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Chapter 1 -- The Summons
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

I awoke with the dawn. For a moment I was disoriented, but then I rolled over and saw Mara lying beside me asleep, and everything came back to me. The night before had been our wedding night.

So I was surprised to find myself awake at dawn; for we had been up quite late. But I was awake, and I didn't want to return to sleep. I wanted to wake up Mara.

I lay there looking at her beautiful face for a long time before I decided that the right thing to do was to let her sleep. I got up as quietly as I could and went about my morning business in the bath; then I dressed in T-shirt, sweatpants and sneakers, picked up my staff (which I left assembled against the wall in the bedroom when not carrying it) and went downstairs to practice.

In the preceding month we had finished the second terrace, which was much larger than the first. We built a patio of sorts from square concrete blocks, some gray and some red, which I laid out in a pattern I remembered from the city of Gharu many, many years ago. This was where I went to practice with my weapon.

I worked out for perhaps an hour in the cool morning air before I heard the back door close. As I turned I saw Mara, dressed much as I was, coming down to me with two steaming mugs of xocholotl and a huge smile.

"Good morning, love," she said as she approached.

"Good morning to you. I didn't know how long you might sleep." I took the mug she offered and drank the hot liquid quickly. It was good, but for once I would rather have had water.

Mara sipped at her mug, looking over the rim at me with an unreadable expression. I was about to ask what she was thinking, but she spoke first.

"Teach me," she said, pointing at my staff, which I had laid on the concrete.

"You want to learn to fight with the staff?"

"It's been quiet the last month or so," she said, "but I remember the first weeks after you awoke, how many men and monsters you fought. I was there for some of the fights, remember? I want to be able to protect myself."

"How can I deny you?"

It was, of course, a rhetorical question, as I immediately picked up the staff and handed it to her. Mara is nearly as tall as me (and I am six feet even), and she is strong and reasonably fit, so this training seemed promising. I taught her the stances and the basic moves, which she learned easily; I was encouraged, but it's a long way from the basics to becoming a warrior.

Very quickly I found myself hampered by the fact that we had only one staff. I had to take it, show her a movement, then give it back over and over. I briefly considered making her a staff just like mine, but for training purposes a regular staff would be better.

Mara was practicing a sweeping movement, designed to trip one's opponent, when we both heard "Married a day and already fighting!"

Mark was standing on the back porch, soda in hand, watching us. We had both been so wrapped up in what we were doing that we didn't notice him.

"Good morning," we called out in harmony. Mara giggled, and I had to smile.

"You obviously can't hear the phone out here," he said. "There's a message on the machine to call Natomi Osaka."

"I guess I'd better do that, then," I said.

"Do you mind if I practice a while?" asked Mara.

"Go ahead," I said, and then I kissed her.

After a few moments I heard Mark clear his throat. "I'm coming, I'm coming," I said, pulling away from Mara. At the door I turned a moment and watched her. I think I could have done that all day, but a call from Natomi could only mean business.

Mark was dialing the phone as I entered the office. He handed the reciever to me, and I heard "Japanese Consulate, how may I help you?"

"This is Solo Jones, returning Natomi Osaka's call."

"One moment please," she replied. The hold music barely had time to begin before Natomi was on the phone.

"I need to speak to you in person," she said. "Something I promised you is weighing on me now. Can you come this morning?"

"Yes," I answered. "I'll be there right away."

I went out and told Mara where I was going. "You'd better change clothes," she said, reminding me that I was wearing sweaty exercise clothing. I went up to the bedroom to change, with Mara close behind; she sat on the edge of the bed and watched me silently. "Do you want this?" she said, holding out my staff after I finished dressing.

"I suppose I should go prepared for anything," I answered. I opened the top drawer of "my" chest of drawers and felt for the invisible clips Mark and I had engineered to hold the staff. We had thought to put them on my belt, but it turned out they worked better in the outside corners of my front jeans pockets.

"Shirak," said Mara, and hiss-click-hiss-click the staff collapsed and disappeared. I took the invisible sections from her and secured them in the clips. Then she kissed me. "See you later, husband," she said with a grin.

"I look forward to it, wife," I said, grinning back.

"Are you driving this time?" asked Mark when I made it outside. Mark had been teaching me to drive for about a month, and I had my learner's permit.

"No, we're in a bit of a hurry, so I suppose you'd better do it."

"Next stop, 50 Fremont Center," he said as I buckled my seatbelt.

The trip was uneventful. After doing some driving myself I found that Mark's driving didn't worry me so much; I discovered I was more afraid of my own driving.

We parked in a nearby parking structure and went in. The receptionist at the desk marked "Information" looked familiar, but I couldn't be sure if she was the same one I had seen before. We entered the elevator and I pushed the button marked 23.

The Consulate was something of a madhouse; there were people going in all directions. The only other time I had ever been here was well after hours, and now I wasn't sure which way led to Natomi's office.

Then Mark said, "There she is!" We plowed through the crowded entry area to where she stood talking to a distinguished-looking older Japanese man.

"Are you gentlemen looking for me?" he said as we approached, and Natomi, who had been facing away, turned and saw us.

"No, sir," she said, before we could speak, "they're here to see me."

He looked a little perturbed. "Take them back into your office, please. It might be best if they left by the back elevator." She bowed to him, and then led us to her office.

We sat in the indicated chairs as she closed the door, shutting out the noise and confusion of the hallways. "There is a visiting dignitary on his way," she said as she sat down. "I would have come to you otherwise. Thank you for coming, Solomoriah."

"It's no problem," I said. "What did you promise me which is weighing on you now?"

"You made me promise to keep the secret of Joseph Green's people. Now it seems they have killed an important mage, John Harkin, and the Conclave doesn't know who did it."

"The Conclave?" I asked.

"Remember I told you that there were a handful of mages in the Bay Area? They are all members of the Conclave, or apprentices to members. It's sort of a club, I guess; mostly they seem to bicker and fight under the cover of polite social interaction. The thing is, they do take care of their members when there are threats from the outside. Now they want to know who killed John Harkin, and I think it was Green's people."

"I've learned they call themselves Changelings," I said. "Tell me about this John Harkin."

"He was the chairman of the Conclave; a pretty good leader overall. His apprentice, Franklin Evans, found him decapitated in his study with no sign of who did it. He called the police, of course, and then he called the vicechairman, Ron Harris. He is the chairman now, and he has called a meeting of the full Conclave for tonight."

"This does sound like a Changeling murder, but why would they care about him?" I asked. "Do you think he knew their secret?"

"I don't know, but what other suspect is there?"

"I wouldn't know. I've only been in town two months."

"That's another thing I'm curious about, Solomoriah. You seem to have a lot of secrets... I hope you trust me with them someday."

"Someday, perhaps," I answered. "So you want to tell the Conclave about the Changelings?"

"I think it would be prudent. I'd like you to come along, and bring one of those swords you said you captured from them."

"The meeting is tonight, you said. Where, and at what time?"

"Eight PM, at the office of Ron Harris. He has a nightclub down in the SOMA area, near the Bay Bridge." She wrote the address on the back of one of her business cards and handed it to me.

"Ah, near the Ley line junction I've seen there," I said. "What can you tell me about the Conclave members?"

"They all wish to be called Magus, a title they were given when they joined the Conclave. With Harkin gone, there will only be four of them... Moses Rook, Phillip Silva, Schuyler Norton, and of course Ron Harris."

I sat back in my chair as Natomi continued. "Moses Rook and Phillip Silva are both professors. Moses teaches African History at Berkeley, and Phillip teaches Philosophy at Golden Gate University. Schuyler Norton is a musician, but he really lives off his generous inheritance; he is also very skilled at magic. Ron Harris owns a nightclub, as I told you, and it is very popular; he also has a hand in more local businesses than you can easily count. Ron is a master of magics of influence, control, and domination, and it is easy to understand why if you know his personality."

"Doesn't sound like you much like him," said Mark.

Natomi shivered slightly. "He worries me, but of all the remaining Conclave members he's the one most suited to leadership."

"Very well, I will attend the meeting," I said, looking at the business card. "Should I meet you at this address?"

"Why don't I pick you up?" she asked.

"Fine," I answered. I was about to say more when Natomi's phone beeped at her. It was someone informing her of a minor disaster she needed to attend to. Quickly I shook her hand, then Mark and I left, by the back way as the older man had asked. I wondered if he was the Consul?

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