- Lucy and Henry
Lilah held the box in her right hand, and the three put their violet gems against it.
Immediately a new world surrounded them: a black universe filled with colored streamers, some of them still growing, chasing along after a person who was time traveling.
Far on the other side of that cosmos, they could see a red streamer. The power was wavering: they couldn’t maintain their bond much longer, and if it broke it might take hours to restart. They dove for that familiar red curve, just as the time vacuum began to tell on their spirit lungs. They followed that streamer to the surface of the world.
Lilah and Annelise and Rob found themselves on the road toward Endweith Hall. But it wasn’t actually Endweith Hall.
“It’s in the wrong place,” said Annelise. “It’s at the right time but the wrong place. It should be about a hundred kilometers north of here.”
“Yeah,” said Rob. “The village church is a different shape. The one in the real Endweith is squarer.”
They stood, on a low hill above the village and below the ridge where the castle rose. It was a decent enough effort: native stone, three little turrets, gate in a curtain wall, keep rising behind, three floors and a steep slanted roof of green tiles. The gardens were nice, in a magical way rather than a way that suggested a dozen gardeners and landscapers. The village seemed prosperous, but then the land was not as dry as it had been at the real Endweith; a little river meandered among the low hills.
“So how exactly should we approach this?” asked Annelise. “I’m gonna guess there’s a Lucy in there. But I’m gonna guess it’s not the same one.”
“Somehow,” said Rob, “something different in her upbringing made her want a castle on a slightly lower hill.”
“In a slightly wetter climate,” said Annelise.
“Maybe she was raised to like softer cheeses,” said Rob. “Or a sweeter white wine.”
“Or she married somebody different,” said Lilah. “So my question.”
“Oh, let’s just try the front door,” said Annelise. “It’s possible to overthink things.”
“That’s what I do for a living,” said Lilah. “Okay, let’s try the front door.”
It was early on a summer evening in not-so-ancient Olvar when the three made their way up the steep lane to the front yard of the little castle. There was space outside the gate for carts; through the open gate was a courtyard, and from there the smell of open fire cooking wafted. Lilah, Annelise and Rob wafted that direction.
They came into the courtyard and were promptly ignored. There were perhaps a dozen people standing around, mostly with glasses (actual glass glasses, not clay mugs or the skulls of enemies) of red wine; near the keep, a grill had been set up over a roaring blaze, and two men were cooking pieces of meat and checking pans of roasting vegetables. There were no children—the youngest guests looked like they were about Institute age, i.e. late teens or possibly early twenties.
“There she is,” said Rob.
And there she was: Lady Lucy, dressed in her second finest outfit, in a red almost exactly the same as the color of her time trace. She was gracefully facilitating a discussion of wine and politics with other people from the Institute. Lilah watched her for several minutes, and then found herself making idle chitchat with a pale young man with black hair and a darling goatee.
“She’s quite something,” said Lilah to the young man.
“She’s not something,” he said, “she’s everything.” Then he looked over his shoulder and disappeared into the evening.
She stood there watching where the pale young man had been. Rob came up. “Here,” he said, holding out a plate, “brought you some steak and potatoes.”
“Thanks, champ,” said Lilah. “Got wine?”
“I snagged a bottle,” said Annelise, coming up. She and another girl carried a bottle of wine and four glasses. “This is Sandrine Montecu,” she explained. “She’s one of Lady Lucy’s students.”
“She’s really cool,” said Sandrine. “We all think she’s the coolest.”
“She teaches natural alchemy?” asked Lilah, taking a glass of red wine from Annelise.
“No, not really,” said Sandrine, pushing around her blond hair. “She’s way into gadgets. We make penton flux capacitors and resisters. We, like, fly little robot birds around. But she knows her potions, that’s for sure. And she makes sure you know them too.”
“Well, uh, Sandrine, my name is Lilah Bay, and I’m from the Llanduvar Trust, and we’re just doing outreach to wizards and the like who might have visited Llanduvar in their recent chronology, just to hear their concerns and their suggestions about, um, transit to and from the venue. I take it Lady Lucy was at Llanduvar recently?”
“Oh, yes,” said Sandrine. “She goes every year. I went with her last year, but this year I’m hoping to pass two more certifications, so I stayed here and practiced. You want to meet her?”
“Yes,” said Lilah, raising an eyebrow at Annelise. “I’m pretty sure I do. Me and Rob.”
“Really! You’re from Llanduvar?” Lucy enthused. “I’ve never met anyone who was actually from Llanduvar! Henry! Come here please!”
Her husband excused himself from a mixed-gender academic discussion. He was tall: Lucy was tall for a woman, and Henry was a head taller than she was. He was well-dressed in a comfortable, professor-at-leisure way. Lucy in the office had looked 35 but was actually 97 or something; this Lucy looked in her early forties, and her husband seemed a solid, handsome fifty. They both had several rings on each hand; she had three necklaces, he had one. He looked like he had just this morning finished grading a pile of papers and hadn’t a care in the world.
“Hi there,” he said, glad-handing Rob. “I’m Henry Whistler. Lord Whistler,” he added with a laugh, shaking Lilah’s hand. “Professor Whistler. You’re from Llanduvar? Really?”
“I’m Lilah Bay,” she replied, “and this is Rob, my assistant, and we’re doing some work for the Llanduvar Trust, kind of trying to find out about ways we could serve the emerging world of wizardry and, um, alchemy, in terms of, especially,” and she looked at Rob as if she was bringing up a delicate subject, “making the transit issue more robust, more, um, reliable. Do you use Llanduvar for conferences, Professor?”
“We go every year,” said Henry. He and Lucy both laughed: standing side by side they squeezed each other affectionately with one arm. “She always has a conference, and I just like hanging on her arm and pretending I know something.”
“Oh, he’s funny,” said Lucy. “Henry is the active scholar of us still. I’m just a country alchemist.”
“Who presented at the conference three of the last five years,” said Henry. “So what do you need to know? That we plan on going back?”
“Well,” said Lilah, “our chief concern is with how you travel to and from Llanduvar. What do you think of the transit arrangements? Are they too, um, ad hoc?”
“All right,” said Lucy, “if you want suggestions: it is a little inconvenient that we all have to make our own arrangements. It seems workable, but you’re not sure where you’re going to wind up, you don’t have a jump beacon, most of us don’t have jump machines, actually almost no one who goes to your conferences has one. Just a sort of portal port would be a huge improvement.”
“But you’ve never had a serious problem? With transit?” asked Rob.
“No, but I can see how we could,” said Henry. “I’d love to work with your people on building a beacon, or a portal housing, or whatever. I’m not the alchemist here, I’m just an old wizard, but I’ve always liked tinkering.”
“And you don’t have a problem with time mechanics, that kind of stuff,” said Lilah.
“It’s not as though I understand all the strange nuances. But for jumping to another universe, it’s not as though it really matters, is it? We’re not going to go back in time and change history. We kind of like the way history turned out, don’t we?”
“Ecstatic,” said Lucy. “What could be better than this life we have?”
“It seems like a great life,” said Lilah, looking around. “Well, you’re regular visitors, that must be why I got your names. Funny thing is, we have you down as living at Endweith. Any idea where Endweith is?”
Lucy and Henry looked at each other, equally mystified. “No idea,” said Henry. “I don’t even know where it is. It’s in Olvar?”
“It’s north of here,” said Rob.
“Okay,” said Lilah, “we’ve taken too much of your time. Do you mind if we sort of putter around a little? Do you find some spots are better to leave from than other spots?”
“We do,” said Lucy. “Third floor gallery, or the clearing in the middle of the orchard.”
“Mind if we do some measurements? Not inside, just maybe that orchard.”
“No, no, it’s excellent, really,” said Henry.
“And before you go,” said Lucy, “you must try the cheesecake. It’s not spelled up, either, Cook made it fresh!”
“Thank you so much,” said Lilah. “We’ll make sure to try some, once I’ve got some work out of this guy.” She looked at Rob. “Ready, Champ?”
“Sure,” said Rob.
The two strolled away toward the gate. They stopped just inside and pantomimed a few measurements. Then they strolled on out to the front of the castle and took a minute to assess the watchtowers. “I think they’re kinda cute,” said Lilah. “You think they’re a bit much?”
“No,” said Rob, “no, I can see how you’d have to have little towers.”
They gazed up for another moment, and then Lilah gave Rob a sudden look and headed for the side door just inside the gate. Rob took an extra moment to figure out what was happening, and caught up just inside a wood-paneled corridor that ran within the curtain wall, lit by the open door behind him and the draped window onto the courtyard.
Five meters in front of them stood Annelise, facing away. She had her wand in her hand.
Lilah came to a stop just inside the door. Rob stopped next to her. The sound of their entrance was scrambled by a different mix of sounds from the middle of the hallway. The sounds dissipated and left only one sound, the sound of Annelise’s voice, just above a whisper.
“Ro zin tav shesh hal va,” she said slowly, waving her wand in front of and above her. She finished with a long wand-wave from right to above to left, and then she stood looking at her work. There was silence. After some seconds listening to the emptiness of noise, she turned, saw Lilah and Rob and jumped.
“Oh crap. Lilah. Crap, you scared me.” Annelise looked behind her, where the hallway ran into darkness and turned left just before the daylight completely ran out. Satisfied with what she didn’t see, she turned back to Lilah and Rob.
“What was that spell?” asked Rob.
“It’s a keep-out for time travelers,” said Lilah. “What I want to know is, why was it necessary? And what were we hearing? Was that what I think it was?”
“Not entirely,” said Annelise. “I mean, just guessing. Since I really haven’t managed to learn how to read your mind.” She took a breath, then smiled. “So we have some time.”
“For you to answer my other question.”
“Well,” said Annelise with a nervous laugh, “as you say, it’s a no entry spell, and it lasts typically about an hour, I’d say we have at least an hour. It works on all forms of discontinuous travel, so, long jumps, plane jumps, time jumps, portals, whatever.” She stopped, and Lilah made just the tiniest sigh of impatience. “And,” Annelise went on, “what you heard was what was left of a portal that got opened into the inter zone. It sort of chatters like that. Kind of, warbly,” she trailed off.
“I’ve always found it annoying,” said Lilah. “Yeah. I remember that sound. Funny the things that come back first.”
“Scares the snot out of me,” said Rob. “So are you saying a gap just opened up?”
“Sort of,” said Annelise.
“You are going to tell me,” said Lilah. “But not here. What else have you got?”
“There are zero time traces here,” said Annelise. “Four months from now, they head to Llanduvar. Then they come back. Eight months ago, they came back from Llanduvar. Before that, they went to Llanduvar. They didn’t do anything else along the way. Other people come here from other universes sometimes, but Lucy and Henry, nope. They long jump to Olaren to do meetings, sometimes, maybe twice a year. I bet they take the carriage down there more often. They don’t not make plane jumps, they just don’t make very many or anything very strenuous.”
“So you were jumping around to follow their traces?”
“Yeah,” said Annelise.
“And that’s where something went wrong,” said Rob.
“Yeah,” said Annelise.
“Which we will talk about in the pub in the village,” said Lilah. “In the booth in the back. Now. Do we need to bid farewell to our hostess?”
“Sure,” said Rob. “And hope to see her again soon.”
Lilah and Rob found Lucy strolling with another thirty-year-old witch of a certain age. They said their farewells, and then they found Annelise in the orchard. “It’s definitely got a feel about it,” said Annelise. “Sort of a thin spot. No wonder they take off from the orchard.”
“Also the third floor,” said Lilah.
“Seriously,” said Rob, “if we were actually on the up and up, this would be a great spot for some kind of installation, like a portal port of some sort. It’s obviously a spot for a jump, but it’s going to be dangerous as long as it’s just sort of sitting here.”
“Yes, dangerous,” said Lilah. “Shall we talk about it? Is the orchard more dangerous than the corridor inside the curtain wall?”
“Um,” said Annelise.
“Yeah, I promised you the pub in the village. You don’t have to say a thing until you have a pint in your hand. You do drink beer, right?”
Ten minutes later, the three were sitting in a booth in what could be described as an upscale pub in a rather decorative village. The name of the pub was Whistler’s Reach, and it seemed that Henry and Lucy were Lord and Lady Whistler because the village was named Whistler. The pub was known for its dark ale, and that was what Lilah and Rob and Annelise had in their hands.
“I was coming back,” said Annelise. “I’d hopped back trace to trace from here back to Llanduvar last year to here to Llanduvar the year before last to here. And so I time jumped two years ahead, back to here two years ago. But something followed me.”
“Something?” Lilah repeated.
“I stopped it,” said Annelise. “I dropped off the course here, and maybe thirty seconds early, and I managed to repel it and close it off with the no entry spell.” She stopped and looked at Lilah, who just gave her back that increasingly familiar flat glare. Annelise glanced at Rob, who smiled and took a drink. “And I did stop it,” said Annelise.
“And you don’t know what it was,” said Lilah.
“No idea whatever.”
Annelise gave Lilah a long look, took a drink, looked down, shook her head, swallowed and said, quietly, “I can’t go that far.”
“They’ve been after me all this time,” said Annelise. “This is very concerning to me, Lilah. You don’t—!”
“Oh, I think I do,” said Lilah.
Annelise stared at her. Lilah had a drink and waited her out. Rob figured he’d have a drink too while he was watching.
“Okay,” said Annelise. “So. On Valantoniu, when my parents were killed. I was at the Poly. I didn’t quit right then, I only had a month or so left, five weeks. I finished. I slept on a friend’s floor.” She took a drink and went on. “I knew who killed them, they didn’t hide it, they thought everyone should know. They thought it would make them safer. It made my blood boil.”
“So you killed them,” said Rob reasonably.
“I went out,” said Annelise, “and I killed them, the two of them,” and she took a drink, “the two assassins, and then I came back and slept on my friend’s floor.”
“And that was that?” asked Lilah.
“No.” Drink. “That was definitely not that.” Nervous laugh. “No, I got attacked. Not at Jasmine’s house. They never tracked me there, I was careful. It was between classes.”
“In the Polyalchemic?”
“Yep. In the courtyard. Right by the statue of Prince Polypheme. Two more.”
“You dropped them,” said Rob.
“Like a couple of dead weights,” said Annelise. No smile. She drank. “Hard death, hard death. Right in front of the admin building.”
“Did admin like the show?” asked Rob.
“Not exactly, but they didn’t blame me. They asked me if I wanted to take my finals early, and I did, and I left. I went to Frenog, but that gang’s assassins caught up with me within a month. Two more, always two.”
“You killed them too, obviously,” said Lilah.
“They were being clever. Frenog: it developed quickly, so everyone pretty much lives in the one city. They took the third floor flat directly behind my third floor flat. I was curious, so I used passwall and had a look. The two of them were sitting there playing cards when I came through. They immediately tried to kill me.” She laughed with absolutely no amusement. She had a drink. She shook her head and said, “Tough luck.”
“And you still haven’t lost them.”
“I thought I would lose them after Frenog. I went five places in five times, including Llanduvar for a weekend, which is where, interestingly enough, I lost my virginity—!” She laughed, then drank. “And that’s how I got to Shakaran. And I thought that was safe enough, but eventually they found me there too. I mean, what the hell? Why do they even care?”
“Because,” said Lilah, “you got away.”
“Yeah, maybe. But a poly student, a technical alchemist, I mean, I just wanted to move off old Val a. s. a. p. anyway, so why not just let me go? They only wanted to run Val, not anything else—I mean, a magic gang running Frenog? That wasn’t going to happen.”
“Unless, of course, the same people really are involved outside Valantoniu. Unless they have friends elsewhere. Allies.”
“Who knows,” said Annelise. “And this, this doesn’t make me any more confident.”
“That you’ll ever get free of them?” asked Rob.
“That there is a free to get,” said Annelise.
“Makes a disappearing Lucy seem kind of innocent,” said Rob.
“Unless it isn’t,” said Lilah. “We are not done talking about this, any more than you’re done avenging your parents. What else did we learn?”
“That she marries Henry no matter what,” said Annelise. “That guy seemed to pretty well match the Henry she told us about in the office.”
“Except for the minor fact,” said Rob, “that she said that Henry and that Lucy hated time travel, and this Henry and Lucy seem to be experts on it, in some sense.”
“Yeah,” said Lilah. “In that history, Henry hates time travel so bad that he won’t do it, he just won’t. In this one, he time travels freely even though he claims he doesn’t understand time paradoxes, and he goes to Llanduvar every year.”
“No idea what it means, though,” said Rob.
“No idea,” said Lilah. “Okay. Enough here? Time to move on? You guys tired at all?”
“Cup of coffee and I’ll be ready to go investigate some more,” said Rob.
“Yeah,” Annelise agreed, “plane travel really messes with your body clock. Where to next?”
“Let’s see what other Lucys the box can show us,” said Lilah. “Just not here, for gosh sake. Just let’s not stay in the place and time they didn’t quite manage to attack and kill you.”
“That seems wise,” said Annelise, finishing her pint.
They left the stylish pub and strolled through the stylish village. Lilah took them into a park by the little river. It was late evening, and the cloud cover was breaking up, revealing a million stars in a thousand unfamiliar constellations. The half moon was just escaping the trees.
“How is it,” asked Rob, “that every world I go to has the same weather and the same phases of the moon, but different stars?”
“I’ve seen a different moon thing,” said Lilah. “Let’s see, on Sintarion there are two, a large and a small. But the weather thing, yeah, it’s universal, except where no one lives.”
“Well,” said Rob, “even Groria is just the second planet out, and the first planet out is a boiling desert with no air. But all the worlds people live on.”
“Strange,” said Lilah. “But best left to the philosophers. You guys ready?”
“I’m very ready,” said Annelise, shivering in the warm moist night air.
“Okay, hold up the box, Champ.” Rob held up the box and they all put their rings to it. Lilah focused on the image of Lucy, and in a moment they were looking through their rings into a black space with colorful lines crossing. One of them was bright red. They reached to it with mental hands, and as they touched it, the world around them rippled and vanished in a tenth of a second.