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2.

They were excused, out the double doors behind their table, into a broad hall that disappeared into the distance in both directions. Parkavan was taken away in one direction, and Lilah and Marius went with Henry in another. They walked perhaps forty paces and found themselves in a very different place, while still in a hallway running ahead of them and behind them. They stopped.

“We can either take you to a holding cell,” said Marius to Henry, “or we can take you back to the office. I have been given permission to keep you under my watch there, so long as Ms. Bay is with us.” He smiled at Lilah, the gentle smile of his that she had been suspicious of when she first met him, oh, a week and a half ago in her personal chronology. “Which would you prefer?”

Henry looked at Lilah and then back at Marius and said, “Given that choice, I’ll go back to the office.”

“Good. We’ll see what we can scrounge up to eat and drink.”

They simply walked on, and the hall they were on presently became, through a gradual increase in shabbiness and a change in the light, the zigzagging corridor of the office building. Just as Lilah recognized it, they came around a corner and saw the door with the nameplate outside.

Within, Rob and Annelise and George and Zinnia were playing cards at the table, while Andre was sprawled on the ottoman, reading a book on Grorian history. “How’d it go?” asked George as the three came in.

“Weird,” said Lilah. “But like any judge and jury, they’ll tell us what the verdict is when they feel like it.”

“What was the weirdest part?” asked Annelise.

“That it’s just down the hall from here.” Annelise and Rob both half looked in the direction of the hall. “Okay, not really,” said Lilah, “but yeah. Just down that hall.”

“The city is peculiar, as you know,” said Marius, who was holding the telephone. “It’s connected to many other places, sometimes temporarily, sometimes for good. I myself find its ways inexplicable. Um, fish and chips is on for tonight. White wine,” he added, returning the receiver to its cradle.

The eight of them had their fish and chips and were on their second or third glasses of white wine when there was a knock at the door. Waving Marius off, Lilah got up and answered, half expecting a zombie dragon or possibly a unicorn. It was the shambling hippie wizard Glasni, a crow on his shoulder.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey,” he replied, grinning as if he’d learned to speak a foreign phrase correctly.

“Verdict in?”

“Yeah, want to hear it here, or come down and let us be all ceremonial?”

“Here is fine,” said Lilah. She backed up and Glasni entered the room. He nodded around at everyone, and then dealt with a firm handshake from George.

“My man,” Glasni said to George. “Is that Zinnia Rose?”

“Glasni!” said Zinnia. She jumped up and hugged him. The crow gave her head a light peck.

Marius was standing now, next to Lilah. “Glasni,” he said, “would you like some wine?”

“Of course,” he said. He looked for a chair, and, not seeing one free, pulled out his little knobby wand and spelled one up for himself, a shambling chair for a shambling wizard. He dropped into it; the crow climbed up onto the top of his head. Everyone else sat down. Glasni’s eyes settled on Andre. “This must be the amalgamated fellow?”

“Apparently,” said Andre. “I wish to know what’s to become of me, but first you should tell—!”

“Yeah,” said Glasni, “Henry. Well, it’s guilty, of course; you did plead that way. But it’s life in a confined plane. And, interestingly, they have seen fit to allow you, should she accept, to live out your life with your version of your wife Lucy.”

“Oh thank goodness,” Henry said, with what little breath he had in him, breathless as he was. He looked at Andre. “But—I’m sorry, my friend.”

Andre waved it aside. “I’m not in love with her,” he said. “She’s your wife, isn’t she? For what, sixty? Years? No.” He laughed. “Ironic.”

“Really, I am flabbergasted,” said Henry. “I am astonished and humbled. I—!” He subsided.

“You should be,” said Glasni. The crow felt moved to add, “Definitely.” It was its only word of the evening. Glasni downed half his glass of wine and grinned at Andre.

“Andre,” said Zinnia, “I’m not sure I can guarantee your existence, um, outside of these chambers. On the roof is apparently okay. Beyond that—you’re, you know—!”

“A ghost,” said Andre. “A ghost of someone who doesn’t exist.”

“Really?” said Henry. “I wondered what—!”

“Technically,” said Annelise, “he’s an amalgam. As the histories that had forms of Andre in them collapsed, the Andres sort of amalgamated into one Andre. You have all their memories, but in a kind of folded way so you can’t even necessarily tell one from another. Even the Andre who died at two and a half, you’d be him as well. It makes you unstable.”

“But we can preserve you here,” said Zinnia. “I can guarantee that. Even if they let me go off on a mission or something, if that ever happens—!”

“Complain, complain,” said George.

“My weirds and wards will certainly preserve you here, I’ve built them up, George and I have, we’ve laid down plenty of protection for our unstable amalgamated friend here.”

“Is that what you guys were doing?” asked Rob.

“Not all,” said Zinnia, glancing at George.

“Well,” said Andre, “I do thank you. It’s enough, I think. I won’t ask for anything more. I mean, the choice is between existing and not existing. And the food and drink here really is well above the joy / suffering boundary. As is the company, of course.” He smiled.

“Well, that’s nice to hear,” said Lilah.

“I entirely agree,” said Glasni. “All right. I will leave you.” He shook Marius’s hand, then George’s, then took another hug from Zinnia, and then held out his hand to Henry. “Old man, you took part in a mass murder. But your part was not so great as either of the others, and we, I, believe you did not understand the effects and sincerely regret it. It’s possible you did more damage than we know yet, should this cat escape that bag, but it’s also not unlikely it would have happened even if you’d bluntly refused to help the other Henry. So—!”

“Glasni,” said Henry, “I do not deserve this life I’ve been given. But I will accept it gratefully.”

“Well spoken,” said Glasni. “Someone needs to write this case up, as well,” he said, shaking Andre’s hand. Annelise was standing next to Andre, and as he shook her hand, he said, “You’re a time expert of some sort, right? You write it up. ‘The maintenance of an amalgam of time aspects of the same soul in the collapse of histories,’ something like that.”

“Sounds publishable,” said Annelise, giving Glasni a hug.

Rob shook his hand and said, “You’re a hero of mine. You know that.”

“I’m no hero.” Glasni found himself at the door. His crow turned around and then so did he. He took Lilah’s hand and said, “Hey. Glad to finally meet you, Bay.”

She laughed. “Thanks, I’m complimented. But can I ask you a question related to the matter just resolved?”

“Of course, of course.” Lilah reached into her pants pocket and extracted a gold necklace with a large green gem. She dangled it out and then let it drizzle into his big shabby hand. He looked at it, literally at arm’s length, then looked up, suspiciously, into her brown eyes. “Where’d you get this?” he asked.

“Two persons in black clothing. Waiting for Parkavan to arrive at Olvar. We disposed of them because they tried to attack us. One of them was wearing this.”

“The other one wasn’t?”

“We didn’t have the chance to check. All hell was kind of breaking loose at the time.”

“Well, completely understandable, then.” He gave the necklace a closer look. “Well, I don’t know what it is, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some suspicions. Can I hang onto it? I promise I’ll tell you what I can figure out. Can I show it to Caterina? Is that okay with you, Detective?”

“Oh, of course, Council Member.” They grinned at each other. “Glasni,” she said. “Can you tell us what’s happening with Parkavan?”

“He’s being put in a much more confined plane than Henry here. He’ll live out his natural life, but he won’t have much room to do it in.”

“Will he be—?”

“Kept safely out of the way?” Glasni lost his smile. “Supposed to be,” he growled. “Well, I must go, or they’ll get up to shenanigans, with only Caterina to keep an eye on them.” With a last vague wave, and a muttered squawk from his crow, he departed.

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