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5.

Zinnia Rose dithered off into her room, ostensibly to get dressed. Annelise and Lilah went out into the front office, and filled up their coffee cups. A minute later, Rob joined them. They drank coffee in silence while Rob wolfed down a cinnamon roll.

Annelise finally cleared her throat and said, “About that situation with Lucy in her room.”

“Yes?” replied Lilah.

“When we observed it, it seemed like she was standing by her suitcase, and then she heard something, sort of garbled, and then she immediately made up her mind and went through the door. But that’s not what happened. She thought about it, she went back and forth with Zinnia a little. Was it different because she didn’t do the same thing last time?”

“No,” said Lilah. “No. Not at all. Time was slowed down. Something about Zinnia’s spell. I don’t get it, obviously, but Lucy had time for a whole little conversation. The voice seemed speeded up when we heard it before, because actually time was slowed.”

“So she never got drawn by Henry’s Beacon,” said Rob.

“Nope. Because Zinnia blocked it.”

“So we were just fulfilling the past we’d seen already?” asked Annelise. “Time doesn’t usually work that way, it’s chaotic.”

“You’re right. It doesn’t. Or we wouldn’t be here.”

“It was romantic,” said Annelise. “Too bad he’s a mass murderer. Do you think he’s a mass murderer? Did he get off easy?

“He got off easy,” said Lilah. “I guess I don’t know how guilty I think he is. Less guilty than Henry 2, less than Parkavan-Salagon. Still, millions of dead, billions. I suppose he never really took in that part of it. I’m fairly sure Parkavan took that in, and I don’t think he cared. I think he thought it was a cool idea.” She sighed, then adjusted in her chair, then said, “I guess I don’t feel too bad about this Henry ending up with this Lucy.”

“She sacrificed,” said Rob.

“I feel funny about that,” said Lilah. “But it’s something people do. It’s something women do.”

“Do you feel justice was done on Henry 2? Hard death and interdict?”

“Oh yeah.”

They finished their coffee. Lilah refilled her cup from the samovar, then refilled Annelise’s and Rob’s, then said, “Want to take these mugs up to the rooftop for a chat?”

“Okay, sure,” said Annelise. “That sounds great to me,” said Rob.

Lilah tore a piece of paper off the pad on the desk and scribbled a note to the effect that they could be found on the roof. A couple of minutes later, they stepped out of the stair door into the morning sunlight. The three of them wandered over to the far parapet and gazed out, under the sun and some very convoluted clouds, on the city below.

“We should have a name for it,” said Rob. “This city. The city of city.”

“That would sort of violate its basic nature,” Annelise replied. “Lilah, how did you get here? Did Marius write you a letter?”

Leaning on the parapet, Lilah let out a breath. “I finally remember everything,” she said. “So I can actually answer that question. Like, all the way. How much do you want to know?”

“Oh, pretty much everything,” said Annelise, giving Rob a look.

“Okay, you asked for it,” Lilah replied. “So I was on the—I helped start the Padva magical police. We were supposed to keep the peace, you know, keep wizards from blasting people indiscriminately because they felt like it, you know, priests cursing the cook because he overcooked their pasta. Magical gangs—that was a big problem. They called themselves orders, of course, magical orders, like they’re some kind of religious thing. Order. Ironic, if you think about it. Anyway, that all wasn’t exactly smooth, but we managed. We imposed order, without leveling everything completely. My boss was killed by one of the gangs, and that focused everyone’s attention, of course, and when we, you know, Garik and Inez and Neal and Gregoria and all those people I had the privilege to work with, when we finally cleaned up the gangs, folks on Padva were pretty happy about it. You know what? Padva was a better place. It is a better place.”

“So then what happened?” asked Annelise. “You made it to Valantoniu.”

“So we were induced to take our expertise other places. Well, that was a different story. Other places aren’t like Padva, and Padva hadn’t been easy by itself. Well, we stuck our whole arm into the beehive or whatever. And by the time we got to Valantoniu, we had a lot of enemies. And they all seemed to figure that if they could just be rid of us, they could have everything the way they wanted. The people who had the power didn’t want anyone to challenge their power, not even if it was for the good of everyone. So, yeah, they took us on, and yeah, they were just a little too much for us. Where we’d been fighting the gangs on Padva, and they could be made to fight each other, these guys made common cause against us, and they had these people, these major name cosmic level wizards, and a few who nobody knew the name of. I had enough magic that no one in Padva could handle me, but even I was in over my head. Everyone else got killed one by one, Gregoria, Inez, Cecil, Susana. Neal. Garik. Man, Garik. He and I were the last two. Then it was me.”

“You remember it all?” asked Annelise.

“Yeah,” said Lilah. “It literally just came back to me. They tried to trap me, just now, on our way back from getting Salagon. I was fighting to keep out of the trap, and somehow, it all came back to me, I saw all of it. I don’t know why, but maybe it was because it was pretty much the same people Garik and I were fighting at the end in Valantoniu. Arri Shanto. Argo Horlan. Your friend Tari Altadara. That guy—G something. And Elio, of course.” She took a sip, then set her cup down on the parapet and walked a few steps. She said, and they barely heard, “And the lady in the robe.”

“Glowing robe?” said Rob. “I know who that is.”

“I do too. I know her name, anyway, I heard it whispered. Like all that other stuff, it was gone, up here,” and she tapped her temple, “but now it’s back.”

“Her name’s—!”

“Not here, champ. Not now.”

They stood for a full minute at the parapet, looking down on streets far below, building roofs around them below, all lower than they were. Birds wheeled and flapped: Lilah had a moment free to wonder if they were actual birds or some sort of effect.

“So,” said Annelise, “how you got here. To start with.”

“Well,” said Lilah, “they blasted us both. They killed him, but his ghost, I know his ghost was still in the air, sort of—I can’t explain. Because she had me to fight too, none of the rest could take me, she, this person we won’t name, she didn’t have the force to destroy him to the extent she’d destroyed—poor Neal, or Inez or Gregoria. And then she turned to me, and what she could do, as it turned out, was blast my mind out. And she did.”

There was a short silence. “And you recovered?” asked Annelise.

“The next thing I was conscious of, I was walking in this dark crowded city. Not this city. Someplace much worse. I think the things around me, even the ones who looked human, weren’t human. I think it was some kind of cosmic prison, a dungeon that was like a whole world. Anyway, one of those inmates tried to take me, and I stopped it, but I think eventually the blood would have been in the water. The sharks would have circled. I wouldn’t have lasted a full twenty-four hours there. And that’s where Marius found me. And he brought me here.”

“He saved your life.”

“He saved my life.”

“You saved my life,” said Rob.

“It goes around.”

“So tell us about your team,” said Annelise.

“I saw him,” said Lilah. Rob and Annelise looked at each other. “At the end. When she thought she had me.” Lilah smirked. “He got in her face.” Her smile evaporated. She shook her head.

“Who did?” asked Rob.

Lilah looked at him. Just when he thought he might wilt, Lilah said, “Garik.”

“But you said he’s—?”

“He’s dead. Doesn’t mean he’s gone.”

She looked back out over the city. Annelise said quietly, “You saw him. Your colleague.”

“Yeah,” said Lilah. They watched her for a minute, the breeze in her close curls, the sun on her brown skin. Finally she said, “Yep. He was there. A ghost.” She laughed.

“Lilah,” said Rob.

“Garik. Arnaud de Garik, was his full name. Just Garik. I never loved him. Someone did. He was like me, he was the shell crater left when someone else dumped him out of her life. I don’t know if it was that, but I think it was that, which made us such good colleagues.” She was gazing grimly out into the nicest day they had ever seen in the city of city. Then she spoke, her voice limping. “He was, there was no one I could ever rely on like I relied on him. I just knew. He knew he could trust me, rely on me, and I knew the same about him. All of them, Neal, Inez, Ararg—but most of all Garik.” She looked at Annelise, then turned and looked at Rob. “I know I can trust you guys. I know I can rely on you. And I need you to understand two things.”

“Anything,” said Annelise.

“One. That means everything to me. I’ll give up anything else, all I need is that the people with me are—that I can rely on them. Because what we’ve seen so far, together or apart—Annelise, your parents were killed and the gang came for you, and Rob, you made it through the wars of Antor, for gosh sake—but it’s nothing compared to what’s ahead.”

“And two?”

“Two. There will never be,” and there were tears on her cheeks now, “another Garik.” And then she smiled, and it was as if the sun was shining through the rain. “So I’m happy,” she said in that broken voice. “Because now I know he’s here still.” She turned to the rooftop and said aloud, “Crazy ghost. No retirement for you, huh?”

“He actually was there?” asked Rob.

“He got right in her face. Lady in the glowing black robe.” She gave Rob a glare. “Begins with L.”

Rob arched his eyebrows, then looked at Annelise.

“So is that the enemy?” asked Annelise. “Is that what we’re up against?”

“We’re just trying to keep the peace,” said Lilah.

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