The Gift of Mana

Using the sigils specified in Jason’s notes, and devoting her complete attention, Julia could make out some of the threads of magic that surrounded her. She worked slowly and carefully to attach one of the threads to the crystal she had prepared in advance. The crystal began to glow with a gradually increasing white light.

Exhaustion had begun to set in by the time she had finished. For Jason, this process had been straightforward, but she did not have the same gift he did. The gift of mana – of raw magic power – was not that uncommon, but without it, creating these crystals was tiring. Mages weren’t limited to their own gifts, but working in specialties other than one’s own never came easily. Few working outside their own specialty would ever be able to match the skill of even a merely average specialist.

Mana specialists were invaluable to other mages, but often lacked a second gift and thus could do little more than provide the power others relied upon. Jason, however, had had two gifts. In addition to mana, he also had the gift of chaos magic. A mage with two gifts was itself uncommon, and that particular pairing was almost unheard of. His absence in the house would impact everyone.

No one had asked her to try to fill in some of the gap opened by his death, but Jason’s notes had given her the idea. Her own contribution to the house was just as irreplaceable, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that Jason leaving her the notes meant something. He must have thought she could do something with them. She would need to improve, both her technique and her stamina, but providing a few power crystals to the others was within her power. And she had already created the modified blue crystal that had suppressed the charm spell that had been placed on Bailey. What else she could accomplish, without the gift of mana, remained to be seen.

Resolution

“I thought you had let this go?” Sarah was practically pleading.

Remaining defiant, Julia shook her head. “For the sake of Rebecca, I had put it to one side. Now that that’s been settled, we need to deal with him.”

“It’s his house, Julia.”

“I don’t care. He put everyone and everything at risk. Not telling me? Trying to set David up? And in the end, Jason paid the price. Jason who was an ‘old friend.’” Sarah could almost see the sarcasm drip from Julia’s mouth. “We should harbor no misconceptions. He would let any of us suffer the same fate, considering we mean even less to him.”

“You can’t believe that. He didn’t want Jason to die. Or even you. Maybe he went about it poorly, but he was trying to keep everyone safe.”

“So? What follows from that? Am I just supposed to forget it all? Pretend he isn’t responsible for Jason’s death? He gets off without any consequences?”

“Julia. What would you have me do?”

“I don’t know. You say we can’t kick him out. But how can you expect me to stay here, in this house, while he remains?”

“Julia is right.”

Both women turned in surprise to see Thomas standing just inside the door of the living room.

“Thomas?” Sarah didn’t want to try to infer the meaning of his statement.

“I said, Julia is right. It is unreasonable to expect her to stay in my house.”

“So you’re kicking me out?”

“You misunderstand. Julia, I have thought about this a lot. Especially since yesterday, but even before our last exchange. I thought I was doing the right thing. As you have repeatedly asserted, I was wrong. I apologize to you, and everyone else in the house. I need to do better.

Julia seemed to deflate a bit. Thomas’s admission had taken some of the edge off of her anger, but she wasn’t going to be pacified so easily. “That’s all well and good, but . . .”

Thomas interrupted her. “There is more. Your hesitation in staying is understandable. So I will relinquish this house and give it over to Sarah. I merely ask that I be allowed to stay, at least on a probationary basis. If I again act so as to violate your trust, or anyone else’s, I will accept Sarah’s judgment. You would be part of Sarah’s house, not mine. Is this satisfactory?”

Julia was taken aback. Before she could recover, Sarah spoke up.

“Do I get a say in this? You’re handing everything over to me?”

“Sarah, we both know you’re more suited to this than I ever was. You take care of nearly everything already. I am merely proposing we make it official. Truly, this is already your house.”

She could think of no objection. Truthfully, she didn’t really want to object.

“Very well. Julia, does this arrangement work for you?”

Julia looked as though she still wanted an argument, but she relented. “Yeah. This will do.” Without waiting for any further discussion, she opened a portal and left the room.

“Are you sure about this, Thomas?”

“The house needs her. This seemed like the best way to keep her. Besides, the paperwork has already been filed. This has been your house since the morning.”

There was nothing she could think of to say, so she just nodded her head. After Thomas left, she sat there for a long time, wondering what this change would lead to.

Confrontation

Julia was reading through some of Jason’s notes when there came a knock at the door. Absorbed in the pages, she absently called out, “Come in.”

After the door opened, it took her a moment to realize who was there. His appearance was completely unexpected, but there was no question it was Thomas.

“Julia, I was . . .”

She jumped up and closed the distance between them in a flash. “What are you doing here? How dare you show your face in these rooms!” The anger welling up was almost impossible for her to control.

Though she stood nearly a head shorter, Thomas visibly flinched. “I just wanted to talk to you about Jason’s crystals.”

“Don’t!” She shoved a finger in his face. “Don’t say his name! Don’t come to his rooms! Don’t even think about him! You betrayed someone who called you a friend. You don’t get to talk about him. Ever. If this wasn’t your house, I would end you myself. Never doubt that.”

“I wouldn’t bother you if this wasn’t important.”

She shook her head in disgust. “You can’t even apologize. What you put me through. How you used David. How your games led to Jason’s death. Hell, you even abandoned Rebecca. And now you want to talk about Jason’s research. You’ve got a lot of gall. Get the hell out of here.”

For a moment, it looked like Thomas was going to argue further. Instead, he merely turned and left the room.

She needed to talk to Sarah. Something had to be done. First, however, she wanted to calm down. Yelling at Sarah wasn’t going to help. Tomorrow, though, she would resolve this situation once and for all.

Morning Ritual

Every line on her face meant something, represented some experience. Sarah wouldn’t trade any of them for anything. In the mirror, she studied them all, committing every detail to memory. This was her ritual nearly every morning. As much as she loved changing her looks, playing with form, it was important to her that she never forget what she looked like without magic. Some illusionists couldn’t pick the face they were born with out of a line-up. Looks were flood, even with magic, but she never wanted to lose the connection with her unmodified self.

Once she was certain she could remember herself, she began to play. First, the right eye changed from green to blue. Her shoulder-length brown hair grew halfway down her back and lightened to silver. Checking her profile, she decided to lengthen her nose just a bit and then added a few freckles to either cheek.

She stood and walked over to the full-length mirror. After trying several outfits, she settled on a simple green dress. She finalized the look by taking a couple of inches off of her height. Studying herself in the mirror, she silently approved of the final result. This was as representative of her as her appearance without magic was.

This morning ritual was about her practicing her craft as well as creative expression. It was for her, and her alone. The rest of the day might bring headaches and work, but for a few minutes each morning, she could enjoy her gift and use it to create herself anew. Magic could be used for many things; Sarah wanted to use hers to bring more beauty into the world.