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4.

Half an hour later the four were reconvening around a well-carved wooden table in a pub near the Institute. It wasn’t a busy night, and they were soon enjoying pale ale and roast beef and potatoes. They were not enjoying the subject matter.

“All I want to know,” Lilah said, putting her pint down, “is how many Andres we actually have going. Anyone keep track at all?”

“I want to know,” said Rob, “how those parents of his didn’t wake up when four people were rummaging around their apartment. The baby didn’t even wake up.”

“I put a sleep on them,” said Lilah.

“Stone sleep?”

“Obviously. They’re all magic people. The base sleep spell isn’t going to work on them.”

“Unless you’re a lot bigger than they are,” said Annelise, “and since you’re the biggest wizard I’ve ever worked with—!”

“That can’t be true. George.”

“Whut?” replied George, the pint near his lips.

“How many words you got?”

“Spell-wise?” He took that drink, set the pint down and said, “Ten words.”

Rob and Annelise raised their eyebrows and muttered impressed sounds. Lilah said, “See? There you are. My equal.”

“You could totally take me, though,” said George. “I suck at spell battles. My ten word spells are a seal, a pass seal and a cancel spell. Totally on defense.”

“Back on the question, if I may,” said Annelise, “if my superiors don’t mind coming down to my lowly humble level. I count four Andres. One seduced Lucy into going off and being his partner in crime, one failed to seduce Lucy at Endweith, one was just sort of on the margins at Whistler and now this one, who disappears without a trace at Olaren.”

“He didn’t just go somewhere,” said George. “You know that, right? He’s dead.”

“What? How do you know?”

George pulled out his own crystal, a small clear cylinder of glass with a sort of silvery pin embedded in one end. “Watch,” he said. He pushed on the pin and the cylinder glowed a venomous red. He released it and the glow vanished. “Death detector. Death spell detector, in effect.”

“How’s that even work?” asked Annelise.

“Things they don’t cover in theoretical alchemy,” said George, playing with the device. “So I carry this thing around mostly because people pop out and you wonder if they’re coming back, anyway, I do. I built it myself.” He grinned at Lilah. “Senior thesis project, that was, back on dear old Visgor.”

“So this Andre died at age three or something,” said Lilah. “He definitely isn’t any of the other Andres. Because try as you might, you can’t resurrect a three-year-old. I know. I’ve tried.”

“Did you lose a child?” asked Annelise.

“No, I didn’t lose my own kid,” said Lilah grimly. “That would have been even worse. No, I tried to save someone else’s kid. Five years old. Just a kid on the street in dear old Padva. Death spell. Aimed wrong. Bleeping bleepholes,” she finished with a disgusted look. “Anyway.”

“Anyway,” said Rob, “the question is, now what?”

“And the other question is,” said Annelise, “what does this mean? This wasn’t aimed wrong. I don’t think so.”

“I don’t know,” said Lilah. “I have no idea. I got nothing. Not a clue. Nothing.” She took a bite of beef and potato, then set her fork down. “On the other hand,” she said.

“What?”

“Someone is trying to change history.” Lilah took a drink. “That’s as clear as glass. The questions that opens up, though, are who is doing it and why. But I’ll tell you one thing for sure.”

“Yeah?” asked George.

“This is now, officially, a murder investigation.”

They finished their roast beef and had another beer each, all paid for in silver coins from the stash Marius had left for Lilah’s expenses. Then Lilah went and procured a couple of rooms for them, and a pitcher of beer, and they retired for more drinks and bed—Lilah and Annelise in one room, Rob and George in the other. The drinking went on in Lilah’s room.

“So what’s the plan, then?” asked Rob.

“I hate to say it,” Lilah replied, “but we split up. I don’t think we can do a decent job of investigating the aftereffects of this murder happening or not happening if we’re together.”

“Okay,” said Annelise. “So two of us go up the history where he’s dead at three, and the other two go up the one where he isn’t?”

“Sure,” said Lilah. “You get Rob and George gets me.”

“Okay,” said Annelise. “Can we have the one where he lives?”

“Sure thing. I think the one where he died at three may be the most interesting one. Don’t you think, Georgie?”

“Sure,” said George. “Because whoever does well out of his being dead at age three, that’s the first person I want to put up against a wall with my wand in his face. Don’t you think?”

Lilah gave him a look several seconds long, then smiled, looked at Annelise and said, “Let’s not start blowing people’s heads up, but yeah. I like the way you think.”

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