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.

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.

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.

Past/Present (part seven)

The scream brought Sarah running. It sounded like someone was dying very painfully. Before she got to the room, the scream ended, but that just made her more nervous. She burst through the door to find Thomas collapsed on the floor and Rebecca kneeling over him.

“What is going on?”

Rebecca gestured towards Thomas. “There was an accident. Thomas’s hand was severed.”

A sense of horror replaced her concern. “Where is it?”

“If I had to guess, I’d say about fifteen years ago,” Rebecca sighed.

“What?”

“First help me get him to bed. I stopped the bleeding and helped dull the pain, but he needs sleep. Lots of it.”

Rebecca and Sarah propped him up between them and walked him slowly to a room Rebecca had set aside as an infirmary. They laid him onto a bed. After Rebecca assured herself that he would stay asleep, she led Sarah to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine.

“So what’s this about ‘fifteen years ago’?” Sarah didn’t sit down.

“Do you want the long version or the short?”

“Rebecca…”

“Okay, the short version is that we traveled back in time about fifteen years ago. Coming back, the portal closed while Thomas was reaching through it. That’s how he lost his hand.”

“You went back in time? How is that even possible? And why fifteen years?” Sarah’s head was swimming with questions and overwhelmed by the implications.

“I don’t think I can explain how. They combined their gifts to…”

“Wait. They? Who else…” A thought popped into her mind, but it couldn’t be. “Where’s Julia?”

Rebecca sighed again and took another sip of wine. “Again, best guess? Fifteen years ago.”

Finally, she had to sit down. This was too much to take in. “She went too? Why would she do anything with Thomas?”

“He said we could save Jason.”

“That… makes sense. But why fifteen…” At first, she hadn’t realized why the number of years was significant; now it hit her, too. “Oh shit. You went back to his master’s house, didn’t you?”

Rebecca nodded. “Julia was furious. He said something about an attack.”

“Yes. That’s when I met him.”

“Julia decided to keep him from doing whatever he had planned. So she shoved him back through the portal and closed it when he tried to go back again. Thomas lost his hand, and Julia lost her only way back to the present.”

“I thought he had finally let it go,” Sarah said, not to Rebecca but to herself.

“Well, I’m exhausted. I’ll sleep in the infirmary tonight to keep tabs on Thomas.”

“What do we do about Julia?”

“I honestly don’t know. I can’t even keep my eyes open.”

Rebecca left her to her worries. Sarah grabbed a glass and poured some wine for herself. She had no idea Thomas was still obsessing about the attack, but she couldn’t ignore it any longer.

Past/Present (part five)

“Julia!” Rebecca’s warning carried through the portal. From where she was sprawled on the floor, Julia could see Thomas trying to make his way back through the portal. Stopping him was her priority, so she did the only thing she could think of: she closed the portal.

Pulling herself up, she slowly walked over to where the portal had been and just stared at the emptiness in its place. She was fifteen years in her past with no means of returning to her present. On the floor was a severed hand. It had to be Thomas’s, caught on the wrong side of the portal when it had shut. Voices on the other side of the door warned her that others were about to enter the lab, so she grabbed the hand and crouched behind one of the tables.

“. . . never seen anything like it.” That sounded like Thomas, but younger.

“Where is it?” An older male voice she didn’t recognize.

“What? It was here! You must believe me.”

“I do, Thomas. Do you know what sort of portal it was?”

“As I said, I did not recognize it.”

“Research it. Come find me when you know. Then we can decide how to proceed. I will check the rest of the house.”

The door opened and closed again, then she heard someone, presumably Thomas, open a book and begin paging through it. Thomas had said he wanted to learn something in this time, but what? It couldn’t be about the portal. The moment they traveled back he must have realized what the portal was. So what had he come for?

Thomas was always so secretive; it was why she had never trusted him. This could be a chance to find out more about him, about his past. Something important happened on this day, in this place. Important enough for him to solicit her help to come back here. However, she didn’t know what he had been looking for, and she had no idea how her presence here might alter events. Her focus had to be on finding a way to return to her own present.

From behind the table, she heard the door open again, followed by the sounds of someone casting. This might have been the event Thomas wanted to learn about, but whatever it was, Julia was certain she didn’t want to be involved. She needed a distraction so she could get out of the situation. At least, that was the excuse she told herself. In her heart, she knew that she could probably have just left without drawing too much attention. After all, someone was casting a spell which probably meant that things were about to become chaotic without her help. She just wanted to be sure, and it almost certainly wasn’t to mess with Thomas. Probably.

Without a reliable location set up in advance, there was no controlled chaos she could create. Instead, she simply opened a portal in the ceiling to let whatever was in the room above fall into Thomas’s lab. Once things began to drop, she opened a second portal and left the lab before anything else could happen. She didn’t know what spell the new arrival had been about to cast, and she didn’t wait to see Thomas’s reaction.

Once more on the street, she wandered aimlessly. Fifteen years ago, she would have still been in training, so she wasn’t likely to run into her younger self. Jason already made it clear that he couldn’t help her, and approaching anyone else might have a ripple effect into the future. Thomas’s magic had made the trip possible, but now she had no access to time magic. If she couldn’t come up with a solution, she was stuck in her own past.

Past/Present (part four)

“We’re leaving.” Julia’s voice sounded definitive but not angry.

“Julia? What happened with Jason?” Rebecca assumed Julia had realized Thomas had his own motives for this trip.

Julia didn’t take her eyes of Thomas. “Later. When we’re back at the house. For now, we need leave before we mess up the past. Or at least before we mess it up anymore.”

“Nothing has been ‘messed up,’ as you put it,” Thomas objected. “That is not how time travel works.”

“Really, Thomas?” Now there was irritation in her voice. “Why don’t you tell us how it works? When we talked about this earlier, you said you didn’t know.”

“You are not being fair, Julia. I formulated probable . . .”

“I said, later.” Julia cut him off. “Let’s go.”

“We cannot leave yet; I still have not learned about . . .”

Before he could finish, Julia closed the distance between them and began pushing him toward the portal. Thomas stumbled back a few steps before he regained his footing. He then managed to shove Julia to the ground.

Rebecca wanted to intervene, to stop this altercation, but she didn’t think either of them were in a mood to listen. When she noticed Thomas trying to cast a spell, she expected things to get much worse. Instead, nothing happened, and he scowled.

“You drained me. Is this why you took all my magic in casting the spell? To make me powerless?”

Julia, who had gotten back to her feet, chuckled softly. “You sound paranoid. If I had known then you were up to something, I wouldn’t have drained you. I simply wouldn’t have cast the spell in the first place.”

Even though Thomas seemed to be without magical resources, Julia wasn’t taking advantage of that fact. She was keeping the fight physical, not using her own magic.To Rebecca, it looked like Julia was holding back, though she couldn’t imagine why.

Julia sprang at Thomas, but he was ready for her and shoved her back to the floor.

“Stop this, Julia. It is unbecoming to engage in such a brutish display. I have no desire to hurt you. I just need to see what happens here today. Then we can leave, and you can chastise me all you like.”

Rebecca knew that Julia wasn’t going to give up; she was even beginning to think Julia was right. Thomas always had a convenient excuse while he manipulated people. She didn’t even trust that he merely wanted to observe this attack, if there even was one. She needed to end this before anyone got hurt.

Thomas was focused entirely on Julia as she slowly circled him. Because of that, Rebecca was able to get behind him when he was facing away from the portal. She made sure Julia saw her, and the next time Julia lunged at Thomas, Rebecca tripped him when he stumbled backwards. As he fell to the floor, she grabbed his arm and dragged him through.

The portal was several inches off the floor, and she had to let go of Thomas as she tried to keep her balance. Thomas pushed her away when she went to grab hold of him again. He turned back to the portal as she fell.

“Julia!” She yelled. Julia needed to get through and close the portal. Rebecca didn’t know what Julia was worried about, but right now she trusted her more than Thomas.

As Thomas reached the portal and started to cross back over, it suddenly vanished, along with his left hand.

Past/Present (part three)

As soon as Julia had left through her portal, Rebecca turned to Thomas and asked, “So why are we here?”

Thomas rolled his eyes. “Not you, too.”

“Julia was too focused on Jason to notice, but your explanation doesn’t make much sense. We had to go back fifteen years to find a place that no longer exists? Do you have any respect for the intelligence of others?”

“Fine,” Thomas sighed. “Today, this house will be attacked. Most of its occupants killed. I was the only survivor. I want to learn everything I can about the perpetrators, determine their motives.”

“So this wasn’t about Jason at all?” Rebecca was beginning to appreciate Julia’s distrust of Thomas.

“It is about Jason. But this is a unique opportunity; no one has ever successfully traveled to the past before. So we can save Jason and find out who attacked this house at the same time.”

That made sense, she supposed, but Rebecca doubted Julia would see it that way.

“So when does this attack happen?”

“In a few hours. That should give Julia enough time to reach Jason.”

“Have you thought about what you’re going to say to her when she gets back?”

“What do you mean?”

Rebecca couldn’t decide if he was truly this oblivious or if it was just an act. “How do you think she’s going to react when she discovers your ulterior motive?”

Thomas scoffed dismissively. “I got her back to Jason. Why should she care if I take care of some business of my own?”

There was no point in arguing with him. He was determined to keep making the same mistakes. It was common for mages to struggle with interpersonal relationships, but Thomas seemed worse than anyone she had ever met. Not for the first time, she wondered how Sarah put up with him for so long.

“If my memory is correct, I will be entering the lab soon.” Thomas had already moved on.

Rebecca’s train of thought had not shifted as quickly. “What?”

“I remember this, though I did not understand it before now. I come into this room and see the portal.”

“Are you going to talk to your past self?”

“No. I had considered it, but I do not want to change the past too much. The consequences of doing so are unpredictable.”

“Then what?”

“We should hide. I will leave the lab after studying the portal for a bit.”

“You leave with an unexplained portal open in your lab?”

“Yes. To consult with my master. Then we come back here . . .” His voice trailed off.

“And?”

“Nothing. The portal is gone when we come back.” Thomas was speaking slowly, as he seemed to be trying to work something out.

“What’s wrong?”

“I saw the portal, but not you or me. And the portal is gone when I came back. How do we conceal the portal?”

He didn’t even seem to be talking to her anymore. She tried to follow his questions back to the root of his concern.

“Wait. You said you remember the portal being here? Does that mean we already came back? That this trip was always part of your past?”

“Perhaps,” he admitted.

If they had always come to this point in time, was it possible to even change the past? Had Julia always tried to save Jason? Had Thomas always investigated this attack he was worried about? What, if anything, can they accomplish in this time?

“I have an idea!” Thomas’s exclamation startled her.

“What?”

“First, we have to hide. I will be entering the lab soon.” He pointed to behind one of the tables in the middle of the room. They crouched behind it and soon heard the door open.

“What the . . .?” The voice was Thomas’s, but less gruff.

Long minutes of silence followed, each increasing Rebecca’s anxiety that they would be discovered. Eventually, however, she heard the door open and close again.

“That felt longer than a bit.”

Thomas waved away her complaint as he stood. “Only a few minutes. Now we should have some time to get ready. I have an idea on how we might conceal the portal. Can you telepathically make him, me, unable to see it?”

The question was unexpected. “No.”

“But your gift has to do with souls, minds . . .”

“I don’t specialize in telepathy. I can link willing minds, but my expertise is in spirit. I thought you knew that.”

“So how can we hide the portal?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t even know this was going to be a problem, or we could have asked Sarah for help.”

Thomas fell silent to think over the problem anew. Rebecca sat on one of the tables and studied the room. There was nothing in particular she was looking for, but she had nothing else to do.

The silence was interrupted when a second portal opened in the lab, and Julia stepped through.

“Thomas, whatever you’re doing, stop. We’re leaving.”

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.”