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"How badly do we actually need their help?" V asked as he glared disapprovingly at the cherubim.
"Due to the shortage of earth mages, they are actually very important to the job that we will be doing." Reaper stated firmly.
"You've got an entire realm to choose from, I don't see why you have to scrape the bottom of this particular barrel." V finished with disgust.
"Be nice. We're all here to do a job. Part of that means working with people that we normally wouldn't get along with." Paul told his father firmly, yet respectfully.
"Demon spawn speaks truth..." One of the cherubs began to say, but was silenced at Paul's quelling glance.
"I suggest you keep your comments to yourselves or the rest of us are going to have to put up with the distracting scent of fried chicken."
For a moment it seemed as though the cherubs were going to respond, but in the end, they appeared not to be ready to press their luck.
"That's my boy." V said proudly.
"Mine too." D said with a grin askance at him.
* * * * *
"I can feel them." Ares suddenly said.
"What? Who?" Dark asked as he seemed to wake from a dream.
"Cain, Deimos, Jazz, Olive... Carn... Mason... Rocky... it's like I can see their souls. It's so beautiful. It's incredible!"
"All I can see is you." Dark said quietly.
"I can see you too. You're almost there. You're so close. Just push past me, just a little bit and you'll be able to see everyone else."
"Okay. I see it now. Whoa! It's so much, all at once." Dark said as his breathing became heavier.
"I know. It's a lot to take in." Ares said calmly, "Just let it wash over you and through you. In a way, it's like it fades away and becomes nothing. At the same time, it's like it becomes everything, including you. Once you've entered it, you're part of everything... I don't know if that makes any sense."
"Yes. I'm getting it. And you're right, I can't describe it any better than that. Everything and nothing, all at once. That's exactly what I'm seeing... Go ahead, I'm ready. I'm with you." Dark finished confidently.
"Did you get what he was saying? That's what I'm feeling too." Den muttered to Linnaeus as he fought to focus on the congregation.
Linnaeus gave a barely audible grunt and a nod as he appeared to be in the same distant state as Den.
Rhuru-wra let out a triumphant roar which those present took to mean that he, too, had established contact with his people.
"Did we miss anything?" Otis asked as he entered the gazebo, gently carrying the frail elderly form of Steven Tennyson in his arms.
Right behind him was Kirwin, carrying Steven's walker.
"Nothing worth mentioning." Agent Roberts assured him.
"The real fun is just about to start." Agent Fastbeck added.
"You guys stay over by the Waxell door and you should be alright." Paul said distractedly from behind the row of demons, keeping vigilant watch for him.
"Steven, Kirwin and Otis, allow me to introduce Paul's father, his name is V." D said somewhat formally.
"Is he a demon?" Steven slowly asked.
Agent Fastbeck was impressed not only by Steven's assumption based only on the visual cues at hand, but also by the man's temerity to ask such a question directly.
"Yes. But please don't assume that you know what he's like because of that." D asked Steven urgently.
"Thank you, D. I appreciate that you don't automatically accept generalizations about demons as being true. When I last visited your realm, most people weren't quite so enlightened." V said appreciatively.
"Well, it just so happens that one of the people I love most in the world is part demon. That compels me to bypass lazy prejudices and judge the person for who he really is."
"Excuse me." Paul said firmly in his low demonic voice.
"Sorry Paul, I wasn't trying to embarrass you. I was just trying to explain..."
"That's fine. It's not that. The first stage of the magic has been released, the test stage." Paul said simply.
"The bridges have started structuring their support networks and the spellcasters have found their access points." Reaper said in a matching tone of voice.
"What you're being given has accumulated over a period of centuries. It represents generations of magic being harvested and stored as an inheritance. From now, you will be receiving the real magic. Put it to good use. Make it count." Milo said firmly.
"You have been warned." Paul said seriously.
"Here it comes." Reaper said in more of a cautioning tone.
Otis, Steven and Kirwin watched their new friends to see what was going to happen.
In unison, Zanner, Mr. Bentley Brown and G sat in their completely different sections of the gazebo. Dex obviously wasn't expecting the move, but slowly sat directly in front of Zanner, mirroring his position.
"Now." Paul said before tilting his head back and spreading his arms wide.
Just a moment behind Paul were Reaper and Milo, doing basically the same thing, except in Reaper's case, spreading his arms was a bit more of a production.
"Yessss." Ares said a moment later.
"I'm supposed to be the one hissing." Dark quietly muttered as a smile filled his expression.
"This feels so right.. for the first time in my life, I feel... complete." Ares fought to explain.
"I wonder if this is what it feels like to not be cursed?" Dark asked speculatively.
"I doubt it. No one can ever feel this good all the time. But whatever this is, I love it. I'm going to enjoy it for as long as I can." Ares said peacefully.
"I'm just glad that we're both here." Dark said as he moved slightly so that he could loosely drape his arms around Ares' shoulders. "If we can't have this feeling forever, at least we can hold on to the memory of sharing this experience."
Rhuru-wra let loose a joyous howl that confirmed that the witches weren't the only ones enjoying the new sensations.
Linnaeus quietly said something that most present couldn't understand.
"He said that he is happy to know, once in his life, what it feels like not to be an abomination. He feels important... necessary... He feels blessed." Agent Fastbeck fought to translate.
"The rest of us are honored to be able to join you as you experience this." Den told Linnaeus sincerely as he reached up and took firm hold of Linnaeus' hand.
"Magic users, spellcasters, witches, wizards, sorcerers, devils and angels. It is time to dispel the old barriers and remake them. I would like for each of you to state clearly for all to hear if there are any special conditions that need to be observed in regard to the barrier you will be working on. Say it now so that if we have the need to cross over into each other's spellcasting, we won't unintentionally destroy something important due to our ignorance." Professor Everstone announced to the gathering.
"The Brynnhollow barrier contains an embedded illusion. Unless you know something about illusions, you don't need to be messing with that part of the spell. We're going to leave it in place since we're going to need it for the new barrier." Miss Oaken said frankly.
"I know enough of how it works to help a little if you need me to." G offered.
"It looks like you're going to have your hands full, but if it comes to it, we're going to consider you 'Plan B'." Miss Oaken said firmly.
"Please be aware that I have enacted 'The Seven Spires of Earth' to access the pocket dimension where the Protectorate resides. Any spelling that negates the seven spires spell could theoretically dislodge the pocket dimension or destroy it completely." Mr. Hansen warned.
"Yeah. Let's not do that." Filipe said cautiously.
"Agreed." Professor Everstone said with an affectionate grin in the boy's direction.
"You should also keep in mind that the construction of the Protectorate is not only to keep beings out, but also to keep them 'in'. If you're going to be deconstructing or reconstructing, you'll need to keep that in mind." Agent Roberts said informatively.
"Yes. Friend-Shawn makes a necessary point." Reaper reluctantly agreed.
"What about the interconnection of the barriers? Are we going to have to do anything special because of that?" Filipe slowly asked.
"The interconnection aspects of all three colonies are included in the magic that is beyond the ability of witches to cast or control. It is a built in feature that we will have no choice but to accommodate." Professor Everstone firmly stated, then added more gently, "Please do keep that in mind."
"I'm not sure if this is something that you were expecting to happen, but if you'll excuse me, it appears that I have to change... right now." Agent Fastbeck barely finished saying before disappearing into his clothes.
"Yeah. Um, guys?! Is this right?" Agent Roberts asked as Obby stood beside him, looking like a darker, yet fully solid, version of Agent Roberts. It was as though Shawn's identical twin brother was standing beside him in particularly poor lighting.
A little hissing screech sounded from near Paul.
"Mah Zah thinks that the humans are getting magical overflow from anyone receiving magic from the bridges that cares for them." Paul said haltingly, obviously having the majority of his concentration focused elsewhere.
"How do we stop it?" Agent Roberts reluctantly asked.
"Why not just enjoy the moment and accept what 'is'?" Mr. Couleigh asked, sounding to be sincerely curious about it.
"That's... not really in my nature." Agent Roberts said slowly.
"Yeah. It's kind of an FBI thing." Agent Fastbeck agreed as he stood in his Oskmey form beside his clothing pooled on the floor.
"Does your explanation about humans and overflowing magic cover this?" Archdruid Highley asked in a trembling voice.
One by one, people turned to see what had befallen their comrades.
"Jarvis? Is there something you want to tell us?" Den asked his brother cautiously.
"I don't know how or why this happened." Archdruid Highley swore to his companions.
The white wings were nothing less than exactly what you would expect to see on an actual angel.
"I guess when you consider the magic held by the congregation and what's being held by the Nephilim, this almost makes sense." Den said slowly.
"If you think about it, something like this was bound to happen to him sooner or later. Humans who become involved with the supernatural seem to eventually get drawn into it until they finally reach a point where they can't be considered fully human any longer." Dr. Williams said sagely with what seemed to be a little extra touch of Jamaican thrown into his accent.
"Kirwin, think carefully about what you're seeing here right now. You're still at the point where you can walk away from all of this." Agent Roberts said sincerely.
"Do you regret what you are?" Steven asked on his grandson's behalf.
"No. Not for a minute." Agent Roberts said without hesitation, then added more slowly, "But what works for me may not be right for Kirwin. He's got his whole future ahead of him. I wouldn't want for him to make a decision now that might radically change the direction of his life."
"That's not something you have to worry about. Ask Grandpa, we're already part of this. We were born to be right here, right now." Kirwin said confidently.
"I don't know how many of you were destined to be here, but we were." Steven emphatically confirmed.
"The same goes for you, Otis. You've got a chance to walk away before this becomes too big a part of your life." Agent Roberts said gently.
"I grew up in Waxell. Now that I've gotten a peek behind the curtain, there's no way that I could walk away from it, knowing what I know. I was born to this just as much as Steven and Kirwin." Otis said resignedly.
"Fair enough. I just have a feeling that this might be your last chance to walk..." Agent Roberts was saying when he was interrupted.
"I... like... you." Obby carefully said from Agent Roberts side.
"Oh! Um, I... like you too." Otis stammered with surprise.
Obby smiled broadly, then stepped forward to pull Otis into a firm, but gentle, kiss.
"Obby. I don't know if right now is the best time to be doing that." Agent Roberts said urgently, fairly certain that his shadow wasn't hearing him.
After a long moment of watching the men kissing, Steven quietly said, "He seems to be of a differing opinion."
"Obby! Let go of Otis!" Agent Roberts demanded.
A moment later, Obby slowly stopped the kiss, then looked over at Agent Roberts with a smile of lazy contentment and joy.
"Typically, people get to know each other and work up to the point where they have strong feelings that they want to eventually express physically." Agent Roberts tried to explain.
"Shawn, don't worry about it. He's fine." Otis said quietly, then looked into Obby's eyes as he started to smile.
"Fair enough." Agent Roberts said as he threw up his hands in a quiet surrender.
This time Otis initiated the kiss, but it was every bit as gentle and sweet as the one that Obby had started.
Agent Roberts watched them for a moment, then shook his head as he turned to walk away.
"Are you okay?" Agent Fastbeck asked as he moved to walk at Agent Roberts' side.
"Great. Except that I'm barely human anymore and my shadow's getting more action than I am." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"It'll be okay." Agent Fastbeck said simply.
Agent Roberts turned to ask him how he could be so sure, but then realized that Agent Fastbeck was still in his black Oskmey form. Not only was he fully aware of what Shawn was feeling, but he could also be reasonably sure that things would turn out for the best, considering what he had personally witnessed of magic.
"Okay. I hear you." Agent Roberts assured him.
"Agent Roberts, could you open the Brynnhollow doorway? I think Ares and Dark will be able to take their connections to the next level if they can interact with their loved ones." Paul asked hopefully.
"That won't cause any problems for V, will it?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously as he moved back to his doorway.
"No. The vinculum chamber itself is partially attuned to the Meayithan Realm, so there shouldn't be any issue with that. But if you need to reopen the doorway for some reason, you can do so at any time." Paul easily explained.
"Rhuru-wra, we're going to begin taking down the Southseid barrier in just a moment. You can go and let your people know, if you would like." Professor Everstone said carefully.
"If your people need any help while the barrier is down, just let us know. The Brynns would be happy to help your people defend their homes." Ares offered sincerely.
Linnaeus let loose a screech that was punctuated by the fierce look in his eyes.
"He said that the Nephilim would love... absolutely LOVE to fight to defend your people." Den translated as he fought down a laugh.
"I bet they would." Agent Fastbeck said with a grin.
"I call upon the powers-that-be to grant me entry to the sanctuary of the Brynns, I use the power granted by devils. I am the harbinger." Agent Roberts said with his hand hovering at the boundary of the archway.
The hellscape of the Meayithan Realm faded away and was immediately replaced by the elegant stonework and formal garden of Brynnhaven.
"Thanks Agent Roberts. We just need a minute to check on everyone and make sure that no one's having a problem." Ares said quickly.
"We're fine. Go do what you need to do. If I end up having to open the door to the Meayithan Realm for some reason, just give me a minute and I'll change it right back." Agent Roberts assured him.
"Thanks. I appreciate that." Ares said as he hurried through the archway.
"We'll be right back." Dark said reassuringly as he slithered closely behind.
* * * * *
The moments that followed were mostly silent, occasionally interrupted by one or another of those present quietly offering advice or support to those in close proximity to them.
"If anyone is having a problem, let us know so that we can get you help." Jhaartael said as he approached one of the groups of people.
"I think we've been able to balance the magic and establish the proper linkages" D said seriously, then asked more cautiously, "Have we met?"
"I don't believe so. My name is Jhaartael. I'm Miklos' father. I don't really have a specific duty to perform, so I'm going around to the different groups to see if anyone needs any help."
"I'm glad that someone thought to do that. My name is D and my sons are the demon over there and the one with the spear."
"Oh, I had naturally assumed that the demon child was the son of the adult demon." Jhaartel said cautiously.
"He is. It's a long story. V is Paul's father and I'm his step-father..." D said seriously.
"As far as I know, that's the whole story. It's not really all that long." V said with a grin as he joined them.
"I suppose it isn't." D said with a good-natured smile, then continued, "Jhaartael, may I present V. Hopefully you won't be too offended, but I think that Miss Oaken and Corabeth are at a point where they're going to need me to join them in casting the barrier spell." D said frankly.
"Yeah. I helped to manage the initial tsunami of magic with your air team, but now they need their specialists to do the actual spellcasting." V confided to the men.
"Yes. That's the same point that we've reached." D said simply.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" V asked quickly, before he could leave.
"Yes. Go with Jhaartael. I'm confident that he'll find someone in need of a little extra help." D said with certainty.
"Of course." V said as he watched D fall into his spellcasting with Miss Oaken and Corabeth, then turned to Jhaartael and said, "Although I'm quite powerful in my magic, my primary element is fire. I don't know how much use I'll be to you."
"My own magical specialty is aether, so it may turn out that we'll be keeping each other company while the others do all the work." Jhaartael said frankly.
"Well, I suppose that as long as our objectives are achieved we should be content." V said with a smile.
"Although my primary ability may not be of immediate use, I believe that I still have something to contribute both by way of 'natural' and 'basic' magical assistance."
"Well, if you need any help with lightning, I have an affinity for that too... although I can't see how that could be of any use in this situation." V said frankly.
"I arrived just before you did. It doesn't seem that there's any need at the moment, but I only have the most superficial understanding of what they're trying to accomplish." Jhaartael said honestly.
V looked around at all the different groups concentrating on all their different magics, then said, "Why don't we circulate and ask them what they need? It could turn out that our seemingly random and obscure talents might be of use to them."
"I suppose it's that much more likely that they'll find a use for us if we make the offer." Jhaartael agreed.
"But if the angels need anything, you should probably take care of it yourself... we don't get along." V quietly confided.
"Imagine that." Jhaartael chuckled.
V affected an expression of innocence that was worthy of any angel.
* * * * *
"The Brynnhollow barrier is down. Let Ares know when he gets back." Paul said distantly as he fought to keep his concentration on the magical flow.
"They're already back. They heard you." Agent Roberts assured him.
"Yeah. And I pity anyone who visits Brynnhollow uninvited today." Ares said with a laugh.
"The Protectorate barrier is down. Everything is going according to plan." Mr. Hansen announced.
"Expertly done. That was some elegant work." Mr. Couleigh said appreciatively.
"Thank you. I only hope that we can do the recasting as smoothly."
"I am confident that between us we have the skill and sufficient motivation." Mr. Couleigh said calmly.
"If that doesn't work out, I've got an ass-load of demonic magic that I can throw at it." V said as he stopped beside Mr. Hansen.
"I agree with Jerrell, I think we've got this. But thank you for the thought." Mr. Hansen said with a quick smile over his shoulder.
"Psychotic though it may be." Mr. Couleigh added with a grin.
"What is seen as psychotic in your realm is seen as normal in mine." V informed him simply.
"To be honest, it's kind of normal here too, depending on the company you keep." Mr. Couleigh admitted.
"V? Can you come over here for a minute?" D called from beside the Brynnhollow archway.
"Duty calls." V said with a grin before hurrying away.
"What does it say about me when I'm more trusting and comfortable with a literal demon than most of the people that I encounter in my daily life?" Mr. Hansen asked cautiously.
"Demons like V are not only the most powerful that you're likely to encounter, but also the most dangerous. They are fully capable of enthralling legions of people who would willingly... eagerly die at their command. I don't even know how much of it is magic and how much is their natural charisma." Mr. Couleigh quietly explained.
"Do you think we're safe?" Mr. Hansen asked cautiously.
"Yes. But only because we're allies of his son's. I honestly believe that if not for that, we wouldn't have even the slightest chance of standing against someone like him."
"Do you really think he's that powerful?"
"I sincerely hope that we never have cause to find out."
* * * * *
"That's it. The Southseid barrier is down." Professor Everstone said with accomplishment.
"How is everyone doing? Does anyone need help?" Jhaartael asked as he looked around at the different groups.
"Brynnhollow is doing fine. Of course, things might change when it's time to recast the barrier, but for now I think we're alright." D immediately answered.
"With the help of the Cherubim, work on the Protectorate is proceeding normally." Mr. Hanson announced.
"Have there been any problems with the dimensional pocket?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"Not so far. We're keeping close watch on it." Mr. Couleigh assured him.
"Good. I don't know a lot about magic, but that sounds like something that could go really wrong, really fast." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"Do you need me?" Obby quietly asked from his place with Otis, beside the Waxell door.
"No. You're fine where you are. I'll let you know if anything comes up." Agent Roberts assured him, then noticed the sudden strange look on both Obby and Otis' faces.
It took him a moment to realize what they were thinking.
"I'm not talking about boners. Just... relax. Okay?"
"Are you sure that you don't need us to be doing something to help? Otis asked cautiously.
"Yeah. I'm sure."
* * * * *
"We're ready to start recasting the Brynnhollow barrier." Corabeth announced into the mostly silent gazebo.
"The Protectorate will be ready in about two minutes." Mr. Hansen said seriously.
"Yes. Two minutes would be about right for Southseid as well." Professor Everstone said thoughtfully.
"Is there anything that we need to do before the major spellcasting begins?" Agent Fastbeck asked seriously.
"I have one thing." G said, then made a gesture toward the Brynnhollow doorway.
In a flash, a duplicate of G appeared beside his father.
"I didn't take into account my expanded abilities while channeling this much magic. This way, if you run into any problems with the illusion part of the spell, Lex might be able to help you." G explained by way of Lex. His actual body seemed to be lost in concentration.
"Hopefully we won't have any issues in that regard, but I'm glad that you were able to develop a contingency plan that makes sense. Good work." D said to his son.
"Thanks, Dad." Lex and G responded simultaneously.
"What say the Protectorate team? Are there any last minute preparations that need to be made?" Agent Fastbeck asked as he looked in that direction.
"I would like to take this opportunity to engage in a prayer..." Archdruid Highley began to say.
"Knock yourself out." Agent Fastbeck forcefully interrupted, then turned to Professor Everstone and asked, "Any last minute preparations?"
"No. I believe that we have all that we will need in regard to planning as well as personnel."
"Otis, Steven and Kirwin, if things get too intense, just step through the doorway and you should be safe. You won't be helping anyone if you're injured and we might even have to stop our spellcasting to help you." Agent Fastbeck said firmly.
"We understand the risk." Steven said for the group.
"Does ANYONE have ANYTHING to cover before we dig into the nitty-gritty spellcasting?" Professor Everstone cautiously asked.
"Is there anything special that the gatekeepers need to be doing?" Agent Roberts cautiously asked.
"Stand by and wait to be called upon. Although there is no specific reference as to your participation in the spells, there is no doubt that your presence is required." Professor Everstone said firmly.
"Okay. That's pretty much what I thought but I wanted to be sure that I wasn't missing something." Agent Roberts explained.
"If there isn't anything else, let us begin." Professor Everstone announced.to the group.
* * * * *
There was a long silent moment as everyone waited to see if there were going to be something more, then everyone seemed to spring into action, all at once.
The 'Protectorate' group seemed to take the most decisive action as they started planning all the steps and stages involved in recasting the barrier. While there was no doubt that Mr. Hansen was leading the effort, Mr. Couleigh and the cherubs were keeping up with him, step by step, contributing their ideas and encouragement to the group effort and moving it in a productive direction.
The 'Southseid' group seemed to take a different approach. Professor Everstone very articulately and professionally presented the bullet points of their plan, then went back and expounded on each point in turn, encouraging the others to ask questions or ask for clarifications as needed.
"The 'Brynnhollow' group took an extra moment to see what the others were doing before resolutely going to work. Miss Oaken, Corabeth and D had discussed and planned their actions to the point that they almost seemed to be 'of a mind' as they started casting the spell. They didn't have to interrupt their spellcasting with stage directions, only the slightest glance was necessary to prompt each of them into performing their next step in the spellcasting.
"I don't think they're going to need us." V told Jhaartael frankly.
"Of course they don't, not at this early stage of things. Wait until they get into their second or third hour, that's when the strong begin to show their true worth."
"I suppose that's true. I normally don't have the patience for such things, but I could stand here all day and watch my son achieving everything that I could have hoped for him." V said warmly.
Jhaartael laughed sympathetically, then said, "It's exactly the same for me. Although I've never once explicitly said that I was disappointed in Milo, seeing as he's never achieved anything, well... it's always been there, hanging in the air between us."
"I'm glad he's had the chance to make you proud. I've never played any role in my son's life... I should restate that. I provided for certain... contingencies. I put things in place in the event that they might someday be of use to him. But it wasn't until my son's presence and power penetrated my realm of influence and called upon my help that I could be sure that he had even inherited anything from me. He could have been a witch like his mother or even completely powerless." V explained.
"If he had been powerless, would you love him any less?" Jhaartael asked curiously.
V considered for a moment, then slowly said, "If he were the person that he is now, I don't think so. He has a clear mind and strong will... I like to think he inherited some of that from me. As long as he made good use of whatever skills he had and challenged his limitations, I think that I would love him and be just as proud of him."
"Yes. I think that's what frustrated me so much with Milo, the waste of potential. I knew that he had it within him to be great, but he was hiding himself away, acting like a mundane human, pretending to believe in their convoluted mythologies." Jhaartael said with frustration.
"But now he's here, one of the three Magi, casting a spell more complex and powerful than most magical beings will witness in a lifetime." V reminded him.
"Yes. I suppose that he and I are going to have to come up with a new relationship dynamic. Me being superior and looking down on him won't be realistic after he's done this." Jhaartael said thoughtfully.
"Paul and I don't have a dynamic. We're strangers." V said distantly, then slowly added, "I love him, and I believe that he loves me. But we literally know nothing about each other."
"I wonder which of us is worse off in that regard." Jhaartael said speculatively.
V looked at him inquisitively.
"Are you better off having to get to know him with no preconceived notions or am I better off, having the history with my son, but also having to adapt to suddenly having to... show him respect." Jhaartael said uncomfortably.
"I think it's safe to say that each of us has our own minefield to walk. I suppose it's just good that we'll each have a sympathetic ear nearby in case things don't end up working out as well as we had hoped." V said frankly.
"Yes. It might also be of benefit to have someone in a similar situation should we need to 'brainstorm' about an unexpected development."
"I am excellent at brainstorming. Rest assured that you can count on me." V promised.
"For some reason, and I'm not quite sure what it is, I was certain that I could."
To Be Continued...
This story continues to be more and more intriguing with each new chapter. This is becoming closer and closer to being my favourite MM story. It is getting almost as complicated as, say for instance, the hurt and comfort series, with regard to the connections and interpersonal aspects and connections between various people.
I love it!
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher