Past/Present (part eight)

The morning after Thomas and Rebecca had returned from the past, Sarah was sitting in the living room lost in thought. Time travel should not be possible; no one had successfully done it before. Not that anyone knew of. If Thomas had really managed it, she couldn’t even fathom the ramifications. Most immediately, could he repeat it to get Julia back? Would he even try, given what had happened between them?

When Rebecca entered the room, she had to put all of those questions on hold.

“How’s Thomas?”

Rebecca nodded back the way she had come. “Still sleeping. Healing the wound is not a problem, but I can’t replace his hand. Especially when we don’t even have it.” She fell into a chair, obviously still tired.

“Can he time travel again?”

“I don’t know. I think Julia did a lot of the work. Without her, I’m not sure he could manage it. But honestly, I just don’t know.”

“Why didn’t any of you talk to me?”

“Julia and Thomas were working together. I know it seems naive in retrospect, but if the two of them both thought it was a good idea, I figured it couldn’t be that bad. I was stupid.”

“No, don’t beat yourself up. I think seeing them cooperate would have thrown me off, too. Still, Thomas’s obsession with that attack has already caused so many problems.”

“It was an attack on his master’s house?”

Sarah nodded. “Fifteen years ago. He was the only survivor. I know it haunted him, but I thought he had finally given up on it.”

“Apparently not.”

They could hear the front door open and close. Sarah was about to ask if David had left when Julia entered.

“Hey you two. Nice to see this place hasn’t really changed while I was gone.”

Both women jumped out of their chairs.

“How did you get back?” Rebecca asked.

“You filled Sarah in?” Julia asked, ignoring Rebecca’s question.

“Yes, she did. I should probably yell at you, but I’m just relieved you managed to return.”

“Wow. Okay, you two both need to take it down a bit. I’m not used to all this energy. Anyway, as far as your concerned, I’ve only been gone for . . . what? A day? This is a little too much excitement for such a short absence.”

“But you were trapped in the past,” Rebecca objected. “We weren’t sure how to get you.”

“Simple. You just wait. Well, I wait. Roughly fifteen years.”

Sarah and Rebecca were both stunned into silence.

“Okay, maybe a bit more excitement than this. We’re not at a funeral.”

“You lived through the last fifteen years? Didn’t that . . . I mean, what did you . . .” Sarah was struggling to even form a coherent question.

“Yes, I just went about life for the last decade and a half. No one came to get me, so I tried to find a way on my own. Didn’t make any progress. At that point, I figured I’d just come back shortly after we left. No awkward moments with myself, and no worries about messing up the past.”

“You didn’t save Jason?” Rebecca asked.

“You both still remember him dying? He’s not around the house? Then it happened. He asked me not to, so I didn’t.”

“That must have been hard,” Sarah said with all the sympathy she had.

“Lots of things were hard. I couldn’t save Jason or Rebecca, or stop any of the other horrible things that happened. But Jason was right. Changing the past could have catastrophic consequences. So I had to work very hard at not affecting anything.”

“So Jason convinced you to attack me?” No one had noticed Thomas’s arrival.

“Oh hi, Thomas.” None of the animosity that usually permeated Julia’s tone with Thomas was evident.

“Thomas! You shouldn’t be out of bed.” Rebecca sounded like a mother scolding her sick child.

Thomas ignored her as he continued glaring at Julia. “Out of respect for Jason, I’ve tolerated your disruptions, but attacking me was too far.” Such an overt display of anger was uncharacteristic for him. “I formally revoke your membership in this house. You need to leave immediately.”

Julia looked surprised but then began to laugh. “I think you’re forgetting something, Thomas. It’s been a long time for me, but not that long for you. Sarah?”

“Thomas, this is no longer your house. You turned it over to me, remember? You have no authority to remove a member unilaterally.”

For a moment, Thomas looked like he was going to say something. Instead, he turned to leave.

“Thomas.” Julia stopped him. “I saved your hand. I don’t know if it can be restored, but I’ve kept it in deep freeze to try to preserve it. For what it’s worth, I am sorry that happened.” Julia produced a small package.

Thomas stared at her for a beat and then turn and strode away.

“Rebecca? Do you think you can do anything with it?” Julia handed the package to her.

“I don’t know. I can try, but no promises.”

Sarah studied Julia. “You’ve changed. I’m not sure exactly how, but you have.”

Julia smiled. “I hope so. I’ve had fifteen years of living since we met last. And, honestly, it’s good to be here.”

“I’m glad you’re back, too.” Sarah returned her smile.

Loose End

Yesterday had been particularly hard for Julia; it was the day Jason died. Not the anniversary, but the actual day itself. If it weren’t for Aisha keeping her company, she probably would have gone to try to prevent it. It couldn’t be stopped, she reminded herself over and over again, but she still had wanted to try. She hated that there was nothing she could do except not get involved.

Today was different. Today she could do something. After years of study, she was convinced that she couldn’t change the past even if she tried. Everything that had happened to her during the last thirteen years had already happened. Jason was interested in mana worms because of her brief visit. Indeed, she was convinced that their entire time together, he knew her from that visit and never said anything. That realization, that the past was set, gave her reason to stay away. Something else she realized gave her reason to act today.

The cave was dark, damp, and cold just as she remembered. She waited while sitting on a rock outcropping against one wall. The long wait – at least it seemed long – made her worry that she had gotten the date wrong. When the chair on fire dropped through a portal, her doubt vanished. Her preparations had been thorough, but she still felt a little anxious. There was always the possibility that he might have some surprises. The one reassurance she had was that, after her one encounter with him, they didn’t hear from him again for the next few years until her trip to the past. If he had disappeared, it might have been because she did something about him.

A few minutes after the chair, a person crashed to the ground. Immediately, Julia threw up a barrier around him. He seemed to be unconscious, probably from the fall. After several minutes, Peter began to stir.

“Where am I?” he yelled into the darkness.

“This is just one my little homes away from home.” Just as she had done with David, she used portals to move around while talking, to keep him disoriented.

“You.” Peter said it like a curse.

“Me. I assume you sent the mana worm?”

“How did you manage to survive it?”

Julia clicked her tongue a couple of times. “That’s the wrong question. You should be asking how important to me was the person it did kill. And the answer is that there is no one in the world that mattered more. And then you should be afraid.”

Peter scoffed. “Even now, you’re still hiding. You don’t scare me. If you were going to kill me, you would have done it already.”

“I don’t want to kill you. I could spend years tormenting you. It’s what you probably deserve. Not just for what you did to me, but what you did to Rebecca.”

“What do you want?” His voice was little more than a growl.

“I want to make sure you can never hurt anyone I care about. Ever again.”

Flames began to surround his hand.

“I should warn you that you have limited oxygen in there. If you burn it all up, you’ll suffocate.”

The flames went out. “So you’re just going wait until I asphyxiate?”

“The thought has occurred to me. But lately, I’ve been working on myself. Trying to grow. So I’ve made a nice little pocket space for you. You can hunt, fish, grow crops . . . Whatever you like. It’s big enough that you can walk for hours. Much nicer than this cave. The only limits is that you’ll be alone, and there is no way out.”

“How long do you intend to keep me there?” Maybe she had imagined it, but Julia thought she heard a touch of nervousness in his question.

“Forever. Like I said, I won’t give you another chance to hurt anyone I care about.”

“You can’t . . .”

“I assure you that I can. No one knows where you are. And no one is looking for you. Even your little cult has banished you. I could do much worse; you’re lucky I’m not feeling more vindictive.”

He began to yell, but Julia ignored him. She opened a portal on the floor of the cave beneath him. He tried to avoid it, but it expanded rapidly and soon covered the whole of the bottom of the barrier. When he finally fell through, Julia closed the portal.

She stayed in the cave for a while. Maybe it would have been kinder just to kill him, but she thought Jason would probably disapprove. She wasn’t sure how long she would really leave him there, but for now, it was one less threat to worry about. She opened another portal and returned to her cabin.

Past/Present (part seven)

The scream brought Sarah running. It sounded like someone was dying very painfully. Before she got to the room, the scream ended, but that just made her more nervous. She burst through the door to find Thomas collapsed on the floor and Rebecca kneeling over him.

“What is going on?”

Rebecca gestured towards Thomas. “There was an accident. Thomas’s hand was severed.”

A sense of horror replaced her concern. “Where is it?”

“If I had to guess, I’d say about fifteen years ago,” Rebecca sighed.

“What?”

“First help me get him to bed. I stopped the bleeding and helped dull the pain, but he needs sleep. Lots of it.”

Rebecca and Sarah propped him up between them and walked him slowly to a room Rebecca had set aside as an infirmary. They laid him onto a bed. After Rebecca assured herself that he would stay asleep, she led Sarah to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine.

“So what’s this about ‘fifteen years ago’?” Sarah didn’t sit down.

“Do you want the long version or the short?”

“Rebecca…”

“Okay, the short version is that we traveled back in time about fifteen years ago. Coming back, the portal closed while Thomas was reaching through it. That’s how he lost his hand.”

“You went back in time? How is that even possible? And why fifteen years?” Sarah’s head was swimming with questions and overwhelmed by the implications.

“I don’t think I can explain how. They combined their gifts to…”

“Wait. They? Who else…” A thought popped into her mind, but it couldn’t be. “Where’s Julia?”

Rebecca sighed again and took another sip of wine. “Again, best guess? Fifteen years ago.”

Finally, she had to sit down. This was too much to take in. “She went too? Why would she do anything with Thomas?”

“He said we could save Jason.”

“That… makes sense. But why fifteen…” At first, she hadn’t realized why the number of years was significant; now it hit her, too. “Oh shit. You went back to his master’s house, didn’t you?”

Rebecca nodded. “Julia was furious. He said something about an attack.”

“Yes. That’s when I met him.”

“Julia decided to keep him from doing whatever he had planned. So she shoved him back through the portal and closed it when he tried to go back again. Thomas lost his hand, and Julia lost her only way back to the present.”

“I thought he had finally let it go,” Sarah said, not to Rebecca but to herself.

“Well, I’m exhausted. I’ll sleep in the infirmary tonight to keep tabs on Thomas.”

“What do we do about Julia?”

“I honestly don’t know. I can’t even keep my eyes open.”

Rebecca left her to her worries. Sarah grabbed a glass and poured some wine for herself. She had no idea Thomas was still obsessing about the attack, but she couldn’t ignore it any longer.

Discovered

A knock at the door meant Aisha had arrived. She was the only visitor Julia had had since getting stuck in the past. No one else knew she was here. So it was more than surprising when she saw someone else on the other side of the door. It was the black-haired man from their attempted robbery the year before.

“You are a hard person to find.”

His demeanor was casual, unthreatening, but Julia saw danger everywhere. She immediately began summoning a portal, but the man held out a hand to try to interrupt her.

“Wait. I just want to talk. Honest. Please, just let me explain.”

He sounded sincere, but people with ill-intent rarely announced it. Still, if he had found her this time, Julia reasoned, he could probably do so again. Maybe it was worth the risk to see what she could learn.

“Fine. Outside.” Indicating the two chairs she kept on the porch, she shut and locked the door. It would do much if he was determined to get inside, but she wanted him to know that she wasn’t going to drop her guard.

He sat in the chair closest to the edge of the porch and waited for her to sit before speaking.

“Thank you for hearing me out.”

“You didn’t exactly give me a choice, showing up at my home like this. Who are you?”

“Oh, are we exchanging names? Are you going to tell me yours?”

“Probably not,” she admitted.

“Then I hope you won’t be offended if I don’t share mine. I was trying to stop… a friend… from going further down a bad path. I put out rumors there was a book… he would want. I was hoping to lure him out. You and your companion caught me by surprise.” The way he said ‘friend’ suggested that he wasn’t sure he should be using the word.

“So we walked into a trap not meant for us.”

“Essentially. Why were you interested in the book?”

“I wanted it for my research.”

Julia felt like they were circling one another, each giving only enough information to draw the other out.

“Your research? You weren’t there on behalf of someone else?” He seemed surprised by her answer.

“I’m not working for anyone.”

“What about your companion? Is she working for someone else?”

“She’s working for me. Are you going to tell me what this is all about? Why you tracked me down after a year? How you tracked me down? Or are you just trying to get some information for nothing?”

“I wanted to be certain you weren’t there on behalf of… my friend. But I was also curious about you. You seem… out of place.”

“Well, there was no one else behind our attempt on the book. And I’m not about to tell a complete stranger anything about myself. So thank you for stopping by. Don’t come back.” Julia stood, and walked to the door.

He looked as though he would object but seemed to think better of it. “Very well. I appreciate your time.” Before he stepped off the porch, he turned to face her. “A bit of advice from a complete stranger. Your research involving time magic? Give it up. I’ve seen people hurt by it.” With that, he walked away.

It hadn’t sounded like a threat; rather, it seemed to be genuine concern. Julia wasn’t sure what to make of it.

A short time later, Aisha arrived. “How’s it going?”

“I think it’s time for me to move,” Julia said.

Aisha looked sad for just a moment before she reasserted a placid expression. “Does that mean you’ve solved the problem?”

After a moment of confusion, Julia realized there was misunderstanding. “No, no. You’re still stuck with me. I meant literally; I need to move. That mage, the one from our book heist? He showed up here.”

Relief changed to concern in an instant. “Are you okay? What happened? How did you get rid of him?”

“Everything’s fine, but I don’t know for how long.” Julia gave her a quick summary of the visit. “Even though he left, I don’t like the idea of someone else knowing where to find me. I didn’t even want anyone to know about me.”

“So you’re leaving the cabin?” Aisha looked around wistfully.

“No. I’m just going to move the cabin into a pocket space. That way, no one can find it. I should have done it years ago, but it felt like overkill. Not so much now.”

“If no one can find it, then how…”

“I was hoping you’d come with me. I have room. And I can always make more. We can also work out a way for you to come and go for your business in the outside world.”

Aisha was quiet for long enough that Julia started to get nervous. “I’m sorry. That was too much. I can just figure out a way for you to come by when…”

Putting a finger to Julia’s lips, Aisha broke into a smile. “Stop. Of course I’ll go with you. I’m just happy you’re not leaving yet.”