Chapter 11: Young Andre’s first vanishing

XI. Young Andre’s first vanishing

1.

In a few minutes they were taking seats around the office, and Rob was pouring red wine.

“When I was at Shakaran,” said Annelise, “we busted these guys who were from the Institute, actually they were in the Annex of the Institute, which was sort of where the advanced researchers could do whatever they wanted. And these guys were researching critters. Not like druid critters. Like crawly critters. I got called out there with a few other wizards and some druid woman, and someone had dumped out a bunch of these wormy things on the front lawn of the Institute. Like a hundred of them. They sort of ate their way into the ground, reproducing as they went—they just split in two, they did straight mitosis, no evolution necessary for them. So we get there and there’s this pit about thirty feet wide. We found out then that the cold spell works great on maggots.”

“So could that have been worse?” asked Lilah. “I mean, trt asht is just a two word spell. It doesn’t seem that hard to kill these things.”

“And if all they do is eat dirt,” said Rob.

“Oh, they eat anything,” Annelise replied, “it’s just that dirt is plentiful. Dirt is easy.”

“Still,” said Lilah, “it sounds more like a public nuisance than a threat to anything.”

“It was the most disgusting thing ever, Lilah. Okay, I dealt with it. We dealt with it. But it was undeniably gross. And then.”

“And then,” said Zinnia.

“Well,” Annelise went on, “the five guys who’d got involved in this, they just got in trouble with the Institute and got a fine from the city, and then the Institute sent someone to check on their other research. And these guys, they had oh, tens of thousands, maybe millions of those worms, at least ten different types, some that eat some plant matter, waddle off and explode, some that fart horribly, some that squirt acid, some that pump out clouds of ink, some that just walk on the walls and glow, I guess that’s useful if you’re up late and want to read in bed.”

“And this was their research,” said George. “Sounds like fun research.”

“But here’s the thing. All these creatures, they eat a certain amount of whatever and they split into two worms. Or three or four if they’ve been piggy.”

“How do the exploders reproduce?” asked Zinnia.

“Only some of them blow up, I guess,” Annelise replied.

“Who dumped the worms in front of the Institute?” asked Lilah.

“Well, so,” said Annelise, “it’s like this. One of the guys was dating this prof at the Institute. He’s Annex, he’s a crazy researcher, she’s Institute, so she’s a teaching professor with an interest in, oh, time mechanics or something, she does big lectures and small seminars, and all the students love her. He’s nuts for her. And she breaks up with him because, you know, he’s smart and well-off but he smells and he angers easily and, you know, he works with worms. So he’s all upset and he takes a hundred of his favorites and dumps them in front of her office.”

“It’s lucky he didn’t do worse,” said Rob. “He could’ve brought the exploders.”

“Or the farting ones,” said Zinnia.

“I don’t feel this is the appropriate attitude to take,” said Annelise. “He dumped disgusting worms on a perfectly nice lawn because she didn’t want to break up with him. It’s not like he gets credit for not doing something worse. Hey, I can go kill people now and it’s okay because I’m not torturing them first.”

“Okay, okay,” said Zinnia. “I give.”

“So where is this magnificent piece of humanity?” asked Lilah.

“He has a permanent residency in a small prison on a rocky island in the cold latitudes of Shakaran,” Annelise replied. “They don’t let him breed anything, either.”

“What happened to the other four? Are they still researching how to make a reproducing, exploding worm?”

“There was a big to-do,” said Annelise. “Two of them got pressured into exile. The other two moved over to the Institute. I guess it was felt that their whole research program was just not the direction we wanted to go on Shakaran.”

“So they’re now on to breeding a faster, better, cheaper mosquito,” said Rob.

“I think the two that stayed at the Institute are basically teaching Intro to Alchemy and Spell Energy I & II. Supposedly no one’s working in any area involving something that can reproduce out of control.”

They all thought about that for a moment, and then Rob said, “And of course that totally means no one is doing it.”

“Like whatever made those things appear in the black place,” said Lilah.

“Damn it,” said George. “That black place you went through.”

“What?”

“That’s what these things do. That’s what happens when they’re out of control.”

2.

“So,” said Zinnia Rose, jumping up, “all this about worms aside, are we going to chase the ghost of Andre again?”

“I’m all for that,” said Andre, raising his glass. “Do I need to do anything?”

“You know, you just might. We could sure use a little different mix of ingredients.”

“That we could,” said Lilah. “Got anything in that department? Do we just re-pull Andre’s essence? Hope it’s a better draw this time?”

“I have one of my ideas,” said Zinnia.

She pulled Andre out of his chair and started dragging him back into the inner hallway. The others followed without being dragged.

In Zinnia’s room, which was already full of parcels and crates and luggage and bags with things trailing out of them, they spread around into a loose circle, still standing. Zinnia placed Andre in the middle and gave him George’s box.

“Do you want the rest of the gadget?” asked George.

“No, no,” said Zinnia. “I told you. I have one of my ideas. And it’s a priest idea. I can’t wait to try it. Of course it helps,” she went on, rummaging in a bag, “that I’m staying here. Someone has to stay here and anchor the thing.”

“So what is this going to do for us?” asked Lilah.

“Well, let’s just try it, shall we? I am really excited about this.” Zinnia came up out of her bag with a tin with a screw-on lid, which she unscrewed. Inside was a reddish powder. She began drizzling this on the floor around the perimeter of the room, going up over boxes and bags where necessary. Then she started the others all chanting: before they knew it, Lilah and Annelise and Rob and George and Andre were joining in a chorus of eeesho aaaasho zzaazho pan eeeeesho pan. Zinnia smiled and traded the tin for a little jar of liquid. This she spoke some words over and then splashed at the twelve hours around the room. She joined the chorus for a time, raising them up and changing the chant in subtle ways, and then she was back to her bags for a leafy powder. This she made into four piles right around Andre; then a dab of something clear was put on his forehead. He smiled and looked nervous.

“Whatever happens, dear,” Zinnia said to Andre, “you’re going to be fine. You’re the anchor, you’re not going anywhere.”

“Uh, good, I hope so,” he said.

Zinnia said to the others, “Keep chanting. I’m going to tell you how we’re going to do this. Okay? Lilah is North, Annelise is West, Robert is South and George, you’re East. I am going to do a recitation, not a long one, and then I’ll change the chant and I will do the Prayer.”

Again she joined the chant, and again it strengthened and changed. She began speaking, occasionally checking a parchment, all in a strange language. She joined the chant again, and it changed again, and then she began the Prayer.

It was hard to tell whom it was a Prayer to. It just seemed to be an appeal to whom it may concern, and it was a very convincing one. The Walooshi Pagans did not believe in limiting themselves to a specific set of deities, it seemed. The five chanters were carried along, not toward a goal, but rising on a tide. Then Zinnia was speaking again, not making a request but rather a declaration. She picked up a censer and waved it around Andre, and then she finished the Declaration, whatever it was, and that was when the storm visited itself upon the four people at the corners.

Zinnia and Andre were at the center of the gale, but when the foggy downpour and barreling winds died out after a few seconds, they were the only people left in the room. Zinnia lit her pipe and handed it to Andre.

Someplace else, Annelise and George, and then a moment later, Lilah and Rob found themselves in a familiar place in an unfamiliar time.

“It’s Olvar again,” said Annelise.

3.

“Okay, not used to doing field operations,” said George. “Think I need a disguise?” He looked from Lilah to the other two to the summer nighttime street, verily Main Street in the City of Olaren, which was crowded with people. The clothing was colorful, with long, pastel robes (with long, carefully constructed slits) joined by colorful scarves and a whole range of weird hats. The atmosphere seemed to combine party and business, and it was a diverse party going out on the town on diverse purposes. Where early Olvar, where Professor Salagon taught, was all pale-skinned and all in wool or fur, in this Olvar the local white people were joined by several small racial minorities of various skin tones as well as a community of “monitors,” who were basically just huge lizards with human-size intellects. The other Olvar they knew, that of Lucy as Lady Whistler had managed to blend most of these elements (not so much the monitors) into a pale-ish race, one which had also toned down its fashion sense just a little.

“I get the feeling,” said Lilah, looking around, as they stood in a clump in the lee of a tree, “that this is a little earlier than Whistler. Don’t you?”

“Feels kind of radical to me,” said Rob. “No, really, I’m getting the vibe of rebellion and conflict and, you know, punch the other guy in the face, mount the barricades and all that. Don’t you think?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I get that.”

“It’s definitely earlier,” said Annelise. She was already squinting through her latest version of her crystal gizmo, while George looked on with disdain. “Trace falls in down that side street.”

“What color?” asked George. “You recognize it?”

“It’s a sort of burnt pink,” said Annelise, squinting. “That can’t be right. You look.”

“Got a color adjuster on the thing?” asked George, laughing as he took the crystal. “Hey. Hmm. Okay. Well, whatever it is, there’s basically one way to really know, right, boss lady?”

“Let’s go,” said Lilah. “Annelise, Rob, you guys take the left side of the street, and when we think we’re there, you take the back. We’re just looking. George, you’re with me.”

They set off up St. Morag’s Street. Lilah led George up along the buildings on the right. She checked that they were a little ahead of the other two, who were trying to navigate against the current of the crowd, and then she turned and said to George, “I have a weird feeling about this.”

“This whole procedure with the prayer and so on?”

“No, that’s actually comforting. With a Declaration, it can be Rescinded and we’re supposed to go straight back where and when we were. No, that part I get. What’s bothering me is this place. This time.”

“Why? Anything in particular?”

“No idea. Just thought I’d share.”

“Well,” said George, “you’re not alone in feeling that way.”

She turned up the street and they pressed on. In another block they stopped, and this time Annelise and Rob were stopped on the opposite street corner.

“She’s checking the trace again,” said Lilah. “That’s not obvious or anything.”

“If I’d had user specs,” said George, “I could’ve worked you up something that would fit inside the handle of your favorite knife. Instead, we have Annie and her contraptions.”

“Don’t knock it, it works. She’s signaling.”

“Second floor,” said George. “I see the place.”

“Damn it,” said Lilah. “She’s running. They’re running.”

Without another word, Lilah and George took off and sprinted across the intersection and up the outside stairs of the apartment building opposite. It was a sort of insula, four stories tall, filling its block with large apartments, eight to a floor, small businesses on the ground floor. As Lilah and George clambered up the stairs to the second level, Annelise and Rob were just from the other side, wands out. They all stopped and had a look, then came forward until they were on opposite sides of the door. It was marked with the Olvarian numeral 6.

Lilah could not help but think of her and Garik and Gregoria and that dwarf woman, busting down the door and overwhelming the enemy in the five second spell battle that followed. She looked across the doorway at Annelise, who had her long blond wand out.

“Is this definitely the place?” Lilah whispered.

“Yes!” hissed Annelise. “Shouldn’t we be using telepathic—?”

“Too easy to detect,” whispered Lilah. She looked back at George, then she turned and waved at the door. “Rok!” she hissed: the door gave in to her wish and swung inward.

Inside, they found a quiet, but not unoccupied, apartment. A couple of tomes sat on a table in the front room, one open; dishes sat in a basin on a counter; a wooden toy wagon sat under a chair. It became clearer and clearer, as they moved through its five rooms, wands out, spells at ready, that this was simply where a small family lived.

“Magic,” said Rob. “Here’s a whole shelf of magic books. I’m thinking institute, at least one of mom or dad.”

“Yeah, but they’re not very good,” said George. “No advanced stuff.”

“I see that.”

“We have residents,” came Lilah’s voice, very low. She was looking at them: she stood like a menacing angel a meter from their bed. They slept on, the young couple, mom and dad, both dark of hair, both fair of face, both clearly magicians, but not rich ones. She stood there wondering.

Lilah shook herself, then backed out into the main room. She found Annelise in the hall, looking back at her. Lilah followed her into the next room, which was 2/3 filled with a small bed and a crib. “Ah. We have a baby. Sleeping.” She gazed down in mixed anxiety and rapture at the baby, a girl about three months old, with an angelic sleepy face, and a fair amount of hair as black as night.

“No one in the other bed, though,” said Annelise.

The two men gravitated into the children’s room, where they both spent a moment looking at the baby girl, who showed no awareness of them. “Wonder what the story is,” said Rob.

“Let me check the trace,” said Annelise. She held up her crystal, then turned to Lilah and said, “Go back five minutes.”

“What? Okay, grab hands.” They all did, and Lilah tweaked her violet gem just enough to jump them in place and set the clock back five minutes.

The room was subtly different. There was only one change: an extra person was in the room. It was a boy in his twos, and he was sleeping in the bed.

“That’s Andre,” said Annelise. She wasn’t looking at the black-haired boy in his pajamas, but in her crystal. “And wait. What happened to his—?”

She looked at the bed this time. Lilah walked up to it and looked down. “Where the bleep did he go?” she asked.

“He,” said Annelise, “he vanished without a trace.”

4.

Half an hour later the four were reconvening around a well-carved wooden table in a pub near the Institute. It wasn’t a busy night, and they were soon enjoying pale ale and roast beef and potatoes. They were not enjoying the subject matter.

“All I want to know,” Lilah said, putting her pint down, “is how many Andres we actually have going. Anyone keep track at all?”

“I want to know,” said Rob, “how those parents of his didn’t wake up when four people were rummaging around their apartment. The baby didn’t even wake up.”

“I put a sleep on them,” said Lilah.

“Stone sleep?”

“Obviously. They’re all magic people. The base sleep spell isn’t going to work on them.”

“Unless you’re a lot bigger than they are,” said Annelise, “and since you’re the biggest wizard I’ve ever worked with—!”

“That can’t be true. George.”

“Whut?” replied George, the pint near his lips.

“How many words you got?”

“Spell-wise?” He took that drink, set the pint down and said, “Ten words.”

Rob and Annelise raised their eyebrows and muttered impressed sounds. Lilah said, “See? There you are. My equal.”

“You could totally take me, though,” said George. “I suck at spell battles. My ten word spells are a seal, a pass seal and a cancel spell. Totally on defense.”

“Back on the question, if I may,” said Annelise, “if my superiors don’t mind coming down to my lowly humble level. I count four Andres. One seduced Lucy into going off and being his partner in crime, one failed to seduce Lucy at Endweith, one was just sort of on the margins at Whistler and now this one, who disappears without a trace at Olaren.”

“He didn’t just go somewhere,” said George. “You know that, right? He’s dead.”

“What? How do you know?”

George pulled out his own crystal, a small clear cylinder of glass with a sort of silvery pin embedded in one end. “Watch,” he said. He pushed on the pin and the cylinder glowed a venomous red. He released it and the glow vanished. “Death detector. Death spell detector, in effect.”

“How’s that even work?” asked Annelise.

“Things they don’t cover in theoretical alchemy,” said George, playing with the device. “So I carry this thing around mostly because people pop out and you wonder if they’re coming back, anyway, I do. I built it myself.” He grinned at Lilah. “Senior thesis project, that was, back on dear old Visgor.”

“So this Andre died at age three or something,” said Lilah. “He definitely isn’t any of the other Andres. Because try as you might, you can’t resurrect a three-year-old. I know. I’ve tried.”

“Did you lose a child?” asked Annelise.

“No, I didn’t lose my own kid,” said Lilah grimly. “That would have been even worse. No, I tried to save someone else’s kid. Five years old. Just a kid on the street in dear old Padva. Death spell. Aimed wrong. Bleeping bleepholes,” she finished with a disgusted look. “Anyway.”

“Anyway,” said Rob, “the question is, now what?”

“And the other question is,” said Annelise, “what does this mean? This wasn’t aimed wrong. I don’t think so.”

“I don’t know,” said Lilah. “I have no idea. I got nothing. Not a clue. Nothing.” She took a bite of beef and potato, then set her fork down. “On the other hand,” she said.

“What?”

“Someone is trying to change history.” Lilah took a drink. “That’s as clear as glass. The questions that opens up, though, are who is doing it and why. But I’ll tell you one thing for sure.”

“Yeah?” asked George.

“This is now, officially, a murder investigation.”

They finished their roast beef and had another beer each, all paid for in silver coins from the stash Marius had left for Lilah’s expenses. Then Lilah went and procured a couple of rooms for them, and a pitcher of beer, and they retired for more drinks and bed—Lilah and Annelise in one room, Rob and George in the other. The drinking went on in Lilah’s room.

“So what’s the plan, then?” asked Rob.

“I hate to say it,” Lilah replied, “but we split up. I don’t think we can do a decent job of investigating the aftereffects of this murder happening or not happening if we’re together.”

“Okay,” said Annelise. “So two of us go up the history where he’s dead at three, and the other two go up the one where he isn’t?”

“Sure,” said Lilah. “You get Rob and George gets me.”

“Okay,” said Annelise. “Can we have the one where he lives?”

“Sure thing. I think the one where he died at three may be the most interesting one. Don’t you think, Georgie?”

“Sure,” said George. “Because whoever does well out of his being dead at age three, that’s the first person I want to put up against a wall with my wand in his face. Don’t you think?”

Lilah gave him a look several seconds long, then smiled, looked at Annelise and said, “Let’s not start blowing people’s heads up, but yeah. I like the way you think.”

5.

They had a reasonable night’s sleep in the middle years of Olvar. In the morning, Lilah and George were enjoying tea and cinnamon rolls in the common room of the inn when Annelise came down. She got a mug, joined them and filled it with tea.

“You got up,” said Lilah.

“I got up the moment you left,” said Annelise, “and had a look at the future.”

“Oh,” said Lilah. Then she said, “Oh. And?”

“And there’s no sign of Andre’s life line, his trace, anywhere in this history, this one where he’s dead.” She took a sip and then shook her head and added, “Think about his parents, waking up this morning and he’s gone.”

“Think about how he actually died,” said Lilah. “Who vanishes and dies? I don’t even get it. There wasn’t a perpetrator, just a victim. Actually, there wasn’t a victim either.”

“I got this,” said George. “Listen. There’s a spell. I don’t know why anyone—no, actually I do know why anyone would want a spell like this.”

“Like what, George?”

“I don’t know what they call it exactly, and I don’t know the spell itself because I would never want that one on my list, but there’s a spell that allows you to project the death spell across time and space. And why would you want that? Because you want to kill someone without you being there for them to kill you back when they come back in time, or something.”

“Or,” said Lilah, “because of situations just like this one.”

“That’s vile,” said Annelise. “You wouldn’t be able to fight back. You could maybe resist, but what if you failed your resistance? It wouldn’t matter if the biggest wizard in the universe was with you.”

“So,” said George, “that is what we go after, right? Lilah?”

“There’s no Andre in this lifetime,” said Lilah.

“None,” Annelise agreed.

“But there’s a Lucy. Is that worth pursuing?”

“I don’t know,” said George. “Are you curious where she ends up?”

“At Whistler,” said Annelise. “I checked that with timesight.”

“Well, that was easy,” said Lilah. “So. Endweith is where she almost hooks up with Andre. When he grows up and gets to be in her class, somehow that makes her live at Endweith. When he’s not in the picture, she’s at Whistler. Why would that be?”

“More to the point,” said George, “is there an Andre at Whistler this time? Apparently not.”

“Definitely not,” said Annelise. “No way he’s there. He’s not there. I checked.”

“You’re sure?” asked Lilah. “His trace was sort of vague before.”

“He’s not there. I really made sure.”

Lilah looked at George. “Well,” said the sea captain, the technician of time, “I could run it on my instruments, but I’m pretty sure she’s right. You don’t want to go check?”

“We have better things to do,” said Lilah.

Boots on the stairs preceded Rob coming down. He pivoted at the bottom of the stairs and came marching into the common room. He grabbed a mug off the bar and came to the table. “They don’t have coffee?” he asked.

“Apparently they have this,” said Lilah with disdain. “Later, coffee comes to Olvar. Now, it’s green tea of some kind. It tastes like butt.”

“Oh, it does not,” said Annelise.

“Drink it hot,” George advised, “and eat more cinnamon roll.”

Rob sat down. Lilah poured him a mug of tea. “Does it have caffeine?” he asked.

“Oh yeah,” said Lilah.

An hour later, the four got up, made sure they had what little they needed—Lilah, George and Annelise all had small bags with the tools of their trades—and headed out. They walked down to the campus of the Institute, which had about tripled in size between Salagon’s time and Andre’s childhood (or lack thereof).

There was a faculty directory in a big magic tome spread out on a plinth inside the administration hall. It listed no one named Lucy among its forty or fifty professors and masters, about half of whom were female. There were two Henrys, neither of them associated either with Whistler or with Endweith.

“That makes sense, though,” said Rob. “If Andre was three, then Lucy would be what, sixteen? She might already be a student here, but she can’t really be a prof.”

“And we don’t get anything out of trying to ask her questions,” said Lilah, “other than screw up the timestream some more. It’s pretty beat up already.”

“Okay,” said Annelise, looking around at the empty hall. “We should get moving, and this seems like a good spot for a departure. Where do we meet up again?”

“At some point, Zinnia Rose pulls the declaration out from under us, and we zap back to the office.”

“Okay. See you guys there. You ready, champ?”

“Oh, man,” said Rob. “Yes, I’m ready.”

Annelise smiled. She took his hand, they closed their eyes, and they twisted their rings together. They were gone. George raised an eyebrow at Lilah.

“We should go back to the bedroom,” said Lilah. “Moment of death.”

“Great,” said George. “Love that thought so much.”

“I don’t love it either,” said Lilah. “But I love catching the person who murders a three-year-old and doesn’t even show up in the same point in time and space to do it.”

6.

The apartment was only a few blocks away from the inn, which was only a few blocks from the institute. It was a mid-morning on a day of gathering drizzle.

“Olvar weather isn’t usually like this, in my experience,” said Lilah.

“It’s going to be a lot stormier in that apartment right now,” said George. “It looks peaceful but you know there’s crying and misery. Geez, I can’t even imagine.”

“I been through a lot, myself,” Lilah replied. “But I never lost a child.”

“They’re not even going to know what happened. They’re not going to know. Ever.”

“And the next question is, who do they call? The bleepin’ police? Well, Georgie, the police are right here. We just have to figure out how to make the bust.”

“So, back to last night?”

“Sure,” said Lilah. “Can we do this from outside? It’s going to get rather crowded with Lilahs and Georges in there otherwise.”

“Got an image of where you want to be?”

“I have an exact image, Georgie Dude.” Before he could do more than grimace, she grabbed his hand and tweaked her violet ring.

Day became night—the preceding night. Lilah and George were standing in the street still, and Lilah backed George up to the lee of the stone building across from the insula where young Andre had attempted to grow up. They watched the insula. For a minute, nothing happened.

“Look,” said Lilah. “Here we come.” Indeed, Annelise and Rob were speed walking toward them, then bending slightly to the right, to cross to the other side of the street.

“Ssh,” said George. He was holding up his death-detecting gem, peering through it with his left eye. Lilah watched Annelise and Rob move past on the other side, stealthy but at speed. Down the street she could see herself and George moving toward her now, watching the building. She backed further into the shade and pulled her George with her. He didn’t stop peering.

“Anything?” she whispered.

“Ssh.”

She glared at him for a moment. His expression didn’t change. A moment later, he grabbed her left hand with his right hand, while with his left hand he pushed the little pin on the crystal. He swung it out as if using it to catch the railing of a passing wagon. And with that, they were gone from Olvar.

But they did not find themselves anywhere, not immediately. Lilah and George, hand in hand, floated in twilight. Someone was speaking words: goth and sek and min and kar, that sort of thing. They both tried to twist various directions, not letting go of one another, to see who was producing all those scary words.

And then with a slightly audible flash, they were somewhere. It seemed to be an attic. It was lit by a pair of small floating light sources, like the flames of candles without the candles. It was just as dark as a large attic with just two candles would normally be.

There was a man there. He was blond and about as tall as Lilah, and so a few centimeters shorter than George. He turned about thirty degrees to the right to see who had arrived.

“It’s you,” he and Lilah both said.

“Bloody hell,” said George. “It’s not?”

Kar trt fos mng ku goth zin,” cried Elio, waving his wand, a fancy blond number with seven gold ring binders.

Kar ho fos nis vas goth ekt,” cried George, waving his own greasy wand.

Nyr aev soth vil ta,” said Lilah in a calm, rational sort of voice, once the men’s spells had canceled each other. Elio gave her an impatient look, and she twisted her hand, her index and middle fingers forward. Elio’s wand-tip blew out quietly. She smiled. “Now answer me a question,” she said.

“Not just now,” said Elio. He twisted a ring of his own and disappeared.

7.

Andre looked up from his book, where he reclined on the ottoman reading a History of the Blue City of Delevara. He felt a penton wash, and sat up. Zinnia Rose was standing in the middle of the room, still, but now she was slowly rotating in place, not floating on the air, just dancing in a circle, muttering. She stopped and threw some purplish ash.

Zinnia turned away, then turned back to look at the door to the hall. The door opened. Annelise came in, looking nervous. Rob followed her.

As Rob was shutting the door, Lilah pushed it open, coming in behind him. “You call us back?” she asked Zinnia as George made sure the door was securely sealed.

“I did,” said Zinnia, smiling. “I was starting to feel shock waves.”

“Really,” said George.

“Well, I don’t know what that could have been,” said Lilah. “We were just in a spell battle with my ex-boyfriend. He threw Hard Death at me. George canceled it. So I blew up that bleephead’s wand. It’s the second one of his I’ve broken.”

“You saw Elio,” said Annelise.

“I think we missed the chance to express our full hatred of one another. We pretty much started right in with spells. And that didn’t last long.”

“But we didn’t find out anything, said George.

Lilah thought a moment, shook her head and said, “Nope, not a thing. You guys?”

“Oh, we found out plenty,” said Annelise. She looked at Rob, who waved a hand. “So first of all,” she went on, “we’re having trouble latching onto anything. I could see at least three traces, but they were all out of reach somehow, and the whole thing was in flux—!”

“It’s your equipment,” said George.

“If we’d had your Box,” said Annelise, “we could have focused on one thing. But if we’d had your box, we wouldn’t have been able to pivot like we did, either. So I’m using one of my crystal doohickeys, and I can see this trace that seems to fade into someplace else, so we follow that, it seemed like the kind of thing that you’d see coming out of a paradox—!”

“I hate that word,” said George. “There are no time travel paradoxes. Just time travel problems.”

“Anyway, George. Anyway, guess where we wound up?”

“Endweith,” said George.

“Groria,” said Lilah.

“Yes! Groria,” said Annelise. “How did you know?”

“Lucky guess. Where in Groria?”

“South end of North Land,” said Rob. “Rion, Semvov area. Like, fourteenth century after the Wall of Time.”

“Yeah,” said Annelise. “They were all growing up there in Rion. It was what would have happened if they hadn’t had to move.”

“So it was just subjunctive time,” said George.

“Yeah. You could say that.”

“Was I happy?” asked Andre. He smiled a little.

“You seemed happy. You were, like, ten or eleven.”

“That was a great age,” said Andre. “Was my sister there?”

Annelise grinned. “She was cute as a button. Reminded me of me. What’s her name?”

“I called her Jayjay. I guess I couldn’t say her name properly when I was little.”

Rob cleared his throat. Annelise glanced at him, then said, “Okay. So we knew that wasn’t the place. So back to the crystal.”

“And then you found Andre in Olvar,” asked Lilah.

“Yes. We found Andre in Olvar. Alive. And older than three.”

“I can’t get over that I was killed in the cradle,” said Andre. “Somehow it seems fitting.”

“No, it doesn’t. Andre.” Annelise gave him a reproachful look.

“So, interesting thing,” said Rob. “Two interesting things.”

“Oh good,” said Lilah.

“One. You know which Andre was turned down at Endweith, and which Andre went back and seduced Lucy into running off with him? The same one, that’s which.”

After a moment, Lilah said, “Okay, that actually makes sense. He got turned down, you got turned down, Andre, you went back in time and had a go with the younger Lucy. Before she was actually married and settled down.”

“Yes,” said Andre, as if it was only just occurring to him. “Yes. I had to try. But is this a crime? Is this what you were looking for?”

“No, actually,” said Lilah. “Time travel isn’t a crime. And you didn’t, say, drug her or use a spell on her to make her go with you.”

“Ah, ha. No. As if I even could. She was always the stronger one. Even at 21.”

“I mean,” said Rob, “you committed murder, but it was at the bank robbery and you probably think those people deserved it because they were pawns of big money or the security apparatus.”

“I probably did, yes,” said Andre.

“Okay, so, number two,” Lilah prompted.

“Yeah,” said Rob. “There were a couple of other traces of Andre around the back parts of the timestreams. We went to look at them and guess what we were knee deep in just when Zinnia undid whatever it was she did.”

“I Recalled the Declaration,” said Zinnia. “Just in time, too, I think.”

“I think you’re right,” said Rob. “And I take back all my doubting thoughts. We had just found ourselves in a section of the universe that was pretty much overwhelmed with—!”

“Those wormy things,” said Lilah.

“You got it,” said Annelise.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s