A New Customer (part one)

David was sitting behind the counter when the bell over the entrance jingled. Looking up from the book he was reading, he saw Julia enter the little shop.

“Oh. Hi.”

She feigned a hurt expression. “I’m sorry to disappoint you.”

“It’s not that. I was just hoping you were a customer.”

“It does look a little slow in here. Maybe if you put a sign out front . . . ?”

“Sarah warned me against doing that. Thought it might draw too much of the wrong kind of attention.”

“As someone who isn’t known for playing it safe, I hate to admit that she’s probably right.” Julia walked over to one shelf and picked up a bottle filled with a light blue liquid. “What’s this?”

“Rebecca gave me those. They are a very weak healing potions. Good for minor illnesses.”

“And these?” She gestured to a few baskets of colored balls about the size of a jawbreaker.

“I made them. If you bite into one of the blue ones, they slowly release water suitable for drinking. The red ones can be used to start small fires. And throwing the sea-foam green ones into a fire will extinguish it.”

“Handy.”

David wasn’t sure if she was being sincere or sarcastic. “I don’t want to sell anything too powerful. Especially to people who might be unfamiliar with magic.”

“No, no. I wasn’t being critical. These are clever items. Practical. Have you had any customers?”

“A few. I keep hoping that word of mouth will bring in more, but it’s been slow.”

“Don’t get discouraged. This is a good idea.”

It was strange to hear encouragement from Julia. Even though she was taking a more active role in the house of late, she still maintained a distance from everyone. Indeed, David couldn’t remember ever having a casual conversation with her before now.

“So do you sell anything for mages?”

“Well most of the things in here could be useful to anyone. The only mage specific items are the white crystals you gave me.”

“Oh right. I’m sorry I can’t make them quickly. Jason’s notes were useful, but they don’t make up for my lack of a gift in that area.”

“Don’t worry about it. I haven’t had any mages stop by yet, anyway.”

The bell jingled again, and both of them turned as a woman entered the store. She was out of breath and looked panicked.

“Is this the magic shop?”

“It is. What’s wrong?” David asked.

“There is . . . something in my house. Some kind of monster. Do you have anything that can help?” Whatever she had seen clearly had upset her greatly.

“What does this monster look like?”

“I didn’t get a good look at it. I was in my basement when I saw it. I ran up the stairs and came straight here. My friend told me about this shop, so I though you could help.”

David looked to Julia, who still hadn’t said anything. She just shrugged. David turned back to the woman. “I’m not sure I have anything, especially if we don’t know what it is.”

“So there’s nothing you can do?”

“I’m not sure. Not without more . . .”

“You could come over. That way you can figure out what it is.”

David was taken aback by the request. Making house calls or hunting monsters were not what he had in mind when he opened the store. It was just something to do to feel useful. He turned once more to Julia.

“This could help with word of mouth,” she said.

“You’re right.” After all, he thought, he did want to help people. “Okay. Let’s go find this monster.”

“Thank you!” She began leading him outside.

David looked behind him. “Are you coming?”

“This is your thing. I wouldn’t want to steal your thunder. Go ahead and call if you need help.” Before he could reply Julia disappeared into a portal. David then hurried after the woman.

Hard Truths

I sat cross-legged on the floor and closed my eyes. Focusing on my breath, I simply waited. I could not say how much time passed before she arrived. Sometimes she seems to walk down a set of stairs; on other occasions – such as today – she simply appears before me. Apparently uncomfortable standing above me, she sat down.

“It has been awhile,” she began.

“I’m sorry. I’ve been . . .” She stopped me before I could finish.

“I know. I’m you, remember. You don’t need to apologize to me.”

“Okay.” Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a dark, indistinct figure. “Why did you bring him?”

“I didn’t. He’s always here. He’s your shadow.”

“Can’t you make him go away?”

“Why?”

“I don’t like him.”

“Of course you don’t like him. If you did, he wouldn’t be your shadow.”

“He makes me nervous.”

“You could try talking to him.”

“I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t want to reconcile with parts of me I’d rather be rid of.”

“You sound petulant.”

As soon as she said that, I knew it was true: I was being petulant. Still, facing him was something I wasn’t prepared to do. I know his weight dragged me down, but so much of who I am was wrapped up in rejecting him. What becomes of me if I actually try to deal with him?

She knew what I was thinking and gave me the space to work through it. She also knew when I was done.

“You really don’t have to do anything. No one will force you to confront him. Many people never confront theirs. Everything in life is a choice, and each brings hardships. It can be hell, and it’s ridiculous to think no one is ever faced with something more than they can handle. We damage ourselves when we think we have to face everything. Other people damage us when they try convince us to do something we aren’t prepared for. Just… Try to understand why you are making the choices you do.”

“Right now, I want to curl up in a lap and have someone comfort me.”

“I know. I would like to be able to give that to you, but you know you can’t find it here.”

“I do.” I opened my eyes and stood up. Hearing things I already knew was often unpleasant.

Leaving

There was a soft tapping on her door followed by Thomas’s voice. “Sarah? I’m sorry. Can we talk?”

She got out of her chair and opened the door. “Come in.”

After walking back to the center of the room, they sat down facing one another. Sarah waited for Thomas to speak.

“I did not mean for that to happen. I certainly never wanted to cause you harm. I had brought back a piece of the attacker’s clothes. The stasis field in which it was suspended collapsed unexpectedly.”

Sarah interrupted Thomas’s uncharacteristic wordy explanation. “And that caused the explosion?”

“Yes. Basically, additional matter suddenly appeared in the world. All the matter that had been in that spot was violently displaced.”

“This was all part of your investigation into the attack on your master’s house?”

“Yes.” His chattiness was gone; Thomas obviously believed he had explained himself fully.

“Did you at least learn anything?”

“No. I never had the opportunity to study it.”

“You realize Matthew is ready to leave. He wants me to go with him.” The Mistress would not approve of this tack. Even if Sarah didn’t intend to follow through with the threat, this interference with Thomas’s decisions went against her intent if not her explicit orders. But Sarah was more interested in stopping Matthew from leaving, and she hoped this would push Thomas away from the edge.

“Maybe it would be good for you leave.” Thomas avoided her gaze.

Hiding her surprise, Sarah responded immediately. “I don’t want to leave. I want you to let this obsession to go. If you are really sorry, then you need to stop before anyone gets harmed again.”

“You will stay if I stop investigating the attack?”

“I don’t expect you to stop looking into it. I want you to stop messing with time. You’ve proven it’s dangerous, and you need to quit doing it.”

“I am not sure I can do that,” Thomas said after a few moments.

“Really?”

“I merely want to be honest with you.”

“Well, honestly, the next time you might kill me. Or Matthew. Or even yourself. Is it worth it? Will you be sorry then? If you would be, just don’t do it in the first place.”

Thomas sat in silence for a bit. “You are right. I need to think about this.”

“You do that.” Sarah kept the exasperation out of her voice.

Thomas stood and left without saying anything else. Maybe she had gotten through to him. If she stayed, she was risking her life, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave just yet.

Walking down the hallway, Sarah wanted to talk to Matthew about her conversation with Thomas. As soon as she knocked, his door swung open. Inside, it was immediately obvious that the room had been vacated; nothing of Matthew’s remained. On the coffee table was a note addressed to her.

“Dear Sarah,

I hope you understand that I can’t stay. He has shown us that he cares only about himself, and that he will hurt anyone to accomplish his goals. I wish you would leave, but it’s your decision. If you ever do leave, come find me.

Yours,

Matthew”

After reading it, she crumpled the paper and threw it away. Even if Thomas did stop playing with time, it wasn’t enough to fix anything. And now they needed new members if the house was to survive.

Near Death Experience

Sarah’s head was pounding when she opened her eyes. The room was too bright, intensifying her headache and forcing her to shut her eyes tight to block out the light.

“Sarah!” The concern was evident in Matthew’s voice. Still, she couldn’t imagine why he was in her room.

“Sarah!” He repeated.

“Please, not so loud. Why are you in my room?” Slowly she began opening her eyes a little once more.

“This is my room. You don’t remember?”

She tried to think back. “The last thing I remember is a very loud noise just before everything went dark.”

“Your room exploded, burying you under a pile of rubble. It’s a miracle you survived. You’ve been unconscious for three days. I had to bring someone in to heal you.”

Matthew’s worry now made sense, but the explanation gave rise to new confusion. “My room exploded? I was working on illusions. How could that have caused an explosion?”

Matthew sighed and sat down on a chair next to the bed. “You didn’t cause the explosion. It happened in the room next to yours, but it caused your lab to collapse.”

“You mean . . .”

Matthew nodded. “Something happened in Thomas’s lab.”

“Is he okay?”

“Are you serious?”

“What?”

“Thomas nearly killed you, and you’re worried about him?”

“I’m sure he didn’t do it intentionally.” She understood how Matthew felt. She even felt a little anger herself but was determined to keep it in check, at least until she knew more. “Is he okay?”

“Yes. He’s fine. He wasn’t even here when it happened.”

“Has he explained the cause of the explosion?”

“Not to my satisfaction.”

“Then we need to talk to him.”

“Listen, Sarah, I know he’s our friend, but I think we should leave. Maybe find another house to join. Even start our own house. But I don’t think we ought to stay here. He promised to give us a heads up when he was engaged in dangerous magic, and he didn’t. It doesn’t matter if this happened on purpose or not; he is keeping things from us and putting us at risk.”

More than she could say, Sarah wanted to leave with Matthew, but she knew she couldn’t. “Matthew, I have to stay.”

“Why?”

“I made a promise to Thomas.” She hated herself a little for lying to Matthew. The Mistress had sent her with Thomas to keep an eye on him. She also had sworn Sarah to secrecy.

“Sarah, that’s absurd. He’s put us in danger. More than once. He’s shown no regard for us. Whatever commitments we’ve made, he cannot really expect us to keep them now.”

“Still. We need to talk to him.” Sarah began to feel tired. “Though maybe not today.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No. I’m just worn out.”

“Do you want me to get the healer?”

“It’s not necessary. Really. I just need more sleep. Who was this healer, anyway?”

“A friend of mine recommended her. Rebecca. Don’t worry, I stayed and watched over you the entire time she was here.”

“I should thank her.” After those words, unconsciousness overtook her once more.