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.”

Remembrance

Rituals and celebrations had never been important to Julia, but two years had passed since Jason’s death. From the time they met, they had spent every winter solstice together, and this year, Julia wanted to remember that tradition.

For the first time since that night, she was back in the artificial space where the mana worm had attacked. Nine concentric rings of candles surrounded her as she sat thinking about her friend.

There were no stars above, so she had no real sense of the passage of time. At some point, she noticed a translucent image of Jason sitting on the ground facing her.

“Tonight’s the solstice?”

“Are . . . are you real?”

He gave her one of his mischievous smiles. “Does it matter?”

“Yes. I’d like to know if I’ve started hallucinating.”

“If you think I’m real, then I am. If you don’t, then this is just wishful thinking.”

“Death hasn’t changed you.”

His smile got a little bigger. “No, I don’t suppose it has.”

He sounded like Jason. Spoke like Jason. Yet Julia found it difficult to believe; she didn’t want to open the door to disappointment. Still, maybe he was right; maybe it didn’t matter if he was really Jason. This night was about remembering him, and it didn’t much matter if this was just her mind trying to recreate him.

“So how is it? Being dead, I mean.”

“Boring. But time flows differently, so I don’t think it has been boring for long.”

“No great revelations? No insight into the great mysteries of the universe?”

“Sadly, no. Of course, if I did have any such insight, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to share it. Anyway, enough about all things I can’t talk about. What’s been going on with you?”

“Well, Rebecca was possessed.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Everyone helped to save her. Except Thomas. As soon as she left the house, he gave up on her.”

“But she’s okay now?”

“Yes. It’s quite a story.”

“We have all night.”

For the next several hours, Julia recounted Rebecca’s story as completely as she could. Throughout the telling, Jason listened without interruption. Only when she finished did he speak again.

“It sounds as though you are feeling more a part of the house.”

“I suppose so.”

“That’s good.” Jason looked up, though Julia couldn’t see anything herself. “Night is nearly over. I have to leave now.”

“Jason.”

“Yes?”

“Can I see you again sometime?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“I miss you.”

“I know. I miss you, too.” With that Jason faded away.

Paying Respects

On the other side of the doorway stood an elderly woman hunched over a plain wooden cane. Her face was creased with so many wrinkles that it was impossible to make out her features clearly, and her silver hair was pulled back into a tight bun. Sarah took a step to one side and gestured for the woman to come inside.

“Welcome, Mistress. What brings you here?”

The older woman huffed. “You could at least pretend not to recognize me.”

“I’m sorry, Mistress. It is only because I know you so well. Why do you wear this visage?”

“People seem to expect me to be ancient, so I like to feed their preconceived ideas of me.”

“I see.” Sarah didn’t believe her explanation, but she didn’t want to question her mentor. She led the Mistress to the living room. “Is this a social visit or should we retire to my private rooms?”

“I just came to pay my respects to the new Mistress of the house.”

Sarah offered her an armchair. “Can I get you some tea?”

“No, no. I will not be staying long. How do you like having your own house finally?”

“I’m only in this position because Thomas is trying to mend some fences. This isn’t really my house.”

The Mistress scowled at her. “Self-deprecation does not suit you. Everyone who knows you acknowledges your skill. Furthermore, I did not teach you to be merely a background character. You deserve this house, and it is yours. Do not believe any less.”

“Yes, Mistress.” Though she had been on her own for years, Sarah still deferred to the Mistress’s authority.

“Now, I am quite curious as to why Thomas felt compelled to step down. You said something about mending fences?”

“You remember Jason? Another member of this house, someone who joined with Jason, blames Thomas for his death. She likely would have left if this was still Thomas’s house. He was trying to keep her from leaving.”

“Thomas was responsible for Jason’s death?”

“No, at least not directly. But his secrecy about nearly everything isn’t helping put people’s minds at ease.”

“He does have a tendency not to share, always has. Has he started researching the attack again?”

Sarah shrugged. “I can’t be certain, but there haven’t been any more incidents. And he has not brought it up in years.”

“Good.” The Mistress nodded thoughtfully. “Have you spoken to Matthew recently?”

“I haven’t been able to locate him since he left. He gave me the impression that he wouldn’t talk to me as long as I remained here. So far, he seems to be sticking to that.”

“That is a shame. I always liked him.”

“So did I.” Sarah couldn’t find the words to express everything she was thinking and feeling, so she added nothing else.

The Mistress stood with ease, belying her apparent decrepitude. “It has been nice chatting, but I should be going.”

“Really? You just came for a brief social visit?”

“I told you, I came to pay my respects. Never doubt that you deserve to head your own house. I am deeply proud of you.”

“Thank you, Mistress.”

The woman before her changed into much younger person before giving Sarah a warm hug. When the woman pulled back, she was once more an elderly crone. Sarah couldn’t repress a smile as she walked the Mistress to the door.

A New Customer (part two)

The basement was little more than a cement floor with cinderblock walls. It was large but mostly occupied by boxes piled seemingly at random. What light there was came from the few lightbulbs suspended here and there from the beams above. The only space that didn’t have boxes strewn about was one corner occupied by a washer and dryer. There weren’t any places to hide that he could see; if there was a monster, it couldn’t be that large.

David slowly made his way through the area. The woman who had come into the shop, Jennifer, said that she had seen it on the side of the basement opposite from the laundry. He was skeptical that there was a monster, but she had been on the verge of tears all the way back to her house. Something had clearly terrified her, so he wanted to be thorough. He moved boxes aside to look behind them and even opened a few to look inside.

He had made it over halfway through the basement when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. As soon as he turned his head, it disappeared. The light in that part of the room wasn’t good, but it looked like a large white mouse or maybe a small rat. Had she mistaken a mouse for a monster? Not wanting to jump to any conclusions, he decided to investigate more closely.

With all the boxes around, even a small flame could quickly turn into an inferno. So he bent down to touch the floor and sent a wave of ice toward the place he had seen the mouse. He hoped it might trap it in the ice, but at least it might make it harder for the thing to run away. A squeal from a box suggested the ice had had the desired effect. He carefully picked his way over the ice and lifted the box. There was nothing there.

Putting the box back down, he began looking around to find where it had run off to. When the box touched the ice again, the squeal came back. Out of the top of the box, between the flaps concealing the contents, the head of a white mouse poked out. David quickly grabbed at it and somehow managed to catch hold of it.

He tried pulling it out, but it resisted him as though something were pulling in back inside the box. Surprised, David let the mouse slip out of his grasp. He hurriedly pulled back the flaps to look in the box. Upon seeing inside, he involuntarily took a step back.

There was a white, amorphous blob, roughly one foot across at the widest point. Several tentacles extended from the mass; each of them ending in the shape of the front two-thirds of a mouse’s body. He had the impression the thing was staring at him with the mouse eyes.

Samuel had told him about horrors, but David never expected to see one. His training protected him from the madness that usually emanated from such beings, and it was small enough that it didn’t pose much of a threat in other ways. Not yet. Had Jennifer gotten a good look at it, she very well might have been driven insane. He covered it in ice, abruptly silencing it. Then he wrapped it in a blanket to keep anyone else from seeing it. The real question was where it had come from.

“Julia?” he called out tentatively.

Her response was nearly immediate. “Did you find your monster?” It sounded like she was chuckling.

“Yes, as a matter of fact. Already have it contained. But I need your help.”

“Why?”

“It’s a horror.”

He paused, expecting her to react, but she didn’t say anything.

“I need you to locate the portal it came through and close it.”

“A horror? You’re joking, right?” Any hint of amusement was gone from her voice.

“Unfortunately, no. It’s small, and I froze it. Luckily, it was vulnerable to cold rather than heat. But I don’t think I can find it’s portal on my own.”

“Why do you sound sane? Are you sure it’s a horror?”

“Quite sure. My guide, Samuel, trained me, prepared me to deal with these things. He has had to deal with them before, so he wanted to make sure I was equipped to deal with them, too.”

“That’s good, I guess. I’m going to come through. Please keep the thing out of sight. I don’t think I can deal with it.”

“Don’t worry. I have it wrapped up.”

A portal appeared in front of David. He assumed it had been there all along, allowing Julia to keep tabs on him. Julia stepped through holding a green crystal. It looked like the same crystal she had been holding in the coffee shop when they had been looking for Rebecca.

“Where did you find it?”

“That box over there.” He pointed it out.

Julia took a few steps toward the box and looked at it while holding the crystal up to it. She was being careful not to touch the box. “Yeah. The box itself is a portal. I’m not finding any others.”

“Can you close it?”

“Not here, but I should be able to stop anything else from coming through until I can deal with it properly.”

“Good. Can you open a portal to the shop? I want to secure this thing elsewhere before talking with Jennifer again.”

“Sure. Better your shop than the house. Just be careful.”

“Always.”

A New Customer (part one)

David was sitting behind the counter when the bell over the entrance jingled. Looking up from the book he was reading, he saw Julia enter the little shop.

“Oh. Hi.”

She feigned a hurt expression. “I’m sorry to disappoint you.”

“It’s not that. I was just hoping you were a customer.”

“It does look a little slow in here. Maybe if you put a sign out front . . . ?”

“Sarah warned me against doing that. Thought it might draw too much of the wrong kind of attention.”

“As someone who isn’t known for playing it safe, I hate to admit that she’s probably right.” Julia walked over to one shelf and picked up a bottle filled with a light blue liquid. “What’s this?”

“Rebecca gave me those. They are a very weak healing potions. Good for minor illnesses.”

“And these?” She gestured to a few baskets of colored balls about the size of a jawbreaker.

“I made them. If you bite into one of the blue ones, they slowly release water suitable for drinking. The red ones can be used to start small fires. And throwing the sea-foam green ones into a fire will extinguish it.”

“Handy.”

David wasn’t sure if she was being sincere or sarcastic. “I don’t want to sell anything too powerful. Especially to people who might be unfamiliar with magic.”

“No, no. I wasn’t being critical. These are clever items. Practical. Have you had any customers?”

“A few. I keep hoping that word of mouth will bring in more, but it’s been slow.”

“Don’t get discouraged. This is a good idea.”

It was strange to hear encouragement from Julia. Even though she was taking a more active role in the house of late, she still maintained a distance from everyone. Indeed, David couldn’t remember ever having a casual conversation with her before now.

“So do you sell anything for mages?”

“Well most of the things in here could be useful to anyone. The only mage specific items are the white crystals you gave me.”

“Oh right. I’m sorry I can’t make them quickly. Jason’s notes were useful, but they don’t make up for my lack of a gift in that area.”

“Don’t worry about it. I haven’t had any mages stop by yet, anyway.”

The bell jingled again, and both of them turned as a woman entered the store. She was out of breath and looked panicked.

“Is this the magic shop?”

“It is. What’s wrong?” David asked.

“There is . . . something in my house. Some kind of monster. Do you have anything that can help?” Whatever she had seen clearly had upset her greatly.

“What does this monster look like?”

“I didn’t get a good look at it. I was in my basement when I saw it. I ran up the stairs and came straight here. My friend told me about this shop, so I though you could help.”

David looked to Julia, who still hadn’t said anything. She just shrugged. David turned back to the woman. “I’m not sure I have anything, especially if we don’t know what it is.”

“So there’s nothing you can do?”

“I’m not sure. Not without more . . .”

“You could come over. That way you can figure out what it is.”

David was taken aback by the request. Making house calls or hunting monsters were not what he had in mind when he opened the store. It was just something to do to feel useful. He turned once more to Julia.

“This could help with word of mouth,” she said.

“You’re right.” After all, he thought, he did want to help people. “Okay. Let’s go find this monster.”

“Thank you!” She began leading him outside.

David looked behind him. “Are you coming?”

“This is your thing. I wouldn’t want to steal your thunder. Go ahead and call if you need help.” Before he could reply Julia disappeared into a portal. David then hurried after the woman.

Leaving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you at least learn anything?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really?”

“I merely want to be honest with you.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Dear Sarah,

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

Yours,

Matthew”

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

Near Death Experience

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

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

“Sarah!” He repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean . . .”

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

“Is he okay?”

“Are you serious?”

“What?”

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

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

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

“Has he explained the cause of the explosion?”

“Not to my satisfaction.”

“Then we need to talk to him.”

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

“Is something wrong?”

“No. I’m just worn out.”

“Do you want me to get the healer?”

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

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

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

Equal Exchange

The solution took Thomas weeks to work out, and once he did, it seemed obvious. Even so, he wasn’t at all sure that it was possible. Determined to make the attempt, he once again wrapped the note in a shell to isolate it from time and projected himself into the past.

Back in his old lab, he began looking for something he could use. The overall tidiness of the room made his search harder. Finally, he found a crumpled piece of paper in the wastebasket. Unable to interact with it directly, Thomas began casting the stasis spell. This was the most uncertain part of the solution: would he be able to cast a spell in the past? Against his expectations, it worked, and the paper was unmoored from time. Now he could pick it up easily.

The idea was an equal exchange of mass between temporal moments should prevent time from rejecting either. He had succeeded in removing the mass of the crumpled paper, so theoretically there should be a “gap” in mass that his note could now fill. He placed the note on the table in the corner, and, after a deep breath, released the stasis spell. Unlike his first attempt, the note stayed where it was. Now he had to wait for his past self to notice it.

Nearly an hour passed before his patience was rewarded. When the other Thomas saw the note, he picked it up and unfolded it. As he read, his face did not hide his surprise. Now that he had accomplished his goal, Thomas returned to his own present.

He was back in the house he had founded. There were no obvious changes. Thomas did not even remember finding and reading the note. Yet he had watched himself read it. Why did his memories not reflect that? Something had to be different. Perhaps the attack had changed, even though there were no obvious changes in his own room. The only way to be certain was to travel back and watch it again. He had visited that moment so often that he could cast the spell without thinking about it.

The scene looked just as it had every other time he had watched it. Just as the intruder entered the lab, Thomas cast a spell to stop time. He hadn’t tried before, but his success with the stasis spell gave him reason to believe it would work. When he finished casting everything was frozen. Now he could examine the attacker more closely.

As he approached the other mage, a voice startled him.

“You aren’t the only one who can wield time magic, you know.” The other mage was staring straight at him.

“How . . . ?”

“I just told you. I’m not going to repeat myself.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Before I answer that, what are you doing?”

“I am trying to discover the motive behind this attack, as well as the identity of you and your accomplices.”

“Really? That’s all you’re trying to do? Nothing more?”

“What else would I be doing?”

“Trying to change the past, perhaps? Alter the outcome of this encounter?”

“What if I am?”

“I would have thought your master taught you better.”

“You mean the man you kill?”

“None of this happens without you. Try to remember that.”

Even though Thomas had not canceled his spell, time began moving again. The attack began to play out just as it always had. He didn’t wait for it to end. Instead, he returned to his present.

Having nothing to offset the extra mass, he left the piece from the attacker’s shirt in its stasis shell. Once he could figure out how to remove it without it disappearing from this time, the fabric might provide him with some clue about the identity of the attackers.