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3.

Lilah let Marius lead her into her own room. It had one closet, and in the closet, a spare folding table could be moved to reveal another door. Through it was another little room, with a bed and a bookshelf and no windows. It was lit by two magical candles.

“Huh,” said Lilah. “Fine investigator I am. I didn’t know this was even here.”

“You’re an excellent investigator,” said Marius. “You weren’t brought on to investigate what was behind a folding table in your closet. You were brought on to find what happened to a certain universe. And you have done so.”

“But.”

“No buts, Ms. Bay. You and your team have performed admirably. I’m curious about, uh, Ms. Rose, by the way, but I don’t want you to think I disapprove; I spoke with her over dinner last night, her and George, whom of course I trust implicitly, and she seems quite the find.”

“Did you know that this was going to involve the actual destruction of universes? Marius, you should have seen what that looked like. It was dropping from three dimensions to two. The noise was awful. The worms, the vermoids? Really? They were in the process of collapsing an entire family of time streams. We didn’t see any of the billions of dead, but—Marius. Billions.”

He gave her a long grave look, then said, “Yes. Yes, one did have the sense that this was beyond what was previously possible.”

There were starting to be short gaps between everything they said. “Marius. Was this your idea? To go after this case? This case about destroying histories?”

Again the grave look. When she thought he was not going to give her any more of an answer, he said, quietly, “No.”

“No?”

“No, Lilah, it was not.”

Another gap. “Marius,” she said, glaring, “this is the problem I have here. Someone figured out how to make a universe collapse. No one knew how to do it before. Now someone does.”

Another gap. “Lilah,” he said, “is this why you interdicted the younger version of Henry?”

She gave him a quieter version of the glare. Presently she said, “What would you have done?”

“I can’t answer that.”

“Well, let me set the scene. After considerable labor and some danger of getting eaten by worms, we suss out what’s going on and catch these two guys named Henry just as they’re getting ready to do the deed. Of course, the deed was already done, in some sense, but these two hadn’t done it yet, and after that, Henry 2 was going to get himself eaten by vermoids, and Henry 1 was going to be off to some well-hidden hiding place. So along comes Miss Othni Talia or whoever, and her two pals, and they go about taking away our prisoner. Now why would they do that? They really like him? They’re convinced of his innocence? They collect Henrys? I don’t think so. We take Miss Talia down, but the other two are just about to make the jump. Maybe I can stop all three. But the spell that’s most likely to work is going to be a one-target type of thing like a V. S. Sleep or a hard death. I have this Fast Hard Death, it’s no frills, I don’t remember using it before but I’m sure I have. So that was instinct. Now who to target? Get one of the raiders, kidnapers, whatever they were, or get Henry 2? Well, I didn’t like those people much, but even I know they weren’t breaking any obvious laws, and my jurisdiction, if you will, clearly doesn’t include laws that aren’t pretty obvious. Wanting Henry 2 wasn’t against the law. Doing what he did was. So I could not let him get taken away by someone who just might have been planning to learn his tricks. That meant killing him. Killing him dead.”

“And interdiction? Making sure he couldn’t come back? Was that instinct?”

Another gap. “No,” she said very quietly. “No, Marius, it was not.”

They looked at each other in the half-lit room. “Ms. Bay,” said Marius, “you do realize that to some, it may seem as though one has become investigator, prosecutor, judge, and jury, as well as executioner. Are you comfortable with that?”

“Nope.”

“All right.”

“Are you saying I shouldn’t have done that?”

Another gap. “No,” Marius whispered. “I am distinctly not saying that.”

“Anyway,” said Lilah, “sadly, we haven’t exhausted the supply of people who know how to use vermoids to collapse universes. There’s this guy Parkavan—it’ll all be in my report.”

“Ah yes,” said Marius. “I know of Parkavan. This would relate to the vermoids of Shakaran. They merely blew up, or ate dirt and rock. These, I take it, are a—development.”

“Marius, I have to say it, I’m increasingly in awe of what you already knew.”

He laughed slightly and said, “So you feel you need to find Parkavan as well. I can’t blame you. Any leads in that respect?”

“None,” said Lilah. “Open to suggestions.”

“He’s some sort of nature alchemist? Or was he a worm druid? A priest of annelids, perhaps? Or are these nematoda?”

“No, no, he’s got to be a natural alchemist, he’s—wait. Huh.”

“Inspiration?”

“Maybe.”

“I am impressed as always, Lilah. In any case, you don’t think Henry 1, as you call him, is as much of a danger?”

“No. He seems remorseful, and he’s, well, sixty years more mature than Henry 2 was. I mean, I don’t want him to get into the wrong hands—can you make that not happen?”

“I think we can,” said Marius. “We shall have to go before the Council, both you and I, but I think they will agree that he needs to spend his life gardening and catching up on some reading in some confined universe somewhere out of the way.”

“Marius. I’d like to actually destroy Henry 2’s body, that’s the only way to truly finish off an interdiction.”

“I would agree with that,” he said softly.

They both looked around, as if they had done anything to the room. “We done here?”

“Yes, I think so.” He smiled at her, and then she turned and put her hand to the doorknob. “Uh, Lilah,” he said. She turned around again. He was holding out a rolled parchment with a wax seal. “I was given this to give you.”

“Oh,” she said. “From?”

“We shall see,” he said. “Let’s return to the others.”

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