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Chapter 9 -- The Basement
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

I hesitated a moment, at the top of the stairs. John Harkin had gone to some trouble to avoid anyone finding the way into his basement... what awaited us below?

"Why didn't Franklin tell us about this?" asked Mara. "Surely he knows."

"Probably, but he might have thought John's secret basement had nothing to do with his murder."

"So you think it does?"

"Why do you kill someone?" I asked as I started down the stairs. Unlike my basement, this one appeared to be finished, smooth painted wallboard instead of bare stonework, and it was larger too.

"Revenge, or profit, I suppose," she said.

"Right. That's the problem with the Changeling theory; why would they care about John Harkin? A man, gay or not, is of little interest to them."

"Sexually, maybe, but why wouldn't the profit motive apply?"

"Good point..." I began, but then I saw the room at the foot of the stairs, and I stopped short. The room was large, perhaps ten yards square, with four large support pillars spaced around it. Shelves lined the walls on three sides, laden with books, scrolls, and strange artifacts of all sorts. That wasn't what stopped me...

"What is that?" asked Mara. Standing above me on the stairs, she had to bend down to see into the room. I shook my head.

"I don't know." It was a crystalline circle, a yard in diameter, set into the floor, and the glow of mystic energy from it was potent. Shortly curiousity overcame cowardice, and I walked into the room. Mara followed a moment later.

I focused my Mystic Vision on the slightly raised crystal disk. The glow was almost blinding, and the form of its enchantment entirely strange. As I continued to study it my Mystic Vision began to fade. I resisted the urge to curse; I didn't have another one prepared.

I stood up. "My Mystic Vision has expired," I said. "I guess I'll just have to touch it."

"Be careful, love, it feels very powerful." I kissed her briefly.

"Step back a bit, Mara, in case something happens." I quickly stepped on the disk...

Well, it felt a lot like my butt was on fire for a moment, to be perfectly plain about it. I think I may have yelped or something, and Mara giggled. It took me a moment to realize that what I had felt was my ring healing my bruises, but rather than a long moment of tingling there was a short moment of fire.

I felt mystic energy filling me from the crystal platform, and I realized that it was more powerful by two or three times than the magic I had been used to in my own time. "The crystal seems to be pushing mystic energy into me under pressure," I said to Mara, "and I called out from the heat of my ring healing me very fast."

"So this is his secret?" asked Mara, sitting down in a reading chair I hadn't even noticed. There were two, and a small side table between them; a book lay on the table.

"Yes. This is how he prepared spells. I don't know if he used a Tap to fill it or if it uses some other method. I think I'll replace some spells while I'm here."

As I prepared a replacement for the Mystic Vision spell, in analytical mode again, Mara picked up the book on the side table and began to page through it. I felt so powerful there, that I discarded the Kinetic Shield I had prepared previously and prepared one of sevenfold power. It was easy, since I didn't have to hold concentration nearly as long to draw the power.

It was a heady sensation, with all that power at hand, that I began to prepare a Flight spell, adapted for myself and those I touched, at fourfold power. Imagine my shock when the power ran out before my second chant of the power phrase!

I stepped down, released the new Mystic Vision spell, and studied the crystal platform. It was obvious that the power was depleted, and the spellform was now clearly visible. There were many elements of it I did not recognize... how I wished I could spend the time to learn its secrets.

Finally I turned away. The method of recharging the crystal seemed beyond me. I noticed Mara was still examining the book from the side table. "What is that you are reading?" I asked.

"I think it may be a journal," she answered, "but it's not in English. Here, you look at it."

I took the book from her and looked for myself. "Latin, I think. Greek characters look different. Or it could be a code... We'll take this with us and study it in the office."

I began moving around the room, looking at the other books there. Most of them were quite old, but there was almost an entire section of newer works. The newer items were mostly printed by a company called Hermetic Press.

Mara was looking with me, and she suddenly pointed out one book. "Don't you know the author of that book?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, reading the name Moses Rook from the spine. I pulled it down to look at it, and saw it was titled Adapting Traditional African Magic for the Modern Age, with a recent publication date. Inside I discovered it to be entirely in English, with any African languages or symbologies carefully explained. "I think I'm going to borrow this also," I said.

Mara gave me a warning look but didn't say anything. I suspected she wasn't happy with all my borrowing from a dead man, but I did have his interests in mind as well as mine. To my thinking, I was making a bargain with him... I find his killer, perhaps even avenge his death, and in return he loans me things he isn't even using any more. Perhaps that's wrong but it's what I did.

I was about to say something I have since forgotten when Mara held up her hand, stopping me. She was listening. "It's Mark's car alarm!"

"Quick, up the stairs!" Stuffing the books into my shirt, I ran up as fast as I could, and Mara followed. Just as we reached the top of the stairs we heard the honking stop.

"How do we close this?" asked Mara, and I shook my head. I opened the closet door, about to retrace the pentacle, when I suddenly had an idea. I closed the closet door and the entire thing receded silently, swiftly, and seamlessly into the wall.

Without another thought I grabbed Mara's hand and spoke a word, releasing the second Invisibility spell. At that very moment I heard voices at the front of the house.

"Alright, Tom," said a loud male voice, "I don't know what you expect to find with all that equipment, but the place is yours. I'll be over here in the living room, watching TV." I moved quietly through the kitchen and dining room, heading for the office, with Mara holding my hand. The back office door, the one leading to the dining room, was ajar (had I left it that way?) and I could see a slender man in glasses and a disheveled white dress shirt adjusting what looked like a large camera. This, I assumed, was Tom.

He began looking through the camera, shining a bluish light around the room. I watched as he panned around the floor, though I did not know what he was looking for. I didn't realize the danger until it was too late.

When the bluish light fell upon me I became visible, as a bluish ghostly figure. Tom jumped, and yelled something unintelligible. I backed up, whispering to Mara, "Get out of here, quickly!"

I followed her as closely as I dared, and I heard the loud man yelling, "What's the matter, Tom? You look like you saw a ghost!" I couldn't hear Tom's reply but I didn't stay around for clarification. It was all I could do not to bump into all the furniture, and it was almost a miracle that our Invisibility held.

I accidentally slammed the back door behind me as I went out it, and sure enough I heard it open again in mere moments. I stopped a moment beside the corner of the house, ready to duck around it but too curious to leave just yet. Tom was accompanied by a large man, muscular but a bit flabby, who had the look of a policeman about him. Then Tom said, "Come on back inside, Detective. I don't have enough cord to chase whatever that was around outside. The light might not even work that way in the daylight."

Mara had continued on, of course; being unable to see me, she had no way of knowing I had stopped. I took note of the somewhat dirty blue car with city license plates parked out in front as I ran past it.

I ran all the way to the Mark's car, down the hill from Harkin's house and back up the hill where it was parked. I was panting loudly when I jumped into the back seat. Mara was already seated, so I said, "Close the top... and drive away... please" between breaths.

Mark did as I asked, and I dismissed my Invisibility as soon as the top was up. I was surprised when Mara didn't do the same. "Mara, what's wrong? Why are you still invisible?"

"How do you turn it off?" she said meekly. I wanted to laugh, but I kept it to a chuckle, then instructed her in the simple act of will required. She got it on the second try.

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