Respite, Interrupted

Sarah had taken the relative quiet of recent months to return to her research. Unlike the other members of the house, she always wanted to make noteworthy contributions to magical knowledge. It wasn’t about making a name for herself, or at least, it wasn’t about just that. There was a tradition, and she wanted to be part of it in a substantial way.

Most mages with her gift focused exclusively on illusions, and Sarah excelled at them. However, there had to be something more, the opposite effect. If the gift could conceal, could it not also reveal? Dispelling illusions was common enough, but her research focused on finding techniques for sharpening the senses, allowing her to notice things otherwise hidden.

Now that things in the house had settled into a new equilibrium, she had some time to get back to this work. Settling into her new role, she had finally begun to relax a little. When she had run the house under Thomas, she always felt him watching her, judging her decisions. Trying to run his house was very different than running her own. The responsibility felt less oppressive; she could look after the well-being of the members without worrying that someone might overrule her. In gaining more responsibility, it had become less of a burden.

There were changes to get used to besides her own. Since the time-travel incident, Thomas had become even more reclusive, which was the exact opposite of what she wanted. For now, though, he didn’t seem to be causing any new problems. On the other hand, Julia was much more social than she had ever been.

Sarah had to constantly remind herself that Julia had had fifteen years to grow, to change, while the rest of the house didn’t even have time to absorb her absence. In effect, she was now the oldest mage in the house, and it was a bit jarring. As she explained it, she had actually missed everyone, and that’s when she realized she wanted to be a member of the house.

There were other matters to attend to, such as finding a new member to fill the hole Jason’s death had left, but those could wait. For now, she was enjoying her research and could forget the problems of the house.

As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. “Sarah? It’s Julia. We might have a problem.”

Placing the book she was reading onto the small table next to her armchair, Sarah sighed and rose to open the door.

“Please tell me we’re out of milk or something of that sort.” She knew Julia wouldn’t have bothered her over such a trivial matter, but she clung to hope.

“I’m sorry, no. I had a portal accompanying David on his visit to that other magic shop. It was forcibly closed, and I haven’t been able to reopen it.”

“You think something happened to David?”

“If only that was all it was. I haven’t been able to open any portal outside of the house. To anywhere.”

Sarah quickly understood the implication. “We’ve been surrounded by a barrier?”

“It seems so.”

“Do you know how long?”

“Only the last five minutes at most. My portal was fine until then.”

“Get Rebecca. I’ll retrieve Thomas. Meet in the kitchen as soon as you can.”

Julia nodded and hurried to Rebecca’s door.

Was this finally the consequence of Thomas’s time experimentation? Attacks on houses were uncommon, but not unheard of. Thomas’s own experience was just one example. Sarah hoped he had come up with some idea for how to survive this.

Following a Lead

The shop was small and dark, with only a few lights at the edges of the room. A short, middle-aged man greeted David from behind a counter.

“Hello, sir. Anything in particular you’re looking for?”

“Just browsing.”

“Okay. Let me know if have any questions.” The man sounded friendly, but David didn’t trust him. Evil didn’t announce itself.

“Are you seeing all this?” David whispered towards the small portal on his shoulder.

“Shh,” was the only response.

The store was full of trinkets that one would expect to find in a place like this: charms, crystals, and potions were the most common bits. It all appeared to be harmless, though David couldn’t tell for certain what, if anything, was real. On a shelf, one peculiar statue caught his eye. Only six inches high, it depicted some sort of sea creature he didn’t recognize.

“What’s this?”

The man looked up. “That? It’s supposed to be some sort of deity. Ancient. From somewhere in the Pacific, I think.”

“You don’t know?”

“I get a lot of stuff. It’s hard to keep track of all of it. I figure someone will recognize it and buy it. If not, it’s still an interesting piece.”

“I suppose.” David was confused. Wasn’t he a mage? How could he not know what he was selling. Had Mark lied to him about getting the box here in spite of his terror? He decided to be more direct and walked up to the counter.

“Actually, I am looking for something, I suppose. Something that will scare someone. Not hurt them, just scare them. Do you have anything like that?”

The man stared at him, weighing some sort of judgment.

“Who are you?” He eventually asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Are you a cop? Trying to get me to admit to selling dangerous stuff?”

“No, I . . .”

“This is all just for fun. People come in here looking for baubles, something to believe in, to give them a sense of security or to play at being wizards. Whatever. If you’re a cop, either charge me with something or get out. And if you’re not a cop, just get out.”

His anger took David by surprise. He turned and left in stunned silence.

“That was quite a performance.” Having forgotten about her portal, Julia’s voice started David.

“You think he was lying?”

“That’s one possibility. Another is that he’s selling things without knowing what they are. Or your client’s ex lied to you. Which do you think is more likely?”

“I’m not sure. Mark seemed truly scared, so I have trouble believing he would lie. But this guy seemed genuine as well.”

“Do you want me to . . .” Julia’s voice abruptly cut off.

“Julia?” There was no indication that her portal was still open.

David looked around but saw nothing that would explain the portal’s closing. He had already walked about a block from the magic store. Could the owner have done something? But why? That would only have raised David’s suspicions even higher.

Fearing something had gone wrong, David began to hurry back to the house.

Punishment

David knocked on the front door of the house. After a few seconds, a man who looked to be in his 30s answered.

“Hello. Are you Mark?”

“Who are you?”

At that moment, the man’s eyes widened as he noticed the box David was holding, and he tried to close the door. Before it fully shut, David stuck his foot across the threshold to keep it open.

“So you recognize the box. Do you know what happened to your ex-wife?”

“I didn’t do anything!”

The force resisting David’s foot eased, and he shoved it wide open. The man had backed away several feet from the door.

“So you didn’t put this box in Jennifer’s basement?”

“Get out of my house!”

David took a step towards him. “Do you know what happened to her?”

“Leave me alone.” His voice had become almost a whimper.

“You know what’s inside the box? Should I show you?”

Shaking uncontrollably, the man crumpled to the floor.

David crouched down near him. “Where did you get it?”

His sobbing suggested he hadn’t summoned the horror himself. But he must have some idea of what had been in it. David needed to find out who gave it to him.

“Your ex-wife killed herself. Because of this box. Because of you.”

“No, no, no . . .”

“Yes. Where did you get it?”

“I just wanted to scare her . . .”

His terror was making it difficult to get anywhere, so David stood up and walked back to the door. After he put the box out of sight behind an end table, he crouched down next to Mark once more. He opened his hands to show that they were empty.

“The box is gone, for now. Take a moment to compose yourself.”

After taking a few deep breaths, Mark seemed to calm down a little.

“You can’t prove I did anything.”

“I suppose not. But I can leave the box here for you. Or you can tell me where you got it.”

“You wouldn’t do that.”

“Why not? Is there something bad about the box?”

“It’s . . . Well . . . No, I mean . . .”

“Just tell me, and I’ll leave you alone with whatever guilt you feel.”

“There’s a place. Downtown. It sells . . . things.”

David held out a notebook and a pen. “Address.”

Mark quickly wrote down an address.

“If this isn’t right, I will come back.”

“It’s right. I swear.”

“Good.” David walked over and picked up the box. “Here.” He tossed the box to Mark who scrambled backwards away from it. The box hit the floor and opened. Mark screamed and covered his eyes.

“It’s empty. I wouldn’t subject anyone to a horror. Even you. Sadly for Jennifer, she married someone who doesn’t have the same respect for others. I have recorded all of this, however, and I’m sure the police will have questions.”

Unsure of how much longer he could keep his anger in check, David left without waiting for a response. Since Mark didn’t seem to be a mage, he would let others handle him. It was better than he deserved.

The Cure (part two)

“You want me to do what?”

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

Clearly skeptical, Rebecca just stared at him.

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

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

“Rebecca, please . . .”

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

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

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

“That won’t happen.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I know, but we can try. Thank you.”

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

“What happened?”

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

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

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

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

“Can I ask what happened?”

The officer looked up. “Who are you?”

“A friend of Jennifer’s.”

“Her sister seemed pretty angry at you.”

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

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

“Something like that.”

“What did you say your name was?”

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

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

“Did you do that?” He asked.

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

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

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“Why does it feel like it is?”

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

“You sound like my guide, Samuel.”

“He must be a very wise person.”

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

The Cure? (part one)

“Hello, David. It is good to hear from you. How are you doing?”

David had contacted his old guide using the mental discipline Samuel had taught him years ago. Given Samuel’s knowledge of horrors, he seemed the most likely to be able to help David with this current problem.

“Greetings, sir. I am well. And yourself?”

“We’ve talked about this. You have come into your own, and we are equals. No more ‘sir.’”

“Yes, sir. . . . Sorry.”

Samuel gave the impression of a chuckle. “Keep working at it. Now I doubt this is merely a courtesy conversation. What is troubling you?”

“I have encountered a horror.”

HIs guide’s presence lost all sense of light-heartedness. “Your mind is still intact?”

“Yes, s. . .” David caught himself. “I remember my training. The horror is rather small and weak; it is secure and poses no threat. However, the owner of the house where I found it was exposed. Her mind is deteriorating.”

“That is unfortunate. Was she a friend of yours?”

“No. Just someone I was trying to help.”

“Still, I am sorry about her fate.”

“I am hoping you would know how to reverse it.”

“Reverse it? There is no way to reverse the kind of mental damage done by a horror. Even a small one. I’m afraid she is beyond help.”

“That can’t be right. There must be something to be done.”

“If it were you, or someone who had your mental training . . . Maybe. But a lay person with no experience? She is lost.”

“I can’t accept that.”

“David,” Samuel had switched into his “teacher” voice. “I know I taught you that we don’t always win. That sometimes things happen which are beyond our control. If she has fallen victim to the madness, we are helpless. As difficult as it is, we need to acknowledge our own limitations.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You are your own person now. I cannot tell you what to do; that is your decision. But if you still value my experience, you will take my advice, my advice as a peer, and let this go.”

“Thank you, s. . . Samuel. I do appreciate your advice.”

The connection between them ended, and David was left with his disappointment. One thing kept nagging at him, though. If there truly was nothing to be done, why bother warning him to let it go? If nothing would help, what was the harm in the attempt? Perhaps there was something that might work, something dangerous. But what?

Horror Madness

It was staring at him. Even frozen and inert, David could feel the horror staring at him. Was that even possible, or was he starting to go mad? He sat down to meditate, reinforce his mental defenses, but it was difficult to focus with it staring at him.

After studying it for weeks, there was little David had learned about the horror. It wasn’t very powerful, so it couldn’t have created a portal on its own. Someone had brought it over, but who and why? The creature itself provided no clues; he needed to go back to where he had found it.

The woman who answered the door was not the same one who had come to his shop that day.

“Hello. Is Jennifer here?”

The woman studied him carefully. “She’s resting. Not feeling well.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Who are you?”

David began to feel a little exposed under her probing gaze. “I’m from the magic shop nearby. I helped her a few weeks ago, and I had some follow-up questions for her. But if she’s not feeling well . . . Just tell her David stopped by, and I’ll come back another time.” He turned to leave, but she stopped him.

“Come in. She’s back in the bedroom. Maybe you can help.”

“Help?”

“You should see for yourself.”

David followed the woman down a short hallway and through a doorway. Inside, lying on a bed, was Jennifer. Bandages were wrapped around her arms and her fingers, but she was smiling.

“You came back! Did you find the monster?”

The question puzzled him. They had talked weeks ago after he had captured the horror. “Yes, I did. Don’t you remember?”

“It’s fine. He’s a nice man.” Jennifer clearly wasn’t talking to him. Instead, she seemed to be looking at an empty corner of the room. Abruptly her attention focused back on him. “What did you do? Did you hurt him?” David had no idea what she was talking about.

She began scratching her left forearm, but the bandages rendered her attempts ineffective. After several seconds of trying, she managed to push the bandage on her arm down a little, revealing a jagged, ugly wound.

The other woman ran to the side of the bed and slapped Jennifer’s hand away from her arm. “If you keep this up, I’ll have to bind your wrists again.”

“But Sue, it itches!”

“I don’t care. I’ll put some more ointment on it in a bit.”

“You can’t. She’s my sister.” Jennifer was again addressing the empty corner.

Sue gave David a look of helpless desperation.

“How long has she been like this?”

“It started a few weeks ago, and she keeps getting worse. Talking to people who aren’t there. Saying disturbing things. Even trying to scratch her arms off.”

A few weeks ago would have been around the time he caught the horror. She must have seen more of it than he had realized.

“Jennifer, is there anyone who would want to hurt you?”

Sue appeared shocked. “You think someone did this to her?”

“I don’t know. I’m just trying to understand what happened.”

Jennifer was again smiling at him. “Why would anyone want to hurt me?”

Sue frowned. “What about Mark?”

“He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s always been so kind.”

“Who’s Mark?”

“He’s her ex. A real jerk. That’s even how she used to describe him. Before . . . But I can’t see him going so far as to hurt her like this.”

“Does he have access to the house?”

“I don’t think so. Jennifer moved here after their divorce, so he shouldn’t have a key. Do you think you can help her? Do you know what’s wrong with her?”

“I . . . I’m not sure. I am going to try, but I need to do a little research. Do you know where my shop is located? In case you need to get in touch with me?”

“Yes. She told me about it, about you, before . . .” Her voice trailed off, as though talking about her sister’s condition would make it even more real.

“I’ll be in touch. Soon. I will do whatever I can to help your sister.”

Sue nodded, but kept looking at Jennifer with concern. David left the house on his own. Was there anything he could do? He wasn’t sure, but he had to try.

Motivation

“So, time travel, huh?” Sarah was sitting on the couch in Thomas’s outer room. “Nearly killing me and driving Matthew away wasn’t enough?”

“You’re being dramatic. No one got hurt.” Thomas was sitting in an arm chair across from her.

“You lost a hand!”

“That was Julia’s fault, not mine. You will recall defending her.” Maybe she was imagining it, but he sounded almost petulant.

“And you will recall turning the house over to me. Obviously to keep Julia around so you could use her for your next stupid scheme. You’ve only yourself to blame.”

“If you have come just to berate me, you can leave.” He met her gaze for the first time since she arrived. “I am not in the mood.”

She didn’t move. “Do you appreciate the danger you’ve put the house in? Once word gets out that you have successfully traveled through time, mages are going to come after you. And we’re all caught in the middle.”

“No one is going to find out. Unless someone from this house shares the information.”

“You’re sure of that? No one could view the past and find you? No other temporal mage will notice the ripples your spell created? You know for certain that no one is going to show up looking for your secret?”

Her rapid fair questions appeared to stun him into silence.

“This house is now in jeopardy. Because of you. Tell me why I shouldn’t revoke your membership?”

“You would evict me from the house I founded?”

She sighed. “Thomas, why did you start this in the first place? You don’t trust others, you barely interact with any of us, and you have been entirely unconcerned with the wellbeing of the house. I have stood by you for over a decade, and yet I don’t have the slightest idea what motivates you.”

He seemed hurt by her words. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet and devoid of emotion. “If you tell me to leave, I will. I gave you the house. It is your decision.”

“Thomas, I don’t want you to leave. I want you to consider how your actions affect us all. I want you to care about this house and its members. If you can’t, or won’t, then I don’t understand why you stay.”

Instead of responding, he simply stared into his cup of tea.

“Fine.” Sarah stood up. “If you are going to stay, I need you to come up with some ideas about how to minimize the risk to the house.” Walking over to the door, she stopped and turned back. “Oh, I should tell you. It seems that Matthew had set a trap for you several years ago that Julia fell into. I don’t know why, but I figured you’d want to know.” Without waiting for him to react, she left his rooms.

Recognition

“What did happen with Thomas?” Sarah asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’d like to meet her . . .”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past/Present (part eight)

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

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

“How’s Thomas?”

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

“Can he time travel again?”

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

“Why didn’t any of you talk to me?”

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

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

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

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

“Apparently not.”

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

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

Both women jumped out of their chairs.

“How did you get back?” Rebecca asked.

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah and Rebecca were both stunned into silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loose End

Yesterday had been particularly hard for Julia; it was the day Jason died. Not the anniversary, but the actual day itself. If it weren’t for Aisha keeping her company, she probably would have gone to try to prevent it. It couldn’t be stopped, she reminded herself over and over again, but she still had wanted to try. She hated that there was nothing she could do except not get involved.

Today was different. Today she could do something. After years of study, she was convinced that she couldn’t change the past even if she tried. Everything that had happened to her during the last thirteen years had already happened. Jason was interested in mana worms because of her brief visit. Indeed, she was convinced that their entire time together, he knew her from that visit and never said anything. That realization, that the past was set, gave her reason to stay away. Something else she realized gave her reason to act today.

The cave was dark, damp, and cold just as she remembered. She waited while sitting on a rock outcropping against one wall. The long wait – at least it seemed long – made her worry that she had gotten the date wrong. When the chair on fire dropped through a portal, her doubt vanished. Her preparations had been thorough, but she still felt a little anxious. There was always the possibility that he might have some surprises. The one reassurance she had was that, after her one encounter with him, they didn’t hear from him again for the next few years until her trip to the past. If he had disappeared, it might have been because she did something about him.

A few minutes after the chair, a person crashed to the ground. Immediately, Julia threw up a barrier around him. He seemed to be unconscious, probably from the fall. After several minutes, Peter began to stir.

“Where am I?” he yelled into the darkness.

“This is just one my little homes away from home.” Just as she had done with David, she used portals to move around while talking, to keep him disoriented.

“You.” Peter said it like a curse.

“Me. I assume you sent the mana worm?”

“How did you manage to survive it?”

Julia clicked her tongue a couple of times. “That’s the wrong question. You should be asking how important to me was the person it did kill. And the answer is that there is no one in the world that mattered more. And then you should be afraid.”

Peter scoffed. “Even now, you’re still hiding. You don’t scare me. If you were going to kill me, you would have done it already.”

“I don’t want to kill you. I could spend years tormenting you. It’s what you probably deserve. Not just for what you did to me, but what you did to Rebecca.”

“What do you want?” His voice was little more than a growl.

“I want to make sure you can never hurt anyone I care about. Ever again.”

Flames began to surround his hand.

“I should warn you that you have limited oxygen in there. If you burn it all up, you’ll suffocate.”

The flames went out. “So you’re just going wait until I asphyxiate?”

“The thought has occurred to me. But lately, I’ve been working on myself. Trying to grow. So I’ve made a nice little pocket space for you. You can hunt, fish, grow crops . . . Whatever you like. It’s big enough that you can walk for hours. Much nicer than this cave. The only limits is that you’ll be alone, and there is no way out.”

“How long do you intend to keep me there?” Maybe she had imagined it, but Julia thought she heard a touch of nervousness in his question.

“Forever. Like I said, I won’t give you another chance to hurt anyone I care about.”

“You can’t . . .”

“I assure you that I can. No one knows where you are. And no one is looking for you. Even your little cult has banished you. I could do much worse; you’re lucky I’m not feeling more vindictive.”

He began to yell, but Julia ignored him. She opened a portal on the floor of the cave beneath him. He tried to avoid it, but it expanded rapidly and soon covered the whole of the bottom of the barrier. When he finally fell through, Julia closed the portal.

She stayed in the cave for a while. Maybe it would have been kinder just to kill him, but she thought Jason would probably disapprove. She wasn’t sure how long she would really leave him there, but for now, it was one less threat to worry about. She opened another portal and returned to her cabin.