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Paul's head was swimming with all the facts that he had been trying to learn. Mrs. Gibbner had been right about not skimming and scanning. The writing was so condensed that nearly every sentence contained important facts that he would need to know, if not on a test, then at some point later in his life.
"Paul." A voice said timidly as he stepped into the hallway.
He was still a bit dazed and he looked around before spotting who had spoken to him.
"Oh. Hi Dex. How are you doing?" Paul asked with a smile.
"Fine." Dex muttered, then quietly asked, "Can I talk to you about something?"
"Is it something that we can talk about in the lunchroom?" Paul asked cautiously, suspecting that he already knew the answer.
"No. It's private." Dex said nervously.
"Okay. No one's paying attention to us now. You can tell me while we're walking." Paul said simply.
Dex seemed to consider that for a moment as he looked around, then quietly said, "I don't want anyone to overhear."
Paul looked around and was happy to see a conveniently placed secluded area in a side hallway.
Once they were well away from anyone else, Dex quietly asked, "Were you serious about there being no magic at your cookout tomorrow?"
"Yeah." Paul said slowly, still not getting a sense of what Dex's problem was.
"No one's going to be talking about magic either?" Dex asked to confirm.
"That's the plan. Since Curtis and his family will be there, we'll just stay off the subject." Paul said simply.
"My dad, he's... not a witch." Dex muttered as he looked away and refused to meet Paul's eyes.
"Neither is mine. What's the problem?" Paul asked simply.
"It causes a lot of trouble at home. I think Mom feels isolated from the witch community and Dad feels like he can't have any regular friends because he has to keep the secret. I thought that your cookout might be a good thing for both of them, where they can both be around people and be able to do something together in public."
"What about you? Do you want to come to the cookout?" Paul asked curiously.
"It's all the same to me. I don't fit in anywhere. I'm different from everyone else." Dex said quietly.
"So am I." Paul said simply.
"But you can do magic. I'm not a witch... not completely... just enough so that I can't fit in with regular people." Dex said miserably.
"I don't mean to be insensitive, but all of this is new to me. Up until last week, I thought that I was just a regular person. So I don't know about a lot of this stuff. I know that I'm a Cambion, but are you something different?"
"A Cambion? Your father's a demon?"
"Mine's a human, so that makes me a Warlock."
"I've heard that word before but I thought that it meant something different, like a 'male witch'." Paul said honestly.
"What it actually means is a half-human half-witch. But since I have an elemental affinity, I'm technically considered to be an Oriad, but almost no one knows what that is."
"Okay. I don't know what that is either, but for this weekend, it doesn't matter." Paul said frankly.
"The reason I wanted to talk to you was to be sure that it'd be okay for my parents. I wouldn't want to take them there and then find out that one or the other of them are going to be left out or made to feel ashamed." Dex said quietly.
"Well, I can't promise anything, but I hope that they'll have a good time... I hope that you'll have a good time. I think it'll be good for you to be able to spend some time with witches and non-witches and not worry about things for a while."
"That does sound nice." Dex admitted.
"Then let's go have lunch. Having Curtis there will make it so that we won't be talking about anything that will bother you." Paul said simply.
* * * * *
"Did you do something?" Curtis asked as he met up with Paul and the group, including Dex, outside the lunchroom.
"I've done lots of things. You'll need to be a little bit more specific."
"Today when the guys started picking on me and calling me names, the teacher gave them one warning and when they didn't stop, he sent them to the office and they didn't come back."
"Why do you think that it has anything to do with me?"
"The timing. Before, everyone seemed to just look at it as guys being rowdy and messing around. Now it's being taken seriously. Did you do something?"
"Yeah. I guess so. I mean, I got called to the office yesterday and I told Mrs. Bright that I was worried that someone might try to get back at me by hurting you, since you're my friend."
"Yeah. That would do it."
"I'm sorry if I made things worse for you. We were talking and she asked me and I guess I wasn't thinking."
"No. It's fine, really. After all those guys have put me through, I don't care if they get suspended or even expelled. I just wanted to know why it was happening all of a sudden."
"I'm glad that you're not mad. Are you still planning to come over for the cookout tomorrow?"
"Yeah. I talked to my parents and I think they're more excited about it than I am. I guess that I've been kinda wrapped up in myself and never really noticed that they haven't gone anywhere or done anything since we moved here. They don't know anyone except the people that they work with and haven't had a chance to make new friends."
"D lives here, so he doesn't have that problem, but it's the same for my mom. I hope that it'll turn out to be something good for all of them, but once we've gotten them together, the best thing for us to do will probably be to get out of their way and let them talk about parent stuff. If we're there, they'll probably focus on us and not get to know each other." Paul said honestly, then noticed that the rest of the group were standing with them outside the lunchroom.
"That sounds good to me." Curtis said thoughtfully.
"Let's go get something to eat. Whatever they're having smells wonderful." Paul said to his companions.
"Lasagne!" Nazzy happily announced as he led the way.
Paul felt G's arm go around him as they took their places in the cafeteria line.
* * * * *
Once the group had made their selections and were settled in at 'their' table, Nazzy quietly said, "Carla isn't in school today."
"Good." Paul responded simply.
"Have you heard anything about what's going on?" Nazzy persisted.
"Nope." Paul said before taking another bite of his food.
Nazzy looked around the table to see if anyone had any gossip to share on the subject, but came up empty.
"What do you have going on this afternoon, Curtis?" Vinda asked, obviously wanting to change the subject.
"I'm going to court."
"What for?" Vinda asked with concern.
"Just to watch. A group of us were selected to attend actual court proceedings so that we can understand how things really work."
"That's great! This way if you ever have to go to court for something, you'll have some idea of what you'll be walking into." Vinda said in an impressed voice.
"From what I've heard from other groups that have gone, usually not much happens. But I'm glad that I'm going anyway." Curtis said honestly.
"What class is that for?"
"Adulting 101." Curtis said with a grin, then admitted, "Actually, I think it's really called 'Life Skills' or something like that, but no one ever calls it that. Next week we're supposed to start working on budgeting. We're going to see if we can find a way to provide for a family of four on a teacher's salary."
"You'll have to let us know how that turns out. It sounds really interesting." Paul said frankly.
"Don't you guys have any classes like that?" Curtis asked curiously.
"I still haven't been to all my classes yet, but I haven't had any so far." Paul said honestly.
"I think we're slotted for something like 'Life Skills' next year, at least from what I've heard from some of the juniors running around." Vinda said uncertainly.
"I hope so. It sounds like a class that I could really use." Paul said simply.
"I think you have a lot of other things to get caught up on before you'll be ready for 'Life Skills'. Before you start working on a budget, you need to know how to make the math work." G interjected.
"From the way things have been going so far this week, I think that I might be able to get caught up." Paul said honestly.
"Yeah. I think so too." G said with a loving smile at him.
"So, does anyone else have anything exciting going on this afternoon?" Curtis asked curiously.
"I know that Paul and I have presentations to give. I don't know about anyone else." G said as he looked inquiringly around the table.
"Yeah. I'll probably do one. I can't let Paul have all the fun." Vinda said grudgingly.
"Me too." Nazzy added simply.
"What kind of presentations?" Curtis asked curiously.
"Mine's an art project, but it's nothing special. The whole class was given the same assignment and everyone will be showing off their work today." G said simply.
"I can't really talk about mine. I want it to be a surprise." Paul said with a grin at his three Wizardry classmates.
"Well, if Paul's not telling, neither am I." Nazzy said defiantly.
Vinda and Karras seemed to agree with Nazzy's statement.
"What about you, Dex?" Curtis asked curiously.
"I don't have a presentation today. Just regular classes." Dex answered quietly.
Paul was proud on Dex's behalf that he had been willing and able to participate in even that much of their group conversation.
"It's almost time. You'll have to let me know how things went, tomorrow at the cookout." Curtis said as he glanced at the clock, then thought to ask, "You're all still coming, aren't you?"
Most of those in attendance either nodded or otherwise answered in the affirmative.
"It'll be weird to see everyone in something besides the school uniforms." Curtis said honestly.
"I hadn't thought about that." Paul said with surprise, then continued, "That will be weird."
"Come on. We don't want to wait till the bell rings and be rushed." Nazzy said unenthusiastically.
"I'll see you all tomorrow." Curtis said happily as he carried his tray away from the table.
The others lagged behind slightly and walked as a group to the 'hidden' hallway.
* * * * *
"I hope everything goes well for your presentation. I want to hear all about it later." G said as he held Paul close to his side while they walked.
"I'm pretty sure that if I miss telling you anything, someone will fill you in." Paul said with a grin as he looked at Nazzy, Vinda and Karras walking ahead of them.
"I'd rather hear it from you. Nothing makes me happy in the same way as you being happy because you've accomplished something. It makes my world light up." G said quietly.
"I'm going to want to hear about how things go with Lex too. I'm betting that he's probably going to be the best 'self-portrait' in the class." Paul said honestly.
"I'll tell you all about it tonight." G assured him, then leaned in to steal a quick kiss before breaking away to go to his own class.
Karras let his steps lag until he fell into step beside Paul. "You guys make it look so easy."
"What's that?" Paul asked curiously.
"All of it. Being gay. Being in love. Being teenage witches in a world that would hate us if it knew about us." Karras said frankly.
"I found the right person. The rest kinda just took care of itself." Paul said simply.
"That's it?" Karras asked disbelievingly.
"Yeah. That's it." Paul said with a grin.
Nothing more was said as the group walked into the Wizardry classroom.
* * * * *
"How does this work? Do we stand with our groups or what?" Paul asked curiously.
"We usually do, but I don't think that it's a rule or anything. Those are the people we work with every day so it just seems natural to stand with them in a group meeting." Vinda said thoughtfully.
"Okay. I'll be over with Nicholas and Amelia." Paul said none too enthusiastically.
* * * * *
"So, are you guys going to be presenting anything today?" Paul asked curiously.
"Nomia told me that you were working on something with Mah Zah and Ginh Zah to present today, so I decided that I'm going to wait until next week to do mine." Amelia said frankly.
"I'm sorry if you feel like I'm upstaging you. I really don't mean to, I just want to do my best." Paul said honestly.
"It's alright. If everything goes the way I'm hoping, I'll be able to show a lot more next week anyway." Amelia said seriously.
Paul slightly nodded in acknowledgement.
"Paul, can you look at something for me?" Nicholas asked cautiously, and seemed to be braced for Paul's refusal.
"Sure. What?" Paul asked curiously.
Nicholas went through the long-form version of the gestures to create a Wizard's light diagram, but thankfully did the spoken incantation internally.
Paul watched carefully, and although some of Nicholas' individual gestures were crude in their form, overall they appeared to be adequate.
When Nicholas finally released the magic, Frederick's spell diagram appeared on the floor before them.
"Nice work." Paul said sincerely.
"Yeah. But is it right? Did I miss anything?" Nicholas asked cautiously.
Paul looked more closely at the details of the spell diagram and could detect a few minor variations from his own version of the same diagram. He calculated the permutations of the variations as quickly as he could and came to the conclusion that the differences weren't significant enough to disrupt the overall spell.
It was crude, and because of that, it would take a bit more magic than necessary to cast, but if Nicholas could manage to muscle through it, then the resulting summoning should work.
"Yeah. It looks good." Paul finally said.
"I didn't think I'd be able to get it ready in time." Nicholas admitted.
"But you did." Paul said with a smile.
"Yeah." Nicholas said as he looked down at the spell diagram again.
"If you'll excuse me, I need to do one last thing to prepare for my presentation." Paul said as he brought up one hand before him just below eye level.
Amelia and Nicholas watched as a vortex opened and a kitten emerged, stepping directly into Paul's open palm.
"The class is just about to start, so you two can get it going whenever you want." Paul said seriously.
The kitten 'meowed' loudly one time, then turned and went back through the vortex hanging in the air.
"You can summon your familiars with a thought now?" Amelia asked cautiously.
"I suppose that it does look that way. I've just internalized and compacted so much of the spell now that it's not much more challenging than casting a Wizard's light. If you break it down, it's all still there, the incantation, the gestures and the diagram, plus the magic to fuel it all. But I've done the spell enough times that I can just call it up and let it happen. I don't even have to think about it anymore." Paul carefully explained.
"So, are you going to summon your familiars for your demonstration?" Nicholas asked curiously.
"Yeah. But that's kind of just an added bonus..." Paul began to say when Professor Ortega led the teachers into the classroom.
Paul had a million and one thoughts flying through his head at once and very nearly missed the fact that following the regular teachers were a few more. Mr. Hind, Ms Ipsum, Mrs. Herdez and Mr. Plaven followed along and took their places right along with the other teachers.
Rather than start speaking right away, Professor Ortega looked back toward the classroom door expectantly.
Paul followed his gaze and was shocked to see D, Lucky, a woman that Paul didn't know and Marsha, from the office, walk into the classroom.
"It seems that due to certain circumstances, things today will be done out of their customary order. If young Mr. Darroch will step forward and give his presentation, then he may be on his way to attend to other pressing matters." Professor Ortega said to the entire class, but finished with his focus on Paul.
"Yes sir." Paul said as he nervously stepped forward, then thought to say, "I've never seen anyone give a presentation in here before, so I'm not sure what you're used to. I figure that just about everyone does a summoning for their first presentation, so I'm not going to do that."
"Understood. Please continue." Professor Ortega said calmly.
Paul nodded, then looked around the room.
He took a few steps toward the nearest wall, then looked back at Professor Ortega consideringly.
Having judged that the distance was adequate, Paul took a page from G's book and dramatically raised his hands as he internally cast the spell to create a large wide stone pillar. Although the pillar was nearly six feet wide, it only came up to just past his knees.
Paul spread his arms even wider, then made a quicker lifting gesture. As he did so, eight slender pillars rose up, surrounding the low pillar in the middle.
As corny as it seemed, Paul couldn't resist the urge to snap his fingers as flames burst into being atop the eight pillars.
He then pointed to the center of the low circular stone pillar and an eight pointed spell diagram appeared within the traditional summoning circle.
Most of those present in the classroom were in awe of what Paul was doing, but those who had been around him for a time were cautiously optimistic, certain that the best was yet to come.
Paul pointed upward and another spell diagram came into being, this one suspended in mid-air.
After squaring himself before his creation, Paul then moved one foot forward and leaned in as he used both arms to make a grand clockwise gesture.
As he did, another spell diagram appeared, this one being vertical, suspended evenly between the upper and lower diagrams, hovering in the air.
In a booming voice that none present could ignore, Paul called the primary invocation of his spell.
"As above, so below.
"I call upon the forces of unyielding pain to fuel this, my spell.
"In this act, let innocence be forsaken.
"Let the trap of its vile luxury be revealed.
"Grant harsh clarity that we might see.
"As above, so below."
As the last words fell from his lips, a murky gray mist began to swirl in the center of the vertical spell diagram.
Everyone in attendance watched in horror and anticipation as the vortex widened and the first flickers of flame could be seen through the clearing mist.
Everyone was speechless as they could clearly see into a rocky cavern lit with pools of flaming liquids, what some might call a lake of fire.
"This is The Meayithan Realm, a hell dimension." Paul said gravely.
Just as people were beginning to come to grips with actually being able to physically see into hell, a sudden movement drew everyone's attention.
"Those are the Yaggoral. The Meayithan Realm is their home." Paul said loudly and clearly.
As everyone watched, the two lizard-like creatures simultaneously leaped off the rocks they had been climbing and appeared to grow wings in mid air.
They flew in slow circles at first, but the circles became tighter and faster as they went.
A whirlwind seemed to be forming in the center of their circle and little flecks of light began dancing around.
"As you can see, the Yaggoral have access to demonic magic." Paul announced dispassionately.
As he said the words, the Yaggoral flew off in different directions, releasing a storm of lightning and fire. As the light exploded, it revealed that what had appeared to be a claustrophobic little cave was, in fact, a massive canyon. The most disturbing feature during the brief blast of light was the glimpse of hundreds of glowing eyes looking down upon the fire.
Paul turned his back on the spectacle, then pointed to the floor in front of him.
A full pentagram appeared, expertly crafted in every detail.
Five balls of flame appeared at the points of the star as he began to speak.
"The time has come.
"Follow my voice.
"Your master summons you.
"Come to me now.
"Heed my command.
"I demand it!"
Those who were watching the large portal could see a gray blur appearing in the center of the fiery meeting place.
Those who were watching Paul saw the gray blur appear in the center of his spell diagram.
It took a moment for everyone to catch on to what was about to happen, but once most of them had figured it out, they watched the two Yaggoral enter the vortex in The Meayithan Realm and emerge from the vortex in the spell diagram at Paul's feet.
Paul waved his hand and the summoning diagram at his feet vanished.
When it did, the two Yaggoral took to the air and came to rest on Paul's shoulders.
"Okay. I lied. I did do a summoning after all." Paul said with a grin, then turned and made a grand gesture toward the vertical spell diagram.
The vision was obscured by mist for a moment, then the mist dissipated. Paul made a grand counterclockwise motion with both hands and the vertical diagram disappeared. Motions upward and downward caused those diagrams to disappear too.
With one grand 'lowering' gesture, the flames all went out and all the pillars, both narrow and wide, withdrew into the floor.
Paul walked toward Professor Ortega and asked, "Was that okay?"
"I believe that I can speak for everyone when I say that it was a tad more than we were expecting." Professor Ortega said diplomatically.
Paul nodded that he understood.
"Be that as it may, Mr. Darroch has asked that you be excused from class for the remainder of the afternoon so that you may attend to some rather urgent business." Professor Ortega said seriously, then leaned in a little to confide, "I don't believe your absence will have an adverse effect on your grade."
"Thank you Professor." Paul said sincerely.
"We need to be going, we have an appointment shortly and we still need to collect your brother." D said urgently.
"Oh. Okay." Paul said and rushed away to collect his backpack.
"Paul?" D called after him.
When Paul looked back, D was pointing toward one of his shoulders.
Paul looked at him with confusion for a moment, then realized what he was indicating and said, "Guys, you need to be in your natural forms if we're going to be around people."
Neither of the Yaggoral objected, they simply changed into their 'natural' forms, right in front of everyone in Paul's class.
"Are you ready?" D asked urgently.
"Yeah." Paul said after him, then turned back to the class and said, "I'm sorry that I'm not going to get to see everyone else's presentations. I was really looking forward to it. Maybe next Friday."
Before anyone could respond, Paul was out the door with D, Lucky, Marsha and the mysterious woman that they had brought with them.
* * * * *
"That was wicked cool!" Lucky exclaimed when they walked into the hallway.
"Shhh. School is still in session." D reminded him.
"Thank you." Marsha said to D, then looked down to Lucky and quietly said, "It was wicked cool."
Lucky beamed a smile up at her as they walked at a brisk pace down the hallway.
"We need to collect your brother, and then be on our way." D said seriously.
"Okay." Paul said simply as he kept pace with the others.
"Professor Ortega mentioned in the teacher's lounge that you were intending to give a presentation. I hope that the teachers from your other classes being present didn't make you nervous." Marsha said quietly.
"Once I got started, I was so focused on my spellcasting that I pretty much forgot about who else was there." Paul said honestly.
"Am I to understand that you've only been practicing magic for one week?" The mysterious woman walking with them asked cautiously.
"Yeah." Paul confirmed, then added, "You caught me on a good day."
"Paul, I'd like for you to meet Sojourner Tavis-Dean. I've retained her services to help with your adoption." D explained carefully.
Before Paul could even register what D had said, Marsha led them into a classroom.
* * * * *
The group stopped just inside the door and silently looked at the people standing around the room.
At first glance, it looked like some sort of twin convention. Paul couldn't help but look them over critically and was pleased to see that none of them were on the same level as Lex.
"Professor Woo, I'm sorry to interrupt, but would it be possible for G Darroch to be excused from the remainder of your class today? He's needed for a family matter." Marsha asked respectfully.
"That won't be any problem. The level of proficiency that young Mr. Darroch has demonstrated today is such that I have no advice to give him to improve his performance." Professor Woo said professionally.
"Thank you Professor." Marsha said sincerely, then turned her attention to G and said, "We need to be going, time is of the essence."
"I'm over here. That's my project. I call him Lex." G said as he stepped forward.
Marsha was obviously surprised, but quickly hid it and said, "Come along."
* * * * *
As soon as they were out of the classroom, Marsha excused herself and left the opposite way from the rest of their group.
"Sojourner, this is my son G. G, this is Sojourner Tavis-Dean. She's our lawyer for family law matters. We're going to a hearing for Paul's adoption and I thought that you'd want to be there." D said seriously as they walked at a hurried pace.
A small bark from Paul's shoulder caught his attention.
"G, Mah Zah wants to spend some time with you." Paul said as he reached up and took the puppy off his shoulder.
"Come over here and tell me what you've been up to." G said tenderly as he accepted Mah Zah from Paul.
"Is there anything the boys need to know going into this?" D asked Sojourner seriously.
"To be honest, I could have filed the paperwork with the court without any of you being present. The only reason that we're going is on the off chance that the judge might want to talk to any of you to be sure that you really want this." Sojourner admitted as they walked through the front doors of the school and out into the sunlight.
"So there's a chance that we won't even get to talk to the judge?" D asked cautiously.
"Yes. I'd say that it's more likely than not that the judge will read the petition and order that a court date be set. But I wanted all of you to be there just in case. If the judge decides that he wants to talk to you, he might choose to expedite matters. Your presence could make what is normally a long, drawn out process into something extremely simple."
"What about Mom? Shouldn't she be there too?" Paul asked cautiously.
"Beth, Kyla and Star are going to meet us at the courthouse. They've been shopping all morning and are relatively nearby." D said seriously.
Paul nodded as he followed along, toward D's car.
"Thanks for getting me out of class, Dad. I really want to be there when Paul's officially made my brother." G said sincerely.
"It's important to all of us." D assured him as he clicked his key fob and the car chirped.
"Yeah. Plus, I want you to be there." Paul said to G honestly.
"Paul, you'll need to send your familiars back before we go into the courthouse." D warned him.
"I know. I'll do it when we get there. Mah Zah and Ginh Zah helped me out so much today that I want to be sure that they know how much I appreciate them." Paul said, mostly to the kitten on his shoulder.
"Does that mean that your presentation went well?" G asked curiously.
"Yeah. I think so. Mah Zah and Ginh Zah did this really big fire and lightning burst that was incredible. I bet that half the people in Wizardry are going to have nightmares tonight just from that alone." Paul chuckled.
"It was amazing." Sojourner added quietly.
"I'm sorry I missed it." G said honestly.
"Well, at least I didn't miss you getting to show off Lex. Your self-portrait was the best of anyone's." Paul said confidently.
"I don't want to sound like a prick about it, but it actually was. I mean, I don't think anyone else put in the time and effort that I did. I know all of them have the talent... well, most of them. But I think they probably left it until the last minute and realized too late just how hard it was." G explained.
"The fact that Marsha couldn't tell you from your portrait was enough to convince me." D chuckled.
"You know, the possibilities for mischief are endless." G said with his classic smirk firmly in place.
Paul smiled at him, feeling boundless joy welling in his heart.
* * * * *
"Thanks again for everything you did today. I'll probably call on you again later tonight." Paul said as he created a small vortex in his lap.
Ginh Zah meowed once and Mah Zah yipped before walking through.
"You have incredible talent for someone who just came into their magic." Sojourner said honestly.
"I can do mostly little things. I just do them in a big way." Paul said meekly.
"It looks to me like Paul is really good at organizing things and boiling them down to their most basic spells. I don't know anything about summoning, but that's how it looks with his regular magic." G said thoughtfully.
"How are we doing for time?" D asked cautiously.
"We're on schedule." Sojourner assured him, then thought to add, "Thank you again for driving me."
"It just made sense. We were already here and we knew that we'd be coming back." D said casually.
"How are you doing Lucky?" Paul asked gently.
"We got to go a lot of different places and do all kinds of stuff. It was fun."
"I'm glad. I don't know how much fun we're going to have in court, but it might be interesting."
"Lucky will be fine. He can sit with me and we'll keep each other company during the slow parts." D said as he pulled the car to a stop.
* * * * *
"This way. Go through security and I'll be back before you're finished. I just want to make sure that everything is on schedule and that they haven't changed courtrooms on us." Sojourner said before dashing away.
"Whatever you're paying her isn't enough. She's great." G said frankly.
"She's being well compensated for her services. Trust me." D responded.
* * * * *
"Everything's still on track. If you'll follow me, I'll take you to the courtroom." Sojourner said as she met them at the exit from the security checkpoint.
"How long do you think that this will take?" D asked as they walked with her.
"It's hard to say. There are two other cases ahead of ours, so we'll just have to wait and see how it goes."
"I suppose that's better than being the last on the docket."
"It shouldn't take too long." Sojourner assured him as they mounted the stairs.
* * * * *
At the feeling of wandering aimlessly in a maze of hallways, Paul had a momentary flashback of D's house. Although Sojourner obviously knew where they were going, Paul sincerely hoped that he wouldn't be called upon to find his way back to the entrance on his own.
Paul was broken out of his thoughts by the sight of Curtis standing with a group of people in the hallway outside one of the courtrooms.
"Hey Curtis! What's up?" Paul asked as they approached.
"The judge cleared the courtroom so that the lawyers could try to settle out of court. We've been waiting out here forever." Curtis said as he looked past Paul at the people accompanying him.
When Paul noticed he said, "Curtis, you know G, this is our cousin Lucky, our dad, D, and our lawyer Sojourner. Everyone, this is Curtis. He's one of the people who will be coming to our house tomorrow."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Curtis. Both my sons have spoken very highly of you." D said formally.
"Is there any way that Curtis and his group can come with us? They're here to observe actual court cases, but the case they were watching got stalled and all they're getting to observe is the hallway while the lawyers are talking."
"Sojourner?" D asked simply.
"Don't you think we should talk to their teacher before we start making plans for them?"
"Sure. If you want to think 'in the box' about it." D said with a grin, then asked, "Curtis, where's your teacher?"
"Mrs. McBride?" Curtis called to a woman a few feet away.
"Yes?" The teacher responded with a slight note of irritation in her voice.
"Mrs. McBride, my name is Aloysius Darroch. My sons are friends with some of your students. Curtis just filled us in on your situation and we were wondering if you'd be interested in having your students visit our courtroom. We'll be going in for our hearing in a few minutes and if you'd like to join us, my attorney can talk to the court clerk and ask permission."
"There doesn't seem to be any end in sight for the case we were supposed to be observing, so if there's any way you could arrange something like that, I would appreciate it."
D looked at Sojourner expectantly.
"No promises." Sojourner said firmly, then walked away.
"Hey, aren't you the new guy who went to my Linear Algebra class, like, three times, then dropped out?" A familiar looking boy asked Paul as he approached.
"Linear Algebra? Is that what that was?" Paul asked slowly.
"Since you're wearing a school uniform, I'm guessing that you must not have dropped out after all." The boy continued.
"No. I was transferred to different classes where I actually had some hope of learning something." Paul said frankly.
"Paul's the guy I was telling you about. His mom and G's dad just got married and they automatically became brothers." Curtis told the boy seriously.
"That was you? I didn't make the connection. I suppose I should have from the timing."
"Well, if Curtis has told you about me, then you know that I'm Paul. I'm sorry, but I don't remember meeting you before." Paul said cautiously.
"I'm Oscar. And we never met. We were just in the same class for a couple days."
Paul nodded, then looked at Curtis to see if he had anything to inject into their conversation, since he was the only acquaintance that they had in common.
"Oscar and I are in about three different classes together. So we get to see a lot of each other." Curtis said simply.
Paul nodded that he understood, but didn't have any idea of how to continue the conversation.
"The court clerk was happy to agree. They'll be opening the doors to our courtroom any minute and Mrs. McBride's class group are welcome to come with us." Sojourner said as she approached.
"Good work. Thank you." D said appreciatively.
"Yes. Thank you so much. Although I want my students to get a taste of the reality of the court system, I think that we've experienced quite enough of this particular reality." Mrs. McBride said earnestly.
"Let's go, then. We've got just enough time to get there before the doors open." Sojourner said urgently.
D looked around anxiously, then made sure that he had Paul, G and Lucky in tow as he followed Sojourner down the hall.
* * * * *
"There you are!" Beth said with relief. She was standing with Kyla, Star and several other people who were waiting for the courtroom doors to open.
"We ran into some of Paul and G's friends along the way. Don't worry. Everything's under control." D assured her as they approached.
"Lucky hasn't been any trouble, has he?" Kyla asked cautiously as she looked at her son accusingly, as though she could see into his soul.
"Not at all. He's been helping me all day." D said in a completely credible voice.
Beth gave D a firm hug, then quietly asked, "Have you told him yet?"
"No. I said that I wouldn't."
Paul could just barely overhear what they were saying and his interest was piqued.
"I swore to myself that I wouldn't put this off until the last minute..." Beth said quietly.
"But you did. This is literally the last minute. Tell him." D said firmly.
Beth nodded her acceptance, then turned and said, "G, could I talk to you for a minute?"
G looked up and Paul couldn't help but smile at G's 'deer in the headlights' expression.
Beth walked over to him, then drew him away so that they could talk privately.
"What's going on?" Curtis asked curiously.
"I don't know for sure." Paul said honestly, then added under his breath, "But I can guess."
Paul and Curtis watched silently, trying to get any clue as to what Beth and G were talking about.
Between one moment and the next, G's usual easy going expression fell away and was replaced by one of complete shock.
Paul smiled at the reaction as he continued to watch.
Beth said something else and seemed to be deadly serious about it.
G suddenly lurched forward and pulled her into a firm hug.
"Um, I'm guessing that it's something good?" Curtis said uncertainly.
"Yeah. I'm pretty sure it is." Paul said warmly.
A movement drew Paul's attention and he turned to see the doors to the courtroom opening.
The bailiff stepped into the hallway and said, "Please take your seats and disable all personal electronics. We're a few minutes behind, so as soon as everyone has settled into place, I'll be calling the first case."
Paul made sure to stick close to D as the group funneled in through the open doors. He noticed that G was virtually glued to Beth's side and couldn't help but smile.
* * * * *
The family were able to find seats together and D made a point of having Lucky in the seat next to his.
Paul could see how special it was to Lucky not only to be allowed to sit with D, but to be wanted by him.
Even if Paul had never formed a relationship of his own with D, he was certain that he would have the utmost admiration and respect for the man simply for the way that he treated Lucky.
* * * * *
As promised, as soon as everyone had found seats, it was announced that court was in session and then the first case was called.
Although Paul had an inquisitive nature and would normally watch such a thing with interest, he basically ignored what was happening in the front of the courtroom in favor of keeping tabs on his family.
Kyla and Star seemed to be in their own little world. They were quiet and well behaved enough, but Paul couldn't detect any indication of their awareness of anything outside themselves. They certainly weren't paying attention to what Lucky was doing.
By all appearances, D seemed to be paying attention to the court case. But Paul couldn't help but notice that every so often, D would lean down and whisper something to Lucky.
Beth was sitting on D's other side and next to her was G, who seemed to be completely in his own world.
For as much as Paul would like to have been beside G to help him deal with whatever was bothering him, things had worked out that Paul was seated between Lucky and Kyla.
The 'smack' of a gavel drew Paul's attention and he listened for the next case being called.
"The court calls Aloysius and Elizabeth Darroch to come forward and present their petition." The Bailiff announced to the room.
Sojourner stood and handed the bailiff a stack of papers before calmly saying, "If it pleases the court, Mrs. Tavis-Dean, representing Aloysius and Elizabeth Darroch."
After a moment to look over the petitions, Judge Pearson asked, "Do we have Mr. and Mrs. Darroch present in court today?"
"We do, your honor." Sojourner said as she motioned for D and Beth to stand.
"I see by the petitions that you've submitted that you would like to adopt each other's children to legally unify your new family."
"Yes your honor." D said for both of them.
"I see a number of children here with us today. Are the boys... Let's see... Are Paul and Gwayne present?"
"Yes your honor." D said as he motioned for the boys to stand.
"Boys, why don't you come up here so that we can talk for a moment?" Judge Pearson asked pleasantly.
Paul and G both went forward and stood before the bench.
"Come around here where I can see you." The judge said as he motioned toward the easiest way to get around the side of the bench.
Both boys walked behind the bench and waited.
"I suppose the first thing I should probably ask is if you both want to be adopted."
"Yes sir... I mean, your honor." G nervously stammered.
"Yes your honor." Paul said more calmly.
"Paul, what do you see as Mr. Darroch's role in your life, should I grant this petition?"
"He'll be my father. I can't really tell you all of what that means because I've never had a father before but so far he's done everything in his power to make sure that I'm safe and happy and that I have everything that I'll need to succeed in life. I guess if you officially make him my father that it won't change much. The only real difference will be that it will kind of remove the escape hatch. If things go wrong, neither one of us will be able to suddenly decide that we're done and bail out. Legally being father and son will be another reason that we'll have to stick together through the tough times." Paul said thoughtfully.
"It doesn't necessarily follow that if you get adopted that you have to have your name changed. Are you sure about that?"
"Yes your honor. I mean, if you say that I can't have my name changed, it won't change how I feel about D and I don't think it will change how he feels about me. I guess the only thing that it really does is show him that I'm proud of him and want the world to know that I'm his son."
"What about you Gwayne? What do you think about having Elizabeth as a mother?"
"She's completely different from what I thought a mom would be like. She's strong and independent and doesn't take any crap. Whenever I thought of what it would be like to have a mom... I thought she'd be all sweet and nice. I mean, Beth is nice, but she's a real person too. I really want for her to be my mom. She's someone who cares enough about me to tell me when I'm being stupid or doing something wrong. I think I need that."
"I realize that this isn't an issue for Paul, but before I can come to a decision about you, Gwayne, I would like to know how you being adopted will impact your relationship with your biological mother, Emaline Ralston Darroch?"
"I don't have a relationship with her. She hasn't been a part of my life since I was a little kid." G said simply.
"I'll never understand a parent who could walk away from their child." Judge Pearson said regretfully, then looked at the boys and smiled wearily as he said, "Go back to your family and I'll make my ruling in just a minute."
"Thank you your honor." Paul said for both of them and despite the fact that they were standing before the judge, he put an arm around G and hugged him, then guided him to walk back to the gallery of the courtroom.
* * * * *
Paul returned to his seat and once again wished that he had found a way to be seated next to G.
The judge sat behind his bench and leafed through legal documents for what seemed like an unnecessarily long time to Paul, although he was aware that it was actually probably less than two minutes.
"The petition before the court is a request for the formal adoption of Paul Auren Hiller to Aloysius Darroch. After consideration of all the factors involved, the court is inclined to grant said petition, it is so ordered. In the related petition to legally change the name of Paul Auren Hiller to that of Paul Auren Darroch, the court is likewise inclined to grant the petition. It is so ordered.
"Lastly, in regard to the formal adoption of Gwayne Darroch to Elizabeth Darroch, the court is inclined to grant the petition. It is so ordered. Case dismissed." The judge said and punctuated the statement with a bang of his gavel.
Paul felt his eyes fill to overflowing with tears and suddenly found himself engulfed in D's arms.
He reveled in that feeling for a moment, then noticed that a pair of much smaller arms were also hugging him.
He released his grip on D and let one arm drop around Lucky's shoulders to give him some measure of a hug in return.
Once the emotional moment was over, Sojourner motioned to the family to get their attention, then led them to the back of the courtroom while the next case was being called.
* * * * *
Paul left the courtroom with D's arm draped around his shoulders.
"Well, it's done. How do you feel?" D asked cautiously.
"I don't know yet. It's bigger than anything that I've ever felt before. It might take me some time to come to terms with it." Paul said honestly.
"There's no rush. What we just did, it's forever." D said quietly.
"Thanks." Paul said as he draped an arm around D to return his hug.
"As much as I hate to do this... I have to make a call. Can you forgive me?" D asked cautiously.
Paul laughed at the question, then said, "Yeah. I think I can let it slide."
"Have everyone wait here for a minute. As soon as I'm done with my call, I'll know where we're going next." D said before dashing away.
Paul looked around at his family and noticed Lucky looking up at him uncertainly.
"Did you understand all that?" Paul asked gently.
"D's your dad now, huh?" Lucky asked uncertainly.
"Yeah." Paul said simply.
"I wish he was my dad too." Lucky said honestly.
"He's already your cousin. That makes him part of your family, just like me and G. It may not be the same as having a full-time dad, but you can still do dad things with him and ask him for dad-help when you're needing something like that."
"But I want to have a dad all the time, every day."
"I'm sorry Lucky. Sometimes we don't get to have exactly what we want. Sometimes we have to make the best out of what we can have."
Lucky regretfully nodded that he was listening.
"But if you think about it, you're probably better off than a lot of people, even people who have dads at home with them all the time."
"Because even though you don't have a 'dad', you've got D who's a really great person. Some people have worthless dads who hurt them or make them feel ashamed or just ignore them. So even though you don't have D full-time, you know he'll always be there when you need him and that he's someone that you can grow up to want to be like."
"I could never be like D."
"Maybe not, but in trying to be like him, you can grow up into a better person than someone who doesn't have any kind of role model."
"Are you going to be like D?"
"Not exactly like him. But I hope that if I work really hard that I'll be able to develop some of his strength and decency. If I can do that much, I think I'll have a happy life."
"Excuse me for interrupting, but did D say where he was going?" Beth asked Paul cautiously.
"Yeah. He said that he needed to make a call before he knew where we'd be going next. He told us to wait." Paul said as he moved to Lucky's side and draped an arm around his shoulders.
"Do you have any idea of what he's up to?" Beth asked cautiously.
"No. Don't you?" Paul asked with surprise.
"Not a clue." Beth said as she looked toward where D had walked off to.
"Well, this is D we're talking about. Whatever it is, I bet it's going to be amazing." Paul said with a grin.
Beth smiled slightly, then said, "You may be right about that."
* * * * *
When D came back from his mysterious phone call all he would say is that they were on a tight schedule and they had to leave right away.
It was only after they had piled into the cars that Paul realized that they had automatically gone back to the cars that they had arrived in.
Beth, Kyla and Star were in Kyla's car as D, Paul, G and Lucky were in D's.
"What's going on?" G asked his father anxiously.
"I don't know for sure. It's best if I don't say anything." D said seriously.
"You don't know, but we're in a hurry... because we might miss whatever it is... and that would be... bad?" G asked disjointedly.
"Exactly." D said with a single nod to emphasize his certainty of it.
"Okay. I'll give you that one." G conceded, then carefully asked, "Where are we going?"
"To your school." D said with a smile.
"What for?" G asked in true puzzlement.
"I don't know for sure." D said with a grin.
"Right." G said, then threw his hands up in surrender.
"We'll find out in a few minutes. We're almost there." Paul said frankly.
"I can't think of a single thing that this could be. Do you have any ideas?" G asked cautiously.
"Not really. Would you like for me to look into my skaalix and see if I can get a hint?" Paul offered weakly.
"Skaalix... it's like a demonic sextant. I use it as a divination tool for my Augury class." Paul said simply, then added, "It's in my backpack if you want to look at it."
"Demonic... sextant... Augury... divination tool... You know what? I'm thinking 'no'." G said slowly.
"Suit yourself. It doesn't matter anyway. We're here." Paul said as D pulled into the main drive of the school.
* * * * *
G and the boys waited for Beth, Kyla and Star to park and join them before the group started toward the front doors of the school.
"Can you tell us what we're doing here now?" G asked hopefully.
"I don't know for sure." D said with a mischievous grin.
Paul couldn't help but laugh at G's put upon expression.
D led the way to the office and as soon as he walked through the door, Marsha hurried into the room and said, "We're going to be in the conference room, right over here. Janice has just gone to get everyone."
D smiled politely and followed as Marsha ushered them through the office and into a large room with a massive table in the middle.
"Can I get anyone anything while you're waiting?" Marsha asked as everyone found their seats.
"We just got out of court, so I'm sure that we could all do with some refreshments. Whatever you have will be fine." D said with a smile at her.
"I'll have something for you in just a minute." Marsha promised, then hurried out of the room.
"Are you blackmailing her or something? She really seems to be desperate to please you." G asked curiously.
"I might have made a series of donations to the school, above and beyond the fees for your tuition. That might have something to do with it." D said with a sly smile.
'That explains a lot.'
'If there's an ass to be kissed, it's D's.'
'That's my dad!'
'I could really get used to saying that.'
The door to the conference room opened and Paul was surprised to see Professor Ortega walking in. He was accompanied by an elderly man who appeared to be in his eighties or nineties.
"Good afternoon. For those of you who don't know me, I'm Professor Ortega, the Senior Professor of Wizardry at this school. My companion is Professor Knox, the Senior Professor of Alchemical Studies..."
"...semi-retired." Professor Knox interjected.
Paul's eyes went wide as he realized that the meeting they were having almost certainly had something to do with him.
The door opened again and Marsha rushed in.
"Oh good, you're already here. Everyone else should be arriving shortly. I have some snacks and drinks on the way. They'll be here any minute." Marsha assured them.
"That's very kind of you, Mrs. Bright. I just noticed that I was beginning to feel a bit peckish." Professor Knox said quietly.
Before anyone could think of a response, Mr. Hind, Mrs. Herdez and Mr. Plaven walked into the conference room and stopped just inside the door.
"Please take your seats so that we may begin." Marsha said invitingly.
"Dad?" G whispered urgently to his father, trying to get him to stop playing around and explain what was going on.
D simply smiled at his son for an instant, then turned his attention back to the most senior members of their party.
"Now that we're all here, I suppose that we should just put our cards on the table." Professor Ortega said as he looked around at the variety of people present.
"In the past week young Mr. Paul Darroch has demonstrated abilities that are above and beyond those of his current classmates and would normally be far beyond someone who has been practicing magic for less than a week. It would be a travesty to force him to take classes that are clearly beneath his abilities. It would be, in essence, cutting the meat to fit the box."
Paul felt a rush of anxiety wash over him at the tone the meeting was taking.
"As the Senior Professor of Wizardry, I can say without reservation that Young Mr. Darroch has it within him to become an outstanding Wizard. I believe that should he put his mind to it, that he might be able to breach new realms that mankind has yet to explore."
"Then why am I here?" Professor Knox asked cautiously.
"This is the young man that I was telling you about." Mr. Hind said quietly.
"This little slip of a boy instinctively knows advanced Alchemical methods?" Professor Knox asked dubiously.
"Paul, could you show Professor Knox something, so that he'll understand?" Mr. Hind asked hopefully.
"Yeah." Paul quietly responded, then gestured toward the side of the room as a stone wall erupted from the floor.
After a moment, Professor Knox cautiously asked, "This is Alchemy?"
"This spell is a combination of a Numerology 3D plotter spell, Wizard's lights and Alchemy. I use them in combination like this to make something that looks like real stone. All I really did is changed the fundamental properties of air within the plot to be a solid rather than a gas." Paul carefully explained.
After a moment to consider, Professor Knox began to slowly nod and he finally muttered, "Clever."
"Before you start making decisions, I need to inform you that an idea that Paul came up with for his technomage class has been accepted as original and has been credited to his name. Although he doesn't appear to have any magical talent in the field, he has something more valuable, original ideas. Whatever decisions you make, I'd like for you to consider allowing him to continue to develop his gift. It would be a shame to lose such potential." Mr. Plaven explained plaintively.
"In a related vein, I would like to mention that the group project in Spelling that Paul engineered, successfully integrated four distinct disciplines of magic from four different magic users. That is another talent that it would be a shame to lose if it weren't nurtured." Mrs. Herdez said frankly.
The door opening caused all in attendance to look in that direction.
One of the workers from the cafeteria pushed a cart of food into the room.
"Thank you Louise. That looks lovely." Marsha said gratefully.
"Give me a moment to set it out and then I'll be out of your way." Louise said without slowing her pace for an instant.
* * * * *
Once Louise was done placing platters of different finger foods and pastries around the table, she also sat out some pitchers of water and juices along with stacks of plastic cups.
She finished by setting a filled coffee carafe with paper coffee cups near D's place setting and another carafe with hot tea nearer to Professor Ortega.
It took a few minutes for everyone to serve themselves and get back to their original places, but eventually everyone seemed to be prepared to continue.
"It would be a shame for young Mr. Darroch to be deprived of his necessary education, so whatever else we come up with, I will tell you now that I will be against removing him from his regular classes." Professor Ortega said firmly.
"Which only leaves his afternoon specialty classes." Professor Knox said, completing the thought.
"I still have much to teach him, but with the ability he's demonstrated in the past week, I feel safe in saying that he won't be deprived to any significant degree by having less specialized Wizardry class time. It would be the height of hubris for me to believe that our teaching methods were responsible for young Mr. Darroch's success. We will continue to teach him. He will continue to learn. But I feel certain that adding more specialty classes into his schedule will only give him more opportunities to thrive." Professor Ortega said frankly.
"I will take him as my student." Professor Knox said as he continued to focus most of his attention on the stone wall that Paul had created.
"What was that?" Professor Ortega asked curiously.
"Being semi-retired, my schedule is somewhat flexible. One day a week, Paul can come to my office and I will teach him... as I was taught. I'll teach him the old ways and reveal a few of the darker secrets of Alchemy." Professor Knox said somewhat distantly.
"Thank you Professor." Paul said in an overwhelmed voice. He could only imagine the wealth of knowledge that Professor Knox possessed, and he was going to have the opportunity to learn from him, one-on-one.
"Mrs. Herdez? Do you believe that Professor Bielecki would like to invest some time into teaching young Mr. Darroch the art of spellcasting?" Professor Ortega asked curiously.
"I've shown Professor Bielecki the completed project that Paul and his group presented to me this morning. It was his judgement that Paul should be given special assignments to encourage his talent for cooperative spellcasting, but I don't believe that he will need to have extra class time to do that." Mrs. Herdez said thoughtfully.
"What about you, Mr. Plaven?" Professor Ortega asked curiously.
"Thank you Professor. I realize that TechnoMagic is a relatively new field of study. I appreciate that you're willing to entertain the notion that it has some value. If it is at all possible, what I would like to do is have Paul join in the TechnoMagic 2 specialty class once a week. That will give him ample opportunity to be inspired and develop new ideas while not overburdening him with a class where he has no actual magical advantage." Mr. Plaven said carefully.
"Professor Knox, are Tuesdays good for you?" Professor Ortega asked carefully.
"Yes. That sounds perfect." Professor Knox said with a smile.
"Mr. Plaven, what would you think of Thursday?" Professor Ortega asked hopefully.
"I think that would be just fine." Mr. Plaven said confidently.
"Very well. Then young Mr. Darroch will continue to have his Wizardry specialty classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday... If that's alright with you, Mr. Darroch."
Paul looked to see D's reaction, but then realized that Professor Ortega had been addressing him.
"Yeah. That sounds great!" Paul stammered.
"It may be necessary to make adjustments over time, but I believe that this will suffice for now." Professor Ortega said with a smile.
"Young man." Professor Knox said, directing his statement toward Paul, "Such opportunities are all too rare, and when they're gone, they're gone forever. Make the most of them."
"I'll try to, Professor." Paul sincerely promised.
Professor Knox smiled his approval of the answer.
"Mrs. Bright, I hope we didn't step on your toes too much, making these decisions without your input." Professor Ortega said carefully.
"If I had any objection I would have told you." Marsha assured him, then continued, "Although I normally see to scheduling the academic studies of all the students, in a special case such as this, I'm happy to see that you're making decisions based on what's best for the individual when his needs are outside of my field of expertise."
A long moment of silence followed, which was broken by D saying, "Well, if there's nothing else, I think I'm ready to go home and relax for a while."
Paul looked around the room to see if anyone were going to object, but instead found everyone getting up from their chairs.
"Marsha, thank you for arranging everything for us. I appreciate all that you do." D said to her with a smile.
"Thank you." Marsha said and smiled in return.
To Be Continued...
Editor's Notes (1):
I can't remember how to move the whole line into the right place.
Oh will I'm pretty sure that MM can fix it.
Well, it was nice that Dex was comfortable enough to tell paul what his problem was.
It's going to be nice to have a diverse group of magic users and non magic users together for a cool picnic, with burgers and hot dogs, etc. There'll be music and stories, all kinds of fun cook out stuff.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Editor's Notes (2):
Wow! It looks as though D has quite a bit of pull when he decides something needs looking into. He can really get things done correctly.
I was pretty sure that Paul was a very special person, in any number or ways. Not the least of which is having such a wonderful family and totally cool friends, magic users and non magic users alike.
That dual adoption setup was totally awesome!
I'm glad that Curtis was able to get some good info from his court case study.
It certainly will be an interesting day tomorrow at the picnic, or at least I hope so.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher