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IX. Our Dinner with Andre

1.

They went back to the front office and had some more coffee. To Lilah’s surprise, Zinnia Rose was not a tea drinker: for a cleric, she had a pretty strong wizard vibe. She liked hers black, hot and thick. The others were all solidly in the coffee end of the spectrum: Rob liked his with just a little cream, Annelise preferred it cooled off and nearly white, and George, unsupervised, would probably have taken the top off the samovar and bathed in it.

“So there’s a ritual for this too?” asked Lilah.

“There better be,” said Zinnia. “Spells aren’t doing it, are they?”

She grinned up at George, who shook his head, looked at Lilah and shrugged. “If you’re going to be part of the team,” said Lilah, “we’re going to have to integrate our many disparate talents in some sort of constructive way. Right, champ?” she finished, glancing at Rob.

“I’m not sure what my talents actually are,” said Rob.

“We’re gonna find that out,” said Lilah. “Right now, it’s about putting Miss Zinnia Rose through her paces. Okay, what’s needed?”

“Do we have wine?” asked Zinnia.

“Yeah, Marius has a rack of bottles on the shelf there.”

“You got salt?”

“I’m sure I can lay my hands on some—Annelise? George?”

“I got plenty,” said George.

“And something gold,” said Zinnia, “and heck, my necklace will do. It’ll be my contribution as part of the team.”

“No, no,” said Rob, “this is pure.” He tossed a gold coin on the floor.

“Pure?” Zinnia picked it up and squinted at it, then bit it. “Pre-classical Silontian. Purer than pure. Okay, get your salt, grab a bottle of decent red and some glasses, let’s go find an empty room. You have some empty rooms?”

“I’m sure we’re going to find out together,” said Lilah.

Fifteen minutes later, they were sitting on the floor of the room beyond Rob’s room. This time they sat in more or less a circle, the five of them. Zinnia placed the gold piece on the floor and scattered salt on and around it. “Affects the air above it,” she said. Then she sat down and Lilah handed her a glass of wine. “To departed friends,” she said.

“Dang right,” said Lilah. They all drank.

They all looked at Zinnia Rose. She looked about to say something pithy, but instead she began to intone. She was singing, in a certain sense, in something below a bass, in slow unrecognizable words: eesho ogo eezho zeezho zahn... Within thirty seconds, the other four found that they were all intoning. After a minute, Zinnia stopped and so did the others a second later. They had a drink, then intoned again for a minute, and then they had a drink and intoned some more.

This time they took all the time they needed, which was a lot more than a minute. They didn’t exactly see colored ribbons in 4-space, but at some point they were sure they weren’t looking at the normal world. They were drunkenly veering up alleys and down highways and over oceans and between stars, following one person forward for half a minute, then another backward for fifteen seconds, then five more in ten ticks of that imaginary clock that could make sense of it all. All of this was at more than full speed and in more than three dimensions. None of it seemed the least bit real. After a lot more of it all, empires and oceans and echoing plains, they were walking backward through a field in the twilight. They outside of Whistler Hall, a little down slope from the castle itself, under a half moon in summer.

Down the hill came a young man. He seemed both angry and confused. He had a lovely goatee, his black hair was quite tousled, and he held a black wand in his hand, but he had an odd sheen about him, as if he wasn’t quite touching the material world around him, even the air.

“He is a ghost,” said Annelise.

“Andre,” said Lilah.

The young man looked up and around. He raised his wand. “In av tun ho,” he said, the four-word detect magic spell. It didn’t seem to have much information for him.

Sta va hel nis na eu,” Zinnia shouted at the young man, who suddenly seemed to see them around him. They weren’t touching the ground very firmly either.

Nothing at all seemed to happen.

“What should we do?” asked Lilah. Rob, Annelise and George had wands out.

“Get him!” Zinnia urged. “He may evaporate at any moment!”

George and Rob, wands in hand, tackled the young man. Then they were being pulled backwards out of that hillside field, dragging the young man with them. It was all very physical, considering that none of them was well in contact with the physical world. They could hear spells around them—sta va hel nis na eu again, for one—all in Zinnia’s strong high voice. Then they all landed and fell backwards onto a dark flat place in the fog.

“What the—?” was the gist of what Rob, George and Annelise all said.

“We’re on the bleeping roof,” said Lilah. “Hey, you ain’t going anywhere, my friend,” she added, grabbing Andre by the upper arm and gripping.

“Nik ol tro sek anf nis ra kun,” said Zinnia. “Now you definitely aren’t going anywhere before you talk to us.”

“What?” Andre finally asked, staring at Lilah. “You’re—you! You’re—!”

“Yeah, I’m me, well-spotted,” she said. She let her grip slide down to his wrist. “My name is Lilah Bay, and this here is Zinnia Rose, and that’s George, and these are my associates Annelise and Rob. And you’re Andre. Right?”

“That’s right,” he said as if he weren’t completely sure.

“Okay, let’s get him down to the office and order up some curry or something.”

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