The discussion wound on. Presently Lilah got up from the wooden chair she had been sitting in, walked over to the body of Henry 2, and stood glaring down at it. George saw her, jumped up and went over. They both glared at the body for a few moments, and then he said, “We should do something about this.”
“Agreed,” said Lilah. She shifted her glare to Marius. “Think Henry 1 should be here for this?”
“What?” said Marius, getting up. “Oh, do you think so?”
“I do,” said Lilah. She looked at Andre. “And our friend from the student body.”
“What?” said Andre. “You mean me?”
“I have in mind a sort of ritual. A wake, if you will.”
“I’m all for rituals,” said Zinnia. “Especially wakes.”
“What do you think, Marius? Here, or on the roof?”
Marius considered, then shrugged and said, “Definitely here.”
“You guys want to get the other Henry?” Lilah asked Annelise and Rob.
“So what really is his story?” asked Marius. “I’m still not terribly clear.”
“Student fell in love with teacher, student went back in time and found teacher when she was a student, she fell in love with him too, I guess, and this was the guy she left for the guy who would have been her student in, oh, fifteen years.”
“A story of love, was it? Such a powerful force. Such a force for good, but it can also unleash such violence.”
“Yeah,” said Lilah, “but this guy sets the record. Entire histories collapsed, and all because he wanted to make sure our friend here never got born. Lot of good it did.”
“May I?” asked Andre, coming up to stand next to her.
The hall door opened behind them. He turned, and there was Henry 1, between Rob and Annelise. Andre hesitated, then went on. “I just, I just wanted to say that in a way, this is all my fault and I’m sorry.”
“Never mind,” said Henry. “You didn’t murder anyone. You just fell in love with Lucy. I can certainly understand that: I too fell in love with Lucy. It drove me mad to think that you loved her and that she even thought about running off with you, and the idea that a younger Lucy would have chosen you over me—well.” He gestured at the corpse. “You can see what sort of thing that does to that sort of person, this person that I was. No, I forgive you, of course. Because there is so much more for me to be forgiven for.”
“Just don’t ever do it again,” said George.
Henry laughed, then his face reverted to somewhere in the vicinity of tears. But he spoke calmly enough. “He was very smart, he really was, my younger self. He had such ambitions. But his great ambition was to be her love, and it was snatched from him. And so he squandered all he could have been—all I got to be for the—I’m 99 years old, and as an alchemist, I’m lucky enough to have effectively been about the age of thirty for nearly seventy years. And have the love of the only woman I ever loved. So much he could have had, but it was not his fate to have that love—well. It’s easy for me to say but true: he should have moved on.”
“It would have been more copacetic for the cosmos as well,” said Lilah.
“Yes,” said Henry. “It never crossed either of our minds that we were bringing an evil into the world. But there it is.”
They stood looking down at the deceased young Henry. Lilah pulled out a handkerchief, wetted it from the water jug on the table, and dabbed away the remnants of blood at the nostrils and ears: now the young man looked peaceful. He might have died happy.
“He would have been a great alchemist,” said Andre. “And a great teacher. Because, um, Professor, you were a great teacher.”
There was another silence. Lucy said, “Zinnia?”
Zinnia pulled out the pouch of herbs she had in her pocket, and scattered some of them over the body. Then she laid out the powdered herbs in a ring around it. She stepped back, held her wand over young Henry’s corpse, and said seven words low. The eighth word, GOTH! she said loud, raising her wand high. With a flash, the body of young Henry, second version of that soul, went up in a flameless flame.
They looked around at each other: Lilah, Annelise, Rob, Zinnia, George, Andre, Marius, the elder Henry. Several of them stole second glances at the empty space where the body had been. It was gone, cleaned out much cleaner than the entire histories Henry the Younger had sought to wash out of the cosmos.
They decided that the next departure could wait for morning. Lilah and Marius were having coffee when Annelise emerged; Andre joined them and they talked, as they ate scrambled eggs and bacon and swilled coffee, about spells they particularly liked or spells they had learned and hardly used. Rob joined them, and ate and swilled coffee while the others joked. They were laughing at a Marius observation when Henry emerged.
“Henry,” said Rob, “least useful spell that you know?”
“Oh,” he said, and he gave it serious thought. “Well, there are many I never use, such as tuv zin, because, well, who needs a small whirlwind full of ice, except to interrupt exams? And I learned at least four damage spells, which is four more than I ever have a use for.”
Annelise and Rob laughed politely. Andre said, “I have both partial invisibility and invisibility. Never used partial after the day I learned it. Now I have a—hmm.” He looked at his hand. Then he put his hand, which bore no rings, at his breast, where he had a small clear gem on a pin. “A pin,” he said. “Funny. I thought it was a ring.”
“Did one of you have a pin and one of you have a ring?” asked Rob. Andre just looked puzzled.
“If indeed this Andre is an amalgam,” said Annelise, “he won’t remember which way was which. He’ll probably remember both, and not be sure which was the real event.”
“Because neither one is,” said Andre. He laughed and shook his head. “I’m not used to this.”
“You say he’s a what?” asked Henry. “An amalgam?”
“Evidently,” said Marius, “this Andre is the ghost, in a metaphorical sense, of the Andre versions who were sort of squashed out of reality by the collapse of those histories. He remembers everything—even things that didn’t happen to every Andre, just one or two of them.”
“Andre,” said Lilah, “do you remember growing up on Groria-2? Do you remember, what was it, Rion?”
“Well, that’s a clue. I don’t know what to, but it’s a clue. This Andre is only an amalgam of the Andres who grew up in Olvar.”
“Maybe,” said Annelise, “it’s because the Andres who were in the collapsed histories all grew up in Olvar.”
“With other time traveler stuff, like stuff Andre and Lucy did, there must be millions of those histries.” She looked at Henry. “My most useless spell is og zon vu. Big fist comes down and starts trying to flatten people. In school, I thought it was very cool, for about the first week I had it.”
“I had that one too,” said Henry. “Never once used it.”
“But there can be useless spells that you actually use,” said Lilah.
“There can,” said Henry.
“The ones you regret later. The ones you regret ever learning. The ones you wish you could unlearn.”
“I didn’t know that spell,” said Henry. “The other me learned it. He learned it off Parkavan, actually. Now there was a chap who knew some things it’s better not to know.”
“Where did your younger self find him?”
“Shakaran,” said Henry, glancing at Annelise.
“Same time as the dumping of the worms in front of the library?”
“No, actually. A century earlier.”
“Yes. Odd chap, as I say. Preferred things that were older, preferred the old ways. Talked about that some. Odd for a researcher, but I thought very odd for someone whose hobby was inventing new kinds of animal.”
“So he stayed at Shakaran, but went to groung in the past?”
“That’s the size of it,” said Henry.
“You say a century. Do you know exactly?”
“No, but he was one of the first hires made by the newly-founded Shakaran Institute.”
“He was a prof?” asked Annelise. “I went there. Much later, of course.”
“Tell me,” said Lilah. “Lab alchemy? He was a teacher? Professor Parkavan?”
“He was a natural teacher,” said Henry. “He was kind of dull on his own, but he lit up like a magic lamp in the classroom. Why, is this strange? He had to support himself somehow, keep himself in touch with lab space. And he loved teaching, I know he did. Pathetic excuse for a human being, really, but he was good in the classroom. I guess you could say the same for me.”
“You’re not a pathetic excuse,” said Annelise.
“For one thing,” said Marius, “you’re giving testimony in our inquiries. Which are, evidently, not quite at an end.”
“No, they are not,” said Lilah. “Henry, how were you going to be sure that Lucy wound up going the way you wanted, after she came back from Llanduvar and couldn’t find Home?”
“Oh, Parkavan took care of that too,” said Henry. “Damned clever fellow in some ways. Many ways. He knew someone on the ground, you might say, some sort of early resident of Olvar.”
“What?” asked Rob.
“Get up, big guy. We have to visit Shakaran. Annelise can show us around.”
Shakaran was, and is, a world of the familiar sort. Its air is mostly nitrogen with a nice minority of oxygen; its plants are green, its waters pure, its cats and dogs quadrupedal and its humans in charge of nature and including the usual proportions of saints and buttheads. Shakaran, technically Shakaran-4, the fourth planet out from a golden star in the middle of its ten billion year lifetime, was a planet of sun and rain, summer and winter, jungle and taiga.
Of course, technically, that golden star had first shed light perhaps a thousand years ago in its own chronology. Anyone trying to time travel back before then to witness its formation from a cloud of dust would have been disappointed: here as elsewhere, there was a sort of wall at a certain point in the past. And Shakaran, the planet, had been born, not with molten lava and planetoids crashing from space, but with dragons and goblins and people in medieval armor who lived in castles and quested in dungeons. The same was true of Padva and Olvar and, of course, the ultimate, the Primary, Groria-2, usually known as just plain Groria, usually known as just plain “The World” to its original humanoid populations, who had no idea that it was actually a sphere.
But wisdom comes to all at some point, and wisdom includes self-knowledge. Now Shargay, the capital of Shakaran-4, was a city of twenty thousand, and its institute employed people who studied the astronomical dynamics of the planet and its solar system, its natural and magical history, and the nature of time. They had just hired a young fellow who was interested in the philosophical ramifications of the Temporal Barrier.
“I dated him a couple times,” said Annelise.
“You were working here in this time period?” asked Rob.
They were standing on the plaza before the Shakaran Institute. Three stout marble buildings faced them, each five stories at least even given a vaulting first floor. More buildings behind were being built. Behind them, the market drew a crowd to a square half a kilometer on a side: across from the Institute stood the palace of the Prince of Shargay, flanked by a cathedral and a Temple of Aphrodite. Around the sides, buildings housed alchemists’ shops, clothiers, armorers, book-sellers and bankers; a House of Healing stood tall behind in pale pink granite. Flags and banners hung from all sorts of things: the Black Stag on White of the Prince, the Black Dragon on White of the World of Shakaran, the Book and Pen of the Shakaran Institute, and the pennants of the various guilds, from blacksmiths to plumbers to bookbinders to insurance agents. A broiling summer sun shone down on all, while a sea breeze cooled the streets and filled out the banners.
“No,” she scoffed. “We’re both time travelers, silly.”
“Well, how did you get to know him?” Rob asked.
“Case,” said Annelise. “His name is Tim. Timotheo Daxus. Hey, he was the first person on the planet to actually ask those questions. Why was the Barrier even there? What did it mean?”
“So he studied the Temporal Barrier?”
“What was his conclusion?” asked Lilah, scanning the buildings.
“It’s not a construct within this cosmos,” said Annelise. “I can’t remember how he proved it. He’s kind of a doofus, actually.” She smiled at Lilah, then said, just as Lilah was about to, “But that’s not who we’re here to find.”
“Bingo. So this place is suddenly expanding a lot? We’re at that point in history?”
“I guess so,” said Annelise. “We’re about 150 years upstream of where I worked when I worked for Shakaran security.”
“Think they’ve invented building directories yet?”
“I bet so.”
Lilah guessed the building on the left. It turned out to house the Faculty of Liquid Alchemy, the Division of Undead Study, the Department of Magical Attack and Defense, and several programs in chemical alchemy and ritual. They came out on the other side, turned to the right and tried the furthest building. It had beautiful marble doors and colored magic lanterns in the great first floor hall, and the second floor was where the programs in animal and plant alchemy had their offices and classes.
“None of these is Parkavan, though,” said Rob as the three of them stood in the vast first floor hall, scanning the directory of the animal alchemy program.
“There’s no Parkavan under plant alchemy either,” said Annelise.
“Where are those offices?” asked Lilah. “The animal alchemists?”
“Let’s see. 217, 219, 221, 222, 223? And let’s see—!”
“Ah, I know where we’re going,” said Lilah, setting off for the nearby stairs.
Up the marble stairs, past closed offices and closed classrooms and an open lab, and they were in the 220s. Rob and Annelise stood before doors on opposite sides of the hall. They looked at each other. “Knock?” asked Rob.
“Of course,” said Annelise. But before she knocked, she looked back up the hall. Lilah was standing outside Lab 222, watching intently.
Annelise and Rob drifted back to Lilah. Inside they could see the professor, a man of middle age and smallish build, with bushy brown hair and a rather young mustache. Class was just starting and he was making sure the students in the lab knew what they were doing well enough not to blow anything up.
“Oh goodness,” said Rob. “I’ve seen him before.”
“Yeah, you have,” said Lilah. “That’s Professor Salagon of early Olvar. The guy who supposedly helped Lucy when she couldn’t find Endweith. That’s him.”
“So do we arrest him now—? Where’d she go?” asked Rob.
He and Annelise turned and saw Lilah walking away. The two pursued her around a bend in the hall, and then, down the next extent of hall, saw no one but a pair of students sitting on the floor outside an office, studying. Rob and Annelise started down this stretch of corridor, and then Rob realized he was alone. Looking back, he saw that Annelise had stopped at an open office door five meters behind him. She beckoned him.
Through the door was a small, bare office. Lilah Bay stood at the window looking out. “Come in and shut the door,” she said.
“Whose office is this?” asked Rob.
“No one’s. It’s a spare. It’s ours now.” She turned her dark eyes on them. “Questions?”
“So it’s definitely Salagon, right?” asked Annelise. “It’s definitely the guy Lucy went back with after she couldn’t find Endweith. Right?”
“You’re right about that,” said Lilah, turning to look back out the window. Even on a sunny day, Shargay was not especially interesting to look at.
“Henry said Parkavan knew someone in ancient Olvar,” said Rob. “But it was Parkavan himself, though he called himself Salagon.”
“So,” said Rob, “the question is, do we arrest this guy or the other one?”
“This one hasn’t committed any crimes,” Annelise pointed out. “Or at least, he hasn’t done any work for the two Henrys. They haven’t contacted him yet.”
“But the thing is,” said Rob, “he already knows how to do that kind of thing, and if we let this one go free, eventually someone will come get him from this point in time. Someone who wants to destroy universes.”
“And suppose we arrest him for something,” said Lilah. “So your enterprising time traveler with an urge to destroy time streams just visits him the day before we get here.”
“Besides,” said Annelise, “even if we arrest him and put him in a tiny cell and seal him in and surround the whole thing with molten lava, some enterprising time traveler just has to find their way back to the version of him we didn’t arrest, and the whole reason for all that imprisonment without charge is out the window.”
“But if we wait till he gets hired,” said Rob, “or if we wait till he’s in place in ancient Olvar, then they can get him once he’s already done the experiments and knows they worked.”
“Hey,” said Lilah, “that enterprising time traveler can get to that Salagon anyway.”
“So what’s the point of anything?” asked Rob. “If we can’t stop the knowledge from getting out—! I know. We could grab him as soon as he arrives here from future Shakaran. Then we somehow just have to close off the histories in which he—!”
Lilah stopped him with a brown-eyed glare. Annelise said, “That’s what the Henrys were doing. If they could just close off those histories!”
“They didn’t just close them off. They collapsed them. Those billions of people died.”
“This is the thing,” said Lilah. “I can’t say I know. But it sure seems like you can’t close off histories without killing everyone in them. There’s just no way. It’s like closing off anything—a room, a road, a planet. It won’t stay closed. Nature abhors a vacuum. Time abhors a vacuum. The only way to keep anyone from finding Parkavan – Salagon in this history is to collapse it.”
“So we can’t save—?”
“Those people? Definitely not. The universe’s innocence? Don’t think so. What, as you ask so succinctly, is the point? Still trying to work that one out.”
“Come on,” said Annelise. “The point is, Salagon and the two Henrys conspired to do a horrible deed and then they did it. We can see justice done. We saw justice done on Henry 2, it’s getting done with Henry 1, all we can do, all we need to do is see that Salagon, or Parkavan, gets justice done to him. For what he did. Or will have done.”
“After he does it,” said Rob.
“Yeah, basically. You don’t punish for a crime that hasn’t been committed.”
“She’s right,” said Lilah. “Maybe you can do three things, as an officer of the law. You can make sure laws are enforced. Check. You can try and deter other people from committing crimes. Well, I’m not going to say we can check that one off, but we’re closer to that if we arrest Salagon, back in ancient Olvar that is, than if we don’t.”
“And the third thing?” asked Rob.
“You might hope you can prevent people from having the chance. You might hope you can get people to treat each other with peace. And gentleness. Maybe even love.” She gave Rob and Annelise, standing together, a long serious look, and then she snorted. “Good luck on that.” She moved toward them and took their hands. “Shall we go arrest someone for a crime they actually already will have committed?”
“Yeah,” said Rob. “Yes,” said Annelise. “I’m okay with that.”
“Good. Because that’s about all we’re going to get.”
They walked out of the Shakaran Institute and into the hot day. Lilah led Annelise and Rob along the plaza and into a small park. There were children with their moms or their nursemaids, people with their dogs, a few loose older children running around, an older couple with wands and a pet dragon the size of a goose. Lilah came to a stop near a large, well-tended oak tree.
“Can we talk?” asked Annelise.
“Of course you can,” said Lilah. “Talk.”
“Do we need George’s box for this jump?”
“No. This is way before the branch that included Andre’s birth. The history collapse won’t include that. And we’ve been there before.”
“So,” said Rob, “we go to the same time we did—?”
“We go to the same time we did, and then we trace back to the moment he got there. Then we arrest him.”
“Just how dangerous is this?”
Lilah glared at him, half smiling. “You got your wand with you?”
Rob smiled too. He reached inside his loose dark jacket and pulled out his wand. The red maple wood glowed in the sunlight. They looked at Annelise, whose left hand held her blond wood wand among the folds of her dress.
“Back to Olvar,” she said. “One more time.”
They took hands and Lilah pushed her ring and then summer became fall and Shakaran became Olvar.
“When are we?” asked Rob. Lilah just let go his hand and headed for the gate into the old castle that was the Olvar Institute. He looked at Annelise.
“What I have,” Annelise said, “is that this is the morning after we came here in the afternoon.”
“I thought it was around noon.”
“It was early afternoon. I’m sure of it.”
“You guys coming?” asked Lilah, who had stopped ten paces in front of them, halfway to the gate. She turned and went on without waiting, and soon was lost in the darkness inside.
A teenage blonde came out just as Annelise and Rob were coming up the three steps to the gate. “Hi, guys,” she said. “Hanging out today?”
“Oh, Elien,” said Annelise. “Um, do you know how long Professor Salagon has been on the staff here?”
“I do,” said Elien. “I actually know that.” They both looked at her expectantly. “Okay,” she went on. “So, three years ago, midsummer. I’m in the lab, I’m trying to clean out these crucibles, and suddenly in comes the headmistress, and she’s got this guy with her, and she’s introducing him to everyone because we finally snagged a nature alchemist. She’d been looking for one, they’re like all the latest rage, and he just sort of walks in and asks if there’s a job.”
“He just walked in?” asked Annelise.
“Lilah’s getting away from us,” said Rob.
“Never mind. This is important. So he came out of nowhere?”
“I guess he’s retired from the Institute of Alchemy at Arcalon. He lost his wife or something, and he was looking to start anew.”
“You don’t like him?”
“No, no, everyone thinks he’s good, he’s actually a good teacher.”
“What’s his favorite animal?” asked Rob. “I thought his expertise was animals.”
“Oh, he seems to go for invertebrates,” said Elien. Rob and Annelise exchanged glances, but Elien added, “He’s been doing arthropods. Spiders, big beetles, dragonflies. You can actually fly a dragonfly around and see out of its eyes, which is weird and wild because—!”
“They see all directions at once,” said Annelise. “Three years ago midsummer? You’re sure?”
“I’m sure! Hey, you guys going to be at the pub tonight?”
“If we are,” said Rob, “we’ll buy you a pint.”
“Cool rocks!” said Elien. She trotted away into the fall morning, leaving them to ponder her final exclamation.
There was a brief, odd sensation. The two detectives looked at each other. Then they bolted through the gate and into the castle.
Up some steps, across the lobby, right and down a hall, up some stairs and out into the second floor hall. Into an empty classroom.
Lilah was standing there looking annoyed. Professor Salagon lay in a heap. His chest moved still in the slow breaths of magically induced slumber. His wand, a short piece of antler bound with rings of brass, had been kicked away to the far corner of the room. Lilah turned her annoyed look on Annelise and Rob.
“I show up and tell him I need to ask a few questions, and he pulls the wand on me,” she said.
“Was your question when he arrived in Olvar?” asked Annelise.
“That was one.”
“Well, we know that one. Three years ago midsummer. Shall we go?”