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"So who are you proposing that we have cast the spells?" Mr. Hansen asked warily.
"I believe that all of us should work collectively to craft the spells. They will no doubt be complex and need to be synchronously cast in order to bind them effectively."
No one spoke, all of them waiting for Professor Everstone to reveal which of them would perform the actual spellcasting.
"But once crafted, I believe that it would be best if Miss Oaken, Mr. Hansen and I were to take on the actual spellcasting duties for ourselves."
The fear in Mr. Hansen's eyes was evident. Although Miss Oaken did a better job of hiding it, Agent Roberts suspected that she was no less afraid of the suggestion.
"It won't work." Paul stated simply. The amount of certainty in his voice was surprising.
"I know that channeling such an amount of elemental magic will be challenging, but I believe that if each of us refines our focus on our objectives, that we will be able to wield the magic effectively." Professor Everstone said carefully.
Agent Roberts suspected that Professor Everstone wasn't nearly as certain as he pretended to be.
"I'm sorry to disagree with you Professor, but it won't work. While you might be able to cast your crafted spells, the amount of magic we're talking about is too much for just three people to channel. But even if you could get past that, there's no way that you'll be able to access the combined magic released by the greater diagram. No group of witches could ever access that magic directly. If they could, then the diagram would not have been left in this world. It would be too dangerous to be allowed."
"How do you know that?" Miss Oaken asked curiously.
"That's kinda hard to explain. I've been told that demons don't use spellbooks. I don't know if it's a collective consciousness kind of thing or maybe I was born with certain knowledge locked away inside me until it's needed for something. However it works, I just sometimes know what I need to know when I need to know it." Paul said frankly.
"Why would the diagram have been constructed in the first place if it can't be used?" Mr. Hansen asked cautiously.
"It can't be directly accessed by witches. That's one of the failsafes built into the interconnected master diagram." Paul explained.
"Does that mean that we should ask Archdruid Highley to call the angels to help us?" Zanner hesitantly suggested.
"I doubt that they'd come. But even if they did, that wouldn't work either. The spell diagram is built so that no single group can have access to all that power. The people who access it have to be balanced against each other for it to work. The phrase 'balance of humours' keeps turning up in my mind, even though I don't know exactly what that means in this context." Paul finished uncomfortably.
"Well, that doesn't sound too bad. I mean, for a minute there I thought you were going to tell us that we needed to get a god to do this." Agent Roberts said honestly.
"Actually, an elder god could do it a lot more easily than any of us. For that matter, so could a collective of lower gods. But when it comes to the lesser beings, no single group can access the magic. It's designed that way so that no one group can hold this power over another. They have to come together and agree to work for the benefit of all."
"But you say it can't be done by witches, right?" Mr. Hansen asked to confirm.
"No. Dex might be able to do it, that is, if he could do spellcasting. As far as I know, I'm the only other person here who could take part in unlocking the magic." Paul carefully explained.
"But you're a witch..." Mr. Hansen slowly reminded him.
"That's not all that I am. My demonality should be enough to allow me to take part in the ritual. Like I said, being a demon, I couldn't unlock it all by myself, but I could be part of a team that did it."
"But you're only a half demon." Miss Oaken reminded him.
"A full demon can't exist incarnate in this dimension for very long. A half being is actually our best bet at being able to successfully access the power... maybe there is a reason for someone like me to exist, after all."
"But in order to access the magic of the greater diagram, you would require a balancing force, right?" Mr. Hansen asked slowly.
"Forces. It will take at least three opposing forces to unlock the thing. After that, someone will have to be able to command the magic... I'm thinking that there will need to be a lot more of us to safely do that." Paul said seriously.
"Do you already have anyone in mind for the balancing forces?" Agent Roberts asked curiously.
"No. The best I can come up with is asking Archdruid Highley if he can get in contact with someone for us." Paul said honestly.
"Hold that thought for a minute. First, tell me about the third person you're going to need to balance this thing out." Agent Roberts said firmly, then explained, "I understand how demons and angels could balance each other, but who else would you need?"
"That would have to be a magical being from one of the natural realms; a leprechaun or a sprite, maybe." Paul said thoughtfully.
"Or a witch?" Agent Roberts cautiously suggested.
"No. Witches, humans, vampires and a few others are considered to be too 'civilized' to be counted as natural creatures. What would be needed is a magical being close to nature. While angels and demons argue about good and evil, right and wrong, the natural creatures tend to be more focused on survival, things like food, shelter and maintaining a certain level of security. No single group holds all the answers." Paul said distantly, almost as though he were reading the text aloud.
"What about the Wudewas? I don't remember, do they have any magical abilities?" G asked curiously.
"Yes. They would be excellent candidates and as I recall they possess a reasonable level of what's commonly termed as 'practical magic'." Professor Everstone said informatively.
"Which leaves us to find some angels to recruit." Paul said gravely.
"Actually, I may be able to help you with that." Agent Roberts said thoughtfully.
Everyone waited for Agent Roberts to organize his thoughts and reveal his plan.
"I met a few people while we were at the protectorate and I think that at least one of them may be able to help us."
"Reaper?" Zanner asked curiously.
"Yes. In fact, if we asked him, he might be able to find a few others who would be willing to participate." Agent Roberts said seriously.
"Is this person you're talking about an angel?" Paul asked cautiously.
"Reaper is a Nephilim, the child of an angel and... presumably a human." Agent Roberts explained.
"If there's going to be more than one, we're probably going to have to balance out the power by inviting a few more demons." Paul said frankly.
"Would it be better if I invited Reaper alone?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"No. More is better. I'm not a full demon and we're going to be dealing with a butt-load of magic, so we're going to need all the help we can get. The only thing is, we're going to have to be sure that we've got about the same level of magic on all sides so that we can release the magical flow evenly." Paul said seriously.
"Do you know of some other cambions that you can call upon for help?" Professor Everstone asked Paul curiously.
"No. I've never met anyone else who's like me. But I know a few minor demons. If I call my dad real quick, I can get him to contact Nicholas and Amelia and let them know that I'm going to borrow their demons for a little bit. Them along with Mah Zah and Ginh Zah should be able to offset a few Nephilim."
"We're working under the assumption that the Wudewas will be willing and able to take part in our plan. That is by no means a foregone conclusion." Professor Everstone warned.
"How much are they going to have to do?" Agent Roberts asked thoughtfully.
"How do you mean?" Professor Everstone asked curiously.
"I mean, since they had to ask for our help, how certain are we that they have the necessary skills to access the magic required for what we're planning to do?"
"To my knowledge, you've had the most exposure to them. Have you witnessed them performing any magic at all?" Professor Everstone asked cautiously.
"No. That's why I brought it up. What if they don't know how to use their natural magic? They've been separated from their people for centuries. What if that knowledge has been lost? Is that going to be a problem for us?"
"I honestly don't know if that will be a problem or not. I'm not sure how much 'participation' will be expected of them." Professor Everstone admitted, then looked to Paul with question.
"Actually, for the part that we'll need them for, they shouldn't have to do much. They'll mostly just have to be there. But there will have to be someone to link them together, call up their power and control it." Paul said thoughtfully.
"Is there any reason for us to believe that the Wudewas have someone who can do that?" Agent Roberts persisted.
"While it's possible that they might have a Shaman or the equivalent amongst them, it's by no means a foregone conclusion." Professor Everstone admitted.
"But what if we had someone who knew how to cast a spell to stand with them? We could make it work that way, right?" Agent Roberts asked to verify his understanding.
"Yes. Except that it would have to be a natural being. None of us could do that for them." Paul said firmly.
"What about a fairy? Would someone like that be natural enough?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"As long as they can manage basic spellcasting, that actually could work." Paul said slowly.
"Are you thinking of asking Milo to help us?" Mr. Hansen asked hesitantly.
"We've had an opportunity to talk and come to sort of an understanding of each other. I think that if I explain what we're trying to do, that he'll be willing to help." Agent Roberts explained.
"If we're going to enlist the aid of the Wudewas, we're going to need Agent Fastbeck to open their barrier and talk to them. He's the only one who can communicate with their people." Professor Everstone said thoughtfully.
"I can call him as soon as we're done here." Agent Roberts said simply, then added, "Tomorrow, I'm going to need to go to 'Nevermore' and see if Archdruid Highley, Milo and Reaper will all support our plan. If any of them aren't willing to go along with it, we're going to need to make other arrangements."
"Before we do that, I would like for us to discuss how we're going to conduct this ritual. Where should it be performed? Will it be safe for those who are not participating? Is this going to pose a danger to Dexter, channeling this amount of magic?" Professor Everstone asked carefully.
"Only those unlocking the power will enter the vinculum chamber. Those lending their power, support and control for the unlocking will be outside." Paul said distantly.
"Is it necessary for those outside to have the 'balance of humours' or will the witches be able to participate?" Agent Roberts asked carefully.
"Only the people who enter the vinculum have to be aligned. We're going to be the keys that open the lock. Once the magic is unlocked, it's mostly going to be up to everyone else to put it to use." Paul said seriously.
"Where is the vinculum chamber? Is it somewhere that we can get to it?" Miss Oaken asked cautiously.
"The information that I have is about how a spell diagram site like this one works. I don't know the specifics of this diagram." Paul reluctantly admitted.
"Do you know which barrier it's located in?" Mr. Hansen asked slowly.
"Or if it's in Waxell?" Zanner interjected.
When the adults looked at him quizzically, he explained, "Since Waxell is at the center of the diagram, it'd kinda make sense if the spell chamber to use the diagram was located there too."
"He makes a good point." Professor Everstone admitted.
"Yes. The symmetry of diagramming would suggest that the spell chamber should be at a central location." Miss Oaken slowly confirmed.
"If that's the case, then we should be able to make a diagram on a map and pinpoint the most likely place for it. That could at least give us a place to start looking." Agent Roberts said thoughtfully.
"We can work on that in the morning. Before we go any further, I'd like for us to outline our objectives for casting the spell. We need to be sure that the end result is worth the risk and that the same objective can't be accomplished a simpler and safer way." Professor Everstone said firmly.
"We need to erect an 'always on' barrier to protect the people of Brynnhollow. Without it, they're under constant threat of being targeted, like the Wudewas were." G stated simply.
"And unless you know some tricks that we haven't heard about, using the three-barrier diagram is the only way that we can make something that big without calling in about a hundred extra people." Corabeth added supportively.
"While none of us wants to admit that we can't do everything on our own, we are responsible for the well-being of not only our team, but also the people within the barriers and the people of Waxell. We have to do what's best for them... even if that means calling in outside help." Professor Everstone said firmly.
"Before we actually do anything, I need to be sure that everyone is going to be safe." Agent Roberts said firmly. "Because, right now, it still sounds to me like Paul is setting himself up to be disintegrated when he taps into the massive magical reserve of the meta-diagram." Agent Roberts said frankly.
"As I understand the dynamics of what's being suggested, Paul might actually be the safest of any of us. He's essentially being used as a key. Although he will allow the release of a staggering amount of magic, he won't actually be channeling it. In other words, Paul is opening a doorway, he isn't himself the door." Professor Everstone carefully explained.
"Okay. I think I get that." Agent Roberts said slowly, then thought to ask, "But what about Dex? When the magic starts flooding out, how likely is he to be washed away by it?"
"Dex and the relics access the magic of the natural elements of the world around us." Paul slowly stated, once again, as though he were reading aloud. "The spell we're going to be crafting will tap into the magically created elements within the barriers, giving us access to a unique storehouse of unpolluted magical power. Basically, Dex will channel the magic that will be used to turn the key and he will need to remain in place to help keep the lock open, but he won't be touched by the magical flow from the created elements, only by the earth element that he's been accessing all along."
"Okay, while I'm not sure that I completely understand all of what you're telling me, there are bigger questions to concentrate on. If Paul is the key and Dex empowers him, then who will be casting the spell to direct the magic to accomplish our goals?" Agent Roberts asked carefully.
"Actually, Paul will use the third grail to empower him, and Dex, by way of Zanner, will be empowering someone else, it sounds like Reaper at this point. But to answer your question, it will be necessary for all the spellcasters to draw upon and direct the magic to our use. We will need to be united in our vision and conduct a mass spelling at all the locations simultaneously." Professor Everstone said carefully.
"Wait. Are we talking about doing this at each barrier location or outside the vinculum chamber? ...the one that we haven't located yet." Agent Roberts asked to verify his understanding.
"Yes." Professor Everstone said simply, then explained, "Either or both."
"Wait! Wait! Hold on! That's the reservoir of magic that I was sensing at Southseid, isn't it? That's where the barriers connect to each other." Paul said in realization.
"So the vinculum chamber is actually a tunnel?" Agent Roberts asked carefully.
Before anyone could respond, Agent Roberts put the pieces together and speculatively asked, "Or does the vinculum chamber exist in several places simultaneously?"
"Shouldn't we think about calling upon those who created this thing so that they can solve this problem themselves? This seems to be quite a bit out of our league." Mr. Hansen asked cautiously.
After a long silent moment, Agent Roberts finally said, "I think that may be exactly what we're doing here. They left us the tools and the clues of how to solve this problem ourselves. This may actually be some kind of a test to see if we have the courage and ingenuity to deal with a situation like this on our own."
"Why would you think something like that?" Professor Everstone asked curiously.
"When I was talking with Reaper, I got the feeling that we were expected. It was like everything that we were doing had been scripted and that we were going through the motions in a predetermined series of events." Agent Roberts said carefully.
"So, do you think perhaps that they had foreseen all of this by way of an augury?" Mr. Hansen asked speculatively.
"Maybe some of it... or maybe they intentionally designed things the way that they did so that when the time came, we'd at least have a chance to deal with all of this on our own." Agent Roberts said slowly.
"If we aren't able to resolve the situation by ourselves, do you think that they have a backup plan in place to save the colonies?" Miss Oaken asked anxiously.
"No. The test would be meaningless without any real stakes." Agent Roberts immediately answered.
"I agree. Gods see the lives of lesser beings as being a reasonable price to pay to gain knowledge..." Professor Everstone said before he was interrupted.
"...or to prove a point." Miss Oaken interjected bitterly with a slight nod.
"Elder gods have little regard for people like us. While I've never known of them being intentionally cruel, I also haven't heard of them doing anything to benefit us except when it serves their own purposes." Professor Everstone told the group.
"So let me see if I got this straight." Agent Roberts said in prelude. "When it was time to establish the three colonies, someone in power, a god most likely, arranged for the colonies to be established in the pattern of a spell diagram. Right?"
"I suspect that the current Brynnhollow colony is the second to be located on that site, but otherwise I would agree with your assessment." Professor Everstone said frankly.
"Okay. So when they set all this up, they made it so that people like us could make changes or otherwise help the people inside the barriers when they needed it."
"Yes. And it wouldn't be out of character for the gods to deliberately make helping the people within the barriers a challenge for us. For that matter, it wouldn't surprise me if they even set traps, so that in the midst of everything else, we can still have an opportunity to behave valiantly and prove ourselves worthy in their eyes."
"What happens if we don't go along with it?"
"Do you mean if we decide not to take the risk and choose to leave the Brynnhollow barrier the way that we found it?" Professor Everstone asked to clarify.
"Yes. What if we just do what we know we can do safely?" Agent Roberts explained.
"Most likely nothing will happen right away. In fact, it could be decades before the consequences of our inaction are revealed. But make no mistake, there will be consequences."
"So all of this has been a setup?"
"Perhaps. In a sense. The evidence would suggest that all this was arranged in advance with specific intent, but we can't be sure that we were in any way the target of the plan. Our inclusion in all of this may be nothing more than an unfortunate happenstance on our part."
"So anyone who had been chosen to work on the barriers would be facing the same problems?" Agent Roberts asked slowly.
"We can't be certain of that." Professor Everstone immediately answered, then explained, "Even in the unlikely event that another team had been able to uncover all that we have, it's by no means certain that they would have come to the same conclusions. Regardless what decisions we end up making, another group might have taken an entirely different path. We may very well have stumbled onto an opportunity that would not have been realized otherwise."
"How sure are you that doing nothing will have unfortunate consequences?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"Although I am typically loathed to use such contemporary phraseology, I believe that in this instance it conveys the proper sentiment..."
"What would that be, Professor?"
"If we don't do this, it's going to come back and bite us in the ass." Professor Everstone said with conviction.
After a moment to consider, Agent Roberts quietly said, "Understood."
"So... what have we just decided?" Mr. Hansen asked cautiously.
"We haven't decided anything. We're still discussing possibilities." Professor Everstone assured him.
"If we use the meta-diagram, we're going to need at least three powered beings to unlock it. For the sake of discussion, let's say that Paul, Reaper And Milo are going to do that." Agent Roberts said slowly.
Everyone seemed to tentatively accept the assignments.
"The three keys will need to be supported by properly aligned beings of power, those being Paul's demons, the Nephilim and the Wudewas." Agent Roberts continued.
"Assuming that what we believe about their magical gifts is true, yes." Professor Everstone slowly confirmed.
"The next step back from that would be the witches to use the released magic to perform the spell." Agent Roberts said as he cautiously looked around.
"Yes. Although we will need to be certain about the crafting of the spell before we reach that point." Professor Everstone said thoughtfully.
"What about the relics? What role will the holders of the relics play? And how is Paul being one of the keys going to effect that?"
"The holders of the relics will have to act as support for the keys. But you bring up a good point about Paul. It may be necessary for us to ask Mr. Bentley Brown to hold the third grail."
"Where is Mr. Bentley Brown?"
"He went to his room as soon as he finished his dinner."
"Do you think that he'll help us?"
"He will or he won't. If he refuses, we'll have to call someone else in. There's no one else on the team who can wield that power."
"I'm stronger than I look. If you need me to, I'd be willing to try." Filipe timidly volunteered.
"Thank you for that, Filipe. But your elemental affinity is such that you won't be able to hold the relic. It has nothing to do with your strength or experience. You simply aren't compatible. None of us are." Professor Everstone said seriously, then added, "You were chosen to be on this team due to the abilities that you possess that Paul doesn't. Your opposite abilities are your strength."
"Up to now, Conrad, Archdruid Highley and I have all been needed to gain access to the barriers. What do you think the chances are that we're going to be needed for something like that during all of this?" Agent Roberts asked thoughtfully.
"Paul? Do you have any insights into the matter?" Professor Everstone asked cautiously.
After a moment to consider, Paul slowly shook his head and said, "The stuff that I know is very general. I really don't know either way."
"Since it has been proven that the three of you have the ability to allow witches access to the barriers, it's reasonable to assume that you might be called upon to do so at some point during this ritual." Professor Everstone said carefully.
"Okay. I'm not trying to piss anyone off here, but I need to be sure that the terms are defined so that everyone understands them and that we're all on the same page about what we're planning to do." Agent Roberts explained.
"Proceed." Professor Everstone said simply.
"So, if I'm getting this right, we're planning to get Paul and the other aligned 'lesser' beings of power to act as the keys to allow us access to the pure and unnatural 'created' magic.
"Dex and the relics are going to 'fuel' them and with the help of the relic holders will, in essence, 'turn' the keys.
"The 'humans' may or may not be necessary to grant access to the existing barriers.
"While all that's going on, the witches are going to craft some kind of crazy ultra-complicated spell to fix Brynnhollow's barrier.
"And as soon as all of that is in place, then anyone and everyone who can cast a spell is going to try and cast exactly the same spell at exactly the same time in order to take advantage of the unique fountain of magic that you'll have access to this one and only time... Right? Am I missing anything?" Agent Roberts asked slowly.
"Although a bit simplified, I believe it covers the salient facts." Professor Everstone agreed.
"Professor, I'm concerned with the logistics of directing so much magic. It seems that there will need to be a lot more of us." Miss Oaken said anxiously.
"Yes. We do seem to be a bit sparse on magical practitioners." Professor Everstone agreed, then continued, "However, you might try thinking of what we're planning to do as something of a caravan."
After a moment to puzzle over that, Agent Roberts was finally the one to ask, "How's that, Professor?"
"Take the Wudewas, for example. If all goes to plan, Milo will unlock the magic with a certain number of the Wudewas people behind him. Those who do not participate in unlocking the power could act as distributed reservoirs of the created magic, waiting for the spellcaster to put their reserves of magic to use." Professor Everstone carefully explained.
"So each of the spellcasters is a 'driver' and will have many passengers, helping them ferry their load of the created magic to its destination?" Agent Roberts carefully asked to verify his understanding.
"Yes. With that approach, we can limit the number of spellcasters but also safely channel the necessary amount of magic."
"I'm curious to know, what about the druids and their followers? They're not 'technically' magical beings, but having been blessed they might still be able to contribute... something. Otherwise, it appears that I will be the only spellcaster at the Nevermore site who doesn't already have other commitments." Mr. Hansen explained anxiously.
"You may possibly have some Nephilim support with the spellcasting... although I can't say if that will be a help or hindrance to our cause." Professor Everstone said slowly.
Mr. Hansen nodded his acknowledgement.
"Since Archdruid Highley has seen fit to invite outside people, and if they have indeed been 'blessed', in the traditional sense, then they could theoretically be used to collect and store the magic to a point where it could be manageable by a single witch." Professor Everstone said slowly.
"I'm guessing that the spellcasting is going to need to take place outside the vinculum chamber or chambers. Although no one's said as much, I'm assuming that the chambers will be located inside the barriers. Will the Archdruid's followers have to enter the protectorate in order to provide their 'support'? And if that's the case, do we really want to open that can of worms?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"If the magic being used were of a smaller scale, then that might be an issue. However, considering that everyone involved will physically be 'inside' the diagram, I don't see any need for that." Professor Everstone said consideringly.
"So, Paul and the other aligned 'lesser' beings of power will be inside the vinculum, Dex and the relics will be outside. Conrad, Archdruid Highley and I will be present, on site, in case we are needed. Then the witches and any other spellcasters will be... anywhere inside the spell diagram? Am I getting that right?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"Technically, I suppose that is correct. However, I believe that those of us actually performing the spells will need to be near the vinculum chambers so that we will know when it is time for us to begin." Professor Everstone said thoughtfully.
"Would it help if I got us some walkie talkies or something so that we'll be able to communicate?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.
"No. Given the distances involved and the unusual amount of different energies at play, I don't think such devices will be able to function dependably." Professor Everstone said gravely.
"I could probably come up with something if I could talk to my technomagic teacher about it." Paul quietly volunteered.
"How long do you think something like that might take?" Professor Everstone asked curiously.
"Probably a lot more time than we have." Paul admitted, then added, "But just in case it ends up being necessary, I thought that I should let you know that it may be possible."
"Yes. Thank you, Paul." Professor Everstone said sincerely.
"So, what do we need to be doing right now to get this thing going?" Agent Roberts asked curiously.
"Sleeping." Professor Everstone said seriously, then added, "We've had a productive discussion and come up with the beginnings of what appears to be a workable idea. The best thing we can do at this point is for each of us to get some much needed rest and consider what's been discussed and what next steps we can take as a result."
"I need to call my dad. It'll only take me a minute." Paul quickly interjected.
"I need to call Conrad, too." Agent Roberts said simply.
"Goodnight everyone. Get some good rest. Tomorrow promises to be an eventful day." Professor Everstone said as he slowly stood.
"Goodnight Professor." Agent Roberts said respectfully.
"Paul, I'll go with you. I want to talk to Dad for a minute while you've got him on the phone." G said as he stood to join his brother.
* * * * *
As Paul and G made their call, Agent Roberts walked around the house to be sure that everything was closed up for the night.
After a quick call to Conrad to let him know that they would be meeting in the morning, Agent Roberts made his way to his room.
When he walked into his bathroom and saw his reflection, he quietly said, "I hope you didn't feel too left out tonight. We had some important things going on."
His reflection gave an unconcerned grin and a slight shrug in response.
"Good. I'm glad you're not mad." Agent Roberts said quietly, then thought to add, "Good night."
His reflection simply nodded in response.
Agent Roberts crawled into bed and his last thought was of a tenderly smiling pair of lips...
...smiling just for him.
To Be Continued...
Editor's Notes: I can't help thinking of the song, "Reflections," by the Supremes, and "You Must Believe In Magic." By Jack Clement. Both songs appear on youtube.