"D was just telling us that they're going shopping for some last minute items for the work study project." Pam told her husband as Agent Roberts, Jai and Dex walked into the dining room.
"That's right." Mr. Darroch confirmed, then added, "As soon as we know what additional supplies we'll be needing."
"We have most of what we're going to need, both for the boys and for the group as a whole." Agent Roberts said as he took a seat at the table beside Paul.
"Is this something that you can purchase in Waxell in the morning after you arrive, or do you need to get it tonight?" Mr. Darroch asked curiously.
"I would prefer to get what we can before we leave and use Waxell as a fallback plan for whatever I failed to anticipate."
"How much carrying capacity do you think you'll be needing for your shopping trip tonight?"
"Not much at all. I'd like to pick up another tent, some water flasks and a few supplemental clothing items for the boys... and maybe some extra rain gear."
"Do you think that you'd be able to manage that with your car?"
"Sure. No problem."
"Then the boys can go with you to help you carry things and they can pay for your purchases."
Agent Roberts nodded his agreement to the arrangement.
"Can you tell us some more about this 'Work Study' project?" Jai asked abruptly.
"What would you like to know?" Mr. Darroch asked calmly.
Agent Roberts couldn't help but admire Mr. Darroch's ability to remain calm and maintain absolute control of all the various situations at once.
"Where are you wanting to take Dex?" Jai asked anxiously.
"I don't know how aware you are of certain things, so let me begin by saying that sometimes it's necessary for a group of people to keep themselves hidden from the rest of the world. Those of us who have the ability to do so, work to keep their secrets and give them the best possible quality of life as they remain separate. One such group of people has been discovered and threatened by the outer world."
"By normal humans, you mean?" Jai asked cautiously.
"Yes. But not just that. They were discovered by some evil people who would have enslaved, exploited and killed them for their own enrichment. Fortunately, Agent Roberts and his partner were present to take matters in hand and see that the situation was resolved so that the vulnerable people were protected and their secret was kept safe."
"And you're a human, right?" Jai asked Agent Roberts, to confirm that point.
"Yes, but from what I've seen, what you are doesn't matter nearly as much as who you are. I helped people in trouble when they needed it." Agent Roberts said seriously.
Mr. Mulryan turned his attention back to Mr. Darroch and quietly asked, "And you want Dex to help people who are in need?"
"Agent Roberts helped to eliminate the immediate threat. We're asking Dex to be part of a team that will help ensure that those vulnerable people will be able to remain hidden within their sanctuary, safe from the outside world."
"But you can't tell us who we'll be helping?" Dex timidly asked.
"The members of the team will know who they will be helping but we're going to do our best not to discuss it outside the group. The fewer people brought in on this, the better for those we're trying to protect."
"It's not faeries." G stated firmly.
Mr. Darroch quirked an eyebrow as he slowly turned his attention toward his son.
"So if we just call it 'The Faerie Colony', we'll all know what we're talking about even though we all know that that's not what it really is." G explained.
After a long moment of silence, Jai finally said, "Actually, I think that helps."
Mr. Darroch looked at him with surprise.
"A community of faeries being discovered and endangered is something that I can visualize." Jai said thoughtfully.
"Do you know what I'd have to do if I went along?" Dex asked timidly from his father's side.
At that question, Agent Roberts was certain that everything had been decided. Given Dex's timidity, he wouldn't have spoken unless he had already committed himself to the idea of participating. Everything from this point on was window dressing to reassure him that he had made the right decision.
"Professor Everstone is in charge of the project, so he knows the details of what you will be doing. But based on my limited understanding of such things, the only way to make an enduring barrier to protect... 'The Faerie Colony'... is to tie it into the earth element. Only a Nature Mage can effectively manipulate that type of magic and even then, it can be incredibly difficult."
"I'm not a Nature Mage." Dex said regretfully.
"No. That's why we're bringing Zanner Sands along." Mr. Darroch confirmed, then continued, "But since you're an Oriad, you were born with a magical connection to the earth element. As I understand the fundamentals of Natural Magic, the earth element is so vast that it's nearly impossible to manipulate. Even when you try to use Thaumaturgical principles to manipulate an embodiment of the earth element to gain access to that power, the talisman that you need to use ends up being enormous and hopelessly unstable."
"So you want to use my access to the Earth Element to fuel the barrier that's going to protect 'The Faerie Colony'?" Dex asked to confirm.
"That's right. You can unlock the power so that Zanner can access it. Then the rest of the team can call upon that power and manipulate it to recreate the barrier to protect the inhabitants." Mr. Darroch confirmed.
"I don't know if you've thought about this, but what about modern technology, like satellite surveillance and GPS and all of that?" Paul asked slowly.
"That hasn't been mentioned, but I would imagine that it's probably a standard part of any barrier being used in the current age." Mr. Darroch said honestly.
"I need to email Mr. Plaven and see if he's got anything that we're going to need to include." Paul said thoughtfully.
"I hadn't considered that, but he is on the cutting edge of techno-magic. He may know of something that should be included that we haven't heard about."
"Do you need to stay behind to do that?" G asked his brother cautiously.
"No. I can do it on my phone." Paul said simply.
G nodded his acceptance.
"Mom? Would you mind if I went?" Dex asked his mother quietly.
"I won't mind as long as you tell me all about it when you get back." His mother said with an indulgent smile at her son.
"Dad?" Dex asked anxiously.
"It's up to you, Dex. I can't decide this for you." Jai said as he looked his son in the eyes, then quietly continued, "But how often do you have the opportunity to do something that really matters?"
Dex hugged his father from the side, then turned to Mr. Darroch and cautiously said, "I'll do it."
"Good." Mr. Darroch said with a smile, then added more seriously, "Do you think that you'll have everything that you'll be needing for the hike to the location?"
"Yeah. I think so." Dex said uncertainly.
"According to the weather forecast, we should expect rain, so you should also be prepared for that." Mr. Darroch warned.
"Rain is good. That's no problem for me."
"Even so, you might want to get with Agent Roberts about the list of needed supplies that he came up with. In fact, if you wanted to, you could probably even go to the store with him and get his help picking things out." Mr. Darroch suggested.
Although Agent Roberts would normally balk at being volunteered for any such endeavour, he was able to look past his natural inclination and acknowledge the practicality of it.
"If no one would mind, I'd really like to take a long look at some of Beth and Kyla's new designs." Pam announced, then looked to her husband and son before continuing, "I could be doing that while you boys are out gathering the supplies that Dex is going to need."
"What do you think about that, Dex?" His father asked him hopefully.
"Yeah. Okay." Dex said with a quick but sincere smile.
Agent Roberts got the sense that Dex didn't smile often and that he had just been witness to a rare and special thing.
* * * * *
After finishing their meal, Agent Roberts was happy to find that Mr. Mulryan and the boys were enthusiastic about their shopping trip.
Since Mr. Mulryan was familiar with the area, Agent Roberts followed his car with Paul and G riding along with him.
"So Agent Roberts, is this weird for you or what?" Paul asked curiously.
"How do you mean?"
"Like I said, I was raised as a normal person. I can imagine that it must be strange for you to realize that you're driving witches to the store for camping equipment."
"Well, when you put it that way, I suppose that it is a little strange, but I don't think of you as witches, I look at you guys as my teammates. Even though I know that you could probably do some freaky magical things to me if you wanted to, I also know that you're reasonable people who wouldn't attack an innocent person without reason."
"So do you look at being a witch the same as being a normal person?"
"Sure, in some ways... I guess in all the most important ways. But at the same time I recognize that we're different in some ways too. You have a secret to hide that I don't. You have the responsibility and burden of magical powers that I can't even imagine having to deal with."
"You know, most witches don't know about that." Paul said frankly.
"They're born with it and grow up around it. It's not a burden to them. It's just a fact of life."
"I suppose it's the same as me being black. Even though I can imagine what it's like to be something else, I can only be who I am."
"I was surprised when I found out that there were witches of all races. I mean, with us being a whole other species, I'd think that we'd all be pretty much the same." Paul said thoughtfully.
"Since witches and humans can interbreed, it makes sense that we'd have racial diversity." G said informatively.
"But doesn't the combination of a witch and a human result in a warlock?" Paul asked thoughtfully.
"That's true most of the time, but it doesn't always work out that way. Sometimes the kids will turn out as full witches and others will end up being completely human." G explained.
"So what about Dex? How did he end up being an Oriad?" Paul asked curiously.
"That's one of those things that sometimes happens. It could have happened to a pair of witches just as easily." G said thoughtfully.
"I don't understand how that works." Agent Roberts said thoughtfully.
"Neither does anyone else. It's magic. You just have to accept it." G said simply.
"While I can accept that there are things that I don't understand, that doesn't mean that I'm going to stop asking questions."
"I thought it was just me." Paul said under his breath.
"I'm the same way. I want to know how all the different magic works and why. Understanding the fundamentals makes it so that I can try new things." Paul said earnestly.
"You said that you were raised as a human. How did that happen?"
"I'm kind of like Dex, since my dad isn't a witch. My mom couldn't be sure if I'd have any magic at all, so she waited until my magic manifested before letting me know anything about witches."
"But you were chosen for this project, so that must mean that you're pretty powerful."
"I'm about average, I think. But when I got my magic, it was all at once. I didn't know how to use it or what to do with it. Me doing simple spells, really powerfully must have impressed some people."
"That, along with you insisting to be taught advanced alchemy. That caught some people's attention." G added.
"I guess so. But all I wanted to do was understand magic at the most basic level. If I couldn't get that, then all I'd be doing is using other people's spells without knowing what I was actually doing..."
"...Like what everyone else does." G supplied with a grin.
"I'm not everyone else. For me, the only way I can make it work is to understand how all the parts fit together."
"It looks like we're here." Agent Roberts said as he followed Jai's car into a parking lot.
"Remember, no magic talk around the regular people." Paul warned.
"Yeah. When we get to talking, it's easy to forget." G agreed.
"Don't worry about me. The FBI is all about discretion."
* * * * *
The trip through the sporting goods store was productive. Everyone remained focused on their objective and were appreciative for Agent Roberts' help in gathering everything that they were likely to need.
Agent Roberts couldn't help but notice how Dex appeared to stay glued to his father's side throughout their shopping expedition.
Even though Paul and G invited Dex to join them in looking at things, their offers were nothing more than a courtesy. Agent Roberts could clearly see that they weren't expecting Dex to accept.
"So, do we have everything that we're going to need for tomorrow?" Paul asked as they left the store.
"I think that we have everything that we're going to need to buy. But I'm guessing that you guys will probably want to pack a suitcase each for while you're staying at my house."
"Oh yeah. I didn't think about that." Paul said thoughtfully as G quickly asked, "Do you think we'll get to eat at The Waxell Diner? Their food was great!"
"We'll just have to wait and see how things play out. By all indications, we should have time to stop for something before we leave for our hike."
"Awesome!" G said happily.
* * * * *
Once they were back at Mr. Darroch's house, G took charge of getting their new clothes washed and ready for use the following morning.
Agent Roberts spoke briefly with Mr. Darroch about the travel arrangements and any new developments. Everything seemed to be going according to plan and everyone had responded, saying that they would meet at the airport at the appointed time and place.
After inspecting their equipment one last time, G announced that they were going to watch television before bed.
Although Agent Roberts wouldn't normally participate in such a thing, he went along with it willingly and was surprised to find that he enjoyed the whimsical fantasy cartoons.
* * * * *
"Boys? Did you abduct the nice FBI agent? He's not answering the call to his room." Beth's voice asked over the intercom.
"Yeah! We've got him." Paul answered into the air.
"Sor-ry." G called after him.
"You three come to the dining room and have breakfast. You'll still have time to get ready for the airport once you've finished eating."
"We'll be right there!" Paul said as he extracted himself from the blankets on the couch.
"Sorry about not getting you back to your room last night. I hope you got enough sleep." G said repentantly.
"No worries. I slept just fine. Thanks for inviting me." Agent Roberts said as he worked to straighten his sleep rumpled clothes.
"It was fun. I love inviting new people to watch anime with us. It's like seeing them for the first time, all over again." G said happily.
"Let me hit the bathroom and I'll be ready." Paul said as he hurried out of the room.
"Oh yeah. I need to go too." G said as he followed more slowly.
Although Agent Roberts didn't want to admit it, he also needed to go.
When he arrived at the bathroom, he waited with G outside the bathroom door.
"I'm glad that you stayed with us out here last night. I think it's good for Paul to be around regular adults." G said quietly.
"I didn't do anything but watch anime with you."
"Just being here was enough..." G said as Paul walked out of the bathroom.
G hurried into the bathroom .
"How are you doing Paul? Are you excited about what we're going to be doing?"
"Actually, I'm a little nervous. I don't want to disappoint anyone."
"Part of the reason you're going along is to learn new things. Trust in your teachers to guide you to let you know what is expected and to warn you if you're doing something dangerous."
"You're up!" G said as he stepped out through the doorway.
"You'll be fine." Agent Roberts assured Paul before going into the bathroom.
* * * * *
Agent Roberts felt a bit disoriented as the trio walked into the dining room. He was more than half sure that the dining room wasn't in the same place that it had been the night before.
"I hope everyone got a good night of sleep. I just finished checking and everything seems to be going according to plan." D announced.
"What about the relics? Were you able to gather everything you needed?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"Yes. Professor Everstone will be bringing one with him. The other will be brought by Mr. Brown from the Smithsonian."
"Do you know where and when we're supposed to meet him?"
"He's planning to meet you at the baggage claim at the airport in Kentucky, since he's due to arrive right before you."
"That might not be so bad."
"I wouldn't count on that. He's already got one strike against him for being such an intransigent twat."
"Who are we talking about?" Paul asked curiously.
"Charles Bentley Brown. He's bringing a necessary relic for the barrier reconstruction."
"And he's a twat?" G asked cautiously.
"Yes. He is."
"D, that's not a very nice thing to say in front of the boys." Beth scolded.
"Maybe not, but they would have figured it out for themselves eventually." Mr. Darroch said unrepentantly.
"Will we be renting cars at the airport?" Agent Roberts asked thoughtfully.
"I made reservations for all the adults except you. I assumed that you had made your own arrangements."
"I called Agent Fastbeck last night. He said that he'd pick me up at the airport."
"Good. That should also work well for the next leg of your journey. On the drive back to Waxell you'll have a chance to bring Conrad up-to-date."
"All you're expecting Agent Fastbeck to do is explain to the Wudewas what we're planning to do, right?"
"Yes. Since he's the only one who can speak their language, it's the only responsible course of action."
"Couldn't we use a translation spell for that if we needed to?" Paul asked his father curiously.
"Not in this case. As I understand it, the Wudewas language is highly contextual and fluid. A 'dictionary' would be out-of-date before it was even written."
"So how can Agent Fastbeck do it then?"
"It would probably be best if you asked him about that yourself."
"You don't know?"
"I know as much as I need to know."
"Remember, boys, you're going to be around regular people for a few days. Be very careful about using magic, even when you think you're alone." Beth warned.
"We go to school with regular people every day. It's not like we're not used to it." G said frankly.
"But at school, you have safeguards in place. There's an enchantment on the school grounds to discourage people from noticing unusual occurrences." Mr. Darroch said seriously.
"There is?" G asked with surprise.
"The main enchantment is housed in a wall in the gym." Paul confirmed. "The thing's too big and complicated for me to understand it all, but it looks to me like it just makes you see what you expect to see."
"Why didn't you ever tell me?" G asked curiously.
"To be honest, I didn't think too much about it. I mean, it makes sense to have something like that around when you're going to have witches and regular people together."
"Can we get something like that so people won't be as likely to notice if we slip up?" Agent Roberts asked hopefully.
"I don't think you'll have anyone on the team who wields that type of magic." Mr. Darroch said thoughtfully.
"Besides that, mind manipulation magic is really hard to control. It usually ends up causing more problems than it solves." Paul said frankly.
"Yeah. Like with Carla." G responded casually.
The glare that G received from his brother was epic.
Agent Roberts looked from one to the other, hoping that someone would explain.
It was Paul who finally turned to Agent Roberts and said, "Carla was a girl in my class who used an empathy enchantment on the people around her to make them like her and want to do whatever she said."
"Until she met Paul." G interjected with a grin.
"I was new at the school and worried that someone might try to attack me magically, so I cast a protection spell on myself to repel any attack against me back to the person who cast it."
"So Carla's obsession spell backfired on her, times three." G said gloriously.
"According to what Doctor Williams said, she didn't even know she was casting a spell. It kind of happened subconsciously, or something." Paul explained.
"Yeah. But then they had to do, like, this whole magical 'hazmat' response thing because of her. They had to find everyone that she'd put a spell on and release them from it."
"From what I hear, there were a few of her closest friends that had been under her spell for years."
"Carla is getting special training now, to learn how to control her empathic magic and keep it from getting away."
"If there's any good news in all of this, she seems to have cut back on the makeup a little. I swear, there were days when she almost looked like a sculpture."
"Maybe now that people will tell her what they honestly think about things instead of just what she wants to hear, she'll hear some truth about herself."
"After how horrible she was to so many people, she somehow got to play the 'victim card' and have people feeling sorry for her. I still don't get how that works." Paul said frankly.
"People make mistakes... especially young people. You forgive. You move on." Mr. Darroch said sagely.
"Then what's the point of working hard and trying to do your best?" Paul asked confusedly.
"Although I might forgive someone like Carla, it would take a lot for me to be able to trust her. Someone who has worked hard and proven themselves to be trustworthy in my eyes might be seen as responsible enough to be allowed to go on a special mission away from the school... and away from my direct supervision." Mr. Darroch said carefully.
Both boys slowly nodded that they were listening and understood what their father was saying.
"Both of you have birthdays approaching. I think that when you get back, it might be a good idea for two hardworking and responsible young men to start looking at what kinds of cars they might like to have someday soon." Mr. Darroch finished with a smile.
"You're going to get us cars for our birthdays?!" G exploded happily.
"Shhh! Don't wake the baby." Beth said in a harsh whisper as she verified that the baby beside her was still sleeping.
"Let's just say that I'm very proud that the two of you have been chosen to participate in the barrier project. You were chosen over students who were older and more experienced than yourselves. That suggests to me that you may be ready to take on even greater responsibilities."
"Wait. How can you make getting a car sound like it's going to be a bad thing?" Paul asked slowly.
"We'll talk about it when you get back. Right this minute you need to get your showers and pack up your last few personal items. Time is ticking away and the plane isn't going to wait for you." Mr. Darroch said seriously.
Both boys hurried to finish the last few bites of their breakfasts as Agent Roberts cautiously asked, "Will I be taking the boys to the airport or will you be driving them?"
"We'll be going to see them off. In fact, I've already loaded my car with all the equipment that you had stored in the West sitting room, so you should only have to contend with the luggage you brought with you." Mr. Darroch said informatively.
"That will be helpful." Agent Roberts said as he placed his napkin on his empty plate.
"We'll probably need to hire a cart to carry everything at the airport, but otherwise we shouldn't have to concern ourselves too much with the extra equipment."
"Come on, Agent Roberts, I'll show you where your room is." G said as he bounded up from his chair.
"Thank you." Agent Roberts said sincerely, not wanting to admit that he probably wouldn't be able to find it on his own.
"Where do you want us to meet when we're ready?" Paul asked his father as he stood more slowly.
"Let's meet in the parlor. We can go to the cars from there."
"Got it." Paul assured him as he joined G and Agent Roberts walking toward the dining room door.
* * * * *
Agent Roberts appreciated the chance to clean up and have a little time to himself to get his thoughts in order.
While it was true that he had once again found himself in an incomprehensible situation, he was strangely at peace with it.
The only way he could explain his calm acceptance was to admit his trust in Mr. Darroch's diligent planning and overall good will.
Having participated in the preparations, Agent Roberts knew how many different factors Mr. Darroch was juggling to bring everything together. In the end, he couldn't find fault with any of the decisions made.
That in itself was quite a feat, since Agent Roberts tended to over-analyze decisions and second-guess authority.
But in regard to Mr. Darroch's good will... Agent Roberts respected Mr. Darroch's concern for others and how he balanced that against his desire to protect his children.
All in all, Agent Roberts felt proud to be included on the team and held a desire to see their endeavor through to its conclusion and make it a success.
* * * * *
After getting cleaned up, Agent Roberts gathered his things and carried his suitcase to the parlor, where he found the others waiting.
Little was said as the group went to the cars.
Agent Roberts found himself driving to the airport alone, following Mr. Darroch and his family.
He couldn't help but admit that he wouldn't have it any other way.
While the boys seemed capable of being independent, Agent Roberts could see how much they benefited from every minute that they spent with their father.
His own father was a driven man, focusing on his career to the exclusion of all else. While Agent Roberts never felt that he and his sister were neglected, he couldn't help but be a little envious witnessing the relationship that Mr. Darroch had with his sons.
By the time he reached the airport, Agent Roberts had come to the conclusion that his father wasn't a bad man; perhaps not even that bad of a father. His mother was a relentless taskmaster, never allowing the pressure to ease for even a moment. But his father mostly just kept food on the table and a roof over their heads.
If any fault could be found in his father's parenting at all, it would be that he didn't make his children a priority. Work came first, then came other responsibilities. By all appearances, Shawn and Michelle were left to be 'handled' by their mother. As far as their father was concerned, they were little more than annoyances to be dealt with as time permitted.
* * * * *
When they arrived at the airport, Agent Roberts was surprised to see just how efficiently Mr. Darroch managed things. Within a minute of their arrival, Mr. Darroch had already made all the arrangements for their 'cargo'.
After that, the group strolled into the airport where they soon met up with the other members of their traveling party.
Agent Roberts had intended to stand back and watch the various families saying goodbye to each other. However, Jai and Pam seemingly had other plans. They gravitated to Agent Roberts and included him in their farewell.
It was a bittersweet goodbye and Agent Roberts felt his protective feelings for Dex rise up as he saw how difficult it was for him to separate from his parents.
* * * * *
All too soon it was time for them to make their way through security so that they could board their flight.
As Agent Roberts left the checkpoint, a man in a nondescript suit walked up beside him and quietly asked, "Agent Roberts?"
"Yes." Shawn confirmed as he went on alert.
"I'm Sky Marshal Butler. I'll be on your flight this morning." The man said in a carefully controlled voice, then added, "I like to introduce myself to the members of law enforcement before we take off, so in the event of unforeseen circumstances, we all know who we can count on."
"Are you expecting trouble?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"I'm always expecting trouble. That's my job." Sky Marshal Butler said frankly, then continued, "But so far there hasn't been any indication that this will be anything other than a routine flight."
"Good." Agent Roberts said with relief, then thought to add, "If things go south, you can count on me."
"That's what I was hoping." Sky Marshal Butler said simply, then casually walked away.
To Be Continued...
I am so tickled that Dex was allowed to go on the expedition. I can tell that his parents really do love him. They are very protective of him, but he really does need a little boost in his self confidence department. I do hope his connection to Earth Magic will make things easier for others to work out how to build the barrier.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher