Blank

The future was blank. Laying on the couch, Thomas tried work out a solution. As best as he could determine, this was Jason’s fault. When he first began noticing glitches, he realized he could not longer find Julia in the future. Backtracking, he found the moment when Julia discovered Jason’s blue crystal. From that time forward, the future became harder and harder to explore.

With Julia out of the future, and Bailey following a little after that, any of his observations became increasingly unreliable. He had a sense of what the house would look like without them, but unless they actually left, that future would not come to pass. 

Discovering the existence of the crystals had explained some mysteries involving Jason. Thomas had longed believed it was Jason’s chaotic nature that made his presence elusive when scrying. The crystals provided a much more straightforward explanation. Now that they were held by others, though, it upended everything.

For the first time in decades, Thomas didn’t know what was in front of him. He had no inkling about potential threats. No clues as to how to prepare. The very idea was terrifying. The future once more was an unknown, filled with hidden terrors. 

The only solution he came to was removing the blue crystals from circulation, but doing that would not be easy. He couldn’t find them scrying, and he had no idea how to counter their effects. Asking Julia was obviously out of the question. Still, something had to be done, even if it meant that Julia would hate him more.

Alternative Treatment

“Julia . . .” Sarah didn’t want to point out the obvious. Bailey always became agitated whenever the charm spell was mentioned.

As if she was reading Sarah’s mind, Julia smiled. “Just listen to them. Go ahead, Bailey.”

Bailey hesitated for a few moments before beginning to speak. “I have been under a charm spell for a couple of months. I’m sorry I deceived you . . .”

“We’ve already talked about this. It isn’t your fault,” Julia interrupted.

“Still, I want to apologize. I put you all through so much.”

Julia shrugged and stayed silent.

“I am sorry. Though I didn’t want to, I used you to get to Rebecca. Now she’s in danger.”

“But how . . .?” Sarah’s mind was racing through the implications of this turn of events. “Madeline was unable to break the spell.”

“Yeah, when she failed, I tried a different approach. Unfortunately, the charm is still there. But it’s suppressed for now,” Julia said.

“How did you manage that?” Did Julia have a hidden talent? Nothing about this seemed related to spatial magic.

Flashing another smile, Julia placed a white crystal on the kitchen island.

“One of Jason’s crystals?”

“No. One of mine.”

Sarah picked it up. “You made this?”

“Yes. Jason taught me. He left me some notes.”

“But how is this connected to the charm spell?”

“Some of the principles involved in making these… I was able to depower the charm spell. It’s still there, but it doesn’t have any magical energy to operate. A temporary solution, but effective for now.”

Sarah put down the crystal. Julia could make these? And use them to do other things? What did this mean for the house? For Julia? This felt too big of a development to deal with, and there were other issues more pressing.

“Bailey, what happened to Rebecca?” David’s voice startled Sarah. She had nearly forgotten he was in the room.

“I was forced to give Rebecca a letter. It apparently had some sort of trigger on it. After she read it, she vanished. I don’t really know where. The letter was signed by someone named Marie. Rebecca seemed frightened by it all, before she disappeared. By the time Sarah came back inside, I couldn’t remember what had happened. It’s not that I was unable to tell you; rather, it was hidden from me. Even now, even with the charm suppressed, I cannot remember who put it on me. Or when. Marie is the only name I have because it was on the letter.”

“If someone put that strong of a charm on Bailey,” David said, “they probably put a charm on Rebecca. That’s why she didn’t ask for our help.”

Bailey stared at him. “What do you mean? Have you spoken with her?”

He nodded. “She’s back with the cult she used to be in.”

“She used to be in a cult? She never told me about that.”

“She doesn’t think it’s a cult,” Sarah explained. “And she doesn’t talk about it much. She only told us because someone came looking for her.”

“We need to go get her.” David and Bailey spoke in unison.

“If she is under a charm, it won’t be easy.” Sarah tried to keep everyone from rushing into something.

“Julia?” David turned to her. “Do you think whatever you did for Bailey can help?”

Julia nodded. “If it’s a charm, yes. It will take me at least a couple of days, though.”

“Okay. That will give David and I time to come up with a plan.” Sarah was grateful for the time to approach this situation with some degree of caution.

“What about me?” Bailey asked.

“Let us take care of this. There’s still too much we don’t know about . . . all of this.” Sarah wasn’t sure how far Bailey could be trusted. Until she and Julia could talk privately, involving them was too much of a risk. “It’s safer for you to stay here.”

“I’m the one who got her into this. I’m the one who betrayed her trust, whether I wanted to or not. I need to help get her out.”

“Your feelings are completely understandable, but we’re mages. Let us take care of this. You’ll get your chance to make it up to her.”

Bailey opened her mouth and then closed it again without saying anything. Having them free of the charm was certainly a positive step, but Sarah knew there had to be more to the story.

Surprise

“How are you feeling?” Sarah asked David when he entered the kitchen.

“Better. A little stiff.”

“Being buried in rubble will do that.”

“I suppose.” David opened one of the cupboards and pulled out a box of crackers. He sat down at the island across from her and began mindlessly nibbling.

“Is there anything else bothering you?” She could tell he was distracted. Being unable to help Bailey had frustrated her, so she was looking for some other way to be useful.

“Just anxious to go back for Rebecca. I don’t like leaving her there.”

“David. We’ve been over this.”

“She has to be terrified. You remember the story she told us.”

“Yes, but now she’s chosen to be there. It’s not our place to take her from her home.”

“That’s not her home. She can’t really want to be there.”

“I know it’s not easy to accept, but we have to respect her wishes.”

“How do we know that is her wish? You fell under some sort of compulsion the first time you went there. Bailey is still under some sort of spell. Maybe Rebecca is, too?”

“Maybe. But we have no evidence of that. She says she wants to stay. And she let both of us leave. If we try to force her to leave, we risk a fight we could lose. And we might push Rebecca further away. I don’t like the thought of her being there either, but right now, we don’t have a choice.”

David fell silent. It was obvious he wanted to keep arguing but knew he wasn’t going to win. The man’s loyalty was admirable, but he was too eager to rush in blindly. That was an aspect of his youth Sarah hoped he would grow out of.

A door appeared in the kitchen. Sarah was surprised when Bailey followed Julia through it.

“What . . . ?”

“David. Sarah. I’d like you both to meet Bailey. They have an interesting story to tell.”

From Jason’s Notes

The research on color cyrstal crystals has hit a snag. I can identify three colors: purple, yellow, and orange. Those were pretty straightforward, but I know there have to be other colors. One of the problems I’m having is that I am unable to decide if I am inventing these items or discovering them. The fact that every mage that creates mana storage uses white crystals suggests the latter. But if that were the case, I should think it would be easier for me to figure out the other colors. Since I haven’t been able to, I might have to more seriously consider the possibility that these are my own creation. If so, that raises some interesting questions about the nature of the white ones.

I had thought I was getting somewhere with a fourth color. There was mention in one book of something called a mage devourer. (I don’t know why these volumes never have titles. The book was average size, with a brown leather cover. On the inside was written the word “Legends.” They could have just put that on the outside and made it easier to find.)

Anyway, from what I can gather, this creature feeds on magic. Not just any magic, though. It has to be the magic housed inside a living being. I could find no other discussion of the thing in any other books, which itself is surprising. And there seems to be no indication of how it might be destroyed. Still, there must have been some way because it didn’t wipe out all mages.

The idea I had was that maybe there was a cyrstal (why do I keep misspelling that?!) crystal that could absorb magic, sort of the opposite of the white ones. It would, in essence, be an artificial mage devourer. My idea was that you could use it to drain the magic from a mage so that the devourer would lose interest and move on.

I realized pretty quickly, though, that that would kill the mage. You could try to use it on the devourer itself, but I don’t know how you would get it close enough without the devourer recognizing the danger or killing the mage who was trying to get it to the devourer. I think the theory behind it is sound, but I’m not sure even I could make one without killing myself in the process. That’s probably why none have ever been made, at least not that anyone knows about.

Still, there has to be some way. A creature that feeds on magic. Any spell you throw at it will just be absorbed, I imagine. I can’t believe there aren’t more references to it.

It’s a problem that is going to bug me. Luckily there don’t seem to be any left, so it’s really just a theoretical problem. Something to work on when I’m idle. So I’ll have to go back to the drawing board on the crytals (dammit!) crystals.