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Parvenu 3:

Otherland

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Chapter 7

"The reason we're doing this is not only so you can learn to use your abilities in an emergency situation, but also to get you used to moderating your abilities to use only the level of response that the situation warrants. Keep that in mind." The coach said to the whole group as they assembled in the middle of the court.

"Kristie, Dex, Monica, Otto and Morton. You'll be our first team." The coach said, then indicated one side of the court.

"Paul, Callista, Karas, Zanner and Berna. You'll be our second. Everyone else, leave the court and you'll be included in the next round."

Since the first group had already retreated to one side of the court, Paul automatically walked to the other small group that was forming a line behind a red rubber ball.

"When you take a hit, I'll call you out. Immediately leave the court. If anyone attacks a player who is out of play, you'll also be out. Remember, we're not here to hurt each other, we're here to have fun."

Paul looked around and recognized a few people from his other classes. However, the only one that he knew by name was the redheaded boy, Dex, from the van.

The coach blew his whistle and chaos erupted.

* * * * *

"If you get the ball, go for the long haired girl first. She's telekinetic and can make the ball go wherever she wants. She's deadly at this game." The girl beside Paul said quickly as two other members of their team raced forward to try and get the balls in the middle of the court.

The court was bigger than was standard and Paul looked around quickly to see who had a ball.

Out of the corner of his eye, Paul saw a ball coming at him, seemingly out of nowhere. More out of reflex than thought, Paul caught the ball.

The coach blew the whistle, then called, "Monica! You're out!"

Paul saw a girl walk off the court and wondered how she had been able to throw a ball anywhere near him.

"Hurry! Get Kristie!" Paul's teammate told him urgently.

There wasn't much that Paul could do but throw his ball as hard as he could, trying to tag the long haired girl out. He didn't know if she were 'Kristie' or not, but he didn't have time to question.

Before the ball could find its target, Paul spotted another ball speeding toward him. He was off balance from his throw and couldn't turn himself in time to catch it.

With a lack of other available options, Paul pulled up a stone wall between him and the ball.

"Nice trick!" The girl said as she ran after the ball that bounced off his wall.

"Thanks. I'm Paul." He said as he dispelled his wall.

"Callista." She said as she heaved the ball toward the long haired girl that Paul assumed to be 'Kristie'.

"We need a plan if we're going to beat them." Paul said as he took stock of who had balls ready to throw.

"I can kick up some wind or rain if I need to, but I don't think that will help us very much." Callista said frankly.

"Can you do snow?" Paul asked hopefully.

"Yeah. But not enough to really do anything." Callista regretfully informed him.

"It doesn't matter. My only 'plan' is to distract them, then hit them with everything we've got. The only thing I can really do fast is Wizard Lights. Do we have anyone else who can do anything showy?" Paul asked, then noticed a ball flying wildly, zigzagging in his general direction.

"Not really. Zanner grows plants. Karras summons ghostly wisps and Berna can turn herself into a wallaby." Callista said quickly.

Paul suddenly realized that the ball that was threatening to hit him was now veering wildly toward Callista instead. He threw up a stone wall in its path and collected the ball after its first bounce.

"Thanks." Callista said gratefully.

Paul heard rather than saw a ball impact another of his teammates.

The whistle sounded, then the coach called, "Zanner! You're out!"

"We're down one person. If we're going to do this, we need to do it now." Paul said anxiously.

"Give your ball to Karras, then do what you're going to do." Callista said to Paul, then called out to their teammates, "We're going to make a distraction. Hit them before they can realize what's going on."

Paul tossed his ball to the black haired boy and was about to create a flurry of wizard lights, raining down on the opposing team when he had a better idea.

Taking a page from G's book, he made a dramatic lifting gesture with both hands as he created a summoning diagram big enough to encompass the entire opposing team. Truth be told, the diagram wasn't at all difficult to conjure, but the dramatic gestures contributed to his distraction. Once the diagram was fully formed, balls of fire erupted at each of the five points of the pentagram.

While all this was going on, a literal blizzard erupted above them.

"Go!" Callista called out, prompting their remaining teammates, Karras and Berna, to take action.

The light of the spell diagram grew brighter as the floor seemed to disappear, replaced by an endless black void beneath them.

The coach's whistle drew Paul's attention and he heard the coach say, "Kristie, you're out!"

Paul released his magic and let the spell diagram fade into nothingness as Callista stopped her blizzard.

"Next time, let me get in on the distraction. That looked like fun." Karras said with a grin.

"We took out their heavy hitter. I think that we can settle the rest of this the old fashioned way." Callista said frankly.

"Yeah." Karras said, then dodged a ball that had been lobbed at him.

* * * * *

The dodgeball games continued on for a while. Paul was able to sit out a few rounds so that everyone had a chance to play.

He couldn't ever remember enjoying a gym class quite as much. It wasn't just the ability to use magic that made the difference, but also the insistence on sportsmanship and fun.

At his old schools, a game of dodgeball probably would have devolved into the weakest students in the class being pummelled mercilessly by the strongest.

As they left the court, Paul saw Dex and said, "Good game. You've got some strong moves."

"Thanks." Dex said quietly and wouldn't meet Paul's eyes.

Although Paul would have been more than willing to engage in a conversation, Dex didn't seem to be up to it, so Paul let it go.

Once inside the locker room, Paul was surprised to realize that he actually needed a shower.

In most of his gym classes before, he didn't even break a sweat. Truth be told, he was usually bored.

After stripping down, Paul wore his towel into the shower room where three other guys were already showering.

"Paul! That was an awesome summoning circle that you cast. Was that for real?" Karras asked enthusiastically.

"Mostly, yeah." Paul said as he hung up his towel, then went to the shower beside Karras'.

"I think you scared the shit out of all of them when you did that." Karras chuckled.

Paul started the water of his shower before saying, "That diagram didn't have any of the details that would have actually made it work. It was just for show. But if I were doing it for real, I would have started out with a diagram something like that one."

"I do spirit summoning, so I was pretty sure that it wasn't just made up."

Paul turned and saw Dex walk into the shower room, wrapped in a towel and looking incredibly uncomfortable.

Rather than making it worse by addressing him, Paul looked back to Karras and said, "Professor Ortega seemed to be impressed by my spell diagram. I mean, it's not like it's that complicated or anything, but he was impressed that I was able to come up with something like that on my first day."

"I can see how you do it, but with all the manipulations you must have to make to the wizard's lights, I think it'd just be easier to draw it out with chalk." Karras said frankly.

Paul's curiosity got the better of him and he couldn't help but glance in Dex's direction. What he saw somewhat stunned him. Dex's skin was incredibly pale and the only body hair that he appeared to have was a puff of bright orange pubic hair. The expanse of pale smooth skin made Paul think of an exquisite and fragile porcelain doll.

"I'm not sure why it's easier for me to use the spell, but I can see what you're saying." Paul said as he dragged his gaze back to Karras. In contrast to Dex, Karras appeared to have a 'natural tan' and an abundance of body hair which was made that much more apparent by being wet.

"Something wrong?" Karras asked cautiously.

Paul realized that he'd been staring and said, "I just noticed how hairy you are. I'm not used to seeing that with someone our age."

"Yeah. When my dad takes off his shirt, it looks like he's wearing a sweater underneath. Really gross." Karras said frankly.

"I didn't mean to say it like it was something bad. It just caught my attention." Paul said honestly.

"You'd better not let your boyfriend find out that you're checking out the other guys in the locker room. He might get jealous." Karras said with a teasing smile.

"You know about G?" Paul asked with surprise.

"Yeah. I work with Vinda in Wizardry Class. She told us all about you." Karras said simply, then turned off the water of his shower.

Paul followed suit, then walked with him to the hooks where the towels were hanging.

"I didn't know that she was talking about me." Paul said honestly.

"She only told us good things." Karras assured him.

"So you're a ghost summoner, like Vinda?" Paul asked as he dried himself.

"Not exactly. Vinda goes for the full-fledged ghosts of people. I'm more of a wisp and vapor summoner. It's not as showy and impressive, but I can call up about eight wisps in the time that she can summon one of her fully manifested people-ghosts." Karras said frankly, then tilted his head, silently asking if Paul were finished drying off.

Paul walked with Karras into the changing area and went to his gym bag to start to dress as he asked, "So aren't the things you summon the ghosts of people too?"

"Technically, yes. At least, I think so. But what I summon is more like manifestations of residual energy or lost spirit fragments." Karras said as he dressed himself.

Both Paul and Karras were quiet for a moment as they finished dressing and took stock of their appearance.

Once assured that he was presentable, Paul gathered his gym clothes and towel back into his gym bag.

"What class do you have next?" Karras asked curiously.

"Astrology." Paul said simply, then created a vertical glowing spell diagram beside him, floating in the air.

"I've got potions." Karras said distractedly as he watched Paul reach through the diagram and pull out a backpack.

"You've created a pocket dimension?" Karras asked slowly.

Paul smiled and said, "No. This is just a portal to my locker."

"From what Vinda said, you just learned about magic last week."

"Yeah. This isn't as impressive as it looks. The spell that I borrowed this from is way more complex than anything that I can do. I just took the parts that I could use and put them together with what I already know, to make this work." Paul said as he put his gym bag into his locker.

"Still, that's really something for your first week."

"It's about time to go. I'll see you in Wizardry after lunch."

"Yeah. I'll see you then."

* * * * *

As Paul walked into the classroom, he was amazed by all the charts and planetary models. Some appeared to be ancient while others looked modern.

He walked to the front of the room and cautiously approached the teacher.

"Excuse me, but I'm starting this class today. My name is Paul Darroch."

"Yes. I saw your name on the roster. I'm Mrs. Tabbert, welcome to Astrology."

"Thank you." Paul said cautiously.

"Seeing as you're starting mid-term I'm guessing that you don't have any idea of what you're doing here."

"No ma'am. Not a clue."

"Good. I would rather have someone who starts off knowing nothing than those who come in here thinking that they already know it all."

Paul couldn't think of a response to that, so he waited for her to tell him what he needed to know.

"Have you been able to perform any magic yet?"

"Yes. I've done a few things... you know, beginner stuff." Paul said a bit nervously.

"Yes. Well, if you've been using magic at a beginner's level, I doubt that you've had time to notice the ebb and flow of magical energies." Mrs. Tabbert said seriously.

"No ma'am. Most of what I've done doesn't take much magic at all."

"Yes. Well then, what, if anything, do you know about the source of your magic?" Mrs. Tabbert asked curiously.

"It depends on what you mean by 'know', because usually if I know something I understand it, and I don't understand magic at all. But as far as where my magic comes from, it depends on what magic you're talking about. I use different magic for different things."

"Oh really? Do tell."

"Um, okay. I've been warned not to talk about this, but I can't really answer your question without saying it..." Paul trailed off uncertainly.

"Go ahead, you've piqued my curiousity."

"Well, I'm a cambion. I'm guessing that, because of that, my flesh and blood is part demon. Some of the magic that I do calls on demonic energy to do my bidding and bend to my will. But my mom's a witch, so part of my magic is human... or witch...� or from this realm... I don't know the right words for everything yet, but I think you know what I'm trying to say."

"Yes. Do go on."

"Well, there are some spells that I use that don't call on demonic magic, they call on 'normal' magic. The magic feels different and has to be handled differently. It's like... for normal magic there's a set of laws. You do this thing and that thing automatically happens. You don't have to 'convince' it to work."

"I suppose that's as accurate an explanation as I've heard of it. What about the celestial powers? Do you have any sense of how they work?"

"No. I think that because of my demonality, I won't ever be able to use angelic magic. I can't even get the taste of it because it would probably kill me."

"That may be true." Mrs. Tabbert said thoughtfully, then continued, "Much like demonic magic, angelic magic is most influenced by the spellcaster's emotions. Where demonic magic requires strength and dominance, angelic magic is fueled by longing and unfulfilled desire. Angelic spells tend to be long and flowery, filled with romance and songs of praise to beg and entreat 'the powers that be' to grant them the power for their spells."

"It sounds revolting." Paul said without thinking, then repentantly followed with, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Tabbert."

"Quite alright. And to be honest, it is a bit revolting." Mrs. Tabbert said with a restrained smile, then added, "But no more revolting than watching those who perform demonic magic bully and threaten their way into getting what they want."

Paul nodded his easy acceptance of what she was saying.

"Be that as it may, what this class tends to focus on is the ever shifting balance of forces at work in the universes. One astrological configuration will provide more power to one type of magic than another. As the zodiac moves through the different houses, extra powers can be sought and attained if one is aware of their own personal position in the dynamic."

Paul thought for a moment, then cautiously asked, "So is that why it feels like the different realms are always in motion in relation to each other?"

"Yes. That's exactly right. In fact, some realms can become unreachable during certain astrological phases. Likewise, some dimensions literally overlay our own during certain high holy days. The veil becomes so thin that even a mundane person can sometimes peer through."

"So this class teaches us how to... do what? Understand the ebb and flow of our powers?" Paul guessed.

"If that's all you took away from it, I believe it would be worth the time invested. But with study, you can also discover wells of power that you can tap into to augment your magic and perform spells that normally wouldn't be possible for you."

"So, for example, if I had a big magic project to do that used demonic magic and I knew that Vrezixus was close to this dimension and moving closer, I could somehow call on power from that realm to make my spell work?"

"No. Not precisely. You're thinking too small." Mrs. Tabbert said slowly. "Try thinking of all the demonic realms being caught in a whirlpool, constantly swirling. We're not thinking of a specific demonic realm amongst them but rather, we're looking at them as a whole. The Demon, Angel and Nature realms are constantly in motion. Astrology is the study of that motion."

"But is that all?" Paul asked slowly.

"Isn't that enough?" Mrs. Tabbert asked with a chuckle.

"No. I mean, are there only three types of realms or are there others that we just don't have access to?"

"Who's to say? Perhaps there is another realm where creatures exist who set all of this into motion and populated the realms with the beings who now live there."

"Like a pantheon of gods?"

"Such things have been speculated." Mrs. Tabbert said cautiously, then added, "But it's important to be aware that each realm also has their own 'gods', beings of superior power who oversee the administration of their own realms."

"Even here, in the natural realm?" Paul asked curiously.

"Yes. We happen to have a very enlightening class on that subject, called Mythology. I think that if you approach it with the right frame of mind you might be able to find at least a few of the answers that you're seeking." Mrs. Tabbert said warmly, then thought to add, "From what we've discussed thus far, I can assume that your primary study is in wizardry. That being the case, consider that if you know who, what and where you are in relation to the motion of the universe, you'll be in a much better position to navigate."

Paul's eyes went wide at the suggestion.

"But for now, why don't you go and take a seat. We need to start class."

Paul turned and was surprised to see that all the students had taken their places and were waiting, mostly quietly, to be told what to do.

"Everyone! Thank you for your patience. Now, would the scorpios please come to the front of the room? Geminis, you can put your heads down and relax for a few minutes if you would like, this won't have anything to do with you."

For the remainder of the class, Paul was nothing less than enthralled.

* * * * *

"So? How was your day?" G asked as he walked up to Paul and hugged him firmly.

After a moment to consider, Paul finally concluded, "It was good."

"Did the gym class go okay? I got to thinking about it and I should have warned you..."

"It was fine. We played dodgeball."

"Did you win?"

"My team won a few rounds. We also lost a couple. But either way, I had fun."

G pulled out of the hug and looked Paul in the eyes before slowly asking, "Who are you and what have you done with Paul?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Paul laughed.

"It means that you don't do fun. You do contentment and happiness and whatever that is when we cuddle, you do all of that just fine, but fun? The most I can see you doing is analyzing fun."

"Okay. Maybe I don't do fun well... or often. But that doesn't mean that I can't do it. Maybe I'm just finally in a place where I feel like I can have fun. No one's going to tease me or put me down for doing something silly... or maybe it's because I feel secure enough here that even if someone did tease me, I wouldn't care."

"Is this where you two have been? Are we going to lunch or what?" Nazzy asked as he and Vinda approached.

"Yeah. G was just telling me how not fun I am." Paul said with a teasing grin.

"G's the fun one. You're the serious one. That's why it works." Nazzy said simply, then added, "Let's go!"

As Paul and G started to walk, side by side, G quietly said, "I wasn't complaining. I like you just the way you are."

"I know."

* * * * *

When they walked into the lunchroom, Curtis waved from their usual table.

The group made their food selections, then joined Curtis.

"How are things going today?" Paul asked curiously.

"One of the guys in my second period class got suspended. It looks like he may get expelled." Curtis said frankly.

"Really? What did he do?" Paul asked curiously.

"What I heard is, that he brought some pot to school and was trying to sell it."

"Really? I've been to a few schools that were actually the drug distribution centers for the entire community. Is getting caught with some weed really that big of a deal here?"

Before Curtis could respond, G interjected, "This is a private school. Going here is a privilege, not a right. If you can't follow the rules, you'll be asked to leave. It's that simple."

"We're held to a higher standard. But in exchange, we receive a better than average education. I think it's worth it." Nazzy added seriously.

"I never looked at it that way before, but you're right. I like this place and I've probably learned more since I've been here than at my last two years in public school." Curtis said thoughtfully.

Paul nodded, then slowly said, "It's like after all these years, I'm finally getting started learning. Just think of where I might be right now if I'd started doing this back in kindergarten."

"You'd probably be right here with us. Where you belong." G said simply.

"Yeah. So don't worry about it." Nazzy interjected.

Curtis laughed, then said, "I can see why you hang out with these guys."

"So, Paul, how are you doing with your volunteering problem? Did you take on any new projects today?" Vinda asked curiously.

"No." Paul said immediately, then cautiously revised, "Well, not really. I mean, I was going to have to do reports and projects anyway. I just kinda decided what I'm going to be doing them on."

"I'll take that as a 'yes'." Vinda said with a grin.

"What classes?" Curtis asked curiously.

"Technology and Mythology." Paul said simply.

G, Nazzy and Vinda all looked at Paul with warning.

"Mythology?" Curtis asked curiously.

"Yeah. Right now we're studying the aboriginal people and their traditional beliefs." Paul said simply.

"Oh, wow! That sounds really boring." Curtis said frankly.

"I think the class is about trying to understand what different groups of people believe and why. I've only had one class, so it's too early to tell."

"I don't think I've heard of that class before."

"It's a big school and there are a lot of little classes. As many classes as I take every week, I know that there are a lot more that I'd like to take." G interjected.

"Yeah. As much as I whine about it, I like most of my classes too. Even the ones I don't like, I can understand why I have to take them. They all teach stuff that I'll need to know or that will help me figure things out when I get out of here." Curtis said thoughtfully.

"Exactly." Paul said with a smile at Curtis, then added, "And I think that understanding why people believe what they believe might be a good thing to learn. When I'm having to deal with people in everyday life, it might help me to know where they're coming from."

"So, what's your next class?" Curtis asked between bites of food.

"It's a lab class. One of my lab partners has to present her work to the teacher, so there probably won't be anything for me to do. I'll just watch and listen and if she screws up, I'll do what I can to help her fix it."

"After lunch, my 'Applied Studies' class is going into town. We're going to be visiting a bank and talking to a loan officer. That's the fun part. After that we're probably going to be calculating the APR on loans and all kinds of other stuff that we've done in class to show how the math works in the real world."

"At least you'll be able to leave the school for a little bit. That should be nice." Vinda said encouragingly.

"Yeah. I'm not complaining. It's going to be great. It just seems like a lot of work for something that I'll probably never use."

"Most people need loans to get a car, a house or to start a business. Chances are that this is something that you probably will use, over and over again for most of the rest of your life." G said honestly.

"Just because you don't need to know it right now doesn't mean that you don't need to know it." Nazzy added with a nod.

"Remember why your parents are paying the extra money to send you here. They want you to get a good education so that when you go out on your own, you'll have the knowledge and skills to function in the world. I think that this is a direct example of that." Paul said earnestly.

"I guess I need to get my head in the game." Curtis said thoughtfully.

"Remember, even though they do all kinds of stuff to help and prepare us for life, in the end it's up to us to keep ourselves motivated. If you don't care, nothing they do can make you care." G said honestly.

"Yeah. The day you graduate, you won't have anyone taking you by the hand and telling you what you need to do next. From then on, it's all up to you. College, work, family... those are all decisions that you're going to have to make..." Nazzy said seriously until he was interrupted.

"...or not." Vinda said quickly. "Choosing not to decide is still a choice. And letting things slide and just happen is probably the worst thing you can do for yourself. You're being given the tools, but it's up to you to put them to use. If you let them rust in your toolbox, then everything that your parents hoped to achieve by sending you here will be lost."

"Do you guys work for the school or something?" Curtis asked with a barely restrained smile.

"We just know how important this is." G responded with a grin.

Paul nodded his agreement, then said, "We're at a point right now where we can choose a path that leads to success or a path that leads to mediocrity. Work or play. Be serious or do the minimum required. Whatever any of us choose, we have to own it. We won't be able to blame the parents or the school for not preparing us."

"That's a good point. The time is now. If you put it off until tomorrow, then it will never get done. Tomorrow's always there, promising to happen but never actually happening." G said frankly.

"So I should be excited about calculating APRs?" Curtis asked dubiously.

"No! But be interested. Ask questions. Learn what they're trying to teach you. Try to get something out of the experience that they're providing for you." G implored him to understand.

"Do you think it's fun for your teacher to do something like this? Do you think it's fun for the administrator to arrange transportation? What about the guy at the bank giving a talk? Would you like to give a talk to a bunch of teenagers who obviously don't give a shit?" Vinda asked challengingly.

Curtis slowly nodded as he processed what they were saying.

"It's about that time." Vinda warned as she looked at the clock.

"I hope that you'll enjoy your field trip, Curtis. I didn't mean to get all preachy. It's just that since I've been here, I can understand what it's like to be given an opportunity that you never had before. I don't want for you to miss out on it." Paul urged him to understand.

Curtis smiled as he said, "My parents are always warning me about peer pressure. If they only knew..."

Nazzy, Vinda and G laughed at the statement as they got up from the table.

Once they were alone, Paul quietly asked, "Are you okay? Are those guys still bothering you?"

"Not too much. I got called an 'oreo', but believe me, I've been called a whole lot worse." Curtis said with a grin.

"Let me know if it starts bothering you, okay?" Paul asked seriously.

"What are you going to do about it?" Curtis challenged.

"I'm in good with the school administrator. If I tell her that there's a problem, I think that she'll see that it's taken care of."

"Don't do anything like that. It's just guys being assholes." Curtis said quickly.

"I'll leave it up to you to handle. But let me know if there's a problem. We're here to learn, not to be jerked around by the next generation of convenience store workers." Paul said honestly.

Curtis looked at him strangely for a moment, then broke into a smile as he said, "I know it sounds awful, but for some reason, picturing that makes me feel a lot better."

"Living well is the best revenge." Paul said, then indicated that he was ready to leave.

* * * * *

Upon exiting the cafeteria, Curtis and Paul said their goodbyes and left in opposite directions to go to their next classes.

As expected, G, Nazzy and Vinda were waiting for Paul just inside the magic hallway.

"Do you have anything big planned for wizardry today?" Vinda asked curiously as they walked.

"No. I did my big presentation yesterday. I think that today I'll do some reading about the basics of summoning. There's still a lot that I don't know and I'd like to understand."

"I kinda just thought you instinctively knew things, since it all seems to come so easily to you." Nazzy said frankly.

"I have some instincts, but they won't do me much good if I don't understand how it all works. I at least need to learn the vocabulary to explain what it is that I'm doing... or trying to do." Paul said thoughtfully.

"Paul. Did you survive the astrology okay?" A voice asked from behind them.

Paul turned and smiled.

"Hi Karras, do you already know everyone?" Paul asked as Karras caught up to them.

"Yeah. How are you guys doing today?"

"We're good. I'm guessing that you already met Paul." Nazzy said speculatively.

"Yeah. We were on the same team in gym." Karras said frankly, then broke into a grin as he added, "Then we showered together."

G's eyes went wide at the announcement.

"While that's technically true, you don't need to make it sound like something it wasn't. I mean, it's not like I washed your back... or your front." Paul said playfully.

G looked from Paul to Karras and back, looking for some sort of an explanation as to what had happened.

"Don't worry about it, G. I'm just playing." Karras chuckled at his expression.

After a moment to consider, G finally said, "I'm not worried. If I can't trust Paul when he's out of my sight, then I shouldn't be with him at all."

Paul turned to Nazzy and asked, "Who was the fun one again?"

"I might have to reconsider that." Nazzy chuckled.

"I have to go to my sorcery class now. It's almost that time." G said as he walked up to Paul and pulled him into a firm hug.

"Have a good class. I'll see you after school." Paul said, then gave G a longer than average kiss.

Nazzy, Vinda and Karras shared a look, as if to say 'aww, isn't that cute'.

When Paul finally ended the kiss, he whispered, "We'll shower together tonight. I promise."

"I can't wait." G whispered in return.

G forced himself to release Paul, then looked regretfully at him one last time before hurrying away.

* * * * *

As Paul, Karras, Nazzy and Vinda walked toward their next class at a slower pace, Karras quietly said, "I'm sorry if I made things difficult for you. I didn't mean anything, I was just messing around."

"It's alright. I think you just caught G off guard." Paul said simply, then added, "He knows that I love him and that I'd never give him a reason not to trust me."

"Wow. In the last year I've seen people pairing off all around me, and I've even been a little bit jealous of some of them. But one of the things that made me not want to even try to find someone was all the insecurity and drama. They'll be all lovey dovey one minute and at each other's throats the next." Karras said thoughtfully as they walked.

"Yeah. Just like everything else in life, we're all trying to figure things out. G and I may not have all the answers, but I think we're in a good place. Not only do we love each other, but we also like each other. We enjoy doing things together, but we can also spend time apart if we want to and not be miserable about it." Paul quietly explained.

"I think that D and Beth are a big part of that too. They're both strong people who love each other, so you've got a good example to follow." Nazzy interjected.

"That's true." Paul said easily.

"Plus, they support you." Vinda added. "You don't have to sneak around or defy them to be together. That's got to help."

"Yeah. I don't know if they're exactly happy with the way things have turned out. If it were up to them, they probably would have chosen for things to end up differently. But, so far, they've stood back and allowed us to make our own decisions." Paul said thoughtfully.

"Wow. I can't even imagine my parents acting that way." Karras said frankly.

"How do you think your parents would act if you brought someone like Paul home and introduced him as your boyfriend?" Nazzy asked as he led the way into the wizardry classroom.

"I think the first thing they'd do is go ballistic about how it's my responsibility to carry on the Karras family name." Karras said frankly.

"So Karras is your last name?" Paul asked curiously.

"Yeah. My first name is Alexander."

"I think that name is even more common than Paul. I can see why you'd choose to go with your last name." Paul said honestly.

"Yeah. Anyway, after they tell me about how it's my duty to give them legitimate grandkids with the Karras family name, they'd start picking apart whoever I brought home, because no one is good enough to join their family."

"Ouch! What a thing to look forward to." Nazzy winced.

"I don't think I'll have to worry. I've got a plan." Karras said with a mischievous grin.

At the expectant looks focused on him, he explained, "Unless I meet someone really special, I don't plan on getting into a relationship. I mean, I'm not going to date for the sake of dating or try to hook up with anyone."

"That sounds kind of lonely." Vinda said honestly.

"I'm okay being alone." Karras said frankly, then added, "But if it does start getting to me, I can always hang out with my friends online or even in person. I don't need to have someone around me twenty-four seven to keep me entertained."

"I do." Nazzy said simply, then added, "But that's just me."

"Yeah. You go with what works." Vinda said with a loving smile at him.

"So, that's your plan?" Paul asked Karras uncertainly.

"Well, my plan also includes my parents getting nervous as I get older and don't show any interest in making an heir for the Karras Family Dynasty."

"I'm guessing that you're an only child." Nazzy said slowly.

"Yeah. They did their duty and from the look of it once I was conceived they were relieved to know that they never had to do it again." Karras said frankly, then added with a grin, "They should have known better. Even the royals have an heir and a spare."

"Are you some kind of royalty? I mean, why is it such a big deal to them?" Vinda asked curiously.

"You'd think so from the way that they act, but as far as I know, we're just another family of witches, making our way in the modern world. I've never heard of any of our ancestors doing anything important... or even interesting."

"Some people are all insane crazy about carrying on the family name. My parents are like that." Vinda said seriously. "Thankfully, my brothers have already taken care of it."

"My parents couldn't care less if I ever have kids or not." Nazzy said honestly.

"As long as you don't leave a grandbaby on their doorstep and skip town." Vinda added with a grin.

"Well, yeah. They might have mentioned that possibility once or twice when Vinda and I first started dating." Nazzy said shyly.

"Don't forget, G was with us then. The looks on their faces when we told them that the three of us were a couple was priceless." Vinda laughed.

"I can't even imagine that. How did it go?" Paul asked curiously.

"It was surreal. G was a nervous wreck, afraid of saying or doing something wrong. My parents were blindsided and didn't know how to react." Nazzy said as he fought to keep from laughing.

"I think all the parents were thinking the same thing, thinking that we were having all kinds of crazy three-way sex, but D was the only one who had the balls to ask us about it." Vinda said honestly.

"What did you tell him?" Paul asked curiously.

"The truth. We're three best friends who love each other. As far as the sex thing, we never really did that much." Vinda said frankly, then looked to Nazzy to continue.

"We tried a few things with each other, I mean, me and Vinda or me and G."

"Or me and G." Vinda interjected.

"Yeah." Nazzy agreed, then continued, "But I don't think the three of us together ever did more than kiss and hug. That was enough to drive the parents crazy, but it was a lot more innocent than it sounds."

"We definitely didn't do anything that would result in grandbabies on Nazzy's parent's doorstep." Vinda added with a laugh.

"But how did D react when you told him?" Paul asked curiously.

"He was totally cool about it. In fact, I think that he was impressed that G had found a practical way to have a girlfriend and a boyfriend and to safely explore his sexuality. I guess a lot of kids go through that kind of stuff later on and some still haven't figured it out when they get into college."

"G's dad sounds awesome." Karras said frankly.

"He is." Paul said immediately.

Nazzy and Vinda both nodded their agreement.

Before anything more could be said, Professor Ortega led a procession of teachers into the classroom.

* * * * *

"I've recently been reminded of the need for experimentation and innovation. Wizardry tends to be thought of as one of the disciplines that is simply the recitation of established spells and mastery of their use.

"Any art that doesn't grow and evolve will eventually wither and die. So, as a focus of today's exercises, I'd like for you to consider how you would modify or further develop your traditional spells.

"No doubt, there are dangers in venturing outside of what is proven to already work. To minimize those dangers, I will ask you to discuss your modifications with your teachers before attempting anything new.

"I believe that there are many rewards to be had if we will only dare to venture outside of our comfort zone where all is safe and familiar. Should any of you develop anything of significance that you would like to share with the rest of the class, be prepared to present it on Friday.

"Remember, most innovative ideas don't spring into existence fully formed. Rather, they develop over time with thought and discussion. Should you have such a seed of an idea, please feel free to seek me out. I may be able to provide some insight. Now I will leave you to your magical pursuits. Good afternoon."

Paul was amazed at just how inspiring Professor Ortega was. He couldn't put his finger on exactly what it was, but after listening to Professor Ortega's speech, he wanted to experience the joy of discovery and do great things.

"I'll see you after class." Paul said as he broke away from their group and started walking toward the study room.

* * * * *

"How is everything going, Amelia?" Paul asked as he walked in.

"Fine." Amelia said cautiously.

"So you've got everything in line for the summoning spell today?" Paul asked curiously.

"I went over it a few times last night. I have a feeling that it's right at my upper limit, but I think I can do it." Amelia said anxiously.

"Can you open a spell diagram for me?" Nicholas asked abruptly.

"Frederick or Xaphan?" Paul asked simply.

"Frederick."

Paul glanced to his side, then Frederick's seven pointed summoning diagram came into being.

"You know, you won't always have Paul here to draw your spell diagrams for you." Mr. Gilbert said as he walked into the room.

"I think I've summoned Frederick enough times to prove that I know how to draw his diagram." Nicholas said somewhat snottily.

"Is this okay?" Paul asked Mr. Gilbert before he had the chance to respond to Nicholas.

Mr. Gilbert took a moment to look over Paul's diagram before saying, "Yes. I see that you've further refined it. Very efficient."

Paul smiled at the words of praise, then asked, "Did you have anything that you needed for me to do?"

"I didn't have anything in mind, but I thought that the suggestion that Professor Ortega made seemed to be tailor made for you." Mr. Gilbert said honestly.

"To take existing spells and change them?" Paul asked cautiously, to be sure that he understood.

"Yes. It wouldn't surprise me to find that you were the inspiration for the assignment to begin with."

"I think I've kind of done all... wait, there is one thing that I came up with that I haven't shown you. Even though it's not exactly summoning, it's kind of related." Paul said suddenly.

"What might that be?" Mr. Gilbert asked with interest.

Paul took a few steps away, so as not to crowd Nicholas during his summoning, then he created an eight-pointed spell diagram made of wizard's light. Of course, within the diagram, was another diagram, just as fully detailed as the outer one.

"What you're attempting to do is impossible." Mr. Gilbert said simply.

"What's that?" Paul asked curiously.

"Essentially, to use this diagram you would have to cast two different spells simultaneously and in perfect synchronization. I'm certain that it would take weeks of work for the two of us to be able to successfully perform a spell on this level at all. Even then, it would be more likely than not to fail."

"Uh huh." Paul said, then reached through the gray vortex that had formed in the middle and retrieved his gym bag from his locker.

"That's not possible." Mr. Gilbert said in astonishment.

"Okay." Paul said with a grin as he dispelled the diagram.

"Paul. What you just did is beyond the capability of... probably even Professor Ortega. What are you?" Mr. Gilbert asked anxiously.

Paul realized that he had legitimately frightened Mr. Gilbert.

"Here. Let me show you." Paul said as he pointed to the floor and recreated the spell diagram.

"The outer diagram is a summoning, but the inner diagram looks to be more of a reverse summoning, like what you would use to draw yourself to another location." Mr. Gilbert said slowly as he examined the glowing text of the spell.

"Yeah. That's exactly what it is." Paul said simply.

"But... how can you enact both at the same time? Wouldn't one bleed into the other, causing both to become unstable?"

"No. Not if you do them at the same time. You see, I have another diagram set up that's the reverse of this one. I link this summon to that reverse-summon and that reverse-summon back to this one. When they're both stable, they take almost no magic to maintain. I mean, it's not like I'm opening a portal to another plane or anything, so that makes it a whole lot simpler."

"Even so, I don't see how you can perform the spells simultaneously. That shouldn't be possible." Mr. Gilbert said slowly.

"Well, from what my mom told me, it's something that only our family can do. I don't know anything about that because my mom is the only blood relative I know from that side of my family. But according to her, all of us have the ability to be able to do multiple spells at once."

"Are you, by chance, related to Alphonse Hiller?" Mr. Gilbert asked cautiously.

"Maybe. My last name was Hiller until my mom got married and I had my name changed to Darroch." Paul said honestly, then hopefully asked, "What do you know about Alphonse Hiller?"

"Very little. I've run across a few mentions of him as being capable of performing multiple summonings simultaneously. I've always thought that the accounts were probably exaggerations or possibly even hoaxes."

"Like I said, I really don't know anything about it. My mom doesn't like talking about her family. I guess they disowned her when she got pregnant with me." Paul said regretfully, once again feeling a twinge of guilt for what his mother had suffered on his behalf.

"If you have the ability to perform multiple spells simultaneously, then that might explain how you're able to do the Wizard's Light and Fire spells so easily when you're summoning." Mr. Gilbert said speculatively.

"Yeah. Maybe. When I want to do a summoning, I kind of put everything in order in my mind where it looks like it's going to work best, then I kind of just let it all loose and it happens. I don't really think too much about what happens when." Paul said honestly.

"That spell that you just did, do you think that you could perform it on a larger scale?" Mr. Gilbert asked cautiously.

"No. At least, not yet." Paul said with certainty. "Like I said before, once the spells are all set up and stable, they take almost no magic. But the magic that it takes to set them up is just about at my limit. I don't think that I could make a bigger portal unless I found a way to either make the setup spell more efficient or found another source of magical energy to fuel it."

"I suggest that you investigate the possibilities. If you're able to create a traversable portal big enough for you to actually step through, you will have achieved something that wizards have been chasing after for generations."

Paul thought about telling him that he had seen his mother create such a portal the previous night, but in the end decided to just leave it be. Mr. Gilbert appeared to have had enough excitement for one day.

* * * * *

"Paul? Will you look over my diagram and see if everything's alright?" Amelia asked, drawing Paul's attention from his book.

"Sure. Let's see what you've got." Paul said easily.

After a moment to look over the spell diagram, Paul quietly asked, "Did you mean for the terminus to be offset from the locus like that?"

"What do you mean?" Amelia asked cautiously.

Paul knelt down beside the diagram, then pointed as he said, "From what little I know about it, the locus and terminus usually match up so that when they finally come together, the matter can pass through the veil and into our reality. From the way this is written, the locus will fall short of the terminus, and the matter, the thing that you're summoning, will have to traverse the intermediary ethereal void on its own."

"Where do you see that?"

"There's the locus." Paul said as he pointed, then pointed to another patch of text and said, "And that's the terminus. Even though they're written from different perspectives, in reference to their realms of origin, they should actually refer to the same point in dimensional space-time."

"I just copied that part from the book." Amelia timidly admitted.

"I mean, there might be a good reason for it. If you're summoning something that might be bringing unwanted extra beings with it, the ethereal void can be a way of stripping them off." Paul said thoughtfully.

"You already did this spell. Do you think it needs to be there?" Amelia asked curiously.

"No. I mean, I didn't really think about it. When I saw that they didn't match up, I just kind of automatically fixed it. It's kind of like when you look at a word with a missing letter and your mind fills in the blank." Paul tried to explain.

"Well, if the gap doesn't need to be there, I'd better fix it." Amelia said slowly.

"Do you want me to give you the correction?" Paul asked cautiously.

"No. I'd rather do it myself. But thanks for looking this over for me." Amelia said sincerely.

"Yeah. Just let me know if there's anything else that I can do."

"Count on it."

* * * * *

Paul glanced over at Nicholas and saw that he had already summoned Frederick. The demon imp was looking back at him, but was able to do the right thing and stay at his master's side.

"Mr. Gilbert, would you mind if I summoned my familiars?" Paul asked hopefully.

"I wouldn't mind at all." Mr. Gilbert said as he turned away from the computer and gave Paul his full attention.

"Do you need for me to do the whole..." Paul trailed off as he made a gesture, somehow indicating a spell diagram.

"There's no need to put on a show on my account. The only time I will expect the full presentation is when I'm evaluating your technique for a grade." Mr. Gilbert said seriously.

"Thank you sir." Paul said sincerely, then looked to the floor beside him as Ginh Zah and Mah Zah suddenly appeared.

"You don't even need a spell diagram anymore?" Mr. Gilbert asked with surprise.

"It's there, it's just not visible."

"How is that?"

"You know how the spell exists on a charm but isn't visible to the naked eye? This is like that. I just created the spell diagram using pure magic in the pattern that I needed, for just as long as I needed it." Paul said simply.

"And, since the diagram is made entirely of magic, you wouldn't have need of fire to fuel the spell and maintain the opening."

"Yeah. I mean, if I had planned on keeping it open for any length of time, I'd probably still use the fire. Keeping a portal open on my own like that would be kind of a stupid waste of magic."

"Can you do the same with your traversable portal, I mean, manifest it without a visible spell diagram?"

"No. I don't think so. I really need the visible diagram for that one so that I can align the two diagrams to create the portal. I might be able to do it someday, but not for a while." Paul said thoughtfully.

An insistent 'meow' at Paul's feet drew his attention.

"Yes. Amelia's still going to summon your friend. She just needs a few more minutes to prepare." Paul assured her.

A little bark, followed by a growl drew Paul's attention to Mah Zah.

"G is in another class right now. You'll get to see him tonight. Right now we're focused on Amelia summoning your friend. Is there anything she needs to know before she does the summons?" Paul asked curiously.

Mah Zah and Ginh Zah discussed the question with whimpers and growls between them. In the end they seemed to conclude that Amelia had everything that she would need to perform her summoning.

* * * * *

"Paul. I think I'm ready. Would you mind looking it over one last time?" Amelia asked hopefully.

"Sure." Paul said easily, then asked, "Do you guys want to look at it to make sure that she has everything right?"

Ginh Zah immediately climbed down Paul's chest and leg, using her tiny little claws every bit of the way.

Mah Zah yipped once and remained in place on Paul's right shoulder.

Paul walked to the edge of the chalk circle and looked over every detail that Amelia had included.

As he looked at the individual sections of the spell, then at the spell as a whole, he began to nod his acceptance of what he was seeing.

Gihn Zah walked to Paul's feet and let out a little 'mew' to draw his attention.

Paul squatted down and picked her up, then after standing, he placed her on his left shoulder.

"Mah Zah and Ginh Zah agree that it looks fine." Paul said seriously.

"Mr. Gilbert?" Amelia asked nervously.

"If Mah Zah and Ginh Zah say it will work, who am I to disagree?" Mr. Gilbert asked with a smile.

"Frederick's on board, too." Nicholas said as he approached with Frederick on his shoulder.

Amelia looked at Nicholas dubiously, but finally seemed to put that aside and calmed herself in preparation for her spell.

She closed her eyes and breathed slowly for a moment.

* * * * *

The color of Amelia's skin became more and more yellow as Paul watched.

She slowly opened her eyes and seemed to be in some sort of a trance.

When she raised her arms, there was another set of arms still at her sides.

Likewise, when she raised the second set of arms, a third set was revealed.

In turn, five of the arms pointed to the five candles surrounding the pentagram.

One by one the candles lit by her invocation.

Paul slowly looked over the setting and approved of all that he was seeing. Her preparations were flawless.

It was strange to see the hand gestures of the spell done largely and in an overly dramatized fashion.

Seeing the gestures done in that manner made Paul think of someone teaching others how to perform the hand gestures, standing in front of a class.

It turned out that having six arms actually made it easier for Amelia to weave the different hand signs as she spoke the words of the spell from memory.

Paul watched and evaluated each movement as he listened to her every tone and inflection.

For some reason, watching as someone else performed the spell seemed to be faster than doing it himself, at least, the spoken version.

Soon a gray mist was forming in the center of the pentagram.

Paul could feel little tiny claws and nails digging into both his shoulders as Ginh Zah and Mah Zah watched the mist become thicker.

Much to Paul's surprise, Amelia began to forcefully call out in a language that was foreign to him.

He could tell easily enough that it was one of the more common demon languages and he got the gist of what she was saying, entreating whatever was within the sound of her voice to come through the portal. What surprised him was that when he had performed the same spell, he had done so speaking English.

It seemed strange to him to hear it now spoken in some ancient tongue from a demon realm.

There was a pause in her speech and nothing seemed to be happening.

Amelia then barked a command in the ancient language that nearly made Paul take a step back.

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, something that looked like a ball of leaves and rubbish tumbled through the vortex.

Amelia didn't miss a beat. As soon as she saw the little wad of garbage, she called upon it to accede to her will.

There was no reaction for a moment, then the ball of trash started to unfold itself and ended up standing to its full height of about four inches.

Unlike when Paul listened to Ginh Zah and Mah Zah, he didn't have the first clue of what the little trash heap demon said when it spoke.

Apparently Amelia understood it clearly, because she began to carry on a conversation with it in hushed whispers.

"Can you tell what she's saying?" Mr. Gilbert asked cautiously.

"Not really. But if I were guessing, I'd say that Amelia is laying out the ground rules." Paul said slowly as he tried to catch anything he could of Amelia's conversation.

Ginh Zah meowed quietly and Paul turned his attention to her.

After listening for a moment, Paul turned to Mr. Gilbert and said, "Ginh Zah thinks that Amelia will be a good partner. She says that right now they just need to get to know each other."

"Yes. There is usually a period of adjustment when a new partnership is formed." Mr. Gilbert said thoughtfully.

"Why did you look at me when you said that?" Nicholas asked defensively.

"Demon summoners have something of a reputation as being bullies and tyrants. While it is necessary for a summoner to be in control and take responsibility for his subordinates, this can be achieved without the summoner being seen as a humorless monster." Mr. Gilbert said frankly.

"Nothing I do is ever good enough for you, is it? You want me to summon something, I summon it. You want me to command it, I command it. You want me to do something bigger and harder, I do it. All you ever want is more, more, more! When does it ever end?!" Nicholas demanded.

"Right now, if you like." Mr. Gilbert said simply, then continued, "Nicholas, the only thing keeping you here in this room is you. You're here to learn your craft and hone your skills. If you don't like my method of teaching, you are cordially invited to leave. You are fully within your rights to go to Professor Ortega and request a teacher who will coddle you and not offend your delicate sensibilities. For that matter, you can also choose to go to another school.

"If you choose to stay here, all I ask is that you do your best work and take the criticism that I offer in the spirit that it's intended. If you can't do that much, then it's best if you consider other options."

"Maybe I should leave! At least that way there would be a chance that I could have a teacher that actually likes me!" Nicholas screamed.

"Good luck with that." Paul muttered, then noticed Mr. Gilbert's incredulous stare directed at Nicholas. Paul had to admit that he was rather impressed at the intensity of it.

"Do you want me to leave?! I'll do it! I'll leave right now!" Nicholas threatened.

"Nicholas, all I want is to help you to become the best person you can be. Me taking it easy on you and telling you what you want to hear isn't going to accomplish that. I will admit that I've done you a disservice by tolerating the level of familiarity and disrespect that I have so far, but if you choose to stay, I promise that I won't allow it in future."

After a long silent moment of Nicholas and Mr. Gilbert staring at each other, Paul quietly asked, "May I say something?"

"What would that be?" Mr. Gilbert asked, not looking away from Nicholas for an instant.

"Nicholas, if my vote counts for anything at all, I want you to stay." Paul said carefully, bracing for the attack he knew was to come.

"I don't care. I don't like you." Nicholas said firmly.

"Good. I don't like you either." Paul said easily, in a voice free of emotion.

"Then why do you want me to stay?" Nicholas asked cautiously.

"Because you're better than me. You're more powerful and you know more of what you're doing. I mean, we just saw that Amelia's a good summoner too, but you're my competition." Paul said seriously.

"But you can do all the fancy spell diagrams without even trying. You don't have to work for anything and everybody loves you!" Nicholas said, turning his anger on Paul.

"I know something like five spells. I mean, yeah, I can do them big and flashy and fancy, and some people are impressed by them, but I can't do what you do." Paul said slowly, then broke into a smile as he added, "As far as everybody loving me... not really. There's a certain makeup based hag-beast who would probably like nothing more than to see me suffer a long slow extraordinarily painful death."

"So you don't want me to quit?" Nicholas asked uncertainly.

"No. At least, not before I've had a chance to prove that I'm a better demon summoner than you are." Paul said with a grin.

"I'll always be better than you." Nicholas said firmly.

"I guess there's only one way to prove that." Paul countered.

After a long silent moment, Mr. Gilbert turned and quietly said, "My apologies, Amelia. What you did today was a significant accomplishment. I regret that events transpired that diverted attention from your achievement."

"Are you kidding? This is perfect! I would have paid good money to see Nicholas get told off."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes (1):

If Curtis only knew how much power Paul actually had, he'd probably wet himself.

I'm glad Paul and his friends are willing to be friends with Curtis.

There is a little warning light blinking in my mind. I don't know for sure, but I have a feeling that Curtis is more than he knows, and that somehow, even if he has no magic of his own, that he and magic will have a connection in some important way. That is not a spoiler, since I don't know any more than you do about how the story will go, but I figured I'd share my thoughts, and see how close I am.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher


Editor's Notes (2):

It looks as though Nicholas and Paul may eventually come to some understanding. I doubt seriously they will ever be even cordial acquaintances, let alone friends, but it seems they can at least speak to one another without shouting, or at least not very loud.

Amelia seems to be able to summon some sort of demon. The fact that Paul can't understand what is being said seems a bit odd, since he can talk to his familiars and understand them.

Again, we will just have to wait for the next chapter.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher