5.

They talked some more, to much less effect, and then they went for another stroll on the roof, and then Marius called for some dinner, a chicken curry with some white wine. Afterward, he and Lilah stacked all the dishes, breakfast and dinner, on the trolley and rolled it out into the hall. They came back in, laughing at a quip of his. Marius went to the cognac bottle, and Lilah sat down near the table.

“You know,” she said, “for a secretary to a secret society of vigilante wizards, you’re a lot of fun.”

“For a—? All right,” said Marius, “I’ll accept that. I don’t know how I came to be a secretary of a secret society of wizards, but I am on at least my second such post, so it seems to be a career path.”

“Where are you from?”

“I am from Tympest,” he said. “It’s a sort of post-quaternary world. I suppose it’s like Padva; four or five generations ago, warlords ruled the land, and one would have been quite mighty if one was a wizard, and by that I mean specifically if one had spells of five words. Now there are tall edifices all across the cities, much like this one, but very shiny, and one reaches the seventieth floor in a matter of seconds on a magic lift, and spells of ten words are heard now and again in the heat of battle or in the heat of the daily renewal of the seals. We recently, and I mean, the most recent time I was back there in what I would have called my present, put in subways in the capital city. I think Padva had them first.”

“We’ve had them long enough that they’re dirty and full of criminals,” said Lilah. “What’s the longest spell you know?”

“I go to nine,” said Marius. “Words, that is. I have the nine word pass seal and a little time trace thing I learned. I’m no sort of spell battler. You?”

Lilah grinned. “I got you there,” she said. “I got ten words. I got the pass seals, they’re real handy, right? Ten word hold, and I got a—well, it’s a—!” She stopped. Then she laughed out loud. “I don’t know if I should say.” They grinned at each other. “It’s a group time space fold. Garik called it the Bus to Nowhere. Ha!” Suddenly her dark face darkened. Marius froze, gazing at her, his glass in midair. “Tell me, Mr Marius,” she said, “how is it I remember all my spells but I don’t remember my last job or how I wound up on that planet? How is that?”

“It’s simple,” said Marius. “You met someone with eleven word spells.” He took a drink. “They nearly killed you.”

“They killed Garik,” she said. “They killed what’s-his-name. Neal.”

“They didn’t know ten word spells.”

“No, they didn’t,” said Lilah.

“And these people, this person—being optimistic. This person, one would think, was out to get you and your team for a reason. Do you think this was a friend of justice and all that is good?”

“No,” said Lilah.

“No,” said Marius, “one would say rather the opposite. And so—?” He waved his brandy.

“So,” said Lilah. She took a sip, stood up, walked over to the shelf and leaned against it as before. She met his eyes and said, quietly, “Would I be choosing my own team?”

“Yes,” said Marius.

“With your help?”

“Of course, but it would be your team and it would be your call as to who to bring on and when to let someone go.”

“And—terms?”

“You mean pay? Well—!” He laughed nervously.

“You can’t really pay anyone like me,” she said. “I have whatever funds I need. But I would be talking about places to set up, places to hide, resources, you know.”

“We have deep pockets,” said Marius, “and there are many places to hide where you can feel very, very secure.”

“An office here?”

“This office, if you like. It has bedrooms adjoining, you know. Enough for at least ten people. I don’t suppose you’ll want that many.”

“No, I think five’s a good number,” said Lilah. “Where are you going to be?”

“Out of your hair,” said Marius. “Well, listen. Think on it for the night. Let us have another drink, and then I will show you the best guest bed, and that can be your room if you like. In the morning, over bacon and eggs, you can tell me what you’ve decided.”

The other two doors led into a closet, and a hallway that had a number of doors off it. One was the bathroom, which Lilah used, and another was a bedroom.

The best guest bed turned out to be in a room with a simple desk, a solidly built wooden chair, a dresser that looked like it could withstand an explosion, and a double window. There was a small lamp on a tiny but solid bedside table. Out the window, Lilah could only see a few gleams of light in the blackness. She looked around the room, then went to the window and gazed out for a few moments while Marius waited in the door. She turned to face him.

“If you have everything you need,” he said, “I will leave you. The dresser has basic clothes for your needs.”

“As if by magic,” said Lilah.

“Well, it’s not one of your more complicated kinds of magic. We will provide you with a budget for clothing, if you need something more than what the dresser will make you.”

Lilah looked down at herself, and then smiled at Marius. Her jeans were worn, her boots scratched up, her sweater lived in. “You see my look,” she said. “You know I’m not gonna need that budget.”

“If I may say,” Marius replied, “the look works for you. Good night, Lilah Bay.”

She smiled as he bowed slightly and shut the door. She stood a moment, then went to the door and put her five-word lock spell over its mechanical lock: an almost impossible combination to break, even for a Great Wizard. Then she went to the bedside table and turned the light off. She went to the window and stood looking out, as more gleams came through to her adjusting eyes. After a minute, she kicked off her boots and pushed them against the bed. She pulled off her sweater, pulled off her shirt and her pants, pulled off her socks and her underwear, and stood at the window naked, dark Lilah in the dark night. After another minute, she threw herself on the bed and lay on her back thinking.

Lilah was pretty sure she had the habit of thinking back on the day’s events before she fell asleep. This night, there was a problem. She wasn’t entirely sure where the day was ending, but where had it begun? She had no idea. Her head swam with images, but she had no idea which were real and which were recent. And every time she let her mind swing through that neighborhood, those faces returned, Garik and Neal the doofusy looking guy and the punky girl and the serious woman and the black guy and the reptilian, and a panoply of enemies and obstacles, and then Leonard and the guy who had been Leonard’s father, and a thousand places, a hundred spell battles, a hundred explosions, five hundred corpses, ten score crime scenes. Most of it had not happened this morning, and some of it had never happened at all, or had happened and then had been made to un-happen.

And then there was that wand, and that figure in a hood, a glow before the darkness of its face, as if the air were mildly phosphorescent. That wand glowed, those words, those many words were spoken, that wand swung, the curve of y = sin x cosh x.

And then she was stumbling down a dark street in a dirty crowded city, and then some butthole was pulling her into an alley, and then she was laying him low, and then she was turning to face Martin Marius. And she had no idea what to think about that.

Round and round she went, veering through her memories and dreams, veering to stay clear of their entanglements, and then she was waking up and the sunlight was pouring in the double window.

She got up, got dressed in new clothes pretty much like her old clothes—dark jeans, light blue shirt, dark sweater, dark socks. She pulled on her boots, went out into the hall, used the bathroom, then went through into the front office.

Marius was there. He was leaning against the shelf, reading a thick book. The cat noticed her, gave her a short gaze and went back to sleep; Marius hadn’t noticed her. She shut the hall door with a click and Marius jumped. Lilah smiled.

“You are good,” he said, catching his breath.

She laughed, showing off her teeth. Then she flattened her smile out, waited a beat and said, “I’ve thought about it, and I’ve decided to take the job.”

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