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As the conversation moved on to other topics, Agent Roberts glanced around and noticed that Milo was watching them.
"Thanks for thinking to include Rhuru-wra. It was the right thing to do." Agent Roberts said as he picked up his plate and drink then moved them over so that he could sit next to Milo.
"I think I know how he feels, wanting to be a part of something. It's kind of what keeps me with Jarvis. Well, that and the fact that I've never really known anything else." Milo said quietly.
"Regardless of why things worked out the way that they did, you ended up being in the right place and time to make a unique contribution. Think about it, out of all the people here, no one else can do what you can do. Whatever you may have wished, it looks like you got more than you bargained for."
"I don't know for sure if this has anything to do with my heart's desire."
"From here on out, you're going to need to focus on what is. The how's and why's don't matter at this stage of things."
Milo looked at Agent Roberts for a long moment before speculatively asking, "You have some idea of what I'm capable of, don't you?"
"Not really. But I know that it frightens you... that's why you hold yourself back so much."
"When the time comes, I'll be able to handle it. I've got enough skill and more than enough power. You don't need to worry about me doing my part."
"I wasn't worried. I just came over here to thank you for thinking of Rhuru-wra. He's young and he's from a completely different culture. With everything else going on, I can't devote as much time as I would like to seeing that he's being included. With a group this big, it's possible that someone in need might go unnoticed."
"You're not alone in this. Everyone here will not only help if you ask them to, but will also take the initiative to help if they notice that there's a need. Face it, you can't do it all by yourself. You're going to have to trust us, at least to some degree." Milo said frankly.
Agent Roberts followed his gaze and saw Rhuru-wra participating as an equal with the people around him.
"I can't step away and trust that everything will turn out for the best. I'm just not wired that way." Agent Roberts stated simply, then continued more gently, "I won't stop watching, but I think I might be able to take a step back."
"It looks to me like we have all the pieces in place for something amazing and wonderful to happen. Do what you have to do to keep them safe, but after that, leave it be."
"Is this secret wisdom from your faerie heritage?"
"Not as far as I know. The only wisdom I have to offer is an old saying that I've been told. 'To enable the miracle, stay out of its way'." Milo said quietly.
"That settles it. You're not allowed to spend time with Reaper. He's making you all cryptic and weird." Agent Roberts said with a grin.
"As if I wasn't like this before." Milo chuckled.
Agent Roberts smiled at the response, then quietly said, "I listened, okay? I'll try."
Milo smiled and nodded his acknowledgement.
* * * * *
After a few minutes of circulating among the various groups, Agent Roberts came to the conclusion that while everyone was nervous about the upcoming spell, they were also optimistic. All the picnic baskets had been unloaded and they were all eating and talking in their small groups.
Determining that the time was right, Agent Roberts stood and said, "Everyone! May I have your attention for a moment?"
The chattering voices quieted and everyone waited for what Agent Roberts was going to say.
"Before we get started in on anything, I think it's important that everyone understand which teams they're going to be on. The situation has grown to such a degree that some of our original assumptions are no longer valid." Agent Roberts said as he looked around the group, then thought to add, "As some of you will recall, the original group thought that we would be working on the Southseid barrier."
A few nods of agreement and whispers spread through the assembled crowd.
"I know that a few of you are going to have questions about the reasoning for some of the assignments, but please wait until we're done to ask about that, otherwise this could drag on for hours."
Everyone seemed to agree to the arrangement, so Agent Roberts continued, "Professor Everstone is leading the project and is the one in charge of everything. If you notice anything wrong, get with him. While I might be sympathetic to your situation, the fact of the matter is that he's the one who can make changes."
After a moment for that message to be received, Agent Roberts turned to indicate Reaper and said, "Reaper is aware of the requirements of the power summoning part of the project, so if you have any questions having to do with that, Reaper is the one you need to talk to.
"I'm going to step back now and let Professor Everstone announce the team assignments." Agent Roberts said, then took a literal step back and sat down beside Milo, where his unfinished food was still waiting for him.
Professor Everstone slowly made his way to standing, then glanced around the gathering before saying, "Please keep in mind that things are still subject to change. It is my hope that things will even out so that all the essential roles will be filled, but as things stand... let's just see what we've got here and if we can make this work.
Agent Roberts wasn't the only one to look around with concern.
"To begin with, the team at the Southseid barrier will include G, to wield the Mikael Spear and Milo to use that summoned power to release the storehouse of air magic."
Agent Roberts looked around to find that everyone was paying their full attention to the professor.
"Once that magic is released, we're going to direct it to one being who can serve as a bridge to his people."
Agent Roberts slowly nodded, then glanced at Rhuru-wra.
"There is no shortage of candidates in that regard, so following this meeting we will look at those potentials and choose the most favorable."
Agent Roberts wanted to stand and ask why Rhuru-wra wasn't automatically chosen, but didn't want to violate the rules that he had set forth only minutes before.
"At the Brynnhollow barrier, Mr. Bentley Brown will be using the Third Grail to empower Paul to release the stored water magic."
"How am I even going to do that in an air zone?" Paul asked plaintively.
"The final grouping..." Professor Everstone said very deliberately, in an effort to keep them on track. "...Zanner and Dex will empower Reaper to release the earth magic to Mr. Hansen, who can direct the magical flow through a bridge to the entire Wudewas people."
"There will need to be an expert spellcaster, or at the very least, several novice spellcasters to assist me. There is no way that I will be able to direct the magical flow of that magnitude all by myself. It's not possible." Mr. Hansen said firmly.
"Yes. I am well aware of the need." Professor Everstone said firmly. The tone of his voice, more than his words, said that he was also concerned about the lack of qualified personnel.
As much as he didn't want to, Agent Roberts felt compelled to ask, "Are we going to be able to complete our mission with the people we have?"
"There are one or two things that I will need to check on before I can answer that question with any degree of certainty." Professor Everstone said carefully.
"What do the rest of us need to be doing while you're doing that?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"Crafting spells." Professor Everstone said simply, then continued, "However, if you wouldn't mind doing so, perhaps while the others are doing that we could drive into Waxell to see what, if anything, Mr. Darroch has been able to arrange to help us."
"I didn't know that he was arranging anything." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"I can't be sure that he is. I told him about our situation and he said that he would investigate what alternatives are open to us." Professor Everstone said frankly.
"I have my satellite phone with me, if you'd like to save yourself the trip." Agent Roberts cautiously suggested.
"Have you tried using it this close to the vinculum?"
"No. I hadn't even thought about it." Agent Roberts said honestly.
"If you would like to do so now, it might save us some time." Professor Everstone said simply.
Agent Roberts already had the sat phone out of his pocket and was dialing.
After a moment, Professor Everstone quietly asked, "Is it too close to the vinculum, do you think?"
"I don't think that's it. I tried calling Mr. Darroch's personal number and it couldn't connect and shunted me immediately to voicemail. It's acting like he's out of range." Agent Roberts said as he dialed another number.
"I hadn't considered that we might not be able to get in touch with him."
"Hyatt? This is Agent Roberts. Has anyone..."
"Three? Did they tell you their names?"
"No. That's fine. I'll be there in a few minutes. If they come back, just tell them to wait there."
"Thanks Hyatt. I'll see you in a few minutes."
"May I assume that Mr. Darroch is in Waxell?" Professor Everstone asked cautiously.
"That's right. Him and two other people." Agent Roberts confirmed as he started walking toward the parking lot.
"Should we tell the others what we're doing?"
"We're going to Waxell. We'll be back in a minute." Agent Roberts called toward the picnickers without slowing his pace.
No one seemed concerned as they watched Agent Roberts and Professor Everstone disappear around the side of the house.
* * * * *
Once they were out on the open road, heading toward Waxell, Agent Roberts calmly said, "I could have gone to get Mr. Darroch on my own."
"I know. But I realized that I would like to take the opportunity to talk with you for a few minutes." Professor Everstone said frankly.
"I'm guessing that you want to know how I can understand the meta-spell better than some of your students."
"Actually, I thought your explanation to Paul was perfectly reasonable. Considering that the charm that you wear lets you see through magic, and add to that your advanced training in problem solving, it makes perfect sense that you can form your own independent view of the world."
"Oh... thanks. Why did you want to talk to me then?"
"Basically to compare notes. I see things being a certain way and have a wealth of experience to draw upon, but you've demonstrated that you have a unique point of view. I believe that if we compare the conclusions that we've reached, that we will do the most good for our teams."
"Dag can't do the protectorate spell alone." Agent Roberts said bluntly.
"So what are we going to do about it? Because I can't get past that one point."
"What we're going to do is trust that Mr. Darroch understood what I was trying to tell him on your 'party line'. Assuming that he did, then we can hope that at least one of those people that he's bringing is well versed in both barrier creation and the earth element."
"I have no idea how common those skills are. Is that unusually rare?"
"I suppose you could liken it to trying to find someone who knows how to blow glass and play the accordion. Both skills are somewhat rare, but finding one person with both... that's asking quite a bit."
"If we can't find someone like that, will we be able to make it work another way? You know, find one person who's an accordion player and another who's a glass blower?"
"While it is possible, it adds another point of failure... that being a failure of the synchronization."
"But we'll do what we have to do?"
"We will attempt to make the most out of what we have been given to work with."
"The other one I'm worried about is Paul. I'm afraid that the pressure may be weighing too heavily on him."
"I wouldn't worry too much about that." Professor Everstone said assuringly, then explained, "I see a lot of myself in that boy. At his age I thought I knew everything, and whenever I uncovered something new, I was almost frantic to learn as much about it as I could."
"I'm guessing that that's what got you into teaching."
"It was a factor. I know that my own journey might have been made a bit easier if I had someone who understood what I was feeling and allowed me a little extra latitude when I was focusing on a problem."
"From what I've seen, you've been giving all the students the space that they need to thrive while gently guiding them in the most productive direction. From my vantage point, it looks almost like you're walking a tightrope."
"A very apt metaphor. But I should also mention how helpful you and the teachers have been. You've been providing them direction and an example to follow until they can adapt to an unfamiliar situation."
"I really haven't done much of anything..." Agent Roberts began to feebly protest.
"Filipe and Dex think the world of you. You've become a surrogate father to both of them in the absence of their own. Likewise, I can see that both Paul and Zanner have adopted you as an uncle or older brother figure in their lives. You've not only contributed immeasurably to this project, but you've also made a profound and possibly lifelong impression on all of their lives."
After a moment to consider the professor's words, Agent Roberts quietly said, "I joined the military and later, the FBI, so that I could do my part to help make the world a better place. But I can honestly say that it never once occurred to me that I would be making that happen by helping to guide and inspire the next generation."
"I can't think of a better or more enduring way of doing it." Professor Everstone said frankly.
After turning off the side road onto the main, Agent Roberts quietly said, "Thank you for giving guidance and allowing extra latitude in regard to me as well. I appreciate the opportunity that you've given me."
"You've taken advantage of it, that's all the thanks I need."
* * * * *
Conversation faltered after that, but it was only a matter of minutes before they were driving into town.
"There they are." Agent Roberts said as he slowed his car.
"Where?" Professor Everstone asked as he quickly looked around.
"Not them, but their rental car. They're parked at the Waxell Diner." Agent Roberts said as he swung his car around to park across the street from the diner.
* * * * *
As Agent Roberts stepped into the restaurant, he immediately spotted Mr. Darroch and two other people at a table near the serving counter.
"Mr. Darroch. It's good to see you again." Agent Roberts said as he and Professor Everstone approached.
"It's good to see you too, Shawn. How are you doing, Professor Everstone?"
"More than anything else, I'm relieved to see you here."
"It is my honor and pleasure to present Jerrell Couleigh and Dr. Jevaun Williams. They're here to offer us a hand."
"Dr. Williams and I are somewhat acquainted, what with both of us working at the school." Professor Everstone said diplomatically.
"Yes. Although we haven't had occasion to work together on a project before." Dr. Williams confirmed.
Before they could become lost in chit-chat, Professor Everstone hurriedly said, "Please excuse my impatience, but I am anxious to know what talents you will be able to contribute to our effort."
"Jerrell is adept at elemental earth magic, Dr. Williams is adept at elemental water and I, myself, am adept with elemental air. From our cryptic conversation last night I couldn't tell where you were falling short in your endeavors, but hopefully the three of us will be able to fill in the most serious gaps for you." Mr. Darroch said professionally.
Before Professor Everstone could respond, Agent Roberts said, "Not everything we're doing depends on elemental affinities. While they're important up to a certain point, there's another paradigm at work where it matters if you're blessed, cursed or a natural being."
"That's rather... unusual." Dr. Williams said cautiously.
"That's what we thought too." Agent Roberts confirmed.
"Agent Roberts, I didn't hear you come in. Can I get you anything?" Harry asked as he approached the table with three plates of food.
"I was able to enjoy some of the picnic lunch that you made for us, so I don't need a meal, but if you have some apple pie left, I could do with a slice and a cup of coffee."
"Is Sanka okay?" Harry asked as he started placing meals on the table.
Agent Roberts hesitated, but finally said, "You know what? I think I'm ready to take the plunge. I'll give the Sanka a try."
"What about you? Can I get you anything?" Harry asked Professor Everstone, then shyly admitted, "I'm sorry. I remember you being here before, but I don't remember your name."
"There's no reason that you should." Professor Everstone said bluntly, then added, "I believe that Agent Roberts has the right idea. I'll have some apple pie as well."
"Would you like some Sanka to go with that?"
"No. A glass of milk, if you would."
"I'll be right back with that." Harry said enthusiastically.
"One more thing." Professor Everstone quickly added.
"Yeah?" Harry asked as he froze in mid-step.
"My students call me Professor Everstone. However, you may call me Michael, should you wish to do so."
"Yeah. Okay Michael. It's nice to meet you. I'll be back with your pie in just a minute." Harry said happily before dashing away.
"Despite all the things I've learned about since I've been here, the people of this town still surprise me." Agent Roberts said fondly.
Without asking or being invited, Professor Everstone slid into one of the available seats at the table.
Agent Roberts immediately followed his lead.
"Before the waiter comes back, what can you tell us about the difficulties that you've been having? Mr. Darroch was only able to give us the most general idea of what was going on." Dr. Williams asked with a rather pronounced Caribbean accent.
"What started out as one barrier in need of renovation has turned out to be three. The three colonies were positioned and designed to act like a spell diagram. Each of the colonies has been producing elemental magic to share with all three colonies, but also producing an excess which has been kept in reserve." Professor Everstone said somberly.
"It sounds like quite a lot of planning and effort went into this. Have you determined its purpose?" Dr. Williams asked curiously.
"It would seem that those who arranged all of this intended for us to be able to use the magical reserves to make repairs and recast the barriers, if necessary." Professor Everstone said frankly.
"No." Jerrell muttered thoughtfully.
Everyone around the table looked at him inquisitively, but no one asked what he meant.
"Here you go. Can I get you guys anything else?" Harry asked as he approached with pie and drinks.
"No. I think this should do it for a while." Agent Roberts said honestly.
"I'm going to be in the back helping Dad for a few minutes. Just yell if you need anything." Harry said as he placed the items on the table before them.
"We'll do that. Thanks, Harry." Agent Roberts said appreciatively.
Harry smiled at the thanks, then dashed away.
"What's wrong, Jerrell?" Mr. Darroch asked cautiously.
"Whoever set up the colonies, they wouldn't leave it so that just anyone could come along and tap into a reserve of magic like that." Jerrell said thoughtfully.
"The magic is well protected." Professor Everstone assured him.
"It's going to take an Assembly of the Magi to release it." Agent Roberts added.
"Arranging something like that could take months." Mr. Darroch said frankly.
"Actually, that's been the least of our worries. Everything for the Assembly of the Magi seems to have fallen into place." Professor Everstone informed the group.
"Yeah. And Paul is taking on the role of Balthasar in the assembly." Agent Roberts added.
"No. Even though he's capable of putting on a good show with his ability to perform multiple spells simultaneously, he's still very young and new to his magic. From what little I know of it, an Assembly of the Magi is an incredibly high level spell. You'll need to find someone else to do it." Mr. Darroch finished firmly.
Before Professor Everstone could respond, Agent Roberts calmly said, "There is no one else."
"Although the spell is designed to release incredible amounts of magic, Paul's part in the spell is to, in essence, open the valve. He won't be in the path of the magical flow." Professor Everstone hurried to assure him.
"Mr. Darroch..." Agent Roberts began firmly, then continued more gently, "D, I know that you're protective of Paul, but he's literally the only one who can do this. According to everything that I've heard about this, they need a being with an otherworldly connection who can interact with the 'cursed'. That's Paul and no one else."
"Yes. And while I suppose that any of the Nephilim with magical talent could serve as Melchior, the role of Gaspar to link to the magical beings of nature is another unlikely and unique assignment. While I don't use the word lightly, it seems almost... predestined." Professor Everstone reluctantly finished.
"Do you think that the gods are involved?" Jerrell asked cautiously.
"There is evidence that they have been. There is no indication that they are currently aware or involved to any degree." Professor Everstone said carefully.
"Whether they are or not, does it change what we need to do next?" Agent Roberts asked seriously.
"I suppose not." Mr. Darroch conceded, then explained, "But having them involved usually means that things will work out to 'their' benefit, not necessarily ours."
"Do we have any other choice?"
"Do it. Don't do it. Do nothing." Mr. Darroch said simply, then added, "That's about it."
"Doing nothing will not improve the situation." Professor Everstone said simply, even though Agent Roberts was certain that all present were aware of that.
"Okay. So what do we have to do next?" Agent Roberts asked in an effort to get them back on task.
"The holders of the relics, the relics themselves and the Magi will need to enact the assembly and cast the spell to release all the stored magic. When that's done, the spellcasters will direct the released magic to those who will serve as bridges to their respective peoples." Professor Everstone said thoughtfully.
"How likely is it that the released magic will disintegrate the spellcasters or the bridges?" Agent Roberts asked uncomfortably.
"I wouldn't say that it is 'likely', however, I have to admit that it is 'possible'." Professor Everstone admitted.
"Do you have any idea what roles the three of us will be able to play in your scheme?" Mr. Darroch asked cautiously.
"I believe that we have everything adequately covered in regard to the relics and the Magi. Where we seem to be falling short is in the spellcasting, specifically, the recasting of the barriers."
"While the three of us are adept spellcasters, I don't think that any of us are experienced with the casting of barriers." Jerrell said uncertainly.
"If we were, we probably would have been included on the initial team." Mr. Darroch responded frankly.
"Mr. Hansen and Miss Oaken have my complete faith in their abilities to craft the necessary spells. What we need are experienced casters to prevent the fate that Agent Roberts mentioned earlier." Professor Everstone said carefully.
"I consider it part of my job to see that everyone on my team returns home safely." Agent Roberts said firmly.
"Since two of my sons are on your team, I'm glad to hear that." Mr. Darroch said seriously, then thought to ask, "What part will G be playing in the events?"
"G is the designated holder of the Mikael Spear, a magical artifact which channels the essence of elemental air."
"Wait. Are you saying that G has achieved a level of control so that he can command an artifact?" Mr. Darroch asked incredulously.
"Yes. But since Paul and Zanner have also been able to make similar achievements, it doesn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary to him." Professor Everstone said seriously.
"But most witches will never even encounter an artifact level item, much less be able to command it." Mr. Darroch said with concern.
"This is why they were chosen, because they had this potential." Professor Everstone said simply.
"What else do we need to discuss before we hit the road?" Agent Roberts asked as he once again tried to guide their conversation back toward their group objective.
"I, for one, would like to know as much as possible of what I will be expected to do so that I can prepare." Dr. Williams said honestly.
"Yes. Well, as long as you understand that everything is still subject to change, I can tell you how it appears that things will go."
"Dr. Williams, I believe that when it comes time to recast the barrier, that you will be partnered with me and a young man named Filipe. Once we've directed the released magic into something of a retention pond by way of a bridge, we will work together to recast the Southseid barrier." Professor Everstone said carefully.
"Are you speaking of Filipe Pena?" Dr. Williams asked cautiously.
"Yes. He was chosen not only for his elemental water affinity and thaumaturgical skills but also due to the fact that he can synchronize his magic with Paul's. Although he is young and not overly powerful, he has demonstrated an impressive level of control. I've found him to be level headed in a crisis and decisive under pressure. I think that he will make a valuable contribution to our collective spelling effort."
"I remember him from his arrival at the school. He seemed so adrift. I'm happy to hear that he's doing well. I can't wait to see for myself how he's progressed." Dr. Williams said with a smile.
"You'll get your chance soon." Agent Roberts interjected.
"Do you have anything in mind for me?" Jerrell asked cautiously.
"Did you say that you have an earth affinity?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Then you may actually be the answer that we've been looking for."
"Mr. Hansen is currently the only earth mage we have here. Well, technically Zanner Sands is also an earth mage, but he's going to be tied up accessing the artifact magic for the Assembly of the Magi. There wouldn't be any possible way for Mr. Hansen to deconstruct and recast the entire protectorate barrier spell all by himself. Even with two of you, it's still going to be quite a feat."
"Wouldn't it be a good idea to call in a few more earth mages to do this?" Jerrell asked cautiously.
"Everything has fallen into place in the here and now. I have a feeling that if we don't take this chance that we're being given, that there probably won't be another." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"Considering that the fingerprints of the gods are all over this thing, he could very well be right." Professor Everstone said gravely.
"Yeah. It sounds like them." Mr. Darroch reluctantly agreed.
"I just thought that I'd ask." Jerrell said weakly.
"Before we go, is there going to be anything that I can do to help?" Mr. Darroch asked cautiously.
"Yes. If you wouldn't mind, you could help us perform the recasting of the Brynnhollow barrier. You'll be working alongside Miss Oaken and Corabeth Knawld." Professor Everstone said professionally.
"What about the boys? Where will they be?" Mr. Darroch asked cautiously.
"G will be magically supporting one of the Magi. I don't know that you'll be working directly with him. However, Paul is going to be the Magi serving Brynnhollow, so there's a good possibility that the two of you will end up working together. We're not exactly sure of how everything is going to manifest in its final form."
"If the boys weren't here, I probably would have sent someone else in my place." Mr. Darroch said frankly.
"Regardless of your reason for being here, we're glad that you are." Agent Roberts assured him.
* * * * *
Once the men were finished with their meals, Mr. Darroch paid their bill.
Agent Roberts and Professor Everstone led the way out of town in Agent Roberts' car.
"So, how do you feel about things now?" Agent Roberts finally asked.
"Like there's at least a possibility of success." Professor Everstone said simply.
"To me it feels like we're teetering on the edge of the impossible." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"We are." Professor Everstone said without hesitation.
Agent Roberts glanced at him inquisitively.
"From all appearances, hundreds of years ago, possibly even thousands, a plan was devised. Certain things were put into place and set into motion so that everything would come together in the right time and place. Here and now. So even though we're faced with a series of unlikely coincidences and conveniences, we have no choice but to make the most of what we've been given to work with. To do any less would almost certainly condemn some, if not all, of the colonies that we've been entrusted to care for." Professor Everstone finished gravely.
"But what is the point of all this? If the gods went to all the trouble to set this up, why didn't they just make the barriers impenetrable to begin with? Why did Ud-wra's family have to die? Why do the kids have to be put in danger and risk being swept away in a tidal wave of magic?"
"Making the barriers impenetrable from the beginning wouldn't produce what the gods are seeking."
"That would be the big question, wouldn't it? From my own observations, I've come to the conclusion that it has something to do with the growth of cultures and heroics. I don't have any hard evidence to support it, but it seems to me that the gods provide opportunities for us to grow and overcome."
"And for the victory to have any meaning, to us or to them, the stakes have to be high. A victory that doesn't matter isn't really a victory."
"Again, this is something that I concluded based on my own observations."
"No. It's a good theory. I mean, since we're stuck up on stage, performing the play that they wrote, we can only do our best. Although it would be nice if they let us have a peek at the script every now and then."
"If you had ever studied about portents and omens, you'd know that they sometimes do... at least when you're about to face an important decision."
"And unto the harbinger I shall say, worry not for the matters of which thou hast no influence. Seek balance. Trust in thine own mind." Agent Roberts quoted from memory.
"Yes. Just like that." Professor Everstone said slowly.
"To enable the miracle, stay out of its way."
"I'm guessing that you've been getting the portents rather strongly." Professor Everstone said hesitantly.
"Only in the sense that they've been clubbing me over the head to take notice of them."
"And have you?"
"Yeah. I have."
"Then I think we're ready."
To Be Continued...
As always another fascinating chapter of a wonderfully crafted story or series of stories.
It seems we are getting closer to putting all the carefully planned parts and pieces together. Of course, that doesn't take into account what the characters have cooked up for us, does it?
I think I need to point out a few things about all this. Actually I should probably do that at the main crossroad of all these connected stories.
See, I don't know where any given reader started reading this series of connected stories. Any or all of them can be read as stand alone stories, but they all fit together in multiple ways. It sort of resembles a giant rubik's cube, in that you can move through the various individual stories, following along with each new chapter as it appears. Each individual story follows a particular character or group of characters, and at certain points, that character or set of characters will meet one or more characters from one or more other stories in the series.
The basic idea is to start with one character's story and keep reading it to the point where another story's character or group of characters shows up in the story you are reading. At that point, you can continue reading the story you started with or you can jump to the story which involves the new set of characters. It will take you a while to go through all the different stories, but unless I miss my guess, it will be worth reading all of the parts.
I hope that helps put things into a concise explanation, and once I thought about it, I think I needed to say it to put it into my own mind a little more clearly.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher