They returned to the office. Marius was standing at the window, gazing out, the fumes of coffee wafting over his shoulder from the cup he held in front of him.
There was a note on the table, on top of Lilah’s cinnamon roll crumbs. It was on a piece of parchment of the normal size for a letter, but rolled up lengthwise, a tube about thirty centimeters long; a foot, in the common parlance of old Groria. When Lilah unrolled it, she found it held a wand, a straight, well-polished piece of oak tree branch.
The note was in a woman’s handwriting. Leaving the wand on the table, Lilah picked up the letter. Rob looked over her shoulder, and in a moment, Annelise did the same from the other side, exchanging glances with him.
“Was this from her?” asked Annelise. “Begins with L?” she added in a whisper. Marius, if he heard, did not show any sign.
“Naw,” said Lilah. “I don’t think someone like her could have this handwriting.”
The note was written in tiny, very pretty, but very legible script. It was in the common form of the Elvish language, which Lilah had learned long ago, even before the Institute; it was the language of epic poem and historical essay and diplomatic missive, but in this script it almost spoke aloud in a soft, sure voice, gentle yet sharp as a knife.
To: Lilah Bay
My dear Lilah,
You don’t know me yet, but we will meet soon. You know, or you have come to feel, I expect, that the way the world works is changing, that the rules are changing. A new heavens and a new earth, they say in the land I came from, but it is not the coming of paradise, it is the coming of a great storm which will sweep away the scheme of things. Many who became great in the current epoch will founder, and new great ones will arise, but some are in the world now who will become the great of the new world. I’m not sure why, or how I know, but you are important to the way things will be.
It will not be easy and it will not be good. But the more good that goes into it, the less the armies of shadow will sweep away the islands of light.
So I write to invite you, Lilah Bay, to meet me in a time and place that will be revealed. If you accept my invitation, I can equip you with the tools or the weapons that will allow you to gain a place in the world as it will be. If you do not accept, it is not you but the cosmos that will be the less.
The work you have taken on, the work you have been involved in all along, ever since Padva: this is my work. Will there be light, will there be even an idea of justice, or will the mighty sweep aside the weak, will the Gods rule from their mountaintops while the animals below scrounge for scraps in the darkness? You know that what you have done so far is to fight that fight, and you know that it is far from won.
So I invite you, and when the call comes, as it will soon, you may say yes or no. But I also know what you will say, and it’s not because I see the future.
I have made for you this wand. I can make many things, but this is just a wand, nothing more. I think you will find it well crafted, and also, I think, it may be your ally in the desperate fight. I do like to make things with my own little hands, and perhaps this is not the last thing I will make for you.
With hope for the role you may choose to play,
Lilah finished it and handed it to Rob, and he and Annelise reread it. Lilah picked up the oaken wand and went over and stood by Marius. She was twirling the wand in her fingers.
“Mr. Marius,” said Annelise, “do you know who sent this?”
“Yes,” said Lilah, not turning. “Yes, he does.”
Lilah, still facing away, held the wand in front of her, looked at its tip, looked at its base. “I haven’t had a wand in a while. Really, it’s just what I needed.”
“Is she serious?” asked Rob. “Are things as bad as she says?”
“I don’t think she exaggerates,” said Marius. “It’s not her way.”
“I don’t think so either,” said Lilah, looking back out the window. She turned around, the sun at her back, her face darker than dark, just her eyes bright as she glanced across Annelise and Rob. Just then George came in from the inner hall. Lilah turned to look at him and said, “But I feel pretty good about it.”
“About what?” George asked.
“What’s coming,” said Lilah, sighting down her new wand.