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.”

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 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.


“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.

The Missing Crystal

Why wasn’t it working? The principles should be same as the crystal she had made to knock down spatial barriers. Yet, no matter what she tried, Julia couldn’t get this version to cohere. The reverse white crystal drained magic power, but she couldn’t make it mix with temporal magic.

The jar in front of her contained the last of the purple powder that had been exposed to temporal magic. Aisha had gotten it for her years ago, while she was still stuck in the past. There was only enough left for one, maybe two, attempts. Aisha still had had no success in tracking down another temporal mage, so she wasn’t likely to get anymore.

Looking at the clock on her wall, she realized she’d been sitting, hunched over, for almost six hours. Exhaustion hit her. Despite her desire to keep going, she needed a break. Maybe she should go back to Thomas’s rooms and look once more for anything that might provide a clue. First, she needed some food. And maybe a nap. She pushed back from her work bench, stood, and stretched.

Out in the living room, she found Aisha sitting cross-legged on the couch and reading. Aisha looked up from her book. “She emerges.”

“Yeah. I needed to step away for a bit. So what did Sarah want?”

“If I had to guess, she has some doubts about Matthew.”


“She didn’t say anything directly, but she asked me several questions about that incident we had with him a few years back.”

“Hmm.” Julia didn’t know much about the third founding member of the house, but she always had the impression that he and Sarah had been close. “I was going to go get some food. Care to join me?”

“Sure. Where?”

“Do we have anything in the cabin?”

Aisha shook her head. “We need to restock. How about Mediterranean?”

“Greece it is.” Julia opened a portal. “After you.”

Sitting outside a small cafe in the outskirts of Athens, they sipped their frappes.

“I don’t know how you can drink it plain. Isn’t it bitter?” Julia asked. She always ordered hers sweet.

“This is how I had it the first time. Never felt the need to add sugar.”

“Don’t you drink your tea sweet?”

“Chai and Greek frappe are not the same thing. Stop that.” Julia had been mouthing the words as Aisha spoke. After a moment, both women chuckled. “Okay. We’re here. We have good coffee. The prospect of good food is imminent. What are you stuck on?”

Julia sighed a little. “Am I that obvious?”

“Let’s just say I’ve known you for a little while.”

“It’s the crystals again. The missing one, it has to be temporal magic. That’s the most glaring omission. But no matter what I do, I can’t put it together. I prep a red crystal, tap into the temporal essence, but it won’t fit.”

“And you’re sure it’s temporal magic?”

“Thomas was a friend of Jason’s for a long time. Jason got spatial magic from me; it stands to reason he would have picked up temporal magic from Thomas.”

“And it’s a red crystal?”

“That’s the only primary color that’s missing from his set. It has to be.”

“All of that seems reasonable. So let me ask you, with how well you know him, how reasonable – no, how predictable – is Jason?”

“Are you saying . . .”

“I’m not saying anything. I don’t have any answers. You know him. What do you think?”

Julia stopped to consider Jason and what she knew of the crystals. “If I toss my assumptions, I’m back to square one.”

“If your assumptions were wrong, square one is further than you were.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

The food they had ordered arrived. Leaving magical puzzles behind for the moment, they turned their attention to eating and enjoying the pleasant afternoon.

Looking for Problems

A knock at the door interrupted Sarah’s rumination. It was Aisha.

“Julia said you wanted to talk to me?”

The other mage was much more outgoing and social than Julia, but Sarah was familiar enough with disguises to know she kept many things to herself.

“Julia gave you a badge?” She must have, or Aisha wouldn’t have made it to Sarah’s door alone.

“She lent me hers. Wouldn’t give me one of my own unless you okayed it. I’m guessing she still hasn’t asked you about it.”

“No. With everything that has happened . . .”

“I understand. I’d have to be playing a very long game, but to you, I’ve only been in your lives for a few months.” Aisha smiled and waited.

“Oh! Forgive me. Please come in and have a seat. Would you like some tea?”

“No, thanks. Some water would be nice.”

“Of course.” Sarah went to the sink in her kitchenette and got two glasses of water. Upon returning to the living room, she set one down in front of Aisha, who was now sitting on the couch. She took the other one with her to an armchair.

“So what did you want to talk about?”

“Matthew.” There was no real point in being circumspect. “You and Julia had a run in with him awhile back?”

“Yeah. At least five or six years ago now. We had been looking for information on temporal magic. Julia was looking for some way to return to her original time. Turns out it was a trap set for someone else.”

“Do you remember where you got the information that led you to that trap?”

Aisha thought for several moments before shaking her head. “One of my informants, I’d guess. But I don’t remember which one. Too long ago, I’m afraid. Does it matter?”

“I don’t know. I figured it was a long shot, but I wanted to check.” Even asking these questions felt like she was being disloyal to Matthew. He was one of her oldest friends and had done nothing to earn her distrust. But as guilty as it made her, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was missing something.

“Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”

“It’s okay. Just letting paranoia get the better of me.”

“One thing I’ve learned – mage or no – never ignore gut feelings. Maybe they aren’t sending a clear message, but they are telling you something. Don’t doubt yourself.”

“You give motivational speeches, too?”

Aisha laughed. “No. I just don’t like seeing incredibly capable women running themselves down.”

Sarah wasn’t sure how to respond to that. “Well, thank you for your time. I hope I wasn’t intruding too much.”

“Not at all. This was nothing compared to what Julia usually asks me to do.”

“I hope this isn’t out of line, but I think you’ve been really good for her.”

“Trust me, it goes both ways.” Aisha stood up. “I should probably get going. If you need anything else, or even just want to chat, you know how to get in touch.”

“Thanks again, Aisha.” Sarah stood to walk her to the door when a thought occurred to her. “Hey, did you and Julia ever tell Matthew your names?”

“Nope. We were very careful, especially Julia. She didn’t want to do anything that might put her past in jeopardy.”

“That makes sense. Well, have a good day.”

“You too, Sarah.”

After Aisha had left, Sarah thought about that last bit of information. Maybe Matthew had gotten Julia’s name from somewhere else. Maybe it didn’t mean anything. But maybe it did.

New Tradition

The candles were once more arranged in concentric circles within Julia’s pocket space. This time, however, she had arranged four couches within the candles. Rebecca sat on one of them between David and Marie – the latter was resting her head on Rebecca’s shoulder and seemed to be dozing. Sarah lounged on the couch across from them, her elbow propping up her body. Julia sat on a third, while Aisha rested her head in Julia’s lap. The fourth couch remained empty.

“So you and Jason spent every Winter Solstice like this?” David asked.

Sarah gave him a look of warning, but Julia shrugged it off. “I appreciate the concern, Sarah, but it’s been roughly eighteen years since Jason’s death. I know it’s more recent for all of you, but I have had lots of time to find some measure of peace.

“To answer your question, David, yes. He and I would stay up all night talking. I know a number of magical traditions make use of this night for special rites, but he and I used it as a time to step back from every day life and reconnect as friends.”

“So why did you decide to invite us?” David followed up.

“Jason wanted me to belong somewhere. Maybe that sounds silly, but it was one thing he always was on me about. This night used to be about us, but I figured he would want you all here. And I think over the last several years, I’ve begun to understand the importance each of you has had in my life.” Absently, Julia ran her fingertips up and down Aisha’s arm, and the other woman smiled up at her.

“It’s too bad Thomas can’t be here,” Rebecca said softly so as not to waken Marie.

“Yes, it is. But no business tonight. No worrying about current troubles. Tonight is just about friendship.” Julia was firm but not angry.

“So the fourth couch?” Sarah gestured at it.

“Well, I did want there to be plenty of room to sit and get comfortable, but I have to admit it’s also for Jason. The last time I was here, Jason showed up. I thought there might be a chance . . .”

After a brief lull, David changed the subject. “So you were stuck in the past for fifteen years? What did you do the entire time?”

“Mostly, she got in trouble that I had to bail her out of.” Aisha answered.

“Ignore her.” Julia playfully covered Aisha’s mouth.

“Actually,” she continued after moving Julia’s hand, “she was quite boring. Always inside doing research. I had to find ways to get her to leave the house.”

“Yes, wild goose chases after magical books. Threatening to reveal my existence to my past self. Life with you around was never boring.”

Aisha laughed. “That’s why you kept me around.”

“Hmmm.” Despite her attempt to seem put out, Julia couldn’t keep a smile from her lips.

Sarah looked at Rebecca. “Have you heard from Bailey?”

“No.” Rebecca seemed a bit melancholic at the mention of her friend.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring you down.”

“It’s okay. You didn’t. Not really. I think about them now and again, but they are really good at not being found. I hope they’ll come back eventually, but we can’t control others.”

Marie murmured at shifted a bit without opening her eyes.

“Anyway, even ignoring all the major events of the past year, I’ve been busy helping Marie get set up. So I haven’t had much time to worry about Bailey.”

Another comfortable lull descended.

This time, Julia broke the silence. “How’s business at your store, David?”

“Slow, but I’m starting to develop a few regulars. I’m just happy to be in the community making connections.”

“It’s a good store. I’ve found a few items for my clients there,” Aisha volunteered. “I could probably funnel a few more customers your way.”

“That would be great, but I wouldn’t want to steal any of your business.”

Aisha waved away the concern. “There will always be more esoteric requests to keep me busy.”

Conversation continued to ebb and flow throughout the night. Julia look around at the group and couldn’t help but think that Jason would be pleased.

Meeting with the Enemy

“You aren’t seriously considering going?” Rebecca was nearly shouting.

“She’s right, Sarah. It’d be crazy to show up.” Julia was more subdued in her agreement.

The three of them, along with David, were sitting around the table.

“This is a chance to find out more about who attacked us.” Thomas had always kept his own counsel; Sarah was determined to operate more openly, so she told everyone what had happened while she was investigating the house where Matthew had been imprisoned.

“Do you even know where you’re supposed to meet?” David asked.

“I have an idea.” Sarah answered. “No one has been able to locate a temporal mage, so we have no way to break the spell on Thomas. This person can tell us what happened, maybe give us a clue as to how to help Thomas. And as long as he is out there, we’re all still in danger. He’s not going to stop until Thomas is dead, and that means going through us.”

Everyone stayed silent. Maybe they were trying to find fault with her reasoning. Maybe they just didn’t like it. Sarah didn’t like it herself, but she had to do this.

“Okay. So let’s consider how to approach this.”

* * *

“You’re a day early.”

The place where Thomas had apprenticed was now just an empty lot. Thomas had inherited it, but he wanted nothing to do with it. The remains of the house had been removed, but otherwise, it had remained untouched. Several trees were scattered around the edge of the area, and the rest was just grass. The attacker stood on one end of the lot, with Thomas’s image about fifty feet away.

“I thought I should check to be sure there were no surprises,” Sarah said with Thomas’s voice.

“Suspicion isn’t very becoming.”

“Hmmm. Well, I am here now; what did you want to say to me.”

“Where are my associates?”

“You called me here just to ask that?”

“No, of course not. It just seemed a waste not to ask.”

“So why am I here? Have you decided to call a truce?”

“Ha ha!” The man threw his head back in a genuine laugh. As he did so, the ground beneath Thomas’s feet exploded. Rubble flew in every direction, and smoke filled the air.

When it cleared, Thomas was in the same spot he had been.

“You’re not even really here? How disappointing,” the other man said.

“As I told you, I was expecting surprises.”

“I guess it was obvious.”

“Why are you doing this?” Sarah didn’t really expect an answer.

“You know I’m not going to tell you that.” He took a few steps back. “Well, I don’t intend to get into another battle with you right now. And since you aren’t really here, I suppose we’ll have to do this some other time.” After several more steps, he vanished.

“I still think we should have tried to eliminate him while we had the chance,” Julia said to Sarah. They had concealed themselves down the street from the empty lot.

“I know, but without knowing what he is capable of, that could have gone horribly wrong.”

“So did you learn anything?”

“No. I knew it was a long shot, but I had to make the attempt.”

Aisha stepped out from a nearby shadow.

“Were you able to plant it?” Julia asked.

Aisha smiled and nodded.

“Then we got what we came for,” Sarah said. “Now we can try to fill in some of our blind spots and better prepare for our next move.”

“You’re the boss,” Julia said with a smile.

Two Problems

The open box on the desk was taunting her. Six crystals sat inside, each nestled into its own spot. Orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and white. The very first space was empty. Nothing in Jason’s notes indicated what the seventh crystal should be. The spectrum suggested red, but Julia couldn’t guess what effect it should have.

White, providing raw power, was the one universal crystal. Every mage who created mana batteries made them white. But the other colors seemed to be particular to Jason. Green used spatial magic, and blue interfered with magic. Purple was connected with knowledge. She had finally determined that orange was associated with elemental magic. As best as she could tell, yellow had to do with light. Assuming the missing crystal was red, what did Jason associate red with? Did he never discover the missing crystal? Or had he hidden it from her? If so, why?

“Are you still staring at those?” Aisha walked into Julia’s study and placed a cup of coffee down in front of her. “I thought you were working on a barrier for your house?”

Cradling the warm mug in both hands, Julia leaned back in her chair. “I was, but I needed to take a break. No matter how I look at it, a barrier is clunky and a waste of power.”

“So you are distracting yourself with a bigger problem?”

“What can I say? I’m a masochist.”

“Really? That opens up some new possibilities.”

“Don’t go getting any ideas.” Julia knew she was joking. “I just can’t shake the feeling that these crystals might help in some way. For fifteen years, all I could do was work from my memory of Jason’s notes. I thought maybe I had forgotten important details. Now that I have the notes in front of me, I thought I could find . . . something. Turns out, my memory is pretty good.”

“You know, trying to force it to make sense isn’t going to get you anywhere. Take a break. Let your subconscious work on it for awhile.” Aisha took a sip from her own mug.

“Two intractable problems. Taking a break from one to work on the other is getting me nowhere.”

“Well, let’s go back to the barrier. Why do you want to create it?”

“I don’t. But I think Sarah is hoping to avoid a repeat attack.”

“And how does a barrier prevent it from happening again?”

“Well, if we have a barrier set up, then someone else can’t erect one that can be manipulated against us.”

“So the real problem is someone else setting up a barrier?”

“Of course. But you know this already.”

Aisha waved away the objection. “The question is, is a barrier the best solution to this problem?”

“No, but . . .”

“Then why are you trying to make a solution work that isn’t the best?”

“Because . . .” Julia trailed off as a new idea began to take shape.

“I’ll leave you to it then.”

“Thanks, Aisha.”

She turned around and gave Julia a little smile as she left the room.


More than a mage, Aisha considered herself a procurer. Traveling the world searching for things people wanted interested her much more than researching in a lab ever did. Most of her clients were mages, since nonmages rarely had anything to offer her. Information, however, was always a welcome currency, if it was the right sort.

It wasn’t easy, but she had finally tracked down the person she’d been looking for. One of her old suppliers had provided her with the identity of the mage and location of his house. The supplier hadn’t been in touch with the man for several years, so it was possible he had moved. The fact that he had lost touch was the only reason the supplier was willing to help her at all.

While shifting through shadows was useful in her work, she often preferred trying to do things straightforwardly. In this case, there was no benefit to sneaking around, so she simply knocked on the door.

The man who answered did not fit the description she had been given, but that didn’t mean much when it came to mages.


The man grimaced. “No. Stephen.”

“Is Jonathan here?”

“You better come in.”

* * *

Days later, Aisha returned to the cabin she and Julia shared. As expected, Julia wasn’t there, but from here she could take a door leading to Julia’s rooms in her house. Unaware she’d been holding her breath, she sighed in relief when she saw that the portal was still open and no new barrier had been erected.

“I’m back,” she yelled as she stepped through.

Julia was in her workroom, studying some notes on her desk. She didn’t look up when Aisha walked in. “Do you know how much power it takes to . . .”

Aisha lifted Julia’s chin and gave her a long kiss on the lips. She felt Julia return the affection.

“I’ve missed you, too,” Julia said when the moment ended. “What happened?”

Aisha sat in a chair next to the desk. “I found the time mage that had provided the temporal infused quartz all those years ago.”

“That’s great!”

“No, it isn’t. He’s dead.”

“He’s dead?”

“Yes, but there’s more.”

“Good news?” Julia’s question sounded hopeful, but the look on her face said she knew better.

“No. I tried tracking down several other temporal mages. At least five. They had all died within the last ten years. To be more accurate, they’d all been killed.”

“Six? That can’t be coincidence, can it?”

“With everything both of us have seen, can you think of any evidence that coincidence exists?”

“Do we know who killed them?”

“We know they were killed by magic, but whoever did it was never caught.” Mages handled such matters by themselves, not wanting to involve the law enforcement of nonmages. “Because the killings were spread out, in both time and space, no one seems to have considered them connected. I don’t even know if was one person or multiple people. But like I said, I don’t believe in coincidence.”

“And now Thomas has been attacked by unknown mages. For the second time.”

“That’s why I think all of these have to be connected somehow.”

“Who is doing this? And why?”

“I don’t know yet. But we will figure it out. Promise.” Aisha leaned forward and kissed Julia once more.