Fire

‘Sarah! You need to come to Thomas’s rooms right away.’ The voice in her head was clearly Rebecca’s, but how? The urgency she felt forced her to put the question aside and hurry up the stairs.

Outside of Thomas’s rooms, Sarah found both Rebecca and Marie looking very worried. Marie’s presence explained how Rebecca could communicate directly to her mind, and the intense heat radiating through the door left little doubt as the source of their concern.

Before she could speak, Rebecca anticipated her question. “David is on his way.”

Indeed, at that moment, David came running up the stairs. “Fire?”

“Probably,” Rebecca agreed.

“David . . .” Sarah began, but he was already casting.

“You should back up a bit. I think I can get it under control, but just to be safe.”

Once they moved closer to the stairs, Sarah asked, “Do you know what happened?”

“I came up looking for Matthew . . .” Rebecca began.

“He’s not in the infirmary?”

“No. He’s been taking short walks, and I thought maybe he’d come here again. When I arrived, the door was closed, and it was impossible not to notice the heart. Luckily, Marie was with me and could help send messages.”

By then, David had opened the door. He cast another spell to clear out all the smoke. Much of the room was blackened, and there was ash everywhere. Sarah was relieved to see Thomas, still frozen in place, had been left untouched by the destruction.

“They’re gone.” David’s words drew her attention. The space where the other two mages had stood was now empty. There was no sign of them anywhere.

“How did they get unstuck?” Marie had been silent until now. “Did they start the fire?”

“I don’t know how they got unstuck,” David replied. “But the fire was definitely started by an elementalist.”

“Assuming Thomas is the one who froze them, maybe it wasn’t permanent,” Sarah offered. It was difficult to believe her own suggestion, however. Why would Thomas create a spell that lasted nearly two and a half months? It was such an arbitrary duration.

“More importantly, are they still in the house?” David asked.

“Julia would know. If we could find her,” Rebecca said.

Sarah flinched a little. Rebecca wasn’t criticizing her, she knew, but the feeling of guilt arose anyway. There had been no sign of Julia since she briefly appeared in Thomas’s room over a week ago. Sarah didn’t even know where to begin looking.

“We’ll just have to split up and search ourselves. Rebecca, would you and Marie go through the second floor? David, you can take the first. I’ll go through the Long Hallway. Let’s meet back here.”

Everyone nodded in agreement and left to search.

Using the escape door, Sarah made her way into the lone room of the Long Hallway. Her recording hadn’t been triggered recently, so if they were in the Hallway, they hadn’t made it this far yet.

Opening the door that usually was the entrance to this room, she was surprised to find Matthew standing there.

“Sarah! Thank goodness. I seem to have gotten lost.”

“That’s why I told you not to wander on your own. The House has changed.”

“Obviously.”

“Have you seen anyone else?”

“No. Nothing but an empty hallway. What is this place?”

“It’s part of our security. I’ll tell you about it later, but for now, let’s get you back to the infirmary.”

As she led them out of the Hallway, she said, “I wish we had a room for you to use, so that you wouldn’t be stuck in there.”

“What about my old room?”

“I don’t think it exists anymore. As I said, the House isn’t how you remember it.”

“-e fu-” Like an apparition, Julia appeared before them and then disappeared just as suddenly.

“Has the House become haunted?”

She assumed he was joking, but it didn’t bring her any closer to solving the mystery.

“Not a ghost. We’re still working on it.” They arrived back at the infirmary. “I have to go check on something. Promise not to leave until I get back?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll behave.”

Back at Thomas’s room, everyone else was waiting for her.

“No sign of them anywhere,” David said.

“Well, I found Matthew, but no one else. They must have escaped somehow.”

They all exchanged glances, but no one seemed to know what to do next.

Finally, Sarah broke the silence. “There’s nothing more to be done right now. Be careful. Let others know if something seems amiss.”

Left alone in Thomas’s room once more, Sarah went over everything she had learned in the last hour. There were tough decisions ahead, but she felt more confident than she had in awhile.

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