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5.

They walked out of the Shakaran Institute and into the hot day. Lilah led Annelise and Rob along the plaza and into a small park. There were children with their moms or their nursemaids, people with their dogs, a few loose older children running around, an older couple with wands and a pet dragon the size of a goose. Lilah came to a stop near a large, well-tended oak tree.

“Can we talk?” asked Annelise.

“Of course you can,” said Lilah. “Talk.”

“Do we need George’s box for this jump?”

“No. This is way before the branch that included Andre’s birth. The history collapse won’t include that. And we’ve been there before.”

“So,” said Rob, “we go to the same time we did—?”

“We go to the same time we did, and then we trace back to the moment he got there. Then we arrest him.”

“Just how dangerous is this?”

Lilah glared at him, half smiling. “You got your wand with you?”

Rob smiled too. He reached inside his loose dark jacket and pulled out his wand. The red maple wood glowed in the sunlight. They looked at Annelise, whose left hand held her blond wood wand among the folds of her dress.

“Back to Olvar,” she said. “One more time.”

They took hands and Lilah pushed her ring and then summer became fall and Shakaran became Olvar.

“When are we?” asked Rob. Lilah just let go his hand and headed for the gate into the old castle that was the Olvar Institute. He looked at Annelise.

“What I have,” Annelise said, “is that this is the morning after we came here in the afternoon.”

“I thought it was around noon.”

“It was early afternoon. I’m sure of it.”

“You guys coming?” asked Lilah, who had stopped ten paces in front of them, halfway to the gate. She turned and went on without waiting, and soon was lost in the darkness inside.

A teenage blonde came out just as Annelise and Rob were coming up the three steps to the gate. “Hi, guys,” she said. “Hanging out today?”

“Oh, Elien,” said Annelise. “Um, do you know how long Professor Salagon has been on the staff here?”

“I do,” said Elien. “I actually know that.” They both looked at her expectantly. “Okay,” she went on. “So, three years ago, midsummer. I’m in the lab, I’m trying to clean out these crucibles, and suddenly in comes the headmistress, and she’s got this guy with her, and she’s introducing him to everyone because we finally snagged a nature alchemist. She’d been looking for one, they’re like all the latest rage, and he just sort of walks in and asks if there’s a job.”

“He just walked in?” asked Annelise.

“Lilah’s getting away from us,” said Rob.

“Never mind. This is important. So he came out of nowhere?”

“I guess he’s retired from the Institute of Alchemy at Arcalon. He lost his wife or something, and he was looking to start anew.”

“You don’t like him?”

“No, no, everyone thinks he’s good, he’s actually a good teacher.”

“What’s his favorite animal?” asked Rob. “I thought his expertise was animals.”

“Oh, he seems to go for invertebrates,” said Elien. Rob and Annelise exchanged glances, but Elien added, “He’s been doing arthropods. Spiders, big beetles, dragonflies. You can actually fly a dragonfly around and see out of its eyes, which is weird and wild because—!”

“They see all directions at once,” said Annelise. “Three years ago midsummer? You’re sure?”

“I’m sure! Hey, you guys going to be at the pub tonight?”

“If we are,” said Rob, “we’ll buy you a pint.”

“Cool rocks!” said Elien. She trotted away into the fall morning, leaving them to ponder her final exclamation.

There was a brief, odd sensation. The two detectives looked at each other. Then they bolted through the gate and into the castle.

Up some steps, across the lobby, right and down a hall, up some stairs and out into the second floor hall. Into an empty classroom.

Lilah was standing there looking annoyed. Professor Salagon lay in a heap. His chest moved still in the slow breaths of magically induced slumber. His wand, a short piece of antler bound with rings of brass, had been kicked away to the far corner of the room. Lilah turned her annoyed look on Annelise and Rob.

“I show up and tell him I need to ask a few questions, and he pulls the wand on me,” she said.

“Was your question when he arrived in Olvar?” asked Annelise.

“That was one.”

“Well, we know that one. Three years ago midsummer. Shall we go?”

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