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4.

“They’ve been after me all this time,” said Annelise. “This is very concerning to me, Lilah. You don’t—!”

“Oh, I think I do,” said Lilah.

Annelise stared at her. Lilah had a drink and waited her out. Rob figured he’d have a drink too while he was watching.

“Okay,” said Annelise. “So. On Valantoniu, when my parents were killed. I was at the Poly. I didn’t quit right then, I only had a month or so left, five weeks. I finished. I slept on a friend’s floor.” She took a drink and went on. “I knew who killed them, they didn’t hide it, they thought everyone should know. They thought it would make them safer. It made my blood boil.”

“So you killed them,” said Rob reasonably.

“I went out,” said Annelise, “and I killed them, the two of them,” and she took a drink, “the two assassins, and then I came back and slept on my friend’s floor.”

“And that was that?” asked Lilah.

“No.” Drink. “That was definitely not that.” Nervous laugh. “No, I got attacked. Not at Jasmine’s house. They never tracked me there, I was careful. It was between classes.”

“In the Polyalchemic?”

“Yep. In the courtyard. Right by the statue of Prince Polypheme. Two more.”

“You dropped them,” said Rob.

“Like a couple of dead weights,” said Annelise. No smile. She drank. “Hard death, hard death. Right in front of the admin building.”

“Did admin like the show?” asked Rob.

“Not exactly, but they didn’t blame me. They asked me if I wanted to take my finals early, and I did, and I left. I went to Frenog, but that gang’s assassins caught up with me within a month. Two more, always two.”

“You killed them too, obviously,” said Lilah.

“They were being clever. Frenog: it developed quickly, so everyone pretty much lives in the one city. They took the third floor flat directly behind my third floor flat. I was curious, so I used passwall and had a look. The two of them were sitting there playing cards when I came through. They immediately tried to kill me.” She laughed with absolutely no amusement. She had a drink. She shook her head and said, “Tough luck.”

“And you still haven’t lost them.”

“I thought I would lose them after Frenog. I went five places in five times, including Llanduvar for a weekend, which is where, interestingly enough, I lost my virginity—!” She laughed, then drank. “And that’s how I got to Shakaran. And I thought that was safe enough, but eventually they found me there too. I mean, what the hell? Why do they even care?”

“Because,” said Lilah, “you got away.”

“Yeah, maybe. But a poly student, a technical alchemist, I mean, I just wanted to move off old Val a. s. a. p. anyway, so why not just let me go? They only wanted to run Val, not anything else—I mean, a magic gang running Frenog? That wasn’t going to happen.”

“Unless, of course, the same people really are involved outside Valantoniu. Unless they have friends elsewhere. Allies.”

“Who knows,” said Annelise. “And this, this doesn’t make me any more confident.”

“That you’ll ever get free of them?” asked Rob.

“That there is a free to get,” said Annelise.

“Makes a disappearing Lucy seem kind of innocent,” said Rob.

“Unless it isn’t,” said Lilah. “We are not done talking about this, any more than you’re done avenging your parents. What else did we learn?”

“That she marries Henry no matter what,” said Annelise. “That guy seemed to pretty well match the Henry she told us about in the office.”

“Except for the minor fact,” said Rob, “that she said that Henry and that Lucy hated time travel, and this Henry and Lucy seem to be experts on it, in some sense.”

“Yeah,” said Lilah. “In that history, Henry hates time travel so bad that he won’t do it, he just won’t. In this one, he time travels freely even though he claims he doesn’t understand time paradoxes, and he goes to Llanduvar every year.”

“No idea what it means, though,” said Rob.

“No idea,” said Lilah. “Okay. Enough here? Time to move on? You guys tired at all?”

“Cup of coffee and I’ll be ready to go investigate some more,” said Rob.

“Yeah,” Annelise agreed, “plane travel really messes with your body clock. Where to next?”

“Let’s see what other Lucys the box can show us,” said Lilah. “Just not here, for gosh sake. Just let’s not stay in the place and time they didn’t quite manage to attack and kill you.”

“That seems wise,” said Annelise, finishing her pint.

They left the stylish pub and strolled through the stylish village. Lilah took them into a park by the little river. It was late evening, and the cloud cover was breaking up, revealing a million stars in a thousand unfamiliar constellations. The half moon was just escaping the trees.

“How is it,” asked Rob, “that every world I go to has the same weather and the same phases of the moon, but different stars?”

“I’ve seen a different moon thing,” said Lilah. “Let’s see, on Sintarion there are two, a large and a small. But the weather thing, yeah, it’s universal, except where no one lives.”

“Well,” said Rob, “even Groria is just the second planet out, and the first planet out is a boiling desert with no air. But all the worlds people live on.”

“Strange,” said Lilah. “But best left to the philosophers. You guys ready?”

“I’m very ready,” said Annelise, shivering in the warm moist night air.

“Okay, hold up the box, Champ.” Rob held up the box and they all put their rings to it. Lilah focused on the image of Lucy, and in a moment they were looking through their rings into a black space with colorful lines crossing. One of them was bright red. They reached to it with mental hands, and as they touched it, the world around them rippled and vanished in a tenth of a second.

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