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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”