One Chance

Pulling up to the gate of the compound involved a heavy dose of both anxiety and deja vu. Sarah had decided trying a straight-forward approach was most likely to succeed. However, walking into this place once more was not without risk. Rebecca needed help, though, and she wasn’t going to abandon her.

The guard approached her window.

“I’m here to see Rebecca.”

“The Elder is not receiving visitors.” His voice was wooden and his face was expressionless. Sarah wondered if everyone here was under a charm.

“It’s important that I speak with her.”

“Important to you, perhaps. Not to the Elder.”

The guard turned around and walked back to his post.

“Plan B?” Julia’s voice came from a small portal next to her.

“I really don’t like that idea.”

“Do you have another one?”

“You can’t open a portal inside the area?”

“I have tried, but I don’t know the area well enough. I can only open this one because of your badge.”

“Okay, fine. You’re right; I don’t have any other ideas. Is David ready?”

“Yes. Get ready to move.”

Sarah turned the car around and drove away, stopping down the road and out of sight. It was only a few minutes – but it seemed like hours – before Julia signaled her.

“It’s lit. You should be clear.”

The problem with this plan, Sarah knew, was that it was a must succeed situation. After this, she would not be able to come back. If they didn’t get Rebecca now, she might be lost forever.

She drove back to the gate. The guard was indeed gone, but the gate was still closed and locked. Sarah left the car and began jogging up to the compound. As she got closer, she could hear the chaos of many people trying to put out several fires. She spent a moment hoping that no one was trapped.

Inside the main house was very quiet. Sarah began to worry that Rebecca might have left to help with the fires.

“How did you get inside?”

Sarah turned around to find Marie glaring at her from the bottom of a stairwell.

“I came to see Rebecca.”

“You aren’t supposed to be here.”

“I’m not going to argue with you, Marie. I will see my friend.” Perhaps Marie had orchestrated this situation, but she wasn’t the reason Sarah was here.

“You’re behind the fires, aren’t you?”

“Where is Rebecca?”

“You need to leave.”

Sarah pushed past the shorter woman and climbed the stairs.

“Rebecca? Where are you?”

Having followed her up, Marie grabbed her left wrist. “Leave.” The strength in her grip surprised Sarah.

“Rebecca!”

Marie began to drag her back to the stairs when a door opened. Rebecca appeared.

“Sarah? What is going on?”

Immediately, Marie let go of her, and Sarah quickly closed the distance to Rebecca. “I wanted to give you this.” Pulling out the blue crystal Julia had given her, she pressed it into Rebecca’s hand.

“What is this?”

“Rebecca? Do you feel any different?” Julia had said the effect should be almost immediate.

“Why? What is this? Marie, why is she here?”

Nothing. There was no change in Rebecca’s demeanor.

Discovery

Curled up in the only private corner of her own mind, Rebecca could not stop thinking about Jason’s visit. She knew he meant well, but death had not improved his grasp on reality. Maybe that was unfair; how could anyone truly understand what was happening to her? Nonetheless, his failure to appreciate her circumstances still upset her.

Each day brought new violations. All she could do is watch as her body obeyed the commands of another. Her only option was to escape, to retreat further into herself. Yet every time she did so, it felt as though she might never come back.

Maybe that would be for the best. If she was gone, she could no longer be violated. After all, there was nothing left for her here. Her sense of responsibility – to Marie and others – stopped her from disappearing for good. But for how much longer? It was not as though she could do anyone any good in this condition.

They were laying in bed, the Elder having fallen asleep. A draft kept brushing up against her neck, so she shifted so that the covers would block it. It took a moment before she realized what had just happened. Without someone to fight her, she had control over her body.

Slowly, she sat up. The Elder remained unconscious. How had she not known about this earlier? Too much time spent withdrawing, perhaps. She began to test how much freedom she had. Every move she made, she checked to make sure her possessor remained unaware. She got out of bed and walked around the room. Every motion cause her excitement to grow, along with the worry that she would be discovered. She returned to the sheets and waited for the Elder to wake back up.

As soon as he did, he reasserted control without even noticing her. Another day of violation began. Still, she had discovered a small measure of freedom, the tiniest of openings. Now she needed to decide what to do with this opportunity. For now, though, she retreated once more.

Social Call

“How are you doing?”

Since there was no one else in the room, the voice startled Rebecca. The Elder was sitting at a desk, studying some papers. He didn’t react at all, which suggested he hadn’t heard anything. She was certain she hadn’t imagined it, though.

“Don’t worry. I don’t think he can hear me.”

Hearing the voice again, Rebecca realized she recognized it.

“Jason?!”

“Indeed.”

“Are you alive? Or . . .”

“Or. Definitely or. I’ve been trying to stay out of everyone’s affairs, but . . . Well, I just wanted to check on you.”

Speaking with a friend, getting a chance to share her predicament with someone else, it was all so much. Emotion began welling up, and she worried the Elder would notice. So she made a concerted effort to stuff it all back down.

“I’m possessed by someone I used to worship, and as a result, my life is no longer my own. So I’m not doing very well.”

“Yeah. I’m sorry. It was a dumb question.”

“Is this just a social call? Or can you help me get out of this situation?”

“I’m dead, so I’m afraid there’s not much I can do. It’s taking a lot of effort just to communicate with you.”

“Oh.”

“I do want to remind you, though, that spirits are your specialty. That’s why you can hear me and your captor cannot. He’s just another spirit. You’ve been running too long.”

“You don’t know what it feels like.”

“You’re right; I don’t know. You are being violated in a way I can’t even imagine. You shouldn’t have to fight this battle. Still, I know you’re strong. Don’t let him win. If you decide to fight, call out for me. If I can do anything to help, I will. I can also tell you that your friends haven’t forgotten you.”

“Thanks, Jason. Right now, it’s all I can do to keep this small piece of me from him. Everything is so overwhelming.”

Jason must have already left because there was no response. Once more, Rebecca was all alone. At least the Elder was still focused on his papers. Having Jason to talk with was a welcome relief, but now that he was gone, the loneliness and horror came flooding back in stronger than before. To avoid the despair, Rebecca shut herself off from everything and wrapped herself in unconsciousness.

Lesson Learned

“What is this?”

Thomas looked up from the notes he had been studying. Though he had learning from his mentor for six years – since he turned nine – the man still intimidated him. He was fair and treated Thomas well, but he was also reserved and demanded discipline. Upsetting him always caused Thomas a little anxiety. The paper he was holding was one Thomas had left on his desk.

“It is a summary of my progress yesterday, sir.”

“There is a prediction here. A visitor is coming.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thomas, I have told you once already. I do not like having to repeat myself.”

“Sir?”

A scowl flashed across his mentor’s face. It vanished quickly as the man refused to let any negative emotions show. Instead, he calmly asked, “What have I told you about scrying?”

“But I was only looking at the front door,” Thomas protested. “I wasn’t exploring any person’s future.”

“What have I told you?” His mentor asked again; that was never a good sign.

His defiance melted away, and he averted his gaze downwards. “Scrying is forbidden.”

“Good. Why?”

“Knowing the future can change it. The more that know, the higher the chance of deviation.”

“Good.”

Thomas continued to look down until his mentor took his chin and drew Thomas’s gaze towards his own.

“Dreams are inevitable, especially a gift such as yours. But we ought not go looking for such knowledge. And when we do have it, we must keep it to ourselves. Tell me you understand.”

“I understand, sir. I am sorry.”

“Do not apologize. Just learn from your errors.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You are right, though. We are expecting visitors today. I am surprised you saw only one. An old friend of mine is bringing his student to meet us. It will be a good chance for you to interact with one of your peers.”

Thomas had met few other people since his training had begun. “Are they time mages as well?”

“No. My friend works primarily in mana. His student also studies chaos magic, I am told. It will be good for you to learn a little something about other domains. However, that is later. For now, I want to see how your experiments with slowing and accelerating plant growth are proceeding.”

“Yes, sir.” Thomas led him over to a table with three different planters.

Careful What You Wish For

“I’m bored,” Jason said aloud to no one in particular.

Thomas, who was also in the common room, replied without looking up from his book. “Don’t you have research to work on?”

“Don’t feel like it right now.”

Thomas rolled his eyes. “Honestly, I have no idea how you even became a mage.”

The house belonged to Thomas’s mentor. Jason’s teacher had sent him here to further his education. Since his arrival, however, Thomas hadn’t seen him study even once. In fact, Thomas wasn’t certain he had ever seen the other mage use magic.

“Just lucky, I guess,” Jason said with a shrug.

“Luck has nothing to do with magic.”

“Maybe not with yours. Chaos magic is intimately entwined with luck. Fascinating realm. Not much to study, really.”

“Don’t you also work in mana?”

“I guess. Not my focus though. My teacher insisted on it, and it is useful for powering other spells. But chaos is where the real fun is.”

“Show me.”

“What?”

Thomas put his book down on the small table next to his chair. “Show me. I want see some of your chaos magic.”

Jason began to look a little apprehensive. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. You must know a little something about it.”

“I do, but I’d like to experience your fun first hand.”

“Well . . .”

Convinced that Jason was mostly talk, Thomas picked his book back up. “Maybe you should go study so you can show me later.”

“Is that book one of a kind?”

“No. Now please let me read in peace.” As he finished speaking, the pages yellowed in front of his eyes. They became brittle before crumbling under his touch.

“What . . .?!”

“Chaos magic. It can rapidly age items. It can also preserve them, but that’s harder.”

“I was reading that!”

“You said it wasn’t one of a kind. Get another copy.”

“It’s still rare and not easy to get a hold of.”

“Oh. Then I’m sorry. But you did ask for a demonstration.”

Looking down at the bits of paper on his lap, Thomas said, “Put it back together. Right now.”

“I told you, that’s harder. I’m not sure I could manage it, especially without being familiar with its contents.”

“I can’t believe this.”

“I told you it was fascinating.”

“Don’t talk to me.”

Jason opened his mouth to respond, then thought better of it and said nothing.

A Friendly Game of Cards

*This story take place prior to Thomas forming his house.*

The room was dimly lit, with most of the light coming from a single lamp hanging from the ceiling. Beneath it was a table with four people sitting around it, cards and poker chips strewn about.

One man flipped over the cards in front of him.

“Four Jacks.”

As he spoke, he began to reach for the pile of chips in the center of the table. Before he could sweep them towards himself, he was interrupted.

“Four Kings.”

Jason flipped over his cards and revealed the kings. He reached for the pot, but the other man grabbed his hand.

“You’re cheatin’.”

Jason pulled himself free.

“No, I’m not.”

“You are. I know you are because I’ve been cheatin’, and you’re still winnin’.”

The other players appeared unfazed by the man’s admission and continued to focus their scowls at Jason.

“You know what happens to cheaters?” He pulled a gun from under the table.

“Are you going to shoot yourself?”

“No.” He took aim at Jason, but seemed to freeze in place.

“There you are.”

Jason turned around to see Thomas standing in the doorway. Sounds from the gaming room could be heard behind him.

“You froze just them?”

“No need to get the whole building, if the threat is only in this room. Why are you here?”

“Look at all the money I’ve won.”

Excitedly, Jason pointed to the large pile of chips in front him. It was much larger than anyone else’s on the table.

“Why?” If Thomas was trying to keep exasperation from his voice, he failed.

“It’s fun.”

“But you don’t need the money.”

“Doesn’t make it any less fun. Why are you here?”

“To save your ass. Again.”

“I don’t need saving.”

“He was about to shoot you.”

Jason waved away Thomas’s concern. “The gun would have jammed or something. It always does.”

“One day, your luck is going to run out.”

“Probably not.”

“Hmph. Let’s go. He wants to see you.”

“Who?”

“Who do you think? Your teacher. He’s the one who sent me after you.”

“I have to cash out first.”

“Leave it. If you’re lucky, it will be enough to keep them from coming after you.”

“I’m always lucky.”

“Yeah, yeah.” 

Blank

The future was blank. Laying on the couch, Thomas tried work out a solution. As best as he could determine, this was Jason’s fault. When he first began noticing glitches, he realized he could not longer find Julia in the future. Backtracking, he found the moment when Julia discovered Jason’s blue crystal. From that time forward, the future became harder and harder to explore.

With Julia out of the future, and Bailey following a little after that, any of his observations became increasingly unreliable. He had a sense of what the house would look like without them, but unless they actually left, that future would not come to pass. 

Discovering the existence of the crystals had explained some mysteries involving Jason. Thomas had longed believed it was Jason’s chaotic nature that made his presence elusive when scrying. The crystals provided a much more straightforward explanation. Now that they were held by others, though, it upended everything.

For the first time in decades, Thomas didn’t know what was in front of him. He had no inkling about potential threats. No clues as to how to prepare. The very idea was terrifying. The future once more was an unknown, filled with hidden terrors. 

The only solution he came to was removing the blue crystals from circulation, but doing that would not be easy. He couldn’t find them scrying, and he had no idea how to counter their effects. Asking Julia was obviously out of the question. Still, something had to be done, even if it meant that Julia would hate him more.

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.”

From Jason’s Notes

The research on color cyrstal crystals has hit a snag. I can identify three colors: purple, yellow, and orange. Those were pretty straightforward, but I know there have to be other colors. One of the problems I’m having is that I am unable to decide if I am inventing these items or discovering them. The fact that every mage that creates mana storage uses white crystals suggests the latter. But if that were the case, I should think it would be easier for me to figure out the other colors. Since I haven’t been able to, I might have to more seriously consider the possibility that these are my own creation. If so, that raises some interesting questions about the nature of the white ones.

I had thought I was getting somewhere with a fourth color. There was mention in one book of something called a mage devourer. (I don’t know why these volumes never have titles. The book was average size, with a brown leather cover. On the inside was written the word “Legends.” They could have just put that on the outside and made it easier to find.)

Anyway, from what I can gather, this creature feeds on magic. Not just any magic, though. It has to be the magic housed inside a living being. I could find no other discussion of the thing in any other books, which itself is surprising. And there seems to be no indication of how it might be destroyed. Still, there must have been some way because it didn’t wipe out all mages.

The idea I had was that maybe there was a cyrstal (why do I keep misspelling that?!) crystal that could absorb magic, sort of the opposite of the white ones. It would, in essence, be an artificial mage devourer. My idea was that you could use it to drain the magic from a mage so that the devourer would lose interest and move on.

I realized pretty quickly, though, that that would kill the mage. You could try to use it on the devourer itself, but I don’t know how you would get it close enough without the devourer recognizing the danger or killing the mage who was trying to get it to the devourer. I think the theory behind it is sound, but I’m not sure even I could make one without killing myself in the process. That’s probably why none have ever been made, at least not that anyone knows about.

Still, there has to be some way. A creature that feeds on magic. Any spell you throw at it will just be absorbed, I imagine. I can’t believe there aren’t more references to it.

It’s a problem that is going to bug me. Luckily there don’t seem to be any left, so it’s really just a theoretical problem. Something to work on when I’m idle. So I’ll have to go back to the drawing board on the crytals (dammit!) crystals.