Alternative Treatment

“Julia . . .” Sarah didn’t want to point out the obvious. Bailey always became agitated whenever the charm spell was mentioned.

As if she was reading Sarah’s mind, Julia smiled. “Just listen to them. Go ahead, Bailey.”

Bailey hesitated for a few moments before beginning to speak. “I have been under a charm spell for a couple of months. I’m sorry I deceived you . . .”

“We’ve already talked about this. It isn’t your fault,” Julia interrupted.

“Still, I want to apologize. I put you all through so much.”

Julia shrugged and stayed silent.

“I am sorry. Though I didn’t want to, I used you to get to Rebecca. Now she’s in danger.”

“But how . . .?” Sarah’s mind was racing through the implications of this turn of events. “Madeline was unable to break the spell.”

“Yeah, when she failed, I tried a different approach. Unfortunately, the charm is still there. But it’s suppressed for now,” Julia said.

“How did you manage that?” Did Julia have a hidden talent? Nothing about this seemed related to spatial magic.

Flashing another smile, Julia placed a white crystal on the kitchen island.

“One of Jason’s crystals?”

“No. One of mine.”

Sarah picked it up. “You made this?”

“Yes. Jason taught me. He left me some notes.”

“But how is this connected to the charm spell?”

“Some of the principles involved in making these… I was able to depower the charm spell. It’s still there, but it doesn’t have any magical energy to operate. A temporary solution, but effective for now.”

Sarah put down the crystal. Julia could make these? And use them to do other things? What did this mean for the house? For Julia? This felt too big of a development to deal with, and there were other issues more pressing.

“Bailey, what happened to Rebecca?” David’s voice startled Sarah. She had nearly forgotten he was in the room.

“I was forced to give Rebecca a letter. It apparently had some sort of trigger on it. After she read it, she vanished. I don’t really know where. The letter was signed by someone named Marie. Rebecca seemed frightened by it all, before she disappeared. By the time Sarah came back inside, I couldn’t remember what had happened. It’s not that I was unable to tell you; rather, it was hidden from me. Even now, even with the charm suppressed, I cannot remember who put it on me. Or when. Marie is the only name I have because it was on the letter.”

“If someone put that strong of a charm on Bailey,” David said, “they probably put a charm on Rebecca. That’s why she didn’t ask for our help.”

Bailey stared at him. “What do you mean? Have you spoken with her?”

He nodded. “She’s back with the cult she used to be in.”

“She used to be in a cult? She never told me about that.”

“She doesn’t think it’s a cult,” Sarah explained. “And she doesn’t talk about it much. She only told us because someone came looking for her.”

“We need to go get her.” David and Bailey spoke in unison.

“If she is under a charm, it won’t be easy.” Sarah tried to keep everyone from rushing into something.

“Julia?” David turned to her. “Do you think whatever you did for Bailey can help?”

Julia nodded. “If it’s a charm, yes. It will take me at least a couple of days, though.”

“Okay. That will give David and I time to come up with a plan.” Sarah was grateful for the time to approach this situation with some degree of caution.

“What about me?” Bailey asked.

“Let us take care of this. There’s still too much we don’t know about . . . all of this.” Sarah wasn’t sure how far Bailey could be trusted. Until she and Julia could talk privately, involving them was too much of a risk. “It’s safer for you to stay here.”

“I’m the one who got her into this. I’m the one who betrayed her trust, whether I wanted to or not. I need to help get her out.”

“Your feelings are completely understandable, but we’re mages. Let us take care of this. You’ll get your chance to make it up to her.”

Bailey opened her mouth and then closed it again without saying anything. Having them free of the charm was certainly a positive step, but Sarah knew there had to be more to the story.

Surprise

“How are you feeling?” Sarah asked David when he entered the kitchen.

“Better. A little stiff.”

“Being buried in rubble will do that.”

“I suppose.” David opened one of the cupboards and pulled out a box of crackers. He sat down at the island across from her and began mindlessly nibbling.

“Is there anything else bothering you?” She could tell he was distracted. Being unable to help Bailey had frustrated her, so she was looking for some other way to be useful.

“Just anxious to go back for Rebecca. I don’t like leaving her there.”

“David. We’ve been over this.”

“She has to be terrified. You remember the story she told us.”

“Yes, but now she’s chosen to be there. It’s not our place to take her from her home.”

“That’s not her home. She can’t really want to be there.”

“I know it’s not easy to accept, but we have to respect her wishes.”

“How do we know that is her wish? You fell under some sort of compulsion the first time you went there. Bailey is still under some sort of spell. Maybe Rebecca is, too?”

“Maybe. But we have no evidence of that. She says she wants to stay. And she let both of us leave. If we try to force her to leave, we risk a fight we could lose. And we might push Rebecca further away. I don’t like the thought of her being there either, but right now, we don’t have a choice.”

David fell silent. It was obvious he wanted to keep arguing but knew he wasn’t going to win. The man’s loyalty was admirable, but he was too eager to rush in blindly. That was an aspect of his youth Sarah hoped he would grow out of.

A door appeared in the kitchen. Sarah was surprised when Bailey followed Julia through it.

“What . . . ?”

“David. Sarah. I’d like you both to meet Bailey. They have an interesting story to tell.”

Diagnosis

It took a couple of minutes for Bailey to answer the door. Sarah had just begun to worry that they had escaped again when the door finally opened.

“Are you finally letting me out?”

Instead of answering the question, Sarah indicated the woman standing next to her. “Bailey, this is Madeline. She’s a friend of mine,” Sarah ignored the chuckle, “And she’s agreed to try to help us.”

“Help us with what?”

Sarah ignored the look Madeline gave her. “Can we come in?”

“It’s not like I have much of a choice.” The door opened, and Bailey stood aside to let in the two visitors.

Once inside, Sarah noticed that the room seemed very well lived in. After tracking Bailey down, Julia had put them in here and limited their movement even more. Without knowing the details of the charm or compulsion they were under, it seemed like the only safe option.

Bailey was clearly unhappy with this arrangement. “So what is this about?”

“Sarah tells me you might be under a spell,” Madeline blurted out before Sarah could stop her.

“Oh not this again. How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not under any spell? I don’t know what happened to Rebecca!”

“What Madeline means is that she’s here to make sure that you are okay.” She glared at the other mage to prevent any contradiction.

“You’re lying. Leave me alone!”

“Good grief.” Madeline shoved Bailey down onto the couch. She so often cultivated a demure image, it was easy for Sarah to forget how imposing Madeline could be. “Now sit quietly for a few minutes.”

Bailey tried to get up. “You can’t do . . .”

“I said stop.”

Sarah could feel the power in Madeline’s voice. “I think they’ve been traumatized enough . . .”

“If you want to know what’s going on, I need to examine them. They clearly are under some sort of compulsion if they are are so insistent on not being analyzed. They probably can’t consent right now. Do you want me to do this or not?”

Sarah looked at Bailey sitting rigidly. “Fine. But . . .”

“Don’t worry. It won’t hurt them.”

Madeline focused all her attention on Bailey. Sarah could do little more than watch. She knew much of the basics; charms were her mistress’s specialty after all. Yet she had never had the aptitude for them that Madeline did. Whatever had a hold over Bailey was beyond her abilities.

Madeline continued to concentrate as the minutes dragged on. Over half an hour passed before she finally broke away. Bailey seemed to have relaxed a bit but had slipped into unconsciousness. Madeline stumbled over to a chair and slumped into it, her face falling into her hands.

“Do you have some water?” she finally asked without looking up.

Sarah knew where there were cups and filled one from the sink in the bathroom. She went back to the living room and handed it to Madeline who had by now sat up.

“Thanks.”

Sarah waited until she drained the cup before asking, “So?”

“If you told me the Mistress had done this, I might believe you.”

“What do you . . .”

“It’s that intricate. This thing is so thoroughly wrapped around Bailey, I’m not sure anyone can get it out. Every time I tugged on one part, the rest tightened its grip, threatening to crush them. Maybe the person who did this could undo it. Maybe. But I can’t. No wonder Bailey doesn’t want this messed with. They might not even be aware of it. Actually, I hope they aren’t; it’s terrifying.”

“So there’s nothing we can do?”

“If I had massive amounts of raw power, I could maybe rip it out. However, even if I did, it would leave Bailey an empty husk. There would be nothing of them left.”

“Do you think the Mistress could do it?”

Madeline thought for a moment. “Perhaps. But it would be dangerous. For both. That’s the other thing. Every time I probed it, there was a bit of psychic feedback. I don’t know what it would do if it were seriously threatened.”

Sarah felt despair lapping at her feet.

“There’s another issue.”

“More?”

“Sarah, think about it. Whoever did this is powerful. Maybe more powerful than anyone I’ve known. If this was just about your former housemate, maybe leave it alone. I know we’ve never been the best of friends, but I don’t want to see you hurt. Whoever is behind this is dangerous. I think it would be best if you let it go.”

“Madeline . . .”

“I’m very serious. This scares me.”

“But what about Bailey?”

“Is that really your problem?”

“Yes,” Sarah answered without thinking.

Madeline gave her a long look. “Okay. I’ll try to do some digging; maybe I can find some sort of solution.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t. I think this is a mistake. Just . . . please don’t do anything foolish.”

Sarah gave her a weak smile. “I’ll try.”

Catching Up

Sarah was sitting in the living area sipping on a glass of wine when a door appeared in the middle of the room. Julia stepped through, took a glass off the table, and sat down in another chair.

“So where did you go?”

“We found Rebecca.”

“Really? Did you bring her back?”

“No. She says she wants to be there.”

“Are you serious? After all that effort to find her? Are you sure she’s not being held against her will?”

“I’m not. But they did catch David sneaking around and let him go, which suggests they aren’t trying to antagonize us. She also spoke with each of us alone. I suppose someone might have been observing us, but she seemed to be free to do as she pleased.”

“So that’s it?”

“Maybe. For now. What about Bailey?”

“I tracked them down and brought them back. They came willingly, but we’re going to need some help. They are under some sort of charm or compulsion. That’s why I don’t trust the situation with Rebecca.”

“She did say there was some sort of misunderstanding with Bailey. We should get to the bottom of that.”

“You know anyone who can break a charm?”

“I might.”

“I’ll leave that to you, then. Go easy on Bailey, though. Something tells me this has been an ordeal for them.”

“I will, but I’m a little surprised to hear you plead on their behalf.”

Julia shrugged. “I have a compassionate side. Sometimes.”

“Julia . . .”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you for your help. I want you to know that this is your home. As long as you want it to be.”

“Thanks, Sarah. Jason wanted me to find a place. I am trying.”

“I know.”

“Okay. Let me know when you’re going to deal with Bailey. I think I should be there.”

“I will.”

Julia finished her glass and left. Sarah continued to nurse hers while she mulled over the events of the last few days.

An Unexpected Meeting

Waiting for Marie was unnerving. Getting into the compound had been relatively easy for Sarah, but confronting the leader of this group again was unpredictable, especially after her previous visit. However, she wasn’t sure how much choice she had. Julia would almost certainly find Bailey, but they might not talk or even not know the answers Sarah needed. As risky as this visit seemed, waiting felt riskier.

When Marie entered the room, Sarah studied her closely from where she sat. The woman looked the same, but something was different about her demeanor; she was less confident, carried less authority.

“Hello, again. I’m sorry for coming . . .” Sarah stopped talking when she realized Marie wasn’t looking at her, hadn’t even acknowledged her. This woman, who had exuded power at their last encounter, simply stood inside the door, her whole body turned toward the entrance. She almost certainly could see Sarah in her peripheral vision, but she merely stared straight ahead.

Her confusion grew and mixed with shock when Rebecca walked into the room. Marie nodded in deference to her, but Rebecca ignored the gesture, instead rushing over to Sarah and embracing her.

“Rebecca! Are you okay?”

Rebecca released her and took a step back. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

That was not the response Sarah expected. “Well . . . you . . . you just disappeared so suddenly. We had no idea where you went. Or even how.”

“Oh. I would have thought Bailey would have told you.”

“No. She said she had no idea.”

“Hmm…” Rebecca looked over her shoulder at Marie, who gave a quick nod. “Perhaps she didn’t understand that I wanted all of this explained.”

“Wanted what explained?” All of Sarah’s assumption were melting beneath her. “What is going on, Rebecca?”

“I’ll tell you what I can. Some of it is private. Family matters. I’m sure you understand.”

Sarah was not at all sure she understood, but she nodded anyway.

“You already know that Marie had been left to take over when I ran away. When you described things to me, I didn’t realize how overwhelmed she really was. Bailey brought me a letter that made things clearer. With Peter gone, I came to realize how much I was needed. So I returned to help.”

Marie still wasn’t looking at them, but Sarah couldn’t ignore her presence. “Could we talk alone?”

Without turning around, Rebecca said, “Marie? Would you give us some privacy, please?”

Marie said nothing as she left. After the door closed again, Rebecca’s expression broke into a big grin.

“It’s so great being back!”

“Rebecca. It’s just us now. Tell me what’s really going on.”

“I already did. I just didn’t want to act too happy in front of Marie. My return has displaced her some, and I think she resents it. I don’t want to rub it in her face.”

“So you really do want to be here?”

“Of course. I told you before, this is my family. It’s good to be back home.”

“Why did you disappear from the cafe?”

“The letter contained a transport spell. Bailey should have explained all of this to you.”

“They didn’t.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“You’re not being held against your will? You’re not afraid of Peter?”

“Peter was exiled shortly after I ran away. He wouldn’t dare show up here now. This is probably the safest place for me.”

Sarah studied her, trying to read her body language. It seemed as though she was telling the truth, but nothing about this felt right. Still, Rebecca insisted she was here because she wanted to be. Sarah had no reason – other than an uneasy feeling – to contradict her.

“So you’re going to stay here?”

“This is my home.”

“Will you visit us?”

Rebecca smiled. “I don’t know if that will be possible any time soon. I’m very busy here.”

“Well, then, can I come visit you?”

“Of course! You are welcome here whenever you like.”

Sarah tried to think of something else to say, some way to draw Rebecca out, but nothing came to mind. She hadn’t expected to see Rebecca here, and hadn’t properly prepared. The best she could do was leave without arousing suspicion so that she might return later.

“I’m glad to have found you safe and happy.”

“Again, I’m sorry I worried you.”

“I suppose I’ve taken up enough of your time. Please reach out if you need anything.”

“I will. Thank you, Sarah.”

The entire way back to the car, Sarah braced herself for something to happen, but she was allowed to leave without incident. It was only after she passed through the gate when she heard an explosion back in the compound.

Betrayed?

Sarah was downstairs in the living room when Julia and David returned.

“Where are they?” Julia stormed in. The tone in her voice was unfamiliar.

“Who?”

“Bailey.”

“They should be in their room. What’s going on?”

As Julia fell silent, David entered the room. In response to a look from Sarah, he merely shrugged.

“They’re not in the house,” Julia said after a moment.

“That should be impossible.”

“After David and I left, did you walk them back to their room?”

After thinking for a moment, Sarah realized she hadn’t. “No.”

“That must have been when they left.”

David finally spoke up. “So Bailey is responsible for Rebecca’s disappearance?”

“I’m not sure, but there was a delayed spell that was triggered somehow. Nothing in the cafe showed evidence of enchantment, which suggests something was brought it. I assume it wasn’t Rebecca, so . . .”

“But why?” Sarah asked. “Bailey seemed genuinely concerned. And Rebecca agreed to meet with her. Why would she do that if Bailey was a possible threat?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I had hoped to talk with them. We need to find them.”

“Maybe Thomas can help?” Sarah made the suggestion even though she knew it was likely to upset Julia. Now was not the time to worry about that.

“Thomas . . .” Julia sounded thoughtful rather than angry. “Didn’t he vouch for Bailey when they first arrived?”

Sarah had forgotten that detail. “You’re right. He did.”

“Are you suggesting he had something to do with this?” David sounded genuinely shocked.

“No.” That response from Julia surprised Sarah. “I don’t trust him, but if he really wanted to do something to Rebecca, there were simpler ways of going about it. I’m just wondering how he could have been wrong about Bailey.”

“Hold on. We don’t know that it was Bailey.” Sarah felt compelled to point out that all they had was speculation at this point.

“Fair enough. So what do we do now?”

There were too many unknowns. How could they keep from just chasing shadows? 

“Julia, will you try to find Bailey?”

“You didn’t even need to ask.” Julia turned around and walked out.

“David, would you back me up? I want to check something out. Back up would make me feel a little better.”

“Sure. You want to tell me about where we’re going?”

“Yeah. Come on. Let’s get ready.”

Family Meeting

Sitting around the dining room table, everyone looked to Sarah. It may have been Thomas’s house, but all the residents recognized Sarah as the de facto leader. It had been she who called them all together.

“Rebecca is missing,” she began, without preamble.

“I thought she had already left?” David hadn’t been happy upon hearing of her departure.

“She had,” Sarah replied. “But Bailey and I went to meet with her.” She gestured towards Bailey, who ducked their head sheepishly. “During that meeting, she vanished amid a bright flash of light.”

“So you think she was abducted,” Julia said, rather than asked.

“I don’t really think she would have agreed to meet if she was just going to leave in the middle of it.” Sarah tried not to sound defensive.

Julia held up her hand. “I’m not doubting you. I just want to understand what happened. Was there any sign before she disappeared? Any indication of what sort of magic was used?”

“No. I wasn’t actually there. I had gone outside to give Bailey and Rebecca some privacy. I saw a flash, and when I ran back inside, Rebecca was gone.”

“Bailey? What happened? Tell us everything you can remember.”

Clearly nervous and upset, Bailey looked up at Julia. “We were just talking, catching up a little. I think she was scared, but not of me. I was asking her for help with my living situation. Next thing I knew, a bright flash knocked me backwards. When my vision cleared, Sarah was standing over me, and Rebecca was nowhere to be seen.”

Julia sat back in her chair and began chewing the inside of her lip.

“So that’s it?” David asked. “We don’t have any leads?”

“Peter,” Sarah replied. “He has already tried to get her once. Maybe this was him again.”

David looked at Julia. “Could he have escaped wherever you sent him?”

“Yeah. I mean, I just got him out of the house; I didn’t imprison him.”

“Who’s Peter?” Bailey asked.

“Someone from Rebecca’s past, before you. Did she tell you anything about her life back then?” Sarah found herself surprised that Bailey didn’t seem to know.

“No. She never wanted to talk about that.”

“Oh. Well, he had tried to get her to leave with him about a month ago. Are you sure you didn’t see anyone else?”

“It was just me and her.”

“This is a waste of time.” Thomas finally spoke up. “Rebecca left the house. She isn’t our responsibility any longer.”

Before Sarah could respond, Julia leapt to her feet. “Just abandon her to fate? Do you already know? Is that why you are so quick to give up on her?”

Thomas stayed in his seat and kept his voice even. “First, you get mad because I tried to save you. Now, you are mad because I am not trying to save Rebecca. You need to be a bit more consistent.”

“You are avoiding my questions.”

“Alright. I do not know what happens to Rebecca. My point is simply that she left. If she had stayed, we could have helped her. And she knew that. She must have had reasons for leaving, for not relying on our help. I simply believe we should respect her choice.”

“I’m not comfortable with that,” David said. “She is still our friend.”

“Beyond that, I feel responsible for her being there in the first place. I tracked her down and got her to come meet us. I want to make sure she’s safe, even if she doesn’t want our help.”

Thomas stood and shrugged his shoulders. “You do not need my permission. You are each free to pursue whatever you wish, as long as you do not endanger the house. I choose to return to my studies.”

As he left, Julia glared at his back.

“That . . .”

Sarah cut her off. “Let him be. I understand your frustration, but let’s focus on Rebecca.”

Julia slumped back down into her chair. “Fine. But we need to deal with him at some point, and soon. Otherwise, I don’t think I can stay.”

“We will. For now, would you please check the cafe?”

“Sure. What am I looking for?”

“Since you specialize in spatial magic, I was hoping you might be able to figure out what was used, how she was spirited away.”

“I’ll go with her,” David volunteered.

Sarah looked at Julia, who simply nodded.

“Okay, while you two are gone, I’m going to retrace some of the steps I took finding Rebecca in the first place.”

“What can I do?” Bailey looked at each of them in turn.

Sarah thought for a moment. “If you can remember anything, either from the cafe or from your past with her, that might give us something to go on. Anything at all.”

“I’ll try.”

“Okay.” Julia stood up again. “I’ll let you know if I find anything. Let’s go, David.” The two headed towards the front door.

“Be careful,” Sarah called after them before leaving the room herself.

Reunions (part two)

It was a pleasant day outside with only a few wispy clouds. Sipping her tea, Sarah sat on the patio and watched the people walking along the street. Her mind began speculating about the history between Rebecca and Bailey. Rebecca was nervous, yet she had been glad to see Bailey. That much she was sure of. Years of observing others in order to perfect her own illusions gave her some confidence in being able to read body language. Maybe seeing her friend would give Rebecca some comfort.

A bright flash of light from behind interrupted her rumination. Sarah jumped out of her chair and ran back inside the cafe. The source of the light was nowhere to be found. Neither was Rebecca. Bailey was laying on the floor, dazed. It looked as though they had fallen out of their chair rather than being knocked out of it.

She bent down over Bailey. “Where’s Rebecca?”

Bailey looked confused. “What?”

“Rebecca. Where is she? What happened?”

After looking around for a few moments, Bailey turned back to her. “She was right here. I don’t understand.”

“Was there someone else here? Did someone take her?”

“I don’t know. We were talking and then there was this bright light. The next thing I was aware of was you kneeling over me.”

Sarah rocked back onto her hands. No one should have been able to find them here. Her concealment spells were still in place, and no one had entered after they arrived. Could someone have been here, waiting? If so, why would they wait for Sarah and Bailey to arrive if Rebecca was their target? There were too many questions and too little information. Unless . . .

“Did you do something?”

Bailey seemed taken aback. “No! Are you trying to blame me? Why would I want to do anything to Rebecca?” Their reaction felt genuine, but Sarah didn’t know Bailey well enough to feel confident interpreting their reactions.

“I’m just trying to figure out what happened. Where she went. Who might have taken her.”

“You think someone took her?”

“I don’t know what else to think.”

“You don’t . . . she’s not dead, is she?” Bailey’s fear was palpable, and it led Sarah to soften her tone.

“I don’t think so. There’s no sign that anyone was hurt. And if someone took her, they probably wouldn’t go to that trouble only to kill her. We just need to figure out where she is.” The words were much calmer than she felt. Had Peter found his way back? Sarah never learned where Julia had sent him. Was he capable of something like this? There was too much she didn’t know. Could Madeline help find Rebecca again? And what was that flash of light? If only she could ask Jason.

Looking shaken, Bailey was still sitting on the floor.

“We will figure this out. For now, we should go back to the house. Okay?”

Bailey nodded and stood up slowly.

“Take it easy. I don’t want to push you, but can you think of anything else? Anything unusual at all?”

“No. We were just talking, catching up a little. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.”

“Okay, then. Let’s get back and find some help.”

Reunions (part one)

A knock at the door broke Bailey’s concentration. It was loud enough to be heard over the background noise of the television. They put the pen down and walked over to see who it was.

Sarah stood in the hallway with a wide smile. “I found her.”

“Really? Where is she?”

“She wants us to meet her somewhere. I can take you.”

“Let’s go!” Bailey knew they were being impatient, but they had been in the house for over a week now, and it was starting to get to them. Only so much to do stuck inside.

“Tomorrow. We’re meeting her tomorrow. I just wanted to let you know that the waiting was over. Try to get some rest. I’ll come by at 10 in the morning to get you. Okay?”

Bailey nodded. “I’ll be ready.”

The next morning took its time arriving, and when it did, the knock on the door set Bailey’s heart racing. The two traveled to a small coffee shop several miles away. Rebecca, seated at a table in the back, was the only customer in the place. A lone barista stood behind the counter. Rebecca looked the same as the last time Bailey had seen her. When they approached, there was no smile to greet them.

“How did you find me?” She directed the question at Sarah.

“I have an old friend who specializes in finding things. Don’t worry; I didn’t draw attention to you.”

“It really is unnerving that it was so easy to locate me.”

“It wasn’t. And I’m keeping us hidden now. In fact, I can protect you better if you come back to the house.”

“No.” Rebecca’s tone was final. “I’ve already told you. I can’t risk it. I can’t risk everyone.”

“We can . . .”

“I said no.”

Silence fell over the three of them. Bailey didn’t know what was behind all the tension, and neither woman seemed interested in filling in the details. After a few minutes went by, they cleared their throat a bit.

“I’m sorry to break in, but can I talk to Rebecca alone, Sarah?”

Sarah looked at the other woman, who nodded. “Okay. I’ll sit outside and keep the illusion going. Please let me know if I can do anything.” She sounded resigned, defeated. Her failure to convince Rebecca to return with her seemed to weigh heavily on her.

After Sarah went outside and sat at one of the tables on the sidewalk, Rebecca turned to face Bailey squarely for the first time. “So you wanted to talk to me?” Her voice was a little softer than when she had spoken to Sarah, but there was still an edge to it. She was guarded.

“That’s the first thing you say?”

“Bailey . . . You walked away. Remember?”

That hurt, but only because it was mostly true. Bailey tried to ignore it and move on. “Who’s Marie?”

Rebecca’s face didn’t change expression, but some of the color drained out of it. “Are you jealous?”

“Rebecca . . .”

“No, seriously. Are you? I haven’t seen you in years, and now you track me down to ask about someone else?”

Anger started to rise up in Bailey’s throat, but they recognized Rebecca was trying to push their buttons and derail the conversation. “I’m not jealous. I was given a message to pass along to you . . .”

Rebecca grew even paler. “Who? Who gave you the message?”

“No one. It was left at my door. I don’t know who left it or how they even knew of my connection to you. It just said I was to give it to you. I didn’t know you were in hiding until I arrived at the address you left for me. It was signed ‘Marie.’ So who is she?”

“An old friend . . .” Rebecca was staring off into nothing, chewing on the inside of her mouth. It was a look Bailey had seen before. She was trying to figure out which way to run.

“Well it sounds like your old friend is in trouble. Are you going to help her, or run away again?”

Rebecca gave them a sharp look. “I didn’t run away from you.”

“Fine. Do you want the message or not?”

“Let me see it.”

Bailey pulled a plain envelope from their shirt pocket and handed it over. Rebecca pulled out the single sheet of paper inside. Bailey knew the message by heart and recalled it as Rebecca read through it.

Dear Rebecca,

A lot has happened since you left. I know you’re scared, and so am I. Peter is no longer here, but I really need your help. Please.

Yours,

Marie

Rebecca continued to star at the paper.

“See? She’s in trouble.”

“What are these symbols?”

“Symbols? There aren’t any symbols on . . .”

A terrified expression twisted across Rebecca’s face. “Oh no! What did you . . .?” Rebecca’s frantic voice was cut off by a bright flash of light that completely disoriented Bailey.

When their vision began to clear, she saw Sarah standing over them. “Where’s Rebecca?”

The words didn’t make any sense. “What?”

“Rebecca Where is she? What happened?”

Bailey looked around the room. No one else was in the cafe. Rebecca was gone.

Motivations

Bailey could only toss and turn in the bed, not sleep. It was comfortable enough; in fact it was probably more comfort than they had experienced in months. The problem was that this was Rebecca’s room.

Nothing of the missing mage’s possessions remained, yet Bailey could tell. The room smelled like her. She must have lived here for quite some time. If Rebecca’s housemates were allowing someone else to use it, they weren’t expecting her back, at least not soon. Their motive for letting Bailey stay was a mystery, but if Rebecca was gone, there was little point to staying.

Finally giving up on sleep, Bailey threw the blankets off and got out of bed. All of the rooms were mostly empty. A bed and set of drawers in the bedroom. A couch and coffee table in the main room. Nothing that might serve as a distraction. Restlessness growing, Bailey approached the main door.

Sarah had warned against wandering the hallways alone. Opening the door, there was nothing obviously dangerous outside. Bailey stuck their head out and looked both ways. The hallway was empty and appeared just as it had when they had been escorted to the rooms. For an extended moment, Bailey considered taking the risk. It wasn’t fear that stopped them but curiosity. If they left, they would never know why these people had let them stay.

Closing the main door, they turned to the one that led to the kitchen. It opened easily, and the other side was obviously a kitchen. A double-sized refrigerator stood against one wall, and a large island took up the center of the room. Several stools were placed around it. One of them was occupied, and upon hearing the door open, Sarah looked up.

“Hello, Bailey. Come on and have a seat.”

It wasn’t an order. The woman seemed genuinely to want Bailey to sit down with her. That just added to their overall puzzlement. Sarah was a stranger; why would she be so friendly?

They walked in and sat on a stool across from the woman. Something was different about her, but it took Bailey a moment or two to realize that her hair was shorter and perhaps a little darker. There was something else, too, but it was impossible to pin down what else had changed.

“Did you get a haircut?”

Sarah chuckled. “Thanks for noticing, but no. I just changed my appearance a little. My special talent.”

“Ah.” Magic, then. Bailey wasn’t used to mages being so open with their gifts. This was her house, though, so maybe not so open after all. “Rebecca’s not coming back, is she?” They had considered slowly working up to the question but thought it might be better to try to catch Sarah off guard.

Sarah ducked her head a little, perhaps out of embarrassment.  “I don’t know. I hope so. I think she’d be better off here.”

“Why did she leave?”

“I think that’s her story to tell, not mine. I’m sorry.”

Bailey nodded. As much as they wanted to know, Sarah’s deference to Rebecca’s privacy was something they could respect.

“Okay, but then why did you let me . . .”

A door suddenly materialized in the middle of the kitchen, interrupting the conversation. Julia walked through, looking much as she had before, and the door vanished.

“Oh, you’re both here. Good evening.”

Sarah gave a small wave.

“Hello again, Julia,” Bailey said.

“I hope the room is okay. If you need any furnishings for it, let me know.”

Sarah frowned. “Not stolen, I hope.”

Julia rolled her eyes. “No. I remember the rules. I have sources, legitimate ones, so you don’t need to worry.”

Bailey tried to interpret the dynamic between the two women, but couldn’t. They seemed friendly, yet guarded. There was something between them, but it wasn’t clear what it might be.

“I guess a television wouldn’t hurt.”

“No problem.” Julia looked at Sarah like she was daring the other to ask where it would come from. “One thing you should know . . . Sarah probably warned you about the hallway . . . But I wanted to reassure you that I won’t go into your rooms without your permission. Another one of the rules. As long as you’re a guest no one can get into those rooms without your approval. Unless there’s an actual emergency. Just in case you were worried about that.”

“I . . . I wasn’t.” That possibility hadn’t even occurred to Bailey, thought it probably should have. “But thank you for letting me know.”

“No problem. I’ll drop off the TV first thing tomorrow.” Another door appeared behind her.

“Julia. Wait.” Sarah stopped her. “I don’t want to intrude but . . . if you want to talk . . .”

Julia smiled, which seemed to catch Sarah by surprise. “Thanks Sarah. I know you want to help. I just need some time.” Then she stepped through the door and vanished.

There was silence in the kitchen as Sarah was lost in thought. Eventually, Bailey decided to leave her to her reflection. Just as they stood to leave, though, Sarah spoke.

“You want to know why I said you could stay? It’s for her. You seem to coax her out in a way no one else has been able to. I don’t know how or why, but I’ve seen and heard Julia more since you arrived than in the two months prior. It’s completely selfish, but I hope you’ll stay. And to make it worth your time, I am trying very hard to get in touch with Rebecca. Maybe you can even get her to return. Obviously, I’ll understand if you want to leave. But I hope you won’t.”

Sarah didn’t wait for a response. She stood and left the kitchen quickly – by an apparently normal door – as though she was afraid Bailey would reject her.

It was several minutes more before Bailey stood and went back to their room. They didn’t know what to make of Sarah or Julia. Only when they were back in bed did they realize they had forgotten to get something to eat.