Forbidden Friendship

“What happened to you?” Abby pointed at the bandages on David’s arms. She had been coming by his shop every week or so over the last several months since the religious protest. David had been explaining bits of magic to her with the hope that it would help humanize himself and other mages. She had even stopped bringing up Satan.

“An accident. Nothing too serious.”

“Was it magic?” As she grew more comfortable around him, her natural curiosity became increasingly evident.

“Yes, but not mine. Someone else’s spell got out of hand.”

“A mage from your house?”

While he was careful not reveal any details that might jeopardize the others, he explained what he could about his life as a mage. Abby seemed trustworthy enough, but he didn’t know what she might inadvertently tell her religious family.

“Not from my house. A friend of a friend, I suppose.”

“Did you fight?”

“Abby, it makes me nervous when you get excited about the violent aspects of magic.”

She sat back with a huff. “I just want to know about everything. There’s so much I still don’t understand.”

“Magic can be dangerous. That’s what these bandages mean. I don’t use it to fight. I just want to help others. That’s how I was trained.”

“I know, I know.”

Maybe it was because she had been sheltered from the world for most of her life, but it was hard not to see her as a child. In reality, she was an adult only a few years younger than he was.

“Have you practiced what I showed you last time?”

“Yes, I managed to . . .”

“Abigail Dawson! Get out of there!” A male voice was yelling outside the shop.

“Shit.” Abby was visibly distressed.

“Who is that?”

“My father. I should go.”

“Are you okay?” David wanted to say more, to tell her to stay, but he stopped himself.

“It’ll be fine. He’ll yell. A lot. Tell me I’m grounded. Then the next day it will be like nothing happened.”

“If you’re sure . . .”

“Don’t worry. I’ll see you later.”

David followed her to the door and watched as she walked up to a middle-aged man whose face was red from yelling.

“I told you not to come here! You’re going to wind up in hell, and there’ll be nothing I can do. Your mother and I raised you better than this. She’s beside herself with worry.”

“Dad . . .”

“We’ll talk when we get home. Get in the car!”

Abby trudged to a car parked on the street, an older woman sitting in the front. Before Abby climbed into the back, she turned and gave David a small wave.

The man turned to look at him. “Stay away from my daughter, you devil! I won’t let you take her!”

David watched them drive away. He wasn’t worried for himself, but he couldn’t shake the apprehension he felt for Abby.

The Isolated Chaos Mage

Aisha must have dozed off, allowing Julia to open a portal and escape. Now she was trying to catch up to her. The informants Aisha had cultivated allowed her to find out where Julia had been, but she was always gone by the time Aisha arrived. The spatial mage’s movements seemed random, and Aisha had no idea what she was after.

It didn’t help that she knew nothing about chaos magic. Instead of continuing her pursuit, she decided to try to find some information that might give her some insight. With a general location in hand, she was able to find a single chaos mage.

The small cottage was in a dense woods. Aisha half-expected to discover the place was made of candy, yet it was a simple structure that blended in with its surroundings.

The person who answered the door was a small woman with bright eyes. It was impossible to determine her age. As soon as she saw Aisha, she squealed with delight and immediately dragged the shadow mage inside.

“Come in, come in,” she said, as though it hadn’t already happened. “Sit, sit. The tea is not yet ready, but I could get you some water.”

Aisha was confused. “Were you expecting me?”

“Oh no.” The woman wasn’t even looking at her; rather she appeared to be searching for something within all the clutter.

“Well, then why . . .”

“I’m always ready for visitors. And it has been a long time.” She continued looking through and behind piles of books and paper.

“Did you misplace something?”

“Misplaced? No, no. That suggests something is not where it belongs. I assure you, it is in its proper place. I just can’t remember where that is.”

“What are . . .”

The other woman held up her hand. “I’ve almost remembered. Give me a minute.” She stood still for a few moments. “Aha!” After exclaiming, she sat down across from Aisha.

“Did you remember where it is?”

“No.” The woman shook her head. “I remembered what it is.”

“What is it?”

“Not important right now. So why did you come to see me? Oh! What’s your name?”

“I’m Aisha, and . . .”

“Beautiful name. Mine’s boring.”

“I’m sure that’s not true. What is it?”

“I already told you; it’s ‘Boring.’”

“Is that a joke?”

“I don’t think so.” The woman paused for a moment to think. “More of a nickname, really.”

Aisha was feeling unsteady. The woman’s mind seemed to constantly flit from one thought to another without warning, and it wasn’t clear if she was serious or putting Aisha on. Maybe she had been by herself for too long.

“Okay. I was hoping you could answer some questions about chaos magic . . .”

“I’m sorry, dear. I’m not really interested in taking on an apprentice.”

“What? No. I have a friend who may have been . . . Altered by chaos magic, and I am trying to figure out how to help.”

“What sort of exposure did she have?”

“She created a chaos crystal, and it unmade her. Repeatedly.”

“What is a chaos crystal?”

“You . . . You don’t know?” How did Sarah know about them, but a chaos mage didn’t?

“Never used crystals. Is this some sort of trick?”

“Not in the least. I really just need to find a way to help my friend.”

“It sounds like you care about her.”

“Very much. Please, if there’s anything you can tell me.”

“What you’re describing is probably the delusion. It’s usually fatal.”

“Is there anything that can be done?”

“Maybe. But it’s dangerous.”

“I don’t care. I have to find a way.”

“Hmm.” The woman stood up and walked over to a stack of books. From the middle of it, she pulled a single sheet of paper and brought it over to Aisha. “This ritual should do it.”

Aisha looked at the paper, but it was just a jumble of letters. “I can’t read this.”

“Of course not; you’re not a chaos mage.”

“Then how . . .”

“Here.” The woman placed something on the table; it was about the length of a pen but much thicker. It was wrapped in a rainbow colored cloth.

“What is this?”

“Open it. Carefully.”

Aisha slowly unfolded the wrap. Inside was a familiar-looking black crystal. “I thought you didn’t use crystals.”

“I don’t.”

“Then, why . . .”

“I just thought you might find it useful. Be careful, though. She’ll probably track this down rather quickly. Don’t unwrap it again unless you are ready for her.”

“How did you have all of this on hand? You must have known I was coming.”

“Impossible.” The woman waved away the suggestion. “Just trying to help.”

“Uh huh.”

“Life is fully of mystery. Don’t get distracted by the unimportant ones.”

“What is your name?”

“Maybe next time. Now get going; you have a friend to save.”

“Thank you.”

“Yes, yes,” the woman replied as she shooed Aisha to the door. “You’ll have to tell me how it goes.”

Aisha nodded and left. Outside, she realized the woman referred to Julia with ‘her,’ but she had never told her anything about her friend. How did the woman know? She turned back intending to ask, but the cottage was gone.

* * *

“Was that what you had in mind?” The woman didn’t turn around to look at the translucent figure behind her.

“It was perfect. Thank you.”

“How did you know she would come to me?”

“I didn’t. It just felt right.”

“You and your feelings.”

“I should take my leave now.”

“Come to visit more often, will you?”

“Promise. Thanks again.”

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.