Chapter 16: A study in violet

XVI. A study in violet

1.

The three detectives arrived in the same lab a little over three years earlier. They didn’t have much chance to take in the small changes and rearrangements that had been undone by the reversal of time. There were four figures in the room: two men along with their familiars, a crow and another damn rat.

The two men were busy laying down seals and prevents, but their animal familiars took up the security role. “Sek nyk min!” cried the crow. The rat tried “Trt kar ho nin goth!” in its rat voice.

Kno eur,” said Lilah and Rob, almost in chorus.

The rat’s death spell hardly even grazed Lilah Bay. Her reverse spell sent it back at the rat. The blackish rodent tried kno eur to send the spell back again, but then failed its resistance, flipped sideways, grimaced, curled its toes and died. One of the men doubled over, damaged, dropping the glass cubes he was arranging and interrupting the spells he was weaving over them.

“No,” said Annelise, grabbing up a couple of the glass cubes and throwing them at the other man. He jumped up, wand out. But he too had been arranging crystals, floating a meter off the ground around him, and as the glass cubes thrown by Annelise fell through the plane of his own crystals, they exploded, throwing glass shards out and up. She followed with a five word cease spell, and the guy with the crystals dropped snoring to the floor amongst the glass.

She turned to check Lilah, who stood over the guy whose rat had died. He was cowering, and her cease spell knocked the energy out of him. Then Lilah and Annelise both looked at Rob.

He was standing looking up at the crow, which had also failed to resist its own, reversed, spell: it wasn’t dead, but it was held, imprisoned on a gas pipe near the ceiling. It stood there on its perch fidgeting and making small whiny sounds. Rob turned his uncertain smile on Lilah and Annelise.

“I think he’s good for an hour or two,” he said.

They looked at the dead rat, the wizard sleeping among glass shards and bleeding from a dozen little cuts, and the held crow, and then they all wound up gazing at the cowering man.

“Who the hell are you?” asked Lilah.

“Please,” said the man, “just kill me, just kill me.”

“Why? You want to die? You mourning your rat buddy?”

“No, I—yes. Yes. My life is worth nothing now. Just kill me.”

“What are you here to do? Why are you here? What is all this with the—?”

He was shaking his head. He couldn’t do much else. Annelise said, “They were weaving a weird to make a time barrier around this building. They were trying to control these few moments in time.”

“Why?” asked Lilah, pointing a finger at the cowering man. “Whatcha doing?”

“Just, kill me,” he croaked out. The crow added a comment. Annelise spun and threw a five-word sleep spell at it, and the bird fell off the gas pipe, landed on the floor and lay still.

“Okay, I am not going to kill you,” said Lilah. “Until you tell me who you are and what you’re doing.”

“Lilah,” said Rob, “take off his necklace.”

“What’s this?” she asked. She went for the big green gem on the golden necklace. The cowering man tried to turn away, and an odd wrestling match ensued. Lilah, who had once had an older stepbrother, tended to win wrestling matches, but the gold chain was curiously strong. The man, ceased though he was, hung on tenaciously.

A crunching noise ended the struggle. The man drooped to the floor, either unconscious or pretending to be so. Rob stood over him with a cylindrical tank of metal.

“Thanks, big guy,” said Lilah, as she extracted the necklace over the man’s close-cropped head. She stood up and handed it to Annelise. “These guys,” said Lilah. “They’re dressed in basic black, nothing fancy. Is that because they’re trying to hide, or because it’s their uniform?”

“That goes to what they’re here doing and who they are,” said Rob, “and they didn’t get the chance to actually tell us those things.”

“Oh, he had the chance. He just didn’t take it. Nice whack on the head, Champ.”

“Thanks.”

They looked at Annelise. She was examining the gem.

“I can’t tell,” she said. “But it’s something.”

“Well, obviously,” said Lilah.

“But it’s something. It’s something I’ve never felt before. It’s big, whatever it is.” She held the gem up to her eye. “It’s something—!” She stopped. Lilah was about to say something sarcastic, but Annelise finished, “Something to do with time.”

“Time,” said Rob.

“Time travel,” said Annelise.

Lilah took the gem back and gave it a good stare with her right eye, then her left. Then all three of them looked up into space, then at each other.

“Down the hall,” said Annelise.

“You guys have fun,” said Lilah to the two men and the crow sleeping or knocked out on the floor. “Better luck next time.”

2.

Lilah, Annelise and Rob moved out and down the hall as quickly as they could move quietly. It was getting a little familiar, this alchemy lab in an institute of magic in the first generation after Olvar had slain the last of its dragons and begun getting serious about magical research. The hall was empty of living people, but two bodies lay face down along the thirty meters before it bent ninety degrees to the left. The three detectives strode past the corpses, which seemed fresh, and both of which still gripped wands.

“Someone likes the death spell,” said Rob.

“I don’t,” said Lilah, “but you know I’ll use it if I have to.”

“I have some questions,” said Annelise, “but I guess they’ll wait.”

“I gather they will too, because we got someone up ahead who likes the death spell.”

They rounded the corner. Two young women, Institute students by their clothes, lay sleeping along the walls on either side. There were blast marks and smashed displays and sitting on a shelf was a blue jay who had evidently been Held. Lilah accelerated to a loping run, and Annelise and Rob did their best to keep up.

The hall ran on at least forty meters from the turn. Halfway down it, Lilah slowed to a walk again and looked back at Annelise, who pointed with her wand at the double doors on the right. Lilah muttered, “Tro stist,” and disappeared. Annelise and Rob, with no other option, burst through the doors and into what turned out to be another lab.

In the lab was no Salagon, no Parkaven, but there were four people who weren’t Salagon or Parkavan, two women and two men. And in the middle of the room stood a black woman of a little above medium height, wearing a dark jacket and work pants and boots. It was Lilah Bay.

Og ko sek mng mak nyk min,” she said, swinging her left index finger right across the four wizards, and the fluttering bat, in front of her. A storm blew up out of nowhere, filling half the laboratory with a misty downpour flecked with lightning bolts. The wizards failed their resistance and were held; what exactly became of the bat was unclear. “That’s one of my favorites,” she said. “Hope you like it.”

“Lilah,” cried Annelise.

Two more globs of glow hung in the air nearby, as a curious hum of chimes grew around them. Lilah was watching the two globs turn swiftly into human forms: two women, each with a bird on her shoulder. Lilah stood there with her arms dangling at her sides.

“You,” one of them said. Lilah replied with a spell of seven words. A flick of her arms threw them both, with their birds, out of the local universe in different directions.

They were alone in the lab. Annelise said, “Lilah, how many more—?”

“And you,” said Lilah Bay, turning just as Professor Salagon himself appeared out of thin air, carrying two suitcases in his right hand and a wand in his left. “Sek nyk min.” He dropped his wand as well as his two suitcases. He was held.

“What the—?” said Rob, advancing into the room.

“These guys,” said Lilah, “they liked Parkavan’s work so much they thought they’d wait for him to arrive and hire him on the spot to do it for them.”

“Knew it,” said Rob.

“They wanted him to destroy universes for them,” said Annelise.

“Someone did,” said Lilah, glancing with loathing at Salagon. “Let’s get out of here before any—!”

Trt kar ho nin goth,” said a voice behind Annelise. She whipped around, but her own spell resistance was not called upon: the death spell was not for her.

There in front of the double doors stood a man no taller than Lilah. He seemed quite young, with a classic case of shaved head and goatee, a handsome fellow with greenish brown eyes. He had a rat on his shoulder—what was it with rats?

Kar ho nis vas ekt,” the cancel death spell, sounded in Rob’s voice. Annelise was flicking her wand and flinging her basic three-word hold spell at the fellow with the goatee. He managed to resist.

This let loose the true storm. Goatee circled his wand and three more wizards, a male and two females, began to step out of the circle, already hurling curses. Annelise and Rob managed to put together a quick time space prevent, but the spells were already out there, mixing with the rest: death spell, hold spell, cease spell, sleep spell. Lilah threw her seven-worder, and the two women shot from the room in a direction not of this universe.

The rest of the battle went on as before. The rat threw a sleep at Lilah. Salagon somehow gathered the strength to break out of the hold. He threw down a gem which blew up and knocked Lilah and Rob off their feet, and tried to make off. But from the floor, Lilah hit him with her five-word hold, and he stuck. Mr. Goatee threw a seven-word hold on Lilah, but she resisted and started in on her own seven-word sleep spell. The other male wizard raced to speak a six-word hold at Rob, but Rob got his five-word hold in first and his foe was stopped; he blinked out. Trt kar ho nin goth resounded again: the basic death spell.

It was Annelise’s voice. It was the rat who keeled over. Mr. Goatee staggered, the wind gone from his lungs.

Annelise was about to follow through when another figure appeared. It was none other than Elio. He smiled as he rattled off Trt dak min kar ho ra goth, the death radius spell, designed to kill everyone in the room but him. What would wizards think of next?

Kno eur,” cried both Annelise and Lilah. Faced with his own spell coming back from two directions, Elio did the smart thing and vanished. Goatee, gripping his dead rat, vanished as well.

“Oh my goodness,” said Annelise. “Rob!”

Rob lay face up on the floor.

Lilah stepped over to him. “Ty ark yg raj nur,” she said, waving her hand down at him. She looked over her shoulder and said to Annelise, “Secure the prisoner. We are out of here.”

“He going to be okay?” asked Annelise.

“Long as no demons come through with him.” Rob groaned, then sat up. He put his hands on his head, then smiled wearily at Lilah. “Looks like we’re in the clear,” she said. “You two ready?”

“Lilah,” said Annelise. “What the hell?”

“We just won another spell battle, Annie babe. We’re on a streak. Unfortunately streaks don’t last. So let’s move.”

3.

Rob got up, dusted himself off, and gave Lilah a pathetic look. “Lilah,” he said, “tell me for real. Did I just die?”

“You got over it,” said Lilah. “Annelise, you grab Salagon. Rob, just go. Jump straight to the office, the moment you left, nothing fancy. Understand?”

“You saved my life.”

“Yeah, well, you canceled death on me, so I guess you saved my life too. Okay? We’re even. Now no more talk. Just go. Go!”

“Gone,” said Annelise, and in a moment, she and Salagon were.

“What are you going to—?” asked Rob.

“Clean up,” said Lilah. “Go on, go!”

Rob almost said something, thought better of it, twisted his ring and vanished. Lilah was alone with her thoughts and the storm and the remaining wizards. “Well,” she said, “I really would love to stay and hang out, but—!” She waved a hand and the storm vanished. The four started to get up and look for their wands. A waterlogged bat was flopping around a few meters further off. “Not done with you buttheads yet,” she said. “Sek il dak ag ra,

The bat, and three of the four wizards, dropped to sleep. The fourth, a pale-haired woman in dark leather, rolled and came up with her wand out, a snazzy steel number. “Trt kar ho nin goth!” she shouted.

“Been tried, honey,” said Lilah. “Kno eur.” The death spell was reflected back, and while the blonde wrestled with her own curse, Lilah, without further taunting, tweaked her ring and vanished.

But then she was between. And while between was usually an uneventful enough place, this time was different.

4.

For the first moment, Lilah felt the usual acceleration through emptiness, the usual rush of an airless wind, and also, now she thought of it, the usual sense of things impotent that might otherwise have been potent.

But there was a gravity. It wasn’t something holding or pulling her back: it was dragging her in a different direction, drawing her out of her course and toward some other destination. And that moment of acceleration, which usually was so brief as to not be a moment at all, so stretched past the level of her noticing that she began to wonder when it would end. When she was a girl, she had fallen off a roof once, and the fall had seemed to stretch for minutes. This was like that.

Except that she wasn’t just falling. Someone was pulling her. Someone was trying to redirect her. Lilah had time to think: This can’t be good. Instinctively she resisted, and as she had time to consider, she could not come up with a reason not to trust to her instinct.

So she threw her entire mental, spiritual and magical weight against the force. She was not anywhere. There was nothing to be seen. But she could feel her progress, her fall, grind to a halt, as if she had willed herself not to hit the ground.

She had hit the ground as a girl, outside her mother’s shop. And now it all came back, all of it in a flood, all her history charging past her mind’s eye while her mind’s feet dug into this eldritch turf, while her mind’s fingers scrabbled for holds in this otherworldly passage.

People came running to her, checking her for injury, doting on her. Her stupid stepbrother came running, and gently picked her up. They took her inside her mother’s shop, where her mother tried to look like she cared. And all the while, she felt someone watching, watching her, watching over her. And she would find out who that was.

And that was the hatchway into all the rest of her past chronology.

Lilah Bay was born in Zente, the capital city of Padva. Her mother was an alchemist named Idyllia Bay, a bright child herself who had never grown up, a child of the dark-skinned underclass of Padva who had the talent to escape her circumstances, yet a victim of her own caprices and addictions. Lilah’s father was of the pale-skinned upper class, and he was dead in a fight with the man who competed with his dealer, all before Lilah was out of diapers.

But her father was from a good family, and his father was a good man. He was Philip Hugo Wavecrest, the fourth of that name, a banker and a solicitor at court and a man who could make things change. It was not in his interest to do so very much, but he strove, as Lilah later learned, to wrest her from Idyllia, and somehow the two of them had forged a sort of compromise. Idyllia thought Lilah should stay in the shop and do her mother’s work—wasn’t that enough in the area of developing her obvious talents? But the Old Man got Lilah into the Institute, and she never looked back.

Lilah saw him now, substantial and fragile, ensconced in his big chair behind his big desk yet full of pent-up energy, frightening and yet—and yet, once he knew he had intimidated her, there were those gleams of sunlight through his storm clouds. She owed him so much. But she owed her mother so much, her mother who, if she had her way, would have kept Lilah working in the back of a dingy little shop. Oh, the arguments they had had, teenage Lilah and her mom. Lilah had never, in all the years since, felt even the smallest wish to have those years back, or to go back and find her mother’s grave. The Old Man, however: how often she had wished she could face him again, dare the fire and ice in those pale eyes, the challenge of that non-smile. Yes, she had met that challenge. She had.

But the challenge was there because he was not. The challenge was there because he had died, and because of the way he had died.

Lilah was in her last year of seven at the institute. She had charted the swiftest possible course to her degree, and she, with her brains and her hard work and her total abandon, had kept up. She had broken no rule, she had exceeded every standard, she had accepted every challenge because no challenge at the Institute was as great or as comprehensive as the challenge of Philip Hugo Wavecrest IV. She did not even dare speak his name within those walls for fear that they would think she was banking on him, banking on her banker grandfather, to help her through.

And then, in October of her final year, she heard the news. Mr. Wavecrest was gone. It was said he had died of a sudden stroke, but Lilah, driven to break rules for once, had to know. And she had found out. She had found him laid out in his chamber, in his best robes. She knew her alchemy, though she was no alchemist herself: she knew what had come to him. It had not come from within.

Lilah returned to the Institute that night. She said nothing, and no one knew. The friends she had made there might have marked a change, but if so, they did not mark it for long.

By then her mother was dead as well. In June, Lilah Bay had completed the prescribed course of study and was a doctor of wizardry: it was the highest certificate one could earn there, and the rest one had to win for oneself.

The only sign left by that night in Mr. Wavecrest’s private room was this: given many opportunities, including that of disappearing into the cosmos and emerging as whatever she wanted to seem to be, and clad in whatever glory or oblivion she chose, Lilah Bay signed on to the fledgling Padva Magical Constabulary. The unit, consisting at first of five wizards and one doctor of wizardry, headed by an aristocrat with some talent of his own, had been created because, to no one’s surprise, the fall of dragons and giants and wandering goblins and the rise of wizards and priests, the rolling, exponentially exploding powers that men and women had learned to seize or coax from the mighty penton, had made sorts of crimes commonplace which were barely imaginable a generation earlier.

A terrible crime had been committed, one that would never be punished. Perhaps the only person who fully understood the damage that had been done was Miss Lilah Bay. And now, and for as long as her lungs drew breath, she would be a cop.

Lilah Bay struggled on, dug her feet into the unseen floor and her fingers into the invisible walls, while her memory blew out of all its prisons.

5.

Lilah Bay was alone in the shadow of all things. She was falling in a direction that was not downward, snatched from her straight course, her shortest path, her geodesic line between one cosmos and another, but if she was a chess piece being taken from the board, the chess piece was fighting back, dragging itself back toward that square in the corner. And even as she did so, her consciousness exploded outward, her realization of the facts on the ground expanding exponentially, her knowledge of the rules, of the history of the game she was in, blowing open like a barn with a bomb in it.

The Old Man was for stability, he was for money and power, but he was helpless before the approaching tide of wizardry. Wave upon wave, they bore down on the old warrior class, humbled and then made them ornamental, the royalty and the aristocracy and the land and money people who succeeded them. Now the power was in secret, held by men and women who mostly knew each other but whom nobody else must know. They dealt in lore, they traded in hidden words and lost items and eldritch places and seasons. They lorded over everyone else and banded in secret societies against one another, they fought wars whose battlefields were other people’s neighborhoods and dreamscapes, and as they built their power, using the scheme of things they found, they used their power within the scheme of things to change the rules to solidify their power.

Inevitably they committed atrocities. Naro’s behavior was considered shameful and unseemly by all, but things were done in the dark which were far worse, far more vile, far more lethal to far more victims, and, since no one could hope to even see behind the door of a very special wizard’s house, almost everything they did was in the dark. Still, one by one, even the wizards perceived a need for some sort of control, at least on what everyone else might be up to.

The early days of the Constabulary came rushing back. There was that aristo chief. There were at least three wizards and a priestess who ended up nastily dead. There was a knock-down drag-out spell battle, an ambushed ambush, climaxing in a reversed death spell that left its caster, a gangster wizard by the name of Raphel, vomiting out his life and several internal organs. That spell had been directed at Lilah Bay, and it was her kno eur that reversed it, and she did not feel the least bit bad about the result.

She was the last person standing. It was not the last time she would be.

The Constabulary was now a presence. It was a threat, a known commodity, and a place to be. It was also hiring, and among its hires was a rumpled blond fellow named Garik and a lady with sad eyes and long dark hair, called Gregoria. Inez and Neal came soon after, and then Ararg the lizard wizard and Hokh the dwarf woman and half a dozen others of value.

She did not like Gregoria and she did not think much of Garik or Neal, until they busted a ring smuggling something called poison glass, which was a crystal one consumed one way or another, which enhanced one’s magical energy at a cost. The cost came in several ways: spell resistance became spotty; failure to resist even a mid-level cease or hold could result in cardiac arrest; there was addiction, both in the form of tactical dependence and, surprisingly quickly, physical need. And then there was the sense of superiority that the user felt, the sense that any battle could be won and any foe destroyed, and this led to both recklessness and cruelty.

Such things would never stop tempting the ascendant wizard. But it was the smuggler that Lilah and her aristo boss—his name was Brym Stellan—concerned themselves with. The user would make a mistake and would die. The smuggler would never use, because it was unwise, the expected values were decidedly negative, but he would be there to sell poison to people too young and ambitious and full of their own indestructability to think that way.

Many who were fine and clever and thought themselves great fell into the trap. One was Elio Estrazy, born in Valantoniu but come to the Institute at Zente in Padva. There was so much good in him, such brain and heart and power, but such pride as well. Of course Lilah Bay had fallen for him, and had her only son by him. Of course she had not fallen for his addiction, and finally she had made him leave. Of course he had joined her enemies, even as he tried, time and again, to win her back.

The world was turning into the poison glass game writ large. There were those who were too stupid in their power and ambition to know they were destroying themselves and everyone in contact with them. There were those who profited from that destruction. There were those who had a stake in the old way and who watched each new flooding horror from their swiftly eroding hilltops. There were those who took on the task of preventing or punishing the worst abuses. They were on the side of stability, of fairness, of the old rich but also the new poor. And the newly empowered, addict and smuggler alike, saw them as an obstacle.

One of them was named Haron, Haron Antarion. He was a smuggler, and he was also governor, of the Shantar Province south of Zente. And they wondered, when Gregoria heard of it, why a seven-year-old girl of a good family of the province had died thirty years ago. It was hard to place exactly what it was about the case, or it was until Garik and Lilah went and looked into it. The girl had not died naturally, though she had died fast—at the hands of Haron Antarion himself, because she, in the original version of history, had grown up to challenge his leadership and embarrass him.

They took Haron Antarion down. It was the first time Lilah had even heard of a temporal crime, a murder that only made sense with time travel. And though Haron Antarion was dead, and interdicted, and his previous chronology frozen, others did not like this new power the so-called constables had taken on. The next morning (as opposed to ten years ago or in another history), Brym Stellan, Lilah’s aristo boss, was dead, disgustingly and painfully dead, in his office. Lilah and Garik looked up from his corpse and at one another.

For a while it was war. But the Padva Constabulary, grown to two dozen wizards and priests and alchemists and led by another aristo who happened to be a druid witch, had unity and purpose as well as courage and sheer penton power, and unlike their quarry, they soon had plenty of experience fighting on that strange terrain.

Haron Antarion was history. And soon a dozen other Harons joined him, along with hundreds of lesser wizards who thought as they did. Padva was, if not safe, safer; if not stable, more stable.

And then there were calls from other worlds. Frenog had tried and failed to create its own temporal order, its own magic constables, and Lilah and Garik and Neal and Gregoria and Inez and the black-skinned Cecil Week and the tiny redhead Susana were sent to help put that to right. Gagdas and Tympest sought their help and got it: Ararg even spent a year as Commissioner of the Gagdas Constabulary. And then, a dozen years before Annelise Azaine would be born, they were invited to Valantoniu.

But the forces they had taken on back home in Padva were more entrenched in Valantoniu, and the same forces bred and spread from old Groria across its sprawling universe: Adari, Urri, Angast, Eawa, Gunda. Now the ones who dealt in shadow were too great for the constables, and Cecil Week and Susana the Red were caught along with their dozen trainee wizards and horribly, publicly destroyed. Lilah and Garik and Neal and Inez and Gregoria pulled out.

But they did not pull out. Their fight went into shadow as well. Their return strike was deadly and decisive, except that, of course, it turned out to be merely deadly. The strikes went back and forth, but the belligerents were like archers shooting at each other in the night, like armies sending scouts to fight each other in the forest. Finally Lilah and Garik, Neal and Inez and Gregoria conceived of a mission against their greatest enemies’ stronghold, and though Gregoria was lost, sent down a hole in time to asphyxiate forever as she fell, the other four returned to Valantoniu knowing they had destroyed their greatest foes.

But the foes survived. And one of them, child of Valantoniu that he was, was Elio.

They caught Inez and destroyed her, by horrible hard death and interdiction. They came for Neal and he fled, and he returned only to die at Elio’s own hands. Elio came for Lilah one last time, or so she thought, and she nearly destroyed him. He fled as well, and did not return, but now Lilah and Garik were the only ones left, and they knew there would be no fleeing.

6.

Lilah Bay was falling sideways in the shadow of all things, and winds of memory were blasting in her face.

She and Garik, looking up from the sight of Neal’s death, saw one another and knew. They could run no more.

The two of them chose a course that would take them against their greatest enemy, or so they thought. Instead they were trapped, and that was when they met their greatest enemy, the lady in the dark robe, she whose magics were more powerful than any they had imagined.

She stood before them in a small dim room. She did not need backup. All they could see of her was her dark robe and her dark hood and a hint of her face, and a hand gleaming with its own light. Lilah and Garik, snatched from their chosen course, stood side by side, tasting the power that rotated like a great storm around the woman in the robe. They had no chance, no hope, except for the baseline level of chance and hope guaranteed by the fact that they were brave enough to look upon their enemy.

With a wave of that glowing hand, Garik was no more. He blew away on the wind, dead in an instant. But it was not the humiliating and final destruction that had befallen his comrades. Flanked by Lilah Bay, he could only be killed, not utterly destroyed. And then she, She, turned to face Lilah Bay, the black girl from the bad side of Zente, the upstart best student at the Padva Institute. It was no contest, of course, except that it was.

Lilah, with no ally: the Lady had no ally her equal. Lilah with no familiar animal: the Lady shared her power with no creature.

Except that she did share power, she derived her power from a greater one, and in that moment, when Lilah Bay should have been thinking of a last desperate spell, she saw, as it were over her enemy’s shoulder, that greater one. And the Lady saw that Lilah saw, and knew that Lilah knew—something, but even that was too much for safety.

With a fatal sine curve wave of her wand, the lady in the glowing black robe sent Lilah Bay spinning out of the world, her mind flown from her, her soul trapped in that dismal crowded place from which it could never escape.

Except that Lilah Bay’s soul was stronger than mind, her soul’s tendon and ligament and muscle and nerve stronger than any Lady or Mathematician could know.

She was alive.

Lilah Bay had proven difficult to kill. As long as she was alive, what she knew was alive as well, and finally the minute had arrived in which her knowledge would come running back to her.

They would want her dead. Or they would want her in a cell, in a sealed cage. They would want to take from her all she knew and all her future days, all the chronology she had not yet lived. Elio would be there. Those others, those gangsters, Arri Shanto and Argo Horlan, and what’s his name, Gremhank or whatever, and the three men in dark grey, and that lady, that lady in the dark robe glowing.

That’s what they would want. They would not get it.

She did not fall alone. She fell with a ghost beside her. Lilah smiled and let go.

She was falling through the shadowed realms, the billows of darkness, and there was someone with her. She only wished she could take his hand. That wish would not come true. She had once wished that she believed in ghosts, of course, and now she had been granted that wish.

Falling into a six-walled chamber lit with torches and sheens of power, Lilah was ready. Before her ranged a ring of men and women, including several she recognized, the notorious, the powerful, the names from Valantoniu and her last, last confrontation: Argo Horlan, Arri Shanto, lo, even Tari Altadara. But she only had eyes for one of them. He was blond, with a scruffy bit of beard and a smirk he hadn’t earned. He was Elio.

Behind her as she drifted toward the floor, there was someone, Someone, but her ghost blocked that side. She had Elio to herself.

He had no reason to think she was ready to throw a spell at him. He thought she would be taken care of, and all he needed to do was smirk. He had again been wrong. Perhaps he had beaten his addiction, or had it beaten from him by his new bosses, but he still had more ambition that power and more cleverness than brains, and not enough heart or soul to weigh against a strand of saffron in her mother’s shop.

Lilah had not touched the floor. With a wave she cried, “Kar trt fos mng ku goth zin!” And now, before anyone could think about that, before Elio could even slide to the floor, victim of a very fast death, now while the circle was broken, Lilah was swept up and away from that place, and the last thing she saw as she blew off on the wind between the universes was a figure in a dark and glowing robe, and the ghost, the rumpled blond ghost, getting in her way.

A tenth of a second later, Lilah Bay dropped from a height of two centimeters into the front office in the city. Marius was there, with Annelise and Rob, George and Zinnia, Andre and Henry 1 and the unconscious alchemist Salagon, né Parkavan.

“Time to go to the Violet Council,” Lilah gasped out. And then she collapsed to the floor.

“Geez,” said Rob, “she looks like she’s seen a ghost.”

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