Information Deficit

The room was quiet and dimly lit. A shallow basin of water sat upon a table and was surrounded by several candles, which provided the only light. The basin, made from obsidian, was in the center of the otherwise empty room. Thomas stood beside the table looking down into the water. To him, he had been in this room the day before, but apparently months had actually passed without his awareness. Now he was trying to make sense of all that had transpired while he was stuck outside of time.

The attackers were gone with little damage to the House or its occupants, and now they had a name: Solomon. It also turned out that Matthew was working with them, but Julia had done something to him. If it had been chaos magic, as Sarah speculated, then his own experience with Jason suggested Matthew was dead. Also, Julia was missing after creating a chaos crystal.

The scenes from the pool of water were jumbled and made little sense. The images flowed from one to another, contradicting themselves with every new picture. David was dead one moment and alive later. Rebecca was possessed, and then Sarah was. Matthew was working with Thomas to cast an unidentified ritual. That last seemed especially improbable. No matter where he looked, he could find no trace of Julia.

This began with Jason. His crystal had distorted Thomas’s previous attempts at reading future possibilities, and now Julia had it. And if she had some link to chaos magic, that would likely wreak even more havoc for his scrying. Jason had always been rather cavalier in his approach to magic, but teaching his tricks to someone else was reckless even for him. Whatever the case, his magic seemed unable to touch her.

If Julia were central to future events, her absence from his scrying guaranteed mistakes. The fuzziness and contradictions were unavoidable without her factoring into events. This was one of the reasons temporal mages were actively, and often harshly, discouraged from viewing the timeline, especially the future. So many variables to keep track of, even in ideal conditions, only possibilities would be revealed. Trying to act on those possibilities almost always changed them in unforeseeable ways. But the attack on his master’s House had convinced him that it was necessary to plan for events. Now, though, Julia threatened all of it.

In the past, he had attempted to develop a way to nullify Jason’s chaos magic, but it was futile. Thomas thought he understood Jason, at least a little. But Julia was a different matter. He had accepted her into the house only because it was Jason’s condition for joining. There was no denying her usefulness, but she had also been a thorn in his side. He needed to find a way to counter the uncertainty she brought to his work.

Unsure of where to begin, Thomas extinguished the candles and left the room, closing its door behind him. He laid down on his couch to think. Julia wasn’t Jason. She wasn’t as skilled, but that might make her more dangerous, less capable of controlling the energies she was playing with. No one even knew where she was. But he had to find an answer to her before it was too late. Before the darkness he had seen years ago was upon them. It always came back to information, and he didn’t have enough of it.

The Spirit Is Willing . . .

For much of my life, I have had an irrational fear that I would be mistaken for dead and accidentally buried alive. It’s a silly fear, I suppose. Still, stories about safety coffins – ones fitted with a bell or some other mechanism to alert those above ground that the deceased wasn’t actually dead – kept that fear alive. I needn’t have worried, however.

What happened, instead, was that my spirit was tied to my corpse (I assume this is the same for everyone), and so, while I was actually dead, I was still aware of being buried. Further, it seems that, until decomposition was complete, I was stuck, in my coffin, underground. Being buried wasn’t scary, but being stuck in one place is incredibly boring. Apparently, cremation is a better option, since it destroys the body and frees the spirit right away.

It doesn’t really help to know that after death. I had, in fact, asked to be cremated, but my old-fashioned family ignored my wishes in favor of a more traditional resting place. So I was resigned to waiting for my body to decompose. There was no way to judge the passing of time, and I wasn’t even sure how far along decomposition had to be before I would be freed. Did I just need my soft tissue to completely degrade, or did my bones need to turn to dust? Thankfully, I no longer breathed, so at least I didn’t have to smell the process. Unfortunately, I also didn’t sleep, so I couldn’t even pass the years unconscious.

As I said, I had no way of knowing how long I had been in the ground when the rumbling began. At first, I thought maybe I had finally been freed from my body, but what was really happening was someone had dug up my coffin and moved it. My boredom had become so overwhelming that I decided to try to tear myself away from my corpse and get away. What I didn’t expect was that, in trying to move, I wound up moving my physical remains as well. We burst out of the coffin together.

I tried to run and put some distance between us, but my body was too tightly attached: everywhere I went, it followed. There were a few people nearby. I attempted to talk to them, to explain I just wanted someone to destroy my corpse, but without breath, I found it impossible to speak. Even if I could have managed, I doubt they would have heard me over their screams.

Someone, I didn’t see who, pulled out a gun and began shooting me. They didn’t seem to be a bad shot, but my body wasn’t in charge so the damage didn’t matter. Even the headshots had no effect, despite what you might have seen in the movies. My body continued to lurch along after my spirit. Since I didn’t know how much damage it would take to free my spirit, I decided not to stick around to see if the gun would finally have an effect.

So I began to look for a large fire to cremate myself in. Hindering that effort was not knowing where I was, or where there might be a fire hot enough to do the job. I just began shambling around aimlessly. It didn’t take long for the police to show up. Their guns didn’t prove any more effective than the first one, so I ignored them. I was just glad I couldn’t feel pain.

Eventually, someone brought out a flamethrower. Finally, something useful. I walked straight towards the person, giving them plenty of opportunity to burn my body to ash. What I didn’t take into account is how long it takes to break down bone. By the time the flamethrower was exhausted, there was just a skeleton left, but I was still attached to it.

All the screaming and violence had actually worn me out. I discovered that I missed the peace and quiet of my grave. I still had a skeleton that was maintaining its shape somehow, and I wasn’t sure how to destroy it, so I escaped all the chaos by disappearing into the woods. Luckily, with most of my flesh gone, I found the remains of my body easier to drag along. I have no idea how long it will take for the bones of my old body to return to dust, but I have decided to stay away from people until then. The screams really were too much. But at least I’m not stuck in that box anymore.

All Too Much

It was a simple-looking wooden box with two bronze hinges on one side and a matching clasp on the other. Sarah knew that, while it appeared unremarkable, it had been crafted with a great deal of care. The Mistress had given it to her as a gift when she finished her apprenticeship. No magic could pass through the container, protecting the contents from external danger and protecting the world from any threat that might be stored inside.

With more than a little trepidation, Sarah carefully undid the clasp and opened the lid. Inside, the chaos crystal seemed to absorb all light that tried to reach it, leaving the crystal with a dull exterior. Despite it’s drab appearance, it radiated magic with an intensity she had never before experienced. This crystal was probably the most dangerous thing she had ever encountered.

From Aisha’s recounting of events, she knew it had affected Julia in some way, but it wasn’t clear how. Was it controlling her? Had it changed her personality? Unless Sarah was willing to expose herself to the same fate, it was difficult to arrive at any conclusion without Julia to question. It was hard to believe Julia had made this herself. Few mages understood chaos magic, and even fewer had a gift for it. Perhaps Jason had taught her, but that seemed reckless even for him.

With its power, perhaps she could undo whatever was done to Matthew, but she didn’t have the first idea how she could do that. Or even if she should do it. David had been injured. Julia had disappeared with Aisha going after her. Even Thomas was still frozen. And Matthew… She refused to believe he was dead, but what else could it be? Had Julia sent him somewhere? Was there a way to get him back?

Maybe she should wash her hands of the whole mess. Thomas’s problems weren’t hers. She didn’t have the slightest clue how to help Julia, or even if Julia needed help. And Matthew… He had betrayed her. Even the House wasn’t really hers. She was merely a caretaker to help smooth over the conflicts between others. Both Madeline and Matthew had urged her before to leave. Had she stayed merely out of stubbornness? Could she just walk away now?

Mindlessly, she had reached out to the crystal and only just caught herself before touching it. She slammed the lid closed to prevent any accidents. What should she do with it? Concentrated chaos was not something to be left around; at the very least, it could interfere with other magic.

The crystal might interfere with magic . . . Thoughts of leaving were pushed away, and she hurried to Thomas’s room. He was still there, still on the floor on his hands and knees. It would be too dangerous to touch the crystal directly, but even the proximity might be enough. If she could solve even one of her problems, it would help.

She placed the box as close to Thomas as she dared. Then she opened it once more. When nothing happened, the defeated feeling in her chest returned with greater force. Sarah slumped to the floor and began doubting herself again.

A noise caused her to look up. At first, she thought Julia must have returned, but what she saw instead was completely unexpected. In front her, next to Thomas, was a translucent figure. There was no mistaking it; it was definitely Jason.

“This would probably be useful to you,” Jason said while reaching down to pick up the crystal, “but I’m afraid I need it.”

“You can’t! I’m trying to . . .”

“I know, and it was a good idea. Try to have more faith in yourself. You are more than capable of dealing with the challenges you’ve been handed. Right now, though, I need the crystal more than you. I’m sorry.” When he finished speaking, he faded out of sight, taking the crystal with him.

“Jason! Explain it to me!” There was no response. She wanted to cry, to scream, but she just sighed. No one would tell her important information that she needed; she was just expected to manage on her own.

Thomas collapsed to the floor as if finishing a fall that had started long ago. He looked at Sarah with relief. “I assume the attackers have been dealt with?”

Of course that was what he was thinking about. It was the last thing he was aware of, after all. But when she thought about all that had happened since, all she could do was to start laughing uncontrollably.


The temperature in the hallway rose abruptly just before the wall crumbled. Flames flicked through the hole and smoke billowed out of the room. Immediately, David extinguished the fire and used air currents to carry the smoke away. With his attention focused on getting the crisis under control, he was caught completely unaware by the bolt of electricity that struck him in the chest and knocked him out. A few seconds later, Matthew crawled through the wall.

He bent over David and began searching his pockets. After pulling out a badge, he paused to check David. His breathing was shallow and his pulse thready, but if he received attention soon, he should be okay.

“Sorry about this,” he muttered to the unconscious mage. “It isn’t personal.”

Matthew stood and began to hurry to the front door. Even with the badge, it was easy to get turned around in the House. The floor plan had almost entirely changed since he had lived here. Before Sarah finally locked him up, he had tried to familiarize himself with the layout, but it was still confusing.

Several wrong turns later he found the hallway leading to the front door. He hurried forward but stopped when he heard Sarah call out his name.


He turned around. “I’m sorry. I need to leave. I hope you understand.”

“I don’t. You should stay. Help put all this right.”

“Can’t do that. Thomas needs to be stopped, and you’re not going to let me do that.”

“We can . . .”

“You should check on the person you left outside my cell.”


“Yes. He was alive when . . .”


Matthew looked over his shoulder to see a person in between him and the front door.

“Stop him!”

The woman cocked her head to the right as though she were uncertain of what to do. Her eyes were dark, unfocused. She raised her left hand and pointed at Matthew, who immediately disintegrated where he stood. Without saying anything, Julia disappeared.

Horrified and too stunned to move, Sarah just stood there until Rebecca came down the stairs.

“Sarah? What’s going on?”

“I . . . I’m not sure. Julia . . . She did something . . .”

Rebecca walked over to her and began to lead her toward the living room. “Let’s sit down and you can tell me.”

At first, Sarah allowed herself to be pulled along, but she stopped suddenly. “David. He’s hurt.” She broke out of Rebecca’s grasp and ran back to the room where Matthew had been locked up. David was still on the floor.

“Okay. Let me get in and check him out.” Rebecca gently moved Sarah to one side and began to look him over.

Sarah stepped back to give Rebecca room to work. What had Julia done? That wasn’t spatial magic. And was something wrong with her eyes?

Her musings were interrupted when Aisha came around the corner out of breath. “Have you seen Julia?”

“Yes. A little bit ago, she . . .”


“The front hallway. What is going . . . ?”

“Later. I need to find her.”

Aisha turned and began running toward the front of the house.

“Rebecca . . .”

“Go. I’ve got this.”

Needing answers, Sarah followed Aisha.

Sleep Casting

The first thing Aisha noticed when she opened her eyes was that Julia wasn’t next to her. Getting out of bed, she threw on an oversized t-shirt and checked the main room. Sure enough, Julia was bent over her workbench.

“You must be feeling better if you’re already back at it.” She chuckled, but Julia didn’t respond. Whatever she was working on had her full attention.

“Seriously, though, don’t over do it. You need to give your body a chance to recover from that ordeal.” Still, Julia didn’t react.

Apprehension grew in her chest as she approached the work bench. “Julia?” When she looked over her partner’s shoulder, he blood ran cold.

Julia’s hands were busy crushing colored crystals and mixing the resulting powder.

“Julia!” Aisha grabbed Julia’s shoulders and shook her.

Julia turned to face her, but there was a blank look in her eyes. Aisha shook her again, and Julia blinked a few times.

“Oh, Aisha. What’s going on?”

“You tell me.” She gestured at the workbench.

Julia jumped back several steps, knocking over the stool she’d been sitting on. “What? I didn’t do that.”

Aisha moved to stand between Julia and the workbench. “You don’t remember doing this?”

“No. Last thing I recall was falling asleep next to you.”

She had never seen Julia show any fear before now, but now she seemed terrified.

“Back. Get back to bed.” Aisha began gently pushing her to the bedroom. Julia didn’t resist.

Once Julia was again in bed, Aisha gave her a worried look. “Do I have to tie you down?”

“I honestly don’t know what happened.”

“You have no idea why you tried to create another chaos crystal?”

“None whatsoever.”

“Okay. Get some rest. We’ll figure this out after.”

Julia nodded and closed her eyes.

Aisha sat in a chair to watch her. Sleep would be impossible right now anyway. Last night, Julia had told her what she could about her experience with the chaos crystal, but very little of it made any sense. And what she did understand didn’t seem to contain any clues as to why Julia would try to repeat it all.

She thought about trying to find someone who might be able to help, but leaving Julia alone right now could be disastrous. Aisha nervously chewed on the inside of her lip while trying to decide what she should do.

A Comfortable Prison

A portal opened near a wall in the room, and Sarah walked through. Matthew was sitting on a couch in the living area.

“How are the rooms? Comfortable?” Sarah was genuinely curious.

“You didn’t even bother to disguise the portal as a doorway or something.”

“What do you mean?”

“The rooms are comfortable, but this is obviously a cell. A cage, no matter how pretty, is still a cage.” Considering the situation, she expected him to sound more upset. “So why am I in here?”

“Matthew, we’ve been friends for a long time. I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending you aren’t a captive. Please don’t insult mine by pretending you don’t know why.”

He studied her face for a few moments. “When did you know?”

“I had suspicions from the start, but I wanted to trust you.” She walked over to the table and picked up a decorative stone. She sat as she asked, “Do you remember when you made this for me?”

“Of course.”

“When those two mages escaped. You became lost in the Long Hallway. That wouldn’t have happened if you still had the badge I gave you. And those mages couldn’t have gotten out of the House without it. I couldn’t come up with any more excuses for you.”

“So now what?”

Sarah was surprised a little. “You aren’t going to deny it? Make up some excuse?”

“You asked me not to insult your intelligence.”

“I did.” She continued looking down at the stone in her hands. Matthew didn’t often work with earth, so this had always been special to her. Different minerals spiraled around the surface of the piece, and every time its position changed, the colors seemed to shift. If she looked at him, it might crush her spirit. “Why? Why did you side with people that want to destroy this House?”

“Why? You know why. He nearly killed you. Still, you stayed. Giving him chance after chance. How many people would have to get hurt before you give up on him?”

“And Solomon,” she shot back, “if that’s his real name, has actually killed someone. Nearly two people, if Thomas hadn’t taken precautions. A mana worm, really? His actions even put Rebecca in jeopardy. So far, your new ‘friends’ have done more actual damage than Thomas has.”

“I had nothing to do with the mana worm.”

“Really? That’s your response?” Anger rose in her throat and threatened to choke her. She forced herself to look up. “And when you found out about it, did you leave? Did you even hesitate?”

He was looking down at his hands, as though he was searching for an escape. “I wanted to protect you.” There was no remorse in his voice, only discomfort.

“I don’t need protecting. I need my friend to stop trying to kill other friends.”

“That’s not . . .”

“I don’t care.”

“So what are you going to do with me?” He still didn’t look at her.

This was the question Sarah had been wrestling with. Could she forgive him? Did he even want to be forgiven? And how would Julia react if she discovered his true role in all of this? “For now, nothing. You get to stay here so you can’t cause any more problems. Once we’ve dealt with Solomon, the House will decide.” She stood and walked back to the wall where the portal had been. “Please don’t do anything to make matters worse.” He didn’t respond.

“Julia? Portal.” A portal opened in front of her and she stepped through.

Back in the hallway, Sarah quietly closed the door behind her before dropping the portal illusion.

“Do you think he bought that?” David was waiting for her.

“I think so. My illusions seem to be holding well. So far he hasn’t really tested anything. Have we heard from Julia? Or even Aisha?”

David shook his head. “Still nothing. As far as Rebecca can tell, they aren’t even in the House.”

“Damn. I really wanted Julia to create a truly closed off room. No matter how good my illusions are, he knows my work. He’s bound to get suspicious eventually.”

“So far, he seems willing to stay put.”

“Yeah. But for how much longer. Now that I’ve openly admitted he’s a prisoner, he might start looking for ways out. I hate to impose, but can you keep watch a little longer?”


“Thanks, David. I’m going to try to find Julia once more. Be back soon.”

A Moment of Peace

Aisha wasn’t sure exactly when she fell in love with Julia. When they first met, the spatial mage was guarded and aloof. She had interesting requests and paid well, so Aisha didn’t question it much. Besides, she reasoned, if she could learn something about this secretive mage who seemed to have no past, maybe the information would be worth something to someone.

Early on, however, she abandoned that idea. Julia was obviously very capable and independent, but something was broken in her, as if a piece of her was missing. Whatever it was, it drew Aisha in and made her want to befriend the other mage. As she spent more time with Julia, she slowly came to realize that her feelings ran deeper than friendship.

As far as she could tell, Julia seemed completely uninterested in relationships, and Aisha began to suspect that what Julia was missing was a former lover. She decided not to risk the friendship and keep her deeper feelings to herself.

Then the big secret of Julia’s presence came to light. It had been coincidence that Aisha ran into Julia’s earlier self. She had been working on a new client’s request when it happened. When Julia explained her situation, it was obvious that the information about time travel was worth a fortune. Yet, Aisha never considered revealing it to anyone; it just made her want to help Julia even more. She was already smitten.

It was Matthew’s unexpected visit that changed everything. When Julia said she was going to move the cabin, and invited Aisha to come with her, it became clear that Julia also felt something more than friendship. They had been together ever since.

Now Aisha was laying next to Julia and hoping that she would wake up soon. The experience of repeatedly being ripped apart and put back together by the chaos crystal had to have been traumatic. However, until Julia regained consciousness, it was impossible to know the extent of the damage.

Softly putting her hand on Julia’s cheek to caress it, Aisha whispered, “I’m here, love. Please come back to me.” Aisha thought she noticed Julia’s breathing slow and deepened, but maybe it was just wishful thinking.

At some point, she must have dozed off herself and then awoke suddenly. Julia hadn’t moved, but she wanted to be alert for any changes. Quietly, she rose from the bed and went into the little kitchen. After setting up the coffee maker, she stood in the doorway in order to keep an eye on the bed. When the coffee finished, she brought her cup back into the bedroom and placed it on the nightstand on her side. With her back against the headboard, she sipped her coffee and waited.

The cabin was in one of Julia’s private spaces, so it was impossible to know how much time had passed without looking at a clock. Aisha had finished her second cup, so at least an hour had gone by. Julia stirred. Her eyes fluttered open and focused on Aisha.

“Is it you? Really you?”

Aisha smiled. “It’s me. How are you feeling?”

“Confused. Upset.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I smell coffee, but I don’t have coffee.”

Aisha gave her the gentlest of shoves. “You must be okay if you can make jokes.” She got up and headed into the kitchen.

“How long have I been out?” Julia called after her.

“You passed out a couple of days ago.”

“And before that?”

Instead of answering right away, Aisha returned with another mug and carefully handed it to Julia. Then she crawled back into the bed.

“A couple of weeks,” she sighed. “You’d appear and then disappear. Sarah noticed you holding a crystal, so we kept waiting for a chance to get you to let it go.”

“I see.” Julia sipped her coffee.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not yet. I’m still sort it out.” Suddenly, Julia sat up straighter. “Where is the crystal?”

“Sarah has it.”

“We have to . . .”

Aisha put a hand on Julia’s arm. “No. We don’t. Everything is fine for now. Sarah is being careful. You need to take it easy.”

Julia relaxed slightly. “Is that why we’re here? In the cabin?”

“Sarah wanted to talk to you right away. I wanted you to have some peace.”

“Thank you. We should probably go back.”

“Tomorrow. Let me be selfish today and keep you to myself.”

Julia smiled. “How can I say no to you?” She embraced Aisha, and the two stayed in bed, quietly enjoying each other’s presence.

A Brief Introduction to Magic in the World of The House

In the world of The House, there are a number of different magical disciplines. Every mage has a gift or talent that leads them to specialize in one, or more rarely two, of these disciplines. Working in a discipline outside of that speciality is very difficult and almost never worth the effort.

The most common discipline is mana, or raw magical energy. Every mage is taught the basics of this art because mana is needed to power every spell. While every mage has some skill in it, there are few specialists. Such specialists are able to distill mana and store it in objects (often crystals) for later use. Unless they posses such objects, a mage has to draw upon their own reserves of mana to power their magic. So far, the only mana specialist that has appeared in this story is Jason.

The discipline of illusion allows its practitioners to change appearances and create false images. While sight is its most obvious application, any sense can be fooled by spells from this discipline. It also allows users to conceal images, allowing for invisibility. Specialists include Sarah, her teacher The Mistress, and Madeline, another of The Mistress’s pupils.

The discipline of spirit focuses on the soul. Perhaps best known for allowing communication with the dead, this art also takes advantage of the union between body and soul to enable healing. In rare circumstances, the wielder may even be able to return the soul of the recently deceased to their body, thus resurrecting the dead. Among its specialists are Rebecca, her mentor The Elder, one of The Elder’s sons Phillip, and Bailey (though Bailey has rejected this speciality).

Closely related to spirit is the discipline of the mind. This art focuses on information rather than well-being. Comprehension of languages and texts is possible, as is communication directly between two minds. In extreme cases, it can be used to manipulate others through brainwashing and programming. One specialist of this discipline is Marie.

Charm is a hybrid discipline, combining elements of both illusion and mind. As a tool for manipulation of others, it is faster and requires less skill than mental magic. However, it is not as long-lasting, and the effects it can achieve are not as complex as that other discipline. One specialist is Madeline, who developed the skill from her studies in illusion.

Elemental magic enables the creation, control, and destruction of elemental forces such as fire, water, wind and so on. While elementalists can generally work with any element, they often focus on one or two. Matthew is elementalist focused on electricity, and David is an elementalist focused on fire.

The discipline of spatial magic is primarily used for transportation and defense. Portals can be used to instantly connect two distant points. In order to do so, the mage typically needs either to be familiar with the distant location or have something linked to it. It is also possible to open a portal to a particular person, but this is more complicated and requires a great deal of skill. Spatial magic can also be used to create barriers to defend against both physical and magical attacks. Specialists who are particularly gifted in this discipline are even able to create and manipulate spaces to suit their needs. Julia is one such specialists. Thomas also has an aptitude for the discipline, but he is not as gifted as Julia.

It should be noted that Julia, Thomas, and Rebecca managed to combine their gifts and create a portal through time. This technique is a novel invention from Thomas, and it is believed to be unknown to any other mage.

An off-shoot of spatial magic is shadow magic. While not as versatile as spatial magic, it allows for instantaneous travel between areas of shadow without requiring a portal. It is also capable of invisibility, though unlike illusion, it can only affect sight. Aisha is a specialist in shadow magic.

Time magic largely focuses on speeding up or slowing down time for objects or small areas. Crops can be grown faster and materials even caused to rot by accelerating the effects of time. Likewise, time can be slowed or stopped, preserving perishable items indefinitely and even removing people or things from the flow of time altogether. This discipline can also be used to view the past or future, though this use is discouraged, especially with respect to the future. While the future so viewed is only one possible outcome, such viewing can affect the viewer and the possible future in unpredictable ways. Both Thomas and Solomon, as well as Thomas’s teacher, are specialists in temporal magic.

The final discipline encountered in the story so far is that of chaos magic. Specialists in chaos magic are the rarest type of mage. At the most superficial level, chaos is connected to luck and probability, and specialists are able to bend chance in their favor. Beyond this, chaos magic can both create and destroy through decreasing or increasing entropy. Whereas temporal magic has to follow the arrow of time – either speeding or slowing its passage – chaos magic can, with enough skill, reverse the effects of time altogether. The extent of this discipline’s capabilities is not well understood by anyone not a specialist, and such specialists tend to be . . . eccentric. Jason is one such specialist.

This introduction should not be taken as an exhaustive list of magical disciplines, specialists, or even everything the disciplines here described are capable of. This is merely a reference indicating what our major players can do and have done. The world of magic is large and varied. New mysterious may arise at any time.


“How is she?”

Aisha quietly closed the door to the bedroom before answering Sarah.

“She’s resting. Physically, she seems whole.”

“I think we should have Rebecca look her over.”

“Later. After she’s recovered her strength a little.”

“Very well,” Sarah reluctantly agreed. “Did you secure the crystal?”

Aisha pointed at the coffee table in the middle of the living room. “In the box, just like you asked. What is it?”

“If my guess is correct, it’s a chaos crystal. I noticed it in her hands the second time she appeared in front of me.”

“Chaos crystal?”

“Physical concentration of chaos magic. Highly unstable. I’ve only heard of them, never seen one.”

“But you’re not a chaos mage, are you? How did you know what it was?”

“No,” Sarah chuckled. “But Julia’s old mentor was.”


“Jason. And my teacher made certain I learned about other types of magic.”

“So what does it do?”

“It’s chaos magic, so it can do almost anything. However, without proper training, it’s nearly impossible to control. Do you know where she got it?”

Aisha was taken aback by the question. “I’m not certain. I know I didn’t give it to her.”

“I wasn’t accusing you of anything. I simply want to learn as much about this as possible.”

Aisha wasn’t feeling defensive but surprise. She recognized Julia’s handiwork in the crystal, but either Sarah didn’t, or she wasn’t sure. Either way, she didn’t know if Julia would want that information to be shared, so Aisha remained silent.

“Well, let’s go talk to her.” Sarah took a step towards the bedroom door, but Aisha quickly blocked her way.

“Absolutely not.”

“Aisha, I know you’re worried about her, but I need her. The House needs her.”

Aisha didn’t move. “This is your House, and I respect that. But she has been through something I can only imagine was incredibly traumatic. Your priority is the House. My priority is Julia. She needs rest.”

“But . . .”

“No. There will be time for other things later.”

“Aisha . . .” Sarah studied her, looking for any opening in the other woman’s resolve. “Alright, alright. I’ll wait. I’m going to take the crystal, though. For safekeeping.”

“That’s fine.”

Sarah took several steps towards the door to the hallway, then stopped and turned back to Aisha. “I hope you’re right, that there’s still time. I don’t know how much we actually have.”

“I’ll let you know when she wakes.”


After Sarah left, Aisha sat with her feet up on the couch and her knees below her chin. A few tears rolled down her cheeks. It was relief, mostly. Relief that she had Julia back. Relief that she could take care of her.

After a few minutes, she got off the couch and went into the bedroom. Walking over to the door on the far side, she took a green crystal out of her pocket and inserted it into the handle. The door opened into the cabin they shared.

Aisha gently lifted Julia, still sleeping, off the bed and carried her into the cabin. It was the only place she could be certain they would be safe. At least until Julia woke up. She placed Julia on the bed and then laid down next to her to wait for her to open her eyes.

Everything Is Nothing

Everything was black. Time was both stopped and speeding forward somehow. There was nothing around and no way to mark any changes. Nothing existed, not even a sense of self. Everything was chaos and void. Everything was empty.

Mind began to coalesce and form a coherent self. A name emerged: Julia.

She found herself standing in Thomas’s room. Sarah and Matthew were there. “What th-” But the self dissolved and void reasserted itself.

Time is change. Nothingness cannot change, so time ceases to have meaning. The number one both does and does not equal zero. When nothing is the only thing, unity is empty.

Now Julia was in the downstairs hallway, and Sarah and Matthew were still there. The words continued to flow. “-e fu-”

The self is isolated, separate from others. Separation is loneliness, is pain. Losing the self in the void removes the pain, rejects loneliness. There is no separation. There is no other. Chaos is peace.

The infirmary took shape around her, and the words continued. “-ck is happ-”

It takes insanity to carve off a piece of nothing/everything and identify only with that. The formation of the self is the original violence, the beginning of madness. Madness that makes it impossible to remember reality.

“-ening?” The infirmary again.

Before she dissolved, she heard Sarah yell. “Drop -”

In reality, everything is one, so there is nothing. ‘Thing’ requires distinction. This is not that. When all is one, there is no thing at all. There just is.

What? Drop what? Even when her existence resumed, in the kitchen this time, it was hard to understand how anything could be dropped. Could even be separate from her.

Again, Sarah yelled “Drop -” and again her existence was erased before Sarah could say anything more.

The perfect coherence of chaos was disturbed. A seed of madness had been planted, and a piece of the void was trying to break itself off, to create itself apart from the rest of everything/nothing. The impetus to stay whole fought against the agitation to separate. Even the idea of two opposing impulses gave power to the drive toward separation, for a unity cannot contain contradiction.

The next time Julia came to exist was both less and more disorienting. The innermost part of her soul clung to the blissful union of the void. Yet her conscious mind insisted on its own identity. The conflict nearly tore her apart and threatened to leave her in the illusory world she belonged to.

The living room. “The crystal!” Instead of Sarah, it was Aisha’s voice. She remembered Aisha. Why was she in the living room? Aisha was love, was yearning.

The pull of the void was strong, and her existence was once more unwritten. A single memory disturbed the void. It was not a self, not even a conflict. A single memory. That anomaly was sufficient to break the peace, to end the unity. A memory of another.

Chaos violently ejected the memory to preserve itself, and Julia came to exist inside her own lab. Immediately, she opened her hands and the black crystal fell to the floor. Instead of ceasing to exist, her legs collapsed. She would have fallen on the crystal, but someone reached her and held her close to keep her upright.