XIV. The long letter of the law
There were five shapes in the room, outside of the seal around the two Henrys. Three of them were people, and the other two were a large rat and some sort of imp. They had somehow passed Lilah’s outer seal, and yet they seemed baffled by her seal around the two men. The three humans, two women and a man, spent the next five seconds milling and dithering, while the imp fluttered about high up, apparently looking to loot the tops of shelves. The rat spotted Lilah as soon as she led Rob and Annelise through her seal, and began squeaking a seven-word hold on her. She resisted, then dropped four words of her own and froze the rat into stone.
Behind her, Lilah heard more spells. Rob threw nyr aev soth vil ta, thrusting his wand at the wand of the male opponent, trying to break the thing. The wand cracked audibly but held together. The dread tone of trt kar ho nin goth sounded in Annelise’s voice: the death spell, but not aimed at any of the wizards, or not directly. The imp croaked out an objection and then, well, croaked, plummeting to the floor. One of the women clutched her chest and doubled over in pain.
“Get through,” the woman urged the man. He tried to place a crystal against the inner seal, dropped it, threw down his cracked wand, picked the crystal up again, with the help of the woman, and got it to stick to the invisible seal. The woman whipped around and threw a five-word hold to Lilah’s left, and Annelise was out of the picture.
The crystal blew with an angry little pop. The male aggressor grabbed Henry 2 and pulled; Henry 1 stood up but seemed leery of actually moving. Rob threw his override item spell at the woman’s wand, but this time the stick survived. She threw her five-word hold on him, and he too failed.
“So done with this,” Lilah muttered. “Ag sek an nyk il goth!”
The woman, the one who seemed to be in charge, grimaced, staggered, and began to fall. She was asleep when she hit the ground.
But the other woman, the one whose imp had met an untimely end, was recovering. She grabbed Henry 2’s hand, and the man with the cracked wand grabbed her other hand, and she bodily pulled them both away from the middle of the room. She was tweaking her own ring, which must have been some sort of analog of Lilah’s violet-gem ring. They just began to disappear.
“Kar trt fos mng ku goth zin,” cried Lilah, aiming a wicked wrist twist—at Henry 2. He gasped and fell sideways, and remained in the room as the other two evaporated.
Lilah looked at Henry 1. “So,” she said, “I wouldn’t try anything.”
“Uh, I wasn’t going to,” said Henry.
Lilah half-turned to look at Rob, who was standing where he had been held, a pathetic look on his face. “Vas eur,” she said. While he was shaking his arms out and muttering apologetically, she was turning the other way and saying the same to Annelise.
“What just happened,” were the first three words from her mouth, followed by: “What do we do? Why did you—did you kill him? Oh, Lilah.”
“Really sorry, boss,” said Rob. “So this one?”
They looked at Henry 1. “I don’t know,” said Lilah.
“I am ready to face justice,” said Henry. “I won’t try to escape.”
Lilah turned and glared at him. After a moment, she said, “All right. Why not?”
He shrugged. “Why run,” he said.
“I have a question,” said Annelise. “Your Lucy. She came to us to figure out what happened. And then she disappeared. Where did she go?”
“Bear in mind,” said Henry, “that you know things that haven’t happened to me yet. And now they won’t. But I have to assume that our plan went forward more or less the way we planned. That would mean that we were supposed to redirect Lucy to a small universe where we could seal ourselves off from, you know, everything, and—!”
“After she came to us?” asked Lilah.
Henry clouded. “No,” he said. “We of course had no idea about you.”
“Lilah,” said Rob, “what about Sleeping Beauty there?”
“Oh, she’s definitely going into custody,” said Lilah.
The four of them looked around. “Well, I’m ready,” said Henry.
“You know,” said Lilah, “you may never see your Lucy again.”
“Ah, but you created two versions of me, when you burst in and stopped us from doing something that you’d already seen happen.”
“So you figure that other Henry gets to live the rest of his days with Lucy. What if we bust him too?”
“Tough luck, Henry,” said Henry. “He’s not me.”
Lilah gave him another long glare, then smiled, looked at Annelise and Rob and said, “All right, I guess I’m ready.”
“Can we all go at once now?” asked Annelise. “After all, Sleeping Beauty is sleeping. And Henry seems cooperative.”
“One more thing.” Lilah walked over to the body of Henry 2. Pointing her left index finger at his torso, she muttered, “Trt gaz min kar ang vil goth.” She turned to the others. “That bastard isn’t going to come back at us.” She looked at Henry. “Ready, big guy?”
Henry 1 was looking down at Henry 2. Then he raised his bushy eyebrows, looked around and said, “Endweith. Goodbye, Endweith. I’ve finally had enough of you.”
“Had enough of your younger self?” asked Lilah, holding out her hand.
“I never liked him, even when I was him.”
Lilah took Henry the Elder with her, and when they arrived at the office, Annelise and Rob were already there. Rob had brought the sleeping wizard, who was stirring and was about to find Rob’s and Zinnia’s wands in her face. Annelise had brought Henry 2’s corpse, and she and George, and also Marius, were crouching around it, inspecting. Andre, who had evidently been drinking coffee, was just jumping up.
“God damn it! Marius!” cried Lilah.
“Ms. Bay,” said Marius, “explain this.”
“Oh, that. That is Henry 2.” She stole a glance at Andre, who was standing a meter from her, staring expressionless at the dead embodiment of Henry. “That is the second version of Lucy’s husband Henry. This here is the first Henry, the husband of the Lucy who came to see us right here in this office. The two of them conspired, how’s that for a trick? They conspired to prevent Andre, over there, from ever being born. This involved killing Andre as a two and a half year old, and then, unsatisfied with that, destroying a bunch of universes. That’s right. I said it. It was all because Andre, of whom a curious sort of ghost is standing right over there, looking and feeling very real, well, another version of him fell in love with the Lucy who was married to the older, original Henry 1, and then time traveled back and seduced her into joining him in his quest to challenge the powers that be, all before she ever married Henry 2, who is the dead, younger one. Henry 1, here, will confirm.”
“I, I will, yes,” said Henry. He looked at Andre, then down at Henry 2, then managed to find a door knob to concentrate on.
“I’m sorry,” said Marius. “Will you possibly repeat all that? It’s rather a lot to take in, in one go. Lucy’s universe disappeared because Andre was killed as a baby? Who attempted to run off with Henry’s wife before they were married? It almost makes one wish to give up time travel.”
“Yeah,” said Lilah, “except that entire histories full of people were painfully wiped out. That’s not some weird illusion. That is grindingly real.”
“I grant that, of course—!”
“Marius. Is this place secure? We just had people try and steal our prisoners.”
“Well,” said Marius, “up to now, I would’ve said yes. Do we need more seals?”
“I think so, yeah.”
“Lilah,” said Annelise, “tell him about the spell battle. I’ll toss up some prevents.”
“I can seal it all tight under those prevents,” said George. “Nobody’s getting in here if I don’t want them to get in here.”
“Excellent,” said Marius. “Spell battle?”
“Oh yes. Marius. We had apprehended these two copies of Henry, and we’d sealed them up and locked them down and everything we could think of, including Annelise’s time space prevent spell, and we went out on the balcony to work out how to proceed, and suddenly we sense someone passing our seal. It was these three mages, two woman and a guy, they had a couple of familiars, anyway, two of them tried to make off with Henry 2. We captured the third one, here she is, actually—!”
“Well,” said Marius, “let’s have a look, shall we?”
“It’s you,” said Zinnia, kneeling, her wand in the face of the captured wizard, who was half sitting up, propped up on her elbows. She was a wiry brunette and should have been very pretty, but somehow wasn’t.
“Can we identify her, Miss, uh—?”
“Zinnia Rose, at your service, Mr. Marius. And this would be Miss Othni Talia. Of medieval Thomasport. We were at the Institute together.”
“As long as you lasted,” said Othni Talia.
“Just try me, Talia. I’m still better than you.”
“You’re brave, Zinnia Flower, with your big friends around you.”
“Listen up,” said Lilah. “I don’t give a crap if you’re better than Zinnia Rose, though I have a hard time imagining she couldn’t pound the snot out of you. To me, you’re a cockroach. You know what I did to the prisoner you were trying to steal. If you have any doubts, take a good look at the blood coming out of his ears. Do you think he died happy? Do you think I wouldn’t love to do it to you?”
“And you interdicted him,” said Annelise.
“What’s this?” asked Marius.
“She thinks she’s some kind of cop,” said Othni Talia. “She’s a thug, that’s what she is.”
“Oh really?” Lilah retorted. “And what were you doing, providing free legal advice?”
“In point of fact,” said Marius, “Ms. Bay is a cop. She’s the detective and chief investigator for the Violet Council. Have you heard of the Violet Council, Ms. Talia? Because I have actually heard of you.”
“You have,” said Lilah. “That’s interesting.”
“What are you going to do with me?” asked Othni Talia.
“She’s committed no crime,” said Marius.
Lilah gave the captured wizard a calculating look, then shrugged. “You’re right. We can’t justify holding her. She didn’t do anything we wouldn’t let other people get away with.”
“You’re letting me go,” said Talia.
“Not what I’d like to do.” She gestured to Annelise. “Let’s get this outside the seals and then make sure they’re secure. So Marius, you’ve heard of her? Met her?”
“I met a lot of people,” said Marius, as they both stood behind Zinnia, who was still kneeling over Othni Talia. Annelise and George put Othni Talia outside in the hall, then went back to spreading new seals and cloaks and time prevents around, and came back to stand over the other side of the other prisoner. Meanwhile, Rob and Henry had seated themselves and were sipping hot coffee. “Perhaps we should see to accommodations, don’t you think, Lilah? Just we two.”
Lilah raised an eyebrow at Marius, then looked back at the table.
“So,” said Henry affably to Andre, “I gather you’re a version I’ve never met?”
“Actually,” said Andre, “I think I had you for alchemical mechanics. It was interesting.”
“Okay, sure,” said Lilah. “Let’s check accommodations. And talk.”
“And talk,” said Marius.
Lilah let Marius lead her into her own room. It had one closet, and in the closet, a spare folding table could be moved to reveal another door. Through it was another little room, with a bed and a bookshelf and no windows. It was lit by two magical candles.
“Huh,” said Lilah. “Fine investigator I am. I didn’t know this was even here.”
“You’re an excellent investigator,” said Marius. “You weren’t brought on to investigate what was behind a folding table in your closet. You were brought on to find what happened to a certain universe. And you have done so.”
“No buts, Ms. Bay. You and your team have performed admirably. I’m curious about, uh, Ms. Rose, by the way, but I don’t want you to think I disapprove; I spoke with her over dinner last night, her and George, whom of course I trust implicitly, and she seems quite the find.”
“Did you know that this was going to involve the actual destruction of universes? Marius, you should have seen what that looked like. It was dropping from three dimensions to two. The noise was awful. The worms, the vermoids? Really? They were in the process of collapsing an entire family of time streams. We didn’t see any of the billions of dead, but—Marius. Billions.”
He gave her a long grave look, then said, “Yes. Yes, one did have the sense that this was beyond what was previously possible.”
There were starting to be short gaps between everything they said. “Marius. Was this your idea? To go after this case? This case about destroying histories?”
Again the grave look. When she thought he was not going to give her any more of an answer, he said, quietly, “No.”
“No, Lilah, it was not.”
Another gap. “Marius,” she said, glaring, “this is the problem I have here. Someone figured out how to make a universe collapse. No one knew how to do it before. Now someone does.”
Another gap. “Lilah,” he said, “is this why you interdicted the younger version of Henry?”
She gave him a quieter version of the glare. Presently she said, “What would you have done?”
“I can’t answer that.”
“Well, let me set the scene. After considerable labor and some danger of getting eaten by worms, we suss out what’s going on and catch these two guys named Henry just as they’re getting ready to do the deed. Of course, the deed was already done, in some sense, but these two hadn’t done it yet, and after that, Henry 2 was going to get himself eaten by vermoids, and Henry 1 was going to be off to some well-hidden hiding place. So along comes Miss Othni Talia or whoever, and her two pals, and they go about taking away our prisoner. Now why would they do that? They really like him? They’re convinced of his innocence? They collect Henrys? I don’t think so. We take Miss Talia down, but the other two are just about to make the jump. Maybe I can stop all three. But the spell that’s most likely to work is going to be a one-target type of thing like a V. S. Sleep or a hard death. I have this Fast Hard Death, it’s no frills, I don’t remember using it before but I’m sure I have. So that was instinct. Now who to target? Get one of the raiders, kidnapers, whatever they were, or get Henry 2? Well, I didn’t like those people much, but even I know they weren’t breaking any obvious laws, and my jurisdiction, if you will, clearly doesn’t include laws that aren’t pretty obvious. Wanting Henry 2 wasn’t against the law. Doing what he did was. So I could not let him get taken away by someone who just might have been planning to learn his tricks. That meant killing him. Killing him dead.”
“And interdiction? Making sure he couldn’t come back? Was that instinct?”
Another gap. “No,” she said very quietly. “No, Marius, it was not.”
They looked at each other in the half-lit room. “Ms. Bay,” said Marius, “you do realize that to some, it may seem as though one has become investigator, prosecutor, judge, and jury, as well as executioner. Are you comfortable with that?”
“Are you saying I shouldn’t have done that?”
Another gap. “No,” Marius whispered. “I am distinctly not saying that.”
“Anyway,” said Lilah, “sadly, we haven’t exhausted the supply of people who know how to use vermoids to collapse universes. There’s this guy Parkavan—it’ll all be in my report.”
“Ah yes,” said Marius. “I know of Parkavan. This would relate to the vermoids of Shakaran. They merely blew up, or ate dirt and rock. These, I take it, are a—development.”
“Marius, I have to say it, I’m increasingly in awe of what you already knew.”
He laughed slightly and said, “So you feel you need to find Parkavan as well. I can’t blame you. Any leads in that respect?”
“None,” said Lilah. “Open to suggestions.”
“He’s some sort of nature alchemist? Or was he a worm druid? A priest of annelids, perhaps? Or are these nematoda?”
“No, no, he’s got to be a natural alchemist, he’s—wait. Huh.”
“I am impressed as always, Lilah. In any case, you don’t think Henry 1, as you call him, is as much of a danger?”
“No. He seems remorseful, and he’s, well, sixty years more mature than Henry 2 was. I mean, I don’t want him to get into the wrong hands—can you make that not happen?”
“I think we can,” said Marius. “We shall have to go before the Council, both you and I, but I think they will agree that he needs to spend his life gardening and catching up on some reading in some confined universe somewhere out of the way.”
“Marius. I’d like to actually destroy Henry 2’s body, that’s the only way to truly finish off an interdiction.”
“I would agree with that,” he said softly.
They both looked around, as if they had done anything to the room. “We done here?”
“Yes, I think so.” He smiled at her, and then she turned and put her hand to the doorknob. “Uh, Lilah,” he said. She turned around again. He was holding out a rolled parchment with a wax seal. “I was given this to give you.”
“Oh,” she said. “From?”
“We shall see,” he said. “Let’s return to the others.”
To: Detective Lilah Bay and her staff
From: Photios Patriarchos
Re: Current and future needs
Dear Detective Bay:
Greetings. It is my privilege as a founding member of the Violet Council to engage with you and to congratulate you on assembling an excellent team. I understand that you have made an excellent beginning.
Given the burgeoning complexities of the current cosmos, the swift expansion in applications of penton flux, and the multiplication of elaborations caused by the use of plane and time travel, you must find yourself racing to keep up. The practitioners of magical force, moment by moment, seem to come up with new developments and schemes, and have already far exceeded the bounds of any ordinary, even wizardly, application of legal principles. The cosmos is folded and folded again, and it will take an indefatigable investigatorial team to come anywhere near keeping up with this on-rushing equivocation.
My friend Dr. Marius assures me, and the rest of the Council, that you are the best choice possible for the task of maintaining some sort of vigilance over this rolling complexity. And we have every confidence in you and your people, as we have every confidence in Dr. Marius. We will offer every support we possibly can, and we look forward to discussing your office’s needs soon, and at any time.
However, it seems clear that much more is needed. Further resources will have to be allocated, in a cosmos in which the sheer number of histories and universes appears to be doubling and doubling again. And as we foresee assigning more and more resources to the task, we also foresee a need for more and stronger points of contact amongst the Council and yourself and other resources in the field. A close communication amongst those of us engaged in this labor, for it is a labor and we are all engaged in it, regardless of our precise roles, seems to be what is required. Also required, clearly, in this complex environment, is a restraint on action that is not coordinated with the goals of the larger whole.
One example of such restraint and such communication relates to the matter at hand in the case you and your team have so successfully brought to a conclusion. It may seem to you that the case has not ended. But exactly what to do next is far from certain. Thus, on behalf of the Council, I would humbly request that you hold back from further moves in this matter until the Council has had the opportunity to take stock of what must be done next.
Thus I congratulate you on the excellent start you have made, and I advise you, out of great respect for your character and intelligence and great friendship with your aims, to be reserved in your approach to whatever challenge may appear around the next corner of your road.
With humble appreciation of the work you have done and of the great things ahead of you,
Member, The Violet Council
Lilah furrowed her brow even further than it had been furrowed already while reading. She turned to look up at Marius, whose brow was also furrowed. She spent a free moment considering a secondary issue, and then, having resolved it, she raised her eyebrows and handed the parchment to Zinnia Rose. Zinnia and George immediately began studying it as if it were the record of a long-lost artifact. Lilah kept looking at Marius.
When he didn’t say anything still, she said, in a low voice, “He wants us to restrain ourselves.”
“Lilah,” said Marius, “perhaps we should discuss the ramifications, uh, in the room back there where we just were—?”
“No,” said Lilah. “I mean,” she added more quietly, “who here are we keeping things from? Henry? We can put him in that room back there. Andre?”
“Perhaps,” said Marius. “But I take your point. Guf thuk tev jin,” he uttered, waving his serviceable little wand at the middle of the front room. The sofa appeared, this time with two comfy chairs. “My friends, we have matters to discuss.”
“I agree,” said George, handing the parchment on to Annelise so she and Rob could scrutinize it. “And I think you owe us dinner and some decent wine.”
They put Henry in his new room with some books and some food and a bottle of wine, and put a nice unobtrusive seal around him.
“So how many of you know this Photios Patriarchos?” asked Lilah, once they were all settled in with plates of some sort of calzone in their laps and mugs of an excellent throaty red wine perched on chair arms. Marius raised a hand, and so did George and Zinnia. Rob gave a timid wave. “Robert? Seriously?”
“I’ve heard of him,” Rob explained. “Photius,” he said, pronouncing it Foe-shus. “He’s a major wizard, definitely. I can’t say I know much else about him.”
“He’s big in the Grorian struggles,” said Zinnia. “Seems to be one of the major people in the opposition to Antor.”
“He’s from Groria, like you guys?” asked Lilah.
“He’s a big name there, in some circles,” said George. “Not sure where he came from. I know something else about him. He’s got a major enemy. That would be a guy called Ignatius, I think they came from the same place, they came from some kingdom somewhere where they were, like, arch-rivals, I guess they brought their rivalry here.”
“So this Ignatius,” said Lilah, “he’s with Antor?”
“No, no one’s with Antor but Antor and people he basically created.” George looked at Zinnia, who nodded.
“This history,” said Andre, “is why my parents moved us from Groria to Olvar.”
“It moved a lot of people a lot of places,” said Zinnia.
“Me, for instance,” said Rob.
“So this is complicated,” said Lilah. “Grorians. They think the rest of us are such hayseeds because our history isn’t as messed up as theirs.”
“Oh, thanks,” said Zinnia. “Give it time,” said George.
“Whatever one might think of Grorian history,” said Marius in a low voice, as if imparting a secret, “one needs to note that it’s not a fixed thing. Once upon a time, if I may, Antor’s wars were like other wars: they spooled out over time, with a rise and a reaction and an inevitable fall.”
“He was a rebel against his own kin, wasn’t he?” asked Annelise.
“He was a rebel against his kindred. Antor and Elturri were the sons of Odflor and Sinthë, and from the beginning they jostled and jousted. Odflor and Sinthë were Elven King and Queen, and immortal, and there seemed no prospect of handing on their crowns, and when it came to relations with the mortal races, there was always something to disagree on. One can imagine.”
“But it was more than that,” said Rob.
“The nature of the disagreement was unimportant in the end,” said Marius. “It attracted wizards like rotten meat attracts flies. No, like blood attracts sharks; but these sharks could change History, and that only made for more blood. Antor was, is, awesomely powerful, and he assembled great powers and forces before the very first time he made his move, but of course even as many moderately great wizards and priests flocked to his cause, even more, some very great, knew how it must come out and took the field against him, so that they could be the victors. It grew, even as Antor turned and twisted the history to forestall defeat.”
“Yeah,” said Lilah. “So the greatest wizard of Podunk-5 would suddenly find he needed to be on Groria in the year of the Battle of Despre. What’s that to do with this guy?”
Marius smiled very dimly. George said, “Nice day, isn’t it?”
“We don’t know where he’s from,” said Zinnia. “It sounds like the same thing you just said.”
“Except,” said George, “that he’s not just great. He’s greater than great.”
“He’s like me,” said Zinnia. “He’s a wizard and also a priest.”
“Yes,” said Marius. “And there is rumor of one who is even greater than he is.”
“Ignatius?” guessed Lilah.
“Nope. Another.” He took a drink. “And that is all I am going to say about it.”
“And you just went and reported to the Council??”
“Lilah,” said Marius, “perhaps you imagine seventeen elders in violet robes meeting around a great table in a room lined with books and smelling of incense. I did various things and met with various people, but I assure you, I did not meet with the Violet Council or with Photius the Patriarch. I met with, let’s see, four of the senior members of the Council, and no, I do not know for certain how many senior members there are, it must be more than a dozen. I did not meet with Photius. Before you ask, I would guess that my assurances and explanations to some have been transmitted to him and others, and they must know of the end result in other ways, because, indeed, he seems to have known before I did.”
“Where did you get the letter?”
“It appeared. I woke up and found my breakfast waiting—ah, the life of a great wizard, even to one who grew up the son of a humble court scribe on Tympest!—and the scroll was by my cup. Of course I knew the seal.”
“So what about us restraining ourselves and all that? Is he really on the Violet Council? Do we have to do what he says?”
“He is. And you do, ah, as far as doing anything I’m aware of. If I am not aware of some deed or action of yours, then that would not apply, as far as I’m concerned.”
“If I don’t tell you, I can do as I see fit?” asked Lilah. Marius just smiled, very slightly.
“Why? What’s left to do?” asked George.
“We need to find Parkavan,” said Lilah. “It’s the only way we can be sure—ah, what a joke. We can’t be sure of anything, we all know that.”
“Still,” said Marius, “I think you are looking at it from the right angle. Just, please, do not involve me directly.”
“Of course. Uh, Marius.”
“Who exactly is on the Council?”
Marius finished his drink and got up. “As my friend George observed, it’s a nice day, isn’t it?”
“It’s night, Marius.”
“Ah. Well, I must have been mistaken. Good night.”