Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.
When we got back to the house it was almost lunchtime. Mark, as was now usual,
was planning to eat with Valerie, so he let me out at the front of the house.
"Gotta go," he said. "See you at one!"
I found Mara in the kitchen preparing our meal. I came in carrying the staves,
and she said "Oh, good, now we don't have to pass yours back and forth. But why
did you get two?"
I kissed her and said "Hello to you also." She returned my smile, and I said "I
want to practice fairly with you. We'll be beyond practicing moves and into
actual sparring pretty quickly."
"We need to find a different place to practice then," she said, "or we'll bust
our butts on that concrete."
"Already taken care of, my love. I ordered some large practice mat sections,
enough to cover a ten by ten yard area." She smiled, and kissed me again, then
noticed the pork chops she was frying needed her attention. I put the staves in
the utility room (which is across the hall from the kitchen, directly behind the
As we sat down to eat, Mara said "Tell me about the meeting with Natomi. What
did she want?"
"She told me a mage has been killed, beheaded to be exact, and she suspects the
Changelings. I have to say I agree in principle, for I have never fought a more
dangerous opponent than the Changeling swordsmen, but there are so many things I
don't know yet about this age... I don't feel safe saying it couldn't have been
"Who was this mage?"
"His name was John Harkin, and he was the leader of a group called the Conclave.
Evidently all the mages in the area are either members or apprentices to
members, as she put it, except for me. The new leader, their old vicechairman,
is a man named Ron Harris. He owns a nightclub near the Bay Bridge." I pulled
out the business card and showed the address to Mara.
"AJ's Place. I've heard of it; it's supposed to be pretty popular. I wouldn't
call it close to the Bay Bridge though."
"Close enough; a Ley line junction is in easy tapping range."
"What does the Bay Bridge have to do with the Ley lines?" she asked, looking
"I don't know, but both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate are directly under
"Wow. I wonder why?"
"I don't know; it's a puzzle I'd like to solve someday. Perhaps even people who
can't see the lines are still attracted to them?"
Our conversation wandered off into other areas as I helped clear away the
dishes. Mara shooed me out of the kitchen when she heard Mark coming in the
front door, and I met him in the office. After a brief discussion of the
upcoming meeting I went outside to try the moves I had seen Cheng perform; most
turned out to be within my ability.
I was looking away from the house when I heard "May I join you?" I jumped a bit
I said "Some warrior, eh?" as I turned toward Mara (for that's who it was). "If
I don't pay better attention than that even this ring won't save me." I toyed
with the Ring of Regeneration on my right hand; I still wasn't comfortable with
it there, but tradition demands the wedding ring on the left hand.
I put aside my metal staff and took one of the practice staves from Mara, and
then I spent the rest of the afternoon teaching her. It was a warm afternoon,
warmer than I prefer for practice, but I was enjoying it too much to complain.
I hoped that the exercise mats would arrive soon so we could actually spar with
At least Mark didn't surprise me. "Quitting time, boss!" he called down from
the back porch. "Gotta go home!"
I walked toward the house. "Any calls I need to know about?"
"Just the usual cranks and telemarketers. I'd come get you if it was
"Thanks, Mark," said Mara.
"For what?" he replied.
"Giving us the afternoon off."
As Mark left, Mara and I went upstairs for a much-needed shower. We took rather
longer than necessary.
Though she had not said so, I expected to see Natomi around seven to
seven-thirty. After I was dressed (finally) I went down to the small room in
the basement to select a sword. I chose a straight-bladed sword, mainly because
it seemed to have the most powerful enchantments.
I returned upstairs with my prize, and found Mara in the living room. "Are you
going to walk into a crowded nightclub with a bare sword in your hands?" she
"I didn't have the sense to take one of their scabbards, any of the times I
fought them." I replied. "Have you a suggestion?"
"Invisible?" she half-answered, half-asked. I shook my head.
"No, I need to cover the blade. It's incredibly sharp, you know."
"Wait a moment," she said, and left the room. She returned with a piece of
heavy drapery fabric left over from our renovation, a yard and a half by two and
a half yards in size. Mara laid it out on the floor, and I folded it in half
and then rolled the sword up in it. The blade could still cut the fabric, but
the multiple layers at least made it safe to hold.
"Thanks, Mara," I said, kissing her. "I don't know if they are going to feed me
or not at this club; perhaps I should have a sandwich?" Mara agreed, and
followed me into the kitchen.
I can't cook, unless you count roasting game on a spit over a campfire, but at
least I can assemble a cold-cut sandwich.
At seven sharp the doorbell rang. I picked up the wrapped sword and cast
Invisibility on it, as Mara answered the door. "Natomi, welcome! Please come
"Good evening," I said as she entered. She had changed from her business
clothes into more fashionable clothing, and once again I was reminded that I
didn't know how old she really was. Natomi is one of those women who ages so
gracefully that you can't tell if she's twenty-five or forty-five. Her poise and
bearing are such that I always assumed she was much older than I, but now she
was in a sexy blue dress and more aggressive makeup, and she looked more like
the twenty-five end of the spectrum.
In my usual dark jeans and button shirt, I felt a bit like a beggar next to her.
Mara smiled a mischievous smile, and I knew she saw it in my face. "Don't worry,
love, you'll be fine," she said, and kissed me goodbye.
"See you later, Mara. I don't have any idea how long this will take."
"I'll be waiting," she answered, and closed the door slowly behind me. I got
into Natomi's car and we left.
On the ride to the nightclub I caught myself looking at Natomi's leg, exposed by
the long slit in the side of her dress. As I made myself look away I realized
she had caught me too.
She smiled a disarming smile, then said "I assume that thing you are holding is
a sword?" Of course it was invisible, but I was still holding it in my left
hand; I noticed how strange my fingers looked where they were pressed against
the invisible fabric.
"Yes," I answered, relieved that she had not been offended by my attention. "I
didn't think to collect a scabbard for any of the swords I captured, so Mara
found some heavy fabric to wrap it in. I thought it best to carry it invisibly."
"I tried to think of anything I could tell you to make this meeting go smoothly,
but all I can say is that I'll be with you all the way." She seemed lost in
thought for a moment, then said "I've never had trouble with the Conclave
before, but then I always got along well with John. I hope Ron is as easy to
"Aren't you a member of the Conclave?"
"No. I am already a member of a... parallel group. In my home country, that
"Ah. I didn't know." She didn't offer more details, and if I started asking
questions she might expect me to offer answers also; so I left it alone. "You
have said that Ron Harris is not your favorite person. Should I expect trouble?"
"As long as he gets his way he's no problem. I doubt you have anything to say
that he doesn't want to hear, at least not right now." Her attention was
commanded by traffic for a moment, and then I realized we had arrived. She
pulled up in front of the building, and as we both got out a young man in a
mostly purple tie-dye T-shirt approached us. I was puzzled, but when Natomi
gave him her keys I realized he must be a valet.
The bouncer at the door wore an identical T-shirt, but he filled his with
muscles. He was not as tall as Ghedi but he looked as if he could arm-wrestle
him. He looked over his dark glasses at us, then said "Ms. Osaka, good evening.
Is he with you?"
She hooked her hand around my right elbow and smiled, and the bouncer took that
for an answer. He motioned for those at the head of the waiting line to move
aside for us to enter, and I seemed to feel eyes stabbing into me from behind
like so many daggers.
The noise (well, music) inside was deafening, and I had never seen so many
people crowded into such a small place before. They were young and "hip" for
the most part, and I felt even more out of place. True, many were as old or
older than I, but most of my adult life has been grim and serious; as a
consequence I often feel much older than my "peers."
A waiter in yet another purple tie-dye T-shirt met us. "Mister Harris told me
that you should wait a while," he yelled. "The others aren't here yet." He led
us to the bar, and told the tie-dyed, bald-headed bartender that our drinks were
on the boss.
Natomi leaned close to me and said "You want to drink, or dance?" I looked at
the dancers crowding the floor; it was no style of dancing I had ever learned.
As I looked a moment longer I realized the traditional and tribal dances I was
taught in my youth were really much more difficult.
A twinge of guilt stopped me; I had never taken Mara dancing, so how could I do
so with Natomi? But I had to do something, or stand around looking foolish, so
I nodded toward the dance floor.
As we moved toward the dance floor I suddenly remembered the sword; what would I
do with it? I realized then that no one would hear me casting spells over the
cacophony of the music, so I released a Spirit Servant spell. The Servant
carried the sword aloft at my bidding, where it would remain until its energy
ran out or I recalled it. Doing so little work, the Servant would last a long
time, so I could forget about it for the moment. Just in time, I thought, as
Natomi suddenly turned toward me and began to move and sway.
Let me say that I'm glad no one else I knew saw me. At least to start with, I
was pitiful, and Natomi was so natural and graceful that I must have seemed even
worse by comparison. I was just beginning to get things figured out when the
waiter approached us, pushing through the dancers like they were so much
underbrush in the jungle. "Mister Harris says it's time," he yelled, and we
followed him out.
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