Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.
"I'm sorry, sir, but Ms. Osaka is in a meeting right now," said the Consulate
receptionist. "I can't tell you how long she'll be, but you're welcome to wait
if you want."
There being nothing else to do, I sat down and began looking through the pile of
old magazines that always seems to be in such a place. Roughly half of them
were in Japanese, and the other half were tourism guides for San Francisco;
anyone else would have been bored to tears, but not me. Though I had been in
San Francisco for about two months (as flesh-and-blood anyway), I really hadn't
seen the sights.
Shortly the receptionist's phone buzzed, and she picked it up. I couldn't hear
her, but the call was obviously about me, since she kept looking toward me. I
put down my magazine just as she said, "Ms. Osaka will see you now, Mister
"Thank you," I said as I passed her. Natomi's office door was open, and she
stood up as I entered. "Hello, Natomi," I said.
"Hello, Solomoriah. How can I help you?" I closed the door behind me, and we
"I've learned a lot about this case," I said, "but there are still a lot of
puzzles. I'd like your opinion on my discoveries so far."
I was lying, of course. I wanted to see her reaction to my discoveries, not
hear her opinions. Without Mara I would have to really pay attention to learn
anything this way. I was carefully keeping my mind quiet, in case she was
listening to my thoughts.
I hated lying to her, but what choice did I have?
"Tell me," she said.
"Well, I assume you know about the second murder..."
"I know Phillip Silva was killed by a man with a sword. That's what the
newspaper article says, anyway." She waved a hand toward a newspaper on her
"Not exactly," I said. "The curved sword found there was stolen from my basement.
Whoever did it was somehow able to bypass or suspend my spell of Closing without
breaking it. Do you know who might be able to do something like that?"
"There aren't any other ways into the place where you put the swords?" she
asked. I shook my head, and she continued, "I don't know. John could have done
it, if anyone could. My master could, but he's not a suspect. He's in Tokyo."
"I didn't even know you had a master," I said. "You aren't still an apprentice,
She laughed. "No. Our ways are different. You know, the Conclave is just a
local group... there are many Conclaves in the world. They are all members of
the Hermetic Society."
"Named for the Greek god Hermes?" I asked.
She nodded. "They are a lot like the Masons or other so-called secret
societies; but the Hermetic Society actually has some real secrets."
Well, she had just told me a lot I didn't know. I would have liked to learn
more about the Conclave and the Society, but I really needed to get back on
track. "The sword stolen was replaced with the one I took to the meeting Monday
night, covered with an illusion to make it appear curved. I didn't even know
that an illusion could be made stable that way." I could see the surprise on
her face at this information.
"I didn't know that either. John Harkin was the only mage I ever met who knew
enough about illusions to try that."
"His name keeps coming up in that regard," I said. "There were other strange
things about the murder of Phillip Silva. The supposed killer was slain by a
bolt of flame or something like that." Again the surprised look.
"That doesn't sound like Phillip. He was a pacifist, even marched in the peace
rallies back when he was a student. He used to tell those old stories until you
just about fell asleep in your seat."
"I'm told he was a master of mental magic," I said. "The flamebolt seemed to me
to be a strange choice for him." I gathered my thoughts for a moment. "The
alleged killer was a Changeling, all right, but he didn't look like the other
swordsmen. Since the sword was a plant, I assume he was also."
"That seems reasonable," she said, nodding.
"There is one last thing that has come up," I said. "I got a look at the
Coroner's report about John Harkin. He wasn't killed by a blade, but rather by
a garotte of some sort. The report says that the killer must have been
"Aren't the Changeling swordsmen strong?" she asked.
"They are, but why wouldn't they just use their swords? Doesn't make sense to
me." I sat back in my chair. "Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to fake all
this, and implicate the Changelings. I'm not fooled. Unfortunately, Joseph
Green seems to have figured out that I gave away their secret to the Conclave.
He sent two swordsmen to kill me today, and I killed one of them."
Evidently Natomi could see that I was bothered by that. "Didn't you once tell
me that you believe anyone who tries to take your life gives up their right to
"I do," I said. "That's not what bothers me. Mark was injured grievously, and
I needed to end the battle quickly. I used a Death spell."
"Oh," she said in a small voice. "Necromancy. Why did you use that spell,
instead of Paralysis or Sleep?"
"I was insane with anger. I wanted him dead. I cast that spell while wielding
my staff; I didn't even know I could do that. Natomi, I cast it at sevenfold
power, more than twice what would be needed to kill a man. I wanted him dead in
the worst way."
"I see," she said, still in that small voice.
"I swore to myself I would never use that spell against a human."
"Did you, really?" she asked then. "Are Changelings really human?"
"I don't know," I said. "They walk like men, and talk like men, so they must be
men... an old saying from my youth. I fought Ape-Men in the grasslands of the
Sahara in the old days; that saying was about them. Their spears and clubs were
inferior to our weapons, but still quite lethal. They were men. Are
Changelings less than that?"
"I guess not," she answered reluctantly.
"It's one thing to kill a foe in a fair fight; after all I have seen and done
I'd rather not be responsible for anyone's death, ever again, but if it happens
that way I can live with it. It's another thing entirely to tear away an
enemy's soul with a slap of your hand."
We sat there, looking away from each other. I realized then that Natomi
understood less of the darkness in me than Mara did.
After a few moments of that, I said "Well, I didn't come here to burden you with
my problems. I still need to speak to Franklin Evans and Ron Harris today."
"You didn't come here for my opinion," she said. "I'm a suspect, aren't I?
Why?" Before I could answer I saw dawning comprehension on her face. "It's
because of my indiscretion Monday night... you think I was just trying to
influence you, offering you favors to look the other way. What kind of woman do
you think I am?"
"I don't know, Natomi. Each time I meet you, you act like a different woman.
The first time you were angry, and I understand why... we were trespassing on
your 'turf.' The next time was when you hired me to solve your niece's rape,
and you were all business. Then Monday night you were... enticing, desirable,
sexy, and I'm sure it was deliberate. You have to admit, your behavior has been
"Men," she said. For a moment she scowled at me, and for that moment I felt
almost as uncomfortable as in the presence of my old master. Then her
expression softened. "I did act in a dishonorable fashion. I suppose it's
reasonable that you think me capable of more dishonorable acts. Solomoriah, you
forgave me, so I forgive you. What must I do to convince you that I'm
"I don't know," I said.
"Read my mind. I give you permission."
I didn't want to do that. What man has any business in the mind of a woman he's
turned away? But she was right, and as she had offered I had to accept. I
spoke the word to activate the spell.
"Tell me," I said, "where were you Thursday night through Friday morning?"
"In my apartment. Alone, except for my cat." I saw in her mind the cat, a
beautiful Siamese. "I watched television until late, then went to bed." I
could detect no untruth there.
"What about yesterday afternoon?"
"I worked late yesterday, and the deputy consul invited me to eat at his home
with his family; I accepted." I saw the smiling faces of the deputy consul and
his wife, and three slightly rowdy children.
"Thank you," I said, getting up to leave. Natomi looked surprised at my sudden
departure, and I turned to her and said, "Tell me how you feel about me."
She didn't answer in words, but the rush of images and emotions staggered me. I
saw things I should not have seen, fragments of daydreams and fantasies, and I
knew her feelings for me were genuine. Then she realized how I had tricked her,
and her feelings turned to anger. "Get out! Out of my office!" she said,
As I reached for the door I said, "I'm sorry, Natomi. I had to be sure."
"Go," she said quietly. I could see tears welling in her eyes. "Please just go."
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