Siege (part four)

The pounding in her head was the first thing Julia became aware of. Underneath her was the hard ground, bare of any vegetation. The light was that of the late afternoon, but there was no sun overhead. She was in one her own extra spaces. The explosion must have thrown her inside, probably sparing her from the worst of the blast. Behind her, the portal to her room was still open.

On the other side, she saw Rebecca and Sarah just sitting in the middle of the debris. Neither was moving; they just seemed to be staring at nothing.

“Rebecca. Sarah.” She called to them, but they didn’t react.

When she tried to pass through back to her room, Julia discovered another barrier had cut her off. This one had the same resonance as the one around the house. Whoever was responsible must have erected it after she had been tossed through the portal. This barrier extended all around the space, trapping her in an even smaller area, only about five feet in diameter.

Her friends weren’t in any condition to help her. The mage who had erected these barriers – even using them to circumvent the Long Hallway – was impressive. But how impressive? There was little doubt as to their skill, but how much stamina did they have? How much magical resources did they have at their disposal?

While this space was small, Julia had intended to make it larger, so she began adding volume to it now. If nothing else, it would give her more room to think. Someone watching from the other side wouldn’t notice any change because only the portal was in her room. But the barrier would have to grow to cut off the entire area and keep her trapped; otherwise, she could just create another portal somewhere else.

As her pocket dimension grew, she could feel the barrier thinning. Julia had a number of the white crystals with her, so she had plenty of energy. Eventually, the barrier broke apart, popping like a balloon. The other mage must have reached their limit and chose to maintain the barrier around the house instead of fighting her.

Julia quickly stepped through the portal and let it fade behind her. Would the same trick work on the larger barrier around the house? She wasn’t sure. It would probably require a lot of magic to create enough extra space, and she wasn’t sure she had that many crystals available.

Before working through that problem, she needed to wake her friends. Shaking each of them by their shoulders didn’t work. Even yelling in their ears had no effect. It was like they were hypnotized or possessed . . .

Julia jumped up and hurried to her work bench. It had been years – at least from her perspective – since she had seen it, but it was here somewhere. After sifting through the clutter, she found what she was looking for in a drawer: the blue crystal she had made for Bailey. With the crystal, she ran back to the other mages and put it into Sarah’s hands. It took only a few moments for Sarah’s eyes to begin to focus.

“Julia?”

“Yeah. Hold on.” Julia thrust the blue crystal into Rebecca’s hands.

“We were looking for you, but couldn’t find you.” Sarah sounded unsure of her own words.

“I think someone was messing with your heads, though I don’t know for sure. I think you’re okay now. Rebecca? Are you with us?”

Rebecca nodded. “We definitely need someone who specializes in mind magic.”

“Later. Right now, we need to deal with the barrier on the house.”

“I think I have an idea,” Sarah offered.

Siege (part two)

Minutes went by, but their search turned up nothing. While they continued sifting through the rubble, Sarah asked, “Are you certain Julia was in here?”

“This is where she was when I lost contact. Could she have gotten out?”

“When I asked her about breaking through the barrier, she said it was probably impossible. But maybe she found a way? And doing so created an explosion? I just don’t know.” Sarah couldn’t help but feel anxious. They were already down a member with David outside of the house. If Julia was also missing, the house’s defenses would be seriously compromised.

“Well, I don’t see any signs of her,” Rebecca said. “I hope your speculation is right, because all the other possibilities I can think of are horrible.”

Sarah nodded in agreement.

A door leading to one of the back rooms opened and Julia walked out. “What’s going on out here?”

“Julia?!” Both women exclaimed in unison.

“What happened to you?” Sarah asked.

“Where did you go?” Rebecca’s question overlapped Sarah’s.

“What are you talking about? I’ve been right here.” Irritation was obvious in her voice and body language. “Why did you two break into my room? And what did you do to create this mess?”

Sarah looked to Rebecca, who briefly closed her eyes. “It’s her.”

Sarah turned back to Julia. “Don’t you remember? The house is under attack. We thought you’d been hurt because Rebecca lost contact with you.”

“You were spying on me?” Julia glared at Rebecca.

Sarah stepped between the two women so that Julia would be forced to look at her. “Julia. What is going on? We were working together. We are all in danger. Why are you acting like we’re the enemy?”

Julia’s anger seemed to subside a little, and confusion replaced it. “That doesn’t make sense. I don’t recall any of that.”

“Is she under the influence of a spell?”

Rebecca shrugged. “I can’t tell. I know it’s her, but I don’t have any good way to determine whether there is a spell on her.”

“You think someone has messed with my head?”

Sarah gestured at the room. “You don’t remember this happening. You didn’t hear it happen, even though you said you were here. Rebecca and I arrived after this. Do you have any explanation?”

Julia thought for a few moments and then lashed out, her anger returning in force. “Just get out of here.”

“Julia, you’re not making sense. We need to work together.”

“I’ve seen how Thomas works, Sarah. I’m not interested.”

Sarah was caught off guard. Hadn’t Julia let go of her animosity toward Thomas? Even if someone had erased her recent memories, they wouldn’t have wiped fifteen years worth, would they? Could they?

To Rebecca, she asked, “Are you certain this is her?”

“Without a doubt.”

“How did . . .”

Sarah was struck by a wave of disorientation. When it passed, she returned to searching through the rubble. “Are you certain Julia was in here?”

Rebecca nodded. “This is where she was when I lost contact. Could she have gotten out?”

Siege (part one)

Rebecca had no experience with an attack on a House, unless Peter’s attempted abduction counted. According to Sarah, such attacks were not unheard of, but her family had never been subjected to one. An advantage of being isolated from the rest of the world, she assumed.

Nothing had happened yet, but both Julia and Sarah were convinced something was coming. How were they to prepare for such an attack without knowing when it would come or what form it would take? Her expertise seemed particularly ill-suited for dealing with this situation.

Once more, she had been asked to stretch her abilities and connect everyone mentally. If they survived this, she was going to insist on recruiting a mentalist mage. Spirit magic wasn’t really mean for this. The best she could do in this situation was to keep track of emotional states. It lacked the exactness of verbal communication, but it should alert her if someone was attacked. Julia had left a small portal open for her to share information, but because she was also trying to prepare, she had only had the concentration for keeping one open.

Something began tapping her leg. Looking down, she saw the bear trying to get her attention. It had been roaming the halls on the lookout for anything unusual. It was motioning her to follow.

“Julia?”

“Busy.” Julia’s voice sounded strained.

“My bear found something. I’m going to go check it out.”

“Be careful.”

The bear led her through the hallway to the stairs leading down to the first floor. At the bottom of the stairs laid a pack of cards. Jason used to play, but she hadn’t seen a deck since his death.

A slight distortion shimmered in the air around the cards. It quickly dissipated, and the cards seemed to settle more naturally on the floor. As she tried to puzzle out what had happened, a wave of surprise washed over her and then vanished. Someone was missing.

She located Sarah’s calm, determined mind immediately. After a few moments, Thomas’s mix of anxiety and irritation came into focus. “Julia?” There was no response. She couldn’t find the spatial mage anywhere.

Taking the steps two at a time, Rebecca hurried to Julia’s door and began knocking loudly. “Julia? Julia!”

Her own fear grew with the silence. No one else was experiencing distress, so she ran to Sarah’s room. The other mage opened the door immediately.

“Something has happened with Julia.”

“Where?” Sarah’s calm demeanor helped ease Rebecca’s own anxiety a little.

“Her room.”

Sarah walked quickly down the hall to Julia’s door and knocked. “Julia?”

“I already tried.”

With a slight hesitation, Sarah grabbed the knob and turned it. Both women were surprised when the door swung wide open.

Instead of the void they had found the last time they had entered Julia’s rooms uninvited, there was a room. However, it looked like the aftermath of explosion. Debris was scattered everywhere, and the ceiling had collapsed. They could see an inky void through the hole. Without waiting another moment, both of them began digging through the rubble, looking for their friend.

The Cure (part two)

“You want me to do what?”

David couldn’t tell if Rebecca was confused or irritated. “I need you to connect me to someone else’s mind, so I can try to undo the damage caused by a horror.”

Clearly skeptical, Rebecca just stared at him.

“I figure, if I can get into her mind, I can use my own training to strengthen her against the madness.”

“Are sure the horror hasn’t driven you mad?”

“Rebecca, please . . .”

“First Thomas, and now you. If everyone is in such need of a mental specialist, we should recruit one. I am a spirit mage. There is some overlap, but this isn’t really my forte.” She didn’t sound upset so much as helpless.

“I know, and I’m sorry, but I have no one else I can ask. I just need you to get me in. I can take it from there.”

“You know I’m not prepared for this, and I’m not just talking about specialties. I have no training in dealing with horrors. What if the madness spreads to me?”

“That won’t happen.”

“Are you certain? You’ve done this before?”

“Well . . . no, I haven’t. But horrors can’t infect others through an intermediary.”

“David.” She sounded a bit like Samuel. “Even if it’s not dangerous for me, what about you? I’m not comfortable with the idea of helping you do something so risky.”

“I know this seems foolish, but this woman came to me for help. She doesn’t deserve this. I have to at least try.”

Rebecca was silent for a minute, perhaps considering his plea. “You know, I may not be able to do it. This really isn’t my area.”

“I know, but we can try. Thank you.”

She sighed and followed him. As they turned the corner onto the block with Jennifer’s house, they saw the flashing lights of an ambulance. David ran to the house just as the ambulance doors slammed shut. Jennifer’s sister, Sue, was standing in front, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“What happened?”

Gesturing at the ambulance as it drove away, Sue replied, “I left her alone for just a minute. She seemed better . . .” Her voice trailed off, and she began sobbing. David tried to console her, but she shoved him away violently.

“You said you would help her! Where were you?!” Sobs again wracked her body.

David started to explain but stopped himself. The last thing she needed was to hear him make excuses. Rebecca arrived and gently pulled him away from the inconsolable woman.

There was still a police officer on the scene taking notes. David walked over to him.

“Can I ask what happened?”

The officer looked up. “Who are you?”

“A friend of Jennifer’s.”

“Her sister seemed pretty angry at you.”

“I had promised to help, but I took to long to get here.”

“How were you going to help a suicidal woman? You a therapist?”

“Something like that.”

“What did you say your name was?”

Before David could respond, the radio on the officer’s shoulder began making an inhuman shrieking sound. The officer covered his ears involuntarily, then ran to his car, which was making the same noise.

With the officer distracted, Rebecca again came up to David and led him away.

“Did you do that?” He asked.

Rebecca smiled. “Spirits love messing with electronics. It doesn’t take much encouragement.”

The rest of the walk back to the house was quiet. David was lost in his own thoughts, and Rebecca seemed unwilling to interrupt him. Just before they went inside, though, she stopped him.

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“Why does it feel like it is?”

“Because you care. But you can’t save everyone.”

“You sound like my guide, Samuel.”

“He must be a very wise person.”

He gave a half-hearted chuckle, but he couldn’t forgive himself. Not yet.

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.”