Coffee Break

Sarah sat sipping tea at the coffee shop. The other mages rarely left the house for mundane reasons, but she found it relaxing to escape now and then. Taking care of the house and keeping up with her own research didn’t leave a lot of time for much else. Ever since Thomas had approached her with the idea of setting up a house, and then asking her to run the operations, this had become her life. She didn’t mind too much, but she jealously guarded the times she could get away.

“There is so much magic coming off you, I’m surprised you haven’t attracted every mage within five miles.”

Sarah looked up to see a familiar face standing next to the table. It was a tall woman in a long, grey coat. Her hair was cut short, and she wore dark glasses, but Sarah would have recognized her no matter what. She and Madeline had studied under the same teacher, though Madeline was a bit younger.

“I’m not giving off any aura; the disguise is passive. Even you shouldn’t be able to recognize me.”

Without waiting for an invitation, Madeline sat down across from her. “You know better than that. Finding things is what I do.”

Sarah ignored the smile on Madeline’s face. “So you were looking for me?”

“Oh, no. I just noticed you as I was walking by. There was a large blank space that drew my curiosity. And here you are.”

“So just coincidence.”

“Believe me or not. I just wanted to say hi.” Madeline began to pout.

It was almost certainly a ploy, but Sarah softened in spite of herself. “I’m sorry. Just a bit on guard. Always expecting people to want something.” Maybe Julia was rubbing off on her.

“Is that place running you down so much? You should really come join my house. We hire people to manage things.”

“That’s kind of you to offer, Madeline, but I have no plans to leave. We have magical servants to handle the menial stuff. I just oversee things. Thomas’s offer to you is still open, though.”

Madeline laughed. “Thomas never wanted me in that house. It was really just to humor you.”

“That’s not true.”

“It is. I can tell. I don’t know why you stay. You are respected enough that any house would take you. Or you could even start your own. Why put up with Thomas?”

“I helped establish this house. Doesn’t feel right to leave.”

“Your friend Matthew left.”

“That was a different situation.”

“Have you spoken with the Mistress lately? She’s asked after you.”

“No, I haven’t. I take it you have. How is she?”

“She’s fine. Worried that you haven’t given up on Thomas, yet.”

“No, she isn’t. Besides, I’m not staying because of Thomas. I have my own purposes.”

Madeline studied her for a moment. “You’re still an odd one.”

“No reason to change.”

“I suppose not. Still, if you ever find such a reason, I’m willing to lend a hand.”

“That’s… thoughtful of you.”

“You sure I can’t persuade you to join my house? We really could use your skills.”

“Could I convince you to join mine?”

“Not a chance. I couldn’t stand Thomas.”

“There you go. We’ve each found our place. Still, I appreciate your offer.”

“Alright. I’ll tell the Mistress you are well?”

“Yes, Madeline. Thank you.”

“Sure. Take care of yourself.”

“You, too.”

Winter Thoughts

It’s almost winter again. The stillness. The quiet. The cold. It is a time for introspection, a chance to review the year. Winter is an end, not merely a waypoint on the path to spring.

Some do not like the cold and the dark that dominate the season, yet it is part of the year, just as death is part of life. Winter serves as a reminder of the ephemeral nature of the world around us. It is a different kind of wonder that permeates the long night, and it should not be quickly dismissed.

Winter reminds us to turn inward, to pay attention to who and what is with us right now. The rest of the year we can spend outside, engaging the external world. For right now, we have time for ourselves and our ghosts.

Life has death. Day has night. Waking has sleep. And the year has winter. It is a holy time, a sacred time. It is the rest at the end of work. It is necessary for recuperating. We rush through it to our own detriment.

The snow blankets us with warmth. The stars and moon give us light. The wind carries secrets. If only we are willing to feel, to see, to hear. Winter is there, waiting for each of us. We may try to run from it, but we cannot run forever. And when we stop, she will be there, her arms wide, ready to welcome us to the quiet beauty she has prepared.

“for I do not know

if the ending will end,

or even if

I want it to”

Hair Sample

There was a light tapping on the door. It was so quiet, David almost didn’t hear it, and when he opened the door, there was no one there. As soon as he closed the door, the tapping returned. This time, something caught his attention in his peripheral vision, and he looked down.

A light brown teddy bear, not even a foot tall, stood on the floor looking up at him. As soon as it was certain David had seen it, it began running down the hallway.

“What the hell?” He was tempted to follow the stuffed animal but decided it was probably a prank from one of the other house members. He closed the door and headed back to his research. Almost immediately, the tapping was back once more.

Sure enough, the teddy bear stood there. This time, it waited for him to step into the hallway before running. It moved surprisingly fast for its size, and he had to jog to keep up. After rounding a corner, it stopped outside another door and looked at him.

This wasn’t Sarah’s room, and he hadn’t met anyone else yet, so David hesitated. The bear, however, appeared to grow impatient and knocked on the door itself. A moment later, a woman opened the door. She looked at the bear first.

“Is this him?”

The bear nodded before walking into the room and vanishing from sight.

“David. Nice to meet you. I’m Rebecca. Please, come in.” She opened the door wider and gestured for him to enter.

A little perplexed, David nodded and stepped inside. The room before him was circular. A round table was pushed against the wall, and a couple of couches faced each other in the center of the area. Two doors led elsewhere, though both were closed. This place had an entirely different layout from his rooms, and it looked as though it wasn’t even in the same building.

“Have a seat. Can I get you anything to drink?”

The question forced his attention back to her. “Uh… I’m sorry. It’s nice to meet you, but I don’t know what this is about.”

She smiled. “Oh. I just wanted to introduce myself and get to know you a little. Thomas suggested everyone do so, and I just hadn’t had a free moment until now. You weren’t busy, were you? I didn’t mean to drag you away from your work, if this is a bad time.”

“No, it’s fine.” He waved away her concern. “I was just taken aback by your… bear.”

“Yeah. It’s my assistant, after a fashion. Not a usual sight, I suppose. I really need to give it a name.”

“Your assistant is a teddy bear?”

“Haha. It’s a spirit. I put it in the bear. Useful, if a little unpredictable. Nothing malicious about it, though. I used the bear thinking it would be less unsettling.”

“Hmmm.” David was unsure it had achieved the desired effect.

“So… how do you know Thomas,” she asked.

“I don’t. Not really. He knew my… instructor. Asked if I would join the house once my training was finished. Seemed like a good opportunity, so here I am. Not really sure what to make of it, or what’s expected of me. But it’s nice having my own lab.”

Rebecca nodded. “Yes it is. Honestly, since I’ve been here, no one’s really asked much of anything from me, either. I feel a bit like a freeloader, actually. Jason supplies us all with crystals. Sarah and Julia seem to handle security. And Thomas is rarely around. Every time I ask Sarah if there is something I should be doing, she tells me not to worry about it. That Thomas will let me know if I’m needed for something. Mostly, I just pursue my own investigations.”

“She told me something similar. And I still haven’t even met Jason or Julia.”

“You may not meet Julia for awhile. She keeps to herself. You’ll bump into Jason eventually. My advice? Just relax. This is a rather laid back house.”

“I’m getting that… Ow!!!”

It felt as though he had been poked in the head with something sharp like a needle. He spun around to find the teddy bear on the back of the couch. “What the…?!”

Rebecca jumped to her feet and rushed over to shoo the bear away. “Crap! It’s never done that before. Are you okay?”

Rubbing the back of his head, David tried to downplay it. “Yeah. It just startled me. Are you sure that thing isn’t evil?”

“Yes. Or… at least I was.” She picked up the bear, opened one of the doors, and threw it inside before slamming the door shut again. “I’m really sorry. If I had any inkling it would do that, I never have let it out.”

“It’s okay. Just… Check it, will you? I’m not fond of demonic entities wandering around. Even if they’re only teddy bears.”

Rebecca tried to stifle a chuckle. “It’s not, but I will make sure. I’m sorry we’ve gotten off on a bad foot.”

“We haven’t. But I think I’ll head back now. Maybe you could stop by sometime. Without that thing.”

“Of course. Again, I’m so sorry.”

“Really, don’t worry about it.”

After David had left, Rebecca opened the door to her lab again, and the bear walked out.

“Real subtle,” she said. “Did you get it, at least?”

The bear held out one arm with two strands of hair wrapped around it.

“Good. Perfect.” She unwrapped the strands. “Now, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to stay inside for awhile.”

The bear seemed to sigh before walking back into the lab.

Mage Devourer

The creature stirred in its cave. It had no idea why it was now awake; indeed, there was no thought at all. It simply found itself raised from slumber. And hungry. The emptiness in its belly was of utmost concern. Not just any food would do; this sort of hunger could only be sated by a very particular prey.

Its long, slender body uncoiled as it began to search for the scent of what it craved. Though it superficially looked like a serpent, small suckers lined its underside. Any remaining resemblance to a snake was shattered as a dozen thin, spindly legs unfolded from its body, lifting it off the ground.

The creature was a mana worm; the mage who named it had not seen its legs. In legends, it was known as a mage devourer, a designation it had earned many times over. They were forces from the realm of magic, nearly mindless, operating on instinct. A single worm could destroy an entire tower of mages by itself. They were entirely unknown by humans who had no connection to magic. These days, most mages did not even know of them.

The worms had been nearly exterminated after countless mages had lost their lives to them. The few that remained had retreated to forgotten depths to sleep undisturbed. Only a handful of written records of the creatures existed, and all of those were forgotten in private collections. A few people had heard legends, but these were little more than fairy tales. Not many people had heard of them, and no one believed that they still existed, if they ever had.

Yet, this one still existed. Someone had known about it, had even known how to wake it. None of this meant anything to the creature. It knew only its hunger and the scent of a mage that had been left behind. It would feed as soon as it could find that mage.