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"Dad!" Paul said from Mr. Darroch's study doorway.
"I didn't realize that it was so late. How was your day?" Mr. Darroch asked pleasantly.
"Fine." Paul said distractedly, then resumed his previous intensity by asking, "What's going on?"
"Agent Roberts and I have been making travel arrangements for your upcoming adventure." Mr. Darroch said simply, then asked, "What's going on with you?"
Agent Roberts noticed that G was standing just behind Paul, waiting expectantly for answers.
"Where's the barrier that we're going to be fixing? Who is the barrier protecting? Why are we going?" Paul asked insistently.
"Waxell, Wudewas, and because your teachers thought that out of all the students, you would be best able to do the job."
After a moment to consider his father's answers, Paul carefully asked, "You said that Cain and Deimos were alright?"
"Yes. This is unrelated to them."
"So does that mean that there's another place like Brynnhollow around Waxell?"
"You said Wudewas. I studied about them in my health and healing class. Aren't they like bigfoots or something like that?"
"And there's a colony of them near Waxell?"
"And their barrier is failing?"
"It's not so much failing as it is out-of-date. Current technology has been able to breach it, so we need to assess the condition of the barrier, then update it."
"If the Wudewas barrier is so close to Brynnhollow, why didn't they help them? Their barrier is great."
"The Wudewas community is called Southseid. And to answer your question, the people of Brynnhollow don't have access to their magical abilities. If there were a problem with the Brynnhollow barrier, they would have called on us to fix it." Mr. Darroch said seriously, then added, "Remember why we were visiting Brynnhollow in the first place."
"Yeah. Okay." Paul said thoughtfully.
"Before it gets too late, you guys need to go to the storeroom and get your sleeping bags and take stock of what you have as far as hiking gear. See if there's anything that you'll be needing for tomorrow. You'll be leaving for the airport at around five fifteen in the morning."
"We're leaving tomorrow?" G asked in surprise.
"That's right. So you don't really have time to be standing around asking endless questions."
"What will we need to take with us?" G asked in an overwhelmed whisper.
"Perhaps, if you asked him very nicely, Agent Roberts could go over his supply list with you to see that you'll have everything that you need." Mr. Darroch suggested with a grin.
"Agent Roberts, can you go with us right now? If we're going to need stuff for tomorrow morning, we need to figure out what it is right away." Paul asked hopefully.
"Do you think that was 'nicely' enough?" Mr. Darroch asked in a mostly serious tone.
"I'm buying it." Agent Roberts said with a smile, then said to the boys, "Why don't you show me what you've already got and we can work from there."
"Okay. I know right where everything is." G said enthusiastically.
"Do I have up-to-date copies of all your lists?" Mr. Darroch asked before Agent Roberts could exit the room.
"Yes. I've emailed you everything." Agent Roberts assured him, then noticed the urgent looks on the two boys' faces and followed along.
* * * * *
"How much stuff do you think we're going to need?"
"The most important thing is going to be decent hiking boots. After that, you're going to need comfortable clothes that you can layer, then rain gear."
"I think we're covered for the clothes and boots, but we'll show you what we've got so we can be sure that it's alright. We have a lot of camping gear out in the storeroom, like backpacks and tents and stuff. We should look at that first."
"That sounds perfect. Once I've seen what you've got, I'll get with your father about what we're still going to need."
"Did we need to look at the train to see if we left anything there?" Paul asked his brother uncertainly.
"No. I'm pretty sure we got everything out. Dad's really good about double-checking after we get back from the lake."
* * * * *
As they walked out the back door, G led the way to a freestanding building a short distance from the house.
Agent Roberts followed along and took in the beautiful scenery surrounding them.
"Just so you know, this door has a magical lock. If you need to get in, make sure that I'm here with you." G said as he pulled the heavy door open.
"I really suck at locking spells." Paul added, then explained, "I mean, I can open it, but it might take me a few tries."
"It's easier if you just get me to let you in." G confided.
Agent Roberts smiled in response, but didn't answer verbally.
* * * * *
"Here's the camping stuff. What do you think we're going to need?" Paul asked as they approached shelves of camping supplies.
"At first glance, it looks like you might already have most of what we'll be needing." Agent Roberts said as he examined the equipment, then thought to ask, "Do you guys go camping often?"
"Dad and I have gone a lot. But Paul's only been with us a couple times."
"If you'll grab some backpacks, we can start gathering supplies into them. Remember to grab sleeping bags. Make sure you get plenty of rain gear. According to the weather report, we could be in for a wet hike."
"What about food? How much are we going to pack in with us?"
"I think we'll probably pack two meals each, plus emergency rations. The plan is to hike in, set up camp, do an assessment of the barrier, and then decide what we'll need to do in the coming days."
"What about Agent Fastbeck? Is he going to be hiking in with us?"
"Yes. In fact, I need to call him and let him know what we're doing."
"What are the Wudewas like?" G asked curiously.
"It's really hard for me to say. I don't speak their language and I was meeting them right after some of their people had been killed. So I don't think I caught them at their best."
"Nobody said anything about anyone getting killed. Is it going to be safe?" Paul asked firmly. Agent Roberts was impressed by the young man's forceful presence.
"The people who breached their barrier were stopped. All that's left is to make sure that no one else can hurt them."
"You did that, huh? You stopped them?" G asked curiously.
"I was part of the team that did." Agent Roberts confirmed.
"I guess I'm used to thinking of witches protecting non-magical people. Even though I saw Agent Fastbeck sacrifice himself to save the people in Brynnhollow, I still feel like since we have powers that it's up to us to protect them."
"I think it comes down to who has the opportunity and the means to help people who need it. I was in the right place at the right time to help out."
"It also depends on the person, if they're willing to help or not. Just because you were there and could help doesn't mean that you automatically would." G interjected.
"That's the same with Agent Fastbeck. He didn't have to help. He just did it. He didn't stop to think about it or anything." Paul added.
"It sounds like you guys have a lot of respect for Agent Fastbeck."
"He gave up who he was to help a bunch of people that he barely knew. I don't know if I'd be strong enough to do that." Paul said honestly.
"I've been told that he's cursed, but that's about all I know about it."
"That's what we're talking about. He's not a normal person anymore, he probably never will be again. He accepted that fate because he knew that it would help the people in Brynnhollow."
"Is there anything that we need to know about you, Agent Roberts?" G asked cautiously.
"How do you mean?"
"Well... if they're willing to include you on this mission with us, there must be something special about you."
"As far as I know, the only thing that sets me apart from other FBI agents is that I'm already aware of the Wudewas, the Brynns and of you. Since I work for the FBI, there are things that I can do to help the group that no one else can and you don't have to worry about keeping anything hidden from me."
"Leave it to Dad to come up with a plan like this." Paul said admiringly.
"Yeah. I never would have thought about having to deal with law enforcement. All I would have been looking at was doing the magical part of the job." G added.
"I'm sure that's natural. Which probably means that your father was taught this lesson by his father, or that he learned the lesson the hard way." Agent Roberts said speculatively.
"And now we're learning the lesson by watching how he does things." Paul said thoughtfully.
"Sometimes actions speak louder than words." G said with a nod.
"Speaking of action..." Paul prompted as he turned his attention back to the rack of camping equipment.
"Right. Is there a place in the house where we can stow this stuff?" Agent Roberts asked seriously.
"Yeah. There's no problem with that. Just tell us what we'll need and we'll get started."
"Let's start by attaching your sleeping bags to the bottoms of your backpacks. Once that's done, we'll get the rest of the supplies gathered."
* * * * *
"We can stack everything in here. It won't be in anyone's way. No one ever comes in here." G said as he led the way into the room.
"I don't think I've ever been in here before." Paul said uncertainly.
"You probably haven't. We don't use this room much." G said as he set down the satchel containing a tent.
"Before we let your father know about what we're still going to need, I'd like to get a look at your personal gear." Agent Roberts said as he followed suit and unburdened himself.
"Yeah. That's our next stop." G said simply, still wearing his mostly empty backpack.
"Do you think we're going to have enough rain gear for everyone?" Paul asked cautiously.
"Yeah. I think so. And since we're not going to be around any non-magical people, most of our party will probably be able to use spells to keep from getting rained on too much." G said thoughtfully.
"I don't know enough about magic to know what capabilities you have in that regard." Agent Roberts slowly admitted.
"This way." G said as he led the way out of the room.
"Actually, not every witch has access to the same magic. A spell that I can use might be something that G wouldn't be able to." Paul carefully explained.
"Yeah. And besides that, you have to learn the spells before you can use them. Just because you have the ability doesn't mean that you have the knowledge. It's possible that no one in our party has ever had to worry about hiking in the rain before, so they haven't bothered to learn any 'umbrella' spells."
"Is there an 'umbrella' spell?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"There probably is, but I just know the spell that I'd use to protect me from the rain." G said honestly.
"Which spell is that?" Paul asked curiously.
"It's a basic magic spell that I learned when I was a little kid. It keeps you from getting your clothes dirty when you're playing outside, but it can also be used to repel water." G explained as they walked the maze of hallways.
"Would you mind showing it to me? I don't have anything like that." Paul asked hopefully.
"Sure. When we get to my room, I can write it down for you. It'll be a lot faster than trying to describe it."
Paul nodded as they walked.
* * * * *
Agent Roberts was surprised when they stepped through a doorway into a glassed in hallway which looked out over the vast landscape.
"Do you guys want to go on to G's room? I can grab my stuff and meet you there." Paul asked as they approached a junction in the glassed in hallway that connected to an identical parallel hallway.
"Since we've got Agent Roberts with us, it'd probably be better if he saw your stuff so he could help you choose what to bring. Hauling it all over to my room to pick and choose there doesn't make a lot of sense." G said reasonably.
"Yeah. Okay." Paul said easily, then turned to go through the connecting hallway.
Agent Roberts and G automatically followed.
* * * * *
"I'm guessing that your favorite color is blue." Agent Roberts said slowly as they walked into the bizarrely monochromatic room bathed in blue light.
"I don't know yet. I just moved in here a little while ago and I'm still deciding on a theme for it." Paul said simply.
"Right now he's testing out the 'bottom of a well' motif." G interjected.
"It's kind of relaxing." Paul said simply, then motioned to a doorway to the right before leading the way.
"So's a coma." G said under his breath.
Paul stopped in the middle of his bedroom and made a grand gesture with one arm.
As he did, the blue color dissipated and was replaced with stark white.
Agent Roberts squinted as the room seemed to become uncomfortably bright.
"How's that?" Paul asked his brother flatly.
"Keep trying." G said bluntly.
"I'll work on it when we get back. But for now, this will make it so we can see everything without having to guess at what color it is." Paul said before disappearing into a closet at the side of the room.
"Paul really does have a great sense of style. He just hasn't been able to pin down what suits him." G quietly explained.
"Here's my layering stuff. It's lots of cotton and wool." Paul said as he emerged from the closet carrying an armload of clothing.
"That actually looks pretty good. If you've got decent hiking boots and socks, you'll probably be in good shape... I'll need to see that you have a good coat, too."
"Yeah. I'll get that next." Paul said as he set the clothes down on his bed, then started to take off his backpack.
"Is there anything else that you think he's going to need?" G asked curiously.
"Gloves and a hat maybe. It's probably going to be cold."
"I've got those with my coat."
"Good. Then it looks like you're going to be in pretty good shape. If G is as well outfitted, then all your father should have to get is emergency rations and another tent." Agent Roberts said thoughtfully.
"You saw the two-man tent in the storeroom didn't you?" Paul asked as he packed his clothes into his backpack.
"Yes. But with the size of our group, we're going to need another full-sized tent. Although we might be able to squeeze all of us into the one that we're already bringing, it would be impractical for any length of time."
"What about for sleeping? Didn't you say that there was a chance that we'd have to spend a night or two at the location?" G asked curiously.
"Yes. That is possible, but since we're planning on hiking out at the end of each day, we'll have the opportunity to pack in more supplies when we're aware of needing them. There's a feed store in Waxell that has everything that we'll need."
"Do you think that the locals are going to ask questions about what we're up to if we start buying a lot of camping supplies?"
"They know that I'm an FBI agent. If I tell them that it's for a case, they'll understand and know not to ask too many questions."
"Really? I think that if I knew that an FBI agent were buying camping supplies that I'd be asking more questions than ever." Paul said honestly.
"I can understand what you're saying, but I also get the feeling that the people of Waxell aren't like that. They look at their leaders and law enforcement with trust and a certain amount of admiration. Honestly, it makes me want to work that much harder to do right by them and not betray that trust."
"We only stopped there long enough to have lunch, but I thought that place was creepy." G said simply.
"It takes a little getting used to." Agent Roberts reluctantly admitted.
"I'll be right back." Paul said quietly as he hurried back into his closet.
The lull in their conversation gave Agent Roberts the opportunity to look around the teenage boy's bedroom.
While it could be said that the room was perfectly neat and clean, from another way of thinking, it was also barren. There wasn't anything ornamental on display and the walls were devoid of any decoration.
"He just moved in here." G reminded him.
Agent Roberts nodded that he had heard, but couldn't help but feel a little uneasy that Paul's personal space was more impersonal than a generic motel room.
"How's this?" Paul asked as he placed his coat, hat and gloves on the bed beside his backpack.
"Very good. Everything seems to be in excellent condition and of superior quality. I think that you'll have everything that you should need for your hiking adventure."
Paul reached down and pulled a pair of very nice, nearly new, hiking boots from under the bed before asking, "How about these?"
"As long as they're comfortable, they should be perfect."
"What about you, Agent Roberts? Are you going to have everything that you're going to need?" G asked curiously.
"Yes. I have all my hiking gear in the car. And while I wasn't planning on going hiking in the rain, it turns out that I have everything that I should need. The only thing that I'll need to add to my pack is food, which I'll pick up when we get to Waxell."
Paul finished stowing his hat and gloves, then picked up his coat and backpack.
"I've got about the same stuff as Paul, so this shouldn't take too long." G said frankly as he led the way out of the room.
"Do you remember what happened when we went camping by the lake?" Paul asked slowly, in a leading tone.
"No. What?" G asked cautiously as they walked down the glassed in hallway.
"You ended up having to borrow some of my stuff because you'd outgrown your own clothes." Paul reminded him.
"Oh, yeah. We told Dad about that, didn't we?" G asked slowly as he turned at the connection to the other glass hallway.
"I didn't tell anyone. But it's not like I minded or anything." Paul said frankly.
"Yeah. I'd better try things on to see what we'll need to buy before tomorrow." G said reluctantly.
"Your father was planning on us having to buy things tonight anyway, so I don't think it will be a problem." Agent Roberts said informatively.
"Yeah. I just hate clothes shopping." G said as he opened a door that was identical to the one on Paul's suite of rooms.
As Agent Roberts walked through the doorway, he was struck by the stark garish red. Once he had gotten past the initial shock of color, he began to recognize the theme that had been employed.
The gold embellishments as well as the vintage posters contributed to an eerie and somewhat demented early 1900's travelling carnival motif.
"Because of G's magic, this makes perfect sense." Paul said as they walked into the living area.
"What's that?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"The style of his room. It matches his magic and his personality. I'm trying to come up with something for my room that does the same thing for me." Paul carefully explained.
"So do your powers have to do with water or ice?"
G abruptly laughed at the question, then quickly restrained himself before saying, "I told you that the blue theme was the exact opposite of who you are."
"Go try on clothes." Paul said playfully as he fought to restrain a grin.
G walked to Paul and gave him a quick firm kiss, then continued on into the bedroom.
When Paul glanced back at Agent Roberts, he found him staring in surprise.
"We're a couple."
"But you're brothers..."
"Yeah. Only because our parents got married." Paul said simply, then cautiously asked, "Is that a problem?"
"No. I guess I just wasn't expecting it. I've been thinking of you two as brothers, so that kind of caught me off guard."
"I guess that makes sense." Paul said without concern, then asked, "So, do you have a lot of other stuff planned for tonight besides the last minute shopping?"
"I still need to make a phone call. As far as I know, your father has taken care of everything else."
"Then maybe after the shopping's done, you could hang out with us out here. We could watch a movie or something."
"We'll just have to wait and see how things go. Your dad might come up with more for us to do between now and then."
"Yeah. But if he doesn't, think about hanging with us." Paul was saying as G walked into the living room carrying a stack of clothes.
Agent Roberts was surprised that instead of the school uniform, G was now wearing only a pair of blue jeans. He was bare chested and barefoot.
"These all fit but I'm not sure if they'll be enough." G said as he placed the clothing in a stack on one of the couches.
Agent Roberts walked to the couch and began to look through them critically.
"Actually, I think this is just about right. It looks like you'll have everything that you're likely to need."
"I left my backpack in the other room." G said before hurrying away.
"I didn't think about changing when we were in my room. Would you mind if I left you here on your own for a minute?" Paul asked hopefully.
"No problem." Agent Roberts responded, then watched as Paul hurried out of the room.
* * * * *
"Where'd Paul go?" G asked as he walked into the living room carrying his backpack and coat.
"Back to his room to change. He said that he'd be right back."
"He could've borrowed something of mine. We're the same size." G said as he began packing his clothing into his backpack.
"Do you have any questions or concerns about what we're going to be doing?"
"Not really. I mean, ever since I saw the Brynnhollow barrier, I've been interested in how they got it to work. So I'm kind of excited about that. I guess if there's anything that I'm nervous about, it'd be about meeting the Wudewas. As far as I knew they were creatures that didn't exist in this realm... at least, not anymore."
"I really don't know anything about how they came to be here or about other realms. But I can tell you without a doubt that they do exist in the here and now."
"They teach us about all kinds of things like that at school, but they like to be really vague and tell us just as much as we absolutely need to know."
"Considering the veil of secrecy that you live under, I'm sure that they're just doing their best to protect everyone involved."
"What'd I miss?" Paul asked as he walked back into the room, now dressed in casual clothes.
"Boys, wrap up what you're doing. The Mulryans are here." Beth's voice called over the intercom.
"If we've done everything that we need to here, we should get back to the house." G said as he finished gathering his things into his backpack.
"Do you have your hiking boots?" Agent Roberts asked as he looked down at G's bare feet.
"I will in just a minute. Be right back." G said as he dashed back into his bedroom.
"Any last minute questions or concerns?" Agent Roberts asked Paul quietly.
"There's one little thing that I'm worried about." Paul reluctantly admitted.
"If I'm understanding what we're going to be doing, everything's going to be based in natural magic."
"I really don't know anything about that."
Paul nodded, then continued, "At school, I'm always doing big flashy things. G says that I do little spells in a big way. The thing is, even though I can do natural magic, it's not what I'm best at. I don't want to disappoint anyone."
"I can't do any magic at all. So no matter what you do, it's got to be more than what I can do." Agent Roberts said frankly.
Paul let out a small ironic chuckle, then asked, "You don't understand what's so special about regular humans, do you?"
"No. I didn't think that there was anything special."
"Magic is a harness that we wear. Although we control it, it also controls us. We're limited in what we can do and what we will do because of it. You're the jokers, you're the wildcards."
"I don't understand." Agent Roberts said slowly.
"I was raised human, so I've seen the other side of things. I don't know if I can really explain it, but since you're going to be spending a few days traveling with witches, keep your eyes open and I think you'll begin to notice it."
"Did he tell you about Dex's family?" G asked as he emerged from his bedroom, fully dressed.
"No. What about them?" Agent Roberts asked curiously.
"Dex's father is non-magical and I guess it makes things uncomfortable around their house, so they're used to avoiding the subject. I just wanted to be sure you knew that in case things get tense at the dinner table." G said as he picked up his backpack and coat, then gestured toward the door to the hallway.
"How are we going to talk about Dex going on the work study without talking about magic?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously as he walked with the boys out of G's room.
"Let Dad handle that part. I'm sure he already knows what he's going to say." G said with a grin.
"So a non-magical person and a magical person can have kids together?" Agent Roberts asked slowly.
"Yeah. We studied about that in health class. I think that there's eight major species that can interbreed... at least on this plane of reality. There are some others that they just mention in passing and don't count because they don't exist here." Paul said thoughtfully.
"And there are some of those species that can breed with some but not others." G interjected.
"Right. A demon and an angel couldn't produce offspring together... in fact, they probably wouldn't survive it if they tried." Paul said frankly.
"So things like angels and demons really exist?"
"Yeah. If you remind me later, I'll introduce you to some demons."
"Thanks, but I think I'll pass."
"Now that you've actually met some witches, have they turned out to be everything that you expected them to be?"
"No. I have to admit that they haven't."
"Then can you at least try to accept that everything that you've heard about demons might not be entirely true?" Paul asked hopefully.
"I suppose that I could do that."
"Thank you. If you'll be open to it even that much, I'm sure that you won't have any problem with my friends."
* * * * *
After the boys had dropped off their loaded backpacks and sleeping bags, G led the way to the parlor, where their guests were being greeted.
"I'm glad that you know where you're going because I have the feeling that we're walking in circles." Agent Roberts said honestly.
"I'm the same way." Paul reluctantly admitted.
"For some reason Paul's always getting turned around in here." G confirmed.
"So I shouldn't expect for it to get better?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"It never has for me." Paul said honestly.
* * * * *
As the trio walked into the parlor, Mr. Darroch happily said, "Jai and Pam, may I present our other guest, Agent Shawn Roberts from the FBI."
"FBI?" Jai asked with surprise.
"That's right." Mr. Darroch confirmed, then turned to Agent Roberts and said, "Shawn, may I present Jai and Pam Mulryan and their son Dex, whom I believe you met earlier."
"We were both introduced to the group, but I don't think we spoke to each other directly." Agent Roberts said to Mr. Darroch, then turned to Dex and said, "It's nice to see you again, Dex."
"Thank you." Dex said timidly.
"So does this work study thing that they're going to do have something to do with the FBI?" Jai asked anxiously.
"Not directly." Mr. Darroch said carefully, then explained, "We've asked for the FBI to assist us to prevent any possibility of trouble with the local authorities. While the teachers present will work to protect the students from any magical hazards, Agent Roberts will be there to deal with the mundane."
"So he's not a..." Jai trailed off, obviously not wanting to say the word aloud.
"That's right. Agent Roberts is a non-magical person who will be one of the leaders of the expedition." Mr. Darroch confirmed.
Jai looked Agent Roberts in the eyes and said, "No one's told me what they're planning on doing or why they want Dex to go, but you're okay with what they're planning?"
"Yes." Agent Roberts said simply.
"If everyone's ready, why don't we go on in to dinner and we can discuss just what the mission is and Dex's part in it, should he be allowed to participate." Mr. Darroch asked hopefully.
Agent Roberts noticed that Pam seemed to gravitate to Beth and the baby. Mr. Darroch was flanked on either side by his sons. That left him to walk with Mr. Mulryan and Dex.
"Do you really think that Dex will be alright if he goes?" Mr. Mulryan asked quietly.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know exactly what it is that they're going to ask Dex to do. Because of that, I can't really speak to the danger involved." Agent Roberts said honestly.
After a moment for that to sink in, he added, "But I know about where they'll be going and why. Not only can I tell you that it's a worthwhile pursuit, but I can promise you that I intend to make it my personal responsibility to be sure that all the members of our party return home safely."
"Do you know why they're wanting to include Dex?" Jai asked as he stopped just outside the dining room door.
Dex stopped with them and was listening with interest.
"As I said, I don't know what they're going to ask Dex to do. But I got the feeling that it's something big and important and something that only he can do because of who and what he is."
"They need an Oriad?" Dex asked quietly.
"Yes. That's the impression that I got." Agent Roberts confirmed.
"Let's go in and see what D has to say about it." Jai told his son gently, then quietly added, "If you decide that you want to do it, I won't stand in your way."
Dex pulled his father into a quick firm hug.
Agent Roberts smiled at the scene, then followed the father and son into the dining room.
To Be Continued...
That was sweet. It's nice to see that Dex's dad is willing to allow him to be himself, and not restrict him from improving himself and at the same time help others.
I think the fact that Agent Roberts and saw how he reacted to the situation, gave him somewhat of a boost with regard to the magic users other than his family. Maybe he will gain a bit more respect toward the individual people themselves and not judge them harshly just because of their abilities.
I guess we will just have to wait and see how things go during dinner.
At least it looks as if he is going to let Dex take part in the mission.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher