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
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
"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,
"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
"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
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
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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