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Parvenu 3:

Otherland

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Chapter 3

After enjoying the last of the nachos, Paul and G went back to G's room to begin their homework.

"I've got some sorcery to work on, so I won't need the computer for a little bit." G said as they walked into the living room.

"Where's your computer?" Paul asked cautiously.

"In my study."

"Where's your study?"

"Through the double doors in the bedroom." G said as he motioned for Paul to follow him.

"Oh, I thought that was more closet space."

"Nope. Dad made sure to set me up with a 'dedicated workspace' so that when it was time to study, I'd have a place without too many distractions." G said as he opened the louvered doors to reveal a small neat desk and bookcase.

"Are you sure that you aren't going to need the computer?"

"Yeah. I've got to work on my focus and visualizations right now. I don't have any homework from my other classes, so you can use it as much as you want."

"Okay, but let me know if you need me to move or anything."

G walked over to a small panel by the door and pressed a button before asking, "Dad? Do you have a minute?"

"One minute." D's voice responded.

"Do you have a spare laptop or anything that Paul can use? He has some school work to do and he's worried that I'm going to need the computer at the same time he does."

"Yes. If you'll come to my study, I have a couple that you can choose from. Later this week, I'll see to it that Paul gets his own dedicated workspace."

"You don't have to do anything extra for me. I was just worried that G might not be able to do all his work because I was hogging his computer." Paul said quickly.

"Paul, as your father, it's my responsibility to provide the tools for your success. As my son, it's your responsibility to put those tools to good use. Don't argue. That's just the way it is. Now come to the study and pick up a laptop to get you by until I can make arrangements for you to have your own workspace."

"Okay." Paul said quietly, then quickly added, "Thanks."

After turning off the intercom, G smiled and said, "Come on, I'll show you where it is."

"I don't want for anyone to go to any trouble for me." Paul muttered as he followed.

"Too bad." G said as he put an arm around Paul and gave him a quick firm hug.

* * * * *

Paul was surprised when G led him to D's study. Although he had been there once before, the 'museum' was such a labyrinthine maze of rooms and hallways that he couldn't get a sense of where anything was located.

Truth be told, Paul hadn't had much of an opportunity to see more than the kitchen and dining room. He spent most of his time in G's room.

G led the way as Paul followed along silently.

"If you'll check those messenger bags by the door, you should be able to find a laptop that will get you by for a while." D said without looking up from his work.

"Do you need to clear anything off of them before we start messing with these?" G asked cautiously.

"No. I've gotten into the habit of wiping them once I've gotten all the files transferred over. Those should all be fully loaded with all the software that you'll be needing, completely up-to-date and fully charged." D said as he finally turned to face the boys.

"Did the tech guys give you a little extra something to make that happen?" G asked curiously.

"Yes. I'll show that to you when I have more time, but I have quite a bit of work to catch up on right now." D said regretfully.

"Got it." G said to his father, then turned to Paul and said, "Grab one and let's go."

"Are they all the same?" Paul asked uncertainly.

Before G could answer, D said, "Each laptop is optimized for a specific task, whether it be high RAM, superior video processing or excessive storage capacity. When I need a laptop, I'll choose the one best suited to the job. But for your purposes, I'm sure that any of them will do."

Paul pushed past his indecision and picked up the first messenger bag.

"Will you be able to eat dinner with us tonight?" G asked hopefully.

"Unless something creeps up that I'm not expecting, I should be able to take a break around then."

"We'll see you then." G said before ushering Paul out the door.

* * * * *

"He looks tired." Paul said quietly as they walked.

"Yeah. He's responsible for a lot of different things. Usually he can touch on each one to get updated and let the momentum carry them forward, but after taking time off, he has to dig deep into each thing before getting each project moving again." G said thoughtfully.

"What does he do?"

"Lots of stuff."

"That doesn't tell me anything."

"It's as much as I know. He doesn't do just one thing. Lots of people do lots of things and Dad kind of coordinates it all. If he's not in charge, things can keep on working for a while, but eventually they fall out of synch and different things start working against each other."

"I still don't know what he does."

"I think he does a lot of things, but one of the most important ones is that he makes sure that everyone reaches their goals without interfering with each other while they do it."

"So if anyone asks what my dad does for a living, I should just tell them 'Traffic Cop'?"

"If they don't already know who he is, you might as well tell them that because they probably aren't anyone who matters, anyway."

"You sound like a stuck-up rich kid." Paul chuckled.

"I'm proud of my dad." G said simply.

Paul thought for a moment, then said, "Yeah. I'm proud of him too."

* * * * *

When they got back to G's room, Paul cleared a space for himself on G's desk and opened the laptop.

He turned it on, then asked, "Do you know the password?"

"Open that drawer under my computer." G said absently as he kept his focus on his own work.

Paul did so, then asked, "What am I looking for?"

"Do you see a dried out chicken foot?"

"Yeah."

"Take that and wave it over the keyboard and it should let you in."

"Seriously?"

"Yeah. It's a charm that one of the tech guys made for us. It beats having to remember a bunch of passwords."

Paul cautiously picked up the chicken foot, then hesitantly waved it over the keyboard.

As G had said, the password screen cleared and the desktop revealed itself.

"Does this work on any computer, or just this one?"

"It will work on any computer that belongs to us and we have permission to use."

"The chicken foot knows if we have permission?" Paul asked dubiously.

"Don't get hung up on the chicken foot. It's kind of a joke. They just needed something to enchant and thought that a chicken foot would be funny. I think Dad's password charm is a USB thumb drive."

"Okay..." Paul said uncertainly as he returned the chicken foot to its place in the drawer.

* * * * *

After over half an hour of typing on the computer, Paul quietly asked, "Do you know how to use this drawing program? I've never used it before."

"Just a minute." G said distantly.

"What are you working on?" Paul asked curiously as he approached.

"Sorcery." G said as he quickly turn to face Paul.

Paul could tell that G didn't want to talk about it, so he asked, "Do you know how to use this drawing program? I need to draw the spell diagram for the next part of my report so that someone who's reading it will be able to follow along and know what I'm talking about."

"Can't you just scan it in from the book?"

"The book's at school."

"Do you think that you can remember all the details of the diagram."

Rather than answer verbally, Paul glanced toward the floor as the diagram appeared.

"You can create the spell diagram without using any words or gestures?"

"I just do them internally. Mr. Gilbert said that I could do that if I wanted to."

"Paul, I don't know if you understand that what you're doing is a really high-level technique."

"Or I'm using the lowest of the low level techniques in a way that looks flashy and impressive."

"It's impressive enough for Professor Ortega to ask you to write a report about it."

"Yeah. But he only wants me to do that to show how a simple spell can be used differently."

"Okay... have we argued enough?"

"Enough for what?"

"So that we can kiss and make up?"

"Yeah. I think so." Paul said with a smile.

G moved in and gave Paul a truly memorable kiss.

When the kiss finally ended, Paul gently asked, "Can you show me how to use the drawing program?"

"That program is part of an office suite. It's good for some officey type things but I've got some professional art programs on my computer that will probably be easier for you to understand and better suited to what you're trying to do."

"Do you draw or paint?"

"Sometimes. But just to design my illusions. I don't draw for fun. I've never understood people who did that."

"With as beautiful as your illusions are, there's no way that you could be described as anything less than an artist."

"We already had our fight for tonight, so I'm not going to disagree with you about it, but either way, I don't draw or paint for fun. I do it as a stepping stone on my way to making my illusions look more real than a 1990's video game."

"Like how?" Paul asked curiously.

"In the really old games, they would have one picture of one brick and they'd use it to make all the walls in the entire game. When I first started, my illusions would sometimes be like that, just the same thing over and over. If I made a forest, it'd be two or three hundred of exactly the same tree."

"All I know is that the illusion you did after the wedding was perfect. Not only was everyone impressed by it, but it made the wedding seem that much more special for my mom and your dad."

"Yeah. That really did turn out well, didn't it?" G asked with a smile.

"Everybody loved it." Paul confirmed.

"Let me show you my art program before we get sidetracked any more." G said seriously.

"Before you do that, I just thought of something that I need to ask your advice about."

"Sure. What?"

"When I read the original spell in the book that Mr. Gilbert gave me, the spell diagram was missing a part. I was able to fill it in, but now I realize why it was left blank."

"Why is that?"

"Because if any demon summoner had access to the completed diagram with the locus intact, they would have everything they needed to summon a demon, whether they really meant to or not."

"Do you mean that you can accidently summon a demon?"

"Well, a non-witch can't, of course. But if a witch with a summoning ability has the diagram... like my illustration, and has the words, which will be included in my report, then they could read the spell, aloud or silently, and actually summon a demon right then and there without really meaning to."

"Somehow I didn't think it was that easy to summon a demon."

"Actually, it isn't. There's a lot of stuff about your force of will and balancing power dynamics and other stuff that I don't really understand. But it's still possible that someone like me could read the spell and that everything would line up so that I'd have an actual demon appear right in front of me out of nowhere."

"I can see how that would be a surprise."

"Yeah. And if they're not skilled, they might not be able to contain it, control it or send it back." Paul carefully explained.

"Okay..."

"I guess I just answered my own question. I'm going to leave the locus out of the spell diagram so that no one can accidentally use it in it's printed form."

"Yeah. Letting demons loose... not a good idea."

"Oh, yeah. I wanted to show you the other thing that I learned today." Paul said happily.

Before G could ask what it was, Paul began to grow in height and mass as horns and hooves came into being.

"You're getting better at that!"

"Look at my clothes, they're not all torn up. I learned how to make them change when I change." Paul said in his much lower voice.

"Where did your shoes go?" G asked as he looked at Paul's hooves.

"I don't know. The same place my feet went, I guess. But the cool thing is that now I don't have to worry about tearing up your uniforms if something happens and I need to change all of a sudden." Paul said happily.

"I never needed to learn that one. When I let my magic go full-out, all that happens is that my skin and hair color change."

"And you look awesome."

"Look who's talking."

"Will you show me your art program?"

"Yeah. But you need to change back first or I might not be able to focus on showing you how to use the program."

"Do you have some demon fantasies that I should know about?"

"Just change back. We have work to do."

               'I'll take that as a yes.'

* * * * *

"Boys! Dinner will be ready in just a few minutes!" Beth's voice called over the intercom.

"How does she know that, if the house is doing all the cooking?" Paul asked as he saved his work.

"Her saying it lets the house know that we'll be going to the dining room soon. That sort of triggers it to get everything ready." G said simply.

"Did you get a lot of work done?" Paul asked curiously as he backed away from G's computer.

"Yeah. At least, I've almost finished the base. I don't have to have the project done until Friday." G said as he stretched.

"Can you tell me what you're doing?"

"Ask me again after dinner and I'll show you. You'll just have to keep in mind that it's not in its final form."

"Okay." Paul said as he walked to the laptop and made sure to save his work there too.

"What about you? How's your stuff going?"

"You were right about the art programs. I still have quite a bit to do, but I'm happy with the way it's going."

"Do you think that you'll be able to finish it tonight?"

"Yeah. The report's mostly written. I just need to go through it and make sure it all matches up to the illustration."

"I'm glad you're not having any problem writing the report. I know a lot of people struggle with that." G said as he led the way out into the hallway that led to the main house.

"About two or three schools ago, I was stuck in this one that made us do tons of reports. I kinda got used to the process."

"From the way you talked, I got the feeling that most of the schools you attended were sub-par, but report writing is a valuable skill."

"We had to write reports on articles from the Reader's Digest from the past fifty or sixty years, one after another, day after day. It was miserable."

"Sounds like it."

"But I guess it helped me to look up references and do research and that kind of stuff. As much as it sucked, I think I learned a lot more at that school than most of the others."

"Well, you're here now. I think you'll like this school."

"Yeah. I'm liking it so far."

* * * * *

"Did Dad say if he was going to be joining us?" G asked as he led the way into the dining room.

"Yes. I talked to him just a minute ago and he said that he had to finalize a few things and that he'd be right in." Beth said pleasantly.

"That sounds like about ten minutes to me." G said as he took his seat.

Paul smiled affectionately at G as he took the seat across from him, noticing that all the food in the middle of the table was covered with silver domed lids.

"How is your studying going? Are you getting a lot of work done?" Beth asked curiously.

Paul looked to G to see if he wanted to answer first but found the same expression mirrored back at him.

"You're the alpha." Paul said with a grin.

G smiled, then said, "We got assigned a new project today, so I've been doing the groundwork on that. Since it's only the first day, I'm in a good place."

Paul smiled at the answer, then said, "I've been working on that report I was telling you about. I'm making an illustration of the spell diagram, so that's taking some time, but once that's done, I should be able to pull it all together. I've probably got another hour of work left."

"I hope this isn't an indication of how things are going to be around here. I'd like it if we could have the opportunity to do things as a family."

"Mom, we've just spent most of the past week traveling to Europe and back and we've been together most of that time. Once everyone gets their stuff caught up, I'm sure that we'll have time to do things together." Paul said frankly, then continued, "And if you're worried about us 'bonding' and coming together as a family, I love you, I love G and I love D. What more do you want?"

After a moment, Beth quietly said, "I guess that when I dreamed about what it would be like to have a family of my own... it doesn't matter... it's silly."

"Mom. We'll have special moments like that. I promise. But we're not going to have them all the time. In fact, we'll probably end up having them when you least expect it." Paul said frankly.

"Unless something really big and super important comes up, Dad takes the weekends off. So if you're wanting to do any big 'family' things, that's probably the best time to do them." G finished with a smile at Beth.

"That sounds like a good idea. And that gives me all week to plan something that we'll all enjoy doing." Beth said happily.

"I was telling Paul just a little bit ago about how good Dad's steaks are. Maybe we could have a cookout?" G suggested hopefully.

"Yes. We'll have to wait and see what the weather's going to be like, but I can imagine that it might be an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon."

"Yeah. And if you've got all week to plan it, we could even go somewhere for the day, maybe rent a boat or go to a park or something." G said excitedly.

"'Rent' a boat? Somehow I thought your dad would already own one." Paul said with a grin at G.

"He does, but we'd have to fly to get there." G responded casually.

Paul had been joking and was left speechless.

* * * * *

"I'm willing to wait for D to join us, but the baby isn't." Beth said as she stood.

Before she could remove the dome from the first dish in the middle of the table, D hurried into the room.

"I hope I didn't keep you waiting too long." D said quickly.

"You're right on time. The baby just decided that it's hungry." Beth said to him with a smile.

"How is baby doing today?" D asked warmly.

"So far it's just been hungry." Beth said as she reached forward again and revealed the main course.

"Oh good. I've been hungry for ribs!" D said happily.

Beth got a curious look for a moment, then said, "I get the feeling that the baby has been too."

"So I'm guessing that you haven't found out if it's a boy or a girl yet." G said as he lifted two other silver domes, revealing a kale salad and some steamed broccoli with cheese sauce.

"No. We've decided that we'd like to wait and find out the old fashioned way." Beth said, then smiled at her husband adoringly.

"But doesn't that mean that you're going to have to wait till the last minute to fix up the baby's room and buy clothes and stuff?" G asked curiously.

"Not really. The nursery may have some pink or blue things in it, but it will have lots of other colors too." Beth said simply.

"Beth has volunteered to design the nursery so that everything can be done to her specifications." D said as he served himself some of the vegetables.

"Since I left my job, I'll have the time to do some research and plan what I'm doing in advance." Beth said frankly.

"Are you upset about leaving your job?" G asked curiously.

"I miss the social aspect of it a little. But the drive to work from here would be impractical, and with the baby coming, it would only get more and more difficult." Beth said honestly, then added, "As for the job itself, good riddance."

D laughed at the statement, then said, "If everything goes well, the business that I was conducting in town will be concluded soon, so there won't be any reason for me to have to go into town as often."

"Except when we drive in to have lunch at 'our' lunch counter." Beth said with a tender smile at him.

"We'll make a point of doing that often." D assured her.

"If you're missing the people that you work with, maybe you could have a baby shower or something and invite them out here. Not only would it give you a chance to visit with your friends, but that way they'll know where you're living now so that they can come and visit you sometime." G thoughtfully suggested.

"It would feel kind of strange to throw a party for myself." Beth said honestly.

"Well, call it a house warming party or a reception for your wedding or something like that. It doesn't matter what you call it, it's just an excuse to stick some food and drinks in them and visit for a while." G said seriously.

"You know, that actually sounds like a good idea. I know that you haven't had much of a chance to meet new people since you've been here. I can see how you might start to feel isolated." D said with concern.

"If you're worried about that, then maybe you could set something up to invite some people from around here over. I bet that Nazzy and Vinda's parents would come over if you invited them. And you know enough people from your work and stuff that you could have a really massive party if you wanted to." G said to his father.

"I don't know if any of us but you are temperamentally suited to a 'massive party', but I agree that it might be nice to plan a get-together or two with some of my acquaintances to introduce Beth and Paul to them." D said slowly.

"Yeah. And they're always inviting us to the theater and other snooty things. Maybe you could start doing stuff like that too, if you wanted." G suggested.

"There's no need for us to make any decisions about this tonight. You've made some good suggestions and given us some things to discuss." D said thoughtfully.

Paul noticed that G seemed to be pleased that his father had taken his suggestions so seriously.

* * * * *

There were a few minutes of silence as everyone turned their attention to their meals, but something occurred to Paul and he finally asked, "Have you been thinking of names for the baby yet?"

"K." Beth said with a tender smile at her husband.

"K? What does it stand for?" Paul asked cautiously.

"If it's a boy, it will be spelled, K-a-e. It doesn't stand for anything, that will be his name." Beth said simply.

"And if it's a girl?" Paul prompted.

"Then it will be spelled K-a-y."

"That's it? You're not even going to think about other names?" Paul asked dubiously.

"Who's to say that we won't consider other names between now and the time the baby's born? But at this point in time, I'm considering it settled." Beth finished with a smile.

"What if it's twins?" G asked cautiously.

"Let's cross that bridge when we come to it." D told his son firmly.

* * * * *

"I think that this is the best bar-b-que I've ever tasted in my life." Paul said abruptly.

"The thing is, you'll probably say the same thing the next time we have bar-b-que. Every time we have it, it tastes like it's the absolute best." G said happily.

"I can't wait to find out!" Paul said with a grin before diving in to eat more of the impossibly delicious ribs.

"The baby likes the ribs too." Beth said between bites.

"Obviously. As my child the baby will, of course, have excellent taste." D said with a grin.

"Does that apply to me too?" G asked his father curiously.

"Absolutely." D said without hesitation.

"Okay. I can accept that." G said easily.

* * * * *

"So, Paul, I was meaning to ask how the laptop was working out for you. Do you have everything you need?" D asked curiously.

"Well, when I got to the part of my report when I had to make an illustration, G let me use his computer because it has a lot better art programs. But as far as doing the report itself, the laptop has had everything that I've needed."

"You might think about making a list of what programs G has that you'd like to have on your own computer, as well as any other programs that you might like to have. If you get it to me in time, I can give it to the tech guys and they can see that everything is loaded properly and optimized for the best performance."

"They could just clone what I've got on my computer, if that would be easier... well, except for the porn. Paul would probably want to get his own." G added as an aside.

Everyone, even D, fell silent as they looked at G in shock.

"What?" G asked when he noticed.

"Certain subjects aren't appropriate at the dinner table." D told his son slowly and condescendingly.

"I used to be able to say whatever I wanted when it was just the two of us. Are Beth and Paul our family or not?" G asked challengingly.

"That's not the point. Certain things aren't discussed in polite conversation." D reiterated.

"I get that it's not right to talk about gross-out stuff when people are eating, but are you saying that I have to behave like I do when I'm at school, even when I'm at home in my own house with my own family?" G asked seriously.

"There's a time and a place..." D began to say, but was interrupted.

"When?" G challenged. "When are we all together in a time and place where it is appropriate to say what we're honestly thinking and feeling? Because besides mealtime, I can't think of a time when we're even in the same room."

"D?" Beth asked quietly.

After a moment more of glaring at G, D glanced at Beth inquiringly.

"I'd much rather the boys know that they can discuss what's on their minds with us when we're together as a family. If you want to spend time with the boys when they're on their best behavior, then maybe you could take them someplace that demands their 'best behavior'. I think home should be where they can be themselves." Beth said gently.

"Okay. I understand what you're saying." D finally relented, then added, "But I still don't think that it's right to discuss my son's porn stash at the dinner table."

"I wasn't going to give you details or anything. I was just saying that my computer has all the programs that I need for school. Instead of trying to make a list of all the programs that Paul might possibly need, the tech guys could just clone my computer and have it all done in one easy step."

"I can see that being a reasonable way of doing it." D conceded, then turned to Paul and asked, "Can you think of any programs that you'd like to have besides the ones on G's computer?"

"No. Not really." Paul said honestly, then added, "But I wouldn't mind getting a copy of that porn stash. I don't really have one of my own."

Although Paul was a bit worried about D's reaction, he felt that it was important to show G his support within the family structure.

"I don't know. A guy's porn stash is kind of a private thing. How about I help you set up your own? When I see what you like, I may have a few things to contribute to it." G said thoughtfully.

"You know..." Beth said, gaining everyone's attention, "...pregnancy can cause a woman's libido to shoot right through the roof..."

"I'm out!" Paul said immediately.

"Yeah. I see what you mean, Dad." G said quickly, then added, "Look at the time! We've got to get back to work."

As the boys rushed out of the dining room, D looked adoringly at his wife and quietly said, "Thank you."

Beth responded with a beaming smile.

* * * * *

"Before you go back to your report, do you want to see what I've been working on?" G asked as they crossed the bridge into G's room.

"Yeah. With as hard as you've been working on it, I'm sure it's going to be great." Paul said enthusiastically.

As soon as they were in the living room, G quietly said, "Well, here it goes."

Paul watched as G's features changed, becoming more and more clown-like.

G made the 'lifting' gesture that Paul had come to associate with G putting forth a great effort.

Suddenly, in the space between them, a vaguely humanoid shape began to form.

Paul's eyes went wide with surprise. He didn't know what he had been expecting, but that wasn't it.

"Hold on... hold on..." G said as he struggled to complete his vision.

Facial features began to appear on the illusory construct, but they somehow seemed wrong. The eyes and mouth seemed to be too big for the face, but the nose was bigger still; it was enormous.

Paul was stunned into speechlessness for a moment, but was finally able to say, "That's amazing! That's got to be the creepiest looking gargoyle that I've ever seen."

"It's supposed to be a self-portrait." G hesitantly admitted.

"Oh." Paul cringed, then quickly added, "Well, it does have a nice ass."

G stared at Paul for a moment, then broke into an unwilling smile.

Paul stepped around the illusion and pulled G into a hug as he quietly said, "I know that it'll be great when you've got it finished."

"I hope so. This is the first really difficult assignment that we've gotten this year. I don't want to start off behind." G said anxiously.

"Just think it through and make it happen. I know that you'll blow everyone away with it." Paul said warmly.

G chuckled, then said, "I guess since you impressed the senior professor of your department, you'd know what it takes."

Paul lightly kissed G on the ear, then whispered, "Count on it."

"We'd better get to work. We both still have things to do."

"Right." Paul reluctantly conceded as he let go of G.

"Will it bother you if I leave my illusion up while you're working?" G asked cautiously.

"No. It won't bother me at all."

"Just let me know if it starts to bug you. I can do it in my head if I need to." G said as he sat on the floor with his legs crossed.

"It's fine, but do you mind if I give it a name? I feel funny calling it... it."

"Go ahead. I never thought about naming one of my illusions before."

Paul looked at the poor misshapen thing for a moment, then slowly said, "How about if we call him 'Lex'?"

"Like Lex Luthor?" G asked dubiously.

"No. Like Lexington, a gargoyle from the cartoon show."

"I don't think I've ever seen that."

"I didn't think so, it didn't have any big-boobed schoolgirls or mech-warriors."

"We've gotten off track again. We really need to get to work."

"Yeah, but I wonder if maybe I should get you to show me how you do it. I know that visualization's not part of wizardry but maybe with your help I could do something more with my wizard lights."

"Considering what you've already been able to accomplish, maybe I should be getting your help with visualization."

"We'll help each other... after we get some work done." Paul said decisively.

"Right."

* * * * *

G's work consisted mostly of meditation with an occasional glance up at 'Lex' for reference.

Paul was working quietly on the drawing program on G's computer, trying to perfect his diagram.

"I think I got it." Paul finally said, snapping G out of his concentration.

"You've finished your report?" G asked curiously.

"No. But I finished the diagram. Do you want to see?" Paul asked as he backed away from G's computer.

"Sure." G said as he slowly got up from the floor, only just realizing how long he'd been sitting there in the same position.

"I think that's as good as I can get it."

"The amount of detail you put into it is amazing. I'm going to get you to help me the next time I have to do anything complicated like that."

"I'll always be happy to help if I can." Paul said warmly, then quickly thought to ask, "How's yours coming?"

"I think I'm ready to try it out." G said as he turned his attention to the illusion standing frozen in front of him.

Paul watched as G's coloring changed and became clown-like. He was surprised to realize that the 'clown' makeup wasn't exactly the same as it had been before. The painted on smirk that G had worn before was now replaced by a scowl.

Before Paul could say anything about it, G slowly raised his arms and concentrated on his objective.

Paul watched as 'Lex' began to change. Overall, his proportions in relation to each other seemed to become more realistic.

"I didn't notice before, but the clothes look really good." Paul said as he paid more attention to the detail work on the red tee shirt and blue jeans.

"Yeah. We've been working on that for a few weeks now. They do their best to make one lesson build on another so it doesn't feel like we're always learning a bunch of unrelated things." G said as he carefully looked over his handiwork.

"Do you need to visualize and plan each thing that you're doing before you make your illusion?" Paul asked curiously.

"Yeah. I do all the planning on, like, this internal canvas in my mind's eye, or something like that. Once I've made all the changes there, I can focus my power to make that image come to life in the real world. The funny thing is that sometimes what you start with isn't exactly what you end up with." G finished as he looked regretfully at his creation.

"Your other illusions looked perfect. Did you have to go through all of this with them too?" Paul asked curiously.

"Not as much. Sometimes I need to make adjustments, but they mostly come out like I envision them. For some reason, when it comes to 'alive' things, it's more tricky. Not just people, but animals too. They tend to look really 'fake' unless I go back and do a lot of detail work on them."

"What kind of animals can you do?"

"Right now, I can only do a hedgehog and an otter."

"Those seem kind of random."

"Yeah. I just didn't want to do the same 'dogs and cats' as everyone else. Those are the only animals that I've taken the time to try and perfect so far.

"Can I see?" Paul asked hopefully.

"Okay, hold out your hand."

Paul did so, and a moment later he saw a small, pointy-nosed little animal resting in his palm looking up at him with tiny beady black eyes.

"This is amazing! He looks completely real!"

"Yeah. I got an A+ on that one." G said with a smile, then added more grimly, "But people are a whole lot harder than animals. I can't believe how drastically different the final product was from my original vision. This is going to take a lot of work."

"I'll let you get back to it. I still need to put the finishing touches on my report. I'd like to get it finished so that I can have some time to do something else before bedtime."

"Let me know when you're done for the night and I'll finish up too."

"What do you want me to do with this?" Paul asked as he held up the hedgehog.

G smiled, then the hedgehog vanished.

On impulse, Paul leaned in and gave G a quick kiss before returning to the computer.

* * * * *

� "That's it. I think I'm done." Paul announced triumphantly.

"Good. Let me see how this turned out, then I should be done too." G said as he slowly made his way to standing.

"Wouldn't it be better to sit in a chair?"

"No. I'm not sure why, but I'm able to visualize better sitting on the floor."

"When you're done, would you read my report and see if I missed anything?"

"Sure. Just let me do this first."

Paul watched as G focused on 'Lex' and made the alterations.

The illusion didn't look entirely 'human' but Paul had to admit that it did look better.

In its new state, Paul could now at least recognize what G was trying to do.

"I've got a long way to go, but it's not bad for a start." G slowly said as he examined his handiwork.

"It's looking a lot less gargoyley." Paul said weakly.

"Yeah. Thanks."

"Do you have a minute to look over my report? I want to be sure that it's good enough for this school." Paul said anxiously.

"Sure." G said with a smile at him, then turned back to his illusion and said, "See ya tomorrow, Lex."

As Paul watched, G made a lowering gesture with his arms and the illusory person, Lex, evaporated into nothingness.

"Where do you want me to start?"

"Right here. I've got the report in one document and the illustration attached." Paul hurried to explain.

"That's good. Do you know how to submit it?" G asked as he sat in front of the laptop and started reading.

"No. I hadn't thought about that. Should I print it out or email it to someone?" Paul asked slowly.

"Actually, each teacher has their own way of doing things, so it'd be best if you print it out and make sure that you have access to an online copy... maybe email it to yourself so that you can easily forward it."

"My email doesn't allow large attachments and the image file is pretty big." Paul said uncertainly.

"That's alright, we need to get you a secure account anyway. If you're going to be sending spells and summoning diagrams through email, you don't want it where regular people can snoop into it."

"Oh, yeah. I guess I need to do that."

"Let me finish reading this, then we'll see what we need to do to get you set up."

Paul nodded as he watched and waited for G's reaction.

* * * * *

"Wow. The next time I have to write a report, I'm going to get you to help me." G said as he turned to look at Paul.

"It's alright?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Yeah, except for one thing..."

"What'd I miss?"

"You don't have any references. How do you know about all this stuff?"

"I got most of it from the book Mr. Gilbert gave me. The rest I just figured out on my own."

"So you read through it once and you remembered all this?"

"Not word for word, but it made sense when I read it, so I just wrote it down the way I understood it."

"Since it's your first day, I doubt that anyone will have a problem with it. But I know that my teachers are always after me to cite my references to back up whatever I'm saying."

"Is there some secret online magic library that I can use?" Paul asked anxiously.

"I know where to find Sorcery information, but I wouldn't know where to start with summoning. Maybe Nazzy or Vinda would know of an online resource."

"Would it be alright to call them? I'd really like for my report to be as good as it can possibly be. You know, first impressions and all that."

"Let me see if they're online." G said, then scooted the chair over to his desktop computer.

Paul watched over his shoulder as G typed in a text message.

"This way, if they're online, they'll be able to share links with you." G explained as he waited for a response.

"So this magic stuff is online where anyone could access it?"

"Not exactly. Any library that contains anything real is encrypted and your IP has to be approved before you can access it. I'm pretty sure there's also some magical thing that the tech guys do as another level of security, but I don't know anything about that. All I know is that I have access when I need it."

"I'd really like to understand..." Paul began to say, but stopped when he saw a response to G's text message.

"Nazzy's on. Give me a second to tell him what we need." G said as he started typing.

Paul watched and waited for Nazzy's response.

When it finally came through, it was in the form of a link.

"Nazzy's busy with something else right now, but he said that this site should have what you're looking for." G said as he clicked the link.

G signed into the site, then moved out of the chair so that Paul could take his place.

"If the textbook is listed in here, should I just use that or should I go through some of these others for backup verification?" Paul asked as he searched through a series of thumbnails of cover art.

"If it were me, I'd look at the textbook and see if they cite their references, then go and check those out if they're available. That way it doesn't look like you're just copying from the book. But I wouldn't go any deeper than that unless it was for something like a term paper."

"Okay. Here's the book that Mr. Gilbert gave me, so I'd better get to work."

"While you're doing that, I'm going to look through my videos to find us something to watch so that we can relax for a while. I don't know about you, but I feel like I could really use some downtime."

"Sounds good." Paul said as he searched through the book's index for the section that he wanted to reference.

* * * * *

Once Paul had finished with all his citations, he printed off his report.

Soon thereafter he was cuddled up beside G on the couch, watching another bewildering example of anime.

Although it wasn't really that late, the previous day's travel combined with all the excitement of their day at school had taken its toll and the two were soon fast asleep.

* * * * *

Waking up the next morning felt right to Paul. He felt like he was establishing a routine and this particular morning, he felt like he was 'in the groove'.

Eating breakfast, showering and getting ready for school all proceeded at an unhurried pace.

The ride in the school van was enjoyable not only for the fact of grossing out Sandy with an impromptu makeout session, but also for the makeout session itself. Paul appreciated the show of affection and thought that it was an excellent way to start his day.

"What's your first class?"

"Numerology."

"Really? Me too! Who's your teacher?"

"Ms. Ipsum."

"That's so cool! You're in my class!" G said happily, then asked, "Do you need to stop by your locker before we go to class?"

"I don't have one."

"Do you have your schedule with you?"

"Yeah. Here it is."

"Your locker number is up here in the corner. Number 1402."

"Do you know where that is?"

"Yeah. It's not too far from here. Let's go."

* * * * *

"Do you know the combination?"

"No."

"Then how are we supposed to open it?"

G muttered a magical phrase as he made a gesture in front of the locker door.

"Does that tell you the combination?"

"No. It just pops the lock."

"Then can you teach it to me?"

"I can, but I don't think we have enough time right now. I guess that you can either carry your stuff with you or you can put your stuff in your locker and I can do a locking spell. But if I do that it would mean that I'd have to be with you to unlock it when you needed to get to your stuff."

"I'll just carry it with me. It's not that much."

"Once you've been to all your classes, you'll probably have more. Remind me at lunch and I'll teach it to you."

"Yeah. By then I'll probably need to know it."

* * * * *

Paul was somewhat reassured by having G at his side as he walked into Numerology class.

He couldn't help but smile at a paper banner at the front of the room with the numbers 07734 printed on it.

"Ms. Ipsum, this is my brother Paul. He's going to be starting your class today."

"It's nice to meet you Paul. Or would you prefer to be addressed in some other way?" Ms Ipsum asked seriously.

"Paul's fine."

"I received notice that you would be joining my class along with a brief summary of your magical aptitude scores. Based on that, I think that the best way to start you off is with a more advanced student to guide you through the basics. Of course, I'll be available to answer any questions that you may have. And don't be concerned if you notice that you're behind the other students. Everyone is learning at their own pace and things have a way of seeking equilibrium."

Paul hesitantly nodded his acknowledgement of her statement.

"G, since you've advanced beyond the majority of the class, I'd like for you to oversee Paul's introduction to Numerology. Not only will this give Paul the chance to learn from someone that he knows, but you'll also be familiar with what he's working on and be able to help him outside of school hours if necessary."

"I know the basic stuff, but I don't know if I'll know how to teach it. I wouldn't want to screw Paul up on the basics." G said nervously.

"Don't worry about that. I'll be supervising from a distance." Ms Ipsum assured him, then continued, "Besides, you'll have the basic workbooks to give you a structure to follow. Just go through the lessons at whatever pace you're comfortable with, then advance to the next workbook. If you have any doubts or would like recommendations on how to convey a particular concept, just come to me and I'll help you. This might end up being a valuable experience for you."

"Ouch! That's usually how people describe something that's going to suck." G said with a wince.

Ms. Ipsum laughed, then said, "Go to one of the tables at the back of the room and start on the arithmetic primer. Once I've gotten everyone else started on their projects, I'll check in with you."

"I already know arithmetic." Paul quickly interjected.

"Not like this, you don't." G chuckled as he led Paul away.

* * * * *

G went to a shelf of books and took one down.

When he returned to the work table where Paul was sitting, he opened it to the first page and said, "We have seven apples and three oranges. How much fruit do we have?"

"Ten." Paul said slowly, not believing that G was going to start him at such a rudimentary level.

"Right. How did you know that?" G asked slowly.

"Seven plus three is ten... I don't know how else to explain it. It just is." Paul said with frustration.

"Yes! Perfect! 'It just is.' Remember that. Because magically the answer can be a bunch of things all at the same time. Let's say that the apples break down into three different types. There's Red Delicious which weigh on average 100 grams each. The Granny Smith apples each weigh approximately 150 grams. We'll say that the Fuji apples are 125 grams each. Oranges range from eighty to one hundred ninety grams, so for convenience we'll say that our oranges weigh 130 grams each. Later on, we'll calculate the weight after removing peels, cores and seeds, but for now we'll keep it simple. Three Red Delicious, two Granny Smiths, two Fugis and three oranges. How much fruit do we have?'

"We still have ten pieces. But if you want to know the amount of fruit we have by weight I'll need a piece of paper and a minute to figure it out." Paul said honestly.

"Look at this." G said as he touched the tip of his pencil to the large open space on the page of the notebook.

Paul watched and his eyes went wide when he realized what was happening.

"The spell embedded in this page of the workbook allows us to do this." G said as figures started bleeding into being on the page."

"So it's like having a calculator built into the paper?" Paul asked slowly.

"Not exactly. The spell takes the known information and processes it for you. In some ways, it actually makes the math harder than the mundane way of doing it because you have to understand what the question is asking and choose the correct spell to solve it. In essence, it makes all your math into word problems. After a while you kinda just start thinking that way."

"What did you end up with on the fruit question?"

"Ten pieces of fruit totalling 1,240 grams, 930 grams of usable fruit product, 690 grams of water weight, three potential magical configurations using the pieces of fruit as spell components and one recipe for a summer fruit salad."

"So rather than do the 'nuts and bolts' calculations, you let the magic do that and focus on selecting the proper magic to produce the information that you're looking for." Paul said thoughtfully.

"Yep. Now you try it. Look around this room and figure out how many people are in here."

"And the spell is already on the workbook and I don't have to do anything to activate it?" Paul asked cautiously.

"I can't pull anything over on you." G said tenderly, then explained, "If it worked that way, then a mundane person could use the spell. Of course, that's not the case. Once you have all the parameters of the spell assigned then you need to activate the spell that you know is present and lend it your power."

"And I can do all of that mentally. I don't have to say the spell aloud?" Paul asked to verify.

"Not unless you want to annoy every person in this classroom. When we were in elementary school doing this, the whole class would be reading their spells aloud at the same time and feeding them the variables. It amazes me that the teachers didn't go stark raving mad having to listen to that all day long." G said with a grin.

Paul looked around the room, taking note of all the people present, then he looked at the workbook curiously and became conscious of his magical energy interacting with the spell that was dormant, waiting for him to use it.

"As soon as you're ready, touch the pencil to the paper to set the spell in motion." G said quietly, so as not to distract Paul from his concentration.

Paul picked up the pencil from the table and very deliberately let the point touch inside the blank area on the page.

Just as with when G had done it, words and numbers began to bleed through the paper.

When the page settled into it's final form, G cautiously asked, "What'd you get?"

"Thirteen, including us." Paul said as he looked over the worksheet.

"What else?"

"Six guys, six girls and one woman, Ms Ipsum. Five caucasians, three blacks, two hispanics, two asians and one who the spellbook says is mixed race." Paul said slowly, then looked around to see who the book might be talking about.

"What else?"

"It also breaks us down by our heights, birth dates and BMIs. How does it know all of that?"

"It's magic." G said with a grin.

"So, when I want to calculate how many people are in a room, I'm always going to end up getting a bunch of useless information along with it?"

"At this stage, yes. The basic spells on these workbooks are very general, so they will provide you way more information than you'll be needing. Later on your spells will be more and more specialized so that you can get more specific results and whatever level of precision that you want."

"I get what you're saying, but all of this addition is too basic for me to really see what it's doing. Can you show me something more complex? I understand what you're saying, but I'd like to see a spell that's useful and actually gives you the results that you're expecting."

"Sure." G said, then took the workbook and turned to one of the back pages.

"Are you going to be internally activating the spell on the workbook?"

"Yeah, I guess. The thing is, I've been doing this for so long that it's automatic. I don't even think about what I'm doing or how it works anymore."

"So spellcasting can become a reflex?"

"Yeah." G said then tapped his pencil on the page of the workbook.

Letters, numbers and symbols began to appear, so small that they were almost impossible for Paul to see.

"What does all this mean?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean that you don't know."

G turned and asked more loudly, "Ms. Ipsum? Could you come over here?"

"Is there a problem?"

"Let me pull up a written version of the spell I was using so Ms. Ipsum can see where I went wrong. This should have worked." G said as he placed his pencil back on the worksheet.

Paul watched as a paragraph of text appeared above the absurdly small printing of the result.

"Is there a problem?" Ms Ipsum asked as she approached.

"Yeah. I was just going to show Paul an example of a more advanced spell with a specific result and something went wrong." G said slowly.

"Schrodinger's Cat isn't really a good example to use for someone at a beginner's level." Ms Ipsum said warily.

"I know. But all I was trying to do was to calculate Paul's age in minutes." G said frankly.

"Oh. Yes. I can see what you were trying to do there... That should have worked." Ms. Ipsum said as she carefully read through the spell.

"So what did I do wrong?" G asked as he read through the spell again.

"I'd have to backtrack and verify all the magically retrieved datum to find out where the problem is. For now, try doing the same spell on yourself and see if you can get an answer more in line with what you're expecting."

G tapped his pencil in the work area and Paul noticed the change to one little phrase in the spell.

The results that followed on the page reformed themselves to accommodate the new input.

What, a moment before, had been an incomprehensible formula was now a relatively simple math problem, albeit with an insanely long final answer.

"That's better." Ms Ipsum said with a smile.

"But why did it go wrong before?"

"I'm not sure." Ms Ipsum said simply, then continued, "But I have a feeling that discovering the answer could take quite a bit of time and effort. Once we've been able to get Paul grounded in the basics, we may revisit this question and see where the answers lead us."

"Why does that sound like something really really not fun?" G asked cautiously.

Ms Ipsum smiled, then said, "Discovery is fun. It's an adventure. If there's one thing that I want you to learn in my class, that's it."

"Yeah. I'm all about discovery except when it means hours of work to find out that an 'ie' should have been an 'ei'." G said frankly.

"We don't have much time left in this class period, why don't you take a few minutes to introduce Paul to the wonder of pi."

"Yeah. I can do that." G said with a smile.

* * * * *

"Pi? Like 3.14159?" Paul asked slowly.

"Yes. Looking at it from one point of view, pi is an irrational and transcendental number that can never be explicitly stated. Looking at it magically, pi is a concept that can easily be used and manipulated."

"Hang on. So if I'm getting what you're saying, by using magic, pi is just another number. Since you don't have to 'calculate' anything with it, you can use it the same way you use the number 2 and not have to worry about decimal places that trail off into infinity."

"Right. Most people have problems with the concept of irrational numbers, but to us they're just the same as any other numbers. When you get into algebra, it still works the same way. 'X' is a number, the same as 2. You don't worry about what it represents, you just accept that it is. In fact, you can use exactly the same process with a formula, manipulating it the same as a number."

"But if you use magic to solve problems pretty much the same way that you use a calculator, what's the difference? Why use magic at all?" Paul asked curiously.

"It's all about complexity. When you get used to using magical methods to manipulate numbers and solve problems, you end up being able to find answers that can't be gotten with mundane math."

"That Is, if you know which spells to use."

"Yes. Look at this. Using this very basic spell, the magical expression of pi is plotted to create a circle." G said as he touched the paper with his pencil.

As expected, Paul saw a circle form, along with a mathematical formula quantifying its construction.

"Would that plotting spell work on something besides the paper?"

"Well, this spell is on the paper, but if you wanted to I guess you could use a copy of it on something else."

"So in a way, it's kind of like the wizard's light? There's a standard form that almost anyone can use, but you can alter it in a lot of different ways to suit your needs."

"Yeah. I suppose so. I never really had a reason to use it anywhere but on my schoolwork."

"Let me see if I've got this." Paul said slowly, then a glowing circle appeared on the desk in front of him.

"Did you just plug the pi formula into your wizard's light spell?"

"Yeah. It's like a total shortcut compared to what I was doing before."

"But is the math spell going to work along with the other stuff that you were doing?"

"I'm just drawing pictures. I don't think it matters." Paul said honestly, then added, "But I can try it out easily enough."

Before G could even think about objecting, Paul created a complete spell diagram on the floor beside the table.

"You really shouldn't do that in here." G said as he looked around nervously.

"Why not? We're in the 'witch' part of the school, aren't we?"

"Yeah. But it's kind of a rule that we don't practice our specialties outside of our practical application classes."

"What are you doing there?" Ms Ipsum asked as she approached.

"I'm sorry. When G was showing me the spell to plot pi, I thought it might work well in a spell diagram that I've been working on. I didn't realize that I wasn't supposed to do spell diagrams outside of Wizardry class." Paul answered repentantly.

"While it's true that I don't want my students working on projects from other classes during our class time, this relates directly to what you're learning. Why don't you explain what it is that you've done here?"

"Yesterday, I made this diagram for my Wizardry class using wizard's lights. When G showed me the spell to plot pi, I thought I'd incorporate it into my spell diagram to see if the two spells would work together."

"Although people alter Numerology spells to suit their own needs all the time, as far as I know you're the first student to attempt to do so, much less succeed at it, on their first try."

"Yes Ma'am. But it feels wrong doing it this way. The math doesn't feel right."

"How so?"

"In the spell, 'r' is looked upon as a constant. It feels to me like 'r' should be a sliding scale variable so that it can be easily manipulated. The way I've got it now, I made the circle with a fixed number for 'r', then had to scale everything else to fit inside the circle. That feels like just the opposite of how it should be."

Ms. Ipsum walked over to the table where Paul and G had been working and wrote down a very simple magical phrase before saying, "If you can incorporate this into your plotting spell, it should allow 'r' to be defined as an array of sequential values. The class is nearly over, but I'd be interested to see how it works when you've got it done."

"I think I can do it now." Paul said simply.

Before Ms Ipsum could respond to that, Paul created another diagram on the floor, this one being about half again as big as the previous one. Once the diagram was established, Paul created a circle surrounding it.

"Yeah. That works a lot better." Paul said happily.

"You didn't have to rewrite your spell to incorporate the new statement?" Ms Ipsum asked cautiously.

"I rewrote it in my head." Paul said simply.

"For future reference, I would very much like to be told about what other numerological spells you are able to find useful in your other classwork. I think it would benefit my students to know that there might actually be a use for what I'm attempting to teach them."

"Yes ma'am. I'll do that." Paul said with a smile.

"You'd better gather your things and get ready for your next class. The bell's about to ring." Ms Ipsum said before walking away.

"What's your next class?" G asked curiously.

"Um... Alchemy." Paul said as he looked at his schedule.

"Oh, I have Astrology next. But if I remember right, Vinda's got Alchemy second period. Maybe you'll be in her class."

"What do we study in Alchemy?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Changing one thing into another." G said simply then looked up when the bell rang.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes (1):

What a wonderful family! I was just thinking what would have happened if I had ever brought up having a porn stash in front of my parents.

I'm not sure exactly what would have happened, but there would have been no sign of approval of any kind. I had absolutely no expectation of privacy back then.

"As long as you are living in MY HOUSE, (it has been a long time, and I think I might have misquoted her, and she probably said, "UNDER MY ROOF") you will never lock anything up to keep me from seeing what you are up to!"

My mom wore the pants in my family. Isn't it lovely to think about all the fun I had when I was a kid? Grin.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher!


Editor's Notes (2):

Here we go again. I promise not to go into more of my childhood. Oh wait a minute, I just thought of something. When I was in school, in the early grades we were told in math class that you can't take 3 from 2, 2 is less that three. Etc. etc etc. So we dutifully believed our teachers, and went along happily believing that lie. Fast forward to Algebra class in high school. We were informed that there was not really any such thing as subtraction, there was addition and you used negative numbers. You can take 3 from 2, you get negative 1. And I wasn't even using magic.

Hurray for new math.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher