The plaque read:
“There, what do you think?” asked Marius, flourishing his wand. They were standing in the hall. The plaque shone tastefully beside, not on, the door.
“I think you wield a mean wand,” said Lilah.
“Why aren’t you on the plaque?” asked Annelise.
“Because I do not wield a mean wand,” said Marius. “My talents lie elsewhere. Ms. Bay, someone is about to visit regarding your first case. Do you wish me to remain for the interview?”
“Do I what?” Lilah repeated. “Of course I do. Maybe you don’t wield a mean wand, maybe you do. I don’t know. But I know you’re good at talking to people in offices.”
“Fair enough,” said Marius. He opened the door and held it for the other three. When he shut the door behind him, he found Annelise and Lilah moving things off the table. Rob waved a wand and said three words and a side table appeared; then he waved away the table, which had been previously created by magic. Lilah and Annelise were already moving the chairs back out of the center of the room. The cat was watching from her comfy chair. “We may need further seating,” said Marius. “May I?”
“Of course,” said Lilah.
“Guf thuk tev jin,” he said, flicking his wand. A sofa appeared, along with another comfy chair, in appealingly conservative dark red tones. He smiled at Lilah, who raised her eyebrows.
“I need to learn that one,” she said.
There was a dainty but firm knock at the door. Rob opened the door and a woman of indeterminate middle age entered. She was small and very beautiful, with the kind of beauty that did not depend on youth, or on magical spells. She had dark hair, which she had allowed to develop a few grey strands, held with a gold barette, tied loosely at the back and left to stream down her back. She wore a long purple dress with a deep blue shawl over her shoulders; her feet were clad in pretty but simple dark shoes. She came in and let her sad green eyes move across Annelise and Lilah and the cat in her comfy chair, and then Rob stepping out from behind the door with a sheepish look.
“Lilah Bay,” said Marius from behind Lilah, “this is Lucy, Lady Lucy of Endewith. Lady Lucy, this is Lilah Bay, and these are Annelise Azaine and Robert Ashtree, who will be looking into your situation if that is your desire. Tea, or coffee, or wine perhaps?”
“Tea, thank you,” said Lady Lucy. She looked around and found the comfy chair that was not inhabited by Marius’s cat, and she sat there. “Um, do you know of my situation?”
“I do,” said Marius, “but only as much as you’ve already told me. You’ll have to tell Lilah everything from the start.”
“All right,” said Lucy. “Well, I am from Endewith, as you would guess, where I live with my husband, Henry, and it’s in the world of Olvar, you’ve heard of Olvar?”
“I’ve heard of it,” said Lilah, “I’ve never been there.”
“I was there one time,” said Rob. “But I don’t know anything about it.”
“Yes,” said Lucy, to nothing in particular. “So where to start. I am an alchemist, and I specialize in nature magics, as does my husband, though he’s more of the usual type of wizard, we’re both rather old-fashioned, we’re the type that gets along with druids quite well. You know?”
“I think so,” said Lilah. She looked at Annelise. “You’re more of a techie, right?”
“Yes, oh yes,” said Annelise. “No disrespect to druids, of course.”
“So,” said Lucy, “I don’t know how obvious it is, but my husband and I are both in the neighborhood of a hundred years old. He’s two years older than me—we were, you might say, sweethearts in school who never really saw any reason to be with anyone else, so we’ve had a happy life together these seventy-five years, that’s right, we have been married now seventy-five years. He turns a hundred this fall, back on Olvar.” She stopped, smiled nervously, frowned a little and then took a moment to compose herself.
“If you’ll excuse me,” said Marius. He stepped through the middle of the conversation, went out in the hall and came back with the trolley, full of a teapot and cups and a plate of some sort of pastry. “Sugar?”
“None for me,” said Lucy. He poured her a cup, and by the time he’d given it to her, Lilah already had a cup of her own and Annelise was filling hers and adding two lumps. Rob remained standing at the margin, and Marius retreated to behind Lilah.
“So,” said Lilah.
“Well, I was at a conference. In Llanduvar.”
“Conference world,” said Lilah.
“Precisely. And it was a conference for alchemists, for natural alchemists. Henry doesn’t even like to plane travel, much less anything to do with time, so I went by myself, I do something like this every year.” She laughed a little. “I suppose,” she said, “we arrived for the conference ten seconds after we left or some such thing. You see? Time travel things. Even if it’s just traveling to another universe, the time issue is so—strange.”
“How strange did it get?” asked Lilah, wondering how many decapitated bodies or gallons of blood there would be.
“The conference wrapped up after five days,” said Lucy. “I presented a paper on the fourth day, it was lovely. And the next day I went to the transit chapel, and everyone was leaving for their specific special places, though I was the only one from Olvar, or from that year in Olvar or something. I get so confused. In any case, I tried to go back and I found I couldn’t.’
“The portal was working just fine,” said Lucy. “I mean, I am an alchemist. I’m not a, um—!”
“Technical alchemist,” said Annelise.
“But I am an alchemist. I know something about things like that. And of course they had their technical people. There was nothing wrong with the portal.”
“Olvar just wasn’t there,” said Lilah.
“It just wasn’t there. We tried other ways. I tried to spell jump, I don’t have the spell myself but one of the technical people did. They could not find the trace to where I’d come from. It’s all set up so I can be back to the very moment I left, or perhaps somewhat later, but they couldn’t find it.”
“There were other people from other times in Olvar?” asked Rob.
“There was a fellow from the past,” said Lucy. “I finally just went with him, it was back to before I was born, it was very strange, very disturbing, but when we tried to look ahead, it just looked different. I know the place we have our house, it’s on a hilltop, overlooking Endewith village, it just wasn’t there.”
“Did you look for your husband at all, in the future?” asked Annelise.
“Or yourself?” asked Rob.
“No, no,” said Lucy. “No, that would have been—imagine. Imagine if he’d been a different him. Or if he’d been dead for years. Or if he’d been with me, but a different me, oh, this is exactly why I,” and she laughed again, “became a nature alchemist, I hate those things. And anyway,” she finished, looking at Lilah imploringly, “I just want to go back to my house with my husband in my Olvar, in my life. It’s what they guarantee you. They tell you, nothing can go wrong, you’ll be right back here a moment in the future. That’s all I want!”
Rob and Annelise looked at Lilah, who resisted the urge to turn and look at Marius. Instead, she took a sip of her tea and said, “So your universe is missing and you want us to find it. Where are you staying?”
“Lady Lucy will be staying here with us,” said Marius. “While, ah, we look for her cosmos.”