“You couldn’t do it by yourself,” said Lilah. The two Henrys were sitting side by side on a newly-created couch. The tower room was sealed and cloaked and everything else Lilah thought of, and Annelise put a time space prevent over her time prevent. The two men, looking like different-age twins, were ceased and held and sealed down. They looked glum. “Not the second thing. You could do the first thing. That was bad enough.”
“Me?” asked the older Henry.
“No, you,” said Lilah. “Mister Henry Two. You couldn’t stand that Andre had taken your young fiancée Lucy from you, so you used a spell to reach back in time and murder Andre as a child.”
“I was saving what was mine,” said Henry 2, the younger one. “I admit the means was brutal.”
“But even as I abhor my younger self’s action toward an innocent child,” said Henry 1, “I must point out that there is no law in this area, and he cannot be held accountable to any court, because there is no duly constituted authority, unless you’re the Olvar Constabulary, and you’re not.”
“Listen,” she said in a voice they found calming, “you, young Henry, Mister Two, you murdered a three-year-old. If you want to argue that, then argue it. No?” They both put their heads down. “Up to now, Henry 1 has nothing to do with it. His Lucy was thirty-five, and turned Andre down. But Henry 2 is sitting there by himself in his parents’ attic, after murdering a toddler, and he realizes that even though the history he’s in has no Andre, there’s another history out there in which Andre doesn’t die as a child, because that Andre is a real person whom he has actually met. This is not abstract. That’s what you realized.”
“Yes, yes,” said Henry 2. “Many people know Andre. Goatee, radical trash talk, can’t keep his pants buttoned. I know him. And if I know him, then he came from somewhere, right? That history makes as much sense as this one.”
“And in that history, you lose Lucy to Andre.”
“It is foul,” said Henry 2, “just foul that he should even get a second look from her. It is foul.”
“I suppose it occurred to you that it’s not for you to decide.”
“So how did Henry 1 get involved?” asked Annelise.
“Henry 2, living in his folks’ attic, murderer of a toddler, is just in his last year at the Olvar Institute. That spell George mentioned, the one that lets you kill someone across time, that much he can manage. But he’s not going to be able to crank out the machinery he would need to do the thing he really wants to do. So he starts looking around for someone who can help him, someone he can trust. And he finds his way into the history from which Andre came to seduce young Lucy, the one where the older Lucy turned Andre down.”
“And that’s Henry 1,” said Rob.
“Yes. The perfect accomplice. Henry 1 also has a grudge against Andre: his Lucy didn’t run away, but he was sure she was tempted. True? False?”
Henry 1 looked at her, then grumbled, “True, true, what of it.”
“And the thought of actually eliminating a whole history, of making it never to have happened.” She stopped. “Never to have happened,” she said slowly. “Yeah, that’s right tense. Don’t you think? How convenient that Henry Number One studied temporal alchemy.”
“It was bloody convenient,” said Henry 1. “He used me.”
“That grant,” said Rob. “He had a mysterious long-term grant.”
“Keep talking,” said Lilah.
“You need to understand,” Henry 1 broke in. “Lucy told me what had happened, told me she was tempted but would never, ever. Ever. And five years later, I’m working in my lab, and he shows up. No mysterious letters, no weird dreams, just, hello, I’m your younger self, I’ve lost Lucy, can you make that not happen?”
“Thank you,” said Henry 2.
“But he spoke and I came around to his point of view. May the Gods help me.”
“Don’t ask me to put in a good word,” said Lilah.
“Detective Bay,” said Henry 1, “if you wake from a dream, do the people you dreamed of die? We collapsed an entire family of histories. Those people never existed. They didn’t die in pain and despair. They just never existed.”
“That’s not better,” said Lilah. “But never mind, because I’m pretty sure the worms took their time chewing through reality. I was there.”
“Those worms—?” asked Annelise.
“Well, maybe I can explain that,” said Lilah.
“Is that how you got onto us?” asked Henry 1, the older of the Henrys.
“No, it was murdering the not-quite-three-year-old,” said Lilah. “Kind of got my attention.”
Henry 1 tried to slap Henry 2 on the head, but was restrained by the hold spell over the cease spell. “Idiot,” he muttered. “Anyway, who are you actually and why are you allowed to hold me?”
“I work for the Violet Council, as I told you. No further explanation is necessary or forthcoming. It’s bad to murder children in their sleep. Your friend here did it using time travel. That makes it my business. Now you can answer my questions some more. What did you do to the worms? Did you modify them, or did you get them that way from somewhere, or what?”
The Henrys looked at each other, then looked down, shaking their heads in identical gestures. “They were collapsing that whole universe, weren’t they?” said Annelise.
“And it wasn’t a quick job,” said Rob.
“Yeah,” said Lilah. “And it’s kind of hard to figure how that could be part of an ecosystem, you know? Like, they couldn’t very well have evolved to do that.” She glared at the two men, who seemed oblivious. “Come on,” she said after a minute, “it’s not like you’re going to get off easy with me because you didn’t talk.”
Another short pause filled with glare, and Henry 1 gave in. He sighed and shook his head again. “It was a stupid idea. But we tried all sorts of things, and nothing seemed to fit the bill.”
“And the bill it was supposed to fit was?”
Henry 1 looked at his younger counterpart, Henry 2, who said, “We couldn’t let it be, don’t you get it? We couldn’t let Andre seduce our Lucy and run off to start the revolution and get them both killed and—we just couldn’t.”
Lilah stared at the younger Henry, thinking: I already knew what he did. So why is it shocking? What she said was, “Sure you could. Lots of people do. Lots of people lose in love. Lots of people lose in love and don’t go killing toddlers and destroying universes. Isn’t that true?” They both looked away. Henry 2 presently looked back and found her glaring at him, a scary smile on her face. “So. Those worm things never evolved to eat the substance of reality. Did you tweak them?”
“You have to understand,” Henry 1 began.
“No. I don’t. I am not listening to anything after those four words, from now on. So try again. Did you tweak them?”
“No,” said Henry 1.
“Not ourselves,” said Henry 2.
“It’s not really my area of expertise,” said Henry 1.
“Whose is it?” asked Lilah.
The Henrys looked at each other, and Henry 2, the younger Henry, muttered, “Parkavan.”
“Park a van?”
“Parkavan,” said Henry 1. “Parkavan. It’s a person. A wizard, a nature alchemist actually.”
Henry 2’s eyes caught fire. Henry 1 said, “Well, actually, yes, but not as such.” Lilah almost interrupted, but he went on: “No, okay? No. No, he would be a different kind of nature alchemist, one who worked with—!”
“Worms,” said Annelise. “Parkavan. Yeah. He was one of the five, the five at the Shakaran Institure who worked with worms. He was exiled. He was supposed to be the one with the most knowledge, as opposed to the one who dumped the worms on the front lawn.”
“Oh, that Parkavan,” said Lilah. “Go on. How’d you find him? How much did he know? And so on. Oh. Lucy said you had a grant, a long-term grant. I’m going to guess it was from Henry 2.”
The Henrys looked at each other again, but it was hard to believe they could still conspire at all. “He came to me,” said Henry 1. “He talked me into it. And of course he had money, as do I, from our family. So he gave me a large, um, fund, a sort of fellowship, and then came back every ten years or so to see how much progress I had made. Or not made, as the case usually was.”
“And your assignment was to collapse the entire universe where Andre still existed, to make it so he really never did exist. Because anything short of that would leave someplace, in some history, where he ran off with Lucy. And you couldn’t handle that. Unlike most of your fellow human beings, you couldn’t handle the idea of your girlfriend breaking up with you and taking up with someone you didn’t approve of.”
“He broke the law,” said Henry 2. “He time traveled. He came from the future already knowing how to take her from me.”
Lilah rolled her eyes, which the two Henrys were content to watch without comment. She said, “Yeah. So just to correct your misimpression, going back in time and romancing your girlfriend before she’s married to you, that’s not a crime. Killing him as a toddler because he would grow up to be a guy who would do that: that’s a crime.”
“Not to mention,” said Annelise, “destroying a whole family of histories.”
“Yeah,” said Rob. “So I need that filled in a bit, okay?”
“Well,” said Henry 1, “if I may?” He looked around, but no one was interrupting him. “So,” he went on, “we had decided that the thing to do was to eliminate those histories in which Andre’s parents even came to Olvar. Now I had hoped we could just sort of cancel them out, you know, slap some brick on one path of the bifurcation in time, make all the history go the other way. And I was good, I am very good at time mechanics, ask anyone, I’m a natural temporal alchemist. But I could not crack that problem. And of course it’s all very hush-hush, I can’t go share research with my colleagues. So I went nowhere. I spent at least thirty years with that problem in the back of my mind. Of course I was doing other things as well, but—!”
“You were snogging my Lucy,” said Henry 2, “bastard.”
“No, correction, I was snogging my Lucy. The one who actually did say no to Andre.”
“Okay, okay,” said Lilah.
“So,” said Rob, “at some point you gave up and—!”
“I was in a bar,” said Henry 2. “A disreputable bar in a disreputable world, little piece of manure called Gagdas-4. There was this guy, he was also an alchemist, he was a nature alchemist. So we got to talking. Turned out he was from Shakaran, he was in on this famous incident with these worm things, well, he was in on the research. I showed some interest, and he told me about Parkavan.”
“And you went and found him,” said Lilah.
“I did. I found him and I brought him here.”
“And he did the work for you? This Parkavan?”
“He did excellent work,” said Henry 2.
“We saw. We saw what excellent work he did. And where is this Parkavan now?”
“Oh,” said Henry 2, “somewhere you won’t find him.”
Lilah came very close to the two Henrys, just brushing up against the seal around them. She leaned down and gazed into Henry 2’s face. “Oh,” she said, “isn’t that just the kind of stupid thing people love to say to me.”
“Okay,” said Rob, “so, question. Histories where Andre’s parents came to Olvar. There were histories in which they didn’t?”
“We saw one,” said Annelise. “Rob, we were there. Remember?”
“What? Oh. So you had to go all the way back to where his parents came to Olvar?”
“No, actually,” said old Henry 1. “All we had to do was figure out where we could put the vermoids so that they would spread back to there. It’s their nature to spread back to bifurcation points. I mean, the forking point is there already. Something to do with events on Groria, I don’t pay attention to those things.”
“Lots of forking points at the end of Antor’s reign,” said Andre. “The whole history of Groria is full of fractures around there.”
“So what becomes of him when he doesn’t move to Olvar?” asked Annelise.
“He stays in Rion,” said Henry 1, unsuccessfully concealing a smirk.
“Wait a minute,” said Lilah. “Wait a stinkin’ minute. What happens to Andre’s family in—Rion? Isn’t that near Semvov?”
“Exactly,” said Rob.
“Yes,” said Henry 2. “It’s practically in the middle of the biggest strategic war map in Grorian history. He doesn’t get out alive.”
“A lot of people don’t,” said Rob. “You really shouldn’t be happy about it.”
“Andre is a sociopath,” Henry 2 retorted. “He destroys people’s lives. He—!”
“No, correction,” Lilah said, raising her voice over his. “You destroy people’s lives. He just makes people named Henry jealous and unhappy. It’s not the same thing.” She glared at Henry 2, who glared right back but said nothing. Then she switched her glare to the elder Henry, who shook his head. “What?” she asked him. “Second thoughts?”
“All my thoughts,” said Henry 1, “are second thoughts.”
“Well, welcome to my world. So listen. I got one more question. Young Hothead Henry here was going to dump the worms, the, uh, vermoids, in the past. Of course he actually did do that, but when I tried to take us to him, well, he was already pretty much just a few ribs, hips and leg bones, with some rotten flesh still hanging off them.”
“That would be me,” said Henry 2 in a sort of vicious mutter.
“So we came here because this one was the next closest?” asked Rob.
“Something like that,” said Lilah. “You guys were about ready.”
“Yes,” said Henry 1. “Fifty years. Sixty. We were finally ready. For good or ill.”
“And we did it,” said Henry 2. “You can’t fool me, time cop. It’s already happened, hasn’t it? You went and saw it. That means it happened.”
“Yeah,” said Lilah. “They don’t call it murder if you didn’t kill them yet. Before, you had one murder on your hands. A child, but just one. Now, you both are guilty of billions of deaths. So I kind of figured, when I knew it was a Henry of some sort who was responsible, that you wouldn’t mind dying in the process. You’d lost Lucy—I knew one of you had, because there’s a Lucy out there on the loose—!”
“No,” said Henry 2. “She’s in the downstream of the event. She’s gone too.”
“Yes, but we saw her outside your kill zone. I think she’s around somewhere. With that other Andre.”
“No. No, no. Can’t be.”
“But what I want to know,” said Lilah, “is about the Lucy who came to us with the case. She couldn’t get back to Endweith. And then she disappeared completely. That was you, right? Or was that Andre?”
“It was me,” said Henry 1. “It will be me.”
“You send Lucy to her conference. Then—!”
“Yes, yes, she’s there right now.” Henry the Elder snorted mildly. “Now,” he repeated as if it were a strange concept. “Anyway, she goes there, we put the plan in operation, then my colleague here dies with all the universes we need to cut, and I go pick her up. I draw her in with a beacon. She goes to jump back here to Endweith, and instead, she jumps to me. In a safe place. Because Endweith, and that entire, tainted, universe: it would all be gone.”
Henry 2 gave Henry 1 a look of surprising tenderness. “And you and Lucy live together in your new home,” he said.
“But there was a problem,” said Lilah. “We’re here because she did try to get back to Endweith, and she couldn’t find it. Instead she looked all over the Olvar history that’s still there, and she couldn’t find you. She was heartbroken,” Lilah finished with an ounce of scorn.
“That,” said Henry 1, “is because you don’t know what form the beacon took.”
“Okay, humor me.” Henry 1 just smiled. “Or don’t,” said Lilah. “You know what? I don’t bleeping care. We are done here. Done. It’s time to turn you over to the Violet Council and see what they think should be done with you. See, this may be an unusual jurisdictional situation and all, but we are not lawless, we aren’t just thugs. Or animals acting on instinct. Because if we were, you would already be dead.”
The Henrys raised their voices to object, but Lilah and Annelise and Rob were already excusing themselves out onto the balcony.
Outside on the tower balcony, Lilah took a moment to lay another seven-word seal over the tower room. Annelise took the same moment to reinforce her time-space prevent spell. Rob admired the view, trees in their fall colors covering a hilly land under fleeting clouds. Only here and there did a farm field or a road interrupt the forest.
“I wonder if there are any dragons still,” he said to himself.
“What’s that, champ?” asked Lilah.
“Oh, sorry, nothing.”
“I expect a couple of hundred years ago, there were,” said Annelise. “It was the same in Valantoniu. There were dragons and wyverns in the mountains, there were orcs and giants in the hills, there were sea monsters in the lakes. I guess there are still sea monsters way out at sea, but the dragons and wyverns are all gone.”
“Yeah,” said Lilah. “It’s all wizards now. Just like everywhere. Which brings us back to the present.”
“As in,” said Annelise, “what are we going to do with these guys.”
“Oh, I know that. We’re going back to the office with them. In the city. We call on Marius, he should come running, if he’s not already there waiting for us.”
“So what happens to them?” asked Rob.
“I don’t know. I don’t have a read on that. I don’t know the Council well enough. I don’t know the Council at all. I presume I’m going to get to meet them at some point. I need to write up a report of some kind, I always love doing that. Maybe they’ll hold a trial.”
“I could see executing the younger Henry,” said Annelise. “Painfully.”
“What about the older one?” asked Rob.
“I don’t know, what do you think?” Lilah replied. “He didn’t actually strangle anyone personally, as far as we know—no, I don’t expect he actually could strangle anyone. But he took part in destroying all those histories. And as we already noted for the record, it wasn’t as if he flipped a switch and billions of people just didn’t exist. No, they died painfully.”
“At least Henry 2 also died painfully,” said Rob. “Did you see that—thing?”
“What thing?” asked Annelise.
Lilah and Rob looked at each other. Not looking away from Rob, Lilah said, “Well, there he was. In all his guts and glory, but mainly guts. Mainly bones, really. Some teeth.”
“I’m glad I missed that,” said Annelise. “Do you think they’ll sanction executions?”
“I don’t know,” said Lilah. “Lots of stuff we’re going to find out.” She rubbed her face with her hands. “This case. I keep thinking it’s done, I got it, we’re about done, and then something happens. I’m peeling an onion. A big rotten onion. There’s another layer under the layer I’m on, and another layer, and another.”
“Boss,” said Rob, “when you peel away all the layers of the onion, there’s nothing left.”
“Well, this isn’t an onion then, because there’s something more than onion in there.”
“What are you saying?” asked Annelise. “What more could there be? Someone put Henry up to it?”
“No, no,” said Lilah. “Okay. So I think we can transport them by throw, but how about we send, oh, Annelise ahead? What say, Annie babe? Security in front?”
“Oh, okay. George and Zinnia should be there, right?”
“Marius might even be there.”
“Lilah,” said Rob, “we have Henry 2 and Henry 1. But you and I both saw Henry 2 dead and decomposed. It had to be him. Have we stopped billions of people from dying, or not?”
Lilah wiped her face with her hands again. “I don’t bleeping know.” She smiled a flat glaring smile. “No,” she said. “Nope. I think he failed to keep Andre from living his life, and we failed to keep the Henrys from killing billions of people.”
They all stood there looking out at a beautiful evening in the hill country. Then Lilah whipped around, got through her own seal and into the tower room, and Annelise and Rob followed her, wands out. In a moment they were using them.