“Ah, the friendly confines,” said Marius as he shut the office door behind them.
“I thought the roof was like really safe,” said Lilah, coming into the middle of the room, then moving to the shelves of the side wall and leaning her butt against them.
“Safe can mean so many different things,” said Marius. “It’s certainly true that the rooftop in the fog is about as remote from any danger as one can get. It’s certainly hard to be detected up there. Yet in some ways having a ceiling and four walls and a floor and a door that locks and absolutely no windows does make one feel very secure indeed.”
“So you think we’re safer here to talk serious stuff about old cases,” said Lilah. “Just tell me one thing. How many other tenants are there in this building?”
“Miss Bay, would you like something to drink? To drive out the cold night air? I ask because I would very much like one myself.”
“All right, I’ll go for it. Just tell me the answer to my question.”
Marius went over to a little cabinet among the bookshelves. “There are not many other tenants,” he said, opening the cabinet and doing something Lilah couldn’t see. “One does not go to any effort to meet one’s neighbors. In any case, this floor has no one else that I am aware of.” He turned, and he was holding two sizeable glasses, each half full of an amber liquor. “If someone else is about, they are motivated to keep us unaware of them, as we are motivated to keep them unaware of us.” He handed a glass to Lilah.
“How does one go about getting a spot in this place, anyway?” she asked, doing her best imitation of Marius as she took the drink from him. “If one wants to? Does one, um, contact an agency or look up a listing?”
“One learns the rules of the city, and one plays by those rules,” said Marius with a small laugh. “And then one squats in an empty place and here one is.”
Lilah took a sip. “Hey,” she said, “I don’t know much about it, but this is the good stuff.”
“Thank you,” said Marius. “A sort of, I think it’s called cognac, it’s a brandy made from grapes. It’s the real thing, it’s not spelled up.”
“It doesn’t taste spelled up,” said Lilah. “So you just waltzed in and took over the office? How did one get one’s hands on a key?”
“It was under the mat,” said Marius. “You wanted to know other things besides the real estate business of the city.”
“City have a name?”
“We just call it the city.”
“Not so much. In any case—!”
“Okay. Case,” said Lilah. “That case. The case of the kidnaping that was a rape or something.”
Marius immediately became 20% graver. He went to the table, turned a chair toward Lilah and sat down. He took a drink, then set the glass on the table and bent forward, his elbows on his knees. Leaning against the bookshelf, Lilah watched him, her lips pursed.
“People,” said Marius, “well, most people are decent, and the ones who are not, usually they’re poor or weak and can do little harm. But give a man, or a woman for that matter, or a lizard-bug-creature—give it spells and its scope for indecent behavior naturally grows. And give that man or woman or lizard-bug-creature time travel and—it grows exponentially, you might say, with each magical grade higher.”
“Time travel,” said Lilah.
“Yes. And there was this wizard, his name was Naro, I don’t know his first name. I don’t know where he was from. But Naro made himself into a very great wizard indeed. He was a member of any number of Great Councils, he amassed great wealth, he built himself a stronghold in a small universe he discovered, it’s all the rage these days, having one’s own private cosmos. One can see the advantages. But Naro, who was something like four centuries old, but of course he only looked thirty, he had a particular, um, predilection.”
“Sexual, I’m gonna guess.”
“Indeed. And again, many people have predilections, but most choose never to act on them and most of the rest lack the wherewithal, the circumstances. But Naro lacked nothing, you see. And his predilection, shockingly, was that he preferred his lovers to be girls of sixteen or so.”
“And he’s four hundred.”
“But looks thirty. Well, it hardly matters. It’s rather horrible. So he had lovers among the wizards, but they were his size and could put him in his place, and that only increased the attraction of teenagers. But what sixteen-year-old would give him the time of day, as they say? It wasn’t enough for him to pay them or something. They had to actually be in love with him, at least as he thought of it.”
“So he mind-controlled them,” Lilah filled in. “He coerced them.”
“Worse than that,” said Marius, “though I’m sure Naro thought it was not so bad. Rationalization is an interesting phenomenon. He found a girl he liked, in some far off cosmos, and he went back in time some number of years to when she was, say, three, and he kidnaped her. And brought her back to his little domain. And there, the girl would be raised by Naro’s original wife, who must have been got the same way, but he kept her on as a servant, and her he did mind control, you see. So the kidnaped girls get raised to think their purpose was to serve him. And when they came to be old enough for his tastes, he ‘married’ them and, um, used them as he wished. And when he tired of a girl, which typically happened when she became pregnant with his child, he would simply drop her off in some other cosmos, in some farm town, where, I suppose, he imagined the young woman and her child would get on well enough, though in fact many of them found their way to very unfortunate ends thanks to his carelessness and his lust.”
“How many?” asked Lilah. “How many victims were there?”
“Several dozen, I believe, over the course of perhaps fifty years. But eventually his first wife, whom he had mind controlled, came uncontrolled. She awakened to what he was doing and she slit his throat in his sleep and burned his body in the steel forger’s furnace. The last few little girls wound up, somehow, being raised by Wife Number One, as if they were her daughters, and they did well enough as it turned out. That didn’t make right all the things Naro had done, of course.”
“Well, wow,” said Lilah. “But what’s the point of this story? How do you know all this? And anyway, he got his, right?”
“Yes. Well, Naro was a member of many Great Councils, as I said, but those are just social clubs compared to some of the things one sees lately. One of these councils was called—it doesn’t matter what it was called, but Naro was on the Special Committee, and I gather they had a meeting and he didn’t appear. And another, and then several members of the Council decided to send their secretary to investigate. I emphasize that the secretary was not remotely important or grand enough to be a Member of the Council, but he was the one who was sent to go see what had become of Naro, and he had the coordinates of Naro’s dominion. So he went and he found Wife Number One in charge of the place, servants, last few girls and so on. And she was not coy about her actions, rather the opposite, she seemed proud of herself. So the secretary returns to the Council, and opinions were rather divided on the subject of what to do.”
“They thought they should kill Wife Number One in retribution,” guessed Lilah.
“Some of them. Not a majority. But some felt that this raised questions of legality. As you know, many worlds, like your Padva, which was rather a leader in this respect, found it necessary to establish magical constabularies just to keep the peace a little. Well, it was clear to the Council that Naro had done evil, but Naro always kidnaped from lawless worlds, magically speaking, so it seemed rather insufficient to wish everyone had the good fortune to be born somewhere civilized, like Padva.” Lilah snorted. “Relatively speaking,” Marius added. “And in Naro’s own cosmos, well, he was the convening authority, until Wife Number One woke from her mind control. If he had done a better job of keeping his spell on her, he would never have faced justice.”
“So it’s a matter of jurisdiction.”
“Lilah Bay, it is a serious matter of jurisdiction. Injustice knows no bounds, but justice knows lots of bounds. There are many things we cannot fix, one knows that. All those young women dumped off in worlds they did not know, all those families who got up of a morning and found their daughters gone. One could not fix such things. It was suggested, of course, but someone pointed out that for each girl Naro abducted, there were a hundred or a thousand stolen from the same neighborhoods and sold into slavery the usual way, on the other side of the island or the continent or the planet. One cannot fix all of the injustice in the universe. But what Naro did: such things should be stopped. They must be stopped. It was horrible. It was horrible.” Marius had become worked up. He stopped, took a breath and sighed. “And the fact is that with powerful magic such as time travel and transit between universes, there is simply no legal jurisdiction. But to leave such things to the individual, to the family whose daughter is stolen, that would be to abandon law for vendetta, and it clearly was not working in any case. No, what we needed was someone who could take care of things like this, jurisdiction or no. I mean, we know there can’t be, you know, a sort of Juris Codex Temporis, a legal system with Subparagraph 5 of Paragraph E of section 3.77 and so on. But it’s not as though anyone would argue that Naro was within his rights. Ugh.”
“All right,” said Lilah, after a respectful pause. “So what to do?”
“Well, a new council was created. Members of the Council found members of other Councils and Orders and Fraternities and Sects and so on, who had the same feeling about things. And it was decided that they would form this new Council and that it would hire some actual investigators to investigate crimes such as these, these things that cross universes and time streams and so on. And since you had some experience in magical crimes, you seemed an obvious choice.”
“Well, see, I don’t get that, because I hardly remember a thing, and why don’t I remember a thing? Because some bleephole tried to destroy me.”
“I considered that, and I found that you still came out as the top choice.”
“And you have cases?”
“We have cases,” said Marius, “though right now there is only one that quite merits this level of attention. And should you accept my offer, you may hire officers under you, and open the folder of this particular case we have.”
“So what is this new Council called?”
“The Violet Council,” said Marius. He held up his ring: the small gem, in this light, was pale enough to be lavender.
“Why violet? Their favorite color?”
“No,” said Marius, “it’s the name of Wife Number One. Her name’s Violet. We named it after her.”
“And you? How did you get to be a member of the Council?”
“Oh, I’m not,” said Marius. “I am not nearly high class enough for membership. No, I am their lead, um, you might say, operations secretary. And how did I become that, you ask? You see, that secretary who was sent to look for Naro—that was me.”