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"Are you guys done already?" Archdruid Highley asked with concern as Den and Otis stepped through the archway.
"I think we're done with the part that we needed to be together for." Den responded, then thought to ask, "Do you know who of the Nephilim I should talk to about sharing magic with their people?"
"Reaper would know about that better than I would. Although I speak with the Nephilim on occasion, that's mostly just formal inquiries, not anything of substance or real consequence." Archdruid Highley said frankly.
"There are only three Nephilim I know of who would be able to speak with you in your own language. Of course I am one, the second is currently dead and the third... would likely be less than receptive to the idea of working with a human." Reaper said slowly.
"When you were talking with Rhuru-wra you seemed to be getting most of what he was saying." Otis hesitantly offered.
"That's true." Den agreed.
"Well, if that's the case, would you have any objection to talking with Linnaeus?" Archdruid Highley asked curiously.
"Who's that?" Den asked hesitantly.
"The Nephilim who carried you here when I came to get you." Archdruid Highley said slowly.
"Oh, yeah. He seemed nice. I just didn't catch his name." Den said uncertainly.
"Linnaeus is my demi-brother." Reaper interjected. "I would expect him to be in close proximity to the Vinculum Chamber, just in the event that he might be needed. He's conscientious that way. Were you to go through that archway, I am certain that he would be attentive and willing to help you in any way that he is able."
"Can we come back here if that doesn't work out?" Den asked to be certain.
"Of course. Just go talk to Linnaeus and see if you can get the answers that you're looking for." Archdruid Highley said simply.
"Do you still want to go with me?" Den asked Otis hesitantly.
"Sure. This looks like one of those things that you probably shouldn't do all on your own." Otis confirmed with a smile.
"No matter how you look at it, there only seems to be one way to go, so we might as well get to it." Den said resignedly as he took a step toward the Protectorate archway.
"Right behind you." Otis said as he literally followed a step behind.
"I humbly ask that you grant entry to one who serves. I am the keeper." Archdruid Highley said firmly.
All present watched as Den and Otis stepped through the archway.
* * * * *
"Is that how things are supposed to be working out?" Milo asked his companions sitting at the table.
"I think maybe they're on the right track." Paul responded.
"According to the knowledge, they are behaving correctly." Reaper added.
"Well, I'm glad that someone is. I still don't know what we're supposed to be doing." Milo said frankly.
"Do you really want to know? Because I can tell you. I just don't think you'll really want to hear it." Paul asked irritably.
Most of those around the room ignored Paul's raised voice. However, D, Professor Everstone and Archdruid Highley looked up from their quiet conversation to see what was going on.
"Yeah. I really want to know." Milo finally responded.
"Reaper and I are waiting for you to stop play acting that you're some weak powerless 'almost human' and let loose with your real magic." Paul said impatiently as he noticed Agents Roberts and Fastbeck entering the room from the Southseid archway.
"According to the arcane knowledge, Gaspar is the Magi of Volition. Such turmoil and misgivings are a fundamental part of his nature. Were it otherwise, he would not qualify as a Magi." Reaper stated firmly.
"Okay. I get that." Paul said to Reaper, then turned to Milo and continued, "Listen, I'm not mad and I don't hate you or anything like that. I can just see that you're holding yourself back and you're making it so much harder than it has to be."
After a long moment of looking around at all the expectant faces, most notably that of Archdruid Highley, Milo finally quietly asked, "Do you really want to see what I've been hiding?"
"Look at us!" Paul demanded. "We're letting it all hang out. To do this right, you're going to need to let loose too. From the fight you're putting up, what you're hiding must be something really horrible."
"I can't..." Milo began to explain.
"Bullshit! I'm here, all horns and hooves, taking the chance that you guys are going to turn against me just because my people really suck at PR." Paul shouted.
"The magic will not flow as it should if you are hiding yourself in a mundane human form. You must have the will for it to be so." Reaper said frankly.
"Fine! I'll do it!" Milo announced.
After a long silent moment, Paul finally asked, "Well?"
"Well what?" Milo asked obliviously.
"If your 'full-power' form is that horrible, go ahead and let 'er rip so everyone has a chance to get used to it before all of us need to be concentrating on other things."
Milo looked around the Vinculum Chamber at everyone waiting expectantly.
"I can't do it with everyone watching." Milo muttered uncomfortably.
Paul rolled his eyes and shook his head with exasperation.
"Does this mean that you have another form that I haven't seen before?" Archdruid Highley asked into the silence that followed.
"Even though you've always known that I'm not completely human, you've never seen me as anything else. For most of my life I've looked up to you like a big brother. How you see me really matters to me." Milo quietly explained.
"People's opinions of each other change all the time, every day. We're in a constant state of getting to know each other. That's what keeps things interesting." Archdruid Highley explained.
"Go ahead. We're not going to judge you." Paul gently encouraged.
"I can't make myself do it." Milo quietly admitted.
"Is there a difficult spell that you can do right now? Usually when I'm doing a really tough spell, it's all I can do not to change." Paul said frankly.
"Yeah. But I don't want for you to think..." Milo trailed off as he looked around at the people filling the room.
"You're going to have to do something really 'out there' to even raise an eyebrow with this bunch." Paul said matter-of-factly.
"Such a statement could be looked upon as a challenge. I would not wish for Friend-Milo to be goaded into behaviour that is not in his best interest." Reaper warned.
"No. He's right. I need to show you my secret self and this is the only way to do it right now." Milo regretfully explained.
"Then do it." Paul challenged.
"I can't do it here." Milo said simply.
"Where can you do it?" Paul hesitantly asked.
"I have to be outside the barriers, fully in the real world."
"Like in Waxell?" Paul asked to confirm.
"Yes. I could do it there."
"Then what are we waiting for?"
"Jarvis? Would you open the door for us?" Milo asked reluctantly.
"Yes, of course." Archdruid Highley said before launching into his recitation of the familiar words.
"Jarvis, you can go with them if you want. We'll stay here in case anyone else needs a door opened." Agent Roberts volunteered, revealing that he had been paying attention to their conversation.
"Agent Roberts, would it be possible for your shadow to come with us? I'd kind of like to have his support for what I'm about to do." Milo asked cautiously.
"I guess so. I'm sure that he'll be happy to help you. Just make sure to give him back when you're done with him." Agent Roberts said firmly.
Milo made a quick series of gestures while muttering a chant.
Within a matter of seconds, Agent Roberts' shadow was standing beside him, looking fully three dimensional.
"Go only where you're invited. Take only what you're freely offered. Come back to me once you've had your fun." Agent Roberts said firmly.
The shadow engulfed Agent Roberts in his insubstantial arms and gave what could only be described as a joyful and enthusiastic hug.
After a moment of hugging, Agent Roberts quietly told his shadow, "Go on. I'll be right here when you get back."
"You can go with us if you like." Milo cautiously offered.
"No. It's best if I stay in the vinculum chamber to watch after the doorways. When one opens, the others close." Agent Roberts said frankly, then added, "Besides, Conrad and I need to compare notes on a few things while we've got the chance."
"This shouldn't take too long." Milo said before leading the way through the Waxell archway.
* * * * *
"Did you need something?" Kirwin asked as he ran up to Milo as he exited the gazebo.
"One thing. I need for you to take hold of my hand for a minute." Milo said as he motioned toward the archway behind him for whoever was following to stay back.
As Kirwin slowed his approach, Milo offered his hand to the young teenager.
"Is this what you wanted?" Kirwin asked hesitantly as he placed his hand in Milo's.
"I just want to make sure that you're not afraid. You might see a few things that will frighten you in the next few minutes, but none of them will hurt you. I promise." Milo said firmly.
Before Kirwin could ask what was happening, he saw a humanoid shadow approaching them from the archway.
"This is a shadow being. And although he's quite powerful, he won't hurt you. He's actually a friend of mine." Milo quietly explained.
"What's his name?" Kirwin asked cautiously.
"I don't know. I don't think I ever thought to ask him." Milo said as he looked at the shadow curiously.
"It's nice to meet you. I'm Kirwin." The teenager said softly to the shadow creature, obviously taking Milo's assurance to heart.
"What was that?" Milo asked as he looked at the shadow uncertainly.
"What was what?" Kirwin asked confusedly.
"I think he's trying to introduce himself to you." Milo said with the beginning of a smile.
After a long moment of listening, Kirwin quietly said, "I can't hear what he's saying."
"Be thankful for that. The gift of being able to hear shadows is more of a curse." Milo said seriously, then added more gently, "He says that his name is Obby and that he's pleased to meet you, Kirwin."
"Yeah. It's nice to meet you too." Kirwin said to Obby enthusiastically.
Milo motioned with his free hand toward the gazebo for the people waiting there to come out.
"Even though you've already met these guys, they look a little different than they did at the picnic. Please don't be afraid. They're no more dangerous now than they were before." Milo said in a low, even voice.
Kirwin reluctantly turned his attention away from Obby and froze in amazement at the demon and giant animated corpse emerging from the gazebo.
"Kirwin, in case you didn't get introduced before, this is Paul and Reaper." Milo said as he indicated each in turn with his free hand.
"I remember seeing you both when you were here before. Is that what you really look like or is this?" Kirwin asked curiously.
"This is Reaper's true form, the other is an illusion. This is what I look like when I do magic, but my 'human' form is what I look like when I wake up each morning." Paul helpfully explained.
"Do you mind if I watch?" A comparatively plain looking man asked as he stepped out of the gazebo.
"That'll be fine." Milo quietly responded.
"Kirwin, this is my dad. His name is D." Paul said proudly.
"It's nice to meet you." Kirwin said with a shy smile at him.
"So Milo, can you do it here or do we need to go nearer to the house?" Archdruid Highley asked seriously as he approached.
"Oh, um, yeah. I can do it here just fine." Milo said distractedly as he looked around.
"We're ready when you are." Paul encouraged.
"Kirwin, how are you doing? Are you alright with everything so far?" Milo asked cautiously.
"Yeah. I was only scared for a second. What are we doing?" Kirwin asked excitedly.
"You know that we have powers, right?" Milo asked gently.
"Yeah. I wish I had powers too." Kirwin said honestly.
"Watch out what you wish for." Milo cautioned him, then continued, "One of my powers is called shadowmancy. I'm about to do a very powerful spell. Whatever happens, I don't want you to be afraid. I won't let anything hurt you. Okay?"
"Even if I get scared, I'm not afraid of you. I'm here to help you and I know that you wouldn't hurt me." Kirwin said seriously.
"Good. That's exactly right. Even though some scary things may happen, you won't be in any danger. As long as you know that, it'll be alright." Milo assured him.
"What are you going to do?" Paul asked curiously, sounding to be slightly concerned.
Milo gave Kirwin's hand a final reassuring squeeze before letting it go.
After taking a few steps away from the gazebo, toward the house, Milo raised his arms toward the sky and began to quietly chant.
"Whoah." Paul gasped and seemed to be a bit unsteady on his hooves for a moment.
"What is it?" Kirwin asked curiously.
"I don't know what Milo's doing, but he's whipping up some major magics." Paul said quietly.
"It is curious. Among the children of angels, at the height of their battles, there is not this level of power." Reaper said slowly.
"Precise control." D said under his breath.
"What was that?" Archdruid Highley asked curiously.
"The beacon, the summons... whatever it is that he's calling, he's not wasting any magic on it. He's channeling every last bit of it into his spell. In all my years I've never met anyone who achieved this level of proficiency with shadowmancy." D said as he carefully watched and evaluated Milo's every move.
"From everything I know, he's never had any formal training." Archdruid Highley said honestly.
"How can that be..." D began to say when he noticed the beginning of Milo's physical transformation.
The air suddenly became still and silent.
The tumultuous clouds overhead appeared to have stopped their roiling just to see what Milo had metamorphosed into.
"What are you?" Archdruid Highley whispered as he looked at Milo in astonishment.
"This is the purest expression of who and what I am." Milo responded in a crisp, clear voice that was gentle to the ears.
"As far as I know, there haven't been any elves in this realm for over a hundred years." D said slowly.
"My father, when he was young, would sneak into this realm. He said that back then he was thirsty for adventure. He couldn't help himself." The being that Milo had become said with a tranquil smile.
"I guess that there are some things that are universal, regardless of species." D said with an affectionate glance at Paul.
"When he met my mother... well, you can guess what happened. Unfortunately, faeries can't exist in this realm for any length of time."
"But if your father could come here before, he can visit now, can't he?" D asked curiously.
"Yes. He keeps in touch and stops in to visit every now and then."
"If your father is powerful enough to breach our dimension, then he must at least be a baron." D said speculatively.
"He's mentioned that his equivalent title in our world would be 'Archduke' but I'm not sure how accurate that is. Our societies are so different, I don't know if it's possible to make direct comparisons."
"What's that?" Paul asked as he pointed to a dark patch in the distant sky that seemed to be getting larger.
"That's what I summoned." Milo said simply.
Paul looked at him and was once again surprised by his drastically different appearance. The mousey plain looking young man had been replaced with an exotically handsome man with longish straight blue-black hair, piercing blue eyes and distinctively elven ears.
"It looks like they're wearing cloaks but I can't see who they are." Archdruid Highley said as he struggled to get a good look at what was approaching.
"I summoned my 'sculptures' from the church." Milo said frankly.
"How could you... I thought those were tributes that you made to remember special members of the congregation who had passed." Archdruid Highley said cautiously.
"They were... in a way." Milo slowly answered, then held one hand out as one of the shrouded figures approached.
"This is Mrs. Cadameyer, or at least, it's her shadow." Milo carefully explained.
"You captured her soul?" Archdruid Highley asked in horror.
"No. Not really. I just liberated her shadow so that it could continue on for a bit longer and possibly bring closure to a few unresolved things for her." Milo said slowly.
"So when someone feels like it's too soon to go and that they're not ready, you give them a little more time to work things out?" D asked cautiously.
"Yes. Something like that. If their shadow can resolve things for them, it can bring peace and resolution to the soul in the 'after' when they're reunited."
"Why are they here?" Archdruid Highley asked as he looked at over a dozen shrouded figures surrounding them.
"When I separated them from their host bodies, they connected to me. Because of that, If I use any high level magic, they're going to sense it. If I don't prepare them, they might have misunderstood what was happening and attacked you, believing that they're defending me." Milo said seriously.
"Is that why you have Obby here?" Kirwin asked curiously.
"Sort of." Milo said with a smile at him, then explained, "The enchantment that created Obby isn't the same as that of my 'choir', but I wanted him to know what was going on in case he sensed my use of magic. In some sense of the word, they're 'related' through their relationship to me."
"Now that they're here, what are you going to do with them?" Paul asked cautiously.
"I thought that I'd take them through the Vinculum Chamber to the Southseid barrier, where I'll be working. If I need anything while I'm in the middle of spellcasting, I can ask one of them to get it for me." Milo said simply.
"You know, that's actually not a bad idea. Do you think it would cause any trouble if I summoned a couple demons to help me when I get to Brynnhollow?" Paul asked curiously.
"Although I would be the last to encourage the summoning of demons, I can see the potential usefulness of having extra hands that you can call upon. Should I have need, I may likewise petition the celestial realm to allow some of the lesser cherubim to attend me until the barriers have been remade." Reaper said thoughtfully.
"Can you really do that?" Paul asked curiously.
"Should I call upon my father, I believe he might grant my request." Reaper said slowly.
"So is that it? I mean, is that all you needed to do out here, in the real world?" Archdruid Highley absently asked as he continued to stare in wonder at the shrouded figures surrounding them.
"Yes. I just didn't want to take the chance of summoning them from inside one... or all of the barriers. I'm not sure what would have happened, but they might have hurt someone, or themselves in their attempt to get to me." Milo quietly explained.
"I don't know why you were worried about showing me your true self. You look amazing." Archdruid Highley finished with a smile.
"That's why." Milo said regretfully, then explained, "The other me, the one you're used to seeing, that's the real me. That's who I am. This is faerie magic. If you expect me to be 'this' you'll be disappointed."
"Can you be 'this' for as long as it takes to get the job done?" Paul asked intently.
"Yeah. The other me, that's who I am. This is what I'm capable of." Milo said firmly.
"That's good enough for me." Paul said simply, then looked to Archdruid Highley and said, "He already told you that he doesn't want to disappoint you. Don't screw this up."
"I'll do my best." Archdruid Highley said weakly.
"Milo. I'm not old enough to be a big brother to you, but I think that I can be a little brother if you need me to be. If Jarvis ends up being a dick, come and talk to me. Between us, I bet we'll be able to sort things out." Paul said confidently.
"I'm not going to screw it up." Archdruid Highley immediately defended.
"Not intentionally." Paul easily agreed, then turned to Milo and whispered, "Get with me if he pisses you off."
Milo smiled gratefully and nodded his acceptance of Paul's offer.
"I'm opening the doorway. Anyone who wants to can follow me." Archdruid Highley said as he walked back toward the gazebo.
"Will you be alright out here?" Milo asked Kirwin, who had been watching the whole thing.
"You're really amazing." Kirwin said with a smile.
"I think you're amazing too." Milo said warmly, then asked, "Are you and your grandfather going to be alright out here?"
"Yeah. We'll be fine. And if we get too tired or anything, we can always go in the house. That's where grandpa is right now. I told him I'd watch out while he took a nap."
"That's really good of you, Kirwin." Milo said with a smile, then added, "I've got work to do, but I'll stop back out here later and see how you're doing."
"Okay. But remember to let me know if you need anything. I'll be here waiting for you." Kirwin reminded him.
"If one of these shrouded figures comes for you, follow it. It will mean that I need your help but that I can't get away to ask for it. Will you do that?"
"Yeah! I'll keep a lookout for it." Kirwin said excitedly.
"Good. I'll see you later then." Milo said as he turned and walked through the archway into the gazebo.
Following Milo were nearly twenty vague shrouded shadow figures.
The one shadow figure that wasn't draped in a shroud walked up to Kirwin and offered his semi-transparent hand.
"It was nice to meet you Obby. Just like Milo, if you ever need my help, just come and get me." Kirwin said as he shook the dark hand.
When the handshake was over, Obby didn't let go. Instead, he pulled Kirwin's hand to his chest and wrapped his other arm around the boy.
Kirwin was surprised by the action, but didn't object as the shadow figure gave him a firm hug full of tenderness and caring.
"You know how Milo told you to watch out what you wish for?" Paul asked as he approached.
"Yeah." Kirwin answered as Obby released him from the hug.
"Don't listen to him. Dream big. You don't fail when your dream doesn't come true, you fail when you stop dreaming." Paul said seriously as he watched Obby walk through the archway.
"Such decadent ideas. I would expect no less from a devil." Reaper said haughtily.
"Are you saying that you think I'm wrong?" Paul asked his companion curiously.
"No. Only that the concept is decadent." Reaper said as a grin crossed his corpse-like face.
"I can live with that." Paul said with a wink in Kirwin's direction before leading the way through the archway, into the gazebo.
* * * * *
"Do I even want to know?" Agent Roberts asked as he stared at the ghostly shadow figures crowding into the Vinculum Chamber.
"If you'll open the doorway to Nevermore, you won't have to worry about it." Milo responded.
Without prelude, Agent Roberts began to recite the short version of the 'password'.
"I'll get rid of this table to give us more room." Paul said into the chaos.
In the next few minutes, no one spoke as Milo led the procession through the archway.
When Milo returned a moment later, he quietly asked, "What now?"
"What happened to you?" Miss Oaken asked in amazement at his drastic transformation.
"Paul gets horns. I get this." Milo said uncomfortably.
"Looks like you won that lottery." Corabeth said with an admiring smile.
"What do we still need to get together before we can start the spellcasting?" Paul asked, trying to steer the conversation in the most productive direction.
"We should have most, if not all, of what we need. Let's gather everyone who will be directly participating and take stock. To start with, the relic holders need to gather each behind their Magi." Professor Everstone instructed.
"The spellcasters should probably do that too." D interjected, loudly enough for all the other spellcasters to hear.
"Did you leave Rhuru-wra in Brynnhollow?" Agent Fastbeck asked Agent Roberts seriously.
"Yeah. I'll go get him and Ares and be right back."
"I'll go get Den and Otis. Where are you going to want them?" Agent Fastbeck asked, directing his last question primarily toward Professor Everstone.
"At present I'm assuming that the Archdruid's brother will be placed by the Nevermore doorway. As for the other young man... if I'm understanding his situation correctly, he will be stationed at the Waxell door, possibly alone." Professor Everstone said slowly.
"But since just about everything we plan gets turned on its head anyway, we might as well just refer to it as our 'starting placement'." Mr. Hansen said frankly.
"Yes. That might be best." Professor Everstone slowly agreed.
"Where will the ceremony be conducted?" Paul asked as he looked around the room at all the people present.
"In some sense, the ceremony has already begun. But as far as the contribution of the Magi, I believe that each of you are going to conduct your part of the spell in front of the doorway that aligns with your nature." Professor Everstone said slowly.
"So everyone doing the Brynnhollow barrier spell should probably go with me." Paul said uncertainly.
"We're here. Where do you need us?" Ares asked as he and Dark preceded Rhuru-wra and Agent Roberts into the Vinculum Chamber.
At the same time, Agent Fastbeck ushered Den, Otis and Linnaeus in through the Nevermore archway.
"Otis, would you stand over there by the Waxell doorway?" Professor Everstone asked professionally as he pointed.
"Sure." Otis answered as he broke away from his companions.
"Everyone else, group in front of the door to the barrier you will be recasting." Professor Everstone said more loudly to assure that everyone heard him.
"Do you have anyone else casting with us?" Mr. Hansen asked anxiously.
"Not as yet. Hopefully you and Mr. Couleigh will be up to the task, but I will be on the lookout for additional help for you as we proceed." Professor Everstone promised.
"That would be appreciated. Once I've unfolded space, there's not much more that I can do until I've had a chance to recover."
"When D asked me about doing this, I didn't have any idea that I might be casting a barrier spell all on my own."
"You won't be alone. I don't know how much help I'll be, but I promise that I'll be there with you every step of the way." Mr. Hansen assured him.
"I appreciate that." Mr. Couleigh said sincerely.
* * * * *
"Relic holders? Are you clear on what you're going to be doing?" Professor Everstone asked as he looked at each of them in turn.
"We're just pulling up elemental magic through the relics and feeding it to the Magi, right?" Zanner asked cautiously.
"Yes. Boiled down to its most basic elements, that is exactly what you will be doing." Professor Everstone confirmed.
"Then you don't have to worry about us. We got this." Zanner said confidently.
Dex was standing at his side and seemed to be every bit as confident.
* * * * *
"Den and Linnaeus, would you move over by the doorway?"
"We can try. Linnaeus is kind of big. Is there any way that we're going to be able to do our part outside?" Den asked hopefully.
"Yes. When the time comes, I think all the bridges are going to need to be in their own realm to properly relay the magic." Professor Everstone said thoughtfully.
Rhuru-wra let out a low growl in response.
"You said it!" Ares said with a grin at him as they each moved to stand before their own doorways.
"What else do we need?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously as he looked at the three separate groups of people, perched in readiness.
"I'm not sure..." Professor Everstone began to say when Reaper interrupted.
"According to the arcane knowledge, each of the gatekeepers should proceed to the door of the realm they have been entrusted to defend and place their hand upon the doorway." Reaper said slowly.
Agent Roberts, Agent Fastbeck and Archdruid Highley each walked to their respective doorways and did as they were instructed.
"Now what?" Agent Roberts prompted.
"I... do not know. The knowledge fails me." Reaper said in a bewildered voice.
Otis looked to the other three archways, then to the one he was standing in front of all by himself.
"Paul, do you have insights into the matter?" Reaper asked hopefully.
"Only that we have everything that we need." Paul said in a lost tone as he looked around uncertainly.
On impulse, Otis reached out to touch the invisible doorway beside him.
He turned back at the sudden silence to discover that he was standing alone in the weather worn gazebo, able to see through all the archways into the backyard of the Old Tennyson Place.
To Be Continued...
It seems that things are just about ready to come to a point.
We will just have to wait and see what will happen next. It's almost a cliff hanger, isn't it?
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher