Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.
Mara saw me coming up the walk, and opened the door as I approached. "Hi,
honey, how was work?" she said with that impish grin.
"How did you know it was me?" I asked, as I maneuvered the "carpet" into the
"I just knew," she said, securing the door. I dropped the illusion as I
continued down the hallway. The basement stairs, as I have said, were under the
stairs to the second floor. Mara opened the door for me with a flourish and a
bow, which made me laugh; for she was barefoot, wearing her nightgown. It was,
I descended the stairs carefully. I had been carrying Silla for quite a while,
and my shoulder hurt. I knew it would be fine in moments once I put her down,
but I still had to be careful not to drop her or smash her into a wall.
The next door I had to get myself, for I kept a threefold spell of Closing
on the door under the basement stairs. In that room, of course, were all the
strange things I had acquired; the black opals, the two curved and two
straight swords, and now the statue-form of Silla. As she would not stand
upright, I laid her carefully on the floor.
Mara hadn't followed me; most likely she didn't want to walk barefoot on the
cold stone floor. I knew I should go back upstairs, but I stood there a moment
and looked at the cold, nude form of the young woman. "Silla," I said, "what am
I going to do with you?"
I joined Mara in the kitchen, where I found hot xocholotl waiting for me. I sat
down and told her all about my early-morning escapade.
"Wow," she said as I concluded my story. "You were lucky to get away."
"Indeed," I said. "I need to go back downstairs and study the magic affecting
her. I don't know if bringing her here will stabilize her, or if the magic is
still fading. If it's still getting weaker, I'll have to go ahead and wake her
"You're planning to leave her that way otherwise?" she said, surprised.
"Silla was fifteen, maybe sixteen years old when she was taken to Tjarik's
fortress. I assume she was turned to stone the same day I was, or maybe a day
or so later. She knows no magic, speaks only the old language, and has no
experience adapting to strange situations. I was a warrior, and a necromancer,
and I had travelled the world. Learning to live in this age was really not that
hard, and I had you for incentive. She'll be missing her family and friends.
"No," I said, "I don't want to wake her up yet. I don't think I'm ready."
We talked a while longer, then I went back downstairs. I cast a fresh Mystic
Vision, analytical of course, and began studying the spellform. I had with me a
legal pad and pencil for note-taking.
It was strange. Rather than the numerous "pages" of a normal spell, this
spellform was three-dimensional and almost random seeming. The elements
themeselves, though mostly recognizable, had a strange organic irregularity.
I drew it all as best as I could, thinking I could figure out how reform it into
a proper spell.
The good news for me was that the spell appeared to be recharging itself. Silla
would not "thaw" without intervention, so I had time to think about how to deal
with her. Even better, I could see several ways to break it when I decided to.
After studying and drawing it out for a while I found two elements I couldn't
identify. I puzzled over them for perhaps half an hour before I decided I must
Next I cast an Aura Reading spell. Silla's aura was clearly present, but
somnolent. It was then that I understood one of the unknown elements of the
spell... it was like an element of the Zombie Creation spell Ket taught me.
That element, and this one as well, worked to bind the spirit to the body, so
that the spirit can be made to power the spell.
I searched my memory and remembered the word, and the symbols to write it, for
this element. That left just one I couldn't identify; it must be directly
responsible for the transformation to stone-form, but I couldn't think of a word
that seemed right to represent it. Instead, I drew a modern question mark in
I was still puzzling over this when Mara called downstairs, "Solomoriah!
There's a delivery man here to see you!" I thought I heard a note of laughter
in her voice, and I puzzled over that as I secured the door and ascended the
Imagine my surprise when I saw that the deliveryman was Cheng, who I had bested
two mornings before in a staff-fighting match. "I have those mats you ordered,
sir," he said, obviously uncomfortable. "We had them in stock in Sacramento, so
they came in sooner than expected. I hope this isn't too inconvenient?"
"No," I said, going out with him to his truck. The mats were larger than I had
imagined; carrying them in the front door would be foolish. I intended to store
them against the wall in the laundry room, which was across the hall from the
kitchen, all the way in the back of the house.
"Pull through the drive to the back, please," I said, "and we'll get these
unloaded." He did so, and silently we carried the mats up the steps, in the
back door, and put them against the wall of the laundry room.
I put the next-to-last mat against the wall, and stepped out of the small room
to make room for Cheng. As I did so I glanced out the open door and my blood
I saw the ghostly figures, invisible to the eye but visible to my Mystic Vision
spell, walking up the back yard slowly. As I have before described, we had
recently finished building the two terraces, but at the sides we left the yard
sloping; otherwise we would have needed steps. So, I watched as one invisible
figure walked up the left side of the yard, and the other up the right. They
were still below the edge of the second terrace, but if they were who I expected
they were that distance would mean little.
I quickly sized up the situation; the odds didn't look good. Mark hadn't
arrived at work yet, so I was on my own. I yelled, "Swordsmen in the back
yard!" and jumped out the door onto the back porch.
Even as I assembled my staff in one practiced move, the two swordsmen leapt into
the air and became visible. My heart sank; the one on the left was armed with a
curved sword, but the one on the right had two straight swords, one in each
I jumped down from the porch to the upper terrace, raised my left hand and spoke
a word, and the lefthand swordsman reversed direction in midair. The Force Bolt
was threefold, but I could see it had not penetrated his close-fitting skin of
protection. He landed in the branches of a tree which overhung my yard from the
neighboring property, and I turned my attention to the other swordsman.
He landed at the edge of the terrace, one foot on the grass and the other on the
retaining wall stones. I came at him furiously, hoping to drive him back over
the edge; but he wielded his swords like lightning, weaving a virtual
web of steel to hold me at bay.
Then he pressed the attack, driving me back with his twin blades, and it was all
I could do to keep up. I didn't have a Kinetic Shield activated, but since that
spell had failed me before when facing the swordsmen I didn't miss it. Finally
the rate of his attacks slowed up a bit, or at least seemed to, and I began to
feel I might be his equal after all.
Then I saw the other swordsman bounding toward me. How could I deal with two
Just as it seemed that I would be finding the answer to that question the hard
way, a figure interposed itself before the second swordsman. It was Cheng,
armed with one of our practice staves!
I couldn't watch him very well, for the first swordsman was keeping me pretty
well occupied, but from what little I could see Cheng was doing pretty well. He
seemed to realize that the swords could chop his wooden staff in two, as he was
parrying with side-strokes rather than straight blocks.
So it went for a few moments of intense strikes, blocks, and parries. Suddenly
I heard Cheng cry out; I risked a glance and saw that his opponent had succeeded
in chopping through the wooden staff. I thought I also saw blood on Cheng's
Well, I found myself rather busy for the next few moments, but when I again
could see my ally I discovered he was fighting with the two staff-pieces as if
they were meant to be used that way! I was then unfamiliar with the use of the
baton as a weapon, but evidently Cheng was well trained at it.
I was deflecting a particularly vicious strike when I heard, "Okay, Changelings,
drop the swords or I drop you!"
It was Mark, standing on the back porch, his handgun levelled at my opponent.
For an instant, all activity stopped.
Then, in a move almost too fast to see, my opponent threw his right-hand sword
in the air, reversed his grip and threw it. I had seen this move before, in
fact I dodged that sword in midair, but this time the range was too short. Mark
was struck in the abdomen by the razor-sharp enchanted weapon, and it went right
through him, pinning him to the wall. His weapon fell with a clatter to the
It had been a long time since I was so angry, so outraged at anyone. I remember
seeing a reddish haze before my eyes, and I swung at my opponent underhanded.
My weapon connected with his left hip, knocking him sideways onto the ground. I
followed up with a savage overhand strike which he parried lefthanded. He
somersaulted backward and regained his feet, and had time to move his sword to
his right hand before I came at him again.
Now he was between me and the porch. The only way past him was through him, it
seemed, and he was making that impossible. My rage at him increased; I became
sure he knew that I could save my friend if I only got there in time.
I cracked. I began to chant words, terrible words I had sworn never to use
against another. The very air seemed to darken as I chanted the power phrase
over and over seven times, all the while striking and parrying with the strength
that only the mad have. As I concluded the awful spell I drove him back against
the porch steps and pinned him with my staff and my knee, and then I slapped his
The effect was instantaneous. He was dead. As I turned toward the other
swordsman, still fighting Cheng, he realized what had happened, and with a
single panicked leap he cleared the fence into the neighbor's yard.
I jumped over the corpse and up the steps. Mark was unconscious, and no longer
breathing; Mara was holding him up, her clothing soaked with his blood. I
pulled the ring from my finger and put it on him, then braced myself and pulled
the sword out of the wall and out of my friend. He fell, limp, to the porch
Mara and I knelt beside him, and for a long moment we thought our friend was
gone. Finally, though, he drew a ragged breath and spat out a mouthful of
blood. "Did we win?" he asked weakly.
"Yes, we won," I answered grimly. We had won, but I had lost.
Mara looked into my eyes, ever sensitive to my moods. "You did what you had to
do, my love," she said. "Mark would be gone now if you hadn't."
I tried to console myself with that. How could she know, how could she ever
understand, how much that spell cost my soul?
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