Conversation between Old Friends

Matthew was sitting up in bed when Sarah entered the infirmary. “You look better,” she observed. “How do you feel?”

“Still tired, but definitely on the mend.” He gave her a weak smile.

“That’s good.” She took a deep breath. “So where the hell have you been for the last decade? You just leave without talking to me? You know I’ve been looking for you.” Sarah stopped herself before getting more upset.

“I’m sorry. I thought if I left, you might leave as well. I know I abandoned you, and I’m sorry.”

“Mmm hmm.”

“I notice you brought Rebecca into the House.” He seemed eager to change the subject.

“I had to rebuild. A House with only two mages isn’t much of a House.” She was trying to shove her resentment to the side, but she also wasn’t prepared to let it go completely.

“Yeah.” He did sound contrite. “Who else did you bring in?”

“You remember Thomas’s friend Jason? He joined about a year after you left.”

“Oh, right. I’m sorry about Jason.”

That caught her attention, but she continued. “He brought another mage with him, a spatial mage. And Thomas recruited David a few years ago. He’s another elementalist and also the one that found you.”

“The place sounds pretty lively. I’m a little surprised Thomas has included so many mages.”

“It was that or lose the House completely.”

“I suppose. So Thomas is okay?”

“More or less. Who are the people that attacked us? What do they want? You said you were working with them for a time?”

“They kept a lot of things from me, but I think there are two mages behind everything. One of them is a temporal mage who goes by Solomon. The other is an elementalist named Robert. They bring in others when necessary. They told me that they wanted to stop Thomas from messing with the timeline, but eventually I realized they wanted to kill him. I never did find out why.”

“Are they going to come after you?” Her concern was genuine.

Matthew shrugged. “I assume. If they think I’m in their way.”

“Do you know where they are?”

“I knew where they were. I’m guessing they’ve moved by now.”

Sarah thought for awhile, absorbing everything, before asking, “How long ago did you fall in with them?”

“About two years ago. Hey, would you ask Thomas to drop by. He and I should talk.”

“I’ll ask him, though I can’t make any promises.”

“I understand.”

“You should get some rest.” Sarah stood to leave.

“I will. Tell Rebecca, David, and Julia thank you. And hey, do you forgive me?” He gave her a look with puppy dog eyes.

“Yes. We’ll talk more later, okay?”

Matthew nodded and laid down.

Sarah wasn’t sure she actually did forgive him. Their conversation had bothered her for some reason, and she needed to work it out. Matthew had been a friend for a very long time, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off.

Studying

Sitting backwards in a chair, Sarah studied the two men frozen in Thomas’s room. Because they were out of sync with the flow of time, neither they nor their clothing could be affected by anything. Everything she needed to know had to be determined by sight alone because it was impossible even to touch them directly. The texture of their hair, the shape of their cheekbones, all the details she needed to copy them would have to be discovered by observation. Luckily, they had been trapped in time with their eyes open so she could see their color. Not hearing their voices, not being able to witness how they moved, would create imperfections in her impersonations, so she wanted to get everything else as exact as possible.

She had spent over an hour practicing the appearances of her targets in front of a mirror. This was all overkill, but she hoped some clues as to their identity might be uncovered. Really, though, she was trying to keep herself distracted so that she wouldn’t worry.

“He’s awake.” Rebecca had walked in.

Without saying anything, Sarah followed her back to the infirmary. Matthew was sitting up a little in bed, some color having returned to his face.

“How are you feeling?” Sarah asked.

Matthew smiled weakly. “Feeling a little better. I remember when I brought Rebecca here to heal you all those years ago. I’m glad she hasn’t lost her touch.”

“I think I’ll go get some rest.” Rebecca sounded a little embarrassed. “Let me know if you need something.” She closed the door behind her on the way out.

“Are you really okay?”

“Yes, Sarah. They didn’t rough me up much. Just tied me up.”

“Those injuries weren’t just because you’d been tied up.”

Matthew tried to wave her concern aside. “So I’ve heard that this is your house now. Congratulations. You deserve it. And now you can kick Thomas out.”

“No, I can’t. And you know that.” She was a little annoyed that he was trying to change the subject. “We can talk about all of that later. How did you end up tied to a chair in a basement?”

Matthew sighed. “I had been trying to find some way to convince Thomas to give up his obsession. During the course of that search, I found a few people that seemed to share my concern about misusing temporal magic. I began working with them, but eventually I realized that they had darker plans. When it became clear that they were determined to kill Thomas, I tried to leave. Obviously, that didn’t go as I hoped.”

“That sounds pretty intense. Do you know why they were after him?”

“Unfortunately, no. They never took me fully into their confidence, so I don’t know as much about them as I would like.”

Sarah sat back and started working out some of the implications of Matthew’s story.

Soon, he sunk back down on the bed, his eyes starting to close. “I’m sorry, Sarah. I think I’m more tired than I realized. We’ll have to talk more later.”

At first, she was worried he had succumbed to some injury they had missed, but when she checked, his breathing was strong and steady. She hadn’t really learned anything new. Someone wanted Thomas dead, but she still didn’t know why. Nor did she know who they were. Perhaps Matthew knew, but she hadn’t had time to ask. She hoped he wouldn’t sleep too long.

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?!”

Leaving

There was a soft tapping on her door followed by Thomas’s voice. “Sarah? I’m sorry. Can we talk?”

She got out of her chair and opened the door. “Come in.”

After walking back to the center of the room, they sat down facing one another. Sarah waited for Thomas to speak.

“I did not mean for that to happen. I certainly never wanted to cause you harm. I had brought back a piece of the attacker’s clothes. The stasis field in which it was suspended collapsed unexpectedly.”

Sarah interrupted Thomas’s uncharacteristic wordy explanation. “And that caused the explosion?”

“Yes. Basically, additional matter suddenly appeared in the world. All the matter that had been in that spot was violently displaced.”

“This was all part of your investigation into the attack on your master’s house?”

“Yes.” His chattiness was gone; Thomas obviously believed he had explained himself fully.

“Did you at least learn anything?”

“No. I never had the opportunity to study it.”

“You realize Matthew is ready to leave. He wants me to go with him.” The Mistress would not approve of this tack. Even if Sarah didn’t intend to follow through with the threat, this interference with Thomas’s decisions went against her intent if not her explicit orders. But Sarah was more interested in stopping Matthew from leaving, and she hoped this would push Thomas away from the edge.

“Maybe it would be good for you leave.” Thomas avoided her gaze.

Hiding her surprise, Sarah responded immediately. “I don’t want to leave. I want you to let this obsession to go. If you are really sorry, then you need to stop before anyone gets harmed again.”

“You will stay if I stop investigating the attack?”

“I don’t expect you to stop looking into it. I want you to stop messing with time. You’ve proven it’s dangerous, and you need to quit doing it.”

“I am not sure I can do that,” Thomas said after a few moments.

“Really?”

“I merely want to be honest with you.”

“Well, honestly, the next time you might kill me. Or Matthew. Or even yourself. Is it worth it? Will you be sorry then? If you would be, just don’t do it in the first place.”

Thomas sat in silence for a bit. “You are right. I need to think about this.”

“You do that.” Sarah kept the exasperation out of her voice.

Thomas stood and left without saying anything else. Maybe she had gotten through to him. If she stayed, she was risking her life, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave just yet.

Walking down the hallway, Sarah wanted to talk to Matthew about her conversation with Thomas. As soon as she knocked, his door swung open. Inside, it was immediately obvious that the room had been vacated; nothing of Matthew’s remained. On the coffee table was a note addressed to her.

“Dear Sarah,

I hope you understand that I can’t stay. He has shown us that he cares only about himself, and that he will hurt anyone to accomplish his goals. I wish you would leave, but it’s your decision. If you ever do leave, come find me.

Yours,

Matthew”

After reading it, she crumpled the paper and threw it away. Even if Thomas did stop playing with time, it wasn’t enough to fix anything. And now they needed new members if the house was to survive.

Near Death Experience

Sarah’s head was pounding when she opened her eyes. The room was too bright, intensifying her headache and forcing her to shut her eyes tight to block out the light.

“Sarah!” The concern was evident in Matthew’s voice. Still, she couldn’t imagine why he was in her room.

“Sarah!” He repeated.

“Please, not so loud. Why are you in my room?” Slowly she began opening her eyes a little once more.

“This is my room. You don’t remember?”

She tried to think back. “The last thing I remember is a very loud noise just before everything went dark.”

“Your room exploded, burying you under a pile of rubble. It’s a miracle you survived. You’ve been unconscious for three days. I had to bring someone in to heal you.”

Matthew’s worry now made sense, but the explanation gave rise to new confusion. “My room exploded? I was working on illusions. How could that have caused an explosion?”

Matthew sighed and sat down on a chair next to the bed. “You didn’t cause the explosion. It happened in the room next to yours, but it caused your lab to collapse.”

“You mean . . .”

Matthew nodded. “Something happened in Thomas’s lab.”

“Is he okay?”

“Are you serious?”

“What?”

“Thomas nearly killed you, and you’re worried about him?”

“I’m sure he didn’t do it intentionally.” She understood how Matthew felt. She even felt a little anger herself but was determined to keep it in check, at least until she knew more. “Is he okay?”

“Yes. He’s fine. He wasn’t even here when it happened.”

“Has he explained the cause of the explosion?”

“Not to my satisfaction.”

“Then we need to talk to him.”

“Listen, Sarah, I know he’s our friend, but I think we should leave. Maybe find another house to join. Even start our own house. But I don’t think we ought to stay here. He promised to give us a heads up when he was engaged in dangerous magic, and he didn’t. It doesn’t matter if this happened on purpose or not; he is keeping things from us and putting us at risk.”

More than she could say, Sarah wanted to leave with Matthew, but she knew she couldn’t. “Matthew, I have to stay.”

“Why?”

“I made a promise to Thomas.” She hated herself a little for lying to Matthew. The Mistress had sent her with Thomas to keep an eye on him. She also had sworn Sarah to secrecy.

“Sarah, that’s absurd. He’s put us in danger. More than once. He’s shown no regard for us. Whatever commitments we’ve made, he cannot really expect us to keep them now.”

“Still. We need to talk to him.” Sarah began to feel tired. “Though maybe not today.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No. I’m just worn out.”

“Do you want me to get the healer?”

“It’s not necessary. Really. I just need more sleep. Who was this healer, anyway?”

“A friend of mine recommended her. Rebecca. Don’t worry, I stayed and watched over you the entire time she was here.”

“I should thank her.” After those words, unconsciousness overtook her once more.

The Problem with Roommates

Matthew was in his rooms when magic began behaving strangely. There were a number of power cells he had created using electricity magic, and each of them began throwing off sparks at the same time. The electrical discharges became more frequent until each was just a thread of electric current. All of the threads were curving towards one wall, each a tendril reaching for . . . something. Whatever they were pointing to was beyond the wall that separated Matthew’s and Thomas’s rooms.

Worried about the risk from fire, he began deactivating the cells. Before he could finish, however, a crashing sound from the other side of the wall distracted him, and when it had stopped the streams of electric current disappeared. He waited a few moments in case the strange effect started up again. When it seemed that it had truly passed, he hurried to Thomas’s door.

Sarah was already there, knocking.

“Thomas? Is everything alright?”

“So it wasn’t just my imagination.”

“All my illusions began to distort.”

Sarah knocked again, and the door opened. Thomas stood on the other side of the threshold, disappointment obvious in his demeanor.

“My apologies for the noise. A bookcase fell over.”

“That doesn’t explain why our magics began to warp,” Matthew said. “What are you doing in there?”

“I was just working on some research.”

“Thomas,” Sarah interjected. “Whatever you are up to in there is affecting us. We need to know what’s going on.”

“I am not ready to talk about it yet.” Thomas seemed ready to leave the issue there, but Matthew wasn’t.

“I respect everybody wanting to keep their research private, but when it goes beyond your lab, we need to know if it’s dangerous.”

Thomas sighed. “I am trying to discover the identity of those who attacked my master’s house. I thought I had worked a spell that would reveal new information. The results were . . . unexpected.”

“That’s it?” Sarah sounded unconvinced.

“Yes. I have to rethink the spell. I will not cast it again without giving you notice.”

“Can we help?” Matthew offered.

“It relies on time magic. I do not think either of you will be able to assist me.”

“Well, if there is anything we can do . . . We were there, too, and we want answers as well. Just . . . Be careful.”

“I will. And again, I apologize for disturbing you both.”

After the door closed, Matthew gave Sarah a questioning look. She shrugged back. “It’s plausible. I’ve never had much experience with time magic. And while he doesn’t show it, the Mistress did tell me he was distressed about the attack.”

“Should we do anything?”

“I don’t think he’ll let us. Not right now, anyway. We’ll just have to trust him to keep his word about keeping us informed.” With a weak smile, Sarah headed back to her rooms, leaving Matthew alone with his doubts.

First Meetings

*This story takes place before Thomas established his own house.*

Before there was anything else, there was pain. The air around him was warm and acrid. At first, Thomas was only aware of the pain in his head, but when he tried to move, he discovered that it was everywhere.

“You’re still alive?”

He didn’t recognize the voice. Thomas opened his eyes but blood flowing from his forehead obscured his vision. Wiping it away with his sleeve, he could make out the man standing over him, but he was a stranger. He was in his lab, but it was almost unrecognizable because of the destruction that had taken place. Trying to cast a spell to stop time nearly caused him to pass out.

“Who are you?” he asked, weakly.

“Don’t worry about it. You won’t be alive long enough for it to matter.”

How did anyone get into his master’s house? And this much destruction should have triggered the failsafes. None of this should be possible. Now this intruder was going to kill him? Everything was too chaotic, Thomas couldn’t make any of it make sense.

Six men appeared, all of them facing the intruder and ignoring Thomas. He hadn’t seen them come in, and they weren’t from the house, either. There was something else off about them… They were identical, Thomas realized after a few moments.

“I don’t know who you are.” The first intruder didn’t seem to be talking to anyone Thomas could see. “But if you are going to use an illusion to try to scare me, don’t make it so obviously an illusion. All six of these guys look alike.”

A female voice came from somewhere nearby. “Illusions work best when they let you hide something in plain sight.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“In this case, there are only five illusions.”

“What . . .?”

Electricity arced from the hands of one of the men and struck the intruder. He flew back, hit the wall, and slumped to the floor. The other five men faded from existence.

The remaining man bent down next to Thomas. “Are you okay?”

“I seem to be alive. Beyond that, I’m not sure.”

“Can you move?”

“I . . . I think so.” With the other man’s help, Thomas managed to get on his feet.

“Matthew? What are you doing? We shouldn’t be moving him.” The person behind the other voice was now visible. Appearing next to them was a young woman whose hair was constantly shifting colors.

“Sarah, we need to get him out of here. We don’t know what other dangers might be nearby.”

Sarah glanced around the room. “Fine. Help him. I’ll go first in case there is anyone else around.” She vanished as Matthew supported Thomas to help him walk.

Slowly, they made their way out of the lab. The destruction was everywhere; not a single room had been spared. The power required to cause all of this had to have been immense.

“Where is everyone else?”

Matthew ignored his question.

After several long minutes, they stood outside the ruined house, and Sarah reappeared.

“There is no way only one person did this,” she said.

“That sounds like an excellent reason not to be here any longer,” Matthew replied.

“Shouldn’t we figure out what happened?”

“I expect your Mistress would want you to get Thomas to safety and have his injuries looked after.”

“You know, Matthew, you’re a bit of a suck up.”

“And you’re mad that I’m right.”

Sarah looked at Thomas. “Can you hang on? We’ve got a car nearby, and we can get you to some help.”

Thomas managed to nod before slipping back into unconsciousness.