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Chapter 14 -- Back to the Tower
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

Mara took me to her bedroom and began to disrobe. I must have looked surprised; she made a disapproving noise and stuck her tongue out at me.

She quickly dressed in a dress I could tell was old, an apron of sorts, socks and sneakers. Then she presented herself like a model. "What do you think?"

"Cleaning lady?" I asked.

"You catch on quickly, love. Now we go to the Fremont building just before quitting time. We go in the back way as everyone is going out the front. You'll be invisible, so if the guards are looking for you they won't see you, and I'll look like an ordinary cleaning lady going to work.

"I used to clean offices before I got my current job." I became uncomfortably aware that I didn't know what she did for a living. It must have showed, as she giggled. "You know what I do now? I sell perfume and cosmetics at a department store. Pays better, but I can't smell anything by the end of the day."

"Easier work too, I'd imagine."

"Come on, let's go. There isn't much time!" She grabbed my hand and her purse and nearly dragged me out the door.

At the rear of the building we encountered a few people leaving. I was already invisible, and there appeared to be no guard. I had not yet learned about cameras, and in fact there was one in that rear hallway, but as I was invisible and Mara in disguise it didn't matter. She pressed the UP button and waited for the freight elevator.

Just as it arrived, two other women dressed similarly to Mara came in, and all of us got on the elevator together. Fortunately it was a large elevator... just try to stay out of the way of people who can't see you. One of the newcomers was black, and the other was of some oriental extraction, and older. As Mara pushed the button labelled 24, the older woman looked her over intently.

"You aren't one of ours," she said in a cross voice. "What are you doing going to KRS?"

Mara looked shocked for just a moment, then said, "Okay, you busted me. My husband works up there, and I think he's having an affair with his secretary. He don't come home from work 'til late an' he smells like cheap perfume when he does. I've tried to sneak in on him, but I think the guard's in his pocket."

The black woman spoke then. "Yeah, you can't trust the brothers when they get together. She's okay, Mrs. Kim. Let's help her out."

Mrs. Kim! Now I recognized her! I was certainly glad to be invisible.

Just then we reached our destination, and I felt the power flowing into me. The elevator opened, and Mara waited for the other women to disembark first; then she went the other way. It took some dodging around for her to avoid them as she looked for an appropriate room to use. Obviously we hadn't intended to introduce ourselves to the cleaning crew.

Mara slipped into an empty office and closed the door. I grabbed the doorknob and cast the spell of Closing as quickly as I could; now nobody could surprise us. I lost my Invisibility when I cast that spell. You have to maintain a certain "quiet" of the mind, or the spell is broken. Spell casting by those made Invisible is possible but must be done with care.

Mara held out her hand, smiling. I put the ring on her middle finger; it was a bit loose but would work for her purpose. She didn't jump this time when the tingling began. Then she slid up her skirt and took off her panties.

Now, I had been with women that way before, and ordinarily it would have been a matter of some interest to me; but what I saw before I turned away made my bile rise and my blood run cold. I self-consciously began preparing spells, trying to cover the awkward moment with activity.

This time I prepared three Light spells of twofold potency, dropping all but one of my Mind Reading spells to make the "space." In place of the pair of Invisibility spells I normally prepare, I prepared one multi-target version. Otherwise I prepared spells as I usually would when expecting to battle a wizard.

I was almost done when someone tried the door. Naturally the cleaning crew would get here eventually; Mara and I stepped back into a corner as I began to cast an Invisibility spell for two. The door had a large translucent window, and while the door would not open that window could be broken.

Of course the door didn't open, and the cleaning lady (I don't know which one) moved on. I heard what I took to be curses; it sounded like the younger woman. I cancelled the spell I was casting and finished my spell preparations.

When I had finished I said, "How are you doing?"

"Fine, I guess. Look if you want." So I did. I would say that she was about half healed at that point; it had taken most of an hour so far. She was using a small pocket mirror to watch the progress, and while I understand it was a matter of great interest to her I found it rather like watching a clock without a second hand. In other words, tedious. I decided to explore, so I cast a spell of Invisibility on myself and carefully slipped out the door. (The spell of Closing does not bar its caster.) No one was in that hallway, fortunately, so I wandered about on that floor for a while, looking through open doors, and generally being nosy.

Eventually I reckoned enough time had passed, so I went back toward the office where I left Mara. As I turned the last corner I saw a guard approaching. He went directly to that office and tried the door. Of course, the knob didn't turn, as the mechanism was still held by the Closing. Next he tried his master key, and of course it wouldn't turn either. Now he was suspicious. He got out a thick cylindrical object (a flashlight, I later learned) and drew back his arm for a backhand smash into the window. I readied a Sleep spell... I couldn't let him catch Mara.

For a moment he stood that way, and I realized he was listening. He smiled and shook his head, put away his flashlight and spoke into a radio. "Yeah, Mick, never mind on that cleaning lady. Mr. Steele has some company, sounds like."

He turned and went back the way he came, and I relaxed. Sure enough, the door of the office said Harvey Steele, Partner; but what was he listening to?

So I listened, and I heard Mara making sounds. It seemed to me that the ring had finished its work and Mara was... testing. So I waited outside; it seemed the gentlemanly thing to do.

After a time the sounds ended. I waited a bit more, then entered the office, ending the fading Invisibility spell as I did so. Mara looked... happy. "Oh, Solomoriah, thank you!" she exclaimed, pressing the ring into my palm. Then she kissed me deeply, and whispered "Let's go back to my place" into my ear.

I could easily see in my mind what she was thinking, with no magical assistance. Now it may not be very manly to say so, but this made me wary. If she were just another woman seeking pleasure from a mysterious traveller, such as I had dallied with in the past, I wouldn't have felt that way. This woman, though, I knew to be special. Rushing into sex with her might be a mistake, even if it was what she wanted.

Still, the first part, namely leaving the building, was for sure a good idea. I cast a fresh Invisibility spell, dismissed the spell of Closing and led Mara by the hand to the freight elevator.

We had only gone a single floor down when the elevator stopped. As the door opened I saw an oriental woman in a businesslike dress and shoes. She was one of those women of ageless beauty, one who's age you could not easily determine.

She looked directly at my invisible face, ignoring Mara, and said, "Who are you, and what are you doing in my territory?"

I let the Invisibility go then. Obviously she could see me, so there was no use trying to hide. "I am Solomoriah. I apologize for intruding on your territory; I'm not from around here, I'm afraid."

She stepped into the elevator and pressed the Close Door button. "I am Natomi Osaka. This building is my territory. You will do well to avoid it." The elevator started down.

"I understand, Natomi Osaka. I will not trouble you again." I hoped I would master the tapping spell soon so as to not need intimate contact with a Ley line; sneaking into the building was becoming a liability I could ill afford.

"Good. Just so we understand each other."

We reached the ground floor, and the doors opened. The freight elevator was located at the top of a T-shaped intersection of hallways, facing the lower part of the T, and that lower part led straight to the back doors. All three of us stepped off the elevator and started down the hallway; that's when I heard the familiar clattering noises...

"Skeletons!" I yelled. Sure enough, I saw several coming through the back entrance. Natomi said, "Behind us, too!" She spoke a word in Japanese (I assumed) and I heard the crackle of lightning. Next I heard what had to be a curse, also in Japanese.

I released a Force Bolt, blasting one of my opponents to pieces, then yelled "Only force attacks will work!" over my shoulder.

I let fly another bolt and heard Natomi do the same; hers didn't sound quite like mine. I quickly released a third bolt, then in the moment of reprieve I chanced a look behind me. Natomi spoke again and another force spell was released, but unlike mine, her spell expanded into a wave which knocked back and destroyed several of the skeletons.

I released my last bolt. Now I was facing three skeletons, each strong enough to pull me down, and I was out of force attacks. I longed for my staff.

Skeletons, animated by necromancy, are strong but unimaginative opponents. Usually they either grab and wrestle with a victim, or club him with their arms. Clubbing would be stopped for quite a long time by my Kinetic Shield, but I didn't waste time invoking it because I was certain they would grapple.

I was right. I raised my arms to defend myself and tried to block the corridor so they wouldn't get to Mara, but two of them pulled me down and the third bypassed me. I heard Mara scream but couldn't take time to look.

Wrestle a human and you can do things to hurt him, even if he is quite strong; but animated skeletons have no tendons, nor joints, nor muscles. If you grab the skull and turn it completely around you haven't done a bit of harm, and the same is true of most of their joints. To defeat one, you must break its bones or forcibly separate its joints.

Naturally while you are doing this, it is trying to hurt you too.

One skeleton had its arms around my legs, and the other straddled me and was trying to pin my arms. Somehow I slipped my left leg free and wrapped it around the second ones spine (coming in under the ribcage). I bent that leg with all my might and separated the spine of the one on top. Unfortunately that only disabled its lower section, and the arms continued wrestling with me.

Meanwhile the lower one was trying to use my exposure to bite me in a very tender place. I kicked at it hard and knocked its skull off; but the larger part of it continued to grapple with me, getting a hold on my left leg again.

Now the one on top decided to bite off my nose. It was all I could do to keep those ragged teeth out of reach; I didn't want to have to grow it back again.

I had heard Natomi fire off at least two more of her Force Wave spells, and Mara had only screamed once. I hoped they were doing better than I was.

Finally I worked my right hand loose, and tore the jawbone away from the skull. The circulation was cut off to my legs, and they were becoming numb; so I had to rely on my upper body. I bent the skeleton's left arm up at an unnatural angle, grinding it against the collarbone until it came free. Then I used the largest armbone as a club, smashing it into the skull until it came off, and then into the monster's right collarbone until is broke and the arm came off.

Now I had both hands free, so I threw the writhing ribcage and upper spine off of me and set to work dislodging the headless skeleton from my legs. I started by reaching over it and grabbing the hipbones, then bending the monster backward until the spine separated. Now I just had the arms to worry about.

As I was pulling off its shoulder blades I chanced a look behind me. Mara was held down by a headless skeleton, and Natomi was working it over with martial arts moves I would have loved to have watched. Unfortunately I was too busy.

I got free about the same time that Natomi freed Mara. Standing was difficult, as my legs were asleep. "You have an enemy, I see," Natomi said. "Who is it?"

"He called himself Dreamwalker," I answered. Mara came into my arms and held me almost as tightly as the skeleton had. She was shaking, frightened.

"His name is Caleb Smith, and he lives somewhere south of here. He trys to claim San Francisco is his turf, but we have all learned to deal with him."

"All? Are there many mages in San Francisco?"

"A handful." She paused. "You would not have defeated those skeletons without my help." Natomi opened a nearby closet, and handed me a broom. We began sweeping the bones outside.

"We are in your debt," I said as I swept. "Tomorrow I will try to find this Caleb Smith and make him pay for his attempt on our lives."

"You'll need magic for that, and you have depleted your prepared spells, haven't you?" she asked.

"Yes. I have a few attack spells, but no more Force Bolts."

"Come with me. You can use my office." She looked up at the cameras, and what she said next explained much to me. "The guards will have seen our fight. I'll have to help them forget it. Here's my key," she said, handing it to me, "Room 2316. I'll meet you shortly."

So we went to her office. I spent some time comforting Mara; it's easy for me to forget the horror an animated skeleton is for the uninitiated. To me they are no more than machines; the fact that they are made of bone doesn't bother me.

Mara felt differently. After a time, she recovered, and I began preparing fresh Force Bolt spells.

I thanked Natomi again, as I was finishing up when she arrived. Again Mara and I went down the elevator, but this time there were no surprises.

The pile of bones was gone from outside the building; I wondered what Natomi had done with them.

Mara didn't say much as we walked home. I put my arm around her for comfort, and for warmth, as it had gotten quite chilly after dark.

I would have liked to exchange spells with Natomi, though I suspected it would be hard as I didn't speak Japanese. That Force Wave spell would be quite useful, after all, and I was sure that she knew the secret to the Tap spell.

Back at her apartment, Mara absently disrobed and went to the shower. It's strange that her immodesty bothered me, as I had spent time in cities such as Gharu and Ta Charka where a woman might wear only a loincloth and not be bothered when the wind blew it up; but I had come from a more modest people, and here I found myself in a place where most of the citizens went about dressed in public. (Yes, I still had a lot to learn about the modern world.)

She spent a lot of time showering that night, as if to remove some imagined odor or taint. When she came out, I went in, and made a conscious effort to emulate her. I didn't want her to "smell" anything on me.

She had expected a joyous night of lovemaking. That obviously would not happen, now. When I got out of the shower I put on a fresh pair of shorts and looked out. Mara was laying on the bed, on her abdomen, crying quietly. She had on T-shirt and panties as I had first seen her.

I lay down beside her and held her, and we fell asleep that way.

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The Adventures of Solo Jones Last Updated 07/18/2005