“So this is where you live?” Julia looked around at the unremarkable, and very cluttered, apartment.
“Yep.” Jason replied absently as he dug through one of the piles of miscellany.
After she had gotten him out of the collapsed building, he had convinced her to come to his apartment to repay her for saving him. Uncharacteristically, she had agreed. That, by itself, bothered her. She should have said no. The fact that she didn’t only intensified her curiosity about him.
Though he looked a few years older than she was, he acted younger. Even taking account of the fact that a building had just collapsed on top of him, he appeared disheveled. If she couldn’t feel the power coming off him, it would be easy to mistake him for a vagrant. She didn’t understand this strange man, and she wanted to.
“So if this is your home, what were you doing at that other place?”
“Research.” He didn’t look up.
“Why there and not here?”
“Because then my apartment would have been destroyed.”
The reasoning was impeccable and completely baffling. “You knew the building was going to fall down?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Just a sense I get. I thought I would have better luck trying my spell there than I would here. Since the building didn’t survive, I’d say it was rather lucky I didn’t do it here.”Jason gave up on the pile he had been digging through and started searching another one.
“Aha! Here it is.” He sat back, a triumphant grin on his face. In his hands was a long, slender crystal that glowed. He held it out towards her. “Here you go.”
“I know that. I meant, what’s it for?”
“You can use it to power magic. I thought you were a mage?”
“I am. Ugh… Why are you giving it to me?”
“Oh. You saved my life. Least I could do.”
“I can feel the power from here. It must be worth a fortune.”
Jason shrugged. “I don’t know. I make them in my spare time. Useful to have around. I just wanted to show my appreciation.”
Julia took the crystal carefully and turned it over slowly. It was one of the strongest crystals she had ever encountered, and he just had it laying around. It would provide enough power for a normal month’s worth of spells for her.
“Why do you live by yourself, in this apartment? If you can make this, you should have people beating down your door begging you to join their house.”
“Not really interested. I have an old friend who keeps inviting me, but I’m not much for joining.” Jason cleared off a seat on the couch and offered Julia a nearby armchair. “I like the solitude. Easier to focus.” As if to give the lie to his words, a black cat jumped up onto the table in front of the couch and stared at him.
“Uh huh. What’s your cat’s name?”
“I don’t know. And he isn’t mine.”
“Is he a neighbor’s? How did he get in?”
“Oh, he lives here, but he doesn’t belong to me. He’s his own person.”
“He lives here, but you don’t know his name?”
“No. He hasn’t told me yet.”
“He hasn’t told you? His name?” Everything Jason said or did made him seem more strange.
“Right…” Jason’s voice seemed to trail off.
“What?” Julia had been too focused on the cat.
“I asked if you belong to a house?”
“No. I don’t mix well with others.” Why did she say that? It was true, of course, but why tell this mage she had just met?
“Too bad. Your command of spatial dimensions is fascinating. I’d love to learn more about it.”
“You seem to have your own talents.” She indicated the crystal she was holding.
He slapped his hands down on his knees and stood up suddenly. “It’s settled then. You will teach me about your magic, and I’ll teach you mine.”
“What? I didn’t…”
He pulled her to her feet and began walking her to the door. “Tomorrow afternoon. Back here.” The cat, who had been following them, meowed. “Fine,” Jason replied to the animal before turning back to Julia. “Bring some food for the cat. He insists. Thinks you will get better food than I give him.”
With that, Julia found herself in the hallway, the door to the apartment closed behind her. How had he arrived at the conclusion that they would swap magic? This was insane. No, Jason was insane. He had to be. She should just leave and never come back. As she considered the crystal in her hand, she knew she would return.