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Chapter 4 -- The Meeting
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

The office was up a flight of metal stairs; the view over the dance floor made me even more aware just how many dancers there actually were. I recalled the Servant as we climbed, and took the sword from it at the landing. The door at the top opened into a reception area, though there was no receptionist present. As the "outer" door was closed, the sudden cessation of the loud music left my ears ringing. I chilled slightly as the cool air hit my sweaty skin, and I saw Natomi shiver also.

The waiter knocked on the inner door, and then opened it. He waved us in, and closed the door behind us; and I got my first look at the Conclave.

The room beyond was large and opulent, with an oak desk in the far corner and a large oak conference table closer to the door. Around the far end of the table were arrayed the men (why only men, I wondered) of the Conclave. The man at the head of the table stood, motioning us toward seats at the closer end.

"Welcome, Natomi. I assume this is Solomoriah Jones?"

"I am," I answered for myself. "I assume you are Ron Harris?"

"I am," he answered with a slightly forced smile. "This is Moses Rook," he said, indicating a distinguished, older black man with salt-and-pepper hair; "Doc Silva," waving toward a similarly distinguished, balding white man; "Schuyler Norton," a long-haired "rock star" right down to the torn jeans, boots, and tight black T-shirt; and finally indicating a casually dressed younger man, "and this is Franklin Evans, John Harkin's apprentice. Please, be seated."

Ron leaned back in his chair. "Now, Natomi, please tell the Conclave what you told me on the phone today."

"About a month ago I hired Solomoriah to investigate the rape of my niece. The circumstances of the rape were strange... she was held by one man while another raped her, but neither of them spoke, nor did they show any other interest in her."

"No taunting, fondling, or physical abuse?" asked Doc Silva.

"None," she answered. "As I said, it was very strange. I would have investigated myself, but you all know that my position doesn't allow for that sort of activity. I had... encountered Solomoriah earlier and was aware of his defeat of the Dreamwalker, and when I learned he was billing himself as a Supernatural Investigator I decided to hire him."

Moses Rook leaned forward, a puzzled look on his face. "So you thought there was something supernatural about the rape?"

"Not really; but when I encountered Solomoriah I did a favor for him. I hoped he would reciprocate, and he did."

"And what did he tell you about the rape?" asked Moses.

"I should let him tell you his story now," she answered.

All eyes were on me. I had laid the sword across my lap when I sat down, and now I laid it on the table, dismissing the Invisibility. I turned down the end of the wrapping and drew out the sword, and heard a sudden drawing of breath from several of those present.

"It was two weeks, about, since I defeated the Dreamwalker," I began. "I was in my backyard, doing maintenance to the grounds I had taken from him."

Doc Silva interrupted me at this point. "How did you defeat him? And how did you manage to legally acquire the house?"

"All I'll say," I answered, "is that his reclusive nature made the latter problem easy to solve. As to the first question, I must decline to answer."

"I see," he replied. "Go on, please. I believe you were telling us about your home improvement project?"

"Not the project, but rather the interruption. I was made aware of activity in the yard, and as soon as I released my Mystic Vision spell, I saw the outline of an invisible man sneaking about the yard. He must have been able to see the magic, for he dropped his cover and attacked me with a sword like this one, though it was a saber rather than a straight sword."

The members of the Conclave were passing the sword around as I spoke, examining it. All were impressed by the fine edge of the blade. Moses said, "So tell us, why did he attack you?"

"After I defeated him, which was no small matter due to his weapon and his magical protection, I interrogated him. I learned little. He claimed to believe I was Dreamwalker's apprentice. He lied a lot, so I was unsure of much else at that time. Natomi hired me later, and I didn't really think there was a connection to the case she hired me for, but I found myself fighting them repeatedly after that. I collected four more swords, of which this is one."

"So what was the connection?" asked Doc.

"I discovered them to be a different species than us." I watched as all present leaned in, looks of disbelief on their faces. "They call themselves Changelings, and they claim to be all male and half female. In other words, they need human females only when one of them produces an egg which is fertilized by another; they need a normal human female to implant it in."

"So they aren't human at all?" said Ron Harris. He hadn't had much to say up to this point, which struck me strange; he was supposed to be the controlling sort, after all.

"I don't know enough of the science to answer that," I said. "But they certainly aren't the same sort of human as we are."

"So the rapists were Changelings?" asked Moses.

"Yes, but not trained warriors with magic powers. It seems only a few are so gifted. I learned that the swordsmen work for a Changeling called Joseph Green, who is a sort of patriarch to them, if that term even applies. Secrecy is important to them, as I'm sure you can see, and they wanted to kill me before I learned about them. I forced them into a truce of sorts, but it can't last."

Moses leaned back, rubbing his chin. "Especially since you've told us now."

"Indeed. I am depending on your discretion and judgement."

"Okay, Solo, cool story," said Schuyler Norton, speaking for the first time since my arrival. "But how do we know these Changeling dudes killed John?"

"I don't," I answered. "I'm not saying there is any connection. The circumstances are suspicious, though; who else could kill a mage by beheading him?"

"There's something else I'm curious about," said Silva. "You've been in San Francisco, what, two months now? Why haven't you presented yourself to the Conclave before now?"

"I didn't even know about the Conclave until today," I answered. This got almost as incredulous a response as my assertions about the Changelings.

"How is that possible?" asked Silva. "How did you attain this level of skill without ever learning about the Society?"

"I spent my early years in Spain with my parents. When I came of age, I left with friends and 'bummed around' North Africa. We lived hand to mouth, as they say, but we enjoyed it. Then I learned of the man who would become my master, and after my remaining duties to my friends were discharged I entered his service."

I saw that I had the full attention of my audience. "I learned a lot from him, but we didn't see eye to eye, as they say, on a number of things, and I left him before completing my apprenticeship. I realized later how foolish that was, but at the time it seemed the only thing to do.

"I spent the next several years wandering around the coast of Africa, using the powers I had gained to fight on the side of the innocent and downtrodden. I found a lot of people like that in Africa, so I never lacked for something to do. Along the way I occasionally encountered mages; if they were good, or at least not evil, I would try to exchange knowledge with them. If indeed I met an evil mage, one who used people, or hurt or killed them for his own pleasure, I would fight them. Usually I won."

I noticed Moses Rook frowning, but I decided to ignore him. "Eventually I decided, pretty much on a whim, to cross the ocean to South America. I have an interest in archaeology and had heard stories of some strange connections between the ancient civilizations of Africa and the Americas that I wanted to learn about firsthand. It was after a brief adventure in the mountains of Columbia that I learned of my parent's deaths. I came to the United States, the curious homeland I knew very little about, to settle their estate. I wandered a while and discovered San Francisco to be much to my liking, so I found an apartment and stayed a while. Then the Dreamwalker learned of me, and I had to battle him. As you know, I won."

Moses was still frowning, but he did not question my story. After a moment Doc Silva said, "Interesting. It is true that the Society only extends partially into northern Africa, and is scattered at best in South America, so perhaps I can see how it is that you never heard of us. If you intend to remain in the United States, you had best see about joining."

A veiled threat? "I see. How is this done?"

Ron spoke then. "Usually you would be apprenticed to a Magus, a member of the Conclave of whatever city or district you are in; the Conclave would induct you at that level. Later, when you meet the requirements you would be considered for the rank of Magus."

"What are the requirements?" I asked.

"First, that you demonstrate your knowledge of magic by creating at least one spell of your own. Second, you must enchant an item; the more complex or powerful the better. Third, your master must nominate you for the rank."

"As to the first, I have not created any spells 'from scratch' as they say, but I have amended many of my own spells. For the second, well..." I slid the chair back and stood up, to ensure that no one was in the way; then I grabbed the sections of my staff and struck them together with a slight flourish. Clank-hiss-click-hiss-click the staff appeared and extended, and I was pleased to see that Moses and Doc appeared to be impressed. I laid the staff on the table beside the sword so that they could inspect it.

After a moment I continued. "As to the third, I have no master."

Moses looked up at me, and I realized I was still standing. "It is a formality really," he said. "I would be happy to be your master for a day. If you would tell me more about the spells you have amended, and I feel that they qualify, I would immediately nominate you."

Ron spoke up then. "I don't think there would be much problem with the examination either, if as Moses says your amendments qualify you. This staff is not a masterpiece, but it is a fine work, and certainly shows you understand the art of enchantment." He seemed pleased somehow... I wondered why?

"Thank you," I said, reaching out to take my staff. "Shirak." When the staff was fully retracted and once again invisible I put it back in the clips and sat down.

I looked at Moses. "I'll consider your kind offer. I can see the advantages of belonging to such an organization, but I'd like to talk with you more before making my decision."

As Moses nodded graciously to me Ron said, "We need to meet now in closed session to consider our actions in the wake of John's death. Natomi, Solomoriah, and Franklin, you are dismissed." As I stood up I noticed for the first time the papers in front of Doc Silva; he was making notes. I supposed he must be the secretary to the group.

"Solomoriah, your sword..." said Ron.

"Keep it. I have no use for it, and if I did I have others. If you don't want it, so far as I care you may drop it in the Bay." I held the door for Natomi and Franklin, then followed them out into the reception area.

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