Her name was Zinnia Rose. Lilah wasn’t sure if Rose was a last name or a middle name or a caprice, but Zinnia Rose, to Lilah, didn’t look at all like a zinnia or a rose. She was little, easily the shortest and the skinniest of them. She was pale, with freckles and dirty blond hair and greenish eyes. She wore a peasant dress that dragged on the floor, and instead of a wreath of daisies on her head, she wore a small but functional hat of brown leather. She wore, peculiarly for a cleric, not a single necklace; her two rings, one per fourth finger, appeared to be standard make magic rings, probably an invisibility one and one to increase her resistance to spells. Everyone assumed she was barefoot until she sat down and crossed her legs and they saw her beat-up black boots. She seemed befuddled, but she had a subversive sideways grin. She exhibited it in her second sentence after introductions.
“So this guy looked like a ghost, and you think you know who he is,” she said, looking befuddled. Then she said, “Ghosts don’t jump from one world to another. That’s Rule Number 17.”
“What’s Rule Number 1?” asked Rob. Zinnia just gave him a look.
“So then what is he?” asked Lilah. “Assuming I was right.”
“I don’t know,” said Zinnia, lifting her briefcase onto the card table and opening it up. Inside was a marvel of organization, which took Lilah by surprise. She pulled out a beat-up wand, a handful of crystals of various sizes and colors, a little book, a small deck of cards, a few pages of parchment, a couple of pens and a dish of incense. She turned around to face Lilah. “But I’d love to find out.”
“What can you do?” asked Lilah.
Zinnia turned around and put the wand to the dish and lit the incense. She picked up the crystals. “I don’t know that either,” she said, looking through them one after another. “But again, I’d love to find out.” She gave the subversive look to Rob this time. “But it starts with a ritual.”
“What exactly kind of priest are you?” asked Annelise. “If I may.”
Zinnia turned and waved a purple gem at her. “Technically, a defrocked one,” she said. “I was a sort of Virginal, believe it or not, and then I was a sort of a Nirvana monk, but I hated meditating—funny thing is, I love it now—and I got in and out of the Cult of Timothy. Those were some loonies. So I found it useful to know some actual, straight-on magic, so I got me the wand and enrolled at the Institute at Thomasport. With a youth blessing.”
“You can’t do that,” said Annelise. “They all can detect youth charms and things.”
“Ah, but you see,” said Zinnia, “this was a blessing. It was clerical.”
“And that is how you got in trouble,” said Lilah.
“They kicked me out third semester. Ah, I was done anyway. I already had five-word spells. I went and did a hermitage in the Endless Place, I literally walked a million miles in the desert, and sailed eleven seas. I think it was eleven. I came back a pagan: the Pagans of Walooshi accepted me into their communion. So I got my priest thing back.”
“But you didn’t give up the wand,” said Annelise, “like you were supposed to.”
“You got it,” said Zinnia. “All right, look. Take this emerald. Make sure I get it back later, okay? And you take the, uh—!”
“I don’t want pink,” said Lilah.
“Take the blue quartz. Pretty, right? Robert, you get the pink. George, take the fluorite: that’s a nice one, so clear. All right. Hold them in front of you.”
“Now what?” asked Lilah.
“Now be quiet,” said Zinnia. They gave her at least a brief silence. Rob started to reach to hold hands, but no one else did and he gave up.
Zinnia began chanting, clearly not in words but in a guttural drone that none of them had previously known the human voice was capable of. If there were words, they sounded like this, but on several tracks at once: eezum zah eezum zah zahash ahhash zahash za… The chant went on forever, five minutes at least, and then, suddenly, they were looking at the room they were in, the front room of the office. It was empty, and then it wasn’t, as time unspooled backwards. They saw their comings and goings, back to the moment Lucy had arrived, although, seen backwards, it looked like she was leaving, walking backwards out the door with Marius.
“Wait, slow down, what happened?” asked Lilah, as the vision went on in reverse.
“Can we run it forward?” asked Annelise.
Eezum za! Zahash za! Zinnia’s chant screeched to a halt, and the empty room before them fluttered and vanished. “I suggest you put the gems down right away,” said Zinnia. “They can make you nauseous if you hold them long after the spell breaks.” She set hers on the table, and everyone else followed suit. She turned to Annelise, who was almost a head taller than she was. “I’ll say this slow since you’re a theoretical alchemist. I figured out that in a gem ritual with the right chant, you can drift backwards in time. It’s a timesight, you’re not actually there, which is good in some ways, obviously. But.”
“We can’t follow her,” said Annelise. “We can’t figure out where she goes after.”
“Or why she left her luggage,” said Rob.
“But can we do that again?” asked Lilah. “And then check out that ghost?”
“Does that mean I’m on staff?” asked Zinnia.
“Yeah, you’re on staff. You can be our chaplain.”