Golden light flashed as the portal indicated the expectant arrival of another of the conference guests. Sharon Sands, owner of the Lodge answered. “Étuaté!” she said. “It has been a long while since we’ve spoken!”
He shook the tapa cloth lavalava wrapped around his waist and legs as he stepped through the scintillating portal into the rustic log cabin styled lodge. It was a multi-million dollar building, and huge, but it bore traces of its roots in the American west. Étuaté clasped hands and then hugged the rotund woman. “Talofa!” he greeted in his native Samoan. His teeth flashed as he greeted the other guests around the great hall. He, of course, stepped to the fireplace, where the air was more to his tropical tastes.
He bent down from the height of his seven-foot frame and asked in an accent so thick as to make it nearly incomprehensible: “Has the Professor come in yet?” He looked intently into her eyes. “I have disturbing news.”
“He’s not here yet, but he promised to be here shortly.” She patted his hand gently. Her hands always looked like a small child’s next to his. She squeezed them again then asked. “Would you like a fruit drink or a snack until then?” He nodded and soon had a tall tumbler filled with a red, sweet juice and ice cubes.
The portal flashed again and the Professor was led in. “Greetings all!” Though he was in his 80′s, he walked with the vigor of a man two or three decades younger. He stood at the end of the hall and faced the gathering of thirty or so men and women from various cultures great and small. “I thank Sharon for the use of the Lodge. Have you all had refreshments? She is such a gracious hostess.” One of the guests gestured over his tumbler, a mere movement of the hand and the tumbler was refilled; several small plates were restocked with freshly cooked pastries.
“Shall we be more comfortable and sit?” he gestured to the sofas and overstuffed chairs half which were already occupied. Some of the others smiled but most kept a tense polite expression. Those standing ambled over, continuing the nervous discussions as they went. When the last had seated, Professor Johnson continued. “I have trebled the security protocols of the circles drawn around this complex. We have affairs of drastic import to discuss.”
“Is it true?” shouted one man in a thick German accent from the right side. “Is it true that Aslanov’s family was assassinated; his house burnt as the men attended a funeral?”
“Yes, Fridleif. It is true.” The entire assemblage sat in abject silence as Johnson recounted to the High Chieftain of the Germanic Heathen Assembly how he had witnessed the death of some of their dear friends. Some wiped tears as he continued telling of the burning of the complex that they could not extinguish. “It was a back draft that was set, deliberately, to catch Aslanov’s men. To send a message.”
“Who is next?” asked Fridleif Skjoldsson.
“That is exactly the message.” Johnson nodded and several of the guests did as well. “How many have died?”
“Old Man Smith” ventured a man in a black duster.
“Smith! Yes. His step was loosened and the light above the stairs burned out by Earth-Bound workers. Why didn’t he effect the repairs himself? Why were Earth-Bounds involved? One of those workers was later shown to be from a town near Eric’s compound in Colorado. And he had traces of mana overrides in his nervous system.”
“Martin Galaviz of Mexico City.”
“Yes, he had been known to criticize Eric prior to his small, fishing boat sinking in the Gulf of Cortez.”
“Di Angelo.” “Hanowski.” “Hull!” “Bakayoko.” “Don’t forget Pearl Li!” shouted several seated delegates.
“And now Junior Aslanov is one of four survivors of a once thriving community of Mages. Do you not see that we are under attack, perhaps at war?”
The whisper of the mages intensified into a commotion that echoed in the overlarge hall. The word war fit largely in the noise of the disturbance. The noise was cut off when one stood.
“Are you going to blame all of this on you former friend?” asked Paul Nukilik, always in his traditional Inuit style sweater. “Your falling out with him has had major repercussions in the Mage community for years. And now you blame him for every mysterious death? How paranoid are you?”
“Do you think we’re all going to sit around and be friends, Paul?” shouted Sean McBane. “Shall we sing camp songs next? LeDuc hates most of us, wants to control us. He wants to control all of mana.”
“I have something to say.” Étuaté stood and towered over the others. His voice boomed and the others ceded him the floor. The traditional wrap ended at his knees just above where his tattoos ended.
There weren’t any windows in the cramped archive of the Panaca Police Department and the artificial lighting was the same as during the day, but it felt different. It felt like the night. A disturbance fluttered a few papers stacked carelessly on a cabinet. Through a portal in the wall stepped a pair of bearded men in hooded cloaks.
“The cold cases should be right around here,” said Ian under his breath. He turned and examined the rows of file cabinets. “Here we go!” he said pointing to the one labeled as such.
Carlos, in his soft Spanish accent said: “Do hurry, Ian,” he said placing his hand on a crystal pendant at his neck. A golden ring surrounded the two mages.
Ian took the handle of one drawer and pulled. It refused to budge. “You’ve locked it; how interesting.” He tapped his wrist and drew a mana pattern from the crystal there. This he jammed into the lock and squeezed. There was a flash of light and the drawer opened. He rummaged a bit and pulled out a dossier, which he flipped down on the desk. He opened it and exposed a faded photograph.
“Little Karlie Anne,” said Ricardo taking the photo. He tugged on the corner and a strand of mana pulled out. He ran a finger down the golden light. “This was taken on July sixth in the year nineteen hundred and eighty-tree, here in Panaca, Nevada.” He said all of his A’s like ah’s as if a doctor had asked him to open his mouth wide.
Ian nodded slightly. “Karlie was found dead in her parents’ basement one Saturday morning. The case has been unsolved ever since.” He touched a mana strand and, upon a bit of manipulation, a golden image of a small girl coalesced in the air between them. “This is what she looked like on the day this photo was taken.” With a few more motions of the two men’s hands -- it looked like they were trying to unravel a fishing net -- the image of Karlie Anne seemed to fast forward. It flickered and jumped then suddenly ended.
“Too far, my friend.”
“It’s alright, Ricardo. I got it. Saturday morning, November 12, 1983.” The blackness ended with the little girl lying, very still, in an uncomfortable looking pose on a hard cement floor.
“Backing it up slightly. Seven o’clock . . .” the image was unchanged except the lighting was dimmer. “Five thirty . . .” The view was nearly black, except for the small pool of light from the open door to the hallway. “Two forty-five . . .” The scene jumped to the upstairs bedroom with Karlie lying peaceably in her little bed.
“Now we go forward at normal speed.”
The image appeared not to move until the noise of the door opening caused Karlie to stir in her sleep. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. “Hi, Scott,” she said. “What are you doing here?”
“What indeed!” said Ian. “He’s a friend of the older brother.”
“Come on Karlie,” said the image of the pimply faced boy in a tenor voice. “Let’s go downstairs; I have a puppy for you.”
“A puppy!?” She jumped out of bed and held onto Scott’s hand as they, and the image, made their way to the staircase.
“I have something to say,” he repeated and the murmuring of the delegates quieted down. “As you know, I run the security for the O le Ao o le Malo of Samoa who sends greetings to all, most especially to Doctor Johnson.” Étuaté nodded the head. His voice was not particularly loud, but the basso profundo carried and filled the log-walled meeting hall.
“I thank you, Étuaté and hope you send my personal greetings in return. His Highness has been most gracious to the Mages, as you well know. We as a body feel to thank him for his hospitality.”
“I will convey your message,” he paused, bowing the head. “there is some difficulty in Samoa that I must bring before you. We feel LeDuc is getting close to the Samoan mana reservoir under the island of Ta’u. My security circles tell me that someone with mana power tests the circle every few days. I think it is a practice for a raid on the Motu off Rapanui.”
“A raid on the Motu?” “LeDuc!” “Is this war?” “Are you sure it’s him?” The noise in the hall rose to a very loud pitch as nearly every delegate protested the news.
“We must make plans and obtain intelligence on the matter,” said Professor Johnson. “The ramifications of the Motu falling into Erik LeDuc’s hands would be incalculable.”
“You understate, my friend,” said the Samoan. “He could control us all.”
A smallish hand tapped an icon on the tablet screen. The gold-on-black image of an adolescent boy and a preschooler resumed motion in front of the full-color image of two mages. “Do we know who the mages are?” The voice seemed too low to be a woman’s and yet too high to be a man’s. However, it was a voice of power, one that was practiced in controlling the actions of others. The one in the shadows turned to the man beside the desk whose gaze was still riveted to the screen.
“This one is a Guatemalan named Ricardo and the other is from Rhode Island. His name is Ian . . .”
“. . . Buxton, in the inner circle of Johnson’s graduating class.”
He turned and nodded. “Our guild member, out of Las Vegas, was able to obtain this from the Panaca Police Department within minutes of it taking place. It seems Johnson had them solve the very old Little Karlie Anne murder mystery as a project for graduation.”
“Those projects are very interesting,” the voice said dryly. “So, it turns out the brother’s friend killed her.”
“Actually, no,” he paused. “It was the friend of the brother’s friend. See? There he is just coming into the screen. I am not sure you’re going to want to watch this next part. It’s particularly gruesome.”