Lilah struggled to think about the past. The bacon and eggs, here in the present, weren’t helping much. She and Marius ate in silence for some time. Presently, her hunger abated and the bacon gone, Lilah pushed her plate back and fixed brown eyes on Marius.
“Can I go for a walk?” she asked.
“I don’t see why not,” said Marius.
“You have to go with me?”
“Well,” he said, “you don’t know your way around as yet, do you? You don’t want to get lost, even in a safe world like this, do you?”
She glared at him with a slight smile. Finally she said, “I’m lost anyway.” She laughed a little, and so did he. “Anyway,” she said, “you want to promise me you’re not just following me around to keep me in custody or something? Like, I’m supposed to be offered a job but I’m actually being held incommunicado or something. Like you’re my minder.”
Marius laughed ruefully. “No, Lilah Bay,” he said, “I am not your minder. You are not in custody. I am very sorry if it seems so. This place is safe, it’s safer than most places, but its geometry is interesting, and it’s not entirely of our making, it’s got its own inner nature, you might say, as almost all universes have, even small ones like this, perhaps especially small ones.”
“So, still, you want to walk with me,” said Lilah. “You don’t want to let me out of your sight just yet. Right?”
“Well,” said Marius uncomfortably, “you would understand that I actually have reason not to wish to, as you say, let you out of my sight. But it’s not that I’m trying to imprison you. Gods, no. So what if we say this? I shall let you go wherever you wish, but I will advise you to let me accompany you, because you understand that wandering on your own in a place where you have never before wandered might be dangerous. You understand this?”
“I understand this.”
“So, do you wish to wander alone? Or do you take my advice and let me accompany you?”
“Marius,” she said. She laughed. “You’re funny.” She stood up. He stood too. She noticed again that she was a couple of centimeters taller than him. “Okay,” she said, “I take your advice. For now.”
“But you would like to have time alone?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I think so.”
“Come, then,” said Marius. “There is a rooftop. You would be in slight danger of falling off, but you are neither careless, nor, I think, suicidal.”
She gave him another long gaze, not quite smiling. “No, not suicidal,” she said.
Marius gave his cat familiar a few scritches around the mane and then a few smoothing strokes. “We’re going out, Theodora,” he said. “We will be right back. You’re in charge while we’re gone.” He looked up at Lilah. “You may pet her. She would like that.”
“Okay,” said Lilah, petting the cat. Then she followed Marius out into the hall, and then Marius led Lilah up past one of the left turns, then another thirty meters or so, past another four doors on the right and three on the left, and then they turned right and there was a small, empty lobby. This had several doors, but only one of them did not look as though a mop closet lay behind it. Marius opened this door and held it for Lilah. It was a stairway. It went up some number of flights, and down some number of flights.
“You guys do have pentons, right?” asked Lilah, looking up and down the stairs. “I mean, you got magic, right? And you use stairs?”
“You want me to wave my wand and whisk you to the roof?” asked Marius.
“Is it dangerous or something?”
“It’s only two flights up,” he said, with a little laugh.
“Now you think I’m spoiled, don’t you?” She laughed and started up the stairs, and he had to hurry to keep up. Up eight steps, then a landing, then up eight more the other direction, then a landing and a door. Lilah paused before the next set of steps. “Should I ask?”
“Oh, it’s mostly empty offices,” said Marius, but he seemed less than anxious to show her the other side of the door. “Shall we?”
“Okay, sure,” said Lilah. She set off again, eight steps up, then a landing, then eight more the other direction, then a landing and a door, but this one was different. For one thing, it had a bar instead of a knob. She stopped before it, and Marius went to it, took the wide bar and pushed the door open. A breeze blew in out of the night, cool and moist. Lilah took a big breath, then stepped through and onto the roof.
She couldn’t see much at first. The top of the stairs was housed in a small structure on the roof, and there were dim floodlights on the corners on either side. The air was thick with fog, and the lights only showed a few meters of rooftop. She stepped forward out of the pale of the light, and the world opened up a little more. Without the floodlights, Lilah found she wasn’t seeing the fog anymore but seeing through the fog. She took ten steps, and found herself at a low wall.
She leaned out and looked down. The wall was the outer wall of a tall building. She could dimly and fitfully see a few lights on another building across a gulf of wet air. Beyond that, on either side, she could make out the expanse of a city. Above, the cloud cover blotted out any stars, but suddenly through a gap a crescent moon appeared. She drew a breath.
She looked around. Marius was not near her. Where was he? Probably back by the stair door. Or not.
Lilah took a few steps to the left along the wall, as if sliding into a hiding place. Now she could imagine she was invisible. Heck, she could imagine she didn’t exist, she was a disembodied spirit. She could float back into her memories and find—?
She found things. She found her mother. She found her favorite stuffed bear. She found the shards of her childhood, her ruin of a teenage, her heartbreak, her disgust. She found a school, and another school, a boss and another boss. She found bodies, and puzzles, and days and nights and early mornings, but all in a jumble. She found colleagues: she could remember them, she could almost remember their names: the older, balding, blond guy, the punky young lady, the slow but clever guy who let on as if he were a doofus. More faces: tough, reliable, a little crazy, a little in their heads, a little stupid like everyone was, unable to see their own forest for their own trees.
A body: a woman dead, of an overdose, an overdose of something magical. A man killed in a fight, but a strange fight, an unholy contest. A child slain before she was six. Now who would do that? Someone who knew what the child would become. The child would become a rich businesswoman, a rival politician: and there was Lilah’s first break, her first bust, back on Padva. Lilah and the balding blond guy, Garik, taking down the aristocratic fellow who had taken down his main rival before she was even on the scene. He had murdered the adult by murdering the child before she became the adult. But the joke was on him: they had him down and his ring off and a new ring on, one that kept him from using his power, and then he was off to the new magical cell that Lilah’s boss had thought of.
Her boss. Another aristocratic guy. And there he was, another body. Lilah and Garik found him in his office, dead, unmarked except for a little blood at his nostrils and ears.
Lilah and Garik. They looked at each other. They knew they had to do something. Lilah was darned if she remembered what.
And then there was one more face, no, two. There was a child, his skin not as dark as hers, his smile wider and more infectious than hers, growing before her eyes. Leonard. Was he coming over tonight? What would she make him? Was it his birthday? She almost laughed, but she almost cried.
And then there was the other face. This face was a man, not a child, and this was the face that Leonard also looked like, and seeing him in her mind’s eye, even when she couldn’t quite find his name: Lilah did not want to laugh or cry. Rather the tendency was to feel around for a weapon.