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Parvenu 3:

Otherland

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Chapter 12

As they walked into the dining room, Paul was prepared for Lucky's excited and rambling tale of his adventures and accomplishments.

However, Paul was pleasantly surprised to find that Lucky did none of that. When asked, he simply acknowledged that he had fun.

Paul's relief was short lived. Lucky's subdued response set off warning bells within Paul and he suddenly found that he had a desire to understand what was going on in the younger boy's mind.

Lucky was a rather ordinary looking boy with nondescript brown eyes and hair. He wasn't unusually cute, nor was he at all ugly.

Average.

That was the only description that Paul could come up with that in any way fit.

Paul was quiet as he tried to identify what it was about Lucky's behavior that was disturbing him.

Lucky was quietly enjoying his meal and seemed to be eagerly following along with his mother's description of the plans for the baby's room. But Paul could see something hiding behind Lucky's expression. There was a falseness. Lucky was going through the motions, playing along, doing as he was expected to do.

Just as Paul was about to give up on his speculation, he was assaulted by the answer.

Looking at Lucky was almost like looking at himself, just a few years before.

He still couldn't pinpoint exactly what was disturbing him about that fact, but he couldn't deny that the feeling growing in him was a sense of kinship.

"How have you boys been?" D asked curiously, breaking Paul out of his speculation.

"I think we're okay. We just have a lot of work to do for tomorrow. G and I both have presentations that we have to prepare for." Paul said honestly.

"We're going to be looking at color swatches after dinner. I suppose that Lucky can join us so you two can be free to focus on your schoolwork." Kyla announced.

"That's okay. Lucky can go with us. He's no trouble. In fact, he's kind of inspirational." Paul said quickly.

G looked at Paul curiously, but didn't contradict him.

"Are you sure he won't be bothering you?" Kyla asked cautiously.

"Like I said, he's inspirational. I think having Lucky with us will help us both do a better job on our work for tomorrow. He'll actually be helping us." Paul said with conviction.

"Okay. If you're sure..." Kyla trailed off uncertainly.

Paul flashed Lucky a quick smile, then went back to eating his meal.

* * * * *

"So, I'm guessing that you boys must have noticed the construction that was going on. What do you think?" D asked pleasantly.

"We heard it, but we didn't see anything. The windows are covered and the door to the walkway was locked." G said frankly.

"Oh. I hadn't realized that. Well, I suppose it makes sense. Right now the workmen are excavating so that they can lay the foundation. They'd want to keep everything covered up while they're kicking up dirt and rocks. Hopefully, the construction will end up not being too much of an issue. You'll still have G's room, just like before, and most of the work will take place while you two are in school."

"Any idea of how long it will take before it's finished?" G asked curiously.

"When it comes to construction, I've learned not to count on anything going to schedule. There are too many factors outside of our control that can cause things to go awry. It will take as long as it takes. No longer."

"I bet you're a lot of fun at contract negotiations." G said dryly.

"I like to think so." D responded with a grin at his son, then added, "Hopefully one day you'll find out."

* * * * *

The rest of the meal went off without incident.

Paul half listened to his mom and Kyla talk about their plans for the baby's room. Occasionally Star would add some inane comment on the subject, to which her mother would respond with beaming pride and praise for her daughter.

When Paul would look back at Lucky, he would find the boy watching everything, but Paul got the sense that Lucky was divorced from any emotion regarding it. He was an impartial observer witnessing events that had nothing to do with him.

Paul knew that feeling all too well.

In fact, years of his life had been spent in that state of mind.

As the trio walked out of the dining room, Lucky quietly said, "Thanks for telling my mom that you wanted me to go with you. I don't know what those color swatch things are, but it sounded like it was going to be really boring."

"Boring doesn't begin to describe it." Paul said honestly.

"Besides, I can't wait to see what else you're able to do with your Wizard's light sculpture. Paul was right. Seeing you being creative is inspiring. It makes me want to do a better job on my illusions." G said pleasantly.

"If my mom knew what I was doing, she'd say that it was cute. She'd say that I was playing. But you make it sound like I'm doing something that matters, like I'm learning something good, that I'll be able to use someday." Lucky said thoughtfully.

"Moms see us as their kids. Just about anything we do looks like playing to them. Don't let it get you down. The real payoff comes when you show them that you've done something special, that they can't dismiss. They're blown away because they're used to thinking of you as a helpless child." Paul said sagely.

"My mom and Star are interested in all the same things. They do girly stuff together all the time." Lucky said regretfully, then quietly added, "Sometimes I wish that I was a girl too, so that I could do stuff with them."

"There are plenty of girls who don't like doing girly things and would feel just like you're feeling now if they were part of your family. I think you're better off being yourself."

"But I'm alone."

"Most of us are alone. Sometimes it sucks, but sometimes it's nice. It makes you appreciate the time you have with the people that you enjoy."

"You like being alone?" Lucky asked dubiously.

"Sometimes it's nice to be alone. That's usually when I have my best ideas and do my best work. But when I'm with other people, I enjoy that too. I guess it's all about trying to see the best in whatever situation that you're in and making the most of it." Paul said honestly.

"That's what you do, isn't it?" G asked curiously.

"That's what I try to do. But I still do my share of bitching and whining about things."

"You never complain about anything." G said simply.

"Well, maybe not too much out loud, but it's there. I promise."

               'You honestly have NO idea.'

* * * * *

As the trio walked into G's room, Paul said, "Lucky, before we get started, why don't I go ahead and show you how to adjust the Wizard's lights so that they'll look solid."

G watched with interest as Paul explained and demonstrated his variation of Wizard's lights.

Paul's enthusiasm was contagious and by the time he was finished, Lucky couldn't wait to get back to work.

Lucky appeared to be fascinated by the fact that by slightly altering certain of the gestures that he had always used that he could essentially redefine the resulting spell.

G noticed that Paul appeared to be in his 'presentation mode' as he summoned Mah Zah and Ginh Zah. Paul made the full glowing spell diagram as well as grand gestures and a dramatic casting of the last few spoken words of the spell.

Although G knew that it was mostly for show, he appreciated that Paul was excited about using magic and showing off his newly acquired skills.

G pondered over the fact that magic had always been a fact of his life. He derived little joy or pleasure from it. Magic was simply another tool available for him to use.

Every now and then he would have occasion to do something special, like the grand illusion that he created after the wedding. But for the most part, being a witch was just another label that he wore, one of many. And, as with all the others, the label came with its own responsibilities and privileges.

Suddenly, G realized that he was standing and staring at Paul. He honestly didn't have time to be woolgathering. He had a project to present the next day and it was far from being ready.

* * * * *

"How are you doing, Lucky?" Paul asked as he approached.

"Are you done with your stuff?" Lucky asked curiously.

"No. I've run into a little problem. The oculus diagram isn't working right. Mah Zah and Ginh Zah are digging into the spell to try and figure out why. I don't know enough about how it works to do much more than get in their way." Paul said frankly.

"So you're going to use a spell that you don't understand how it works?" Lucky asked cautiously.

"Yeah. But we all do that, don't we? Every time you use a spell that someone else wrote, aren't you trusting that they knew what they were doing so that you can use their spell, even though you don't completely understand it."

"I guess so. I mean, I used Wizard's lights before and I didn't even know half of what it could do." Lucky easily agreed.

"How's it going? Have you made any more progress with it?"

"I got stuck on something else. I'm trying to give my Ginh Zah fur, but it looks wrong."

"Oh. Fur. That's a tough one. I haven't tried to do that yet."

"There's no way that I can make each hair. But if I try to make clumps of hair, it comes out all wrong." Lucky said grimly.

"You might try 'drawing' the hair. Maybe make a flat plane... like a square, then using lines and colors, 'draw' your hair on that. Once you have your Wizard's light hair spell finished, then you can cast it as many times as you want and wrap it around your wire frame sculpture. I don't know if it'll look right or not, but it's something that you can try." Paul said thoughtfully.

"Instead of 'making' actual hair, just do a drawing of hair?" Lucky asked to verify his understanding.

"Like I said, it's something to try. Even if it doesn't work, it might give you another idea of how you can accomplish the same thing." Paul said honestly.

"Yeah. I'll try that." Lucky said determinedly before turning his full attention back to his work.

Paul smiled at the reaction, then returned to his familiars to see if they'd been able to make any progress.

* * * * *

"Paul, do you have a minute to look at this?" G asked hopefully.

"Yeah." Paul said as he got up from the collection of spell diagrams that were surrounding him.

"What's your first impression?" G asked as Paul approached.

"He looks great!" Paul said in astonishment.

"Did I get it right?"

"Yeah. I mean, you might want to work with his hair a little, it doesn't look exactly like yours. But other than that, he looks like you. Before he was like a creepy wrong version of you but now I look at him and it's almost like you're looking back at me."

"Thanks. When I'm looking at him, it's really hard for me to see what's wrong."

"He looks good." Paul said honestly.

"Wow! That really looks great!" Lucky said as he approached.

"Do you think he looks like me?" G asked cautiously.

"Yeah!" Lucky said excitedly, then quickly asked, "Can you show me how to do that?"

"Probably not." G said regretfully, then explained, "My specialty is Sorcery. You probably won't be able to use my spell unless your 'big magic' turns out to be Sorcery, too."

"If my 'big magic' is like my mama's, then I might be able to use it. She can take other people's magic away and use it like it's her own." Lucky said frankly.

"I didn't know that. I've never seen her use her magic." G said slowly, then thoughtfully added, "I guess it would make sense. Aunt Lyall is a magic drainer, so it would make sense that her daughter would be, too."

"So does that mean that Lucky could somehow become a summoner?" Paul asked curiously.

"It's not for sure that he'll get that kind of magic. He might follow after his grandfather, Uncle Tamhas, and do Basic magic and charms. But if he does get his mom's magic, then he could possibly hijack your magic and have access to your powers... but that doesn't mean that when he gets them that he'll know how to use them." G carefully explained.

"What about his dad? What kind of magic does he have?" Paul asked curiously.

"I don't have a dad." Lucky said quietly as he looked at the floor.

"I know how that is. I didn't have one either until last week when D said that he'd adopt me." Paul assured him, then continued, "I just asked because I thought it might also be possible that you'd get his magic."

Lucky shrugged and it was easy to see that he didn't want to talk about it.

Paul leaned down and gave the boy a quick, firm hug as he said, "I know what it's like, okay? I grew up without ever knowing anything about my father. If you ever need to talk to anyone about that, I think I can probably help you. I've been through it all."

Lucky didn't answer verbally, but returned Paul's hug enthusiastically.

A knock on the door interrupted their moment and G went to answer it.

* * * * *

"Dad? What are you doing out here?" G asked curiously.

"It seems that there's been a change in plans. Rather than call the three of you inside, I thought that I'd come out here to tell you about it." D explained.

"What's up?"

"Beth and Kyla have been brainstorming about the baby's room and I suggested that Kyla and the kids stay the weekend, not only so that they can enjoy the cookout with us, but also to allow Beth and Kyla more time to develop their ideas." D said seriously.

"That's great!" G said with a big smile.

"Is that okay with you?" Paul asked the younger boy at his side.

Lucky timidly nodded as he looked up at D.

"I was thinking that, if you two wouldn't mind, Lucky could stay out here with you tonight. After breakfast in the morning, he can help me with a few things while you two are at school." D said with a smile.

"Yeah! That sounds great!" G said happily.

Paul looked at Lucky with question and received another nod in return.

"I thought that you'd like that idea. I took the liberty of bringing Lucky's suitcase with me." D said as he picked up the suitcase from beside the door.

"Do you want to come in?" G asked quickly, only just realizing that he'd left his father standing on his doorstep.

"No. I need to get back inside. Apparently, there are a few thousand color swatches that I need to look at to give my 'male' opinion on." D said with a pained look.

"Have fun." G said as he fought to restrain a chuckle.

"You too." D said sincerely, then thought to add, "Don't stay up too late. It's a school night."

"Okay Dad." G said with an indulgent loving smile.

Seemingly on impulse, D stepped forward and pulled G into a quick hug and planted a kiss on his forehead.

Before G could react, D moved on to give hugs and kisses to Paul and Lucky as well.

G stood dumbfounded as he watched his father walk out of the room.

After a long silence, Paul finally said, "That was weird."

"Yeah. Dad's not usually like that." G said slowly.

"Well, at least it's weird in a good way." Paul said with a slight smile.

Lucky was standing stiffly and had tears in his eyes.

When Paul noticed, he quietly asked, "Are you okay?"

"Is that what it's like to have a dad?" Lucky whispered.

A few dozen responses crossed Paul's mind, but he finally answered, "Yeah."

"You're going to be here all weekend. Who knows? Maybe you'll get a few more of those." G interjected.

Lucky's amazed expression transformed into a smile at the thought.

"I wish that I could stay here with you and talk about that, but we still haven't figured out the problem with my spell." Paul said regretfully.

"What's wrong with it? Maybe we can help." G suggested easily.

In response, Paul made a sweeping gesture with one arm and a giant vertical spell diagram appeared in front of them.

"This is the problem." Paul said as the center of the diagram became misty, then resolved into an image of the three of them.

"So, were you not trying to make a mirror?" G guessed.

"No. Not really." Paul said frankly.

G realized that something was wrong with the image and looked over his shoulder curiously before looking back and cautiously saying, "You made a mirror that looks at our backs?"

"Yeah. Something like that." Paul said uneasily.

"How'd you do that?" G asked as he experimentally raised one hand and saw his image in 'the mirror' do the same.

"Actually, I'm still not sure about that. Mah Zah and Ginh Zah are working on it." Paul quietly admitted.

The three of them stood for a long moment before G finally said, "You were right about my butt."

"I know." Paul said with a smile.

* * * * *

The three went back to work on their individual projects.

G decided to devote some time to the detail work on Lex's hair.

Paul continued on with Mah Zah and Ginh Zah, trying to track down and fix the problem with the spell diagram.

Lucky quietly worked on his 'drawing' of fur, trying to get it to look as real as possible.

"That's it!" Paul announced as he walked over to G.

"What's what?" G asked as he was broken out of his concentration.

"We've figured out the problem with the oculus. It's going to take a little longer to cast than I was planning on, but I can make it work." Paul said triumphantly.

"Do you want to show me?" G asked with a smile.

"I can't yet. Mah Zah and Ginh Zah still have some other things to do, but at least we've got it all figured out. It'll all be ready in time for me to present it tomorrow." Paul said confidently.

"You don't want to do a test run first, just to be sure?" G asked cautiously.

"I already did. It's just that there's nothing to see yet." Paul said honestly, then continued, "Everything else is theatrics. The magic stuff is all settled."

"I'm sorry that I'm going to miss it." G said honestly.

"I'm sorry that I'm going to miss you unveiling Lex. I'd like to see everyone's reactions." Paul said honestly.

"There's probably not going to be much to it. The teacher will just call on us to make our self portraits for everyone to see. Hopefully, Lex will be one of the better ones, but I doubt that it'll be any big deal."

"How are you doing, Lucky?" Paul asked curiously.

"I need to work on it some more. It's not right yet." Lucky said honestly.

"Well, Paul and I are going to be at school, so you'll probably have time tomorrow, when Dad doesn't have you doing things for him." G said frankly.

"You can tell us all about it when we get home from school tomorrow." Paul said happily.

"Are you ready to put away the magic and relax for a little bit before we go to bed?" G asked his cousin with a smile.

"Yeah. I guess. What are we going to do?" Lucky asked curiously.

"We'll just relax and watch some anime until we fall asleep."

"What's anime?" Lucky asked curiously.

G broke into a glorious smile, then said, "You're going to love this!"

* * * * *

It seemed wrong to Paul to wake up alone.

Lucky and G were in the same room with him, but they had all slept separately.

Even so, Paul had no regrets. The three of them had all enjoyed the anime immensely.

Paul was surprised at just how good the animated movie had been.

The visuals were breathtaking, the action was exciting, the characters were well developed and the villain was even interesting. Rather than simply being 'evil', the antagonist was overwhelmed, immature and even a little bit sad. It added another dimension of complexity to the movie that Paul could sympathize and relate to the villain.

All in all, Paul had to admit that it was among the best movies that he had ever seen, animated or otherwise.

Of course it was Lucky's first anime, so his reaction was that much more intense.

The sound of the alarm going off forced Paul to stop lying around, pondering the night before.

"Lucky, it's time to get up." Paul said as he reluctantly forced himself into an upright sitting position.

"Did we all forget to go to bed last night?" Lucky asked in confusion as he looked around.

"No. This is where we always sleep." G answered quietly.

"That is so awesome!" Lucky exclaimed then hurriedly added, "Your life is the best."

"You're part of this too Lucky. Even if you don't live with us 'full-time', you're still one of the guys." Paul said frankly.

"That's right." G confirmed, then explained, "This doesn't have anything to do with you being family or anything like that. I don't know if you've noticed, but we have a certain energy going on here. When we get together, we make each other better than we really are. You're part of that now. You're one of us."

Paul was surprised by G's declaration, but couldn't find a single thing that he disagreed with about it.

"But for right now we need to get ready for breakfast." G said decisively as he got up from where he had been sleeping.

"Lucky, are you going to need to take anything from your suitcase into the house with you? G and I are probably going to be coming back here long enough to shower and change into our school clothes before we leave. You'll probably be staying in the house after breakfast." Paul asked seriously.

"I should probably take my suitcase with me so I can change into clean clothes. My mom will have a fit if I wear the same clothes that I wore yesterday." Lucky said honestly.

"Good thinking. It's best to keep the moms on our side as much as we can. If we piss them off, they won't let us do as much stuff." Paul said frankly.

"I wish I could go to school with you guys. It's going to be boring here without you." Lucky said quietly.

"Even if you went with us, you probably wouldn't see much of us anyway. G and I only have a few classes together. The only time we really get to see each other for more than a few minutes is at lunchtime." Paul said honestly.

"Besides, from what Dad was saying, he's going to have you helping him today. That might end up being fun. Give him a chance." G added as they walked out the front door.

* * * * *

"So, you were saying last night that you had some presentations to do. Can I assume that this has something to do with what you were working on with Nazareth and Revindra?" D asked curiously before taking a bite of his food.

"We have to present that today. But then we each have our own presentations to give in our specialty classes in the afternoon." G said frankly.

"So you each have two presentations to give today?" D asked to verify his understanding.

"Yeah. But I think we're ready." G said with an uncertain glance at Paul.

Paul nodded his assurance.

"What will you be presenting?" D asked curiously.

"I'm doing a self-portrait illusion. I know it sounds easy, but it was a lot harder than I expected it to be." G said frankly.

"Is it something that you can show us now? Or does it take too much time to prepare?" D slowly asked.

"I can do it now. It's the crafting that takes all the time. Once I've been able to get it all refined the way I want it, I can call it back up whenever I want to." G said simply, then looked to his side as Lex faded into being.

"That's some fantastic work!" Beth said in amazement.

"If I didn't know better, I couldn't tell that he wasn't a real person." Kyla said in wonder.

"What's more, it actually looks like you. I mean, I'm your father. If there's anyone in the world who should be able to find fault with it, it's me. But this is really flawless." D said in an impressed voice.

"You're going to do great at the presentation." Beth said confidently.

"Thanks." G said shyly.

"What about you, Paul? Can you show us what you'll be presenting?" Beth asked hopefully.

"I'm sorry, I can't. Mine takes a lot of preparation." Paul said apologetically.

"But you do everything with Wizard's lights and magical fire don't you?" G asked cautiously.

"Yeah. But that's not the problem." Paul told him, then explained, "I have everything arranged for this afternoon. I really can't do it before then."

"Even so, it sounds like you've gone to a lot of time and trouble to perfect your spell. I'm sure that it's going to impress the proper people." Beth said with a significant look at her son.

Paul wasn't used to seeing this side of his mother's personality. While it was a far cry from the beaten down weary woman that he had become accustomed to seeing, he couldn't be one hundred percent sure that this was an improvement.

"I think that since he's only known about magic for one week, that they should be impressed that he can summon anything." G said in Paul's defense.

"I certainly am." D interjected honestly.

Something about D's statement hit Paul a lot more strongly than it had any right to. Hearing D essentially say that he was proud made Paul want to break down into tears. He was able to tamp down his emotions in the nick of time, but it was a very near thing.

"We've got to get moving if we're going to be ready on time." G warned.

"Yeah." Paul acknowledged, then said to everyone, focusing mainly on D, "I'll tell you how it went at dinner tonight."

Paul felt a little twinge at leaving Lucky behind, but G was right. They had no time to dawdle. They had exactly enough time to shower and dress for school.

* * * * *

Despite knowing that he was as prepared as he could be, Paul still felt nervous about the upcoming presentations.

His ride in the school van, cuddled next to G, helped to soothe him and by the time they arrived, Paul was wearing a contented smile.

"I'm fine now. You don't have to go with me." Paul said when he noticed that G was walking with him down the hallway.

"Actually, I do." G said simply.

"I'll be okay. I promise."

"I believe you." G assured him, then added with a smile, "But we're going the same place. I'm in your Numerology class. Remember?"

"Oh. Yeah. I've had so many classes so far this week that I lost track. Sorry about that." Paul finished timidly.

G laughed good naturedly as he threw an arm around Paul and gave him a quick hug.

"I've been so caught up with the presentations... was there anything that I was supposed to have done for Numerology?" Paul asked hesitantly.

"No. We're just going through workbooks at our own pace." G assured him, then added as an aside, "But Ms. Ipsum asked you to tell her about what you've been able to do with Numerology spells besides plotting pi in your spell diagrams."

"That's right..." Paul began to say as they walked into the classroom with G's arm still around him.

* * * * *

Paul immediately went to the back of the room to the study table as G walked to the bookshelf to select a few workbooks for Paul to work on.

By the time the class bell rang, Paul and G were already doing their best to cover as much material as possible to get Paul caught up with the rest of the class.

"How are you gentlemen doing today?" Ms. Ipsum asked pleasantly as she approached.

"I think we're doing pretty well. Paul's been working his butt off impressing everyone." G said with a grin.

"I must admit that I've heard something about that in the teacher's lounge. It was a good feeling to be able to proclaim that some of the disciplines from my class were able to contribute to his achievements." Ms. Ipsum said with a smile.

"I've probably used what I've learned in your class more than anything except for maybe Wizardry." Paul said as he looked up from his book.

"Really? I wouldn't have expected that." Ms. Ipsum said honestly.

"Look." Paul said, then indicated a spot beside them as a round stone column emerged from the floor and stopped at about table level.

"That's... surprising." Ms. Ipsum said uncertainly.

"Yeah, that's adapted from the 3D plotting spell from the workbook." Paul explained.

G walked over and patted the top of the column as he said, "And it's solid."

"Remarkable." Ms. Ipsum whispered.

"Yeah. Well, I already showed you the spell diagram using the pi plot." Paul said as he gestured to the top of the column again and a glowing spell diagram appeared.

"The other thing that I've used over and over again is the writing spell that's embedded in the workbook. I know it's not exactly a Numerology spell, but I learned it in here, so I figure that it counts." Paul said as the text of a spell began to fill itself into the different segments of his spell diagram.

"What you've accomplished is amazing. I'm going to get out of your way now so that you can learn even more valuable spells and concepts." Ms. Ipsum said as she continued to stare at what Paul had created.

"Thanks for letting me get caught up at my own pace and for letting G help me. If I was in anyone else's class I'd probably be sitting and struggling with a textbook trying to make sense of stuff that I wasn't interested in learning." Paul said sincerely.

"Just let me know if you need anything." Ms. Ipsum said quietly before going back to the front of the room to attend to the rest of the class.

* * * * *

"Hey Vinda. How are things going today?" Paul asked as he walked into the classroom.

"Everything's fine so far. I've overheard a few people talking about what happened yesterday, but so far all of them have said that attacking you was wrong and that Kristie and Carla got what was coming to them." Vinda said frankly.

               'What was it that I did to piss them off?'

               'Oh yeah. I refused to play nice with Carla when she demanded it.'

"Well, I guess as long as people aren't talking about hunting me down and beating me up, that I should be thankful." Paul said honestly.

"I think that anyone who might normally make a move against you is probably scared of what you'll do to them."� Vinda said with an apologetic smile.

"Having people afraid of me makes me feel like I'm some kind of a monster."

"Toughen up, Buttercup." Vinda said simply, then added, "You're a witch. You'd better get used to it."

Paul couldn't tell from her expression if she were joking or not. Either way, he wasn't laughing.

"Some people are in denial about the whole thing. I try not to judge them too harshly for it. We all do what we have to do to deal with our own situations."

"But I'm a demon summoner. That's kinda huge on the monster scale. What do you have to deal with?" Paul asked seriously.

"I summon departed human souls and command them to do my bidding. I mean, yeah, you do the same thing with demons, but if you really think about it, what I do could be considered to be a whole lot more evil than what you do... or even what Nazzy does. He just reanimates the meat. It isn't good for anything but worm food anyway. By some ways of thinking, what I do actually desecrates the eternal essence of a human soul."

Paul remembered his initial shock when he realized what it was that Nazzy and Vinda did with their magic. After a moment of soul searching, he could honestly say that it didn't bother him.

"Okay. You're more evil than I am." Paul finally relented, then thought to add, "But you're still my friend."

"Welcome to the dark side. We have cookies." Vinda said with a grin.

Paul couldn't restrain his laughter at the reference to the tired meme.

"We'd better get to work. Class is about to start." Vinda said with a smile.

Paul nodded, then went to the study table at the back of the room to resume his read-through of the introductory Alchemy book.

* * * * *

Paul was once again enthralled by the Alchemy text. Not only did it make perfect sense to him, but it was almost as though he could read between the lines.

There were glimpses of dangerous and powerful things that were just out of his reach, hidden in plain sight within descriptions of bland magical 'experiments'.

"Mr. Darroch, I hope this day finds you well." Mr. Hind said from behind Paul, causing him to startle.

               'He does that on purpose, sneaking up behind people.'

               'I kinda gotta respect that.'

               'I mean, an Alchemy teacher with Ninja skills... there's got to be an anime about that.'

"Yes. I'm very well, Mr. Hind. Thank you for suggesting this book. I'm really getting a lot out of it." Paul said honestly.

"I'm pleased to hear that. Students tend to be less interested in the subjects that are taught more in theory than in practice. It's refreshing to see someone who can appreciate the art behind the magic."

"Yeah. Since I'm so interested in altering the states of matter, it's easy to get lost in it."

"Yes. I've always thought so." Mr. Hind admitted with a seemingly sincere smile.

"There was one thing that I was wanting to ask about that they haven't covered in the book yet."

"What might that be?" Mr. Hind asked curiously.

"Well, in the theoretical scenarios in the book they talk about altering the states of matter when you need to, but the reasons they use always make it so that the changes are temporary. Changing earth to have the properties of water so you can get something from underground without having to dig and things like that."

"Yes."

"So, what about when you want to change something permanently? Is there a whole other course of study for that or what? So far, I haven't seen anything that even hints at if it's possible." Paul said seriously.

"As you said, these scenarios are theoretical. It could likely be years before you'll have occasion to actually cast an alchemy spell. The fact of the matter is, most students will never advance to that stage. Only those who have both an interest and a talent for Alchemy will progress to the point where more advanced spells are introduced."

"Is that because the spells are so powerful? You want to be sure that someone is really committed to the art before you give them access to the dangerous stuff?" Paul asked speculatively, probing for information.

"We typically do not speak of such things. In my class you will learn the foundations of Alchemy, then you will advance to the spells involving physical transformations of yourself and the manipulation of base objects." Mr. Hind said slowly.

               'Ding! Ding! Ding!'

               'We have a winner!'

               'The things we do not speak about are the things worth knowing.'

               'Now let's see if we can get Mr. Hind to fess up about what's being hidden.'

"Those sound like some nice tricks. It'd probably be enough to keep someone who wasn't really interested in Alchemy entertained for a while." Paul said speculatively, then looked Mr. Hind in the eyes as he asked, "But what happens to someone who wants to see it all? What if I want to look behind the curtain and find out about the real Alchemy? What's going to happen to me then?"

"There are more advanced courses taught at the college level for those who exhibit an interest in specializing their field of study." Mr. Hind said carefully.

"Uh huh." Paul said, then stood from his chair.

Thanks to his preparation for the presentation in Spelling class, Paul had been able to refine the spell for the base of the pillar into its most fundamental form. He calmly and carefully went through the incantation aloud as he expertly performed each of the required hand gestures.

Mr. Hind's expression went from interest to concern as he began to get an inkling of what Paul's spell was meant to do.

"No. You can't..." Mr. Hind began to say just as the pillar began to emerge from the floor.

Once Paul's spellcasting was finished, he placed one hand on the smooth solid surface of the pillar before him.

Other students around the classroom were looking in his direction, but no one got out of their seats to investigate.

Vinda was watching with interest from relatively nearby and seemed to be on the verge of joining their conversation. If she did, Paul couldn't begin to guess if she'd be on his side or Mr. Hind's.

"What I'm asking is, if I stay in this class, will I learn how to do something more than I've already figured out on my own?" Paul asked carefully.

Mr. Hind cautiously stepped forward and tentatively touched the surface of the solid stone pillar that hadn't been there a moment before.

Paul watched and waited for his answer.

"You learned to do this from the basic material that I provided you?" Mr. Hind asked cautiously.

"I used the theories and descriptions of how Alchemy works at the most fundamental level and incorporated that into other spells that I was already working on. If you'll check out the book, you'll see that they're really careful not to give any actual Alchemy spells. That's okay. It's dangerous. I get that. But what I want to know is if I want to really learn Alchemy, is there any point to me even being here?"

"I don't have the authority to do what I believe that you are asking of me." Mr. Hind said slowly.

"All I'm asking of you right now is to tell me the truth. Is there any point to me staying in this class and learning how to do 'tricks' that use Alchemy without ever learning how Alchemy actually works?"

"What would you do with the knowledge if you had access to it?" Mr. Hind asked cautiously.

"Sorry, I've only had one Augury class so far, so I can't really tell the future. All I can tell you is that I'm interested in what you have to teach me... if you'll teach it to me."

"Were I to give you an answer now, I'm afraid it might prompt you to take an action that both of us would later regret. Will you allow me the time to discuss the matter with a few people and do a little investigation before I give you a final response?" Mr. Hind asked slowly.

"Yes. As long as I know that you're at least considering it, I can wait." Paul said in the tone of a vow.

"Although I understand that you can't predict the future, I'm still interested to know what drives you to want this knowledge?" Mr. Hind asked curiously.

Paul grinned at the question, then said, "From the feel of the magic, I think I could be good at Alchemy. If I get the right training and access to some real Alchemy books, I might even become great at it. I don't know what jobs there are for a 'great' alchemist, but how many chances does a person have to be 'great' at anything?"

"But your specialty is Wizardry, is it not?"

"Yeah. Is that a problem?"

"It doesn't disqualify you from anything, but what happens if you have to make a choice? Will you abandon your interest in Alchemy when the demands of your studies in Wizardry become too great?"

"If I have to choose, I'll choose. It's impossible for me to tell you now which one will be more important to me that far in the future." Paul said honestly, then thought to add, "But I'm going to do my best to do both. Just because I'm doing something in Wizardry doesn't mean that I can't toss some Alchemy in there too."

"Allow me to make some inquiries. I'll get back with you as soon as I have some options for you to consider." Mr. Hind said seriously.

"Thank you Mr. Hind. I'm sorry if I got pushy, but I thought it might be the only way that you'd understand how much I really want to learn about Alchemy. I could have sat down and shut up and played along with the rest of the class while you taught them how to turn each other into toads but by then I might have lost the will to even try learning anything more."

"That's quite alright. Although I'm not accustomed to students demanding to be taught more advanced material, I can't say that I'm offended by it." Mr. Hind said sincerely, then added as an aside, "In regard to the toads, we only change ourselves, not each other."

"I stand corrected." Paul said with a grin.

"I need to get back to the rest of the class. I'm relatively certain that they're more focused on us than what they were individually studying." Mr. Hind said honestly.

"I'm sorry for disrupting your class. I'll try not to let it happen again." Paul said repentantly.

"Don't concern yourself. Such a worthy demand was deserving of a certain amount of disruption to emphasize its importance. Now I will leave you to your reading." Mr. Hind said before walking away.

* * * * *

"What the HELL?!" Vinda asked as she caught up to Paul outside the Alchemy classroom.

"I didn't want to learn baby magic." Paul said simply.

"What do you mean 'baby magic'? That's the same class that everyone takes."

"If you don't have any interest in learning more than what Mr. Hind is teaching you now, that's fine. I guess that his class is exactly what most witches our age need to learn. There's nothing too dangerous but there's also enough of the basic theory so that you can understand how things work." Paul carefully explained.

"But you want to know more?" Vinda asked cautiously.

"Yeah."

"That's it? Yeah? That's the only explanation you're going to give for standing up to one of the teachers?!"

"Yeah." Paul said with a grin.

Vinda threw up her arms, then spotted Nazzy and G approaching.

"What's wrong?" Nazzy asked with concern, immediately sensing Vinda's frustration.

"G, why don't you ask your boyfriend what he did in Mr. Hind's class today?" Vinda asked forcefully.

"What did you do in Mr. Hind's class today, Paul?" G asked indulgently.

"I read a book." Paul answered with a grin.

"Was it a good book?"

"Pretty good. Not enough pictures."

"He created a stone pillar in the middle of Alchemy class and demanded that Mr. Hind teach him stuff that he's not teaching everyone else." Vinda said in frustration.

"Was that before or after reading the book?" G asked Paul warmly.

"Kind of in the middle. Mr. Hind interrupted me." Paul said with a smile that he couldn't contain.

"Paul threatened to quit Alchemy class over it!" Vinda yelled.

"Because he interrupted your reading?" G asked with a wide-eyed look.

"No. Because of the 'not teaching' thing." Paul said warmly, loving G even more in that moment.

"Oh." G said with a nod.

Vinda looked back and forth between them and didn't know who she was angrier at.

"Are we ready for our presentation?" Nazzy quietly asked.

Vinda's death glare directed at him let him know that she wasn't quite done with the previous conversation.

"I asked Mr. Hind if I could study more advanced Alchemy material and he's going to look into it." Paul quietly explained.

"I never really got into Alchemy, but if you're interested in it, you should learn more about it." G said frankly.

Vinda threw up her hands again and shook her head in disgust.

"Seriously, guys. Are we ready for the presentation?" Nazzy asked nervously.

"Yeah. I got mine. No problem." G said confidently.

"I'm good." Paul said simply.

"Vin, are you up to it? If you're too pissed off, you could trash the spell for all of us." Nazzy warned her.

"Paul, I'm worried about you... or because of you... something like that. What you just did... people don't do that. You don't just go up to a teacher and tell them that you want more work that's harder or you're going to quit their class. I don't want you to quit... or to get kicked out." Vinda fought to explain.

"I'm sorry, Vinda. I guess I'm not used to having people around me who care about me, so I'm not used to taking anyone else's feelings into account before I act. I really didn't mean to worry you." Paul said quietly.

               'The whole thing with G, that's personal. It's on a whole different level.'

               'But having Nazzy and Vinda as my friends... that's totally new.'

               'Hopping from school to school, I learned not to connect with people.'

               'Having friends sounds so easy. So normal. Everyone does it.'

               'I guess it's finally time for me to learn how it's done.'

               'I can't wait.'

Vinda slowly nodded, then said, "Okay. I'm ready to do the spell now."

Paul looked to G and Nazzy to find them in agreement.

* * * * *

As the foursome walked into the classroom, they continued on to their customary work area.

A few minutes after the bell rang, Mrs. Herdez approached the group and asked, "Are you ready for your group presentation?"

"Yes. Just let us know when you're ready for us to start." Vinda said for the group.

"Everyone, please gather around. We're going to have a presentation today that might well take the entire class period, so we need to get started."

Paul noticed that Nicholas was present, but since he was at the back of the small crowd of students, Paul decided to leave him alone.

"Whenever you're..." Mrs. Herdez began to say, but was interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Just a moment." She said as she hurried to answer it.

After some brief discussion at the door, Mrs. Herdez ushered Karras into the room and said, "You may begin whenever you're ready."

Vinda looked around at the group and they moved slightly to allow enough room for their pillar to manifest.

Once she was sure that everyone was in place, Vinda began her spellcasting. From the first few phrases that she used, it was obvious to all present that she was casting something to do with Numerology.

Nazzy began casting next and the other members of their class were perplexed by the fact that Nazzy wasn't casting the exact same spell as Vinda. His spell was related to a Basic Magic spell and several in attendance recognized it as being a variation of the Wizard's light.

When G started casting an entirely different spell, obviously based in a discipline of magic that was completely foreign to most of the class, the looks of puzzlement began to transform into looks of anticipation.

Paul listened carefully to what everyone else was doing and when just the right moment came, he jumped in with his spellcasting. None present were familiar with the casting of an Alchemy spell, so they didn't know exactly what Paul was trying to cause to happen.

The four of them continued on and on, each performing their different incantations and hand signs.

For those who were paying close enough attention and had a working knowledge of the magical importance of the gestures, there was the added bonus of being able to catch the same coordinates being referenced in all four spells.

When the stone pillar erupted from the floor, there were some gasps from the spectators and a few people reflexively stepped back.

There were also some whispers from those who had seen Paul create the stone pillar before in other classes.

But what none of them had previously seen was the fully manifested scene atop the pillar complete with its illusionary improvements.

The castle, forest and lake were idyllic. And, as planned, the frolicking hedgehogs brought a sense of life to the entire scene.

"This is far beyond anything that I had anticipated." Mrs. Herdez said in amazement as she approached.

"Just make sure you touch it. For someone like me, who's in Sorcery, making something beautiful isn't really that big of a deal. But making something that's real. That's special." G said frankly.

"It really is incredible. Why don't you explain to the class just what components the four of you put together to create this masterpiece?" Mrs. Herdez asked hopefully.

The three boys seemed to be looking to Vinda to be their spokesman, but she only did so inasmuch as she said, "Paul was the one who came up with the original spells and the idea to put them together like this. We all modified them since, but the initial idea was his, so he should explain them."

"Thanks." Paul said to her sharply, then looked around the class and said, "The base of all of this is the 3D plotter spell from the Numerology workbook. I rejiggered the spell a little and made it so that it could plot all of this. That's the frame that everything else is hanging on. Vinda cast that part of the spell."

A few surprised looks went around the room, but no one seemed to be able to come up with a question.

"Once the plotter was initialized, the Wizard's lights were used to fill in where the plotter wanted to plot. Vinda made the frame and Nazzy put all the colored panels in place on it.

"The next thing was to use some of the principles of Alchemy to make the different panels solid... or liquid, depending on what they were representing. That way you can touch it or even stand on it, if you want to. They're also opaque, so they give depth to the whole thing, making it look more real. I did that part.

"After all the rest was done, G created an illusion to slide over the whole thing like a glove. That smoothed out all the corners and made everything look a lot more natural." Paul said carefully.

"But how were you able to coordinate it so that all four of you could cast your spells at the same time without stepping on each other and fritzing out each other's magic?" One of the girls in the class asked curiously.

Nazzy and Vinda exchanged a look, but seemed to be as unsure as the girl who had asked the question.

"I did that. Nobody told me that I couldn't do multiple spells at once, so the first time I made this thing, I just did it. When I found out that the four of us needed to do the different spells at the same time, I just looked back at how I did them all at once on my own and did my best to make it so that they'd still connect to each other in the same way when we did them together." Paul said with difficulty.

"I don't get how you created something so complex with such a little spell. If I tried to make something this complicated, I'd probably still be casting the spell this time next week." A boy said cautiously.

"That has a lot to do with the Numerology lessons. I was able to use some of the magical formula manipulation spells to serve as containers for the different elements of the construct. So instead of having to draw one tree, then draw another, I just created a manipulation, made it randomize a little and called it 'tree', then I had the inner spell dynamic, which was woven into the outer spell, cast it as many times as it needed to, to create the forest. I had another dynamic like that for the castle, the field and the lake."

There was a long moment of silence, then Paul barely heard someone whisper, "That made my brain hurt."

Paul smiled despite himself, then looked around to see if anyone else had any questions.

"Is this the same kind of thing that you made in Gym class the other day?" A boy asked seriously.

Paul turned to see who had asked the question and recognized him.

"Yeah Zanner. If you look at the stone of this pillar, you'll see that it's exactly the same as my walls." Paul confirmed.

"What's it like to cast a spell together like that?" A girl asked curiously.

Paul was happy to notice that their classmates seemed to be getting more comfortable talking to him.

"I'm new here, so this is all I've ever known. I'm not the best one to ask." Paul said honestly, then turned to his teammates and asked, "Guys?"

"Um, I guess it's like it adds a whole new level of difficulty because you don't just have to worry about doing your part but you have to be aware of what everyone else is doing at the same time." Nazzy said thoughtfully.

"Yeah. And you aren't just putting your own grade on the line. Any one of us could have screwed this up for all of us." G added frankly.

"But couldn't you make something just like that with your sorcery? You could have done this whole project by yourself and it wouldn't have been any different." Another boy in the class challenged.

"If I made it, it wouldn't be real. Your hand would pass through it. The stone wouldn't be sharp, the water wouldn't be wet, and the leaves on the trees wouldn't be soft. Besides that, I can't incorporate that much fine detail into my illusions. I can do something like this and make an overlay that blends and smooths, but if I were trying to make the entire thing myself, it wouldn't be nearly this nice. It's just way too complicated for me to construct." G finished with a shrug.

"What about you, Paul? You did this whole thing by yourself the other day. You don't need anyone else's help, do you?" The same boy asked seriously.

"I can't do the Sorcery. I'll tell you that upfront." Paul said firmly, then added a little more quietly, "As far as the rest, yeah, I can cast the spells myself, all at the same time. But it's nowhere near as good as all of us casting the spells together."

"Why not?" The boy asked suspiciously.

"Watch carefully." Paul said with a grin, then turned to G and said, "Let's tear it down."

G slowly raised his hands in the direction of the pillar, then suddenly dropped them. As he did, the illusion fell away from the construct, revealing the colorful pixelated structure before them.

There was silence throughout the room as everyone watched intently, not wanting to miss a moment of the spectacle.

Paul held one hand out toward the pillar with his palm open toward it. He held it there for a moment, for dramatic effect, then slowly closed his fist as he pulled his hand away. As he did that, the entire pillar became a colorful arrangement of transparent cubes.

He heard a few gasps and had to admit that the sight of it was somewhat breathtaking.

Nazzy made a grand counterclockwise gesture in the air with one hand and all the color drained from the structure.

Paul couldn't help but smile at the grand expression of Nazzy's intent.

The room was silent as Vinda slowly raised her hand toward the delicate looking crystalline sculpture and firmly said, "Be gone."

When she said that, all the little glass or ice crystals making up the pillar seemed to shatter in a cascading effect from top to bottom.

There was a long silent moment that followed, then Paul was aware of someone clapping. He turned to see that it was Karras, who was now leading their classmates in applause.

* * * * *

When the applause died down, Mrs. Herdez approached the group and asked, "Did you happen to write the spells down for me?"

"Yeah. I've got it right here. Just a second." Vinda said quickly, then hurried to get the spiral bound notebook out of her backpack.

"That was an excellent display of multidisciplinary spellcasting, which far exceeded my expectations. Not only did you perform the spells with practiced precision, but you also augmented the spellcasting with your own individual examples of flair. All of you, please remember what you did here today, because when you have an opportunity to demonstrate your magic in the future, this will be a fine example for you to follow."

"I was afraid that you might not want us doing the extras at the end, since it wasn't really part of the spellcasting." Nazzy admitted timidly.

"To be honest, I absolutely detest it when the 'performance' of a spell overshadows the casting of it. But what the four of you did was just the right balance to demonstrate the spell as well as to make the presentation interesting. It's what makes the difference between a 'competent' spell and a 'memorable' one."

When Mrs. Herdez had finished speaking, Vinda presented her with the spiral bound notebook.

"Do you mind if I keep this for a bit? I'd like to submit it to Professor Bielecki for his evaluation." Mrs. Herdez asked hopefully.

"Who's Professor Bielecki?" Paul asked cautiously.

"He's the head of this department, just like Professor Ortega is the head of Wizardry." Nazzy quietly explained.

"This has all the notes for our project. Keep it as long as you need to." Vinda said for all of them.

Mrs. Herdez opened the notebook and leafed through a few pages before saying, "This is very neat and well organized. I only wish that my other students could be bothered to do as much."

               'Better watch out Ginh Zah.'

               'You might have some competition for who's the cattiest cat in town.'

"Would you mind if we talked to Karras for a few minutes? He came here from another class so that he could see our presentation." G asked hopefully.

"Yes. Of course. You've all done very well." Mrs. Herdez said sincerely.

"Thanks!" G said happily, then dashed away from the group to where Karras was standing and watching them.

"You realize that by doing this that we've just set the bar really really high for ourselves?" Nazzy asked Paul warily.

"Yeah. Sorry. I do that a lot." Paul quietly admitted.

* * * * *

As Paul walked into his next classroom he didn't know what to expect.

Nazzy, Vinda and G had all gone off to other classes and for the first time that day he was entirely on his own.

"My name is Paul Darroch. I've been assigned to this class." Paul said as he approached the desk at the front of the room.

"You know, in the non-magic part of the school, they make students wait until the new school year before they enroll them."

"Yes ma'am. I know. I originally enrolled as a non-magical student." Paul said quietly as she seemed to be concentrating on writing something.

"Oh? Darroch! Of course. I've heard some of the other teachers talking about you in the lounge."

"Nice things, I hope." Paul said cautiously.

"Yes. All good. I promise." She said as she looked up from her book and smiled. "Now then, I'm Mrs. Gibbner and this is Civics class. Basically, in this class we'll discuss the moral obligations of witches to not only the witch community, but also to the greater mundane community. In doing so, I'll teach you about your rights and responsibilities not only as a witch, but also as a citizen. You're starting out a few weeks behind and there's a LOT to learn. I'm going to be counting on you to do your part to catch up."

"Yes ma'am." Paul said quietly.

She handed him a textbook then said, "Skip to chapter two and see how far you can get. Don't be tempted to skim and scan. Try to remember, all of this is important."

"Except for chapter one." Paul said before he could think better of it.

"Yes." Mrs. Gibbner said with a hint of a smile, then glanced around before whispering, "Chapter one is a bunch of flowery motivational crap."

Paul smiled and nodded.

"Take a seat. We need to get started." Mrs. Gibbner said firmly.

"Yes ma'am." Paul said then looked back at the classroom to find an available seat.

To Be Continued...



Editor's Notes (1):

My first thoughts about this chapter are about Lucky. I feel sorry for him. It seems to me that his mom and sister are a lot more interested in their own concerns and are not really noticing Lucky, or what he might want to do or even say. I will give them the benefit of the doubt, and say that I think they are so caught up in their own interests that they have little to no clue that Lucky is feeling left out. Although having said that, I seriously don't think that even if they knew, they would do anything much differently.

I like Lucky, and I hope that somehow between the three of them, Paul, G and Lucky, they can figure out a way to make things better for Lucky. We will just have to see what happens next, though. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

I also hope that both Paul's and G's presentations go will for them.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher


Editor's Notes (2):

I am glad their presentation turned out well. I must say that I pretty much expected it to be well received. Everyone involved put a lot of thought and work into making it work correctly and to be impressive.

I was a bit surprised at seeing Vinda get so upset at paul for standing up and asking about learning more complicated material than what was being taught.

I stand firmly with Paul on that one. It would be like me going into an electronics class and being taught how to replace a light bulb in a stereo tuner. I think that most people would find that somewhat interesting, but I would be bored stiff if that were the level of what was being taught.

I have built component systems from scratch and understand ohm's law, etc.

I am sure after one or two classes, I would be asking what I was doing in a class like that. I honestly don't think I am bragging. I would not be able to advance to any degree. So my being there would be a total waste of time, not only for me, but for a teacher who would be expected to raise my level of understanding, and that would not be happening.

I took a required class in college It was a biology class. The only problem was that I had taken a biology class in high school, and we used the same book that was being used in the college course. To top it off, the teacher handed out leaflets containing what he called a study sheet, or something like that. Every question on his quizzes or even his final exams for the semesters were taken directly from his study sheets, so if you paid the slightest bit of attention to his hand outs, you had the answers at your fingertips so to speak. I never studied for that class, and I never took my book out of its plastic wrap, and I got an A+ in the course, which I had only received an A- on when I took the course in highschool a few years before.

Basically, I felt as if I were cheating, but when I brought it to the teacher's attention, he asked me if I had stolen any answers from someone else, which I hadn't, and if I had done everything he had asked me to do, which I had. I followed his instructions to the letter. I thanked him for giving me the good grade, and he told me that I had participated in class, and had given thoughtful answers, during various discussions, and as far as he was concerned, he had given me the highest grade he could give, since there was nothing higher grade than an A+.

Darryl AKA The RadioRancher