Entering and Breaking

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” Julia muttered.

“C’mon, you know you love me.” Aisha gave her a mischievous grin.

“That has nothing to do with it.”

“I’ve got a lead on a book about temporal magic. You want it, don’t you?”

“Of course,” Julia reluctantly agreed.

“We’ll be in and out before anyone notices, so don’t worry.”

Julia didn’t feel reassured, but they were already outside the house. One portal brought them to a second story balcony, and another took them through the glass doors. They were inside a nicely furnished office.

“What about magical safeguards?” The ease with which they had entered made Julia uneasy.

“This isn’t a mage’s house. Just some rich collector. There is only mundane security which is easy to deal with.”

“So why did you need my help?”

“I like the company.”

Julia let out an exasperated sigh. Over the years she had known Aisha, she had come to trust the woman more than anyone she had met, except Jason. Even so, she wasn’t always sure when Aisha was joking and when she was serious.

“Okay, here’s the safe. Give me a minute.” Aisha had opened what looked like a cabinet door. The dark metal front of a safe glinted in the dim light. She used shadow magic – a branch of spatial magic, Julia had gathered – to manipulate the safe’s lock and open it.

“You do this a lot?” Julia’s question was rhetorical, but Aisha answered anyway.

“Only in emergencies. I prefer get my acquisitions through mutual understandings. But this collector was being stubborn.”

Aisha stood up holding a small, brown leather book. “Here we go.” She began looking through the pages.

“Good. Let’s get out of here.” Julia started opening a portal when noticed Aisha’s look turn to puzzlement and then fear. “What is . . .” Before she could finish her question, a faintly glowing cylinder surrounded the other woman.

“It’s a trap. Look.” Aisha turned the book so Julia could see that all of its pages were blank.”

“Shit. I’ll make a portal to get you out.”

Every portal she tried to open failed. The barrier was blocking her spells.

“So much for that. What about you?”

Aisha shook her head. “None of my magic is working.”

“I thought you said this guy wasn’t a mage.”

“He isn’t. At least, he’s not supposed to be.”

Both women fell silent while they tried to think of a solution. Julia probed the floor below the barrier with no luck: the barrier was completely sealed. Finally, Aisha broke the silence.

“You need to leave. You getting caught here is bound to have ramifications for the future. Get out. I’ll be okay.”

“No.” Julia hadn’t even paused to consider the suggestion. “No way. I am not leaving you here. You’re too important . . .”

“Julia, it’s okay. I’ll be fine. We have to keep you out of this.”

“I appreciate your concern, but I’m not leaving a friend, someone I care about. I can’t lose anyone else; I have too few friends as it is. Now help me come up with a way out of this.”

Just as Julia remembered something, a man entered the room. He had shoulder length black hair and was dressed casually in jeans and a sweatshirt. There was nothing particularly remarkable about him, but Julia thought she had seen him before.

“Looks like the cheese lured in a mouse. Two mice,” he corrected himself after noting Julia. “But you aren’t who I was expecting. Who are you?”

Neither woman responded. Julia tried to maintain eye contact while she searched her pocket.

The man turned all of his attention to her. “What is going on with you? This can’t be right.”

As soon as she felt the right crystal, she pulled it out and touched it to the barrier. It disappeared instantly, and Julia shoved the crystal back into her pocked before summoning a portal.

“Wait!”

Ignoring the man’s yell, Julia grabbed Aisha’s arm and pulled her through the portal, closing it behind them. They both fell to the grass outside Julia’s cabin and spent some time catching their breath.

“That was fun,” Aisha said after a while.

“You have a weird notion of fun.”

“Probably. You’re going to have to tell me how you managed that.”

“Later. Let’s get inside. I need a drink.”

The Dangers of Time Travel

“You traveled back in time?” Aisha took a sip of her whiskey.

“Yes.”

“But how? You’re not even a time mage.”

“I… It’s long story, and I don’t think I should tell anyone how I managed it. Can you imagine what would happen if others figured it out. Would you trust people not to abuse the information? Honestly, I’m not even sure why it worked. Maybe because of how desperate I was. Or maybe because I got lucky. Now that I’m here, I am scared to do anything to alter the past. My past. So I’m staying away from anyone I knew.”

“Maybe you can’t change the past?”

“What do you mean?” Aisha’s response had taken her by surprise.

“Think about it. If you did change something, it could create a contradiction, a paradox. Since those are impossible, maybe it’s impossible to do anything that would cause one. Maybe, in your past, you were always here, always doing these things.”

“I’m not sure if that’s a brilliant or terrifying. But I also don’t want to test your hypothesis. If you’re wrong, I don’t want to think about the damage I might do.”

“So if you don’t want to change the past, why did you come back?”

“Because I didn’t think it through. A friend of mine had died. I – foolishly – thought I could come back and prevent it.”

“But you couldn’t? Then my idea . . .”

“I didn’t really try. I came back so far that he hadn’t yet met me. When I went to speak to him, he convinced me . . . He made me reflect on the dangers inherent in changing the past. So I said goodbye without saving him. He’s still out there. Alive. For now. And even if I decided to take the risk, he won’t let me.”

Julia choked out the last few words and fell silent. Research had kept her distracted, but talking about Jason made her heart hurt. She couldn’t talk to him. She couldn’t even talk to his ghost because he wasn’t dead yet. A deep sadness came over her.

“Hey, it’s okay.” Aisha reached out to touch her arm.

Julia realized tears were running down her cheeks. She wiped them away and tried to force a smile. “I didn’t realize how much grief I was holding in.”

“So now you’re stuck? You can’t get back to your own time?”

“That is another long story. I had to close off my way home. That’s why I became a recluse and need your help.”

Aisha laughed. “Well you have my help, but it’s not free.”

“I know. So are you satisfied with my explanation?”

“It’s an outlandish story, but for some reason I believe you. And you’re secret is safe with me.”

“Thank you, Aisha.”

The Truth

“You’re saying you saw someone who looked like me?” Julia tried her best to sound confused.

“Don’t insult me. I procure items and information. I know what I saw.”

How should she answer? A lie would be better, perhaps, but what lie even made sense? Julia remembered how she got into this situation: Thomas and his secrets. Was this any different? She was trying to preserve the past, make as few waves as possible. She told herself she was doing the right thing, but that was what Thomas believed about his own secrets. Keeping the truth hidden had caused so many problems, and she didn’t want to follow Thomas’s example.

“We can go inside and see her if you don’t believe me.”

“No!” Aisha’s suggestion surprised her, and she panicked at the prospect of confronting her past self.

“So are you going to explain?”

“Why were you even here? Were you investigating me?”

“Don’t change the subject. If you won’t tell me, maybe she will.”

“Okay, okay.” She didn’t want Aisha making the situation worse. “Can we talk back at my cabin? I don’t anyone, especially her, to see me.”

Aisha stared at her for a minute, seemingly trying to decide if she could trust Julia. “Fine, but if you don’t come clean, I’ll be coming back here.”

“Fair enough.” Julia opened a portal and stepped through.

Back in her cabin, Julia fell into an armchair. “I’d offer you something to drink, but you’d probably just accuse me of stalling.”

Aisha sat down facing her but said nothing.

“I’m not sure how to explain this, but I must ask that you keep this a secret. Telling you is dangerous. If it were to get further than us, I can’t imagine what damage it might do.”

“Okay.” Aisha sounded skeptical.

“That woman you saw, the one at the bar, that was me. About twelve years ago. Or rather, I am her, twelve years from now.”

“What does that mean?” Aisha’s confusion was obvious.

“I traveled back in time. She belongs here; I don’t.”

“Time travel? That’s impossible. No wizard has ever managed it. And you’re not a time mage. You really expect me to believe this?”

“I don’t know what I expect.” Julia didn’t even want to tell Aisha any of this, much less try to convince her of it. “You wanted to know what was going on, this is what’s going on.”

“I thought maybe a twin sister, or even a clone, but this . . .”

“Those would have been good stories. But I am choosing to respect you, to trust you with the truth.”

“Thanks, I guess. But still . . .”

“I’m trying to avoid screwing up the past. I need her life to stay the same, so that my past doesn’t change. So please don’t talk to the other me. Please.”

There was several moments of silence before Aisha responded. “I think I will have that drink now. Something strong, please.”

Research Sabbatical

Mages’ notes were nearly impenetrable to anyone else. Short-hand, idiosyncratic symbols, and personal abbreviations made such notes basically useless if you weren’t familiar with them. So it came as little surprise that Aisha had had trouble finding any written material.

Luckily for her, Julia still had Jason’s purple crystal, which made it possible to decipher the notes Aisha had brought her. It took months to get through them, and she reread them multiple times. Not having Jason’s gift for mana was a hindrance, but Jason’s notes had given her a start. Too bad those were still in the future where she couldn’t get at them. Still, she was able to make out some of the basic principles and was making progress, albeit slowly. Luckily, she had nothing else to do.

Except for her occasional visits with Esther, she didn’t got anywhere; indeed, she rarely even went outside. Aisha brought her everything she needed, and she spent all her time researching. She wanted to work on the problem of temporal magic, but she had no resources to draw upon. Instead, she worked on the crystals, trying to work out the nature of the crystals that she hadn’t yet understood.

The focus on research wasn’t about boredom; rather, it was to keep her from temptation. Too much free time allowed her mind to wander to events that she wanted to prevent. Rebecca would be fleeing from her “family” in the near future. Bailey would be thrown out of their apprenticeship. It wasn’t only Jason’s death; there was other pain and suffering she could do something about. But Jason had made the dangers clear. As much as she might want to help, there was no way to know what the effects might be if she tried.

Her musings were interrupted by the phone ringing.

“Hello, Aisha.” The other woman was the only person who had the number.

“Hey. I know you hate leaving the house, but could you come here?”

“What? Why?” She trusted Aisha, but this request seemed very out of character.

“I need you to see something. It’s important. I have the crystal you gave me, so I assume you can find me with it.”

“Aisha, I really don’t . . .”

“It’s important. Please.” Her voice was urgent, but she didn’t sound panicked.

“Fine. Do I need to bring anything?”

“No. Just you.”

Julia hung up and focused on the crystal she had given Aisha. Once she had locked on to it, she opened a portal next to it. The street she found herself on was very familiar. She was in front of The Nameless Bar.

“So you do know this place.” Aisha had obviously noticed the surprise on her face.

“What’s going on, Aisha.”

“You’re going to have to tell me. You see, I just followed you here. At this very moment, you are sitting at the bar. I dialed your number, you answered, but you were sitting at the bar speaking with the bartender at the same time. How is that possible?”