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XVI. A study in violet


The three detectives arrived in the same lab a little over three years earlier. They didn’t have much chance to take in the small changes and rearrangements that had been undone by the reversal of time. There were four figures in the room: two men along with their familiars, a crow and another damn rat.

The two men were busy laying down seals and prevents, but their animal familiars took up the security role. “Sek nyk min!” cried the crow. The rat tried “Trt kar ho nin goth!” in its rat voice.

Kno eur,” said Lilah and Rob, almost in chorus.

The rat’s death spell hardly even grazed Lilah Bay. Her reverse spell sent it back at the rat. The blackish rodent tried kno eur to send the spell back again, but then failed its resistance, flipped sideways, grimaced, curled its toes and died. One of the men doubled over, damaged, dropping the glass cubes he was arranging and interrupting the spells he was weaving over them.

“No,” said Annelise, grabbing up a couple of the glass cubes and throwing them at the other man. He jumped up, wand out. But he too had been arranging crystals, floating a meter off the ground around him, and as the glass cubes thrown by Annelise fell through the plane of his own crystals, they exploded, throwing glass shards out and up. She followed with a five word cease spell, and the guy with the crystals dropped snoring to the floor amongst the glass.

She turned to check Lilah, who stood over the guy whose rat had died. He was cowering, and her cease spell knocked the energy out of him. Then Lilah and Annelise both looked at Rob.

He was standing looking up at the crow, which had also failed to resist its own, reversed, spell: it wasn’t dead, but it was held, imprisoned on a gas pipe near the ceiling. It stood there on its perch fidgeting and making small whiny sounds. Rob turned his uncertain smile on Lilah and Annelise.

“I think he’s good for an hour or two,” he said.

They looked at the dead rat, the wizard sleeping among glass shards and bleeding from a dozen little cuts, and the held crow, and then they all wound up gazing at the cowering man.

“Who the hell are you?” asked Lilah.

“Please,” said the man, “just kill me, just kill me.”

“Why? You want to die? You mourning your rat buddy?”

“No, I—yes. Yes. My life is worth nothing now. Just kill me.”

“What are you here to do? Why are you here? What is all this with the—?”

He was shaking his head. He couldn’t do much else. Annelise said, “They were weaving a weird to make a time barrier around this building. They were trying to control these few moments in time.”

“Why?” asked Lilah, pointing a finger at the cowering man. “Whatcha doing?”

“Just, kill me,” he croaked out. The crow added a comment. Annelise spun and threw a five-word sleep spell at it, and the bird fell off the gas pipe, landed on the floor and lay still.

“Okay, I am not going to kill you,” said Lilah. “Until you tell me who you are and what you’re doing.”

“Lilah,” said Rob, “take off his necklace.”

“What’s this?” she asked. She went for the big green gem on the golden necklace. The cowering man tried to turn away, and an odd wrestling match ensued. Lilah, who had once had an older brother, tended to win wrestling matches, but the gold chain was curiously strong. The man, ceased though he was, hung on tenaciously.

A crunching noise ended the struggle. The man drooped to the floor, either unconscious or pretending to be so. Rob stood over him with a cylindrical tank of metal.

Lilah extracted the necklace over the man’s close-cropped head. She stood up and handed it to Annelise. “These guys,” said Lilah. “They’re dressed in basic black, nothing fancy. Is that because they’re trying to hide, or because it’s their uniform?”

“That goes to what they’re here doing and who they are,” said Rob, “and they didn’t get the chance to actually tell us those things.”

“Oh, he had the chance. He just didn’t take it. Nice whack on the head, Champ.”


They looked at Annelise. She was examining the gem.

“I can’t tell,” she said. “But it’s something.”

“Well, obviously,” said Lilah.

“But it’s something. It’s something I’ve never felt before. It’s big, whatever it is.” She held the gem up to her eye. “It’s something—!” She stopped. Lilah was about to say something sarcastic, but Annelise finished, “Something to do with time.”

“Time,” said Rob.

“Time travel,” said Annelise.

Lilah took the gem back and gave it a good stare with her right eye, then her left. Then all three of them looked up into space, then at each other.

“Down the hall,” said Annelise.

“You guys have fun,” said Lilah to the two men and the crow sleeping or knocked out on the floor. “We’ll be back in a minute.”