Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.
Moses, acting as chairman of the Conclave, called a meeting for Friday at the
same Italian restaurant near Pier 96 where I had interviewed Schuyler. Mara and
I flew there, invisible of course as it was just after noon; we appeared in a
narrow alley behind the building.
I held the door for Mara, and she went into the dimly lit restaurant before me.
Moses had reserved two tables in the very back, which had been pushed together
to accommodate us all.
As Mara approached the table, Moses stood up and bowed slightly. "Welcome,
welcome, friends! You must be the beautiful Mara!"
I'm sure she was blushing, but sunblind as I was it was hard to be sure. "You
must be Moses Rook," she said. "Solomoriah has told me a lot about you."
He waved toward the chairs at his right hand, and I took that for an invitation.
As my eyes adjusted I saw that Natomi Osaka, Franklin Evans, and Schuyler Norton
had already arrived. Franklin and Schuyler were occupied by a private
conversation, apparently, but both managed to wave at us as I pulled out a chair
for Mara. "Good afternoon, all," I said. After Mara was seated I sat down
where Moses had indicated, at his right hand.
"Aren't your other friends coming?" asked Moses. "I told you to invite them."
"Mark had to pick up Valerie and Emily," said Mara before I could speak. "They'll
be here shortly."
"Good, well, then..." he began. "I realize this location is unconventional for
a Conclave meeting, but it was the best we could do on short notice."
"Not a problem for me," said Schuyler, a half-eaten breadstick in one hand and a
glass of red wine in the other.
Moses tried to glare at him, but couldn't help smiling instead. "This should be
a somber occasion, my friend. Two of our esteemed colleagues... indeed our
friends... have been slain by another of our number. Let us observe a moment of
silence for John Xavier Harkin and Doctor Phillip Andrew Silva."
So for a moment we all looked at our bread plates. I thought of the terrible
deaths of Harkin and Silva; I had suffered as they had suffered, after all, but
unlike myself they knew they were dying. Schuyler had called Ron Harris "too
much of a coward" to attack a Magus, but evidently he had believed the magic
strangling-cord made him the equal of anyone.
Greed, power, and control... the vices of the truly dangerous.
"We ourselves," Moses continued after an appropriate time, "you and I Schuyler,
really did little to effect justice for the fallen. Instead, these two
outsiders and an apprentice did our work for us. Let us now consider rewards."
He turned to face me. "Solomoriah, have you decided? Do you wish to become my
apprentice, and thus join the Conclave?"
"Yes," I answered. There was more, much more, that I wanted to say, but I held
"Very well. Franklin Evans," he said, turning to face Harkin's apprentice, "Do
you also wish to be my apprentice?"
"I do," he said, with all the formality of a wedding vow.
"Schuyler, you and I now are the entire Council of the Conclave of San
Francisco. I wish to nominate before the assembled Conclave both of my
apprentices for the rank of Magus."
I expected Schuyler to give a flippant answer; so I was surprised when he sat
up, washed down the last of the breadstick with a gulp of wine, and said "I
accept your nomination, acting Chairman Rook, and I move that we put it to a
"All in favor, raise your hand," said the acting Chairman, and both of them
raised their right hands. "The motion is carried. Congratulations, Magus
Evans, Magus Jones!"
"Now," said Schuyler, "before we move on, I hereby nominate Moses Rook, acting
Chairman of the Conclave of San Francisco, to the permanent position of
Chairman. All in favor, raise your hand."
Schuyler raised his hand, and after a moment of surprise Franklin and I did
also. Moses looked... irritated?
"Oh, very well," he said. "I knew it would fall upon me. I accept."
Schuyler slapped Moses on the shoulder. "Congrats, dude," he said, falling back
into his rock-star persona.
"Now, as to Natomi Osaka. As we all know, Natomi has other commitments, so we
can't offer her a place among us."
"Why not?" I said. "They give honorary degrees to the unqualified because they
are famous and popular. We can at least offer an honorary title of Magus to one
who is perhaps more qualified than any of us."
"Yeah, man," said Schuyler. "Why not?"
"Well, there is no precedent for it," said Moses, rubbing his short
salt-and-pepper beard. "Still... Shall I take that as a motion?"
"Sure," I said.
"I second that motion!" said Franklin.
"A vote, then..." said Moses. "All in favor..."
He didn't have time to finish; we all had our hands up.
"Looks like a robbery here," said Mark, walking up to our table. I turned and
saw Valerie behind him, carrying Emily through the busy restaurant.
"Mara, Mara!" said the little girl, struggling to get down. As soon as Valerie
put her on the floor, she ran to my wife and climbed into her lap.
"Excuse me," said Moses, with a stern voice and an incongruous smile, "we're
still conducting business here. Now, Natomi, let me say how happy I am to
confer upon you the honorary title of Magus."
"Thank you," she said, inclining her head briefly as if bowing. "I shall
endeavor to bear the title with honor."
"You already have," said Franklin. "I never got to ask you... how did you know
we were at AJ's?"
It made me uncomfortable to realize I hadn't wondered about that.
"Mara called me," she answered. "She told me what you two were doing. As it
was, I arrived there almost too late."
"Mommy, I'm hungry," said Emily. "When can we eat?"
"When the meeting is over, sweetie," she answered.
"I move that this meeting be adjourned!" said Franklin. Grinning, he leaned
over the table toward Emily, winked, and said "I'm hungry too." She grinned
back at him.
"I second that motion!" I said. Moses didn't have time to call for a vote, as
we all had our hands up... even Emily.
"Very well," said Moses. "Meeting adjourned. I have taken the liberty of
ordering the buffet for everyone, so help yourselves!"
Perhaps it should have been a somber occasion, but somehow it wasn't, quite. I
saw fleeting sadness on Moses' face several times, but each time he hid it.
Franklin seemed to have come to terms with the loss of his mentor, and
Schuyler's mood was unreadable.
A thought occurred to me, as I was putting my second plate of food on the table.
"Moses," I said, "I borrowed a book of yours from John's library, titled
'Adapting Traditional African Magic for the Modern Age'."
"Yes, I remember that one," he said. "Did you like it?"
"Very much. I learned more from that book than from any two I'd ever read
"I'm glad you liked it," he said with a pleased smile. "I thought it was one of
my better works."
"I have one question. On the title page there is a strange symbol, pentagons
arranged inside a circle. Can you tell me what it means?"
"Oh, yes," he said, grinning broadly. "Many years ago, as I was listening to a
lecture by my master, my mind wandered. I thought about the sign for atomic
energy, which was everywhere in those days, marking the presence of fallout
shelters. I wondered what the symbol for dangerous magical energy should look
like, and I doodled that figure."
He took a sip of his beverage (tea, I think) and continued. "Well, my master
saw me, and when he asked me what it was I knew I was in trouble. Timidly I
told him it was the symbol for 'magical energy hazard' and that I had created it
myself. I really expected a caning, you know, so when he broke out laughing and
slapped me on the shoulder I was stunned."
"So it has no real mystic significance?" I asked.
"Not a bit," he said. "I have it printed in all my books, and I only explain it
to those who ask. There isn't enough mystery left in the world, Solomoriah."
After a few moments of quiet he added, "Except possibly you." I just grinned at
After a while, and several trips to the buffet, Schuyler leaned back, slapped
his belly and said, "Well, I'm done. If I eat any more, I'll never manage to
sing tonight. Hey, that reminds me..." He fished in his pockets and produced a
handfull of tickets, which he began to hand out to everyone. "You're all
invited to the show tonight, on the band. Drinks are extra, though."
Everyone thanked him, of course. Mara leaned close and said, "Is this what they
call a cheap date?" I just smiled back at her, unsure of how to answer.
Schuyler got up, to leave I thought, but then he headed for the back of the
restaurant... to the rest rooms, obviously. I waited briefly, then followed.
He was washing his hands when I entered, and the unusually large rest room was
"Hey," I said, "I need to talk to you." As he dried his hands I silently placed
a spell of Closing on the door.
"What about?" he asked.
"You. You're a Changeling, aren't you?"
After a moment of stillness he said "Yes. How'd you know?"
"The only time you spoke at Monday's meeting was to defend the Changelings, and
you tried just a bit too hard to sound like you didn't know anything about them.
I'm not nearly as sensitive as my wife but I did pick that up... it just took me
a while to figure out why."
"You're pretty sharp," he said, an edge to his voice.
"I try," I said. "Your band are all Changelings too, aren't they?"
"Not all," he said. "Bob Katsoff, the bass player, he's not. He knows about
the rest of us though. So what? Are you going to tell the rest of the
"What I do depends on how you answer my next question. What do you and your
band do for women when you need them?"
"Groupies, usually; sometimes prostitutes. Always with a condom. As far as I
know I don't have any children, and since they joined the band I'm pretty sure
the others haven't been responsible for any. Y'know, most people think we're
"I assumed that was the reason you 'hang out' in San Francisco," I said.
"Yeah," he said, the edge gone from his voice. "It's surprising how many 'het'
women think they are such good lovers they can change a gay guy to straight.
Most of the women I've been with since I started the band thought they could
change me... they never had any idea how wrong they were." After a moment he
said, "So will you keep my secret?"
"So long as I believe you are honorable, and I do." I dismissed the Closing
spell as Schuyler started past me toward the door. Since I was there anyway, I
attended to "business" before rejoining the group. When I got back to the table
Schuyler was already gone.
Eventually the party, if that's what it was, began to break up. I took Mara's
left hand as she led me out; I was surprised to find Natomi following close
behind. We stopped just outside the door, blinking in the bright sunshine.
"Solomoriah, didn't you say you have several of those Changeling swords?" asked
"Yes, I do," I said.
"Are they all as fine as the one I used Wednesday?"
"I suppose. I'm no expert."
"Well," she said, "would you be willing to sell me one?"
"Natomi, you can have them all if you want them. I'm no swordsman, and don't
ever plan to become one."
She looked surprised. "Oh, no, I couldn't. One will do."
"Are you here in your car?" asked Mara.
"Yes, over there," said Natomi, pointing.
"We flew," I said. "Give us a ride home, and I'll give you your pick."
Mara's expression was, well, guarded seems the best word. I let her have the
front seat, and I took the back. "Mara, I want to apologize to you," said
Natomi as soon as we were on the street. "I'm sure Solomoriah told you about
"Yes, he did," answered Mara, just a bit hesitantly.
"I like Solomoriah, it's true, but just as a friend. Ron put a spell on me,
amplifying those feelings into love and desire. It took all my will to control
myself around him... I considered a great many dishonorable acts, but I managed
to avoid them all. Your husband was always true to you."
"I know," said Mara, turning to smile at me.
The conversation turned to less uncomfortable subjects, and shortly we were back
at the house. I led Natomi down to the basement and into the small room under
the stairs. "There they are, Natomi. You may have any or all of them."
Natomi wasn't looking at the swords, though. "So you stole the statue from the
museum!" she said. "Who is she?"
"You remember Silla, the young woman I saved from Tjarik? This is her."
"She encountered the basilisk, too," she said, not exactly as a question. She
squatted down and stroked the stony face gently. "Can you restore her?"
"I think I have the correct counterspell; but I'm not ready for that. She was
just a girl. I was a hardened warrior, used to finding myself in difficult
situations; the modern world hasn't been any worse than my own time, and here I
have Mara to make it all worthwhile. This young woman has no one, and she's in
no way prepared for this world."
"I can teach you the secrets of language spells," said Natomi. "Would that be
fair compensation for two swords?"
"I suppose, since I'd hand them all to you for nothing. Thank you."
After trying them all, Natomi settled on the two straight swords with scabbards.
Out in the back yard, I sparred with her a bit; she turned out to be very good
with a sword, as I expected. Mark was back by then, and he and Mara watched
from the porch.
Some time later Natomi looked at her watch. "I suppose I must return to the
office; otherwise my boss may decide I've deserted him." Mara and I saw her to
As she drove away Mara said, "Have any energy left for me?"
"Sure," I said, smiling, and she grinned back.
At the back door she handed me a practice staff, and took one herself; I had
replaced the broken one. "This wasn't what you thought I meant, was it?" she
asked with a sparkle in her eye.
"Not exactly, no," I answered, as Mark came in from the office. "Anything I
need to know about?"
"Lady just called, owns a haunted bed-and-breakfast," he answered. "She thought
it was a quaint story, but now she's decided it really is haunted. Wanted you
to come tonight."
"I hope you didn't say yes," said Mara.
"Nope. Scheduled her for first thing Monday." He followed us out to the porch.
"Hey," he said, "I've got a question for you."
I stopped at the top step. "Ask away."
"You're teaching Mara to fight. Would you teach me magic?"
I was stunned. I had never considered taking an apprentice. A thousand reasons
to say no streamed through my mind.
"Sure," I said. "You've been called my apprentice before, you know."
"Alright!" he said loudly, pumping his fist in the air. I wondered again where
that gesture came from...
"Solomoriah..." said Mara. I turned toward her, and saw a shy expression I
rarely ever see on her face. "Me, too?"
"Yes, my love," I said. "Anything for you."