Recognition

“What did happen with Thomas?” Sarah asked.

“I’m not sure how much Rebecca has told you,” Julia began, “but after we arrived in Thomas’s old lab, I went to talk with Jason. Before I could say much, Jason stopped me. He didn’t want to know anything about the future to avoid changing it. He encouraged me to go back to my own time.”

“That’s why you were so insistent we leave?” Rebecca was listening as attentively as Sarah.

Julia nodded. “I was worried Thomas was going to change something, screw things up. As much as I didn’t want Jason to die, I couldn’t know if Thomas would make things worse. The whole plan had come to seem like a very bad idea. So I shoved Thomas back through the portal, and I had to close it before he could return.”

“You shoved him?” Sarah tried to imagine the two mages coming to blows. “He didn’t use magic to stop you?”

“Casting the spell took all his energy. Well, I suppose I used most of his reserves to power the spell. I needed magic infused with temporal essence to get it to work. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy draining him, but it really was necessary.”

“My guess is that his anger is more about being prevented from finding out more about the attack rather than anything else. I’ll try to smooth things over with him. Maybe stay out of his way for now.”

“Sure.” Julia shifted a little, as though she was uncertain about how to say something. “Maybe now is not the best time to bring it up, but there was someone helping me over the last fifteen years. I think she would be a good addition to the house.”

“I’d like to meet her . . .”

“Me, too,” Rebecca interjected with some enthusiasm.

“. . . but you’re right that we might want to wait for a formal invitation, at least until Thomas has cooled off some.”

“I’ve told her as much. Let me introduce you.” A simple gesture from Julia opened a portal and a woman stepped through. She was the same height as Julia, and her shoulder length black hair was pulled back. She smiled at both Sarah and Rebecca.

“Hi. I’m Aisha. Julia’s told me quite a bit about both of you. You’re Sarah?” She extended a hand to Sarah, who accepted it. “And you’re Rebecca.” She repeated the offer of a handshake. “It’s good to meet you.” Then she turned to Julia. “Well, the house is still standing. I assume the reunion went okay?”

Julia shrugged. “There was a moment when I wasn’t sure. Sarah managed to diffuse things.”

Sarah was beginning to feel overwhelmed, but she made sure it didn’t show. The years had really changed Julia. Technically, she was now the oldest member of the house. And Aisha was personable and disarming, not the sort of person she would expect Julia to befriend. There was a lot to process, and she was doing her best to keep up.

“Aisha, it is a pleasure to meet you. I must thank you for helping Julia. It has been a crazy twenty-four . . .”

Aisha had stopped paying attention and had focused on a framed picture on top of the mantelpiece. She picked it up and walked over to Julia with it.

“What . . .?” Sarah didn’t understand why Aisha would be interested in a photo of the original members of the house.

After exchanging a meaningful glance with Aisha, Julia looked at Sarah. “This is you, Thomas, and . . .”

“Matthew. Yes. It was taken shortly after we started the house. Why?”

“We had a run-in with a mage several years ago. He had been setting a trap for a time mage, someone he said was a friend of his. I knew I recognized him from somewhere. It was Matthew.”

Past/Present (part eight)

The morning after Thomas and Rebecca had returned from the past, Sarah was sitting in the living room lost in thought. Time travel should not be possible; no one had successfully done it before. Not that anyone knew of. If Thomas had really managed it, she couldn’t even fathom the ramifications. Most immediately, could he repeat it to get Julia back? Would he even try, given what had happened between them?

When Rebecca entered the room, she had to put all of those questions on hold.

“How’s Thomas?”

Rebecca nodded back the way she had come. “Still sleeping. Healing the wound is not a problem, but I can’t replace his hand. Especially when we don’t even have it.” She fell into a chair, obviously still tired.

“Can he time travel again?”

“I don’t know. I think Julia did a lot of the work. Without her, I’m not sure he could manage it. But honestly, I just don’t know.”

“Why didn’t any of you talk to me?”

“Julia and Thomas were working together. I know it seems naive in retrospect, but if the two of them both thought it was a good idea, I figured it couldn’t be that bad. I was stupid.”

“No, don’t beat yourself up. I think seeing them cooperate would have thrown me off, too. Still, Thomas’s obsession with that attack has already caused so many problems.”

“It was an attack on his master’s house?”

Sarah nodded. “Fifteen years ago. He was the only survivor. I know it haunted him, but I thought he had finally given up on it.”

“Apparently not.”

They could hear the front door open and close. Sarah was about to ask if David had left when Julia entered.

“Hey you two. Nice to see this place hasn’t really changed while I was gone.”

Both women jumped out of their chairs.

“How did you get back?” Rebecca asked.

“You filled Sarah in?” Julia asked, ignoring Rebecca’s question.

“Yes, she did. I should probably yell at you, but I’m just relieved you managed to return.”

“Wow. Okay, you two both need to take it down a bit. I’m not used to all this energy. Anyway, as far as your concerned, I’ve only been gone for . . . what? A day? This is a little too much excitement for such a short absence.”

“But you were trapped in the past,” Rebecca objected. “We weren’t sure how to get you.”

“Simple. You just wait. Well, I wait. Roughly fifteen years.”

Sarah and Rebecca were both stunned into silence.

“Okay, maybe a bit more excitement than this. We’re not at a funeral.”

“You lived through the last fifteen years? Didn’t that . . . I mean, what did you . . .” Sarah was struggling to even form a coherent question.

“Yes, I just went about life for the last decade and a half. No one came to get me, so I tried to find a way on my own. Didn’t make any progress. At that point, I figured I’d just come back shortly after we left. No awkward moments with myself, and no worries about messing up the past.”

“You didn’t save Jason?” Rebecca asked.

“You both still remember him dying? He’s not around the house? Then it happened. He asked me not to, so I didn’t.”

“That must have been hard,” Sarah said with all the sympathy she had.

“Lots of things were hard. I couldn’t save Jason or Rebecca, or stop any of the other horrible things that happened. But Jason was right. Changing the past could have catastrophic consequences. So I had to work very hard at not affecting anything.”

“So Jason convinced you to attack me?” No one had noticed Thomas’s arrival.

“Oh hi, Thomas.” None of the animosity that usually permeated Julia’s tone with Thomas was evident.

“Thomas! You shouldn’t be out of bed.” Rebecca sounded like a mother scolding her sick child.

Thomas ignored her as he continued glaring at Julia. “Out of respect for Jason, I’ve tolerated your disruptions, but attacking me was too far.” Such an overt display of anger was uncharacteristic for him. “I formally revoke your membership in this house. You need to leave immediately.”

Julia looked surprised but then began to laugh. “I think you’re forgetting something, Thomas. It’s been a long time for me, but not that long for you. Sarah?”

“Thomas, this is no longer your house. You turned it over to me, remember? You have no authority to remove a member unilaterally.”

For a moment, Thomas looked like he was going to say something. Instead, he turned to leave.

“Thomas.” Julia stopped him. “I saved your hand. I don’t know if it can be restored, but I’ve kept it in deep freeze to try to preserve it. For what it’s worth, I am sorry that happened.” Julia produced a small package.

Thomas stared at her for a beat and then turn and strode away.

“Rebecca? Do you think you can do anything with it?” Julia handed the package to her.

“I don’t know. I can try, but no promises.”

Sarah studied Julia. “You’ve changed. I’m not sure exactly how, but you have.”

Julia smiled. “I hope so. I’ve had fifteen years of living since we met last. And, honestly, it’s good to be here.”

“I’m glad you’re back, too.” Sarah returned her smile.

Past/Present (part seven)

The scream brought Sarah running. It sounded like someone was dying very painfully. Before she got to the room, the scream ended, but that just made her more nervous. She burst through the door to find Thomas collapsed on the floor and Rebecca kneeling over him.

“What is going on?”

Rebecca gestured towards Thomas. “There was an accident. Thomas’s hand was severed.”

A sense of horror replaced her concern. “Where is it?”

“If I had to guess, I’d say about fifteen years ago,” Rebecca sighed.

“What?”

“First help me get him to bed. I stopped the bleeding and helped dull the pain, but he needs sleep. Lots of it.”

Rebecca and Sarah propped him up between them and walked him slowly to a room Rebecca had set aside as an infirmary. They laid him onto a bed. After Rebecca assured herself that he would stay asleep, she led Sarah to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine.

“So what’s this about ‘fifteen years ago’?” Sarah didn’t sit down.

“Do you want the long version or the short?”

“Rebecca…”

“Okay, the short version is that we traveled back in time about fifteen years ago. Coming back, the portal closed while Thomas was reaching through it. That’s how he lost his hand.”

“You went back in time? How is that even possible? And why fifteen years?” Sarah’s head was swimming with questions and overwhelmed by the implications.

“I don’t think I can explain how. They combined their gifts to…”

“Wait. They? Who else…” A thought popped into her mind, but it couldn’t be. “Where’s Julia?”

Rebecca sighed again and took another sip of wine. “Again, best guess? Fifteen years ago.”

Finally, she had to sit down. This was too much to take in. “She went too? Why would she do anything with Thomas?”

“He said we could save Jason.”

“That… makes sense. But why fifteen…” At first, she hadn’t realized why the number of years was significant; now it hit her, too. “Oh shit. You went back to his master’s house, didn’t you?”

Rebecca nodded. “Julia was furious. He said something about an attack.”

“Yes. That’s when I met him.”

“Julia decided to keep him from doing whatever he had planned. So she shoved him back through the portal and closed it when he tried to go back again. Thomas lost his hand, and Julia lost her only way back to the present.”

“I thought he had finally let it go,” Sarah said, not to Rebecca but to herself.

“Well, I’m exhausted. I’ll sleep in the infirmary tonight to keep tabs on Thomas.”

“What do we do about Julia?”

“I honestly don’t know. I can’t even keep my eyes open.”

Rebecca left her to her worries. Sarah grabbed a glass and poured some wine for herself. She had no idea Thomas was still obsessing about the attack, but she couldn’t ignore it any longer.

Past/Present (part four)

“We’re leaving.” Julia’s voice sounded definitive but not angry.

“Julia? What happened with Jason?” Rebecca assumed Julia had realized Thomas had his own motives for this trip.

Julia didn’t take her eyes of Thomas. “Later. When we’re back at the house. For now, we need leave before we mess up the past. Or at least before we mess it up anymore.”

“Nothing has been ‘messed up,’ as you put it,” Thomas objected. “That is not how time travel works.”

“Really, Thomas?” Now there was irritation in her voice. “Why don’t you tell us how it works? When we talked about this earlier, you said you didn’t know.”

“You are not being fair, Julia. I formulated probable . . .”

“I said, later.” Julia cut him off. “Let’s go.”

“We cannot leave yet; I still have not learned about . . .”

Before he could finish, Julia closed the distance between them and began pushing him toward the portal. Thomas stumbled back a few steps before he regained his footing. He then managed to shove Julia to the ground.

Rebecca wanted to intervene, to stop this altercation, but she didn’t think either of them were in a mood to listen. When she noticed Thomas trying to cast a spell, she expected things to get much worse. Instead, nothing happened, and he scowled.

“You drained me. Is this why you took all my magic in casting the spell? To make me powerless?”

Julia, who had gotten back to her feet, chuckled softly. “You sound paranoid. If I had known then you were up to something, I wouldn’t have drained you. I simply wouldn’t have cast the spell in the first place.”

Even though Thomas seemed to be without magical resources, Julia wasn’t taking advantage of that fact. She was keeping the fight physical, not using her own magic.To Rebecca, it looked like Julia was holding back, though she couldn’t imagine why.

Julia sprang at Thomas, but he was ready for her and shoved her back to the floor.

“Stop this, Julia. It is unbecoming to engage in such a brutish display. I have no desire to hurt you. I just need to see what happens here today. Then we can leave, and you can chastise me all you like.”

Rebecca knew that Julia wasn’t going to give up; she was even beginning to think Julia was right. Thomas always had a convenient excuse while he manipulated people. She didn’t even trust that he merely wanted to observe this attack, if there even was one. She needed to end this before anyone got hurt.

Thomas was focused entirely on Julia as she slowly circled him. Because of that, Rebecca was able to get behind him when he was facing away from the portal. She made sure Julia saw her, and the next time Julia lunged at Thomas, Rebecca tripped him when he stumbled backwards. As he fell to the floor, she grabbed his arm and dragged him through.

The portal was several inches off the floor, and she had to let go of Thomas as she tried to keep her balance. Thomas pushed her away when she went to grab hold of him again. He turned back to the portal as she fell.

“Julia!” She yelled. Julia needed to get through and close the portal. Rebecca didn’t know what Julia was worried about, but right now she trusted her more than Thomas.

As Thomas reached the portal and started to cross back over, it suddenly vanished, along with his left hand.

Past/Present (part three)

As soon as Julia had left through her portal, Rebecca turned to Thomas and asked, “So why are we here?”

Thomas rolled his eyes. “Not you, too.”

“Julia was too focused on Jason to notice, but your explanation doesn’t make much sense. We had to go back fifteen years to find a place that no longer exists? Do you have any respect for the intelligence of others?”

“Fine,” Thomas sighed. “Today, this house will be attacked. Most of its occupants killed. I was the only survivor. I want to learn everything I can about the perpetrators, determine their motives.”

“So this wasn’t about Jason at all?” Rebecca was beginning to appreciate Julia’s distrust of Thomas.

“It is about Jason. But this is a unique opportunity; no one has ever successfully traveled to the past before. So we can save Jason and find out who attacked this house at the same time.”

That made sense, she supposed, but Rebecca doubted Julia would see it that way.

“So when does this attack happen?”

“In a few hours. That should give Julia enough time to reach Jason.”

“Have you thought about what you’re going to say to her when she gets back?”

“What do you mean?”

Rebecca couldn’t decide if he was truly this oblivious or if it was just an act. “How do you think she’s going to react when she discovers your ulterior motive?”

Thomas scoffed dismissively. “I got her back to Jason. Why should she care if I take care of some business of my own?”

There was no point in arguing with him. He was determined to keep making the same mistakes. It was common for mages to struggle with interpersonal relationships, but Thomas seemed worse than anyone she had ever met. Not for the first time, she wondered how Sarah put up with him for so long.

“If my memory is correct, I will be entering the lab soon.” Thomas had already moved on.

Rebecca’s train of thought had not shifted as quickly. “What?”

“I remember this, though I did not understand it before now. I come into this room and see the portal.”

“Are you going to talk to your past self?”

“No. I had considered it, but I do not want to change the past too much. The consequences of doing so are unpredictable.”

“Then what?”

“We should hide. I will leave the lab after studying the portal for a bit.”

“You leave with an unexplained portal open in your lab?”

“Yes. To consult with my master. Then we come back here . . .” His voice trailed off.

“And?”

“Nothing. The portal is gone when we come back.” Thomas was speaking slowly, as he seemed to be trying to work something out.

“What’s wrong?”

“I saw the portal, but not you or me. And the portal is gone when I came back. How do we conceal the portal?”

He didn’t even seem to be talking to her anymore. She tried to follow his questions back to the root of his concern.

“Wait. You said you remember the portal being here? Does that mean we already came back? That this trip was always part of your past?”

“Perhaps,” he admitted.

If they had always come to this point in time, was it possible to even change the past? Had Julia always tried to save Jason? Had Thomas always investigated this attack he was worried about? What, if anything, can they accomplish in this time?

“I have an idea!” Thomas’s exclamation startled her.

“What?”

“First, we have to hide. I will be entering the lab soon.” He pointed to behind one of the tables in the middle of the room. They crouched behind it and soon heard the door open.

“What the . . .?” The voice was Thomas’s, but less gruff.

Long minutes of silence followed, each increasing Rebecca’s anxiety that they would be discovered. Eventually, however, she heard the door open and close again.

“That felt longer than a bit.”

Thomas waved away her complaint as he stood. “Only a few minutes. Now we should have some time to get ready. I have an idea on how we might conceal the portal. Can you telepathically make him, me, unable to see it?”

The question was unexpected. “No.”

“But your gift has to do with souls, minds . . .”

“I don’t specialize in telepathy. I can link willing minds, but my expertise is in spirit. I thought you knew that.”

“So how can we hide the portal?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t even know this was going to be a problem, or we could have asked Sarah for help.”

Thomas fell silent to think over the problem anew. Rebecca sat on one of the tables and studied the room. There was nothing in particular she was looking for, but she had nothing else to do.

The silence was interrupted when a second portal opened in the lab, and Julia stepped through.

“Thomas, whatever you’re doing, stop. We’re leaving.”

Past/Present (part one)

Standing in the lab from the image, Julia asked, “Where are we?”

“My old lab. From when I was an apprentice,” Thomas answered.

Her face already growing hot, Julia spun to face him. “So we’re what… At least fifteen years in the past?”

“Roughly.”

“Why? We didn’t need to come back this far to find him. He and I haven’t even met yet.” She knew she should have listened to the nagging doubt she had when Thomas presented this plan.

“I can explain, just hold on…”

Julia had to fight back the impulse to drop him into a volcano then and there.

“We needed a place that didn’t exist anymore. Otherwise we might have created a standard portal in our own time. Because this lab doesn’t exist now, when you saw this through the portal, you could be sure it had worked.”

Did that even make sense? Julia wasn’t certain. Her inclination was to ignore his explanation; after all, something definitely felt off about all of this. But maybe it made sense. Still, fifteen years ago? Where was Jason, even? Could she, a stranger to him, convince him to trust her?

Rebecca spoke up. “So Jason’s still alive. We can make this work. Do you know where he is, Thomas?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure. He had been staying here for a while, but he moved out around six months ago.”

This new information didn’t even surprise her. Of course Thomas didn’t know where he was. “You brought us back fifteen years and you don’t know where he is. Do you even want to save him?”

Thomas looked genuinely hurt, but she didn’t believe his act. “Of course. He’s in the city somewhere. It shouldn’t take long to find him.”

“Right. You stay here. That portal is our only way back to the present. Make sure it remains open.” Her voice was ice.

“I should at least escort you out.”

“No need.” Julia opened another portal. “Rebecca, would you stay with Thomas. Keep him from causing any other problems.”

“I don’t need a baby-sitter.”

“Nearly ever decision you’ve made since I first met you suggests otherwise.”

Rebecca, who had been quietly observing, finally interjected. “I’ll stay behind; not to watch you, Thomas, but so that Julia can approach Jason without scaring him. One unknown mage is plenty. Okay?” Both of the other mages nodded. “Do you need help finding him, Julia?”

“No, I already have a guess. If I get stuck, I’ll contact you. And get in touch if any problem comes up.” She gave Thomas a threatening look before stepping through the portal.

She was standing on the sidewalk of a quiet street. She had only been outside of the building across the way a handful of times, but it was enough for her to know it very well. This was the place where Jason had his apartment. If she was remembering correctly, Jason told her he moved here after leaving Thomas’s old house. If Thomas didn’t know where the apartment was, she wanted to keep its location secret. She was grateful that Rebecca volunteered to stay behind.

It took her a few minutes to work up the nerve to cross the street. How did you introduce yourself to an old friend? She knew him as well as she knew anyone, and he hadn’t even met her yet. Knowing Jason, he might just take it in stride, but it was going to be weird for her.

The front door was unlocked, as usual, and opened into an entry way. A set of stairs to her right led up to Jason’s apartment, and a hallway to her left ended at a door. She could have used a portal to get into the apartment, but if he was there, she didn’t want to startle him.

She just started to climb the stairs when she heard a door open.

“Hello?”

Julia looked down the hall to see Esther, the landlady, emerge from her own apartment. She looked exactly the same as she did when Julia would meet her in the future.

Julia came down off the stairs and waved at her. “Hi. I’m just here to visit your tenant on the second floor. Jason.”

“He’s in, but are you sure you want to see him?”

Julia had to hide her relief that her memory was right. “Why wouldn’t I want to see him?”

“Well, Julia, you are a few years early, aren’t you?”

That sent a shiver through her. When she had first met Esther, the landlady didn’t know her name. But now, fifteen years earlier, she did?

“How . . . how do you know my name?”

“You told me. Don’t you remember?”

“I do, but how do you?”

“I could explain it to you over a cup of tea, but then you’d miss your chance to speak with Jason. It’s up to you, dear.”

“I really need to see him, but I do want to hear your explanation some time. Rain check?”

“Of course. Do be careful. This is a perilous journey you’ve undertaken. Good luck.” Esther disappeared back into her apartment. For just a moment, Julia hesitated, tempted to go after the other woman, her vaguely ominous warning playing over and over in Julia’s mind. But Jason was just up the flight of stairs, and she didn’t want to wait any longer.

Almost immediately after she knocked, the door opened. Jason, looking the same as he always did, stood on the other side. “Hello?”

“Jason.” She struggled with flood of emotions upon seeing him. She was not a physically affectionate person typically, but she felt an intense urge to hug him. Standing in front of him, now, she didn’t care about anything except keeping him safe. “My name is Julia, and I really need to talk to you.” The words spilled out of her quickly.

He stepped to one side, inviting her in. “You should come in then. The hallway is no place for important conversations.”

Cooperation

The plan was insane. Julia couldn’t believe she let Thomas talk her into it. Doing anything with him had been unthinkable just days ago. Now she and Rebecca were weaving spells together with Thomas in order to try to save Jason. Saving Jason was the only reason she had gone along with this idea. However, given the difficulty of making the spells work together, Julia tried to keep her expectations low.

The first spell was Thomas’s, cast to view the target time frame. Images were forming in Julia’s mind, sent from Thomas’s mind to hers through Rebecca’s spell. Slowly, a room came took shape; it was a small lab. Several tables were against a wall. On two of them were potted plants spaced out evenly. Each was at a different stage of growth. A third table held two cages, each occupied by a single mouse. One was grey, while the other, larger, one was all white.

Julia focused her attention on one plant, and it seemed to get closer. She studied it carefully, making note of each leaf in detail. Then she moved on to the next one and repeated the procedure. After she had examined every plant and both mice, Julia turned her attention to the rest of the room.

In the middle of the room was yet another table with a book set on it. Next to the table was metal stool. She was grateful that there was only one book and that it was closed. On the brown leather cover were embossed several symbols in gold. She wasn’t familiar with them but committed them to memory.

One small, empty table in the corner exhausted the furniture present. Two shelves held clean lab equipment, carefully organized. Another two shelves of ingredients were also well ordered.

Once she had made note of every detail, she mentally signaled Rebecca. Soon, a stream of bluish green magic from Thomas began pooling next to her. She focused on the image of the lab while weaving Thomas’s magic into the portal she was forming.

As the portal opened, she saw the ruins of a collapsed building on the other side. The spells weren’t working! Shoving the panic to one side, she poured all the magic pooled beside her into the portal and concentrated on the room she had been shown. Unfortunately, more than merely the force of her will was required for success; finesse was also necessary. Was it possible she had overlooked some detail?

There was no room for doubt, either. She had missed nothing. The problem was that more magic was needed. Following the bluish green magic back to its source, she forcibly drained everything she could to bolster the portal. Finally, the scene began to shift into the room from the image.

She stabilized the portal and connected a white crystal to it. Only when she was certain it wouldn’t collapse did she dare open her eyes. Sitting on her right, Rebecca opened her eyes as well. She had been casting longer than Julia and looked exhausted. Thomas, at the third point of the circle, had collapsed to the floor. The portal was in the middle of the group.

“What happened to Thomas?” Worry was evident in Rebecca’s voice.

“I had to take a lot of his magic to get this to work. He will recover.”

“It did work, though?”

“See for yourself. You should recognize the room.”

“How long will the portal stay open?”

“If it works like my other portals, it will last as long as it has power. Of course, this isn’t like my other portals.”

“So we just need Thomas to recover?”

“Yes,” Julia begrudgingly agreed. She didn’t want to wait, but they needed Thomas, too.

As if on cue, Thomas slowly pushed himself upright. He was pale and appeared weak. “What did you do?”

Julia scoffed. “I just did what was necessary for the spell to work. You did want it to succeed, right?”

“You nearly drained me completely.”

“More temporal magic was needed to focus the portal on the room you were watching.”

Thomas looked like he had more to say but stayed quiet.

“If there’s nothing else, we should go.” Julia stood and took a step toward the portal.

“I’m going to need a bit to recover,” Thomas said.

Julia took out another, smaller, white crystal and tossed it at him. “Use that. We don’t have time to waste.” She stepped through the portal and called back, “Let’s go!”

Thomas, still shaky, got to his feet. Rebecca followed him through the portal and into the past.

A Glimmer of Hope

Sitting alone in the kitchen, Julia absently stirred the ice cream that was in front of her. It was mostly melted by this point. She hadn’t even realized that she was eating Jason’s usual snack. Her experience on the Solstice had her thinking once more about how Jason might be brought back. They were mages; their entire lives were filled with impossible occurrences. Still, when death did come, it seemed irresistible.

She smiled at Rebecca when the other mage walked in. “Hi, Rebecca. How are you?”

Rebecca returned her smile on the way to the refrigerator. “I’m not used to seeing you here.”

“I thought I’d try to be more social.”

“That’s good.” Rebecca sat down across from her with some yogurt. “It’s nice having you around more.”

“Thanks. Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.” Rebecca sounded surprised.

“If a ghost of someone is still around, is it possible to bring them back?”

Rebecca’s expression turned somber. “Jason?”

Julia nodded.

“Have you seen his ghost?”

Julia was hesitant to answer, but if she wanted help, she had to open up a little. “He appeared on the Solstice. We had a long conversation. Maybe it was just my imagination, but if it really was him, I thought there had to be a way . . .” Her voice faded. She couldn’t bring herself to even whisper the hope aloud.

“For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think it was your imagination. When I was possessed . . .”

A pang of guilt rose in Julia’s chest. In trying to resolve her own trauma, she was making Rebecca revisit her own.

“. . . Jason spoke to me a bit. He even inspired me to come up with a way to free myself. So don’t doubt that he was real.”

“Does that mean there is something we can do?”

“Oh, Julia.”

Julia hadn’t thought she had any hope left to lose, but the tone in Rebecca’s voice drained a reservoir she hadn’t realized was left.

“Maybe someone has developed some method,” Rebecca was trying to give her something to cling to, “but I don’t know of any. I was able to revive David because I had captured his soul. And that’s how Bailey brought me back. But I don’t have any way to capture a soul of someone who is already deceased.”

“I know. You’ve told me before. He just seemed so real the other night. I thought maybe . . .”

“I haven’t forgotten about him, Julia. I want to bring him back, too, if it’s possible. I promise I will keep working on the problem, and I will let you know when I find something.”

“Thank you, Rebecca.” She tried to convince her voice to convey gratitude, but it was hard.

“I might have an idea.”

Both of them jumped at Thomas’s voice. They had been too engrossed in their conversation to notice his arrival.

“What?” Julia felt her cheeks getting hot.

“I said, I might have an idea for bringing Jason back. But I’ll need help from both of you.”

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.

Parting Again

“The Elder is gone?” Marie sounded unconvinced.

“Yes. My death ended him while I escaped. With my body empty of possession, Bailey was able to return my soul.”

Tears began streaming down Marie’s cheeks. “It’s finally over.”

Rebecca nodded. “Yes.” As she watched her friendly silently weep in relief, guilt welled up in her chest. “Marie . . . I’m so sorry . . .”

“Ten years,” Marie muttered.

“What?”

Marie tried to wipe her eyes clear. “Ten years under his thumb. Ten years where my life wasn’t my own. Ten years where my body wasn’t my own.”

“I know.” Rebecca couldn’t look her in the eye.

“Do you? Do you know what he did to me?”

“Marie . . . I’m sorry.”

Marie stood and faced away from Rebecca. “I understand why you ran. I didn’t then, but I do now. He was awful.”

“But he’s gone now, and our lives are ours again.”

Marie turned to look at her. “So we can return?”

That took Rebecca by surprise. “You . . . you want to go back?”

“Of course. With the Elder gone . . . Well, it’s our family. Why wouldn’t we go back?”

“With what we’ve been through . . . What you’ve been . . .”

It’s our home, and he’s gone.”

Rebecca looked down. “It hasn’t been my home for ten years.”

Marie stared at her with her mouth open. “What do you mean?”

“I won’t go back. Phillip thinks I died. Maybe that means Peter believes I’m dead, too. As far as they’re concerned, I’m happy to stay dead. This is my home now.”

“What about us? What about me?”

“You don’t have to go back, either.”

“It’s the only home I know.”

Silence feel over them. Marie turned away again, and Rebecca stared at her hands. She knew how hard it was to leave. Had she not been forced to it by Phillip and Peter, she might have found it impossible. But she had been forced, and now Marie found herself facing a similar choice. With the Elder gone, Marie could return safely, but how would she handle the constant reminders of her long trauma?

That wasn’t the only reason she didn’t want Marie to leave. The uncomfortable truth was that, with Bailey leaving, she didn’t want to have to say goodbye to another dear friend so soon. She was afraid of the loneliness that would almost certainly follow.

Marie finally broke the silence. “I don’t think I can leave. Just come back with me.”

“I can’t. I wish I could, but even the short time I spent with the Elder convinced me I did the right thing in leaving. I wish you would stay, but I can’t go with you.”

“So that’s it?”

“It doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to leave. At least you don’t have to leave right away.”

“I don’t think I should stay away too long.”

“Well we can still keep in touch.”

“Yes, I suppose.”

Neither woman could look at the other directly.