Lilah Bay was falling sideways in the shadow of all things, and winds of memory were blasting in her face.
She and Garik, looking up from the sight of Neal’s death, saw one another and knew. They could run no more.
The two of them chose a course that would take them against their greatest enemy, or so they thought. Instead they were trapped, and that was when they met their greatest enemy, the lady in the dark robe, she whose magics were more powerful than any they had imagined.
She stood before them in a small dim room. She did not need backup. All they could see of her was her dark robe and her dark hood and a hint of her face, and a hand gleaming with its own light. Lilah and Garik, snatched from their chosen course, stood side by side, tasting the power that rotated like a great storm around the woman in the robe. They had no chance, no hope, except for the baseline level of chance and hope guaranteed by the fact that they were brave enough to look upon their enemy.
With a wave of that glowing hand, Garik was no more. He blew away on the wind, dead in an instant. But it was not the humiliating and final destruction that had befallen his comrades. Flanked by Lilah Bay, he could only be killed, not utterly destroyed. And then she, She, turned to face Lilah Bay, the black girl from the bad side of Zente, the upstart best student at the Padva Institute. It was no contest, of course, except that it was.
Lilah, with no ally: the Lady had no ally her equal. Lilah with no familiar animal: the Lady shared her power with no creature.
Except that she did share power, she derived her power from a greater one, and in that moment, when Lilah Bay should have been thinking of a last desperate spell, she saw, as it were over her enemy’s shoulder, that greater one. And the Lady saw that Lilah saw, and knew that Lilah knew—something, but even that was too much for safety.
With a fatal sine curve wave of her wand, the lady in the glowing black robe sent Lilah Bay spinning out of the world, her mind flown from her, her soul trapped in that dismal crowded place from which it could never escape.
Except that Lilah Bay’s soul was stronger than mind, her soul’s tendon and ligament and muscle and nerve stronger than any Lady or Mathematician could know.
She was alive.
Lilah Bay had proven difficult to kill. As long as she was alive, what she knew was alive as well, and finally the minute had arrived in which her knowledge would come running back to her.
They would want her dead. Or they would want her in a cell, in a sealed cage. They would want to take from her all she knew and all her future days, all the chronology she had not yet lived. Elio would be there. Those others, those gangsters, Arri Shanto and Argo Horlan, and what’s his name, Gremhank or whatever, and the three men in dark grey, and that lady, that lady in the dark robe glowing.
That’s what they would want. They would not get it.
She did not fall alone. She fell with a ghost beside her. Lilah smiled and let go.
She was falling through the shadowed realms, the billows of darkness, and there was someone with her. She only wished she could take his hand. That wish would not come true. She had once wished that she believed in ghosts, of course, and now she had been granted that wish.
Falling into a six-walled chamber lit with torches and sheens of power, Lilah was ready. Before her ranged a ring of men and women, including several she recognized, the notorious, the powerful, the names from Valantoniu and her last, last confrontation: Argo Horlan, Arri Shanto, lo, even Tari Altadara. But she only had eyes for one of them. He was blond, with a scruffy bit of beard and a smirk he hadn’t earned. He was Elio.
Behind her as she drifted toward the floor, there was someone, Someone, but her ghost blocked that side. She had Elio to herself.
He had no reason to think she was ready to throw a spell at him. He thought she would be taken care of, and all he needed to do was smirk. He had again been wrong. Perhaps he had beaten his addiction, or had it beaten from him by his new bosses, but he still had more ambition that power and more cleverness than brains, and not enough heart or soul to weigh against a strand of saffron in her mother’s shop.
Lilah had not touched the floor. With a wave she cried, “Kar trt fos mng ku goth zin!” And now, before anyone could think about that, before Elio could even slide to the floor, victim of a very fast death, now while the circle was broken, Lilah was swept up and away from that place, and the last thing she saw as she blew off on the wind between the universes was a figure in a dark and glowing robe, and the ghost, the rumpled blond ghost, getting in her way.
A tenth of a second later, Lilah Bay dropped from a height of two centimeters into the front office in the city. Marius was there, with Annelise and Rob, George and Zinnia, Andre and Henry 1 and the unconscious alchemist Salagon, né Parkavan.
“Time to go to the Violet Council,” Lilah gasped out. And then she collapsed to the floor.
“Geez,” said Rob, “she looks like she’s seen a ghost.”