Parvenu: Book Two - All Hallows' Eve

Chapter 1

"Well, even though we went through a rough patch, everything seems to have turned out alright." D said as he approached the boys with Beth at his side.

               'A rough patch? I'd hate to see what he considers full-on chaos!'

"All's well that ends well." G cheerfully supplied.

"But that's the best part. This is only the beginning." D said warmly as he cuddled Beth to his side.

"Are you alright, Paul?" Beth asked gently.

               'Am I alright about finding out that my biological father is literally a demon?'

               'Am I alright about watching everyone I love almost get killed?'

               'Am I alright about finding out that everything that I always believed to be true turned out to be lies?'

"I'll have to get back to you on that." Paul slowly answered.

"By the way, have you had enough time to think about adoption? Yes? No? Maybe?" D asked curiously. His seemingly casual tone was in stark contrast to the seriousness of his question.

Paul couldn't help but smile at D's directness and quietly answered, "Yes."

"Good." D said with satisfaction, then a curious look came over his face before he hesitantly asked, "Was that 'yes', that you've had enough time? Or 'yes', that you want to be adopted?"

Paul laughed aloud at the question, then said, "Both. And before you ask, the answer to your next question is also, 'yes'. I do want to have my name changed."

"Good. I'm glad." D said sincerely, then quietly added, "I'll get to work on that as soon as we get back to the States."

"Okay." Paul agreed as G put an arm around him and hugged him tightly.

"Right answer?" Paul asked with a smile.

"Very right." G assured him as he continued to unabashedly hold him.

* * * * *

Once D and Beth had moved on to talk to some of their wedding guests, Nazzy and Vinda approached as one and Nazzy immediately asked, "A demon, huh?"

"Is that a problem?" Paul asked cautiously.

"A problem?! That's the most awesome-cool thing EVER!" Nazzy nearly yelled.

Paul looked at G uncertainly.

"Demons have fanboys. Don't ask me why." G said simply.

"Are you a demon fanboy?" Paul asked with a grin.

"I never was before, but I'm beginning to understand the appeal." G said warmly.

"I just think it's wonderful that you're one of us! I don't like having to be careful about what I can and can't talk about." Vinda said frankly.

"I'm just glad that you decided to be my friends anyway, even when you thought I was... normal." Paul finished quietly.

"Well, of course we were! If G likes you, then we kinda have to like you, too." Nazzy said frankly.

"We'd at least have to try." Vinda agreed, then quickly added, "But I guess it's just good for us that G wouldn't like someone who was a jerk."

"So, from the look of it, you just found out about witches when G's mom showed up and the magic started flying around." Nazzy said speculatively.

"Yeah. I had a feeling that something was off... but I probably could have explained that away as having to do with being in a fourteenth century castle on Halloween." Paul said frankly.

"Where is everybody going?" Vinda asked suddenly as she looked around curiously.

"The reception! We're missing the food!" Nazzy yelped.

Paul and G shared a smile at his reaction.

As Nazzy and Vinda hurried away, G put a hand on Paul's arm to hold him back and quietly asked, "Are you really alright?"

"There's a lot that I don't understand and I'm a little bit scared of what I'm going to find out. But as long as I've got you and my mom and your dad... I think that I'll be okay." Paul said honestly.

"Good. We'd better hurry up and get in there before Nazzy hogs all the eye of newt." G said with a grin.

"You're kidding? Aren't you?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Probably."

* * * * *

There was no doubt that the meal was a celebration. The center of the table was heaped with every kind of food imaginable... and then some.

Everyone in attendance was chattering amiably with everyone else while they ate.

Paul was a little bit overwhelmed by it, seeing as he'd never been around ANY family before. But he was also grateful that none of the family were making a big deal over his transformation earlier.

               'I'm a demon... well, a half-demon.'

               'I don't even know how to be a half-demon. What do they do?'

"When we're done eating, how about we find someplace private where we can do some magic?" Nazzy suggested hopefully.

"Paul and I did some exploring, yesterday. It looks like there are lots of good places that we can go where no one will bother us." G assured him.

"Just make sure there's lot's of room. My zombies need room to move around." Nazzy reminded him.

"This place has, like, a thousand rooms. We'll find a good one."

               'They all seem so casual about it. I guess it wouldn't hurt if I asked them some questions.'

"Can each of you do only one kind of magic, or is there magic that works for everyone?" Paul asked curiously.

"Vinda? This is more your thing than ours." G said frankly.

"Yeah. Let Vinda explain it, she understands it best." Nazzy confirmed between bites of food.

"It's not that hard." Vinda said with a roll of her eyes, then looked at Paul and explained, "It comes down to your power, your natural ability and your control. There are spells that call for more power than I have, so when I try them, they fail. There are spells that are too different from my natural ability, so those usually fail, too. And the worst is when you cast a spell that doesn't fail, but you aren't strong enough to control it. Then just about anything can happen."

G nodded, then said, "Some people's primary ability is transformation, so their magic really only works on them."

"Well, some of them can do 'basic magic', but they're usually pretty weak at it." Vinda gently added.

"What's 'basic magic'?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Alignments, tangentials, lagoriths..." G said in a bored tone before noticing the 'totally lost' expression that Paul was wearing.

"The 'basic magic' is a collection of simple spells that most witches can do. They're nothing flashy, but they can make life easier." Nazzy said simply.

"Right. But the more complex the spell, the more likely it is that you won't be able to cast it, unless it falls into your specialty." Vinda said seriously.

"Try thinking of it like a tree. You're on a branch, I'm on a branch, Nazzy and Vinda are each on a branch. The trunk is where the basic spells are, that most witches can use. Nazzy and Vinda's branches are both close together, since they're both summoners. But their specialties are different enough that they can't use each other's spells... You haven't crossed over yet, have you?" G asked curiously.

"Not yet. Maybe when we get stronger." Nazzy confirmed, then thoughtfully added, "Once he gets some training, Paul might be able to use some of our spells, too, since his ability seems to be rooted in summoning."

"I don't know if 'demon summoning' works differently or how far removed it is. I've never even met a demon summoner before." G said frankly.

"Are they rare?" Paul asked cautiously.

"I don't know. They could be. I just know that we don't have any in our family." G said frankly.

"Until now." Nazzy added with a smile.

"And I guess you should know that 'demon summoners' have kind of a bad reputation among some groups of witches." Vinda reluctantly said.

               'That doesn't sound good.'

"Not that we're like that!" Nazzy quickly interrupted.

"Right." G confirmed, then playfully added, "Some of my best friends are 'demon summoners'."

Paul smiled at the declaration.

"It's not like they're hated or hunted or anything like that. Some people just look at their type of magic as being a little 'blacker' than they're comfortable with." Vinda said seriously.

"So, they think that we're evil?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Yeah. Mostly." Nazzy said with a casual shrug, then quickly added, "But not everyone thinks that way. Some of us really respect that you have such a cool and powerful ability."

"Fanboy." G said to Nazzy with a smirk.

"I think that the people who disapprove see your specialty of magic as being evil. Not you." Vinda patiently corrected.

"Big difference." Nazzy huffed.

"Nazzy, you summon zombies. Some of the 'Rainbows and Unicorns' crowd look down on you just as much as they look down on demon summoners." Vinda said frankly.

There was a long moment of silence, then G quietly said, "Try not to worry about it too much. Most witches today know that the power you're born with is the luck of the draw. It's really only the hoity-toity bunch who pay any attention to that."

"Yeah. Since they're born with sparkly fluffy bunny magic, they think that they're better than everyone else." Nazzy said wearily.

"Are there a lot of witches like that?" Paul asked with concern.

"I don't know. We tend to travel in different circles. Let's just say that I know that there are some of them around." G said frankly.

"From what I saw during the fight, I don't think we have any fluffy bunnies here." Nazzy said frankly.

G laughed, then said, "No. The closest we have to that are my cousins Grace and Wanda and during the fight, they were out there, defending Grandma B."

"Which ones were they?" Paul asked cautiously as he tried to remember the details of the battle.

"In their fairy forms, they look like little girls with wings." G said simply.

"I remember them! That was brave of them to jump out in front of that attack." Paul said seriously.

"Yeah." G agreed, then continued, "Most of us are stronger and more resistant to damage in our transformed states... well, except for me."

"I don't know how strong you are, but you sure do look awesome." Paul assured him.

G seemed to consider for a moment, then smiled and said, "I guess that's almost as good."

               'I won't let anyone hurt you.'

Before their conversation could continue, the sound of a spoon clinking against the side of a glass drew everyone's attention.

Paul turned to see D standing with Beth at his side.

"I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for sharing in our wedding. The preliminary excitement notwithstanding, all of you helped to make this day special for us as well as making it one of the more 'memorable' weddings in recent history." D said warmly.

A few chuckles floated around the table at D's playful words.

"To add to the joy of this day, my new wife's son has accepted my offer to adopt him and has also chosen to accept our family name. Everyone, please join me in welcoming Paul Darroch into the family." D said in a booming voice.

A round of applause rose up and a few of the more vocal members of the family let out 'woops' of joy.

               'Maybe not being part of a family wasn't so bad.'

               'At least it was quieter... and I didn't have a room full of people looking at me.'

Paul could feel his face reddening and had to fight the urge to crawl under the table.

Unexpectedly, G reached over and put an arm around Paul, then gave him a firm kiss on the cheek.

As much as Paul wanted to hide before, now the only thing that he wanted was to simply cease to exist.

"Starting a new family and a new life can be a challenge. Knowing that all of you are supporting us will help to carry us through the hills and valleys that are to come. Thank you, all of you, for standing with us." D said sincerely.

               'Okay. I guess when he puts it like that, maybe having a family isn't so bad.'

Paul watched as D and Beth walked, arm in arm, away from their place at the table and out the door.

As Paul noticed various people around the table getting up from their chairs, G quietly said, "Let's go."

"Where to next?" Paul asked curiously.

"Let's go find a place to do some magic." G answered simply.

"I need to go back to our room and get some more shoes. My other ones didn't survive the wedding." Paul said quietly.

"Sounds like a plan. You ready?" G asked with a smile.

Paul looked around and saw that Nazzy and Vinda were expectantly waiting for his agreement.

Just as he was about to answer, Paul's attention was drawn by two people approaching.

"Welcome to the family, Paul. We're so glad to be having you." Kat said warmly.

"Thank you." Paul shyly responded.

"If this family function proceeds like most, we're probably going to be gathering into groups and catching each other up on what's been going on with our individual families and reminiscing about days gone by." Horst added.

Paul was rather proud of himself for not visibly cringing at the declaration.

"I'm having the feeling that, at a time like this, Tadhg might enjoy your company more than ours. Would you be minding if he joined you for a bit?" Kat asked hopefully.

Paul was confused for a moment, but then saw Toad peek one eye from behind his father's left side.

"We were planning to go to one of the unused rooms and practice our magic. Is that going to be a problem?" G asked cautiously.

"No. Not at all. Tadhg has just started learning his spellcasting. Although he's made respectable progress with his natural ability, I think it might be good for him to witness others who have progressed to the next level. It will show him what he will someday be able to achieve." Horst said thoughtfully.

"If Toad wants to go with us, we'll be happy to have him." G said easily.

"Thank you, G. I'm hoping all of you will be having a wonderful evening." Kat said warmly.

"Enjoy your walk down memory lane." G said with a slight smirk.

Horst squatted down to look his son in the eyes and quietly said, "Your mother and I will be in the sitting room, right over there, if you need us."

Toad slowly closed, then opened his eyes.

"Good. Have fun." Horst said before engulfing his son in a firm hug.

               'Yeah. That's what a dad should be.'

* * * * *

"Do you know where we're going?" Paul asked cautiously, enjoying the feeling of wearing shoes again.

Despite their previous explorations, Paul found that he didn't recognize the wing of the building that they were entering.

"No. But I think that we're far enough away from the great hall that we probably won't run into anyone else. We should be able to use any of these rooms." G said as he continued walking.

That being said, Nazzy walked to the nearest door and cautiously opened it.

After a moment, Vinda hesitantly asked, "What is it?"

"Dark." Nazzy said frankly.

Vinda rolled her eyes, then patiently asked, "Why don't you turn on the light?"

"That's what I'm trying to do. I just can't find the light switch." Nazzy said as he continued to feel along the wall inside the door.

"They probably don't have electricity in this part of the castle yet." G quietly offered.

"Oh. I didn't think of that." Vinda said with surprise.

"If we have to go to a part of the castle that has electricity, then we're probably going to be close to other people and get interrupted." Nazzy said cautiously.

Paul's eyes were drawn by a movement. He watched as Toad walked past Nazzy, into the dark room, all by himself.

A few seconds later, there was a flash, then a warm glowing light shining out through the doorway.

"Or we could just use magic." G said with a grin.

"I should have thought of that." Nazzy grumbled before walking into the room.

* * * * *

"Good work, Toad. Thanks." G said appreciatively as he walked into the large empty room. Paul noticed that the room was as bright as though it were being lit by the noonday sun, but at the same time, there wasn't a light source anywhere in evidence.

"What do you think this room was used for?" Vinda asked curiously as she looked around.

"I don't have a clue. In fact, I don't think that I've ever been in here before." G said honestly.

"Do you think it'll be alright if we do our magic in here?" Vinda asked cautiously.

"Yeah. As long as we don't make a mess, I don't think anyone will care." G said speculatively.

"Do you want to go first?" Nazzy asked G cautiously.

"No, you go ahead. Once you've got your zombies up and running, I can do my thing." G assured him.

"Thanks." Nazzy said appreciatively.

Paul watched curiously as Nazzy seemed to freeze in place.

The transformation wasn't as dramatic as some that Paul had witnessed earlier, but now that he was paying attention, he could see the color drain out of Nazzy's skin until it became an unnatural looking pasty white, with blue veins beginning to show through.

The next thing Paul noticed was the color fading from Nazzy's brown eyes. The brown turned first to hazel, then to blue. The color became lighter and lighter until it was such a pale blue that it was nearly white.

When Nazzy reached out his arms, Paul reflexively took a step back.

"Don't worry. Nazzy's got good control. You won't get hurt." G quietly assured him.

Before Paul could think of what to say in response, he saw a glowing figure start to emerge from the floor in front of Nazzy.

Paul could see Nazzy straining as he slowly lifted his arms, trying to pull the man-shaped figure up through the stone floor with the force of his will.

Just as had happened in the great hall, during the battle, as soon as the transparent glowing figure was completely above ground, it stopped glowing and became fully solid.

"Nice! You're getting a lot better at that." G said in an impressed voice.

Nazzy wilted with relief as he let out a slow gust of breath.

"By the way, where do you get the zombies from? Is this one of my relatives?" G asked curiously.

"I really don't know. I just do the summoning and I guess whatever 'remains' are closest answer my call." Nazzy said thoughtfully.

Paul blinked in surprise as he realized that what Nazzy was doing might easily be thought of as 'desecration'.

"But this isn't 'resurrection', it's 'reanimation'. Even if this is one of your ancestors, I'm not messing with their soul or disturbing their rest. This is just the meat." Nazzy said frankly.

               'Thanks for the clarification, Nazzy.'

               'Remind me not to bury anyone that I care about anywhere near you.'

"So, Paul, what do you think? Pretty cool, huh?" G asked with a smile.

Paul didn't want to lie, but in this instance he also didn't want to tell the whole truth. So, instead, he formulated a question to hopefully divert the conversation.

"Will the zombie do whatever you say?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Yeah, mostly. But I can only give it one or two word instructions. If I try to do much more than that, it usually just stops and won't do anything." Nazzy said frankly.

"How hard is it to send it back?" Paul asked curiously.

Nazzy smiled, then made a quick gesture with his hand.

The zombie immediately became transparent and sank through the floor.

"Did it go back to where you got it from? I mean, like, back to its grave?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Yeah... maybe... possibly... actually, I have no idea." Nazzy finally admitted.

               'That doesn't make me feel a whole lot better.'

"Vinda, do you want to go next?" G asked curiously.

"Yeah. I can do a little one, just to show Paul what it is that I do." Vinda said easily as she took a small book out of her back pocket.

"I'm going to summon another zombie while she's doing that." Nazzy said quietly, careful not to disturb Vinda as she began chanting.

G nodded either his agreement or his acknowledgement.

Paul watched Vinda carefully, to see if he could detect any type of transformation as she read aloud.

Although he didn't see any change in her appearance, her voice seemed to have gained an 'echoing' quality and no matter how closely Paul tried to listen, he couldn't seem to make out the words that Vinda was saying. He was certain that she was speaking in some language that he wasn't familiar with, but what he was hearing was different. Her words were somehow muffled or slurred to the point that he couldn't distinguish an identifiable sequence of sounds.

Paul lost track of time as he continued to watch.

Even though he had been looking at her the entire time that she had been reading aloud, he hadn't noticed the formation of a slight aura of light surrounding her. When he finally realized that it was there, he wasn't completely sure if he were really seeing it or not. It was the sort of thing that seemed like it might disappear if he blinked his eyes.

A wisp of smoke began to rise into the air.

As Vinda finally stopped reading, she smiled at the five or six inch ribbon of smoke right in front of her.

"What is it?" Paul asked cautiously.

"A ghost." Vinda said proudly.

"Of a person?" Paul asked uneasily.

"Probably, yeah." Vinda said simply.

"The ghost of who?" Paul asked, although he wasn't sure that he really wanted to know.

"I don't know. I can't communicate with the little ones, like this. But if I call up a bigger one, I can ask them for their name." Vinda said seriously.

"Is this another one of G's relatives?" Paul asked nervously.

               'I guess I can see why she's Nazzy's girlfriend.'

"I don't know... maybe." Vinda reluctantly admitted, then tried to explain, "I use the spell to summon the type of spirit that I want, to come and do my bidding."

"What would you ask it to do?" Paul asked quietly.

"A little one like this? Not much. I could get it to knock on a window or ring a bell. It might be strong enough to blow out a candle, but that would be pushing it." Vinda said thoughtfully.

"What good would that do in a fight, like at the wedding?" Paul asked curiously.

"Oh, that! No, I wouldn't summon a ghost like this for battle." Vinda said quickly, then explained, "At the wedding, I was trying to summon a wraith. They're a type of spirit that's good at fighting."

"I don't know anything about wraiths. Is that a kind of ghost, too?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Yes. It's just like a regular ghost, but angrier. I use my summons to focus on their anger to bring them here, then I tell them who to attack." Vinda said seriously.

"What are you going to do with this one?" Paul asked quietly as he looked at the little ribbon of smoke slowly twisting in front of her.

"I'm going to send it back to where it came from. I just called it up because this spell is a fairly easy one and I wanted to show you my ability." Vinda said, then made a gesture with her hand as she muttered a simple phrase at the ghost before her.

As soon as the words were spoken, the little bluish-white twist of smoke dispersed into nothing.

               'That was...'

               '...sad?'

               '...disrespectful?'

               '...unforgivable?'

               'Or maybe I should just start thinking of this as the new normal.'

Paul looked toward G and noticed that he was looking down at Toad.

"Do you want to show Paul your ability, too?" G asked gently.

A slight smile crossed Toad's lips, then he slowly closed, and then opened his eyes.

"Just don't poison anyone." G warned him.

Toad sat down on the floor, then started taking off his shoes and socks.

Paul looked at G with question to receive a shrug in response.

It took a moment before Toad was ready, but when he finally stood, he looked at Paul with a shy smile.

Paul smiled in return.

In a flash of movement, almost too fast for Paul to see, Toad was across the room, in a crouched position.

"How'd he do that?" Paul asked without thinking.

"You'd have to ask him." G said with an impish grin.

Paul watched Toad carefully, then blinked when Toad seemed to have vanished.

"Up there." G said as he pointed upward.

Paul followed G's pointing finger and was surprised to find Toad hanging from one of the rafters, nearly fifteen feet overhead. His webbed toes appeared to be almost like fingers, holding on to the beam.

He couldn't help but notice that Toad's appearance had changed. Toad was still recognizable as being himself, but his skin appeared to be slightly darker and... honestly... just what one might think of as being appropriate for a toad.

In one fluid move, Toad dropped from the rafter to land in a crouch, right in front of Paul and G.

"Nice moves!" G said appreciatively.

"Yeah! That was great!" Paul said sincerely.

Toad looked up at them, then slowly closed his eyes, then just as slowly, reopened them.

* * * * *

"Paul, do you want to go next?" G asked hopefully.

"I don't know how to make it work... or if I even can." Paul said honestly.

"From what we saw you do at the wedding, it looks like you can bring them up, but the big question is, are you going to be able to put them back?" Nazzy said seriously.

G nodded his agreement, then added, "But even if you don't summon anything, you can at least try out your magical form."

"My what?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Your magical form. Right now, since you're new at it, you'll probably have to transform to do any magic at all. But once you learn how to control it, you might be able to do magic in your human form, too..."

"I'm not human?" Paul asked with surprise.

"No. You're a witch." Nazzy said simply.

"A half-witch, actually." G gently corrected.

"Right. But as far as I know, it should work about the same." Nazzy said consideringly.

G shrugged, then turned to Paul and said, "From what I've heard, there used to be a lot of different kinds of witches, and a lot of them didn't look human at all. But thanks to natural selection, I guess it worked out that only the most human looking witches were able to make it to the twenty-first century. I've heard stories about a lost tribe, hiding out and remaining separate from the human world. But the only witches that I've ever met can pass for human."

"We look like them as a natural defense, so that they can't easily identify us and hunt us down." Nazzy added.

After a moment to consider, Paul quietly asked, "How do I make it work?"

"You know, after the fight, when I told you how to put it back? Now you just do the reverse and pull it back out." G said instructively.

"Remember, there's a lady present." Nazzy said with a grin.

Vinda glanced in his direction, but since she was in the middle of chanting another spell, she didn't verbally respond.

"Go ahead, Paul. You can do it." G said encouragingly.

"Hold on." Paul said as he sat down and started to take off his shoes.

"Good idea." G said with a grin.

"Toad taught me that." Paul said with a smile and a wink at the younger boy.

* * * * *

Once Paul had his shoes and socks off, and was back to standing, he cast his mind back to the rage and determination he felt when he saw his loved ones being threatened. He remembered the physical sensations as the horns broke through the skin of his temples.

This time, he was able to feel the creeping sensation as the different parts of his body began to transform.

"Whoah!" Paul suddenly yelped as he had to fight for balance.

G and Nazzy immediately hurried to steady him on his hooves.

"You got it?" G asked cautiously as he continued to hold Paul's arm.

"Yeah. The whole 'standing' thing is a lot more difficult when you don't have toes." Paul tried to explain, then realized that his voice had dropped about three octaves.

"Looking good." G said with a smile as he stepped back.

"You must be about six and a half feet tall." Nazzy interjected.

Paul looked around and realized that Nazzy was right. He was significantly taller than he had been in his 'human' form.

"What do I do now?" Paul asked cautiously, still surprised by the sound of his own voice.

"Just hold it there for a while. Maybe walk around a little bit and get used to your new body." G said thoughtfully.

"Yeah. And while you're doing that, I'll pull up another zombie." Nazzy said as his skin started to go pale.

Paul glanced at Toad, who was looking very toad-like in his transformed state, then looked at G inquiringly.

"Yeah. Here it goes." G said quietly.

G's coloring began to change, becoming something similar to the face paint on a clown. Paul noticed that his dark hair seemed to become even darker, and was becoming longer and more 'shaggy'.

The 'painted' smile that covered a large share of his face could be classified as nothing other than a smirk. All of G's facial features were 'painted on' and grossly exaggerated. The overall effect was demented and disturbing... and slightly erotic. Paul found that he couldn't look away.

               'Spectacular!'

"My primary ability is illusion. But if the person I use it on doesn't know that, then it can become real to them." G said frankly.

"Huh?" Paul asked in confusion.

"One of my best things is fire. If you don't know that the fire is an illusion, then your body will react to it as if it were real. You'll get an actual burn from it." G explained.

"Oh." Paul said thoughtfully.

"Let's see what I can do..." G trailed off as he slowly looked around the room.

Paul watched G carefully, still unable to tear his gaze away.

Once G had decided what he was going to do, he seemed to brace himself for an incredible effort, then started to slowly raise his hands, much as Nazzy had done when summoning his zombie.

Suddenly, all around the room, portions of the floor seemed to fall away and flames began to emerge. One by one, the gray stone walls were covered with red velvet tapestries with ornate gold patterns embroidered on them.

Paul turned and was surprised to find that the room, which had been completely empty a moment before, was now furnished with luxurious furnishings. Admittedly, most of them were red and gold, but there was no hint that they were less than fully real.

"That's about it." G said quietly as he lowered his hands.

"That's amazing." Paul said honestly.

G smiled at the praise, then explained, "You can't sit on the chairs or feel the heat from the fire yet. From what Dad says, I'll probably be able to make my illusions more real as I get older and more powerful."

"So, does that mean that eventually you'll be able to create anything that you can imagine?" Paul asked in wonder.

"Not exactly. Nothing that I create is permanent. It all fades away. So even if I'm able to make 'real' things someday, they'll only last for a little while." G said regretfully.

"But can you make something like a sword?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Yeah. With something simple like that, I can even make it feel like it has weight and substance."

As proof, G held out his hand and a moment later a sword appeared in it.

"And if you used it on someone, would you hurt them with it?" Paul asked slowly.

"If they didn't know it was an illusion, yeah. Probably." G said simply, then admitted, "I've never actually tried stabbing anyone."

"What about a gun?" Paul asked thoughtfully.

G glanced at the sword in his hand and it immediately became a gun. "But I haven't figured out how to do the chemical reaction of the gunpowder to make it fire."

"What about something like a laser gun?" Paul asked curiously.

"I don't know. I never tried." G said honestly, then the gun in his hand transformed slightly into a futuristic looking pistol style weapon.

G pointed it toward the wall and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

"Maybe if I understood more about lasers I could make one that would work. But if the person who I was firing it at knew that it was an illusion, then it probably wouldn't matter because then they'd know that it couldn't really hurt them." G said regretfully.

"But if you can make the things you imagine become real, then maybe your laser would really be able to cause damage." Paul said reasonably.

"I don't know... Maybe."

"Hey, G. Let's do a swordfight." Nazzy said excitedly as he held out his hand.

G smiled and his laser transformed into a sword as another sword appeared in Nazzy's outstretched hand. It was obvious to Paul that this wasn't their first swordfight.

Paul carefully began to back away, then noticed Toad looking up at him.

"Do you want to come up here where you can get a better view of the battle?" Paul asked with a grin.

Toad seemed to disappear in a flash, then Paul felt a slight weight land on his shoulders.

As Paul and Toad watched, Nazzy and G began fighting each other very dramatically.

Although the sensation was foreign to him, Paul was fairly certain that Toad was holding onto his horns as he was standing on his shoulders.

               'Real or not, this is amazing.'

Paul supposed that the stakes weren't quite as high as they appeared to be, since both of them knew that the swords were illusions and that they couldn't really get hurt by them.

Even so, the sparks and clanging sounds when the swords clashed were spectacular and the fight was exciting to watch.

A movement on the other side of the room drew Paul's attention and he saw a zombie slowly walking, in search of some unknown thing.

Paul then glanced to the other side of the room, where Vinda was still sitting cross-legged, reading aloud from her small book.

She had already been reading far longer than she had when summoning 'the wisp', and Paul wondered what she was trying to bring forth this time.

* * * * *

The sword fight had gone on for nearly ten minutes, but eventually both G and Nazzy were tired of the fight and agreed to call it a draw.

As G joined Paul and Toad at the side of the room, Paul quietly asked, "Is this what it's like? Is this how we live our lives?"

"This is us playing and showing off for each other. I think I know what's bothering you." G said as he looked up at Paul, then farther up at Toad, who was still on Paul's shoulders.

"What's that?" Paul asked cautiously, not entirely sure that he wanted to know.

"What you are might have changed, but who you are hasn't. You're still you and your life is still what it was before. Now it's just this, too." G said assuringly.

               'What?'

               'Is Meredith Baxter Birney about to come out here and try to convince us to have a dialog and explore our inner conflicts?'

               'Oh, well. He's cute and he cares and he really means it.'

               'I can think of worse things.'

"Hey! Paul! What do you think of this?" Nazzy called out from across the room.

Making sure to turn his whole body, so that Toad could see, too, Paul looked and smiled at Nazzy and the three zombies that he had walking in a tight formation.

When Nazzy saw that he had their attention, he bellowed, "Behold! My army of the undead!"

"An army of three?" G asked with a smile.

"It's one more than I could do two months ago." Nazzy said in his defense as he left his 'army' and crossed the room to join the others.

"I guess so." G chuckled.

               'No matter how you look at it, that's pretty cool.'

               'I wonder what I could do.'

"Do you think I should try to summon a demon?" Paul asked cautiously.

"No. I think that you should talk to your mom before you try something like that. You might be able to pull them up, but putting them back is a whole other story." G said frankly.

"Yeah. And if one of my zombies gets loose, it's probably not going to cause too much trouble. Demons... yeah, let's not do that." Nazzy said frankly.

               'Right.'

               'Releasing hell on earth is a bad thing.'

               'Got it.'

"I did it!" Vinda exclaimed happily.

Everyone turned and saw Vinda, still sitting cross-legged on the floor, with a fully formed, six foot tall ghostly apparition floating right in front of her.

"Wow!" Nazzy said in amazement.

"Way to go!" G said appreciatively.

"What is your name?" Vinda asked the spirit before her in a strong, firm voice.

There was a long silent moment as everyone waited for the answer.

"Who are you?" Vinda asked, sounding to be quite a bit less sure of herself.

Again, they waited.

"Um... hold on. This isn't right." Vinda said nervously.

"What's wrong?" Nazzy asked with immediate concern.

Vinda muttered a quick phrase, then waited for a reaction.

Nothing happened.

She raised her hand, then made a quick swiping gesture.

Still, nothing happened.

"What is it?" G asked cautiously.

"Oh, crap!" Vinda said anxiously, then picked up her book and started flipping pages.

"What's up, Vin?" Nazzy asked as he hurried to her side, being careful not to step through the ghost that was hovering in front of her.

"He won't answer me... and he won't go back." Vinda said as she found the page that she was looking for.

"What should we do?" Nazzy asked quietly.

"Don't worry. I've got this." Vinda said firmly, then began to read from her book.

As she was reading, the ghost slowly turned, then began to float across the room.

"Vin?" Nazzy asked anxiously.

Vinda glanced up from her book with an expression of frustration, then went back to reading at an increased pace.

"Whatever you're doing, it looks like your ghost isn't going to wait around for you to do it." G said reluctantly.

Finally, Vinda stopped reading and quickly stood as she said, "I should have realized that it's Halloween. It's the best night of the year for summoning spirits, but it's also one of the worst for sending them back."

"What should we do?" Nazzy asked helplessly.

"Follow him! Don't let him get away!" Vinda said as she hurried across the room.

"Come on!" G said to Paul and Toad.

"Go on ahead. We need a minute to put our shoes back on. We'll catch up to you." Paul said as he fought to return to his 'human' form.

With one quick jump, Toad was crouched beside him, and a moment later he was hurrying to pull his socks on, right beside Paul.

* * * * *

Paul and Toad hurried out of the room and into the hallway.

They stopped, frozen in their tracks, looking for anything that would indicate where the others might have gone.

Suddenly, the scuffing of footsteps sounded and Paul fought to determine where the sound had come from.

Toad took firm hold of Paul's hand and began to urgently pull.

Since Paul didn't have any reason to favor one direction over another, he let Toad guide him.

* * * * *

They hurried down one corridor, then another.

Paul was sure that they were lost, but still had no reason to question or discourage Toad.

One thing he did absently notice in the rush was that although the lighting in the hallway was much dimmer than that of the room they had been in, he still couldn't find a source for it.

               'Even though it isn't obvious, there's magic going on all over this place.'

               'And unless I'm severely mistaken, the inside of this castle is a lot bigger than the outside.'

               'What have I gotten myself into?'

As they came to an intersection of hallways, Toad suddenly stopped and was obviously listening for another clue.

Paul strained to hear anything and finally just barely heard what sounded like a footstep in the distance.

As soon as he heard the sound, Toad was urgently pulling on his hand again, guiding him away.

* * * * *

As Paul and Toad turned a corner, they just barely caught a glimpse of G and Nazzy walking into a room.

Paul and Toad hurried to follow.

It took a moment for them to arrive at the doorway, but when they did, they stepped into a furnished room that looked like an old, forgotten library.

"I didn't know if you guys would be able to find us." G said with a relieved smile.

"Toad must be part bloodhound. I didn't have any idea of which way to go, but he stayed right on your trail." Paul said with a proud smile at the younger boy at his side.

"I think we've got it cornered!" Nazzy called out from a doorway at the side of the room.

"Good. Just let us know if there's something that we can do." G called in return, then turned his attention back to Paul and said, "Paul, I don't know if you've been introduced. This is my Cousin Teek."

The older teenage boy was sitting in one of the chairs reading a book, and Paul wasn't sure if the boy hadn't been there a moment before or if he just hadn't noticed him.

"My first name is Lennox, you can call me Lenn." The boy said in a low voice with a pronounced Scottish accent.

"It's nice to meet you, Lenn." Paul said as he recalled G's earlier warning, which implied that 'Cousin Teek' was known to be something of a thief.

"I saw you at the wedding. Not many people our age are as strong in their magic as you are. That was impressive." Lenn said with a surprising lack of emotion behind his words.

Paul didn't get the sense that Lenn was being insincere, but more that the boy wasn't comfortable expressing emotions.

"Thanks." Paul said gratefully.

"Shit!" Nazzy yelped from the next room.

"That doesn't sound good." G said as he glanced toward the door, then turned back toward Lenn and said, "Vinda let out a ghost and she's having trouble putting it back. Do you want to help us catch it?"

"Really?!" Lenn asked with surprise.

In the minute or two of being in Lenn's company, Paul got the sense that seeing Lenn express a true emotion was probably a rare thing.

"Yeah." G confirmed, then cautiously asked, "Are you alright?"

"Not really. My parents have been having problems for a while, now. When we were packing to come here, my dad said that he wasn't going to come with us. And then he said that when me and my mom get back, he'll be gone." Lenn said quietly.

"Okay. That sucks." G said simply.

Paul couldn't help but smile at G's forthright manner.

               'G wears his emotions out in the open, for all to see.'

               'He doesn't hold anything back.'

               'That's part of why I love him.'

               'Yeah. That's right. I love him.'

"Stop it!" Nazzy yelled, just as the bluish-white ghost emerged from the side room and moved in a direct line for the door to the hallway.

"How?" G called as he hurried toward the door.

"I don't know. Get in it's way or something." Nazzy said as he met up with G.

Vinda ran out of the side room, obviously having trouble trying to read aloud while walking at the same time.

"Maybe ghost chasing will help to take your mind off of things. Do you want to?" Paul asked as he felt Toad pulling on his hand.

"Yeah." Lenn said as he started to stand.

"Come on."

* * * * *

Although Paul, Toad and Lenn started out a few seconds behind, they were easily able to catch up to G, Nazzy and Vinda, who were rushing down the hallway.

"Crap! It got away!" G called out in frustration.

"It's got to be in one of these three rooms." Nazzy said reasonably, then decisively added, "Vinda and I will take this one."

G looked around the rest of their group and seemed to be uncertain.

"Toad and I have been a good team so far. We'll take the second room." Paul said simply, then guided Toad to walk with him, not waiting for G to agree.

"It looks like it's you and me, Teek... I mean, Lenn. Come on." G said as he started toward the third door.

* * * * *

As Paul and Toad walked into the room that Paul had chosen, they noticed not only that it seemed to be another library, but also that it was currently occupied.

"Sorry. We were just..." Paul began to say, but was interrupted.

"Come in and join us. We're just plotting and scheming for tonight." A comparatively young woman said pleasantly.

"We really can't stay..." Paul began to say.

"You're Paul, D's new son, aren't you? I'm Isobel, this is my brother, Gilles. Here's my mom and dad, Grace and Rhiseart and my Aunt Wanda." The young woman said pleasantly.

"Have you seen a ghost come in here?" Paul asked suddenly, hoping to wedge his question into Isobel's relentless introductions.

After a moment to consider, Isobel looked at him and said, "A ghost? No. We haven't seen anyone or anything since we came in."

"Then we need to go. We've lost one and we need to hurry up and find it." Paul said in a rush before the young woman could start talking again.

"Welcome to the family." Isobel chuckled, then watched as Paul and Toad hurried out of the room.

* * * * *

"If all your relatives are like her, it's no wonder you don't talk." Paul said absently as he walked with Toad toward the room that G and Lenn had gone into.

Toad looked up at Paul with an amused smile and delight dancing in his eyes.

* * * * *

As they walked into the next room, they noticed that Lenn and G were talking to a pair of men, one of whom appeared to be in his fifties and the other much older.

"Paul, this is my cousin... our cousin, Mungo and his dad, Uncle Iain." G said with an air of formality that indicated to Paul that these were people that G respected.

"I'm sorry to interrupt." Paul said to the men, then looked at G and asked, "Did you find the ghost?"

"No. He didn't come in here." G said simply.

"Then we'd better go and help Nazzy and Vinda." Paul said decisively.

"Go on. I'll be right there." G said calmly.

Paul didn't expect the response, but could see that G was worried about something having to do with the two men. He was being unusually calm and gentle in their presence.

"I'll go with you." Lenn said quietly as he stepped away from G's side.

Paul gave a simple nod, then turned to leave.

As he was walking out the door, he just barely heard G quietly asking, "Are you okay, Mungo?"

* * * * *

Paul felt a sense of urgency building within him as he rushed down the hall, past the room where Isobel was located and on to the final room, where Nazzy and Vinda had gone.

Stepping into the room, it was obvious that it was a game room, or more precisely, a billiard room.

Nazzy appeared to have the ghost backed into a corner and was standing before it with his arms outstretched as Vinda hurriedly read aloud from her book.

When Nazzy heard Paul and the others enter the room, he reflexively turned to see who had joined them.

In that instant, the ghost made its move, slipping past Nazzy and floating across the room.

"Shit!" Vinda screamed as she turned and started to follow.

Before Paul could fully assess what was going on, the ghost slipped past him and into the hallway.

"Don't let it get away!" Nazzy called out as he started running toward the door.

Lenn was the first into the hallway and took off in a dead run to chase the ghost.

Paul and Toad ran out next, followed closely by Nazzy and Vinda.

"Did it get away from you?" G called out from the doorway farther down the hall.

"Not yet." Paul called in return, not slowing his pace.

* * * * *

"He went in here!" Lenn announced as he pulled open a large, but strangely plain looking iron door. Most of the doors in the castle were somewhat ornate, engraved with patterns or outfitted with some type of interesting hardware. This one was conspicuous in its bland normalcy.

As Paul hurried into the room, he was stunned by the size of it.

The room was astoundingly enormous, not only in width and length, but also in height.

The ghost was travelling across the expanse at an impressive speed.

"What is this place?" Paul asked as they ran across the room.

"If I had to guess, I'd say it's the throne room." G said as he finally was able to catch up to the others.

"Really?" Paul asked with surprise.

"I don't know. Like I said, it's just a guess. But what else would you do with a room this size?" G said honestly.

Before Paul could formulate an answer, the ghost disappeared through a closed door.

Lenn was the first to reach the door and quickly pulled it open.

* * * * *

"This isn't good." G said as he recognized where they were.

Paul could hear the sound of voices, not very far away.

"He went this way." Lenn said urgently, opposite from the direction that the voices were coming from.

Paul suddenly realized that they were in the hallway just off the dining room, where the reception had been held. He couldn't quite get his mind to wrap around the fact that they'd come full circle and were back where they'd started. But he was happy to realize that the ghost hadn't decided to go to the dining room and expose their transgression.

"What's down this way?" Nazzy asked as he hurried to follow Lenn.

"The kitchen and pantries and stuff like that." G answered.

"He went in here." Lenn said as he turned suddenly and stepped through a doorway.

The rest of the group followed, and all of them came to a sudden stop when they found that the room was occupied.

There were about a dozen people present, sitting around a large, plain table and none of them looked to be under sixty years old.

"Did anyone see a ghost come through here?" G asked loudly.

One of the few people that Paul recognized, Uncle Neese, pointed to a door at the far side of the room.

G led the way with determination, the others following.

"Is there a problem?" A woman asked with concern. It took a moment for it to register to Paul that the woman was G's Aunt Zennie. Being seated across the room, her red dress with black polka dots wasn't immediately evident.

"We accidentally let something out and we need to be sure that it gets put back. That's all." Paul assured her as he paused, hoping to do some damage control.

"I don't think any of us here have an aptitude for dealing with spirits, but I wish you luck on your endeavor." Aunt Zennie said sincerely.

"Thanks." Paul responded before hurrying with Toad out the door that Lenn, G, Nazzy and Vinda had already passed through.

* * * * *

Paul hurried through the adjoining room and as he stepped back out into the hallway, he nearly walked face-first into the ghost that was travelling directly toward him.

It veered away at the last moment and sped off down the hall.

"We almost had it!" G exclaimed in frustration as he took off running again.

Paul could feel himself getting tired, but started running anyway, joining the others.

* * * * *

"That's not good." G said as he stopped outside a doorway.

"Why not?" Paul asked as he stopped beside G and fought to catch his breath.

"That's the 'vault', where they keep the family silver. That room's supposed to be locked at all times." G said seriously as he tried to see into the darkness.

"Is there another door out of there?" Paul asked cautiously.

"How would I know? Do you think they'd ever let me go in there?" G asked frankly.

"No. There isn't another door." Lenn said simply, and sounded confident in his assertion.

"How do you know that?" G asked suspiciously.

"We've been around this room on all sides. Unless there's an exit through the roof or the floor, there's no other way out. And since this is supposed to be a vault, I seriously doubt that they'd put trap doors or secret passages in it." Lenn said reasonably.

"Can't it just go through a wall, like it did with the closed doors?" Paul asked cautiously.

"No. At least, probably not. Walls are boundaries that are put into place in the physical world to restrict movement. Over time, the physical walls become spiritual walls, which is good, because that way not every spirit roaming the earth can walk into your home whenever it wants to. Besides that, the walls not only provide limits, but also structure. Without them, the spirits couldn't navigate the spiritual world. It would just be an expanse of nothing, not even ground to walk on." Vinda said seriously, then thought to add, "It would take a ghost with superior awareness and power to push through a spiritual barrier like that."

"So we can just wait here and not let it get out, right?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Yes. We'll block the doorway and Vinda can recite her spell to send it back. The spell should work as long as the ghost is within the sound of her voice." G said confidently.

That being said, Vinda sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the doorway and took a few deep breaths before beginning to read.

The others gathered behind her, side by side.

All of a sudden, there was a clatter of something falling inside the vault.

"Should we go in and see what's happening?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Anyone who goes in there is taking the chance of getting blamed if anything's broken or missing." Lenn warned him.

"He's right. As long as we're all out here together, we're all each other's witnesses." G confirmed.

"Should we get someone with a key to come here and lock it up?" Paul asked quietly.

"Yeah. But not until after Vinda's gotten rid of it." G said firmly.

All of a sudden, the ghost was standing right in front of them.

It didn't hesitate to pass right through G and Paul, who were standing side by side.

               'Just when I thought that things couldn't get any weirder...'

"Gross! I didn't think it'd do that!" Paul said with revulsion at the sensation.

"Aww Man! Now I smell like old people!" G said with disgust.

"Let's go after him!" Nazzy said as he started to run.

Before G could follow, Vinda put a hand on his shoulder to hold him back.

"Do you know who that was?" Vinda asked hopefully.

"A ghost! What more do you need to know?" G asked as he fought not to break away from her and run after Nazzy.

"Well, if I know its name, then I'll be able to send it back a lot easier." Vinda said patiently.

"No. I don't know." G said firmly, then snapped, "Come on!"

* * * * *

"Did you see which way it went?" G asked as he caught up to Nazzy and Lenn.

"In there." Nazzy said as he indicated the door that they were approaching.

"That's the kitchen. When we get inside, Lenn and I will go right. Paul and Toad, go left. Nazzy and Vinda, go up the middle." G said decisively.

               'That's my alpha.'

* * * * *

As Paul hurried into the kitchen, he was as surprised as any of the others at the sight of Grandma Gruit with a slightly younger man, sitting with her at a table. From his appearance, Paul surmised that he was probably in his sixties.

"Are you responsible for this?" Grandma Gruit asked as she indicated the ghost that had stopped at her side.

"Yes, Ma'am." G said as he stood forward, to speak for the group.

"Thank you." Grandma Gruit said with a gentle smile at him.

Paul realized in that moment that a smile seemed to be completely out of place on her usually tightly controlled face.

"In case you haven't been introduced, this is my late husband, Ewan. He's also Tamhas' father." She said as she indicated first the ghost, then the man across the table from her. "What a wonderful Halloween gift. Thank you all."

Puzzled looks flashed around the group, none of them knowing how to respond.

"Are you going to need any help sending him back when you're done visiting?" G asked cautiously.

"I'll see that he gets home." Grandma Gruit assured him.

"Oh, well... It's nice to meet you Great-Grandpa Ewan. I'm G. We're just going to go... now." G stammered.

Since none of the rest of them had anything to add, they followed G out of the room in silence.

* * * * *

As the group meandered down the hallway, in the general direction of the great hall, Paul quietly asked, "What are we supposed to do now? Go to bed?"

"No. It's Halloween. If anyone has a family member who isn't a witch and doesn't know about us, they'll probably be going to bed now. The rest of us are going to wait until 'Night's Noontime' for the real celebration."

               'I don't know if he's trying to be spooky and give me the creeps...'

               'But after everything that's happened, I'm really okay with it...'

               'Bring it on!'

The group walked out of the hallway and around the staircase to reveal the expanse of the great hall.

It looked as though everything from the wedding had been cleared away.

"Shouldn't we tell someone about the vault?" Lenn asked cautiously.

"Oh, yeah. Grandpa J is probably around here, somewhere. He's the best one to tell about it." G said decisively.

There wasn't any debate or even looks of question. The group simply followed along.

* * * * *

"Would you be here in search of a snack?" Grandma B asked warmly as they walked into the dining room.

"Actually, we were just looking for Grandpa J." G said honestly, but couldn't help himself and glanced at the variety of snack foods on the massive table.

"I'm thinking that he's in the sitting room... although I can't be sure. You never can tell with that one." Grandma B finished with a chuckle.

"Maybe we could stop for something to eat, first?" Nazzy cautiously suggested.

"No. We need to talk to Grandpa J." G said firmly.

Nazzy looked regretfully at the vast expanse of food, but didn't argue.

* * * * *

"Tadhg, did you have a good time?" Kat asked, when she noticed the group walking into the room.

Toad firmly held her gaze for a moment, then slowly closed his eyes, then just as slowly reopened them.

"That's wonderful, that is! I knew you'd be having fun. You've always been more socially attuned to the older crowd." Kat said as she pulled him into a hug.

Paul couldn't help but smile at the physical expression of caring that Toad and his mother shared.

"Grandpa J, we were just down by the kitchen and the vault door was open." G said urgently.

"You didn't go inside, did you?" Grandpa J asked cautiously.

"No. None of us did. I just thought that you'd want to know." G said seriously.

"Good. The last thing we need tonight is to have to deal with a curse." Grandpa J said frankly, then thoughtfully said, "It's strange, only someone who knows the wards should be able to unlock that door. I wonder who opened it." Grandpa J said thoughtfully.

"Well... the ghost of Great-Grandpa Ewan opened it. He seemed like he was kinda in a hurry and didn't close it again when he left." G said reluctantly.

"Dad's ghost is here?!" Grandpa J asked with excitement.

"Yeah. We left him in the kitchen with Grandma Gruit and Uncle Tamhas. Grandma Gruit said that she'd take care of him." G said cautiously.

"Well, Dad would certainly know how to nullify the wards. I'll go and check on that door now, then I'll stop by the kitchen for a visit." Grandpa J said as he stood from his easy chair.

G smiled as his grandfather excitedly left the room.

After a moment, Nazzy walked to G's side and put a hand on his shoulder.

G looked at him curiously.

"Food." Nazzy whispered.

G smiled, then responded, "I like that plan."

* * * * *

"G, your father was suggesting that you might be willing to help us out at the celebration tonight." Grandma B said in a rush as she approached him at the dining room table, loaded with snack foods.

"What did he promise that I'd do?" G asked cautiously.

"He was thinking that you might be willing to cast an illusion over the great hall to make things a bit more interesting for the celebration." Grandma B said hopefully.

"Interesting? Do you want it in flames or something?" G asked as he glanced at Paul to see if he might have any idea of what she was asking.

"No. No. Not flames. But the folding chairs look a bit... plain. He was suggesting that you might be able to come up with something a little more... showy." Grandma B said hopefully.

"I don't know. That's an awful lot of detail. And if I'm off, then someone could miss the chair when they go to sit down and there isn't a chair hiding out under my illusion." G said thoughtfully.

"If you're not up to it, we'll still be able to manage. Your father just thought that this might be an opportunity for you to be able to make a contribution and show the family how practical your ability can be." Grandma B said frankly.

               'Hold on a second. I see what you did there.'

"It'll take me a little bit to get it all sorted out in my head. Am I going to have time?" G asked cautiously.

"We'll make the time. We've never done much in the way of decorations, and I think it will add a nice touch to tonight's celebration." Grandma B said warmly.

"I don't know if it'll work, but I'll give it a try." G said reluctantly.

"Maybe your new brother and your friends will be willing to help you get everything set up to your liking." Grandma B suggested as she looked at Paul, Nazzy, Vinda and Lenn.

               'Look at her go!'

               'Grandma B knows how to work it!'

"Do you guys want to help me?" G asked hopefully.

"Sure. If you'll tell us what we have to do." Nazzy answered easily.

               'Why not? It'll be good to have something to do to help out.'

Paul nodded his agreement.

"Let's go see what we have to do." G said cheerfully as he started walking toward the door.

Nazzy and Vinda automatically followed.

Paul looked at Lenn and quietly asked, "Do you want to help us?"

"I don't think that my magical ability will be of any use." Lenn said frankly.

"I doubt that they're going to need any demons summoned to get the job done, so mine won't be any good, either. But we can still help move chairs and stuff." Paul said seriously.

"I'd better not. If people see you hanging around with me, they might start thinking that you're like I am." Lenn said quietly.

"Bad reputation, huh?" Paul asked simply.

"For the last couple of years... I did some stupid stuff... Now everyone thinks that that's who I am." Lenn said regretfully.

"My life has changed so much in the past two weeks I can't even tell you all of it. I didn't know anything about witches or magic or... myself, really. All of a sudden, everything changed, like, all at once. Maybe that's what you need, too." Paul suggested cautiously.

"What do you mean?" Lenn asked curiously.

"You told us that thing about your dad. Maybe you could use that big major change in your life as an excuse to make other changes. Decide how you want things to be, and then try to make them be that way." Paul said slowly.

"I don't know. I feel like if I try, that I'll just make a big mess of it, just like I always do." Lenn said as his eyes welled with tears.

               'Oh, poor little me...'

               'Oh, well. Honestly, when your life goes to shit, sometimes you need that.'

               'But once your pity party has run its course, it's time to put your testicles to good use.'

Paul sat down in the chair next to Lenn's, then said in a quiet but firm voice, "You made mistakes. Guess what, you're going to make more. Accept it. That's life. Move on. The thing with your dad, that sucks. It's not fair. Guess what... That's life, too. Move on. Like it or not, what happens next is up to you. You need to change what you can, and deal with what you can't."

After a moment, Lenn cautiously asked, "Are all Americans as brash as you?"

"No. In fact, I'm not usually like this. Most of the time I'm quiet and I just react to whatever's happening to me. But sometimes that doesn't work and I have to stand up for myself. Right now, I can see that you're hurting. I know what that's like. Be who you want to be. Live like you want to live. Will things be perfect? No. They're probably going to suck. But as long as you keep going and you don't give up, you can make things better."

"Is that what you did?" Lenn asked cautiously, seeming to be on the verge of believing that things could improve for him.

"I tried to." Paul said simply, then reluctantly admitted, "I guess, to be honest, my life was pretty crappy until two weeks ago. But I didn't live like my life was crappy. I went to school and tried to make the best out of each day, no matter how bad it was. Sometimes things would get tough and it'd get me down, but I wouldn't let it keep me down. I guess that's what I'm really saying, shit's going to happen. Deal with it. Get over it. Keep moving forward."

               'Cue theme music, possibly something by Chumbawamba. '

"When things were really bad at home, sometimes I'd go out and... steal things." Lenn quietly admitted.

"Yeah. That sounds like one of those 'cries for help' that you're always hearing about." Paul said thoughtfully, then quickly added, "How about next time you feel like doing something like that, you make a literal call for help?"

"What?" Lenn asked in confusion.

"Call me. I can't promise that I'll be able to help you figure things out, but at least I can listen and tell you that I agree that 'whatever it is' sucks and things like that." Paul said frankly.

"Paul, G's figured out what he's going to do. We could use some help with the chairs." Nazzy said as he approached.

"Okay. We'll be right there." Paul said easily, then looked at Lenn with question.

"I'll do it." Lenn finally said.

"Good." Paul said with a smile, then added, "Come on."

* * * * *

As soon as Nazzy, Paul and Lenn walked into the great hall, G quickly asked, "Will you guys start setting the chairs up over there? We're going to put them in a semicircle so that everyone can see the front."

Paul could see what G was saying and immediately went to work.

"Make sure you leave about a foot of space between the chairs. That way I can make my illusion look right." G said anxiously.

"Are you going to be able to keep your illusion up that long? You have a time limit, don't you?" Nazzy asked as he started setting up chairs.

"I don't know. I'm going to try. If my illusion fails in the middle of the ceremony, it won't really hurt anything." G said thoughtfully, then quickly said, "Lenn, would you space those out a little bit more?"

"Right." Lenn responded, then began readjusting the chairs that he had already positioned.

"How's this?" Vinda called from across the room.

"Could you move that row back a little? I'm going to need plenty of room to envelope each chair in an illusion.

"Are you going to be able to do this many?" Nazzy asked uncertainly.

"There's only one way to find out." G said frankly.

"I mean... there's so many of them..." Nazzy tried to explain.

"Yeah. But I'm going to put the same illusion on every chair. So I'll be doing the same thing over and over, not a bunch of different things, like I usually do." G fought to explain.

"Yeah. But still, there's so many." Nazzy said as he continued to carefully space his chairs.

"It'll work or it won't. If the whole family has to sit on plain old folding chairs, we're no worse off than if I hadn't tried." G said honestly.

"I guess not." Nazzy reluctantly agreed.

"Is this right?" Lenn asked uncertainly.

G looked at the area where he was working and finally said, "Yeah. That looks great."

"Are you going to do anything besides the chairs?" Vinda asked curiously.

"We'll just have to wait and see what I've got left to give once the chairs are done." G said frankly.

"I wish there was something that I could do to help you." Paul said honestly.

"You're doing it." G assured him.

Paul smiled at the response and renewed his efforts.

* * * * *

"How are things going in here?" Grandma B asked as she slowly walked into the great hall.

"Pretty good. How are we doing for time?" G asked as he looked around.

"A few people have shown up, but I'll be keeping them out of your way until you're ready for us." Grandma B said seriously.

"Is this enough chairs for everyone?" G asked cautiously.

"Yes. Probably more than enough, since the little ones have gone to bed by now." Grandma B said with a smile.

"Then I guess I'm ready. Would everyone stand back?" G asked as he also backed up, so that he could get a clear view of the entire room.

Since Paul didn't know which chairs G was going to change first, he watched carefully for whatever was going to happen.

All of a sudden, one of the chairs near him seemed to reform itself into a new configuration. A moment before it had been a plain gray folding chair, now it looked like a handcrafted work of art. The legs were engraved with long flowing patterns which terminated in 'feet'. The seat cushion appeared to be a lush velvet with gold embroidery. The back of the chair was low, and also had a cushion, embroidered in the same elegant style. At the top of the back, the golden wood was styled into ornamental filagrees that perfectly matched the pattern of the cushions.

               'G isn't just a witch, he's an artist.'

As Paul looked up from the nearest example of G's work, he saw that well over half the chairs in the room had been transformed.

He held his breath, not wanting to take the chance of making a sound and interrupting G's concentration.

When the last chair had transformed, Paul looked at G with concern.

From G's expression, there was no doubt that he was feeling drained, but Paul saw the determination in his eyes as he looked around the expansive room, then dramatically raised his arms in a grand lifting gesture.

Suddenly tapestries began to appear and incredible gold and crystal chandeliers dropped from the ceiling.

Beneath their feet, red carpeting appeared, which was the same warm tone of red as in the chair cushions.

"G, that's wonderful, it is. You've done much better than I expected... better than I could have imagined." Grandma B said in wonder as she looked around the room.

"I'm not done yet." G said in a determined voice.

Paul wanted to object. He could see how far G had pushed himself. But he knew better than to interfere with G's achievement.

               'I'm right here with you.'

               'I've got your back.'

               'Be the alpha.'

G turned to face one of the few walls that didn't have a tapestry covering it.

A beautifully crafted frame appeared. Then within the frame a murky darkness started to form.

Everyone waited to see what was going to happen next.

But nothing did.

"I can't do it." G reluctantly admitted as the frame faded into nothingness.

"What were you trying to do?" Nazzy asked curiously.

"I was going to make a window. I've figured out how to make illusions that look like you're really seeing outside. As long as you're looking through the window, from that one fixed point of view, it looks like I've created the whole outside world." G said wearily, then added, "Creating all the other illusions must have been too much."

"I can make a real window, if that's what you want." Lenn cautiously offered.

"How's that?" G asked with interest.

"My magic is all about invisibility. I can make a section of the wall invisible so that you can really see outside."

"Can you undo it if it doesn't turn out right?" G asked cautiously.

"Yeah. Can you put the window frame back, like you had it?"

"Here you go." G said as he looked at the wall and the golden frame reappeared.

Lenn stepped forward and put both of his hands flat on the wall, then he seemed to lose himself in concentration.

As Paul watched, Lenn began to fade from sight.

Only the slightest transparent image of him remained in place, braced against the stone wall.

Suddenly, the wall began to go dark and seemed to be dissolving.

"Almost..." Lenn said with effort.

Paul glanced at him and could still see his vague outline.

"That's it." Lenn said with accomplishment.

Paul looked out the 'window' and all he could see was infinite blackness.

"That's not quite what I had in mind." G reluctantly admitted.

"We've got this." Nazzy said as he stepped forward.

"What's that?" G asked hesitantly.

"Well, since Toad isn't in here, I think that Vinda and I can shine some light on the situation." Nazzy said confidently.

"Fairy lights, you know, for stars?" Vinda asked cautiously.

"Sounds good. Go ahead, I'm going to go for an overall aura." Nazzy said simply.

Vinda nodded, then began to quietly chant.

Nazzy held his hands out and his skin color began to fade.

The increasing light outside the 'window' drew Paul's attention. The nightime world of the Scottish highlands began to unfold before his amazed eyes.

"Don't be making it too bright. This is supposed to be a midnight celebration." Grandma B warned them.

"How's that?" Nazzy asked as he lowered his arms.

"Eerie." Paul whispered.

               'I guess that sometimes being the alpha doesn't mean doing it all by yourself.'

               'Asking for help isn't admitting defeat.'

               'It's getting the job done.'

               'What could be more alpha than that?'

"Good. That's just what I was going for." Nazzy said with a grin, then turned to G and asked, "Do you think a few zombies on the front lawn might help to set the mood?"

G's eyes went wide and he suddenly asked, "Did you remember to send your zombies back?"

"Oh crap!" Nazzy said in realization.

"I'll go with you." Vinda immediately volunteered.

Nazzy glanced at G apologetically, then quietly said, "We'll be right back."

* * * * *

"Should we go with them?" Paul asked cautiously.

"No. They'll be fine. Besides, I'm betting that they're probably going to appreciate having a few minutes alone together." G assured him.

"Oooh. Isn't it lovely?" An elderly woman exclaimed as she slowly walked into the room.

Paul looked past her to see many other members of the family entering the great hall.

"D's son, G, was the one to do the decorations." Grandma B said proudly as she gestured toward him.

"This is so nice." An older man said in amazement as he looked around.

Paul put an arm around G and hugged him tightly to express his pride in him.

"Let's go ahead and sit down, so that we can save some seats for Nazzy and Vinda." G said quietly.

Paul took one last look out the 'window' and marvelled at the eerie, yet beautiful sight of the Scottish highlands bathed in moonlight.

* * * * *

G seemed to be fixated on his illusions and was carefully looking at every detail to make sure that everything looked right.

When Paul noticed Lenn walking by, he quickly said, "You can sit with us if you want to, Lenn. We're just saving these two seats for Nazzy and Vinda."

"Thank you." Lenn said quietly as he sat down.

"G hasn't told me much about what's going on tonight. I know it's some kind of celebration, but that's about it." Paul said frankly.

"It's really just a family gathering. We do it on Halloween because we're witches and it's one of our high holidays, but that's mostly just tradition."

Paul slowly nodded, then hesitantly asked, "What are we going to be doing?"

"Nothing." Lenn answered simply, then at Paul's look of surprise, he explained, "This is a celebration of family and magic. So the different family groups get together and each one does a performance to show the family what they've been able to achieve."

"Are you going to be doing something like that?" Paul asked cautiously.

"No. This is just for the adults. Every now and then, one of the kids might be brought in to help out with their family's demonstration. But for the most part, we're just here to sit back and enjoy the show." Lenn said honestly.

Paul thought about that for a moment, then slowly said, "When Toad came to do magic with us, his dad said something about him getting the chance to see what he might someday be able to achieve."

"I've never had it put to me that way, but that sounds a lot better than saying that we're not invited to participate."

"Since I've never been around this stuff before, I'm really interested to see what they're going to do." Paul said with a smile.

"You're going to love it." G said from Paul's other side.

Paul smiled at him, then asked, "So, does this mean that everyone in the whole family is going to get up to perform?"

"No. Some people have abilities that you can't really show off, like Grandma Gruit. She does spells, potions and charms. She can do some really awesome stuff, but I don't know how she could really show it off in front of people." G quietly explained.

"Some other people need special things for their magic to work. Great-Uncle Iain is like that. If he's beside a lake or a pool of water, he can do really incredible things with it. But standing here inside the castle, he can't use his magic much at all." Lenn added.

"Yeah, and there's some who just don't want to get in front of people, like Mungo." G said seriously.

"Is that what he was worried about, when we saw him before?" Paul asked curiously.

"No. Mungo's kind of... fragile, I mean, emotionally. He doesn't do well in large groups of people. Uncle Iain took him to a quiet place to calm him down after dinner and to prepare him for tonight." G carefully explained.

"For some reason, I thought that being a witch would mean that you wouldn't have problems like regular people." Paul said absently.

"Nope. If you hit us, we cry. If you cut us, we bleed. Of course, then we'll turn you into a toad, but that's beside the point." G finished with a smile.

"After meeting Toad, I can think of worse things to be." Paul said frankly.

"He's grown up a lot since the last time I saw him." G said admiringly.

"Everyone! May I have your attention!" Grandma B called out from the front of the room.

G quickly looked past the staircase toward the hallway to see if Nazzy and Vinda were on their way back yet.

"Should we go after them?" Paul asked cautiously.

"If we did, we'd probably walk in on something that we shouldn't." G said frankly.

"Oh. Right." Paul said as he realized what G was saying.

"I know that you haven't come all this way to listen to my banter, so I'll just ask Great Uncle Neese and Aunt Zennie to come up here and get us started." Grandma B said before stepping aside.

"What's Grandma B's magical ability? Do you know?" Paul asked curiously.

"Do you remember what Vinda was telling you about basic magic?" G asked in return.

"Yeah."

"Grandma B is a master of that kind of magic. Not only can she do the really basic stuff that just about everyone else can do, but she can do bigger and better versions of those spells. Think about it, with her magic, she keeps this entire castle clean, lighted, pest-free, warm and probably a dozen other things that I've never even thought about." G said seriously.

"Wow." Paul whispered as he watched Uncle Neese and Aunt Zennie slowly making their way to stand before the family assembly.

"First a wedding and now this. What a remarkable and wonderful day this has been. Add to that the fact that my brother Ewan is able to join us and it truly is a reason to celebrate." Uncle Neese said with a warm look toward the ghostly figure accompanying Grandma Gruit, Grandpa J and Tamhas.

Aunt Zennie stood forward, wearing red with black polka dots, as usual, and dramatically said, "This is our custom. This is our way. Let the celebration begin."

As she said the words, a swarm of thousands of ladybugs rose up from all around her. Aunt Zennie made a few hand gestures and the swarm moved to engulf the entire gathering, covering them with a living dome. All the ladybugs were moving in the same counter-clockwise direction and Paul found the sensation dizzying.

"As my daughter has said, it has begun." Uncle Neese called out firmly, then raised his hands upward, in what Paul was beginning to think of as a 'summoning' gesture.

Paul tried to follow where the ladybugs were going and realized that they seemed to be flying into the black polka dots on Aunt Zennie's dress. Within a minute, all the ladybugs had vanished. The dizzying swarm that had engulfed them all was simply... gone.

Before Paul could begin to process what he was seeing, a cloud of black started to rise up from behind Uncle Neese, emerging from his shadow on the floor. As soon as Paul saw them, he froze in place.

Bats.

Hundreds of black bats started fluttering up into the air.

Paul didn't have any logical reason to be afraid, but he was.

Something about the creatures had always been off-putting to him and seeing them in the flesh made it that much worse.

Uncle Neese made a thrusting gesture toward the assembled family and his bats responded.

Just as with Aunt Zennie's ladybugs, the bats surrounded the family gathering and all of them seemed to be flying in the same direction.

"If any of your relatives are about to summon spiders, tell me now. I'll leave." Paul whispered firmly.

"I don't know of anyone who does that, but if someone turns up, I'll be right behind you." G assured him.

When Uncle Neese lowered his hands, all the bats returned to him. The living cloud of bats moved as a single being and seemed to disappear into Uncle Neese's shadow.

Applause started on the other side of the room, then seemed to catch on to everyone else.

"What you've just seen were examples of mass summoning and control. That's really hard to do." G said seriously.

Paul could imagine that it was.

"What did we miss?" Nazzy asked as he and Vinda rushed into the room.

"Bats and ladybugs. They just started. We saved you seats." G said as he indicated the empty chairs beside him.

"Thanks." Nazzy said appreciatively.

"Did you get all your zombies put to bed?" G asked with a smile.

"Yeah. They were right where I left them. No problem." Nazzy said happily.

"Uh oh." Paul said when he saw who was getting up to perform.

"What's wrong?" G asked with concern.

"Toad and I met Isobel before... I tell you what, just wake me up when she's done talking." Paul said frankly.

               'Or in the morning, whichever comes first.'

"That's Isobel, alright. You know, I don't think I've ever heard her brother, Gilles, speak. I wonder if he can." G said thoughtfully.

"He probably wonders if he can, too. If he's always around Isobel, he's never going to get the chance to find out." Paul said with a grin.

"I guess you already know who Grace and Wanda are, so that's everyone." G said frankly.

"I know their names, but I don't know which is which... witch." Paul finished with a smirk.

G rolled his eyes at the terrible pun.

               'Give me a break! Sometimes you just have to go for it.'

"The one with the darker hair is my mom, Wanda." Lenn said quietly.

"There's something I don't understand. Does your specialty of magic come from your parents or is it always a completely random 'luck of the draw'?" Paul asked curiously.

"It's a little of both. Families tend to have similar abilities, but every now and then something can pop up out of nowhere, that no one ever expected." G explained.

"There's been a few divorces caused by that." Nazzy interjected from G's other side.

"Yeah. When two summoners pop out a weather witch, questions will be asked." G confirmed.

"But what do you think's going to happen with our sister? Your dad makes inanimate things come to life and my mom summons demons... how is that going to work?" Paul asked curiously.

"We'll just have to wait and see." G said simply.

"Who did the spell on the room, again?" A voice called from the front.

"I did." G immediately responded.

"Thank you. It's lovely. This is going to make everything so much nicer." She said gratefully.

Paul looked at her, then asked, "That's Grace, right?"

"Yeah, she's Gilles and Isobel's mom." Lenn confirmed.

Paul had been keeping an eye on the front and was surprised to see the only man up there suddenly shrink into a tiny, skinny little five year old boy.

"Gilles is like G, he doesn't get stronger when he's transformed." Lenn said quietly.

"What's his power?" Paul asked curiously.

"He's becoming a master of curses. From what my mom says, he's got a real talent for it." Lenn said frankly.

Before Paul could think of what to say, Wanda, Grace and Isobel all suddenly became smaller, much like Gilles, except that they had wings.

"Their clothes changed." Paul said suddenly.

"What?" G asked from his other side.

"When they transformed, their clothes changed to fit them." Paul said seriously.

"Oh, yeah. That's not something that I've ever had to worry about, since I don't change size when I transform. I know that it's a basic spell, but there was never a reason for me to learn it." G said frankly.

"I have a clothing spell, but I don't think it'd be much help." Lenn said seriously.

"How's that?" Paul asked curiously.

"I have a spell that makes my clothes turn invisible when my body does... I doubt that you'd want something like that." Lenn said quietly.

"Um, no. Thanks. I can't see me having a need for invisible clothes." Paul said honestly.

"There are lots of members of the family who have physical transformation abilities. I bet that most of them use basic spells to adjust their clothes so that they don't have to worry about them getting ripped up." G said frankly, then motioned toward the front, where Wanda, Grace and Isobel were flying around above Gilles at a dizzying speed.

"I'd throw up if I had to do that." Lenn said absently.

"Yeah." Paul responded as he watched, then smiled when he saw that Gilles had taken out a wooden flute and began to play.

"Here they go." G said carefully as he kept his focus on the performance.

The three little 'fairies' were flying faster and faster and even though Paul was all the way in the back, he could feel a breeze being generated by them.

All of a sudden, Paul could see a miniature tornado beginning to form.

"If we were outside, a real five year old could probably do that, but to create a tornado inside a building takes a lot of power and skill." Lenn said informatively.

The three 'fairies' landed just as Gilles played the last notes of his little tune.

Applause started up and Paul joined in. Even though he didn't know exactly how much time and effort went into planning such a thing, he could easily believe that what they had done was worthy of praise.

All four of the 'performers' returned to their adult forms and seemed to be pleased with themselves as they went back to their chairs.

A man stepped forward and seemed to have a bit of swagger in his step.

Paul didn't know who he was but felt an automatic dislike for him. He didn't know if it were the obviously fake tan, the gaudy gold jewelry, the really bad comb-over or a combination thereof.

"That's Uncle Pear." G said unenthusiastically.

"The douchebag?" Paul asked to confirm.

A yelp of laughter sounded from Paul's other side.

He looked at Lenn curiously.

"It's not that you called him that, but that you came to that conclusion without even meeting him." Lenn tried to say past his laughter.

"G warned me about him, yesterday."

"Oh? Did he warn you about me, too?" Lenn asked cautiously.

"Yeah."

"What did he say?"

"That you steal things." Paul said simply.

"Oh." Lenn said quietly.

"Well, you do. What's the big deal? You said that you're not going to do that anymore. I believe you. I think we're good." Paul said simply.

"Is that all he said?" Lenn asked cautiously.

"Yeah. It was a warning, just the same way that I'd hope that you'd warn me about someone who might hurt me." Paul said seriously.

Lenn slowly nodded, then pointed toward the front of the room before saying, "Never believe one word that man says. He will use you until there's nothing left for him to take."

"Okay... I'll remember that." Paul said with surprise.

               'Cue theme music reprise.'

Paul noticed that Uncle Pear had transformed into some grotesque overly muscled rabbit-human hybrid thing.

"He looks scary but if you do so much as say 'boo' to him, he'll run away crying." Lenn said frankly.

"Good to know." Paul said as he watched Uncle Pear change back to his usual appearance.

Paul wasn't quite sure which was more disturbing and finally decided that his forms were equally unpleasant, each in their own way.

* * * * *

"Here we go, I think you're going to like this." G said when he saw who was getting up in front of the group.

"Who's that?" Paul asked curiously, since he was sure that he hadn't been introduced to either of the elderly couple who were standing.

"That's Great Aunt Euna and Great Uncle Paden. I'm not sure, but I think that Great Aunt Euna is Grandpa Ewan and Great Aunt Deoirdh's sister." G said thoughtfully, then added, "I'm going to drop the Greats and great greats. If you want to know how many generations back they are, just ask."

"Okay." Paul automatically agreed, then cautiously said, "I remember Grandpa Ewan, but who is Great Aunt De... however you say it?"

"She's Uncle Neese's wife... late wife. As far as I know, she's not here." G said seriously.

Paul slowly nodded, then turned his attention forward, since it seemed like the elderly couple were just about ready to do... whatever they were going to do.

Between one moment and the next, the man, Uncle Paden, was suddenly replaced by a large angry looking dog.

"That's one of the full transformations that I was telling you about." G whispered.

While Paul watched in wonder, Aunt Euna began to deform into a hideous beast that Paul could only describe as a 'hag'. Her wart covered skin had turned a sickening shade of green and her hair had become a tangled mess of white, sticking out in every direction. Her gnarled hands were dangerous looking claws and every breath she took was a sickening wheeze.

"In a fight, they would both use their transformed physical forms. Neither one of them have any offensive magic... at least, that's what Dad told me. I've never really talked to them much, since I'm not from their family line." G said simply.

"Toad's their great grandson." Lenn added.

Paul nodded as he watched the dog and the hag both snarling at the family.

A moment later, Paul watched carefully as they began to return to their regular 'human' forms.

By all appearances, they were an extremely elderly couple. No people Paul had ever met appeared to be less threatening.

The applause seemed to rise up from all around him and Paul enthusiastically joined in.

"Imagine it, being that old and being able to do a complex transformation like that. It's really amazing." G said admiringly.

Paul hadn't been around such things long enough to know what an accomplishment it was, but he trusted G's assessment of the situation.

Another elderly couple stepped forward. They weren't quite as old as Aunt Euna and Uncle Paden, but they were certainly somewhere around retirement age.

"That's Uncle Gawain, I'm named after him!" G said quickly.

Paul smiled at the announcement.

"He's Uncle Paden and Aunt Euna's son. He's with his wife, Aunt Coira." G said informatively.

"What are their abilities?" Paul asked curiously.

"It's best to wait and see, but I'll tell you that they're both able to transform. This is one of those cases where it runs in the family." G said frankly.

Without much prelude, the man began to increase in size. His hair grew incredibly fast and within a matter of seconds, he had transformed into a classic werewolf.

Paul sat in amazement.

He could feel his heart racing at the sight.

               'Without a doubt, Uncle Gawain is amazing.'

               'I'm glad that G has a namesake who is worthy.'

Paul had so much of his attention focused on Uncle Gawain that he had almost forgotten Aunt Coira.

A movement caused Paul to look away from the impressive sight of Gawain for a moment and he was stunned again.

Aunt Coira had transformed into a black bear.

No matter how impressive the werewolf was, seeing them side by side, it appeared as though Aunt Coira could probably defeat Uncle Gawain in two minutes or less.

When the applause sprang up, Paul automatically joined in.

He was frankly in awe. The animal transformations were beyond anything that he could have ever imagined.

               'Thank goodness that I watched all those black and white movies, otherwise I would have been totally unprepared.'

Aunt Coira and Uncle Gawain changed back to themselves and Paul once again noticed that their clothes appeared to be unchanged after the transformation. He resolved himself to do further investigation so that he wouldn't have to stop and take off his shoes every time he wanted to transform.

When the next group stepped forward, Paul smiled, since he recognized two of the three.

"Is Toad here, or did he get sent to bed?" Paul thought to ask.

"He's right there." G said as he pointed.

"Who's the other guy with Toad's parents?" Paul quietly asked G.

"Uncle Lachlan, he's Aunt Kat's brother. They're Uncle Gawain and Aunt Coira's kids."

"How many generations do we have here?" Paul asked hesitantly.

"Four, I think." G said consideringly, then quickly added, "At least, above ground."

Paul tried to fight down the smile at the response to his question.

"Do you think anyone from your family will do anything?" Lenn asked G quietly.

"Grandpa J might. Most of the rest don't have anything to show. They do charms or they're drainers." G said thoughtfully.

"Drainer? What's that?" Paul asked cautiously. He didn't like the sound of that.

"Just what it sounds like, their power is to steal your power. Aunt Kyla can use the power that she steals, but not at full strength and she has to know their spells. Her mom, Aunt Lyall, can steal your power, but she can't use it." G said instructively.

Before Paul could respond, he saw Kat, Horst and Lachlan stand in a row, obviously ready to show their abilities.

Kathryn transformed first, becoming a werecat creature that was both beautiful and deadly. Once her transformation was complete, Horst began to grow into an enormous mass of muscle. Whereas Uncle Pear's transformation gave the impression of 'muscles for show', Horst's muscles had the appearance of 'muscles for beating anything in his path into a bloody pulp'. The third and final member of their group then began to grow and hair began to sprout from just about everywhere at once.

It took a moment for Paul to recognize the creature that Lachlan had become. Much like Kat and Horst, his transformation appeared to be halfway between 'human' and something else. In his case, he seemed to be a half-gorilla.

"I bet you weren't expecting that." G chuckled from his side.

Paul looked at him for a long moment before responding, "I doubt that anyone could have predicted anything that's happened to me in the past eight hours."

"Safe bet." G said with a grin, then turned his attention back to the show.

After turning back to their 'human' forms, Kat, Horst and Lachlan went back to their seats.

There was a long pause that followed and people started whispering to each other, wondering if everyone had had their chance to present.

Paul was looking around and was surprised to see Grandpa J and D walking down the staircase.

One by one, the other attendees noticed that they were approaching and fell silent.

When D was finally at the front of the gathering, he looked around, then said, "I hope you realize how much I love all of you. I love you enough to interrupt my wedding night."

A few chuckles went around the room.

"G, great job on the decorating. You outdid yourself." D said appreciatively.

"I had help." G called in return.

"Dad asked that we provide the closing entertainment for the night, so let's do this." D said with a smile, then gestured past the crowd, toward the dining room.

Several of the dining room chairs began scampering into the great hall, under their own power.

A moment later, a collection of coffee tables, ottomans and comfortable cushioned chairs from the lounge followed.

Laughter began to spring up around the room as everyone watched the furniture playfully frolicking.

Paul felt a tremor, as if there had been a distant explosion or an earthquake.

A moment later, he felt it again and looked at G with question.

"It's Grandpa J." G said simply.

As Paul was about to ask G what he meant, he caught sight of a living statue, slowly walking into the great hall under its own power.

"Grandpa J can animate stone... but only if it's carved to look like a living thing." G said slowly.

"So your dad can make a chair walk, but your grandfather needs something that looks like a living thing?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Yeah. And from what Grandpa's told me, the way his works, he can kind of give his statues a 'taste of life' so that he doesn't have to tell them, like, 'step, step, step', he can just say, 'go in there' and they'll know how to do it." G said seriously, then added, "Dad actually has to tell his things every step of what they're supposed to do. He's more like a puppet master."

Paul looked back at the collection of furniture 'playing', then looked at D curiously. Now that he was paying attention, he could see the level of concentration that D was using to control every action of every piece of furniture.

The ground shook as the statue took another step and Paul began to realize just how big the thing was. From a distance, he had known that it was big, but now he estimated that the thing must be at least fifteen feet tall.

The statue took one more step, then stopped, freezing in place. It took a moment for Paul to realize that the pose that the statue had stopped in was one of bowing with respect.

"That's it! Thank you everyone. Goodnight!" D said loudly.

"Let's shut it down." G said decisively, then asked, "Nazzy and Vinda, will you undo your lights?"

"Sure." Nazzy said, then looked at Vinda and waited for her to be ready.

They simultaneously made gestures toward the window, and the moonlit scenery turned into complete darkness.

"Lenn, are you ready?" G asked hopefully.

As an answer, Lenn looked toward the window and concentrated. In the space between one moment and the next, the seemingly open space was replaced by a solid wall.

"Here it goes." G said as he raised his hands, then dramatically let them fall. As he did, the chandeliers, the tapestries, the beautifully ornate chairs and the carpeting all vanished, replaced by gray stone and folding chairs.

A round of applause sounded, acknowledging the wonderful job that G had done.

"You did good." D said appreciatively as he approached.

"Are you going to need any help getting everything put back?" G asked cautiously.

"No. I've got it." D said as he glanced at the furniture.

Paul watched in wonder as everything slowly turned and started to go back to where it had come from.

"You two should get upstairs to bed. Tomorrow's going to be a busy day." D said frankly.

"What's happening tomorrow?" G asked cautiously.

"We're going to be travelling back to the States." D said frankly.

"You could have given us some warning!" G yelped.

"That's what I'm doing right now." D said with a grin.

"We're going to need to hang around here for a little bit to clean up and put the chairs away." G said as he looked around.

"Don't worry about that. I'll get it." D said with a glance at the folding chairs and a simple gesture of his hand. In unison, all the unoccupied chairs began walking themselves over to a place along the wall and folding themselves.

"Thanks, Dad." G said with a grin, then looked to Paul and asked, "Are you ready?"

"If we're leaving first thing in the morning, then I'd like to say goodbye to Toad." Paul said honestly.

"Yeah. Me, too." G admitted.

Paul then turned to Lenn and said, "I live with G, you know how to get in touch with us, don't you?"

"Yeah." Lenn assured him.

"Anytime, day or night, if you need to talk, one of us will be there for you." Paul said firmly.

"Okay." Lenn responded, then thought to add, "You can call me, too."

"We will." Paul promised.

"So, it sounds like we'll all be flying out together." Nazzy said from G's other side.

"Yeah. I can think of worse things." G said with a grin.

"I doubt that I'll get much school work done on this trip." Paul said as the group started walking.

"You're not going to need it anyway." G said simply.

"Why not?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Well, now that you're 'one of us', you're going to get to see the real school." G said with a smirk.

After a moment to consider, Paul finally said, "I can't wait to get started."

The End

Editor's Notes:



Well, that was interesting! There were certainly some unusual talents demonstrated, weren't there?

I know I want to see more of these people.

One of my favourite things about a story from MultiMapper is that his characters evolve into more complicated individuals.

I certainly want to learn more.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher