Chapter 8: The priestess

VIII. The priestess

1.

The three of them appeared suddenly in the front room of the office in the city, and found George smoking his pipe at a table strewn with parts. They fell into the other three chairs at the table.

“Mr. Marius is gone?” asked Annelise.

“Yeah,” said George.

“What’re you making?”

“I don’t know. Feel free to pitch in. How was your trip? Box work?”

“Sure,” said Lilah. “We’d just met two versions of Lucy as an aristocratic scholar alchemist. Now we got to see her as a wizard-terrorist with her lover.”

“Except,” said Annelise, “that neither of them seems to have existed before they came out of the ladies’ room in the Immortal Bank, and they both seem to have vanished into nowhere after that party. They had no traces. They came from nowhere and then they went back there.”

“No traces?” asked George.

“No traces,” said Annelise. “We used the box, I lined it up with my ring, I used my crystal circuit, we tried everything we had and there were no traces of either of them other than their jump from Adari to the party. The only Andre ever anywhere starts at Adari and ends at the party. What, how much later? Maybe ten minutes at the bank. Maybe twenty at the party. He exists for thirty minutes max. Ever.”

“That should not happen,” said George. “So what could make that happen?”

“Anything to drink around this place?” asked Rob.

An hour later, they were stacking the trolley with their dirty dishes from plates of spaghetti carbonara. They came back in, and George went back into his room to get two cold quart bottles of beer, a not quite completely dark bock. Lilah found glasses in a cabinet in the bathroom, and they resumed their places around the parts-strewn table. Annelise and Rob both started absent-mindedly put pieces together.

“So I think this is why Marius took off,” said Lilah. “I think he knew I’d be ready to throw in the towel. He didn’t want to be here to accept my surrender.”

“So what do we have?” asked Annelise, attaching a small drill head to a T of pipe. “Lucy goes to Llanduvar, leaving her husband Henry, who hates time travel and anything like it, at Endweith in Olvar. She can’t find her way back, so she winds up with us, and then she disappears without a trace, yeah, literally literally without a trace. But there’s another Lucy, who’s married to Henry, and they reside at Whistler. And eat softer cheeses, and they both are totally comfortable with a little time and plane travel. And she never came to see us. But we go back again and we find Lucy, the mad bomber, who turned Henry down and has this other guy Andre.”

“And both of them,” said George, “have weirdly short chronologies.”

Rob said, “It’s like they’re just a piece of a life, like someone snipped it out and left it on the floor. I don’t know how you’re supposed to solve a crime like this. I’m not even clear what the heck the crime is.”

“I think,” said Annelise, “that when we do figure out what’s going on with Lucy’s alternate lives, we’ll know what the crime is and who’s doing it.”

They went on in the wise, while Lilah was thinking through all the strands of life they had seen, the same woman hosting a formally casual little dinner party and then blowing up a major bank. Clearly they were seeing several versions of the same life, but how? And why were they so chopped up? Different chronologies had to be the result of changes in Lucy’s history, but people like George and Lilah ought to be able to find those changes. So how were they concealed, or canceled? Why was she seeing only parts of these lives? There were plenty of other questions available.

She thought of Professor Salagon, in his classroom. She thought of Endweith without Lucy or Henry. She thought of Lucy and Henry, without Endweith. She thought about their little soiree. She thought about the young man who had talked to her before she got to talk to Lucy and Henry. He had said something like, “She’s not something, she’s everything.” He had clearly been talking about Lucy. It was one of those memories that made Lilah wonder about her sanity: how had she not thought there was something very strange about that young man.

“He’s a ghost,” she said out loud.

“A ghost?” said Annelise.

“Or, not a ghost, a whatever, I don’t know. But he’s not really there, he wasn’t really there.”

“Who?”

“The guy,” said Lilah. “At Lucy’s party. I don’t know.” She took a drink, and so did the other three. “And he looked, now I think about it,” she went on, “he looked a lot like Andre.”

2.

“Wait, he what?” asked Rob. “What now?” asked George. “What do you mean, ghost?” asked Annelise.

“Okay,” said Lilah, and then she wiped her face with her hands and laughed. “Okay,” she said again. “When we got to Lucy’s, not the one at Endweith, the one at, um, Whistler or whatever, when we got there and we were heading over to actually talk to Lucy and Henry, um, this guy said this thing to me. I said, ‘She’s really something.’ He said, and I think this is an exact quote, ‘She’s not something. She’s everything.’” She looked around at the other three. “And he looked. Exactly. Like Andre.”

“You’re sure,” said Rob.

Lilah laughed, with an edge. “When you get to know me, you won’t ask that.”

“Lilah,” said Annelise, “don’t jump down my throat here, but are you finding you’re remembering more these days? I mean, is it coming back? You’re all over this Andre thing, so how are you doing on your past life?”

“Better and better,” said Lilah. “My life is just full of new stuff to be discovered. So one Lucy was there when her universe disappeared, and she’s disappeared too. Another one is fine, she’s aging gracefully for gosh sake, but she has no recollection of a universe going anywhere. The third one is a bank robbing terrorist, and she only exists for about half an hour. What’s that leave us with? I ran into a guy in one Lucy’s life who came from another Lucy’s life.”

“Well,” said George, “there’s a variety of possibilities. I mean, probably, those two histories are close enough for this Andre dude to show up in both of them in different forms. It would also account for the fact that he’s in love with her, both places. Maybe she was in love with him both places.”

“No,” said Lilah, “their ages are wrong. The guy I saw at the dinner party was not an old guy who made himself look young. He was young.”

“You can tell,” said Rob. “You can always tell.”

“So you think he was a ghost?” George replied.

Lilah gave him her flat look. He didn’t seem very susceptible. She raised her eyebrows and said, “There was something about him. He seemed like he was really there, I mean, he seemed solid enough, but he sort of came out of nowhere and went to nowhere. I wasn’t paying specific attention to him, obviously, at that time I had no idea he’d be important, but I looked back five seconds later and he was just gone.”

“So, ghost or not ghost?”

“Don’t push me,” said Lilah. “I didn’t say he was a ghost. There was something ghost-like about him. Rob was with me.”

“I didn’t see you meet the guy,” said Rob. “I didn’t see him walk away. I saw you talking to him, but I couldn’t hear what you were saying.”

“I saw you talking to some guy,” said Annelise. “I was talking to Sandrine, I saw you. I can’t remember what he looked like.”

“Isn’t that interesting?” said Rob.

“What I want to know,” said Annelise, “is who opened a portal into the inter zone? And why did someone open a portal into the inter? Or is that what they did? That’s what I was dealing with, back at the castle gate. Maybe that was how this Andre guy got to Lucy’s party.”

“Okay, that could totally be,” said George. “I’m just being the skeptic, Lilah. I mean, I kinda see what you mean about it’s the only avenue open right now. And this other Andre, he’s not a ghost, but he possesses ghost-like qualities. I don’t know what that is, but it’s something.” He got up and turned toward the hall door. “Let’s see what we can see in the technology.”

They followed him down the hall to the work room. George powered up his magic cabinet, then transmitted into it their boxed memories of Pirate Lucy and Pirate Andre and Non-Pirate Lucy and her lawful husband Henry. He grabbed up his board and tuned and tweaked and presently they were looking at the scarlet streaks of Lucy of Endweith’s course from Olvar to Llanduvar to ancient Olvar to, well, this very city, where they ended.

Somehow George managed to pan to the left and downstream, and presently they were looking at a different scarlet line in space: the same shade but a different history. This one went on and on, starting on Olvar and visiting a number of other worlds and times, before falling into a pattern of revisiting Llanduvar from Olvar every year for more than eighty consecutive years.

Near the burning end of this scarlet life, a continuing life of Lucy hidden among the folds of time, there was a dinner party at Whistler Hall. There were three interesting guests: their arrival was heralded by pink and blue and green ribbons, this time blurred together slightly by George’s box. After a while, the three left that place in history and went somewhere else.

There appeared to be nothing else going on at that point in time.

George tweaked, and somehow pulled closer to those four colors, the red, the pink, the blue and the green, and another goldish one that stuck close to the red one: Henry, Lilah supposed.

Rob and George gasped.

“That,” said Lilah. “What the bleep was that?” For five seconds, they all stared at the blurry grey vector, wobbling near the middle of the intersection.

“It’s not a solid line,” said George. “It’s fuzzy, totally fuzzy, lots of quantum level distortion.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning he’s not entirely there,” said George. “Even when he was there.” He looked back at the intersection point, and the lingering smoke of a grey path crossing the pink path. “Which he was,” George concluded.

3.

“What you need is a priest,” said George. They were back in the front office, playing a Pitch-like card game.

“Annelise,” said Lilah, pausing in mid-shuffle, “you thought someone was following you back from the future. Then you thought they were opening a portal to the inter. Now you come up with this theory about the portal being opened by Andre’s ghost or whatever.”

“Hypothesis,” said Annelise.

“Anyway. You thought you knew what it was before we said anything about Andre, before we even knew the name Andre. You thought it might be assassins chasing you.”

“I’m throwing out hypotheses. It’s what I do best. Do I think Andre is an assassin out to get Annelise Azaine? No. I don’t. Andre and Annelise would be on the same side most of the time. Andre and Lilah would be on the same side most of the time. Don’t you think?”

“Well, have I ever daydreamed about blowing up one of the big banks? Yeah,” said Lilah, dealing. “All the time. I never actually do anything about it.”

“Yeah, and it’s kind of hard for one not to sympathize about his enemies,” said Annelise. “If one has had the experience of having the powers that be on one’s home-world decide to kill one. And my followers haven’t stopped trying to kill me, how well I know that. I thought at the time that since I was making a lot of time jumps, maybe they noticed me. Somehow. On some apparatus like George’s. I don’t know. I didn’t wait to see. I closed the dang thing with that spell. Me and my mean wand.” She looked at her cards. “I bid one.”

“One?” said Rob. “One? I have to bid higher than her or pass?”

“That’s the idea, champ,” said Lilah.

“I pass.”

“I go three,” said George, putting his hand face down on the table, “but I gotta ask. Annelise. Who the heck did you think was coming through that opening to the inter zone or whatever? You guys actually still refer to the ‘inter zone’? The latest research—!”

“It’s about fifty zones,” said Annelise. “I read that. I don’t know, I thought it was my, um, pursuers.” She sighed. “George. One thing about me, and it doesn’t make me unusual in this room, is that people want to kill me. Not all people, just a select few, but they really want to kill me.”

“Yeah,” said Rob, “I have that too, but only on Delevara for now.”

George looked at Lilah. “You have that?”

“People tried to kill me,” said Lilah, “they gave it their best shot, and all they managed to do is kill the people around me.” She looked around the table. “So chin up, everyone. Lilah Bay’s a survivor. Okay, Georgie, let me know what you have.”

“I’m telling you. You need a priest. You need a cleric. This is a ghost or something? Or maybe it isn’t, but a cleric can tell you that. And maybe it’s something in between, something that’s not really undead but sort of—I bet your clerical expert will be able to tell you.” He smiled around at the others, showing all his teeth. “And priests,” he said, “are also the experts, or so I am told, in giving the last rites.”

“Thanks,” said Annelise. “That’s so nice of you.”

“Okay, sure,” said Lilah. “Marius kept telling me I could hire someone, anyone. But look, I don’t have Marius or his little glass cubes. Do you—you wouldn’t happen to have a candidate in mind yourself?”

“Well, let me see,” said George. “Priests aren’t my specialty exactly. Time tech stuff, it doesn’t suit well with godly stuff, mostly those people don’t want to hear it. Their gods and goddesses sure don’t, and the weird thing is, some of them actually do exist.”

“They do? I’ve never seen any evidence of it.”

“You jest,” said George. “You’ve seen lots of evidence that the Gods exist. It’s just that the evidence is about how incompetent they are.”

“I’m not giving on that,” said Lilah. “But back to the subject. Maybe a ghost hunter? They’re sort of like clerics.”

“Or a healer,” said Annelise. “Could that work?”

“Or a druid?” Rob suggested.

“No, no,” said George. “None of those would know ghosts. Anyway, I might have someone. She’s a kind of priest, actually. A pagan priestess, but she’s also been a wizard, somehow. So she can read your cards to tell you when you’re gonna die, say your last rites and also throw the death spell on you. Want me to get in touch with her, or should we wait for Marius to return?”

“No, you can get a hold of this priest lady,” said Lilah. “Gods know we could use a break in this thing. This might not be it, but we can’t pass up the chance.” She picked up her cards off the table, gave them a look and said, “Did we decide we’re playing five points?”

“Yeah,” said Rob.

“Okay. So I’ll bid five.”

4.

Her name was Zinnia Rose. Lilah wasn’t sure if Rose was a last name or a middle name or a caprice, but Zinnia Rose, to Lilah, didn’t look at all like a zinnia or a rose. She was little, easily the shortest and the skinniest of them. She was pale, with freckles and dirty blond hair and greenish eyes. She wore a peasant dress that dragged on the floor, and instead of a wreath of daisies on her head, she wore a small but functional hat of brown leather. She wore, peculiarly for a cleric, not a single necklace; her two rings, one per fourth finger, appeared to be standard make magic rings, probably an invisibility one and one to increase her resistance to spells. Everyone assumed she was barefoot until she sat down and crossed her legs and they saw her beat-up black boots. She seemed befuddled, but she had a subversive sideways grin. She exhibited it in her second sentence after introductions.

“So this guy looked like a ghost, and you think you know who he is,” she said, looking befuddled. Then she said, “Ghosts don’t jump from one world to another. That’s Rule Number 17.”

“What’s Rule Number 1?” asked Rob. Zinnia just gave him a look.

“So then what is he?” asked Lilah. “Assuming I was right.”

“I don’t know,” said Zinnia, lifting her briefcase onto the card table and opening it up. Inside was a marvel of organization, which took Lilah by surprise. She pulled out a beat-up wand, a handful of crystals of various sizes and colors, a little book, a small deck of cards, a few pages of parchment, a couple of pens and a dish of incense. She turned around to face Lilah. “But I’d love to find out.”

“What can you do?” asked Lilah.

Zinnia turned around and put the wand to the dish and lit the incense. She picked up the crystals. “I don’t know that either,” she said, looking through them one after another. “But again, I’d love to find out.” She gave the subversive look to Rob this time. “But it starts with a ritual.”

“What exactly kind of priest are you?” asked Annelise. “If I may.”

Zinnia turned and waved a purple gem at her. “Technically, a defrocked one,” she said. “I was a sort of Virginal, believe it or not, and then I was a sort of a Nirvana monk, but I hated meditating—funny thing is, I love it now—and I got in and out of the Cult of Timothy. Those were some loonies. So I found it useful to know some actual, straight-on magic, so I got me the wand and enrolled at the Institute at Thomasport. With a youth blessing.”

“You can’t do that,” said Annelise. “They all can detect youth charms and things.”

“Ah, but you see,” said Zinnia, “this was a blessing. It was clerical.”

“And that is how you got in trouble,” said Lilah.

“They kicked me out third semester. Ah, I was done anyway. I already had five-word spells. I went and did a hermitage in the Endless Place, I literally walked a million miles in the desert, and sailed eleven seas. I think it was eleven. I came back a pagan: the Pagans of Walooshi accepted me into their communion. So I got my priest thing back.”

“But you didn’t give up the wand,” said Annelise, “like you were supposed to.”

“You got it,” said Zinnia. “All right, look. Take this emerald. Make sure I get it back later, okay? And you take the, uh—!”

“I don’t want pink,” said Lilah.

“Take the blue quartz. Pretty, right? Robert, you get the pink. George, take the fluorite: that’s a nice one, so clear. All right. Hold them in front of you.”

“Now what?” asked Lilah.

“Now be quiet,” said Zinnia. They gave her at least a brief silence. Rob started to reach to hold hands, but no one else did and he gave up.

Zinnia began chanting, clearly not in words but in a guttural drone that none of them had previously known the human voice was capable of. If there were words, they sounded like this, but on several tracks at once: eezum zah eezum zah zahash ahhash zahash za… The chant went on forever, five minutes at least, and then, suddenly, they were looking at the room they were in, the front room of the office. It was empty, and then it wasn’t, as time unspooled backwards. They saw their comings and goings, back to the moment Lucy had arrived, although, seen backwards, it looked like she was leaving, walking backwards out the door with Marius.

“Wait, slow down, what happened?” asked Lilah, as the vision went on in reverse.

“Can we run it forward?” asked Annelise.

Eezum za! Zahash za! Zinnia’s chant screeched to a halt, and the empty room before them fluttered and vanished. “I suggest you put the gems down right away,” said Zinnia. “They can make you nauseous if you hold them long after the spell breaks.” She set hers on the table, and everyone else followed suit. She turned to Annelise, who was almost a head taller than she was. “I’ll say this slow since you’re a theoretical alchemist. I figured out that in a gem ritual with the right chant, you can drift backwards in time. It’s a timesight, you’re not actually there, which is good in some ways, obviously. But.”

“We can’t follow her,” said Annelise. “We can’t figure out where she goes after.”

“Or why she left her luggage,” said Rob.

“But can we do that again?” asked Lilah. “And then check out that ghost?”

“Does that mean I’m on staff?” asked Zinnia.

“Yeah, you’re on staff. You can be our chaplain.”

5.

Lilah worked out how to order some lunch, and this turned out to be cucumber sandwiches and a plate of fruit: unidentifiable, but quite decent. Then she and Rob sat around in the front room and talked to not much effect while George and Annelise and Zinnia took to George’s work room. The most important thing Lilah and Rob figured out was that Marius had taken his cat with him.

“What does that mean?” asked Rob. “He’s coming back, surely.”

“Surely,” said Lilah. “I mean, he said he was. He said he was gonna be back in a few days. I pressed him on it and he actually said, two to six days. Two to six.”

“Seriously,” Rob replied.

“Fortunately for everyone, I figured out how to use the, um, phone.”

“The contact item, you mean? He called it a phone?”

“I’m old school,” said Lilah, “but Marius is old schooler.”

“You think you could find the way to that restaurant on the roof? Hey, does ‘the city’ have some decent night life? We should—!” He stopped because of her look. “What?”

Lilah shook her head. “I am not leaving this place after dark without a very good reason,” she said. “Marius as much as said: things walk the night, and with the feel this whole place has, I don’t want to meet those things.”

“You’re afraid of anything at all?” asked Rob. “You?”

“Me. I’m bleepin’ afraid of my bleepin’ shadow.”

He leaned forward and asked, “Are you remembering more stuff from before?”

“Yeah,” she said. “A lot of little things. I remember my friends pretty well. They’re all dead, by the way,” she added lightly but a bit loud. Rob didn’t say anything. Lilah added, “I also remember my son, and I remember his father.”

“Your—his—? You have a son. And the father was—?”

“My son’s name is Leonard,” said Lilah. “He’s, well, you know, time travel stuff, but last time we were together for the holidays, he was living with his girlfriend and doing some engineering work, he’s a bit of an alchemist himself actually. In Padva, which is where I grew up. Hey, next time I go visit him, I could be a grandma. Can you picture that?”

“Not even a little,” said Rob. “So he’s at Padva. People aren’t trying to kill him?”

“Champ, no one was actively trying to kill me till I left Padva on my second job. And don’t ask me what my second job was, because I don’t remember. I just remember who I worked with, and Gods, I’d cut my hand off to have a couple of them back.”

“Better than what you got now to work with, huh?”

“Don’t joke. You remind me of those guys. Annelise does too. You’re not any of them, and yeah, you’re kind of young, you have some growing into it to do, but you’d fit right in with Garik and Neal and Inez and the rest of them. Gregoria, she was the one with the long dark hair, hey, I remembered another one!”

“Congratulations,” said Rob.

“But the thing is,” said Lilah, “they’re all dead. All, dead.” She reached out and gave his face a playful push to the side. “So let’s not try and be just like them.”

“Okay,” said Rob. “What about Leonard—Leonard, right? What about his father?”

Lilah’s face soured. “Elio? Elio’s his name. He’s still alive, as far as I know.”

“For now?” asked Rob with a small laugh.

“If he stays out of my way, he’ll probably be fine. Or, he’ll annoy someone else bigger than him and they won’t give him as many chances as I did. Stupid me. But let’s just say, since we broke up, we’ve had a couple run-ins. He was working for someone weird last time I saw him. He wanted me to work for them too, and it was not my thing, and yeah, he should have known, but he never knew me at all even though we lived together for at least ten years because, you know, he spent a lot of time checking himself in the mirror that would have been better spent trying to work out what makes me tick.”

“He tried to get you to work for the dark side?”

“I guess.” Lilah sighed, then shook her head. “I nearly killed him then. I could have followed through and really ended that boy, but I’m not the sort. I see him again, I will be that sort.”

Rob sipped his coffee—lunch had come with another samovar of coffee. He said, “I think you’re scary. I think you could be that sort.”

“Not to just anyone,” she replied. “Only to Elio.”

The hall door opened and George came out. “We’re almost ready to try a ritual,” he said. “Where do you think?”

“Ah, right here’s good, don’t you think?” Lilah looked at Rob. “Listen, Robert, can you get this space ready for a sit on the floor ritual? George, come with me and we’ll see if we can find a room for Zinnia to lay her head down in later.”

“Okay, boss,” said Rob, as she and George headed back through the hall door.

They went back up the narrow hallway and through a door on the right at the far end. It was indeed an unoccupied room with a single made bed and an empty bookshelf. “What do you think?” Lilah asked.

“It’ll work,” said George.

“George. Can we trust Zinnia?”

He laughed. “You trust me enough to ask if we can trust her?”

“Well yeah. George. I trust you as much as I trust anybody. Which is a phrase I use these days pretty freely, but I don’t know. I trust you. You think I shouldn’t?”

“No. No, you should. I trust you.” He looked around, then met her brown eyes with his again and said, “Zinnia Rose is as genuine as they get. She has had tons of things happen to her, but she has no secrets.”

“She’ll keep our secrets?”

“That, you’ll have to take up with her. Me, I will keep your secrets.”

6.

“I’ve chosen a compass base,” said Zinnia, laying down a crisscross of narrow red carpet. “For one thing, I know what I’m doing and the rest of you don’t, because you’ve never done this before. So it makes sense to have a central figure, which would be me. But this is also a directional ritual, if you think about it.”

She held a little pot of incense and sat down where the two strips crossed. She crossed her legs (apparently, inside her voluminous dress) and waved around at the four places where the strips ended. Lilah thought Zinnia was going to say, “Have a seat, genius,” but instead she began a low chant. It rose slowly toward a bass violin level, and then doubled into a bass and an alto. The others took the indicated places: Lilah, then Rob on her right, then George, then Annelise.

They fell backwards into the history of the front office. They saw Zinnia arriving, the detectives having breakfast, then going to bed, then returning from the party, and so on, back and back. They went away, then George showed up, then they came back, then they went away, then Lucy was going to bed, being shown out of the front office in the direction of the guest bedroom by Marius.

They drifted on past, while all five of them, like passengers on a river raft, examined the event as well as they could. Then they let the past drift past them again, until Zinnia pulled them out of trance around where Lilah and Marius were setting off to get her ring.

“She didn’t leave from the front room,” said Rob. “How can we see what happened?”

“We can’t move the vision,” said Zinnia, getting up, still carrying the smoking pot of incense. “We just have to move the visionaries instead. Where do you think she did leave from?”

“Uh, try the guest room?” said Lilah.

So the five picked up everything and moved it all to the guest room, which had mysteriously been cleaned up. With a minimal amount of discussion, they moved the bed up against the wall, and Zinnia laid the strips of red cloth down. They resumed their places, but Zinnia pulled Rob back up by his armpits, saying, “I want you across from Lilah: you two are the more observant, and you should be facing opposite ways. And you two,” she went on, looking from George to Annelise, “are the more knowledgeable about time mechanics, am I right? So you also should be across from each other, so you can see opposite directions.” She stood back as Rob and George switched places. “See?” she said, tapping her temple. “Thinking.”

“Okay, that’s fine,” said Lilah. “Are we good now?”

“We will certainly see,” said Zinnia, sitting down. She put the incense pot, still smoking, in her lap, and started right into her chant: low, then bifurcated. It hit fast this time: Lilah barely had a chance to marvel at Zinnia’s vocal talents before they were falling back in time again.

This room had not had a very interesting recent history, and the five had to see it twice, because Lucy was walking backwards out of it, then backwards into it and backwards out of it and backwards into it with Marius and backwards out of it again before they really brought their minds to bear. “Well, that sucked,” was Zinnia’s only comment after the first time through, and before she added, “All right, folks, let’s try that again.”

The second time, as Lucy walked back from the room’s only door, Zinnia pulled them out of ritual.

“She went out the door,” said Lilah.

“But it wasn’t the same door,” said Rob. “Or it wasn’t the same hall outside the door.” He jumped up, went to the same door and opened it. Outside was the same hall. “See? It wasn’t that.”

“Then what was it?” asked George. “O, observant one.”

“Well, time-mechanically-inclined one,” Lilah replied, “what do you say about a door that opens into a different place from its usual place? Is it just moonlighting, making a little extra money as a door for someone else on the side? A second door job?”

“What did you see through the door?” asked George, wearing his serious face.

“Pitch black.”

“Uh huh. That would be consistent. Did you happen to notice her attending to any sounds during those last few seconds?”

Lilah looked at Rob. Rob said, “I did notice that, actually.” Lilah made a face and Rob added, “It wasn’t obvious or anything, I wasn’t sure it was anything, but since George asked. No, really, I was trying to pay attention right after, i.e. right before? Right before she went out the door. She sort of hesitated over her suitcase, she was, I don’t know, deciding which nighty to wear. Didn’t you see that, that little double take or something?”

“Yeah, actually,” said Annelise. “She stopped and turned her head to the right. Wait a minute.” She tilted her head back and muttered, “Ol sek ra kur.” The others all watched her; Zinnia got up and re-lidded the incense pot but still watched. After some seconds, Annelise opened her eyes. “Why can’t we do better than this drift ritual or my stupid timesight spell? The ritual only runs one direction, and the spell is like way too focused to be useful for stuff like this? Ergh!”

“So what did you see?” asked Lilah. “Nothing?”

“She’s at her suitcase. It’s on the bed. Then she looks to her right, and I got a very slight garbled noise. It must have made sense only to her. So she puts stuff back in the suitcase, she puts it on the floor, she looks at it, she grabs out her locket and puts it on, and then she heads out the door. Into black space.”

“A black time jump,” said George.

“Meaning a jump to a black time?” asked Rob.

“No,” said George, “a jump where no one, even her, could see where she was going.”

They took this in. Lilah said, “So did she look worried? Afraid? I didn’t get that but I was seeing it backwards. And that spell makes me nauseous.”

“It makes a lot of folks nauseous,” said George.

“I did not get her being afraid,” said Annelise. “I got her being kind of excited, anxious, like when you set off on a trip somewhere you’ve never been.”

“She’d never been here either,” said Lilah. “So what the hell? Someone sent her a message we can’t hear, and she went out that door but it was somewhere else?” She glared at Zinnia.

“And then there’s this ghost person,” said Zinnia. “And that, I believe, is why you wanted me here in the first place.”

“By all means, let’s find out about that ghost person,” said Lilah. “Ironically, he’s the only thing that’s not a dead end.”

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