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.”

“Really?”

“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.

Educated Guess

“You know there’s a color missing from the box you left me.” Julia could feel Jason’s presence across from her, but she didn’t look up from her workbench.

“Of course. I’m the one that left it out.”

“You going to tell me what it is?” Her hands were busy carving a crystal into the proper shape to store mana.

“That depends.”

“On what?” She gritted her teeth as she hit a particularly stubborn spot.

“On whether you think I’m real. If I’m real, then I know the answer. If I’m not, then any answer I give is really just you guessing.”

“Lovely. How should I know if you’re real? You didn’t appear at all while I was trapped in the past. If you’re a figment of my imagination, wouldn’t you still have come around? Or maybe, since my subconscious knew you hadn’t died yet, it kept me from imagining you?”

“Excellent points.”

“So are you real?”

“How should I know?”

Julia slammed the tool in her hand onto the bench. “Jason!”

“What? I feel real, but maybe you just have a vivid imagination.”

“I think you have to be real,” she said while trying to suppress a smile, “I don’t think I hate myself enough to irritate me this much.”

“As far as I know, you don’t hate yourself at all.” Jason returned her smile. “You know, I didn’t give you all of my research so that you would ignore your own work.”

“What can I say? This fascinates me. So are you going to tell me about this missing color or not?”

“Honestly, I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe you’re not ready.”

“Jason!”

“Fine, fine. If you really want me to tell you instead of discovering it for yourself, I will.”

Loud knocking from the front room interrupted him. She heard Sarah call her name. “Julia!”

Julia glared at Jason. “Don’t go anywhere.”

The knocking finally woke her up, and she lifted her head off the workbench while cursing dreams.

She opened the door. “Is something wrong?”

Sarah shook her head. “I was just hoping to talk to Aisha. Is she here?”

“Oh? What about?”

“I just wanted to ask her about Matthew. Something is bothering me, and I thought she might able to shed some light on it.”

“Now I’m curious. Unfortunately, she’s not here right now. Last I knew, she was tracking down a lead on another temporal mage. I can try to get in touch with her.”

“Thanks, Julia. That would help a lot.” Sarah already seemed to be thinking about something else as she walked away.

Once the door was closed, Julia was tempted to try to find her way back into the dream, but Sarah’s request had piqued her interest. As she was deciding to track down Aisha, another thought occurred to her. Jason had been right: she should have already figured it out. Getting in touch with Aisha might need to wait.

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.

Desperate for Clues

Jason’s rooms had been a mess, but Julia was familiar with how his mind worked, so she wasn’t overwhelmed by the chaos. Thomas’s rooms, in contrast, were tidy and organized, but her unfamiliarity with how his mind worked prevented her from discerning the order. Instead, she was forced to meticulously go through every book, every drawer, looking for anything that might help.

Several spell beads had been tucked into various nooks throughout the room, probably for emergencies. She could identify the temporal magic within but not the specifics of the spells they contained. She had also found a file containing notes about the past and future; she put it back as soon as she realized what it was. Other notes made little sense to her.

“Not sure Thomas would approve of you going through his things.” Sarah was standing in the doorway.

“Well then he shouldn’t have gotten stuck in time.” Julia didn’t look up from the drawer she was searching. “Every temporal mage we have managed to locate has already died, so this was my last idea for finding… something.”

“And have you? Found anything, I mean.”

Julia slumped back to sit on the floor. “No. I just don’t know enough. There are these spell beads that I don’t dare use without knowing more about them. Some notes that are difficult to interpret. Do you have any insight?”

“Sadly, I doubt I know any more about Thomas’s magic than you do.” Sarah walked over to the two mages standing frozen. “Do these two unnerve you?”

“Not really. They’re just part of the scenery at this point.”

“Are you still keeping tabs on our friend?”

“Yes. So far, he hasn’t stayed in one place long, so I’m still not certain where he’s hiding. On the positive side, he doesn’t seem to be aware that he’s being tracked, so we’ll get him eventually.”

“Good.”

“Do you think Thomas would mind if I took some of these beads and notes back to my room? I want to study them further.”

“I think he would hate the idea.”

“Do you mind?”

“Not at all. If you can find some way to break the spell on him, it will be worth whatever irritation he expresses.”

“Great. Oh.” Julia pulled a crystal from a pocket. It was blue with green swirls. “This should be able to knock down any barriers.” She handed it to Sarah. “I want to keep refining it, make it stronger.”

“Thank you, Julia.”

“Sure. And I’ll let you know if I make any progress on our temporal magic problem.” Julia gathered up the items she had found and carried them back to her own rooms.

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.

Coincidence?

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.

“Jonathan?”

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.

After the Siege

“Matthew?! What happened?” Sarah’s surprise threatened to overwhelm her.

“If I could sit . . .” His voice was strained, and every movement caused his face to contort with pain.

“Of course.”

Sarah and David slowly led Matthew to one of the big armchairs where he collapsed into the soft cushions. While Matthew tried to find a comfortable position, David spoke.

“I found him tied up in a basement down the street. The men who entered the house earlier came from there. I think they were holding him.”

“Good guess, kid. They thought I could help them, give them information on the house. In the end, though, they just left me there. Did they get Thomas?”

Sarah wasn’t sure how much to tell him. Trust wasn’t an issue between them, but she wasn’t sure he was strong enough at the moment to deal with the whole situation. “He’s still upstairs. Not dead. My current priority, however, is your well-being. How badly are you hurt?”

“I’ve felt better, but I’m going to live.” He forced a smile.

The light-heartedness he was trying to project actually caused her to worry more. “Do you think they’ll come back?”

“Hard to say. If they didn’t get him, they’ll be back. I don’t know how soon.” The pain showing on his face had become constant.

“Rebecca? Can you help?”

“Of course.” Rebecca closed her eyes and stretched out her hand towards Mathew. After only a few seconds, his head dropped towards his chest, and his breathing steadied. “Julia, I need some help getting him to the infirmary.”

Julia opened a portal and helped Rebecca carry him through.

“So what happened in the house?”

Sarah was thinking about Matthew and didn’t hear David’s question.

“Sarah?”

“Sorry.” She shook her head a bit to try to bring her focus back to the moment. “What did you say?”

“I asked what happened.”

“As Matthew said, they were after Thomas.”

“But they failed?”

A wave of exhaustion swept over her once more, so she slumped into a chair. “Sort of. Thomas is in his room, frozen in time. Two of the attackers are up there, too. They didn’t kill or capture him, but he is currently incapacitated.”

“How do we save him?”

“That’s what we were discussing when you came in. We aren’t sure yet.”

“Why didn’t you tell Matthew.”

“He needs rest. Needs to recover. There’s nothing he can do right now in his condition. Was there anything else in the house where you found him? Any clue?”

“No. The place was empty. I doubt they had been there long.”

“Okay. You should get some rest, too. Oh, and would you mind not leaving the house for the next few days. If they do come back, I’d rather have you in here with us.”

“Sure. Whatever I can do.”

“And David? Thank you for finding Matthew.”

“Purely accidental. But you’re welcome.”

David left Sarah alone with her thoughts. Matthew being back in the house, even wounded, managed to give her a little comfort, but there were still a lot of unknowns to deal with. Her first task was studying the features of the men in Thomas’s room. She wanted to be able to reproduce them as exactly as possible.

Siege (part eight)

“So there are three people frozen in time in Thomas’s room, and we have no idea how to release them?” Rebecca’s voice betrayed the toll that stress had taken on her.

“Yes. That is the current situation.” Sarah felt exhausted.

“On a positive note, the barrier seems to be gone.” Julia tried to sound upbeat but failed.

The three women were sitting downstairs. They had tried to move the men without success. For now, at least, they were stuck in their current positions.

“Can you use your blue crystal?” Rebecca asked Julia.

“No. I haven’t figured out how to extend its use. I was lucky that it worked on Bailey. But mind control is a different sort of magic than temporal stasis.”

Rebecca slumped further into her chair, the hope she had harbored briefly fully extinguished.

“We need another temporal mage.” Julia said. “Do you know anyone, Sarah?”

“No. Thomas was . . .” She caught herself. “ . . . is the only one I’ve met. It’s clear they were after him, but we still don’t know why.”

Silence fell over them as each reflected on the matter. For her part, Sarah was not certain how to feel. She knew she couldn’t leave Thomas as he was, but it might mean the house was safe, at least for now. On the other hand, he might also have an idea as to who their attackers were, or even why they had attacked.

“We should restore our own defenses. Whoever it was that got away, he could come back. Can you put up a barrier of our own, Julia?” Sarah refused to sit still and wait for the next thing to happen.

“I can, but there is a reason I didn’t put one up before. With preparation, they can be taken down. It worked in this case because we didn’t have the time to break it. If I set one up, they could figure out how to deal with it before we notice. At best, it would slow them down.”

“That’s better than nothing.”

“Okay. I just wanted you to know the limits of it. I’ll put one up and reactivate the long hallway. Leaving one up for too long might also attract unwanted attention. Once I can figure out a way to remove barriers quickly, I think we should consider taking it down.”

“What about the men upstairs?” Rebecca asked.

“There’s nothing we can do about them, remember?” Sarah answered.

“No. I meant, what if the stasis is temporary. What if they can start moving. They’re still a threat.”

“That’s a good point. I’ll put up a barrier around them. Even if they manage to break out, at least we’ll know.”

“I’m sorry to put so much on you, Julia.” Sarah said.

Julia shrugged. “Defending the house is my job. It’s why you all let me stick around in spite of my anti-social attitude.”

“That’s not true,” Sarah protested.

“Relax. I’m joking. Mostly. Anyway, it’ll give me something to do.”

“Rebecca. Do you think you could contact Thomas’s soul? See if it’s frozen too? Maybe we can contact him through the spirit world?”

Rebecca appeared to think about the idea for a few moments. “I can try. I don’t know if it will work, but I will try.”

“That’s all I ask. I will see if I can track down the identities of our uninvited guests. Maybe that will provide us with some answers.”

They heard the front door open and then David’s voice.

“Barrier’s down. Is anybody here?”

“In here,” Sarah replied.

David came around the corner, but he wasn’t alone. He was supporting another person who seemed to be unconscious.

“David! Who . . .?” Sarah had rushed over to help.

At the sound of her voice, the figure raised its head and gave her a weak smile. “Sarah. It’s good to see you.”

Her surprise caused her to take a step back. “Matthew?!”

Siege (part seven)

“Try again,” Rebecca insisted.

Sarah knocked on Thomas’s door again, with the same result. It didn’t make a sound. She looked at the other two mages and shrugged. They knew that others had entered the house, but they had been unable to locate them. Thomas’s room was the obvious place to check.

“I’m guessing it’s sealed,” Julia said. “We probably couldn’t move it no matter what we do.”

“Couldn’t you bypass the door?” Rebecca asked.

“Don’t.” Sarah said to stop Julia from trying. “We have no idea what’s going on in there.” Sarah leaned against the wall.

“So we just sit out here and wait?” Rebecca sounded frustrated.

Neither Sarah nor Julia answered. Sarah wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but a part of her thought that Thomas deserved whatever was happening. His recklessness had driven Matthew away, killed Jason, and he had refused to help Rebecca when she had been taken. If this attack was aimed at him, then he hand endangered everyone. Again. Saving him from himself . . . Saving those he so casually put in harm’s way over and over . . . It was all exhausting. She would rather not continue doing it.

But the rest of her knew she couldn’t ignore the situation. Thomas was a member of this house, and she wouldn’t abandon him, even if that’s what he would do. “Julia, do you think you can get in?”

“Probably.” The spatial mage focused her attention on the wall beside the door. She took a few steps down the hallway, before turning back. “Here. You want me to open it? Are you ready?”

Sarah nodded. “Do it. But let me go in first.”

The wall appeared to flow open, and on the other side, she could see a man crouching over Thomas. It looked as though he was trying to pick the mage up and not having any success. The moment he noticed her, he began casting.

Sarah had already crafter multiple images of herself, leaving him without a clear target.

“This again,” he muttered. He pulled spell sphere from his pocket and dropped it as his feet.

Julia yelled from behind her as the portal opened up, but it was too late. The man had already jumped through, and it closed behind him.

“Can you follow him?”

Julia shook her head.

Thomas hadn’t moved at all, so Sarah bent down to check on him. He didn’t seem to be breathing and was completely stiff. More than that, she realized, she couldn’t move him at all; not even his skin gave way to her touch. It was as though he had turned to marble.

“What about these guys?”

Julia’s question drew her attention to the rest of the room. There were two men standing near the door, and neither of them were moving.

Sarah suddenly understood. “Stasis. They are frozen in time. So is Thomas. They must be the other mages who came into the house.”

“Frozen in time? I didn’t realize that was even possible.” Rebecca said. “How do we unfreeze them?”

Sarah looked back down at Thomas. “I have no idea.”