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2.

Lilah, Annelise and Rob moved out and down the hall as quickly as they could move quietly. It was getting a little familiar, this alchemy lab in an institute of magic in the first generation after Olvar had slain the last of its dragons and begun getting serious about magical research. The hall was empty of living people, but two bodies lay face down along the thirty meters before it bent ninety degrees to the left. The three detectives strode past the corpses, which seemed fresh, and both of which still gripped wands.

“Someone likes the death spell,” said Rob.

“I don’t,” said Lilah, “but you know I’ll use it if I have to.”

“I have some questions,” said Annelise, “but I guess they’ll wait.”

“I gather they will too, because we got someone up ahead who likes the death spell.”

They rounded the corner. Two young women, Institute students by their clothes, lay sleeping along the walls on either side. There were blast marks and smashed displays and sitting on a shelf was a blue jay who had evidently been Held. Lilah accelerated to a loping run, and Annelise and Rob did their best to keep up.

The hall ran on at least forty meters from the turn. Halfway down it, Lilah slowed to a walk again and looked back at Annelise, who pointed with her wand at the double doors on the right. Lilah muttered, “Tro stist,” and disappeared. Annelise and Rob, with no other option, burst through the doors and into what turned out to be another lab.

In the lab was no Salagon, no Parkaven, but there were four people who weren’t Salagon or Parkavan, two women and two men. And in the middle of the room stood a black woman of a little above medium height, wearing a dark jacket and work pants and boots. It was Lilah Bay.

Og ko sek mng mak nyk min,” she said, swinging her left index finger right across the four wizards, and the fluttering bat, in front of her. A storm blew up out of nowhere, filling half the laboratory with a misty downpour flecked with lightning bolts. The wizards failed their resistance and were held; what exactly became of the bat was unclear. “That’s one of my favorites,” she said. “Hope you like it.”

“Lilah,” cried Annelise.

Two more globs of glow hung in the air nearby, as a curious hum of chimes grew around them. Lilah was watching the two globs turn swiftly into human forms: two women, each with a bird on her shoulder. Lilah stood there with her arms dangling at her sides.

“You,” one of them said. She replied with a spell of seven words. A flick of her arms threw them both, with their birds, in different directions.

They were alone in the lab. Annelise said, “Lilah, how many more—?”

“And you,” said Lilah Bay, turning just as Professor Salagon himself appeared out of thin air, carrying two suitcases in his right hand and a wand in his left. “Sek nyk min.” He dropped his wand as well as his two suitcases. He was held.

“What the—?” said Rob, advancing into the room.

“These guys,” said Lilah, “they liked Parkavan’s work so much they thought they’d wait for him to arrive and hire him on the spot to do it for them.”

“Knew it,” said Rob.

“They wanted him to destroy universes for them,” said Annelise.

“Someone did,” said Lilah. “Let’s get out of here before another—!”

Trt kar ho nin goth,” said a voice behind Annelise. She whipped around, but her own spell resistance was not called upon: the death spell was not for her.

There in front of the double doors stood a man no taller than Lilah. He seemed quite young, with a classic case of shaved head and goatee, a handsome fellow with greenish brown eyes. He had a rat on his shoulder—what was it with rats?

Kar ho nis vas ekt,” the cancel death spell, sounded in Rob’s voice. Annelise was flicking her wand and flinging her basic three-word hold spell at the fellow with the goatee. He managed to resist.

This let loose the true storm. Goatee circled his wand and three more wizards began to step out of the circle, already hurling curses. Annelise and Rob managed to put together a quick time space prevent, but the spells were already out there, mixing with the rest: death spell, hold spell, cease spell, sleep spell. Lilah threw her seven-worder, and the two women shot from the room in a direction not of this universe, their birds in tow.

The rest of the battle went on as before. The rat threw a sleep at Lilah. Salagon somehow gathered the strength to resist the hold. He threw down a gem which blew up and knocked Lilah and Rob off their feet, and tried to make off. Lilah hit him with her five-word hold, and he stuck. Mr. Goatee threw a seven-word hold on Lilah, but she resisted and started in on her own seven-word sleep spell. Trt kar ho nin goth resounded again.

It was Annelise’s voice. It was the rat who keeled over. Mr. Goatee staggered, the wind gone from his lungs.

Annelise was about to follow through when another figure appeared. It was none other than Elio. He smiled as he rattled off Trt dak min kar ho ra goth, the death radius spell. What would wizards think of next?

Kno eur,” cried both Annelise and Lilah. Faced with his own spell coming back from two directions, Elio did the smart thing and vanished. Goatee, gripping his dead rat, vanished as well.

“Oh my goodness,” said Annelise. “Rob!”

Rob lay face up on the floor.

Lilah stepped over to him. “Ty ark yg raj nur,” she said, waving her hand down at him. She looked over her shoulder and said to Annelise, “Secure the prisoner. We are out of here.”

“He going to be okay?” asked Annelise.

“Long as no demons come through with him.” Rob groaned, then sat up. “Looks like we’re in the clear. You two ready?”

“Lilah. What the hell?”

“We just won another spell battle, Annie babe. We’re on a streak. Unfortunately streaks don’t last. So let’s move.”

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