Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.
"I have rarely seen such drama played out before me! I applaud you!" As he
clapped, I looked him over... like his "children" he appeared to be of no race
in particular, having elements of all. He was dressed in a red silk tunic and
trousers, decorated in some Oriental (perhaps Chinese?) style with golden braid.
His curly hair was entirely gray; if you had asked me, I'd have said he was in
Just then, the front door opened, and two more swordsmen entered. The four of
them looked like Joseph, of course, but they weren't twins; more like brothers.
All four were dressed in black "ninja" outfits, and I could see their powerful,
close-fitting fields of magic protection. I almost laughed as I realized the
swords of the two newcomers were not yet completely enchanted.
Then I realized how serious the situation was, and it didn't seem so humorous.
"You've been a thorn in my side since you came to this town, Solomoriah," he
said. "When I learned that you had slain my old enemy, the Dreamwalker, I
wondered if I had just traded one problem for another; so I sent my boys to
watch you, in shifts. I don't know how that damn woman of yours figured out
that my boy Elliot was there. He shouldn't have attacked you, but at least he
made up an inventive story."
The situation didn't look good for our side... we were outnumbered, and my
battle spells were mostly depleted. I had no way to know if the spell Ron
placed on Franklin would persist after the caster's death, but I decided I had
to risk waking him. With an act of will I dismissed the Sleep spell.
Green continued to speak as I did so. "I had hopes, after you sent him home
unharmed, that you wouldn't be a problem, but then you," he said, pointing to
Natomi, "you had to hire him to investigate your niece's rape. Of course I knew
Joel and Daniel were Changelings, and my descendants to boot. I couldn't just
let you figure it out."
"But I did figure it out, anyway, and your 'boys' never managed to kill me," I
said. "I have quite a collection of those swords now."
"We'll be seeing about that soon enough, Solomoriah. Now, since this little
drama so entertained me," he said, gesturing towards the corpse of Ron Harris,
"I'll repay you by telling you a story. Listen well, because it'll be the last
story you ever hear."
I listened, but I also was preparing myself. I still had that sevenfold spell
of Kinetic Shield; it would merge with the one around my neck when I released
it, increasing its own duration but not its power. I made ready to activate it;
I could have just done it right then, but if Green or his swordsmen were using
Mystic Vision they'd see it, and might interpret it as an offensive action. I
was stalling for time, hoping that Franklin would wake up and be ready in time
to help Natomi and me.
"In the days of my birth," said Green, "it was mighty shameful for a woman to
have a child out of wedlock. My mother tried to love me, but she hadn't much
hope of that, and at just three years old I wound up in an orphanage. I think
she had died, but I don't know for sure. I was just eight years old when I
changed, and when some of the other boys found out I had to flee.
"I lived on the streets. I learned to steal, and fight, and gamble, and
cheat. I joined a pack of other Changelings for protection. When I was
thirteen I signed on to a ship as a cabin boy. The ship I'd found was manned
mostly by Changelings; it was just another pack to me.
"Well, I worked, and fought, and served the Captain well, and I was just twenty
when I was promoted to Captain and given my own ship. We were trading in the
Far East, and it was there that I saw martial artists for the first time.
Wizard, when I saw the power they had in their hands and feet I knew I had to
have it too. I resigned right then and there and went in search of a master to
"I learned every style of Chinese martial arts. At each temple or school, I
would train until I knew all the masters could teach me, and then I'd ask,
'Where can I find someone who can teach me more?' Eventually I found myself
in the most forgotten and empty places in China, learning from men that
outsiders believed dead. They taught me the real secrets of the Wu Sha, the
true power of chi, and I learned well.
"I was almost forty when I returned to San Francisco. I founded my own pack,
training my followers in the martial arts and giving them a place to live or to,
well, hang out, as they say. A few I judged competent to learn the real
secrets, and they are my favored sons. Until yesterday I had five, Solomoriah,
but now you've killed one. For that you must die."
"If you're such a great warrior, Green," I taunted, "come down here and kill me
"Oh, no, my friend, it isn't done that way. The august master doesn't fight
unworthy enemies. My boys will deal with you."
This was the cue the swordsmen were waiting for. The ones by the door began to
approach me cautiously, as the two with Green jumped off the landing. I
reassembled my staff and spoke the word to activate my Kinetic Shield; Natomi
raised her hand and spoke, releasing her Force Wave at the leaping swordsmen.
Faster than my eye could follow, Joseph Green's right hand snapped out, palm
forward, and I saw the Force Wave dissipate in midair before reaching the
swordsmen. Then I became too busy to pay attention to that side of the battle.
Keeping two swordsmen at bay was about all I could do. The staves I trained
with in my youth were almost three yards long; my new staff was not quite two
yards. Against a single opponent it worked well in the defensive mode, but two
opponents were quite another matter.
As I blocked and parried my opponents for all I was worth, I could hear Natomi
doing the same thing with her two swordsmen. After a short time I realized
that Franklin was chanting. I could almost understand his spell, spoken in
strangely altered English, but I didn't dare waste any effort listening to him.
Suddenly, one of my opponents was wrapped in a cocoon of what appeared to be
spiderweb! I made a mental note to thank Franklin later, as I pressed forward
with a rapid series of attacks against my remaining opponent. I elbowed the
struggling, web-wrapped swordsman as I advanced, and he hit the floor with a
Now, for me at least, the battle was more even. I began to get in a few good
strikes, and I took advantage of my powerful Kinetic Shield, letting the
swordsman strike at me a few times so that I could get in more hits of my own.
I was rewarded when I saw his protective aura begin to falter.
Then Natomi screamed, and I turned to look. She was clutching the bloody stump
of her right arm, which one of her opponents had taken off above the elbow.
Franklin was lying on the floor in a pool of blood; I had not known he had
fallen. The two swordsmen facing Natomi both stepped back, with dark,
triumphant smiles on their faces.
Turning to look was a mistake, I realized, as I felt my opponent's blade stab
deeply into my chest. I coughed up blood, and knew my right lung was punctured.
I fell to my knees, dropping my staff, as my opponent also backed away.
As if they were one man, the three standing swordsmen looked up at their master.
He also had a triumphant smile on his face. Without seeming to move his arms or
legs, he pitched forward over the railing, performing a straight-bodied
somersault in slow motion, and landed gently on his feet in front of the bar.
"Now, Solomoriah, it is over. Boys, finish them."
I slipped my bloodsoaked right hand into my shirt pocket even as my opponent
drew back his sword and approached me. I didn't know if the strangling-cord
would work for me, but it was the only chance I had left.
If I killed my immediate opponent, that left me facing two more, and though my
ring was healing me quickly the wound had made me quite weak. There was only
one real option... with a snap of my right hand I threw the metal disk at Joseph
Green, and I managed to cough out a half-hearted "Hai!"
Again I heard the sound of the muffled whip-crack, as the strangling-cord
unfurled in flight. Faster than my eyes could follow, Green brought up both his
hands, crossing his forearms in front of his neck.
Denied access to his neck, the cord wrapped around his arms instead, and with a
strange, sickening sound severed them. His scream was as much rage as pain.
He didn't bleed much, nor scream long; my opponent and another swordsman leapt
to his side, each catching one of his hands in mid-fall.
"Kill them!" screamed Green. "Kill HIM!"
"No, master," said a swordsman (the one holding Green's right hand). "There
will be another time. We must get you out of here."
"His RING, you fools! It can heal me! Kill him!"
They turned toward me, new purpose in their eyes; but then the two nearest
Joseph Green realized they were still holding his hands. It was comical,
really, but I had no time to laugh. The third swordsman was still standing near
Natomi, who was standing her ground, a hopeless expression on her face.
Somehow she had stopped her wound from bleeding, and she had her left hand in a
defensive position, but with my Mystic Vision I could see that the force-blade
was gone, as was most of her protection.
I, on the other hand, was feeling much better. I picked up my staff, and,
holding it like a lance I launched myself at the third swordsman. My Flight
spell propelled me like a rocket at him, and when the tip of my staff struck his
chest I saw his protective aura flare up and disappear. He fell and did not
Landing, I turned to face the remaining swordsmen, who were tucking Green's
bloody hands inside his shirt. Now the odds were somewhat better. Joseph Green
was still screaming orders at his remaining men, but as they turned to face me I
saw that they wore calmly determined expressions. The one I had been fighting
last had visibly weaker protection, and I determined to deal with him first.
Then I heard Natomi say, "Can you spare one for me?" I glanced to my left, and
saw that she had the downed swordsman's weapon in her left hand. She was
holding what remained of her right arm close to her body. I quietly hoped she
was still strong enough to fight.
I didn't answer her in words; rather I just nodded toward the swordsmen. I
decided then to fight a defensive battle, protecting both of us, and let Natomi
make the attacks.
The swordsmen had already thought of that, I discovered, as they separated,
forcing Natomi and I to fight back-to-back. Worse, the swordsman facing Natomi
still appeared to have full protection, and a fully-enchanted sword, while I
would face the man I had battled earlier.
There was no time to waste worrying, though, as I again began trading strikes
and parries with the swordsman. I could hear the bright sound of clashing
swords behind me; my staff made a duller sound when struck.
My opponent's plan became obvious after a few moments. He knew I was tired, and
weakened from the wound that had only just healed, and further he knew that I
had a powerful spell of protection to deflect his blows; so he fought
defensively, seeking to wear both my body and my protection down.
Given enough time, I knew he would win. Grimly I fought on.
Suddenly I heard an outcry of pain from behind me, and it took me a moment
before I was sure it wasn't Natomi. Then she was beside me, assisting me
against my foeman, and I was sure the other one was dead.
We drove the last swordsman backward. When Joseph Green saw us closing with
him, he seemed to snap out of his rage. I saw the cold realization dawning on
him... he was about to die. Without a word to his last "favored son," he turned
and fled through the open door to the storeroom.
The swordsman seemed to realize what had happened, though, and he began backing
in the direction of that door. Natomi circled around beside him, driving him
away from the door; it seemed she didn't want any more of them to escape.
In response, the swordsman made one of those amazing leaps, backwards toward the
staircase. He landed ungracefully on the steps halfway up, and ran to the
landing. Natomi was about to follow when I said, "No. Stay here with me."
"Don't you understand by now? I can save Franklin, and put your hand back on.
My ring allows the wearer to regenerate."
"You mean the old man was right?" she asked. "Your ring could save his hands
too. No wonder he didn't run until the last moment." She laid down the sword
and picked up her right hand as I ran to Franklin's side. He wasn't breathing,
but I put the ring on him anyway. He was wounded in the abdomen, just beneath
I saw that he had a Tap of his own, still open, so I didn't have to use mine. I
waited a long moment for him to breathe, but he didn't.
"It's too late. He's dead," I said.
"Maybe not," said Natomi, and she quickly instructed me in the art of CPR. I
did poorly at it, I'm sure, but it only took one round of chest compressions and
one of assisted breathing, and he coughed and began to breathe raggedly on his
"I'll have to study that trick," I said, looking up at Natomi. I thought of the
strange and unpleasant relationship we'd had recently... "Natomi, I'm sorry for
the way things have been since this business began."
"Don't let it worry you," she said. "Ron was influencing me, and I didn't know
it. You just did what you had to."
"Thank you," I said. It was the only thing I could think to say.
It took a while for Franklin to heal enough so that he could stand. I took the
ring from him and turned to Natomi. I had to take her cold right hand from her
to put the ring on her; then I held it in place until it began to become warm.
"How did you stop your bleeding?" I asked.
"An old warrior's spell," she answered. "I'll teach it to you sometime."
I noticed the web-wrapped swordsman was still unable to free himself, and I was
impressed. "Franklin, did your spell actually create those webs from nothing?"
"No," he said. "Atmospheric dust. It's usually useless indoors, but this is a
pretty big room." He still had a pained expression on his face; his wound
wasn't completely healed.
Just then the front door opened, and a young man looked in. Seeing the bodies
on the floor, one of them beheaded, he screamed and shut the door again.
"Come on, we better leave," I said, taking my ring back. "We'll have company
"Wait," said Natomi, and she spoke a word. Strange sparkling bluish light
sprang from the palm of her restored right hand. She walked around the room,
shining it on the floor, and everywhere it shone on blood, the blood rapidly
boiled and evaporated. I saw that she was only erasing our blood.
While she was thus occupied I remembered a loose end. I had to look for it for
a few moments, but shortly I found the spiral-graven disk on the floor beside
the bar. I slipped it in my pants pocket and stood up.
I walked over to the bound swordsman. "We can't leave him like this," I said.
I cast a Sleep spell on him, fourfold, and saw that it had worked. "Dismiss
your webbing, please," I said to Franklin, and I watched as the webs disappeared
in a puff of dust.
I put my ring back on Franklin, and cast Invisibility over us all, and the three of
us walked wearily out the back door.
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