Diagnosis

It took a couple of minutes for Bailey to answer the door. Sarah had just begun to worry that they had escaped again when the door finally opened.

“Are you finally letting me out?”

Instead of answering the question, Sarah indicated the woman standing next to her. “Bailey, this is Madeline. She’s a friend of mine,” Sarah ignored the chuckle, “And she’s agreed to try to help us.”

“Help us with what?”

Sarah ignored the look Madeline gave her. “Can we come in?”

“It’s not like I have much of a choice.” The door opened, and Bailey stood aside to let in the two visitors.

Once inside, Sarah noticed that the room seemed very well lived in. After tracking Bailey down, Julia had put them in here and limited their movement even more. Without knowing the details of the charm or compulsion they were under, it seemed like the only safe option.

Bailey was clearly unhappy with this arrangement. “So what is this about?”

“Sarah tells me you might be under a spell,” Madeline blurted out before Sarah could stop her.

“Oh not this again. How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not under any spell? I don’t know what happened to Rebecca!”

“What Madeline means is that she’s here to make sure that you are okay.” She glared at the other mage to prevent any contradiction.

“You’re lying. Leave me alone!”

“Good grief.” Madeline shoved Bailey down onto the couch. She so often cultivated a demure image, it was easy for Sarah to forget how imposing Madeline could be. “Now sit quietly for a few minutes.”

Bailey tried to get up. “You can’t do . . .”

“I said stop.”

Sarah could feel the power in Madeline’s voice. “I think they’ve been traumatized enough . . .”

“If you want to know what’s going on, I need to examine them. They clearly are under some sort of compulsion if they are are so insistent on not being analyzed. They probably can’t consent right now. Do you want me to do this or not?”

Sarah looked at Bailey sitting rigidly. “Fine. But . . .”

“Don’t worry. It won’t hurt them.”

Madeline focused all her attention on Bailey. Sarah could do little more than watch. She knew much of the basics; charms were her mistress’s specialty after all. Yet she had never had the aptitude for them that Madeline did. Whatever had a hold over Bailey was beyond her abilities.

Madeline continued to concentrate as the minutes dragged on. Over half an hour passed before she finally broke away. Bailey seemed to have relaxed a bit but had slipped into unconsciousness. Madeline stumbled over to a chair and slumped into it, her face falling into her hands.

“Do you have some water?” she finally asked without looking up.

Sarah knew where there were cups and filled one from the sink in the bathroom. She went back to the living room and handed it to Madeline who had by now sat up.

“Thanks.”

Sarah waited until she drained the cup before asking, “So?”

“If you told me the Mistress had done this, I might believe you.”

“What do you . . .”

“It’s that intricate. This thing is so thoroughly wrapped around Bailey, I’m not sure anyone can get it out. Every time I tugged on one part, the rest tightened its grip, threatening to crush them. Maybe the person who did this could undo it. Maybe. But I can’t. No wonder Bailey doesn’t want this messed with. They might not even be aware of it. Actually, I hope they aren’t; it’s terrifying.”

“So there’s nothing we can do?”

“If I had massive amounts of raw power, I could maybe rip it out. However, even if I did, it would leave Bailey an empty husk. There would be nothing of them left.”

“Do you think the Mistress could do it?”

Madeline thought for a moment. “Perhaps. But it would be dangerous. For both. That’s the other thing. Every time I probed it, there was a bit of psychic feedback. I don’t know what it would do if it were seriously threatened.”

Sarah felt despair lapping at her feet.

“There’s another issue.”

“More?”

“Sarah, think about it. Whoever did this is powerful. Maybe more powerful than anyone I’ve known. If this was just about your former housemate, maybe leave it alone. I know we’ve never been the best of friends, but I don’t want to see you hurt. Whoever is behind this is dangerous. I think it would be best if you let it go.”

“Madeline . . .”

“I’m very serious. This scares me.”

“But what about Bailey?”

“Is that really your problem?”

“Yes,” Sarah answered without thinking.

Madeline gave her a long look. “Okay. I’ll try to do some digging; maybe I can find some sort of solution.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t. I think this is a mistake. Just . . . please don’t do anything foolish.”

Sarah gave her a weak smile. “I’ll try.”

The Purple Crystal

The desk had been cleared of everything except a black cloth, upon which sat the purple crystal. All of the crystals wore different shapes. The white ones Jason had made, for instance, were slender rods about the length of a hand from palm to the tip of the middle finger. The green one was more akin to an elongated pyramid. The purple crystal was circular, no larger than two inches in diameter. It was also curved slightly, the convex side facing up on the desk.

Having studied the first few pages of notes from the box, Julia had a pretty good idea what the crystal’s purpose was. There was nothing dangerous about it, as far as she could tell. Still, she hesitated to try to use it. It represented a boundary, past which lay other unknowns. That gave her pause.

Finally, she decided she had wasted enough time and picked it up. All she had learned about the nature of this particular crystal suggested she just had to hold it for it to work. But she knew Jason, and had an idea how his mind worked, so she held it to her left eye like a monocle.

The moment she looked through it, the world changed. Some objects glowed while others seemed to lose color. On a page of notes she had nearby for this very test, nonsense markings became easily readable script. This was the primary purpose of the crystal, deciphering text. Yet it also seemed to be revealing hints about the magical nature of everything around her. That suggested there was more to this than Jason’s notes had contained.

Hoping for some insight, she looked at the other crystals from the box. The yellow shone brightly, while the orange dimmed. The blue crystal . . . had vanished. It had resisted her attempts to grasp its function, and now it was gone?

She pulled the lens away from her eye in order to look for the missing crystal. Immediately, she saw it sitting in its proper place, right next to the others. She looked through the lens again, and once more it vanished from her sight.

Putting the purple crystal back in its place, she picked up the blue. It had been the wrong one to start with, but now she had some ideas about how to uncover its secrets. With the purple crystal’s help reading Jason’s notes, she felt confident she would succeed this time.

Isolated

Rebecca spent much of her energy to keep from screaming. If she gave in, the Elder was certain to find her. In a corner of what used to be her mind, she had hidden away important parts of herself. The Elder had already assimilated the rest. He had nearly complete control over her, and every moment was a new violation.

Throughout the conversation with Sarah, she expected her friend to notice something off. Every time Sarah tried to coax her to say she didn’t want to be here, Rebecca strained to give her some sort of sign, but to no avail. The Elder had no trouble shrugging off her efforts. After he seemed to have convinced Sarah that everything was fine, Sarah left, and she once again retreated from conscious awareness.

If she stayed quiet, the Elder largely left her alone. He had most of her, and she couldn’t hold out forever. At the beginning, she fought all the time. After a week, the futility of it left her with a growing sense of despair, and being aware of her body doing things she hadn’t willed it to was horrifying. Retreat allowed her to conserve some strength and to ignore the loss of control.

Sometime after Sarah left – she didn’t know how long – she felt the Elder looking for her again.

“Rebecca, quit hiding. We have a problem, and I would like your help in solving it.”

It felt like a ruse, so she stayed silent.

“We found someone in the compound. Your memories are still a little spotty for me, but I believe his name is David.”

She almost jumped, but stopped herself. He had access to many of her memories. Mentioning David was an obvious ploy.

“You can see for yourself. He was sneaking around and got caught in that explosion earlier. We need to decide what to do with him.”

Rebecca didn’t know anything about an explosion. It must have happened when she was secluded. However, when she looked through her eyes, she could see David laying on a cot inside one of the cells. What had he been doing?

“Satisfied? Let’s go back to our office.”

He said it as though she had a choice in the matter. Maybe he thought he was being polite, but it felt like he was rubbing her nose in her own helplessness.

“So how should we get rid of him?”

“What?”

“I am sorry, Rebecca, I truly am. But we can’t let people just wander in here without some sort of consequence. We have to dispose of him. He’s your friend, so I wanted to consult you, to determine the most human way.”

He sounded genuine, but what he was saying was so barbaric.

“We can’t!”

“I’m sorry, but we have to. To protect our family.”

“But . . .” Rebecca was becoming frantic. There had to be some way to stop this. “Wait. You let Sarah go.”

“She didn’t break in and start snooping around.”

“You want her to leave us alone, right?”

He was quiet for a few moments. “Yes?”

“Let David go. That will help convince her everything is okay. If she knows he’s here, and he doesn’t come back, she’ll get more suspicious. But if we let him go, she’s more likely to believe that we have nothing to hide, that you’re me.” Rebecca knew she was throwing away another chance, but once more she couldn’t sacrifice a friend just to save herself.

“Will that work?”

“You know what I know.”

“Hmm . . . Fine. I hope you’re right.”

That was a threat; it was vague and formless, but unmistakably a threat. The Elder left her alone again, yet she refused to retreat until David was safely away. Seeing him, hearing him, and not being able to respond nearly caused her to break down. She kept herself in check, however, until she was safely alone again, where the Elder had not yet found her.

Catching Up

Sarah was sitting in the living area sipping on a glass of wine when a door appeared in the middle of the room. Julia stepped through, took a glass off the table, and sat down in another chair.

“So where did you go?”

“We found Rebecca.”

“Really? Did you bring her back?”

“No. She says she wants to be there.”

“Are you serious? After all that effort to find her? Are you sure she’s not being held against her will?”

“I’m not. But they did catch David sneaking around and let him go, which suggests they aren’t trying to antagonize us. She also spoke with each of us alone. I suppose someone might have been observing us, but she seemed to be free to do as she pleased.”

“So that’s it?”

“Maybe. For now. What about Bailey?”

“I tracked them down and brought them back. They came willingly, but we’re going to need some help. They are under some sort of charm or compulsion. That’s why I don’t trust the situation with Rebecca.”

“She did say there was some sort of misunderstanding with Bailey. We should get to the bottom of that.”

“You know anyone who can break a charm?”

“I might.”

“I’ll leave that to you, then. Go easy on Bailey, though. Something tells me this has been an ordeal for them.”

“I will, but I’m a little surprised to hear you plead on their behalf.”

Julia shrugged. “I have a compassionate side. Sometimes.”

“Julia . . .”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you for your help. I want you to know that this is your home. As long as you want it to be.”

“Thanks, Sarah. Jason wanted me to find a place. I am trying.”

“I know.”

“Okay. Let me know when you’re going to deal with Bailey. I think I should be there.”

“I will.”

Julia finished her glass and left. Sarah continued to nurse hers while she mulled over the events of the last few days.

Prisoner

The first thing he was aware of was pain, specifically soreness permeating throughout his body.  Eventually opening his eyes, David found himself in a small room; the cot he was laying on was the only item present. He couldn’t tell where he was or how he got here.

A small panel towards the top of the door slid open, and a pair of eyes peered in at him. The opening shut again, and he heard a voice outside. “Get the Mistress. He’s awake.”

“Hello?” David called, but no one responded.

The trauma his body had been through had left him little energy, and he fell unconscious once more.

When he woke next, a familiar face sat beside him.

“Rebecca?”

She smiled. “Yes. Don’t exert yourself too much. You’ve been through quite a bit.”

“Where are we?”

“My family’s compound. You were found half buried in a pile of rubble. I can guess what happened.”

“Are you okay? Are they holding you prisoner?”

She laughed. It was genuine but sounded a bit cold. “No. Nothing like that. I assume you were looking for me thinking that, though. Yes?”

He nodded. Still disoriented from being knocked out, he was finding it difficult to understand what was going on.

“I explained this to Sarah, but this is my home. I am here because I want to be.”

“So . . .” This was a lot to take in.

“So you needn’t have gone to all of this effort.”

“What happens to me now?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I’m in this cell . . .”

Rebecca chuckled again. “This? Obviously my people wanted to secure an intruder. They didn’t know who you were or why you were here. Since I hope to have cleared up any misunderstanding, you can be on your way. I just ask that the next time you visit, you announce yourself.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. I’m touched you were worried about me so much, but I’m fine. Do you need a ride somewhere? Were you and Sarah supposed to meet up?”

“I . . . uh . . . yeah.”

“Okay. I’ll make sure someone gets you there. I would take you myself, but I have other pressing matters to attend to. Please forgive me.”

David nodded as she stood to leave.

“It was good seeing you, David. Please take care of yourself.” As she finished speaking, she turned and walked out of the room, leaving the door open.