Bait

Thomas walked down the street while trying not to draw attention. Sarah knew his mannerisms, his voice, so using his visage to draw out the attackers was easier than trying to copy someone she didn’t know. The problem was that Thomas had essentially been a recluse for the last decade or so, and she wasn’t sure anyone would believe he was willing to leave the house now. Investigating the house where Matthew had been tied up seemed a plausible reason for him to go outside. She hoped anyone watching would see it the same way.

It wasn’t a long walk, but dragging it out would almost certainly be seen as suspicious, so she had to hope whoever might be watching was paying attention. Inside the house, Sarah maintained Thomas’s appearance, just in case they were keeping an eye on the inside of the house. It also meant she had to try to look for clues, even though she didn’t expect to find anything.

After looking in the empty rooms on the ground floor, she headed to the basement. There, she found the chair and rope that had bound Matthew. There was nothing remarkable about any of it. The rope was in two pieces, with an end of each piece being scorched, presumably where David had burned through to free the other mage. The basement was otherwise empty.

The only magical residue she could identify was a small amount of fire magic, probably David’s. Either they hadn’t used magic here, or they had covered it up very well. Though she hadn’t counted on finding any useful information, the complete absence of even the most mundane things surprised her. Someone must have gone to great lengths to remove every trace of the attackers’ presence.

Something began to itch in the back of her mind, but before she could give it her attention, she heard a sound above her. Someone else was walking around upstairs. Had her ruse worked, or was this merely coincidence?

Taking no chances, Sarah quickly cast an invisibility spell, while still maintaining the image of Thomas, on the off chance that they could penetrate the invisibility. Then she waited near the bottom of the stairs for them to come down.

Two Problems

The open box on the desk was taunting her. Six crystals sat inside, each nestled into its own spot. Orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and white. The very first space was empty. Nothing in Jason’s notes indicated what the seventh crystal should be. The spectrum suggested red, but Julia couldn’t guess what effect it should have.

White, providing raw power, was the one universal crystal. Every mage who created mana batteries made them white. But the other colors seemed to be particular to Jason. Green used spatial magic, and blue interfered with magic. Purple was connected with knowledge. She had finally determined that orange was associated with elemental magic. As best as she could tell, yellow had to do with light. Assuming the missing crystal was red, what did Jason associate red with? Did he never discover the missing crystal? Or had he hidden it from her? If so, why?

“Are you still staring at those?” Aisha walked into Julia’s study and placed a cup of coffee down in front of her. “I thought you were working on a barrier for your house?”

Cradling the warm mug in both hands, Julia leaned back in her chair. “I was, but I needed to take a break. No matter how I look at it, a barrier is clunky and a waste of power.”

“So you are distracting yourself with a bigger problem?”

“What can I say? I’m a masochist.”

“Really? That opens up some new possibilities.”

“Don’t go getting any ideas.” Julia knew she was joking. “I just can’t shake the feeling that these crystals might help in some way. For fifteen years, all I could do was work from my memory of Jason’s notes. I thought maybe I had forgotten important details. Now that I have the notes in front of me, I thought I could find . . . something. Turns out, my memory is pretty good.”

“You know, trying to force it to make sense isn’t going to get you anywhere. Take a break. Let your subconscious work on it for awhile.” Aisha took a sip from her own mug.

“Two intractable problems. Taking a break from one to work on the other is getting me nowhere.”

“Well, let’s go back to the barrier. Why do you want to create it?”

“I don’t. But I think Sarah is hoping to avoid a repeat attack.”

“And how does a barrier prevent it from happening again?”

“Well, if we have a barrier set up, then someone else can’t erect one that can be manipulated against us.”

“So the real problem is someone else setting up a barrier?”

“Of course. But you know this already.”

Aisha waved away the objection. “The question is, is a barrier the best solution to this problem?”

“No, but . . .”

“Then why are you trying to make a solution work that isn’t the best?”

“Because . . .” Julia trailed off as a new idea began to take shape.

“I’ll leave you to it then.”

“Thanks, Aisha.”

She turned around and gave Julia a little smile as she left the room.

Studying

Sitting backwards in a chair, Sarah studied the two men frozen in Thomas’s room. Because they were out of sync with the flow of time, neither they nor their clothing could be affected by anything. Everything she needed to know had to be determined by sight alone because it was impossible even to touch them directly. The texture of their hair, the shape of their cheekbones, all the details she needed to copy them would have to be discovered by observation. Luckily, they had been trapped in time with their eyes open so she could see their color. Not hearing their voices, not being able to witness how they moved, would create imperfections in her impersonations, so she wanted to get everything else as exact as possible.

She had spent over an hour practicing the appearances of her targets in front of a mirror. This was all overkill, but she hoped some clues as to their identity might be uncovered. Really, though, she was trying to keep herself distracted so that she wouldn’t worry.

“He’s awake.” Rebecca had walked in.

Without saying anything, Sarah followed her back to the infirmary. Matthew was sitting up a little in bed, some color having returned to his face.

“How are you feeling?” Sarah asked.

Matthew smiled weakly. “Feeling a little better. I remember when I brought Rebecca here to heal you all those years ago. I’m glad she hasn’t lost her touch.”

“I think I’ll go get some rest.” Rebecca sounded a little embarrassed. “Let me know if you need something.” She closed the door behind her on the way out.

“Are you really okay?”

“Yes, Sarah. They didn’t rough me up much. Just tied me up.”

“Those injuries weren’t just because you’d been tied up.”

Matthew tried to wave her concern aside. “So I’ve heard that this is your house now. Congratulations. You deserve it. And now you can kick Thomas out.”

“No, I can’t. And you know that.” She was a little annoyed that he was trying to change the subject. “We can talk about all of that later. How did you end up tied to a chair in a basement?”

Matthew sighed. “I had been trying to find some way to convince Thomas to give up his obsession. During the course of that search, I found a few people that seemed to share my concern about misusing temporal magic. I began working with them, but eventually I realized that they had darker plans. When it became clear that they were determined to kill Thomas, I tried to leave. Obviously, that didn’t go as I hoped.”

“That sounds pretty intense. Do you know why they were after him?”

“Unfortunately, no. They never took me fully into their confidence, so I don’t know as much about them as I would like.”

Sarah sat back and started working out some of the implications of Matthew’s story.

Soon, he sunk back down on the bed, his eyes starting to close. “I’m sorry, Sarah. I think I’m more tired than I realized. We’ll have to talk more later.”

At first, she was worried he had succumbed to some injury they had missed, but when she checked, his breathing was strong and steady. She hadn’t really learned anything new. Someone wanted Thomas dead, but she still didn’t know why. Nor did she know who they were. Perhaps Matthew knew, but she hadn’t had time to ask. She hoped he wouldn’t sleep too long.

Coincidence?

More than a mage, Aisha considered herself a procurer. Traveling the world searching for things people wanted interested her much more than researching in a lab ever did. Most of her clients were mages, since nonmages rarely had anything to offer her. Information, however, was always a welcome currency, if it was the right sort.

It wasn’t easy, but she had finally tracked down the person she’d been looking for. One of her old suppliers had provided her with the identity of the mage and location of his house. The supplier hadn’t been in touch with the man for several years, so it was possible he had moved. The fact that he had lost touch was the only reason the supplier was willing to help her at all.

While shifting through shadows was useful in her work, she often preferred trying to do things straightforwardly. In this case, there was no benefit to sneaking around, so she simply knocked on the door.

The man who answered did not fit the description she had been given, but that didn’t mean much when it came to mages.

“Jonathan?”

The man grimaced. “No. Stephen.”

“Is Jonathan here?”

“You better come in.”

* * *

Days later, Aisha returned to the cabin she and Julia shared. As expected, Julia wasn’t there, but from here she could take a door leading to Julia’s rooms in her house. Unaware she’d been holding her breath, she sighed in relief when she saw that the portal was still open and no new barrier had been erected.

“I’m back,” she yelled as she stepped through.

Julia was in her workroom, studying some notes on her desk. She didn’t look up when Aisha walked in. “Do you know how much power it takes to . . .”

Aisha lifted Julia’s chin and gave her a long kiss on the lips. She felt Julia return the affection.

“I’ve missed you, too,” Julia said when the moment ended. “What happened?”

Aisha sat in a chair next to the desk. “I found the time mage that had provided the temporal infused quartz all those years ago.”

“That’s great!”

“No, it isn’t. He’s dead.”

“He’s dead?”

“Yes, but there’s more.”

“Good news?” Julia’s question sounded hopeful, but the look on her face said she knew better.

“No. I tried tracking down several other temporal mages. At least five. They had all died within the last ten years. To be more accurate, they’d all been killed.”

“Six? That can’t be coincidence, can it?”

“With everything both of us have seen, can you think of any evidence that coincidence exists?”

“Do we know who killed them?”

“We know they were killed by magic, but whoever did it was never caught.” Mages handled such matters by themselves, not wanting to involve the law enforcement of nonmages. “Because the killings were spread out, in both time and space, no one seems to have considered them connected. I don’t even know if was one person or multiple people. But like I said, I don’t believe in coincidence.”

“And now Thomas has been attacked by unknown mages. For the second time.”

“That’s why I think all of these have to be connected somehow.”

“Who is doing this? And why?”

“I don’t know yet. But we will figure it out. Promise.” Aisha leaned forward and kissed Julia once more.

After the Siege

“Matthew?! What happened?” Sarah’s surprise threatened to overwhelm her.

“If I could sit . . .” His voice was strained, and every movement caused his face to contort with pain.

“Of course.”

Sarah and David slowly led Matthew to one of the big armchairs where he collapsed into the soft cushions. While Matthew tried to find a comfortable position, David spoke.

“I found him tied up in a basement down the street. The men who entered the house earlier came from there. I think they were holding him.”

“Good guess, kid. They thought I could help them, give them information on the house. In the end, though, they just left me there. Did they get Thomas?”

Sarah wasn’t sure how much to tell him. Trust wasn’t an issue between them, but she wasn’t sure he was strong enough at the moment to deal with the whole situation. “He’s still upstairs. Not dead. My current priority, however, is your well-being. How badly are you hurt?”

“I’ve felt better, but I’m going to live.” He forced a smile.

The light-heartedness he was trying to project actually caused her to worry more. “Do you think they’ll come back?”

“Hard to say. If they didn’t get him, they’ll be back. I don’t know how soon.” The pain showing on his face had become constant.

“Rebecca? Can you help?”

“Of course.” Rebecca closed her eyes and stretched out her hand towards Mathew. After only a few seconds, his head dropped towards his chest, and his breathing steadied. “Julia, I need some help getting him to the infirmary.”

Julia opened a portal and helped Rebecca carry him through.

“So what happened in the house?”

Sarah was thinking about Matthew and didn’t hear David’s question.

“Sarah?”

“Sorry.” She shook her head a bit to try to bring her focus back to the moment. “What did you say?”

“I asked what happened.”

“As Matthew said, they were after Thomas.”

“But they failed?”

A wave of exhaustion swept over her once more, so she slumped into a chair. “Sort of. Thomas is in his room, frozen in time. Two of the attackers are up there, too. They didn’t kill or capture him, but he is currently incapacitated.”

“How do we save him?”

“That’s what we were discussing when you came in. We aren’t sure yet.”

“Why didn’t you tell Matthew.”

“He needs rest. Needs to recover. There’s nothing he can do right now in his condition. Was there anything else in the house where you found him? Any clue?”

“No. The place was empty. I doubt they had been there long.”

“Okay. You should get some rest, too. Oh, and would you mind not leaving the house for the next few days. If they do come back, I’d rather have you in here with us.”

“Sure. Whatever I can do.”

“And David? Thank you for finding Matthew.”

“Purely accidental. But you’re welcome.”

David left Sarah alone with her thoughts. Matthew being back in the house, even wounded, managed to give her a little comfort, but there were still a lot of unknowns to deal with. Her first task was studying the features of the men in Thomas’s room. She wanted to be able to reproduce them as exactly as possible.

Siege (part eight)

“So there are three people frozen in time in Thomas’s room, and we have no idea how to release them?” Rebecca’s voice betrayed the toll that stress had taken on her.

“Yes. That is the current situation.” Sarah felt exhausted.

“On a positive note, the barrier seems to be gone.” Julia tried to sound upbeat but failed.

The three women were sitting downstairs. They had tried to move the men without success. For now, at least, they were stuck in their current positions.

“Can you use your blue crystal?” Rebecca asked Julia.

“No. I haven’t figured out how to extend its use. I was lucky that it worked on Bailey. But mind control is a different sort of magic than temporal stasis.”

Rebecca slumped further into her chair, the hope she had harbored briefly fully extinguished.

“We need another temporal mage.” Julia said. “Do you know anyone, Sarah?”

“No. Thomas was . . .” She caught herself. “ . . . is the only one I’ve met. It’s clear they were after him, but we still don’t know why.”

Silence fell over them as each reflected on the matter. For her part, Sarah was not certain how to feel. She knew she couldn’t leave Thomas as he was, but it might mean the house was safe, at least for now. On the other hand, he might also have an idea as to who their attackers were, or even why they had attacked.

“We should restore our own defenses. Whoever it was that got away, he could come back. Can you put up a barrier of our own, Julia?” Sarah refused to sit still and wait for the next thing to happen.

“I can, but there is a reason I didn’t put one up before. With preparation, they can be taken down. It worked in this case because we didn’t have the time to break it. If I set one up, they could figure out how to deal with it before we notice. At best, it would slow them down.”

“That’s better than nothing.”

“Okay. I just wanted you to know the limits of it. I’ll put one up and reactivate the long hallway. Leaving one up for too long might also attract unwanted attention. Once I can figure out a way to remove barriers quickly, I think we should consider taking it down.”

“What about the men upstairs?” Rebecca asked.

“There’s nothing we can do about them, remember?” Sarah answered.

“No. I meant, what if the stasis is temporary. What if they can start moving. They’re still a threat.”

“That’s a good point. I’ll put up a barrier around them. Even if they manage to break out, at least we’ll know.”

“I’m sorry to put so much on you, Julia.” Sarah said.

Julia shrugged. “Defending the house is my job. It’s why you all let me stick around in spite of my anti-social attitude.”

“That’s not true,” Sarah protested.

“Relax. I’m joking. Mostly. Anyway, it’ll give me something to do.”

“Rebecca. Do you think you could contact Thomas’s soul? See if it’s frozen too? Maybe we can contact him through the spirit world?”

Rebecca appeared to think about the idea for a few moments. “I can try. I don’t know if it will work, but I will try.”

“That’s all I ask. I will see if I can track down the identities of our uninvited guests. Maybe that will provide us with some answers.”

They heard the front door open and then David’s voice.

“Barrier’s down. Is anybody here?”

“In here,” Sarah replied.

David came around the corner, but he wasn’t alone. He was supporting another person who seemed to be unconscious.

“David! Who . . .?” Sarah had rushed over to help.

At the sound of her voice, the figure raised its head and gave her a weak smile. “Sarah. It’s good to see you.”

Her surprise caused her to take a step back. “Matthew?!”

Siege (part seven)

“Try again,” Rebecca insisted.

Sarah knocked on Thomas’s door again, with the same result. It didn’t make a sound. She looked at the other two mages and shrugged. They knew that others had entered the house, but they had been unable to locate them. Thomas’s room was the obvious place to check.

“I’m guessing it’s sealed,” Julia said. “We probably couldn’t move it no matter what we do.”

“Couldn’t you bypass the door?” Rebecca asked.

“Don’t.” Sarah said to stop Julia from trying. “We have no idea what’s going on in there.” Sarah leaned against the wall.

“So we just sit out here and wait?” Rebecca sounded frustrated.

Neither Sarah nor Julia answered. Sarah wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but a part of her thought that Thomas deserved whatever was happening. His recklessness had driven Matthew away, killed Jason, and he had refused to help Rebecca when she had been taken. If this attack was aimed at him, then he hand endangered everyone. Again. Saving him from himself . . . Saving those he so casually put in harm’s way over and over . . . It was all exhausting. She would rather not continue doing it.

But the rest of her knew she couldn’t ignore the situation. Thomas was a member of this house, and she wouldn’t abandon him, even if that’s what he would do. “Julia, do you think you can get in?”

“Probably.” The spatial mage focused her attention on the wall beside the door. She took a few steps down the hallway, before turning back. “Here. You want me to open it? Are you ready?”

Sarah nodded. “Do it. But let me go in first.”

The wall appeared to flow open, and on the other side, she could see a man crouching over Thomas. It looked as though he was trying to pick the mage up and not having any success. The moment he noticed her, he began casting.

Sarah had already crafter multiple images of herself, leaving him without a clear target.

“This again,” he muttered. He pulled spell sphere from his pocket and dropped it as his feet.

Julia yelled from behind her as the portal opened up, but it was too late. The man had already jumped through, and it closed behind him.

“Can you follow him?”

Julia shook her head.

Thomas hadn’t moved at all, so Sarah bent down to check on him. He didn’t seem to be breathing and was completely stiff. More than that, she realized, she couldn’t move him at all; not even his skin gave way to her touch. It was as though he had turned to marble.

“What about these guys?”

Julia’s question drew her attention to the rest of the room. There were two men standing near the door, and neither of them were moving.

Sarah suddenly understood. “Stasis. They are frozen in time. So is Thomas. They must be the other mages who came into the house.”

“Frozen in time? I didn’t realize that was even possible.” Rebecca said. “How do we unfreeze them?”

Sarah looked back down at Thomas. “I have no idea.”

Siege (part six)

The only type of mage rarer than temporal mages were those who specialized in chaos magic. Thomas had only ever met one of those, and that was Jason. Chaos mages had a tendency to fall victim to fatal accidents. On the other hand, he had met a few temporal mages during his apprenticeship. They weren’t prone to accidents; there just seemed to be fewer born with that gift. He had really never asked why; he simply had thought himself special.

Now that another house he belonged to was under attack, Thomas began to wonder if someone might be targeting temporal mages. That didn’t seem likely, though, and he still had no explanation for why his houses kept being attacked.

Without warning, the door to his rooms opened, and three men entered. The face of one of them was very familiar to him: it was the man Thomas watched attack him over and over again fifteen years ago. He was older, but Thomas was certain it was him.

“No destruction this time? Have you come to talk?”

The man sneered at him. “We just needed to get past that damn spatial mage of yours. But if you want destruction, we can oblige.”

A shimmer Thomas had only barely noticed disappeared from around the three men. Recognizing his chance, he tossed a spell sphere at their feet. As soon as it struck the floor, the sphere exploded in a blinding burst of light that enveloped all three of them. When it subsided, two of men were frozen in time. The third, the one he had recognized, was still moving.

“A stasis bomb. Clever. But I told you before, you aren’t the only person with access to temporal magic.”

“Who are you? What do want?”

The other man frowned. “You don’t really expect me to waste time explaining myself, do you? You have been a thorn in my side for too long. No more.” He pointed at the floor beneath Thomas’s feet. Thee floor began to rot away, and he barely had time to leap away.

“Impressive. But you can’t run forever.” The man brought out a spell sphere of his own and threw it at Thomas. He easily dodged it, but the chair behind him burst into flame.

Deciding to ignore the fire for now, Thomas cast a spell towards his opponent. The man ducked and smiled.

“That was a rather feeble . . .” His mouth kept moving but no sound came out.

“I wasn’t aiming at you.” The other man couldn’t hear him, of course. He began gasping for breath with no success. Thomas had stopped all the air around him. No sound could travel through that area, and it was impossible to inhale anything. The solution was temporary, since the area was finite, but it gave Thomas time to reach his cabinet.

As he opened it to grab something that would help, the intruder pulled another spell sphere out of his pocket and threw it at Thomas. This time, he didn’t dodge, and electricity shot through him causing him to collapse in convulsions. Meanwhile, the other man had finally found the edge of the frozen area. On his knees, he took several gulping breaths while recovering from oxygen deprivation.

The electricity had subsided, but Thomas was quickly losing consciousness. Out of options, he pulled out a small sphere and swallowed it. It was the only chance he had to save himself; he just had to hope that his housemates would save him from this desperate act.

Siege (part five)

Turning several street corners to throw off anyone who might be following him, David put a fair bit of distance between himself and the magic shop. No one seemed to be following him. Maybe it was just an unlucky coincidence that he lost contact with Julia when he did, but he didn’t want to take any chances.

Ducking into a narrow alley, he looked around to make sure no one else was nearby. Once he was satisfied, he slipped on Sarah’s invisibility ring. He hadn’t seen any need for it, but Sarah insisted he keep it. Now he was grateful she had. Safe from prying eyes – he hoped – David made his way back to the house.

As soon as it came into view, he knew something was off. The building always had an air of magic about it, if you knew how to look. But this was different, unfamiliar. This magic, whatever it was, might be responsible for severing the connection with Julia. Leaving the ring on, David approached the house carefully.

He went to open the door, but something stopped him from touching the doorknob. A barrier was wrapped around the house, though he had no idea who created it or why. Had Julia set it up to keep someone out? Or had someone else set it up to trap everyone inside?

He considered trying to use brute force to break through, but that had too many downsides. For one thing, it might not work, and all he would have accomplished is announcing his presence. On the other hand, using elemental magic might even damage the house. Without knowing more, he decided to wait and see what would happen next.

Over an hour passed uneventfully. Tired of waiting, David decided to try to get through the barrier. As he approached the house once more, he noticed three people leave a house down the block and walk in his direction. The ring’s magic appeared to still be working, so he hoped they weren’t coming for him. Indeed, they walked right past him and up to the front door. All of them appeared middle-aged and male; none of them looked familiar to him.

Effortlessly, they opened the door and entered the house. David tried to follow them inside, but the barrier remained intact. If they could pass through, they were probably responsible for setting it up in the first place. But knowing that didn’t help him.

Instead, he went to the house where the men had come from. There was a “For Sale” sign in the front yard, and the place seemed unoccupied. The front door was unlocked, so he went in as quietly as he could.

There wasn’t any furniture in the living room. In fact, every room was empty, and there was no indication of who the men were. Had they even really been here? To be thorough, he decided to check the basement, too.

As with the rest of the house, there was nothing in it. It was hard to imagine that anyone had ever lived here. He noticed a door at the far end of the large space. Opening it, he found himself in front of a person blindfolded and tied to a chair.

Siege (part four)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Julia?”

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

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

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

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

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

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