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Chapter 18 -- The House of Dreamwalker
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

We were fools.

At least, I hoped Dreamwalker thought so. Of course, I knew we were walking into a trap. It's not that my foe made his challenges easy to defeat; he didn't. But each challenge left me depleted of magic, while he sat here under the Tap with all the power he could use. Why not, after beating me up with the skeletons, throw in the clay golem before I could reload? Even with Natomi's help I could easily have lost. He could have sent the skeletons to Mara's apartment; without the Japanese mage's help I might not have survived them.

No, he wanted me to come here. He wanted something from me. I just hoped I could figure out what it was in time. One thing was clear, though... he didn't want to leave his base of power.

I carefully kept all that away from my surface thoughts. I focused on the chatter between Mark and Mara; that's a lot of why I wanted them along. Their "noise" made it easier for me to block out the things in my mind I didn't want Dreamwalker to know; after all, he either had psychic powers or spells to enter my mind before, and I knew how easy Mind Reading was to cast. I needed to keep my secrets secret.

We walked up to the big front door. The house looked solid and sound, but otherwise unmaintained. Someone obviously mowed the small front yard, but there was no landscaping or flowers, and the house needed a paint job.

At the front door we stood there, looking foolish. I hadn't thought about how this would all begin... I couldn't just blow the door down; the neighbors might well call the police, and I didn't want any outside interference this time.

So, I knocked.

After a brief moment the door was opened by a blond, healthy-looking man in his twenties. I was not expecting a young man; then he spoke and explained all.

"Hello, Solomoriah. I am David, the Dreamwalker's apprentice. He is waiting for you in the parlor. Please follow me."

So we did. I went first, with Mara and Mark following in that order. The parlor was close by, and I got to see Dreamwalker for the first time.

He was old... very old. He sat there in a wheelchair facing across a glass-topped antique coffee table toward three comfortable-looking chairs. He waved toward the central one and said, "Be seated, Solomoriah. Your woman and apprentice may also sit." David took up a position standing behind Dreamwalker's right shoulder.

As we took our seats I glanced around the room. Mark thought, "Victorian," and I took it that he meant the style. The room was darkened by curtains over all the windows; I wondered if he had the same weakness which plagued my old master.

"Daylight depresses me, Solomoriah," he said creakily. I had expected he would be reading my thoughts, and this confirmed it. "We have much to discuss, my friend."

Before I could react he waved his hand and spoke a word, and for a moment I thought his spell had failed, for I didn't feel any different. Then I realized I couldn't move; but unlike my own Paralysis spell, this spell didn't make me collapse like a jellyfish. What had he done?

He pointed at Mark and Mara in succession, saying "You, and you, come here," and my friends arose and approached him. I thought to them, "It's some kind of domination... be strong." He took each of them by the hand and intoned a spell, evidently casting it from scratch, and I realized when he had finished that the Mind Reading I placed on them had been dispelled. They could no longer "hear" me or each other. Mine was still in effect, though. I wondered what he had planned.

"You," he said, pointing at Mark, "give me the gun." Mark reached under his jacket in the back and pulled it out. Dreamwalker put the gun beside him in the wheelchair.

"You two, go with David, obey him. David, take them to the dining room, stay there. This mage and I must speak." David did as he was told, smirking at Mara. I reached out to his mind and saw what he was thinking, and raged at my inability to move, to chase him, to strike him down.

"Patience, Solomoriah." That voice... the strength of youth and the authority of age. Dreamwalker now spoke in my mind. It wasn't my Mind Reading, it was his mental link spell... I hadn't tried but I was sure his mind was defended. Why wasn't David's?

"Watch and learn," came Dreamwalker's reply, as he gestured at the glass-topped table and spoke two words. The glass became a "window" into the dining room, and of course since he had so commanded me I watched.

David left Mark standing against the wall, and turned his attention to Mara. He commanded her to disrobe, and she obeyed, her frozen features betraying no emotion. I reached out to her mind and found her strangely calm. She was taunting David in her mind, the sort of taunts meant to strike a man's pride.

Then she stood there, naked, and David began belatedly to unfasten his belt. Mara continued to silently taunt him.

Suddenly he stopped, looking dismayed. I looked into his mind and saw the reason... a sudden case of impotence. He was not aware that Mara was taunting him, I could tell, but I wondered if it was having an effect anyway...

He slapped her. She didn't respond visibly, but I could see in her mind that it hurt. He smiled an evil smile, and did it again. Mara couldn't maintain her concentration; and whether it was that fact, or the simple sadistic pleasure he was feeling, I didn't know, but his impotence was passing. I switched back and forth between the two of them, raging at my own inability to act.

"Now watch, as I let the spell controlling Mark slip..."

Mark was unarmed now, but as I looked at him I saw a dagger hanging above the mantle of the fireplace. It was ornate, of gold and jade, and looked old, but the blade was exposed and evidently sharp. Mark would have seen it when he entered the room, and now as he pulled free of the spell controlling him he turned quietly and took it down.

It had to be a trap... didn't it? I watched, as that was all I could do. Mark held the knife underhanded, like a true knife fighter, but uncomfortably enough that I could tell he'd never actually used one before.

David struck Mara again, and this was apparently enough to make him ready. He unfastened his pants and bent to push them down, and then he saw Mark in his peripheral vision. It was too late for him, as Mark jabbed under his ribcage from the left side. If he didn't hit David's heart, he most likely punctured his lung. David fell in a heap, the dagger still in him.

That's wrong, I thought... a young, healthy man like that shouldn't die so easily. My rage disappeared as a cold chill seemed to descend on me. What was happening here?

I watched as Mark stepped away from the body. He spoke to Mara; I heard him through her ears, saying "Are you okay?" but she couldn't answer. Then, like a marionette when its strings are picked up by the puppeteer, Mark gave a jerk and then stood still. Dreamwalker had reasserted his power.

"He thought himself free," thought Dreamwalker, chuckling. It was a terrible sound, like he was breathing his last breath. "I spent much time crafting that spell for just that purpose. It often pleases me to play puppets with people."

He sat staring at the now-still image in the tabletop. "She's a beautiful savage, Solomoriah. The beautiful ones are always the downfall of someone." He had arranged to slay his own apprentice by using my friend... why?

"I'll tell you soon, my friend. First, though, give me the ring you are wearing." I complied, though my mind was screaming not to do it. He took it and shakily put it on his hand.

"Ahhh..." he sighed. "It is as I had hoped." His voice was already audibly plainer and stronger. As I watched he seemed to fill out before my eyes. "I'm hungry!" he said. With his mind he reached out to Mara, and I heard his voice echoing in her mind, "The kitchen is through that door. Make me a plate of sandwiches. Use the roast and lettuce in the refrigerator, the bread on the counter, and bring a glass of water with it."

Evidently instructions to a person under this form of domination had to be pretty well complete.

He hadn't bothered to tell Mara to dress, and this did bother me a bit; he sensed this, and when she brought the plate of sandwiches he said "Dress, for your master here is offended by your nakedness. Then prepare another plate of sandwiches just like this and bring it." He began to wolf down the food.

As he ate he spoke to me with his mind. "You wonder why I killed my own apprentice, using yours as my weapon? I'll tell you, my friend. In just over a month I'll be one hundred ninety-nine years old. The year I turned forty my master died. I decided then that the Reaper would have a harder time with me.

"I studied necromancy, which my master had forbidden, and I soon learned the secrets of long life. I discovered part of a spell to stave off aging and death, and I completed it myself. However, it needed a lot of power, and the older I got the more it required. By the time I was eighty, I looked only sixty but I was spending more than four hours a day in meditation to draw the power I needed to keep the spell going. By its nature, if it ever fails I cannot cast it again.

"I had an apprentice then, an avaricious youngster who saw my magic as a way to line his pockets and live a high life. I taught him a few spells, which he used to perform thefts of numerous items of value. I let him enjoy it for perhaps a month, and then I killed him with that knife.

"Your master was a necromancer, wasn't he?" asked my foe. He read my affirmative answer from my thoughts. "Then you know that when you create a zombie you must cast the spell at the moment of death, or within just a very few seconds afterward." I nodded, wondering where this was leading and yet afraid I knew. "That knife makes the spell easy. It traps the spirit in the body, stopping the process of death for several hours. I acquired it from an antiquities dealer who claimed it came from Argentina; he had no idea what it was really worth.

"I slew my first apprentice with that knife, and put his zombie to work gathering magical energy for me. It's true, he was not as efficient as I, but he had nothing better to do all day but gather the energy for me. I had to create an additional spell for this purpose, to allow me to move about untethered by the zombie, but that posed no real difficulty for me." He wiped his hands on his pants then, his last sandwich eaten. Mara entered just then with another plate. She looked as if she had slept in her clothes, but at least she was covered.

"Ah, good, you are an excellent slave, my girl." He took the plate and began to eat. "Where was I? Oh, yes. This sufficed for some time, but in about twenty years I found myself in the same predicament. I sought out another apprentice; this one wanted women to be his slaves. I taught him the very spell you are under right now; I call it Physical Dominance. He went out that same day and brought home three women, a petite redhead, a buxom blonde, and a sensible-looking brunette, all under his spell. I let him have them for a night and a day; that second night, after he fell asleep, I entered the room and overrode his spell. The blonde stabbed him while the other two held him down, and as I was already rather weak I cast the spell right away and put them to work processing him."

Processing, I thought. What does he mean? "You'll find out soon enough, Solomoriah. As I was saying, I put him to work alongside my original zombie apprentice, killed the women, and went on about my business. This worked well for about fourteen years, before I found myself needing another apprentice.

"I've had many over the years; besides the ever-increasing power requirements of my life-extension spell, zombies don't last forever. You have to replace them now and again.

"But over all this time I was aging, slower than normal men but still aging. In time I would become unable to maintain my stable of zombies, and then I would die slowly. This is not to be, now! Your Ring of Regeneration has set me free! The accumulated damage and wear of almost two hundred years of living is falling away from me."

I could see by my still-functional Mystic Vision that the ring was glowing more strongly than ever; and if you had asked me how old he was, by looking at him I'd have said fifty, perhaps sixty years. "That's quite a compliment, my boy!" he said, again wiping his hands on his pants. He took the last gulp from the glass and handed it to Mara, saying "Get me more."

He stood up from the wheelchair, and stretched, and I didn't have to be able to read his mind to know it had been a long time since he had last done that. "Stand up, mage, and follow me," he said, and I did.

He led me to the dining room, and said "You two pick up my apprentice and follow me." We did so, and he led us to a door; when he opened it I saw stairs descending. "Put him on the table in the basement below, and then shackle yourselves to the wall." Mara came in then, and he took the glass from her and told her to shackle herself also.

There were shackles enough in that basement for six people, and they were strong enough even as old as they were to hold some very strong men. As I turned to put my back to the wall and reached over my head, I saw at the other end of the dimly-lit basement something to make your stomach turn and your blood run cold.

Heads, in jars. Six of them, all young men, floating in a fluid I later discovered was formaldehyde. Dreamwalker did not follow us down right away, and after a time I felt the spell begin to slip away from me.

Was I really free of it, or had he simply loosened my reins? I looked about, my stiff neck shooting pains, to find Mara on my left, Mark on my right. The were also beginning to move.

"How do we get out of here, Solo?" asked Mark.

"I don't know," I said, and it was true.

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