I stood erect despite my fatigue, sweat forming a puddle in the small of my back, running down into my eyes, beading on my arms. I was breathing hard, sucking in the cool air, and grinning from ear to ear.
Newmark was looking at me intently. We were standing near the summit of Mount Sutro in San Francisco.
"In which guild did you apprentice?" Newmark asked casually. He seemed hardly winded.
"Minne-apolis," I replied, my rapid breathing turning it into two words.
"They trained you well, Student," he said, smiling. "And you say we have you to thank for killing Weiss?"
I nodded. "Yes, you do. He angered the leader of my guild by trying to prove adepts were as fraudulent as he. So I was ordered to kill him, and I did."
"He angered all the guilds," Newmark stated. "How did you do it?"
"A simple rune," I stated. My breathing was becoming more regular. "He didn't even bother to hide his real name. He got sicker and sicker until he collapsed on stage in Detroit and died Halloween night." I chuckled; I'd been in the audience and seen it.
"Yes," Newmark said. "I remember reading about it in the papers. You must have been young then."
It had been six years ago. "Twenty-five," I bragged. "Just four years after my first trials."
"That's very impressive," Newmark commented.
"Thank you, Teacher." I was still smiling; I enjoyed telling others about killing that fraud, Weiss.
The older adept walked to me and smiled. "Joining my guild will not cause problems with your old guild?"
"No, Teacher, I had permission to leave the guild."
"And why the West Coast Guild?"
"It doesn't snow here, Teacher," I said with a laugh. I was frankly sick of snow, having grown up on America's northern plains.
Newmark laughed. "It doesn't snow here, but it's not like southern California either. Wait until you see our chilly summers, when the fog rolls in during the afternoon."
I smiled at that. It was hard to believe on this beautiful spring day.
"Let's go," Newmark said. He started walking down the hill to where the auto that had brought us was waiting. I had started to follow when he suddenly turned.
I still had my hand on my arrowhead talisman as his finger came up. The lightning bolt hit me, but my protection spell was up in time and the blast only physically knocked me back a bit.
Newmark smiled again. "Very good. Welcome to the West Coast Guild."
"Thank you, Teacher." I allowed myself to relax. He'd just welcomed me to the guild; he wouldn't attack me again.
Trials to join guilds were not on a pass-or-fail basis; they were pass-or-die. Newmark, the head of the guild I wished to join, had spent the last hour trying to kill me. I was sure he could have if he really desired. But he only wished to test me to determine whether I was powerful enough to join his guild—I apparently had just proven myself so—and hadn't used all of his power.
The hike down the mountain was leisurely. I got the feeling he was also tired, but trying to hide it. I couldn't help but laugh. I knew I could do it: I'd worn him out.
There was a gravel road which led from the city and sitting where we'd left them were a warrior who was leaning against the long green auto smoking a cigarette, and a driver who was sitting behind the wheel looking bored. The warrior opened the back door for Newmark—I had to open my own door to enter—and then got in the front. The auto's roof only covered the back seats, which were as plush as the most comfortable parlor furniture I'd ever seen. There was a windshield between the front and back seats. The front seats were in the open, and I wondered what the driver did when it rained. The driver started the machine and piloted it down the road.
"Where are you staying?" Newmark asked over the wind noise.
I told him the name of the cheap hotel I'd found near the Union Pacific station. Transcontinental sleeping berths weren't cheap, and I'd yet to find a place where rich men congregated to supplement my funds.
Newmark shook his head and reached through the open window to smack the right arm of the warrior. "Samuel, give me some money."
The warrior handed back a roll of bills. Newmark handed me the roll. "Find someplace nice."
I looked at the roll of bills and then back at him. Was this another test? I handed the roll back to him. "No, thank you, Teacher," I said.
Newmark smiled as he pocketed the money. "You were trained well. You know what guilds are for."
"Mutual protection," I stated. "Killing a member of a guild will cause that guild to avenge his death."
"That is correct, Student," Newmark replied.
Guilds are also for companionship, I didn't add. But guilds weren't mutual aid societies. An adept who asked for help was showing his weakness. Even accepting help was giving other adepts a signal that you were less than able to protect yourself. And while guilds protected you from members of rival guilds, they did nothing to protect you from the member of your guild who would like your talisman or your position in the guild. The leader of a guild was always the strongest and most powerful member.
When we entered San Francisco proper, the streets became paved, some with cobblestones. I saw a line of shabbily dressed men stretched along the sidewalks of one block. I immediately recognized it as the line for a soup kitchen—they were in every American city, including Minneapolis. Even adepts couldn't help but know about the Depression that had gripped the country. Luckily, we were exempt from such lesser matters.
A man was trying to sell pencils on a street corner for a nickel. Our eyes met for a moment and I had to look away. The despair and pain I saw in his face was almost unbearable. I thought about Newmark's money and the cash I would soon be accumulating and was glad I was an adept.
When the auto stopped in front of the Huntington Apartments on Nob Hill, Newmark got out and I followed. The warrior also exited the vehicle and hovered nearby. As I stood waiting on the sidewalk, the driver drove the auto away, and I assumed he was going to go park it somewhere.
"Come see me tomorrow about noon," Newmark told me. "You'll also meet other members of the guild then."
He entered the lobby of the apartment building. It was later converted to a hotel but it remained the guild headquarters, with our guild renting the thirteenth floor.
I wandered around the town looking for men of means. With the Depression there weren't many, but I was able to lighten the wallets of some imprudent gentlemen.
When I hailed a taxi and told the driver to take me to a nice hotel, he dropped me at the Drake-Wiltshire, not too far away on Stockton Street. It was nicer than any place I'd ever stayed in my life—certainly like nothing in Grand Forks.
In North Dakota, one only heard rumors of adepts, although there were occasional stories in the newspapers about their exploits in big cities. The stories were almost universally reproving and my parents usually added their own opinions. But I didn't care. I wanted to be an adept and knew I had the talent, ambition, and brains to be one. I also knew I didn't want to stay in Grand Forks a moment longer than necessary.
Once, on a school field trip to a museum, there were Indian artifacts displayed under glass. One artifact, an arrowhead with markings scratched into it, seemed to me to be emanating power. I asked my friend, standing close by, if he noticed anything, and he just laughed at me.
Everyone knew adepts used "talismans" to increase their power. I was sure that the arrowhead was a talisman, probably for an Indian medicine man. So, at age 17, I broke into the museum, stole the arrowhead, and with my other scant belongings and all the money I could rustle up in a carpetbag, I took a train to Minneapolis in search of a guild. The train was full of men going to Chicago to Navy boot camp because of the war in Europe. I felt young and out-of-place even though I was just a year younger than most of them. They were excited to go stop the Huns, and I was glad that I was embarking on a path that would, if successful, preclude my fighting for my country in the war to end all wars, or any other wars that might come along. Even though I did feel some pangs of guilt, I forgot them quickly.
I'd never been to a city like Minneapolis before. It was a wonder; the streets were paved, there were electric lights everywhere, even in the buildings, and street cars and automobiles moved along like magic. I'd never even seen an automobile before.
I had no idea how to find a guild, but I needn't have worried as they found me, apparently feeling the arrowhead's power. After a five-year apprenticeship, I passed my trials to join soon after my twenty-first birthday.
I spent almost ten years with that guild, but after the summer of ‘29 and the winter of '30 I decided it was time to leave. It had been over 100 degrees in June, July, and August, and 104 in September. Then five months later it was below zero; February and March were absolutely, miserably cold. After giving it careful thought I concluded that I wanted to move to a milder climate, so I asked the head of my guild for permission to attempt to join the West Coast Guild. She was unhappy to see me go, but wished me luck. I got on the next train for San Francisco.
There was not much to do in the hotel other than read or listen to the radio, and I quickly became bored. I felt like celebrating (and wanted to wash the face of the man selling pencils from my consciousness). I'd need to find a speakeasy and maybe a pretty girl to seduce, or to use a persuasion spell on, for a proper celebration. The doorman or bell captain could probably help me find a hooch joint, preferably a classy one.
My plans were pleasantly changed. As I walked through the lobby of the Drake-Wiltshire, I saw her. First I glimpsed her from behind and I admired her slender form in her stylish dress. I could see her dark, dark hair that came to the nape of her neck, and her shapely ankles. Then she turned and I practically gasped out loud. She was Oriental, and one of the most beautiful women I'd ever seen in my life. She was so lovely it almost hurt to look at her. She was dressed in a two-tone western-style dress, slim down to her silk-covered calves. She wore high-heeled shoes and a small hat on her black hair, hair that was so black it seemed to have blue highlights. And, I could feel it; she was an adept.
Our eyes locked and I found I couldn't look away. She didn't avert her eyes, either, and we continued to stare at one another. I slowly approached her.
"Greetings," I said in the ancient language, afraid she might not speak English.
At that she looked down. "Greetings, Teacher," she replied in the same language.
I was surprised at that; I'd rarely been called teacher, and then only by the most junior adepts. "What name do you use?" I asked her. All adepts use pseudonyms, for if someone knows your name they have power over you.
"Pak Meyoung," she said, still not meeting my gaze.
I changed languages. "Do you speak English, Pak?"
"Ahnioh," she whispered.
Although it was difficult to hear her voice, what I heard made me blink in surprise; I could not understand what she'd said. Reaching for my talisman, I wrapped my fingers around it and worked up a translation spell. I wanted to talk to her, desperately.
I didn't know what it was. I had met attractive women before, but I felt drawn to her immediately, and it seemed she felt the same. Boldly I reached out, cupped her chin and lifted her face. She smiled shyly and tried to look away, but I didn't allow it. "I'm Joe Kader," I whispered to her, hoping the translation spell was working properly.
"Hello, Joe," she whispered back.
I chuckled. "Hello, Pak."
She shook her head. "Pak is my family name. We say family names first."
I wasn't sure what she meant. "Well, I'll call you …” I had to think for a moment, "Peg. Are you Nisei?"
For a moment I saw anger or hurt in her face, but she covered it quickly. "No. I'm from Chosun."
"Chosun?" I asked, not ever having heard of it.
She shook her head. "Americans call it Korea."
"Wherever that is," I laughed, thinking maybe it was part of Japan or China. "Are you staying here at the hotel?"
"May I buy you dinner, Peg?"
She hesitated. I could tell she was in turmoil about it. But finally she shook her head.
"No, thank you," she said.
I looked at her. I should have accepted her answer, but with the way I felt about her and the way I thought she felt about me, I couldn't. "Why?"
She didn't answer but stepped away. Then she turned. "I'm sorry, I cannot."
By using a persuasion spell on the desk clerk, I learned she was staying at the hotel and in what room. I also learned she was alone; however, she'd come to the hotel with an Oriental man who had paid for her room for four months in advance and then left. One of those months was gone. He had also paid for the room of a man, also Oriental. The man was easy to find. The evening after I met Peg, there was a pounding on my room door. I used a far seeing spell to see that it was a tall, angry-looking Oriental man. I made sure my hand was around my talisman when I opened the door.
Without preamble he stated in English, "You stay away from Chosun woman."
He wasn't an adept unless he was masking, so I just said, "Why?"
"She not your business. She not free."
I blinked at that, wondering what he meant.
"What are you going to do about it?" I asked.
He reached inside his western business suit and pulled out a revolver. "I can make you not want to see her," he said. The man must have wanted to sound menacing, but with his accent and Pidgin English, he sounded almost silly.
Up to this point, the man’s face had shown only anger. However, when I pointed and he felt what I had done to him, his face became twisted with fear.
"Leave her alone," I told him, "or I'll finish the job." I released him.
He looked at me. "You have trouble when he gets here."
"He, who?" I asked.
"You see," he spat and walked away.
Well, I decided, if this man was representative of my competition, I had little to worry about.
The next day I waited in the lobby until I saw her again. I approached her carefully, but was surprised and happy to find that her attitude was different and she was not as shy as before.
"Did you scare off Ito?" she asked in the ancient tongue.
"If that was his name, yes."
She smiled, which made her face all the more beautiful. "Thank you. I hate that man."
"Why didn't you do anything about him, then?" I asked. She was an adept.
She simply did not answer.
"Would you like to go for a walk, Peg?" I asked her.
She thought for a moment, then almost giggled, covering her mouth shyly. "That would be nice, Mr. Kader."
Peg's body was next to mine, nude, in the bed. We were awake, resting and relaxing. The three months since I'd come to San Francisco had been the most amazing of my life. I had passed the trials to enter one of the most powerful guilds in the country and I knew I was in love with Peg. The language barrier was slowly being eroded; she was learning some English and we used translation spells and the ancient language to back us up.
She and I had spent almost every moment together, except when I went to see Newmark or to have other contact with members of my guild. It wasn't that I was ashamed of her—rather the opposite. But she was not a member of the guild (and wouldn't tell me what guild she belonged to, if any) and would not be welcome.
We had explored the city together and it was a wonderful time. I did see some people stare—both Caucasians and Orientals—as her hand would rest in the crook of my arm.
There were also some strange incidents. We ran into some Nisei on the street and she acted scared; I didn't understand what an adept would have to fear from any lesser, even Japanese. I took her to a speakeasy one night, thinking she'd enjoy the music and I could teach her to dance. Minneapolis was close enough to Chicago that it had a thriving hooch trade and I often visited speakeasies there, sampling the bathtub gin or smuggled-in Canadian booze in high-class joints. I wanted to share that with Peg. However, the guard at the door took one look at her and said, "No niggers, chinks, or Irish." It probably took a week for the spell I put on him to wear off, keeping him mute the entire time. We didn't patronize the dive, as I wasn't going to give the bastards my money. But we brushed these incidents off as easily as we ignored the stares and whispers. I only saw her as a beautiful woman with black hair, lovely dark eyes, and skin that contrasted nicely with my northern plains pallor.
I did, occasionally, see Ito lurking in the shadows, looking angry and frustrated. When I tried to ask Peg about it, she would refuse to speak of it.
She told me that, before my arrival, she'd been imprisoned in the Drake-Wiltshire by Ito. I still could not understand why she’d allowed a lesser to control her. He must have had some power over her before I had chased him off.
There was something about her, a sadness or a hurt, that I could sense but could not bring her to share. I didn't like the feeling; I just wished I could break down her reserve. It was as if, despite our physical and emotional closeness, she still held me at arm's length.
"Sweet one," I said.
"Yes, yuhbo?" She had taken to calling me that, explaining it meant "dear" in her language.
"I want to tell you something but, I'm afraid."
She turned in my arms to look at me, her face inches from mine, her breath warm on my nose, the length of her body against mine. "Why are you afraid?"
"I'm afraid if I tell you it will scare you off." And I was.
Her dark eyes studied my face. "Why would it scare me off for you to tell me something?"
I had no answer to that. "It just might."
She looked deep into my eyes then. "I want to tell you something but I am afraid."
"Afraid of what, dear?"
"Afraid that you will think me foolish."
I smiled. "How could I?" I was sure we were both talking of the same thing. "If I promise not to think you foolish, do you promise not to be scared away?"
She nodded, a serious look on her face.
I took a deep breath. "Peg, I love you."
She smiled and lowered her eyes. "And I love you, Joe."
I laughed. "See, that was not so hard."
"No, yuhbo, it was not," she agreed.
I pulled her closer. But I still felt the presence of something: the secret she could not share.
A few days later, I returned to our hotel from the Huntington and when I entered our room—she'd moved in with me weeks ago—she was gone. I tried to feel for her: nothing. I physically searched the room, then the hotel. Both she and Ito were gone. The desk clerk informed me that Ito had vacated his room and the two of them—Ito and Peg—had left with an Oriental man.
I searched the city, starting with the hotels, assuming that a beautiful Oriental woman should be easy to find. But despite truth and persuasion spells, I found no trace of her. I even tried the small Japanese community in the city, but I got nothing there but hostility, and no one knew anything about any Peg or Pak. Those were the only names I knew for her.
About a week after she had disappeared I returned to the Drake-Wiltshire late in the afternoon, exhausted. I lay on the bed, my mind unable to find rest, but my body needing it. There was a gentle knock on the hotel room door, and I bounded off the bed, crossed over to the door in two leaps, and pulled it open saying, "Peg?"
A young, Oriental man stood outside my door. He looked at me and said softly, "My name is Takada. What I do now endangers my life and my guild's honor." He was an adept, I could feel it.
As I looked at him, wondering what he had meant, he handed me a folded piece of paper.
I pulled it open, still standing in the doorway. It was a handwritten note, and I had to use a translation spell to read the strange writing. "I am sorry, I must go now. Don't try to follow me. I will love you forever and never forget you." She had signed it in symbols I didn't bother to translate but assumed were her Korean pseudonym. It didn't matter; I reached out and grabbed the man's shoulders.
"Where is she?" I demanded, nearly shouting.
He didn't resist, even though he could have, being an adept.
"Her ship leaves from Pier 22 at the Embarcadero; the Reinan Maru."
"When?" I grunted, my hands gripping his shoulders.
"Soon; you must hurry."
As the realization that I might lose her hit me, I blinked. Then I pushed him back and started running down the hall for the elevator. A thought occurred to me and I turned back to face him. "Why are you telling me this?"
He looked at me for a long moment before answering. "I have my reasons. You can find me on the west end, in the Japanese area." The way he said it, it was plain that he didn't expect to see me again.
I turned and ran to the elevator and pressed the call button. When it didn't come soon enough, I raced down the stairs, across the lobby, and out to the street. The doorman waved down a taxi and I jumped in.
"The Embarcadero," I ordered, "Pier 22."
"You got it," the driver replied around a half-smoked cigar in his mouth.
"And fast," I added, hitting him with a persuasion spell.
As the taxi left the curb, I looked down and realized that I still had Peg's note clutched in my hand. I carefully folded it and put it in my shirt pocket.
The taxi stopped at Pier 22, between a warehouse and a big black steamship. From the pier the ship looked like a massive steel wall many stories tall. From my taxi window I saw Peg standing near the bottom of the gangplank about to board the ship. At the top of the gangplank was a dark hole in the black metal of the side of the ship. It seemed as if that hole led to another world and if I allowed her to enter it, she'd be gone forever. I bounced out of the car and called her name. "Peg!" I had not meant to play this scene out here on the docks of the Embarcadero in front of lessers but I didn't seem to have a choice.
She turned and looked at me, tears in her eyes. "Yuhbo!" she cried out.
Standing beside her were Ito and another Oriental man whom I could sense was a powerful adept. But I had been an adept for ten years and had passed the trials for two guilds. I wasn't a pushover, and I kept moving toward the ship.
Upon seeing me, Ito spoke excitedly to the adept, who nodded his understanding and then spoke back to Ito. He nodded, bowed, and rushed up the gangplank and entered the ship.
"Who the hell are you?" I demanded of the adept, forgetting he might not speak English.
"I call myself Nakamura," he said calmly. "My guild is the Omi Uji." His English was nearly perfect and unaccented.
I'd never heard of it and didn't really care. How was I to know at the time that they were the most powerful guild—the only guild in fact—in Japan?
"What are you doing with Peg?" I asked.
"Her name," he said, "is Miko. And she is mine."
Adept names are rather fluid, and at the time I didn't understand that he called her by a Japanese name, or the significance of that.
"What do you mean, 'mine'? Is she your wife?"
"No, she’s just mine."
"You can't take her," I wailed. "We love each other."
Nakamura laughed. "Your 'love' means nothing. She is mine; she is my property."
"She is an adept, as free as you are," I tried.
He laughed again. "You do not understand our ways, Westerner. She is mine!" I was really getting tired of hearing him say that. He turned and spoke to her in what I assumed was Japanese. I didn't understand it but I got the gist: We're leaving.
"Stop!" I commanded, pointing at him. "I won't let you take her."
He turned quickly. I dodged left as his airbolt whizzed by my right ear. I heard it hit something solid, probably the wall of the warehouse behind me, which sent lessers gasping and screaming. Battles between adepts in public were rare, but they did happen, and most lessers knew the best thing to do was to get as far away as possible.
As I recovered, standing up straight, Ito stepped out of the ship and pointed at me. Two Oriental men emerged from the dark opening and rushed down the gangplank. They were dressed in dark, robe-like costumes. Each carried above his head a slim curved sword—I would later learn they were called "katana." They rushed at me, screaming ferociously.
I shot an airbolt at one and knocked him down. The other, screaming, slashed at my head with his sword, and I heard the blade hum by my ear as I ducked. My hand grasped my arrowhead talisman and I pointed at him. Since he was a lesser, I could affect him directly. He stopped moving, his sword stationary in its arc as he was bringing it up again for another swing. I kept the holding spell on him and turned my attention to Nakamura's second warrior—I assumed that was who these armed men were—who had jumped to his feet again almost effortlessly and came at me, the point of his sword level and aimed for my gut. I jumped out of the way and tried to reach out to touch him, but he ducked my grasp, probably knowing what I could do if I laid a finger on his skin.
While some of my attention was focused on holding the first warrior, the second turned, sword held out in front of him, and attacked again, probably trying to keep me from using a spell on him. It worked. He slashed at me and the blade cut through the bicep of my left arm. I howled in pain as blood cascaded from the gash.
He turned so rapidly that I wondered if he was an adept, using some meta to move inhumanly fast. He slashed again, so quickly that the sword was nothing but a blur that I managed to avoid before the blade removed my head. I ignored the steel's whistle as it cut through the air, and reached for him. He brought the sword around and practically severed my right arm, blood splashing from the wound, but I got my hand around his neck, and he dropped to the wooden dock, dead, his red-stained sword clattering to the planks next to him. I did the same for the first, motionless warrior, not having the time or inclination to show mercy.
While I was busy with his warriors, Nakamura had pulled Peg up the gangplank and was about to enter the black hole at the top with her. I healed myself enough to stop the bleeding, which left me tired and in no shape to face him. But I had to try.
I pointed, and fire arced from my finger toward Nakamura. He put a hand up and the flames stopped a few feet from him. My next shot was more powerful, but he walked towards me, undeterred, back down the gangplank. Then, with his black eyes beaming hatred toward me, he pushed the flames back at me. When they hit I screamed as my head was engulfed in pain. I dropped to the ground, scrambling through the agony to find a spell to stop the fire.
Suddenly, the flames died and I looked up to see Peg using a spell to douse them. Nakamura looked at her angrily and pointed at her; she became motionless. While he was distracted, I shot lightning at him. It smacked into the side of his ribcage, knocking him back. He hit the railing on the gangplank, flipped over it, and fell to the dock. The impact must have knocked the wind out of him, as he didn't immediately rise. I shot fire at him again, this time hitting him full-on. He yelled in pain and surprise and rolled off the dock into the greasy water between the ship and the quay.
I rushed up the gangplank to Peg and took her forearm in my hand. "Come on!" I said, tugging.
She looked at me and didn't move—couldn't move. I didn't understand; as an adept, she should have been immune to spells that directly affected her.
Unless Nakamura knew her real name.
As the spell on her dissipated, I could see the torment in her eyes. Fear kept her planted where she was as effectively as had the spell.
Nakamura flew out of the water and landed, wet but alive, on the dock. I'd never seen an adept fly without a carpet or broom or some type of device before. Nakamura screamed angrily and pointed both hands at me. The airbolt knocked me backwards across the gangplank's rail, and I flew through the air until I smashed into the dock. I must have lost consciousness for a moment because the next thing I knew, Nakamura was standing over me, his foot pressing down on my chest. He was pulling my talisman from my hand.
"Shall I kill you now, gaijin?" he asked, holding the arrowhead.
I shook my head. I knew he could kill me without much effort, and I could do little to stop him.
"The woman is mine," he growled. "Understand?"
No! I screamed inside my head. But I knew to say that would be to die. "Yes," I whispered.
"I am taking her back to Japan," he stated. "If you try to follow, if I ever see you again, I will kill both of you."
I nodded, defeated.
He looked at my talisman. "Interesting. I assume this is an Indian artifact. I'm keeping this as payment for my warriors."
I had no way to stop him.
He pocketed the talisman, lifted his foot from me and walked to Peg, who had come back down to the bottom of the gangplank. He said something to her in Japanese, took her arm, and pulled her back up the gangplank. She glanced back at me, giving me one last look at her beautiful eyes before she passed out of sight into the stygian interior of the black ship.
I stood slowly, carefully. No bones seemed to be broken, but I hurt all over. Lessers were staring at me but I continued to ignore them. I ran as best I could to the bottom of the gangplank, debating momentarily whether to follow them into the ship. But I knew Nakamura could, and would, kill me if I tried. Instead I called out: "Peg! I love you! I'll find you. I promise!"
There was no response, not even from Nakamura.
I turned and hobbled away. My taxi had left so I simply walked, fully aware of all the eyes that were fixed upon me. I felt the need to lash out at something. I shot a weak fireball into a warehouse. It hit a stack of crates and lit them on fire. It was about all I could do without a talisman, but it was effective. The lessers turned and started minding their own business.
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