"So, if I get what you're saying, this is where the spell is going to be cast. Is that right?" Milo cautiously asked.
"The one you're taking part in, yes." Agent Roberts confirmed, then explained, "Somehow in establishing this multi-locational space where we can jump from one barrier to the next, they also created a magical reservoir where the created earth, water and air can be stored and distributed to all three barriers as needed. Casting the spell here has the best chance of working the way we want it to."
"So it's going to be me, Reaper and... who else?" Milo asked hesitantly.
"Paul. You know him, he's the one who sprouted horns when you first met us."
"Oh yes. I remember him. In fact, I have no doubt that I'll be remembering him for years to come... in my nightmares."
"Yep. That's him. Using the demonic power which is his heritage, he's going to help us release the magic of the barriers so that the witches can use that magic to bring all the barriers completely up-to-date."
"Demi-Friend Milo, we are each beings who hold some measure of power. We are being asked to use that power for the good of all. As Magi, I provide knowledge, and so will I do for you."
"Thanks." Milo said appreciatively, then cautiously asked, "But what do I provide?"
"The will for it to be so." Reaper answered simply.
"Hold on. Are you saying that if Milo doesn't want for this to be done... then it won't be? Just like that?" Agent Roberts asked hesitantly.
"Such is the role of Gaspar."
"I think I can see what you mean about wishes." Agent Roberts told Milo frankly.
Milo slowly nodded in response.
"What is Paul going to provide?" Agent Roberts slowly asked.
"The role of the Magi Balthasar is to provide the structure and mechanics of the spell." Reaper said simply.
As soon as the words were spoken, Agent Roberts recalled the diagrams that Paul had made while enchanting his pendant.
"Paul is the perfect person for that. He has some really useful skills." Agent Roberts said sincerely.
"I had hoped it would be so. My knowledge is of what has happened or what should happen. I have no knowledge of what currently is beyond what I have witnessed while in your company." Reaper said frankly.
"There's something I don't understand..." Agent Roberts said thoughtfully.
"Please ask. I am here to impart Arcane knowledge." Reaper said simply.
"To me, it seems like we're missing something. Even though I've never studied magic, I've always heard about using the 'four' elements to make magic work. Since I've been here, I've only heard about three."
"Each element plays a role in the spellcasting. Perhaps the absence of the fourth element plays just as significant a role."
"The only arcane knowledge passed down to me on the subject is that the assembly is of three. There is no role for a fourth."
"I do not have that answer."
"That seems strange. Why wouldn't you have the answer to such an obvious question?"
Reaper appeared to be uncomfortable and finally admitted, "Although we are Magi, we are still not fully trusted. There are certain things we are not told or are not given so that we cannot attempt to gain the power unto ourselves."
Agent Roberts slowly nodded in realization, then said, "It makes sense. That way no one can compel you to allow them access to the power. Each of you are given pieces of the puzzle, but you need to fit them together naturally and deliberately to make anything out of them. And if someone tries to force them together, they won't fit right."
"Thank you, friend-Shawn. You assume the best of us, perhaps better than we assume of ourselves."
"I'm still plenty distrusting. But I can also accept the possibility that people might choose to bring their best selves forward when given a compelling reason to do so."
"I need to learn to do that. Trusting people, I mean. It sounds like a much happier way to be." Milo said quietly.
"Not always. Sometimes people disappoint you. To me, the good days outweigh the bad ones." Agent Roberts said frankly, then thought to add, "I guess it also depends on the type of people you surround yourself with."
"Now that we're here, in the vinculum chamber, what do we need to do next?" Milo asked cautiously.
"I'm leaving that to the practitioners of magic. I got you here, so as far as I'm concerned, my part is done." Agent Roberts announced.
"But what are we supposed to do?" Archdruid Highley asked anxiously.
"You've got Reaper here to tell you 'what' needs to be done. You've got Milo to tell you 'why'. It wouldn't surprise me if Paul showed up in the next few minutes. If he does, then you've got the one who knows 'how'."
"That still doesn't tell us what we need to do next." Milo said seriously.
"Listen. You have everything you need at the moment. I don't need to be here right now. I have a feeling that there's something else that I need to be doing, so I'm going to go start doing it."
"But you don't have any idea what it is?"
"No. In fact, it might be something as simple as me not being here. But whatever it is, I've got to go."
* * * * *
As Agent Roberts stepped through the archway, a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye drew his attention. He looked just in time to see a young teenage boy duck around the corner of the house.
The gazebo was some distance away, so Agent Roberts did his best to move quickly and silently through the tall grass.
Regardless whether he believed the boy to be a threat or not, his training dictated that he draw his weapon and be ready to use it.
Upon reaching the side of the house, he inched his way toward the corner.
When he was just a few steps from the point where he had seen the boy, he stopped and firmly called out, "This is Agent Shawn Roberts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Please step out here where I can see you and identify yourself."
"Don't shoot." The boy said shakily as he stepped out from behind the corner with his hands raised.
The boy couldn't be more than fourteen years old. Agent Roberts determined that the boy posed absolutely no threat at all.
"It's just me and my grandpa." The boy said fearfully.
"Where is your grandfather?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"He's right here. He's got a walker and the tall grass slows him down." The boy explained.
Agent Roberts stepped forward and saw the elderly man slowly approaching, just as his grandson had said.
Agent Roberts finally lowered his weapon, then asked more gently, "What are your names and what are you doing out here?"
"I'm Kirwin Tennyson and this is my Grandpa Stephen."
"I'm guessing that you're relations of Warren's. I talked to him earlier but he didn't say anything about anyone else being out here."
"He called me and told me that you were coming." Grandpa Stephen said as he slowly approached.
"Then you already know that I have permission to be here." Agent Roberts said cautiously.
"Which one are you?"
"You came out of the gazebo just now, didn't you? From all that I've ever heard, only three people can do that. Which one of them are you?"
"Hail and well met, harbinger of the coming age. Those of my bloodline have been given the honor of attending to the Waxell Gate." Stephen said formally.
"Yeah. Thanks." Agent Roberts said slowly, then couldn't help but ask, "But why isn't Warren out here with you?"
"The contract of our bloodkin appears to have skipped a generation with him. I attempted to force him into the role by passing conservatorship of the property over to him, but that didn't accomplish anything good. I'm too old to carry out the duties and Kirwin's still too young, but even so, when the call came, we answered it. Maybe between us we'll be able to manage."
Agent Roberts tentatively accepted the explanation, then cautiously said, "We'll find a way to make it work. But for right now, I need to know what you know about what's going on here. Everyone that I've talked to so far has different pieces of the puzzle. Maybe your piece is the one I need to get all of this to make sense."
"And unto the harbinger I shall say, worry not for the matters of which thou hast no influence. Seek balance. Trust in thine own mind." Steven said distantly.
"Um. Okay. I kinda figured most of that out on my own, but it's good to know that I'm on the right track." Agent Roberts said slowly.
"Do what you need to do and we'll attend to the gate."
"Yeah. I'll do that." Agent Roberts said confidently, then added, "Don't be surprised if the Guardian shows up here pretty soon."
"We will look forward to it." Steven assured him.
"It was nice meeting both of you. I'll probably be seeing you again before long." Agent Roberts said before turning to leave.
* * * * *
Agent Roberts had to fight a little to contain himself to one train of thought.
All the different situations going on around him were attempting to draw his attention simultaneously.
As he drove back to Waxell, he also took the time to quiet himself and find his inner peace.
By the time he arrived in Waxell he had cleared his mind to the point that he was finally able to disregard the extraneous details of the different situations and focus on what was most important.
After swinging by the office and checking in with Hyatt to verify that no one had been needing the services of the FBI so far that day, Agent Roberts moved on to what he was sure was his objective.
Even though it might be argued that the town hall was officially designated as such, he headed toward the actual central hub of Waxell... The Waxell Diner."
* * * * *
"Agent Roberts? How's the camping trip going? How are the kids?" Harry asked pleasantly from behind the lunch counter.
"They're fine. Can you think of anything that I could take back to the camp for them for lunch? You know, kind of like a special treat?"
"Sure. How does a picnic lunch sound? We could load up a few baskets for you and you could just bring them back when you're finished." Harry suggested helpfully.
"Hey! That sounds like a great idea."
"Would you like for me to get you something to eat before I start helping Dad with your order?"
Agent Roberts looked at the shelf behind Harry, then smiled as he said, "How about a slice of apple pie and a cup of coffee?"
"Coming right up." Harry said pleasantly.
"Harry, do you ever feel like you're just in the right place at the right time?" Agent Roberts asked in a distant, philosophical tone as Harry cut the pie.
"Yeah. That's how I feel most of the time." Harry said honestly as he placed the plate of pie and an empty coffee cup in front of Agent Roberts.
"This is where I belong. I'm exactly where I need to be, doing what I need to do. There's nowhere else that I'd rather be." Harry said as he poured a cup of coffee.
"Thanks, Harry. That's exactly what I needed to know."
"Happy to help." Harry said uncertainly before hurrying back to the kitchen.
Agent Roberts slowly looked around the diner as he silently asked himself, 'So who besides me doesn't fit in here?'
Just then, the sound of the door opening drew Agent Roberts' attention.
"Agent Roberts! I haven't seen you in a while. How have you been doing?"
"I've been keeping busy. What have you been up to?"
"I've been working with Mr. Tomlin at the drugstore, sort of as an apprentice. Even though I've completed my training and am a licensed pharmacist, I'm still trying to learn how things are done 'the old way' by an honest-to-God apothecary."
"So are you on a lunch break?"
"No. It's still a bit early for lunch. This is my day off and I was out running a few errands. I thought that since I was in the neighborhood, I'd stop by to see if my mom was here yet."
"I just got here a few minutes ago, but I haven't seen her." Agent Roberts said, then thought to ask, "Do you have a lot of big plans for your day off?"
"Not really. Harlow's at work and I haven't planned anything."
"Yeah, my brother. Did you have something in mind?"
"Yes. But it's going to take at least a few hours. Would you have the time for something like that?"
"What are we going to be doing?"
"You know I'm with the FBI, right?"
"Yes. I knew that."
"I'm working on a case right now..."
"Yeah. I know. Right?" Agent Roberts said with a grin, then continued, "But the thing is, I really need to talk to someone who's outside of everything that's going on to get a steady bead on things."
"I don't know anything about the FBI." Otis slowly warned.
"Good. I don't expect you to." Agent Roberts assured him, then explained, "I need someone who's intelligent, honest, and has a realistic perspective regarding Waxell versus the rest of the world."
"Okay. I get that."
"We can't talk here. Some of what I'd like to tell you is pretty far out there and I'd rather not have other people overhear."
"Okay. We can go back to my place if you want. Harlow's going to be working all day, so no one should interrupt us."
"Actually, there's someplace else that I'd like to go, but before that I have to wait for the picnic baskets Arn and Harry are putting together for the kids."
"I can help you carry them when they're ready."
"Thanks. I'd appreciate that. Do you need to do anything before you go?"
"No. I can catch up with Mom later."
"Want some pie?" Agent Roberts asked as he pointed at his plate with his fork.
"Maybe just a bite."
"Grab a fork." Agent Roberts said as he motioned toward the silverware holders that were easily within reach.
Otis stretched forward and snagged a fork before sitting on the barstool at the breakfast bar beside Agent Roberts.
* * * * *
Agent Roberts and Otis talked and laughed about some of the differences they had noticed between Waxell and the 'outside' world. Before they knew it, Harry came out of the kitchen and announced that the picnic baskets were ready.
After paying for his purchases, Agent Roberts and Otis gathered up the heavily laden baskets and began carrying them toward the FBI office.
"Why didn't you park at the diner?" Otis asked, not complaining, but simply out of curiosity.
"My original plan had been to go to the market and get deli sandwiches made for everyone. I was just going to stop in at the diner to see who was there, in case there was someone who could help me."
"No one can hear us now. So what's going on?"
"I'm sure you've heard the stories about the forest northwest of here..."
"I guess you could say that. My mom is seriously freaked out by that place." Otis interjected.
"Have you ever thought that there might actually be something real behind her superstition?"
"Yeah. But I don't think I have enough to go on to figure out what it is that's spooking people." Otis said frankly, then asked, "Are you and Agent Fastbeck here investigating that urban legend? "
"No. That's not what our case is about, although it does tangentially relate to it." Agent Roberts said, then quickly added, "You can put those down while I unlock the car."
It took Otis a moment to realize that they had arrived behind the FBI office.
He carefully sat down his awkward load while Agent Roberts also unburdened himself, then unlocked the car for them.
* * * * *
Once the picnic baskets were stowed, Agent Roberts and Otis got into the car.
When Agent Roberts didn't immediately start the engine, Otis quietly asked, "What am I about to get into?"
"I guess it depends on how you look at it. It's my hope that you'll see this as being the answer to a lot of questions that you've been carrying around."
"Does it have anything to do with aliens?" Otis asked cautiously.
"No. Not a thing. I promise."
"Alright then. I think that I can handle just about anything else."
"I'm going to remind you that you said that." Agent Roberts said with a grin.
"Is it something dangerous?"
"It has its dangers, but I don't think it's going to be dangerous for you specifically, more in general for all of us who are participating in it."
"But you're going to let me in on the big secret about what's been going on around here?"
"Yes. At least as much of it as I've been able to uncover."
"What will I have to do?"
"Most of what I'm doing right now is based on hunches and instinct. At this point, all I'm going to ask you to do is attend a meeting. If I'm right, your presence is all that's going to be needed to balance things out and make them work out the way they're supposed to."
"Okay. Where are we going right now?"
"The Old Tennyson Place."
"I always thought Warren had just been drawn in by the hype and let his imagination run away with him. Do you mean that that place really is haunted?"
"No. At least, not as far as I know. There are just some strange things going on there that can easily be misinterpreted."
"Oh. Okay. I think I can handle that."
"It might get uncomfortable for you for a few minutes, but once we're past that, it really isn't scary at all."
"Are you waiting for me to say that I'll do it?"
"Yes. I just want to be sure that you have realistic expectations before you commit to doing anything."
"It sounds like I'm about to get some of the answers I've been searching for my whole life. You can count me in."
"You might end up getting more questions than answers, but I think that I can safely promise that no matter how things go, you're in store for some surprises."
"What are we waiting on?"
"I just had to know without a doubt that you were sure." Agent Roberts said as he started the car.
* * * * *
Once they were out on the open road and headed out of town, Otis quietly asked, "Now that I've said that I'll do it, can you tell me more?"
"The Old Tennyson Place appears to be some kind of a dimensional crossroad. I don't know if that somehow makes it so that actual paranormal activity is more prominent. But regardless, the energy surrounding that place fills you with such dread that it's nearly impossible to force yourself to walk through it."
"So the spooky feeling might make you think that something normal was actually something paranormal."
"That's my theory at this point. It's by no means been proven." Agent Roberts confirmed, then continued, "The 'crossroads' is a place where our world intersects with others. You'll just have to see it to really understand... well, to be honest, the more I learn about it, the less I think I really understand it."
"There wouldn't be a crossroad if there weren't people to use it. So far you haven't said anything about the people. Why is that?"
"Mainly because they're not human."
"Remember, you said no aliens."
"No. No aliens. So far there have been bigfoots, faeries, Angels, Demons and witches, but absolutely no aliens... at least, that I'm aware of."
"The crossroads connects our world, a bigfoot sanctuary, the habitat where the children of angels live and a colony of witches."
"So these are like... other worlds? Alternate dimensions?"
"Not exactly, no. Although it seems that those things do exist, the people I'm talking about live in hidden places within our world."
Otis looked at Agent Roberts incredulously, waiting either for explanatory evidence or perhaps a punchline.
"They need our help, Otis. They will be discovered and destroyed if we don't help them upgrade their hiding places so that they can remain hidden from modern technology."
"What can we do?"
"Well, to be honest, my role in all of this seems to have mostly played out. The main thing I'm expected to do at this point is to regulate who goes through the door to the crossroads."
"What am I going to be expected to do?"
"I honestly don't know. What it comes down to is that there are four doors and three people releasing powers into the world. To me it seems like we're going to need a fourth person, even if it's only as a placeholder."
"Releasing power? That sounds like it's going to be dangerous."
"To me it looks like it will be dangerous, but not for those of us in the vinculum chamber."
"Vinculum chamber? What's that?"
"The actual room where the crossroads manifest. In that room we can do things that will impact all the connected colonies."
"But you say it isn't dangerous..."
"I don't think so. It's like the control room. It's a place where we can push buttons and make adjustments but the consequences of our actions will most likely be felt by others, in distant places."
"Is this going to be dangerous for the people of Waxell? What's going to happen to them?"
"Actually, that's another reason that I wanted to include you in this. Everyone else has their own reasons and own stakes on the line, even me. I have too many loyalties to too many people to be able to honestly call myself unbiased in every situation. You can look at all of what's going on and speak on behalf of the people of Waxell, or maybe just speak up for humans in general, depending on the topic at hand."
"But that's all you're expecting me to do?" Otis asked cautiously.
"Listen. I don't know what's going to happen. I can't even be sure that having you there is really necessary. But looking at the big picture and the overall symmetry of things, it seems to me that having you there should bring balance to the entire process and make it that much more likely that things will work out for the best for everyone."
As Agent Roberts turned onto a desolate road, Otis quietly said, "I've heard the stories about The Old Tennyson place all my life. I have never once had a desire to find out if what they said about it was true or not."
"If what they told you was about the creepy feeling, I can tell you for sure that it's true. I've already explained that. It's most likely the subconscious perception of all the energies converging on the area."
"They used to tell ghost stories too, but looking back on those stories as an adult... it's more likely than not that they just made them up so that they wouldn't lose face for running away."
"Despite what it feels like, nothing bad is going to happen to you. But I suppose that I should tell you that as soon as we're inside the vinculum, I have no real clue about what's going to happen next or what's going to be expected of us."
"So you know that we're supposed to be there, but that's it?"
"Saying that I 'know' might be overstating it a bit. But yes, that's essentially true."
"Okay. That makes me feel a little better."
"That I don't know what I'm doing?"
"That you don't have some elaborate plan laid out that I'm going to be expected to complete flawlessly."
"I just expect you to do what you believe is right. Follow your own moral compass and don't worry about what anyone else thinks, not even me. Everyone is going to be acting according to their own motivations."
* * * * *
The ride was certainly not a relaxing one, but looking at it in retrospect, it was absolutely carefree compared to the oppressive feeling of foreboding that assaulted them as they drove onto the property.
"I can't breathe." Otis gasped as he suddenly began to hyperventilate.
"Listen to me. Slow your breathing and try to stay calm."
Otis didn't respond except to lean forward and try to breathe more slowly.
"If we can make it to the back of the house, it'll ease up quite a bit."
Otis nodded that he had heard as he fought against his welling panic.
* * * * *
Agent Roberts skidded his car to a stop alongside Agent Fastbeck's car.
No sooner was the car stopped than he was out and around the car to help Otis out.
"Come on. It's not too far from here. Just power through it and the feeling will let up. I promise."
"I don't know if I can."
"I know that you can." Agent Roberts said firmly, then added more gently, "I've been told that I'm responsible for the people with no voice. The people of Waxell are part of that. What I'm asking is for you to help me by taking on this part of the workload. Do this for the people who you grew up with and care about. Be their voice."
"I... I..." Otis fought to say as he staggered along with Agent Roberts around the side of the building.
"This is it. Just stand right here for a minute and you'll feel better."
It was obviously a struggle for him to do it, but Otis was finally able to get his breathing to return to something resembling normal.
"I thought I was going to suffocate." Otis finally said as he enjoyed a quiet moment of simply standing and breathing in the air.
"That was the worst of it. From here on out it's not as bad."
"Good. I almost didn't make it."
"Is everything alright? Do you need anything?" Kirwin asked as he scrambled up to them in his awkward, coltish way.
"I think we're going to be alright." Agent Roberts assured him, then turned to Otis and asked, "Otis, do you already know Kirwin?"
"I've seen him with his father a few times, but not for a while. He's grown up a lot." Otis said thoughtfully, then asked, "Is he mixed up in this somehow?"
"Kirwin and his grandfather, Steven, watch over the gate to the crossroads."
"Grandpa is teaching me the stuff that I need to know." Kirwin explained to Otis, then turned to Agent Roberts and excitedly asked, "Can we stay and watch you go inside? Grandpa said I had to ask you if it was okay."
"Sure. I don't see any problem with that." Agent Roberts said easily.
"What do we need to do next?" Otis asked cautiously.
"We need to walk into the gazebo over there." Agent Roberts said as he motioned toward it.
"I can't believe how such an innocuous thing can look so absolutely unwelcoming." Otis muttered.
"Yeah. I know." Agent Roberts chuckled, then continued, "But once we get inside, you won't have to worry about it anymore. That eerie feeling will completely go away."
"Sounds nice. What are we waiting for?"
"We're waiting for you to be ready."
Otis drew in a long slow breath to brace himself, then finally said, "Okay. Fine. Let's do it."
Agent Roberts smiled at the response, then turned to Kirwin and said, "I don't know how long this is going to take."
"It doesn't matter. We'll be waiting here." Kirwin said firmly, then explained, "Our family watches the gate to make sure that you can get to it when you need to. But grandpa says that when you're here, we're supposed to stand by in case you need us. If you need anything, just come back out here and let us know and we'll take care of it for you."
Agent Roberts glanced toward the back of the house where Steven was propping himself up with his walker and watching their interaction.
"You're doing a great job teaching him, Steven. On behalf of all of us, thank you." Agent Roberts called toward him.
The old man gave a sincere nod in response.
"Otis, hang back a little and let me go ahead. It'll take me a second to open the doorway, but once I've opened it, you can follow me in."
"Right. And then I'll know once and for all if all of this is real or not."
"Take it from someone who knows, no matter how much you see, you'll never be completely sure."
"I guess not."
With that being said, Agent Roberts set off across the expansive backyard toward the faded and weather worn gazebo.
Although the anxiety was welling within him, knowing what to expect made the unreasonable fear somewhat manageable.
When he was almost close enough to reach out and touch the barrier, he stopped and carefully said, "I call upon the powers-that-be to grant me entry to the sanctuary, I use the power granted by devils. I am the harbinger."
Agent Roberts stepped forward through the archway, then wilted with relief as the energy that had been fraying his nerves suddenly abated.
To Be Continued...
Things seem to be moving along a bit more quickly, don't they?
As I go through each new chapter I become more and more aware of things and events meshing into place to bring us closer and closer to the solution or maybe solutions that will hopefully come to pass to protect everyone from the "real world."
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher