Salagon, for it was he, followed them out into the hall. “Professor,” said Lilah, “do you have a moment for us to ask a few questions?”
“What can I do for you?” he asked. “I have a few minutes.”
“I’m Lilah Bay, and this is Rob Ashtree, and we’re investigating a phenomenon you might know something about, and we were wondering if we could ask you a few questions.”
“That’s fine,” said Salagon. “Anything you want.”
“We’re investigating,” said Lilah, “trying to find out what happened with a lady who was at a conference in Llanduvar. We heard you’d been there and we wondered—?”
“Yes, I was at a conference in Llanduvar,” he said.
“The woman’s name was Lucy. Anything?”
“Lady Lucy of Endweith, the full title, I think,” said Salagon. “Am I right? Nice lady. You’re looking for her or something? Weird what happened. Yeah, she came back here with me, she tried some time stuff, time travel, no one from this end knows a thing about that, and I don’t think Lucy did either, but she tried. No dice.”
“Do you know how far in the future she was trying to go?” asked Rob.
He raised his eyebrows, got a blank look and shook his head. He laughed. “She said she didn’t know much about time travel,” he replied. “We don’t know anything about it. It’s not even taught here yet.”
“Yet?” asked Lilah.
“We’ve seen time travelers,” Salagon replied. “Just like you, right? They come here because there’s no place else in this day and age where they can get themselves understood, or even taken seriously. So we see ‘em. But we don’t know what it’s about, or I don’t, and I don’t know anyone else who does. Where or when are you guys from, anyways?”
“Well,” said Lilah, “we’re from a couple of places, but outside your universe. Anyway—!”
“So,” Salagon went on, “I don’t know how to put this nicely, but, uh, on whose behalf are you doing this investigating? I just want to know, you know, in case someone else comes in here and—!” He paused as if expecting to be interrupted. Lilah didn’t. “Asks,” he finished.
“Actually, Professor Salagon, we are here pretty much on Lady Lucy’s business. I gather you know at least the basic details. She’s trying to get home. We’d like to see that happen.”
“Oh, me too, who wouldn’t?” Salagon replied. “She contacted you?”
“She came to see us,” said Lilah. “So. Anything to help, right? So maybe you could tell us just how far in your future is her time?”
“I dunno,” said Salagon. “I’m not up on the details of how time work can mess things up. All I know, she was from the future and she came back here and went out again into the future, and I know one or both of those things can lead to major screw-ups. I don’t want someone with a big ring to come in here later and tell me I told someone the wrong thing and the result was that someone’s their own great grandpa or something. See what I mean?”
“No,” said Lilah.
“That’s not the way it works at all,” said Rob. “You see, actually—!”
“Well, I can’t take the chance,” said Salagon. “So I’m afraid I can’t help you. Now if you had Lucy’s say so, or her husband or something, I could maybe see my way clear. But anyway, I don’t know anything more than what I told you anyway.”
“So you can’t help us,” said Lilah.
“I don’t think I can.”
“Well, thank you anyway. Have a great class.”
“Ha ha! I will.” He grinned at them, victorious, went back into his classroom and shut the door behind him. They could immediately hear him teaching up a storm in there.
“So that wasn’t very nice of him,” said Rob. “Is he genuinely freaked out about time paradoxes or is he—?”
“I’d have to bet he’s just a butthole,” Lilah replied.
They found Annelise in the lobby, seated in an out-of-the-way spot. She held in her hand a crystal with some metal pieces clamped onto it.
“Whatcha got there?” asked Lilah.
“I’ll show you,” said Annelise. “Maybe we should find an empty room. Um, but how did you do?”
Lilah grinned at Rob. He said, “It was interesting. Informative, would you say?”
“We should find a room,” said Lilah.
No one seemed to be watching. Presumably, the Institute of Magic of the World of Olvar, in this century, was considered secure just on the basis of its being the Institute of Magic. The three detectives went to the end of the pillared lobby and took the hall to the left, doing their best not to let their footsteps echo.
The first room on the left was a conference room, and there was a conference going on in it. The door was open and they could see students, and a couple of people who must have been professors, sitting around a table, which was littered with paper, and also a couple of dead birds. The first room on the right was a lecture hall, and the mesmerizing drone of a really bad old professor came stealing from its half-open doors.
The second door on the left was shut, so they listened, and then Lilah said “Ar ra,” her hand on the door handle. After a moment she opened the door.
“Handy spell,” said Rob.
“I don’t like shadow scouts,” said Lilah. “I had one get turned on me once.” She shut the door behind them and stood against it. They were in a lab of some sort, with counters set up with mortars and pestles and small cook pots and cutting boards and racks of knives and spoons and weirder implements.
“Turned on you?” said Annelise, setting the device down on the teacher’s table.
Lilah raised her eyebrows. “Yeah. I’ll tell you all about it when I remember any more of it myself. So what does this thing do? See traces?”
“It’s primitive,” said Annelise, “but yeah, that’s the concept.”
“Where’d you get the materials?” asked Rob.
“I borrowed them from a store room,” said Annelise, bending to look at the thing straight on. She was adjusting the metal clamps, moving a wire out and bending it back, watching. The other two didn’t see anything, and then they did. There was a glow all of a sudden, not as if the light level had increased, but as if the crystal was emitting, faintly, a new type of light that hadn’t existed before. She stood back and looked at it. “It’s doing something,” she said. “I’m just not sure—!”
“Look at it through your ring,” said Lilah. Annelise did, and so did Lilah and Rob, and they all emitted little wows. They gazed, they weaved their heads about to get better views, they squinted and laughed when they bumped into one another. Finally Lilah and Rob stood back, while Annelise was still going wow and squinting.
“Well,” said Rob, “I guess we know which direction to go.”