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Chapter 18 -- Ron Harris
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

The ride to AJ's was much more comfortable in the front seat of Franklin's car. We didn't talk much, and the tension was almost a physical force, growing stronger as we approached our destination. I could see Franklin forging righteous anger into determination...

That early in the day, AJ's wasn't open yet. "We can force the front door, or look for a servant's entrance," I said.

"Yeah, in the back," he said, sounding distant. "It'd be more discreet." We walked down the narrow alleyway separating AJ's from the neighboring building. Halfway down we found a door, and it was unlocked. Franklin reached for it, but I held out a hand, stopping him.

"We don't want to leave any evidence," I said, and pulled on yet another pair of the surgical gloves, which by now I was carrying rolled up in my pants pocket.

I offered him a pair, but he shook his head. "I'll keep my hands to myself."

I opened the door. Inside we found a combination storeroom and office space, obviously where the help did their paperwork or took breaks. Large quantities of alcoholic beverages were stored in big stainless-steel refrigerators or stacked in boxes and kegs on the floor; and across the room was another door, slightly ajar. There was a light on in the storeroom, but the next room was apparently darkened.

I picked my way through the room; the floor near the outer door was occupied by what I took for a fresh shipment of beverages, not yet "checked in" by the help. The place seemed deserted, but then it was only just five o'clock... the sign at the front door had indicated the club opened at seven. I hoped we would be finished before any of the help arrived.

The other door opened into the dance floor area, beside the bar. There were a few lights on, over the metal stairs which themselves climbed over the bar, but otherwise there was no light.

"See you tomorrow, Mister Harris," said a woman's voice from overhead. It was Ron's secretary, leaving for the day! Franklin and I quickly moved from the storeroom door to the much darker area near the stage, so that she wouldn't see us; and it worked, for she left by the storeroom door, closing it behind her.

"Perfect," I said quietly. "Ron must be alone."

Suddenly I was blinded; all the lights in the house came on at once, at full intensity, and I couldn't see a thing. I think I may have cried out.

"Thought you had me at a disadvantage, eh?" came Ron's voice, booming loudly at us from overhead. I heard footsteps descending the metal stairs. "I assume, since you are skulking around here in the dark, unannounced and unexpected, that you must have decided I am responsible for the deaths of John Harkin and Doc Silva?"

"Yes," I said, shielding my eyes as best I could. I still couldn't make out where he was exactly. "You were sloppy, Ron, and your coverup was strictly amateur."

"I thought framing the Changelings was a pretty good idea, myself," he said, from a different part of the room. "What, pray tell, did I do wrong?"

"Whatever you killed John Harkin with, wasn't a sword or knife. The medical examiner thinks it was a garotte of some sort." I could just see him now, in the middle of the room. He was tossing something into the air and catching it, over and over; a coin?

"I won't rest until I avenge my mentor," said Franklin in a menacing voice.

"Oh, come now, boy," he said, emphasizing the last word, "I am a seasoned and experienced Magus, and you are just an apprentice. Do you think you really have a chance?"

"Haven't you noticed you're outnumbered?" said Franklin. I cursed silently... I still couldn't see well enough to fight. We still needed to stall for time!

"When I find myself outnumbered," he answered, "I make some of my enemies into friends." He spoke a word then, in Latin I think, and then cursed. "A protective spell? John taught you well, boy, but you know, for every spell there's a counterspell." He spoke again, two words in Latin.

The next thing I knew, Franklin was wrestling with me. He jumped on my back, getting his left arm around my chest (pinning my left arm) and his right arm around my neck, and then he began to choke me.

Wrestling isn't my strong suit, but I've been in a few barroom brawls in my day. I knew hitting him would be worthless, though; Franklin's armoring spell would easily absorb all the damage I could apply to it. Engaged as we were, I didn't think I could manage a spell; so I improvised.

I reached up and over with my right hand, grabbing Franklin's right pinky, and I bent it back and pulled. Pain overrode the mental control, and he lost his grip around my neck. Then I turned to the right, pulling him off balance (since his left arm was still around me) and stuck out my left leg. He tripped, lost his grip and fell in front of me.

Before he could get up again, I spoke a word and released a threefold Sleep spell. He succumbed immediately.

"Not bad," said Ron, clapping slowly with a sarcastic expression on his face; my eyes were finally adjusted enough to see it. I could see that he had a variety of protective spells in effect, but I decided to go all out anyway. In quick succession I released two threefold Force Bolts and a twofold Force Wave. He was driven backwards across the room by my onslaught, and my final spell not only shattered his shielding spell, it also shattered most of the bottles and glasses behind the bar.

"Now, that was rude," he said. "That booze cost me a lot of money."

"Tough," I said. "Are you ready to end this, Magus?"

"Sure," he said with a sadistic grin on his face. "I'm betting you are out of offensive magic right now, or you'd still be hammering me. It's only a matter of time until my Emotion Control spell breaks through your protection."

It was true. I could feel the spell Franklin gifted me with faltering under continuous pressure from Ron's spell. "You're right, I don't have any more offensive spells," I said, assembling my staff. "I guess I'll just have to beat you with a stick."

I saw a look of fear, real fear, cross his face, and I sneered at him as I approached. I felt strong, and dangerous. Once again, I was a fool.

When I was just three yards away from him, he yelled "Hai!" and threw something at me. It was that coin-like object he had been toying with, and it unfurled into a thin metal cable with a sound like a muffled whipcrack just before it wrapped itself around my neck.

My special protective spell slowed the strangling-cord, but didn't stop it. Before I could react it was choking me.

I did the only thing I could think to do... I fell backward. As I did, I put my right hand around my neck and stretched out my left hand toward the sky, speaking one word. I don't know if Ron saw my threefold Tap snake out through the ceiling in search of the nearby Ley line; he didn't react to it, anyway.

I felt the tingling as my ring rushed to repair the damage being done by the cord as it crushed, then cut through my windpipe. The pain was excruciating; thinking, and spell casting, was out of the question. I could hear the snapping of tendons and the tearing of muscles as it proceeded through my throat.

"I heard a rumor that you were hard to kill," I heard Ron say. "You are healing right now, aren't you? How are you doing that?" He said a word in Latin, and then I heard his footsteps, walking around me slowly. I forced my left hand to come down and cover my right, and hoped he hadn't seen my ring. Then I realized that the cord was cutting close to my spine...

With an audible, sickening crack the cord crushed a vertebrae and cut through my spinal cord, and my hands fell away from my bloody neck. "Aha!" he said, "It's the ring! I'll just take that from you, if you don't mind." He bent down toward me, reaching for my right hand, and as I lay there helpless I saw movement above me.

For a moment a slim, dark figure was framed perfectly overhead. Though I could not see her face clearly I knew it must be Natomi; and she struck Ron feet-first in the chest. I could see her protective magics, but I also saw something new... short, broad blades of force surrounding her hands.

I heard Ron hit the floor beyond my feet, but of course I could not move my head to look. He was gasping for breath; without his protective magics he had taken the full force of her strike.

"I suspected you from the start, Ron," I heard her say. "If I were you I'd just lay there; if you stand up I might get the urge to kill you."

"No," he gasped out, "not... me." He coughed. "You hate... Solomoriah."

Natomi screamed then, and I heard (or felt) her hit the floor. I couldn't see what happened, and uncertainty was tearing at my soul. In that long moment, I heard a sound like a coin hitting the floor beneath me, and realized that the strangling-cord must have come out of my neck at last.

"You... hate him... because he didn't return your love," he gasped out. "You want him to die."

Then, like an electric shock, my body became mine again. I reached my left hand beneath my neck and grabbed the metal disk, slipping it in my shirt pocket as I sat up. I hurt, but I knew I didn't have time to hurt. I saw Natomi kneeling, her hands over her ears; the force-blades seemed to have faded. Ron was reclining near her, apparently where he had fallen; he looked toward me with a sneer and said, "Kill him."

Natomi slowly turned toward me, a look of pure hatred on her face; I grabbed my staff, which I had evidently dropped when Ron threw the strangling-cord at me, and came to my feet just in time to block her rush. The force-blades were again visible to me, and they looked fearsome; and I wasn't even sure my head was firmly attached yet. For a while it was all I could do to keep up with her slashes and kicks. Ron lay on the floor, watching, for a while, then slowly and painfully he pulled himself to his feet.

"Oh, little Natomi," he said, his voice stronger now, "you will love me, and you will give yourself to me. I do so look forward to using you, and you will be so glad to be used by me. You will love me so much, that when I hand you the knife you will kill yourself gladly for the sake of that love."

Natomi still had that look of dark hatred on her face. How could one who felt love for me just two days before now hate me so much? Ron's magic was surely strong...

Then I realized what I had to do. I waited for Natomi to make a double-overhand strike at me, which she had done several times; but this time instead of blocking it, I said "Shirak." My staff broke and disappeared as I took a step toward her, and I locked my arms around her back.

She was surprised for a moment, but of course her hands were still free; those wicked force-blades still menaced me. What I did next surprised her even more.

I kissed her. Her mouth was hard as stone at first, as was the rest of her body; then she seemed to melt into the kiss. Finally I judged it safe to break the kiss, and she whispered, "You bastard."

I released her, and she took a step back. I could see Ron behind her, fear written large on his face; he began to walk backward, chanting in Latin. Natomi heard him, and I saw an almost palpable darkness pass over her face. She turned and ran toward him; quite sensibly, he gave up his chant and tried to flee, but she was too quick. With a single slash of her right hand Natomi beheaded him.

We stood there, drained, as his body slowly fell.

"Very entertaining!" came a voice from above, and I heard clapping. I looked up to the top of the metal stairs, and there I saw three men. The two in the back were obviously Changeling swordsmen, but in front of them stood an old man I had never met, but who was nonetheless familiar to me...

It was Joseph Green.

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