“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.
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.”