“Okay, not used to doing field operations,” said George. “Think I need a disguise?” He looked from Lilah to the other two to the summer nighttime street, verily Main Street in the City of Olaren, which was crowded with people. The clothing was colorful, with long, pastel robes (with long, carefully constructed slits) joined by colorful scarves and a whole range of weird hats. The atmosphere seemed to combine party and business, and it was a diverse party going out on the town on diverse purposes. Where early Olvar, where Professor Salagon taught, was all pale-skinned and all in wool or fur, in this Olvar the local white people were joined by several small racial minorities of various skin tones as well as a community of “monitors,” who were basically just huge lizards with human-size intellects. The other Olvar they knew, that of Lucy as Lady Whistler had managed to blend most of these elements (not so much the monitors) into a pale-ish race, one which had also toned down its fashion sense just a little.
“I get the feeling,” said Lilah, looking around, as they stood in a clump in the lee of a tree, “that this is a little earlier than Whistler. Don’t you?”
“Feels kind of radical to me,” said Rob. “No, really, I’m getting the vibe of rebellion and conflict and, you know, punch the other guy in the face, mount the barricades and all that. Don’t you think?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I get that.”
“It’s definitely earlier,” said Annelise. She was already squinting through her latest version of her crystal gizmo, while George looked on with disdain. “Trace falls in down that side street.”
“What color?” asked George. “You recognize it?”
“It’s a sort of burnt pink,” said Annelise, squinting. “That can’t be right. You look.”
“Got a color adjuster on the thing?” asked George, laughing as he took the crystal. “Hey. Hmm. Okay. Well, whatever it is, there’s basically one way to really know, right, boss lady?”
“Let’s go,” said Lilah. “Annelise, Rob, you guys take the left side of the street, and when we think we’re there, you take the back. We’re just looking. George, you’re with me.”
They set off up St. Morag’s Street. Lilah led George up along the buildings on the right. She checked that they were a little ahead of the other two, who were trying to navigate against the current of the crowd, and then she turned and said to George, “I have a weird feeling about this.”
“This whole procedure with the prayer and so on?”
“No, that’s actually comforting. With a Declaration, it can be Rescinded and we’re supposed to go straight back where and when we were. No, that part I get. What’s bothering me is this place. This time.”
“Why? Anything in particular?”
“No idea. Just thought I’d share.”
“Well,” said George, “you’re not alone in feeling that way.”
She turned up the street and they pressed on. In another block they stopped, and this time Annelise and Rob were stopped on the opposite street corner.
“She’s checking the trace again,” said Lilah. “That’s not obvious or anything.”
“If I’d had user specs,” said George, “I could’ve worked you up something that would fit inside the handle of your favorite knife. Instead, we have Annie and her contraptions.”
“Don’t knock it, it works. She’s signaling.”
“Second floor,” said George. “I see the place.”
“Damn it,” said Lilah. “She’s running. They’re running.”
Without another word, Lilah and George took off and sprinted across the intersection and up the outside stairs of the apartment building opposite. It was a sort of insula, four stories tall, filling its block with large apartments, eight to a floor, small businesses on the ground floor. As Lilah and George clambered up the stairs to the second level, Annelise and Rob were just from the other side, wands out. They all stopped and had a look, then came forward until they were on opposite sides of the door. It was marked with the Olvarian numeral 6.
Lilah could not help but think of her and Garik and Gregoria and that dwarf woman, busting down the door and overwhelming the enemy in the five second spell battle that followed. She looked across the doorway at Annelise, who had her long blond wand out.
“Is this definitely the place?” Lilah whispered.
“Yes!” hissed Annelise. “Shouldn’t we be using telepathic—?”
“Too easy to detect,” whispered Lilah. She looked back at George, then she turned and waved at the door. “Rok!” she hissed: the door gave in to her wish and swung inward.
Inside, they found a quiet, but not unoccupied, apartment. A couple of tomes sat on a table in the front room, one open; dishes sat in a basin on a counter; a wooden toy wagon sat under a chair. It became clearer and clearer, as they moved through its five rooms, wands out, spells at ready, that this was simply where a small family lived.
“Magic,” said Rob. “Here’s a whole shelf of magic books. I’m thinking institute, at least one of mom or dad.”
“Yeah, but they’re not very good,” said George. “No advanced stuff.”
“I see that.”
“We have residents,” came Lilah’s voice, very low. She was looking at them: she stood like a menacing angel a meter from their bed. They slept on, the young couple, mom and dad, both dark of hair, both fair of face, both clearly magicians, but not rich ones. She stood there wondering.
Lilah shook herself, then backed out into the main room. She found Annelise in the hall, looking back at her. Lilah followed her into the next room, which was 2/3 filled with a small bed and a crib. “Ah. We have a baby. Sleeping.” She gazed down in mixed anxiety and rapture at the baby, a girl about three months old, with an angelic sleepy face, and a fair amount of hair as black as night.
“No one in the other bed, though,” said Annelise.
The two men gravitated into the children’s room, where they both spent a moment looking at the baby girl, who showed no awareness of them. “Wonder what the story is,” said Rob.
“Let me check the trace,” said Annelise. She held up her crystal, then turned to Lilah and said, “Go back five minutes.”
“What? Okay, grab hands.” They all did, and Lilah tweaked her violet gem just enough to jump them in place and set the clock back five minutes.
The room was subtly different. There was only one change: an extra person was in the room. It was a boy in his twos, and he was sleeping in the bed.
“That’s Andre,” said Annelise. She wasn’t looking at the black-haired boy in his pajamas, but in her crystal. “And wait. What happened to his—?”
She looked at the bed this time. Lilah walked up to it and looked down. “Where the bleep did he go?” she asked.
“He,” said Annelise, “he vanished without a trace.”