me."
"I wouldn't mind having one of those myself. Knowing that they can command me to see stuff that's not really there is unnerving to me." Agent Roberts said honestly.
"Filipe and I can make you one. Just remind us later." Paul assured him.
"Paul, I assume that you're the source of these flames." Professor Everstone called in their direction.
"Yes Professor." Paul immediately confessed.
"I think you've made your point. Would you mind?" Professor Everstone asked as he glanced at one of the flaming chasms.
"No, Professor. I wouldn't mind at all." Paul said as he looked around the area at the gaps in the earth, spewing fire.
As he did so, the fractures in the earth seemed to disappear, leaving not so much as a scorch mark in their wake.
"By the way, just so you know, the earthquake wasn't me. I just did the fire." Paul thought to add.
"I made the earthquake." Dex timidly admitted, then amended, "Well, it was the Earth trying to protect me."
"You don't have anything to feel guilty about. You were afraid, but given the situation that you were in, you had every right to be. And as far as the Earth reacting to your fear, I have no problem at all with it. If those people had harmed you in any way, I would have wanted for the Earth to split open and swallow them whole." Agent Roberts said sincerely.
Professor Everstone took a step in the group's direction and quietly said, "Agent Roberts, the drastic actions that these people were willing to take leads me to believe in the veracity of their need. Perhaps we should go with them to investigate this for ourselves."
"Professor, we have no way of knowing who or what will be waiting for us if we go there. They could overpower us and take the boys."
"That is possible. But we can't just stand aside and do nothing. If these people need our help, we should at least consider trying to help them."
"Paul was just saying that, due to the timing of this, that it's possible that the barriers are somehow linked, so if we start messing with the Southseid barrier it might impact theirs and cause the catastrophe that they've predicted."
"I hadn't considered that, but I suppose that it could be possible."
"I was thinking that if that were the case, it could also impact the Brynnhollow barrier. We might want to take a look at that one too."
"Yes. It would be prudent to exercise the appropriate caution if there is even a possibility." Professor Everstone agreed.
"So what do you want to do next?"
"Under normal circumstances, I would agree that it would be too dangerous to go with these people. But I believe that we have enough raw power at our command to repel any attack. So long as we prepare ourselves in advance, we should be able to manage."
"Do you really think it's worth the risk?"
"If what Paul has deduced about the interconnection of the barriers turns out to be true, then it will be necessary for us to discover the properties of all three barriers before we can even begin to address the problems with the Southseid barrier. It would be foolish, and perhaps dangerous, to do otherwise."
"So what do you want to do now?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
Professor Everstone turned away and asked, "Mr. Ingram, was it?"
"Despite what has transpired here, I believe that you may actually need our help. If you would care to lead the way, we will follow you and evaluate that which you call 'The Protectorate'. If we determine that your need is genuine, then we will do what is necessary."
"Will you be bringing the boys?"
"Yes. They are essential to conducting our investigation."
"If the boys are coming, then you don't have anything to worry about from us. Bringing them to Jarvis was our mission."
"Give us a moment to collect ourselves, then you may lead and we will follow."
"I may need a minute. I think Christine might need my help." Mr. Ingram said as he walked to where his companion was still laying on the ground.
* * * * *
"So what are we doing?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"We need to be sure that all those with abilities are ready to use them. It is possible that these people might try to cause some sort of mischief with their mind control or illusions."
"I think that if Filipe rides with me, that we'll be alright. He's already proven that he can throw off their mind tricks."
"I would also like for Dexter and Zanner to ride with you. Given what I've witnessed thus far, I believe that they will feel most secure in your company."
"Okay. But if you don't mind me saying so, I think that you should have Paul riding in your car with you. I think that if the two of you can brainstorm along the way, that you'll probably come up with the best of all possible plans."
"Yes. He has a sharp wit. That coupled with my experience may well yield favorable results."
"What about Mr. Bentley Brown? Is he going to be included in this?"
"He will have to be. Paul won't be able to merge with the water element without 'The Third Grail'. Without Paul's observations, we won't have a complete picture of the state of the barrier. And without fully evaluating this new barrier, we won't be able to work on the Southseid barrier. If we can't work on the Southseid barrier, then there's no point in our being here at all. We might as well go home."
"If you'll talk to Bentley Brown, I'll get everyone else ready to leave."
"Thank you Agent Roberts. When we began this journey, I had no idea how valuable you would be to the project."
"Neither did I." Agent Roberts admitted with a weary smile, then guided the boys to walk with him, to where Mr. Hansen was standing, watching events unfold.
* * * * *
"We're going to be following those two back to their home base."
"Why would we choose to do something like that?" Mr. Hansen asked dubiously.
"It's a long story, but it sounds like they may have a barrier too. Their barrier might be tied to ours, so we need to check it out."
"What do you need for me to do?" Mr. Hansen asked cautiously.
"Be alert and ready to act. If you don't already have something in place to deal with their mind tricks, get Paul and Filipe to help you. From what I gathered, they can make something that will help."
"If Dex wouldn't mind, I'd like to establish a link to the Earth through him. No witch alive could cast a spell strong enough to enchant the entire Earth."
"I'm not sure that they are witches." Filipe said slowly.
"How do you mean?" Agent Roberts asked curiously.
"Didn't you see how they reacted to Paul?"
"No. I was a little preoccupied right then." Agent Roberts reluctantly admitted.
"They couldn't believe what they were seeing. They were freaking out."
"If they're not witches, how could they cast that spell on us?" Zanner asked curiously.
"I don't know. Maybe they're something else, or maybe they are witches, but didn't get to go to school and learn about other kinds of witches and magic." Filipe said speculatively.
"I don't think it really matters at this point." Agent Roberts said firmly, then said to Mr. Hansen, "I'm going to be driving Dex and Zanner. Is that going to mess up your plan to link with him?"
"No. Not at all. I can establish the link now, while we're together. After that, maintaining the link shouldn't be any problem."
"Okay. I need to talk to Miss Oaken and Corabeth before we leave."
"Dex, would you mind if I linked to the power of the Earth through you?"
"I don't mind at all. Go ahead."
* * * * *
"Miss Oaken, we're going to be following those two back to their home base."
"We caught the gist of what's going on while we were keeping an eye on that woman. You don't have to worry about us. Their mind games won't work on us now."
"Good. I know we're all tired, but Professor Everstone feels that it's important for us to evaluate the situation before we do anything more."
"Why do they want Dex and Zanner so bad?" Corabeth asked cautiously.
"I'm not really sure about that except to say that their leader had a vision that Dex and Zanner are the answers to some problems that they're about to have."
"That's the problem with fortune telling, what you see doesn't always mean what you think it does." Miss Oaken said instructively to her pupil.
"It looks like Professor Everstone is about ready to go. Stick close to the group and be on your guard. We have no way of knowing what's going to be facing us when we arrive."
"When we started out, I didn't see the value in having a mundane human included in the party, but I can't deny that you've helped to keep the students motivated and focused. Be sure to take every precaution with your own safety Agent Roberts. We need you."
"All of us are needed." Agent Roberts responded before leading Filipe, Zanner and Dex to where Paul and G were talking.
* * * * *
"Are you aware of what's going on?"
"Yeah. I heard most of it. Am I riding with Professor Everstone this time?"
"Yes. I thought you two might be able to put your heads together and come up with a plan on the way to wherever we're going."
"What about me?" G asked cautiously.
"I think it might be a good idea for you to go with them. From what I gather, you're adept at making illusions. Maybe you can provide some insight into what Mr. Ingram and his friend did to us."
"That wasn't anything like the kind of illusions that I do." G said cautiously.
"Then maybe you can figure out how and why they're different. In fact, it might even be the key to discovering just who and what we're dealing with."
"Yeah. I'll get right on it." G said firmly.
"I'll fill you in on what Filipe and I have studied about. Maybe that will give you some clues." Paul said with a smile at his brother.
Agent Roberts looked around at his entourage, then said, "Let's get ready to go."
* * * * *
"What are we waiting for?" Zanner asked from the back seat.
"I'm not sure. It appears that Mr. Ingram may be having some car trouble." Agent Roberts said speculatively.
"Do you think I should undo the curse that I put on him?" Filipe asked cautiously.
"I thought you just cursed his phone."
"I enchanted the phone to bestow a curse on the person using it. The curse causes the failure of whatever technology that person tries to use." Filipe carefully explained.
"If that's how it works, then I wonder how he drove here to begin with."
"The woman probably drove." Filipe stated simply.
"And Mr. Ingram probably volunteered to drive them back since she has been injured." Agent Roberts said with a nod.
"So, do you want for me to take it off?" Filipe asked uncertainly.
"The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can get some sleep."
"Okay. But just so you know, this is one of Paul's spells. I think this will undo it, but I can't be sure that there won't be anything of it left behind."
"If it's one of Paul's spells, why didn't he cast it himself?"
"He doesn't have any talent for this kind of magic. He studies it, but he can't use it on his own. That's one of the things that I help him with."
"I don't understand. Why does he study that kind of magic if he can't use it?"
"I guess it's because he has really good ideas. Even though he can't cast the spells, if he can understand how they work, he can come up with new ways of using them."
"Whatever you did to Mr. Ingram seems to have worked. There he goes."
* * * * *
"Don't lose him."
"I'm sure that he's more worried about losing us."
"Do you believe him?"
"Yes. I think I do. If he were lying to us, I think he would have come up with a more convincing story."
"But you're still worried that they're going to try to do something, aren't you."
"They've already proven that they'll try to abduct you. But Professor Everstone is right. We need to investigate this to see if it's connected to the Southseid barrier. We won't be able to proceed otherwise."
"Who do you think they have in their colony? Do you think it's more Wudewas?"
"I doubt it. And from the way Mr. Ingram spoke, I don't think he knows either."
"Why do you think this barrier has people watching out for it when the other one was left alone?"
"The Wudewas are perfectly capable of existing in complete isolation. Maybe this group needs something from the outside and has these 'watchers' helping them get it."
"Do you know where we are?" Filipe asked thoughtfully.
"Not exactly, but I have a general idea."
"I'd really like to see it on a map."
"Because since we've been here, I've been hearing about three different barriers. Given the way things like this usually work, I'm guessing that when you look at them on a map, you'll find out that they're in a triangle."
"They'd have to be, wouldn't they?" Zanner asked cautiously.
"How do you mean?" Filipe asked in return.
"Three unique points on a map will either make a triangle or a line. Those are the only two possible outcomes. Isn't that right?" Zanner asked slowly.
"Yes. But I was meaning something more equilateral." Filipe confessed.
"Kind of like the Bermuda triangle?" Agent Roberts guessed.
"Yes. Since we're talking about magical fields of energy, it would make perfect sense if they set it up to be something like that." Filipe said slowly.
"Hold on. Let me guess at what's in the middle of 'The Kentucky Triangle'." Zanner said quickly.
"What's that?" Filipe asked curiously.
"Waxell." Zanner said simply.
After a long thoughtful moment, Agent Roberts quietly said, "Actually, that might explain a few things."
To Be Continued...
Yeah, indeed it might. I hope I can find out what it means. Grin.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher