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a flame in two cupped hands

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Sex, on the whole, is unromantic. There's all the fumbling and hands missing buttons, and kisses that land on the ear rather than the corner of the mouth, and the getting up after to check everything is where you left it, and besides you never have an entirely unjaundiced view of proceedings if you've seen as many cows in the throes of passion as I have. But then, cows don't have kissing; they don't have Rupert standing in the doorway light spilling from the bedside lamp, ruffled, just standing, looking at me like I'm beautiful, like me all gooey under the sheets is the most wonderful thing he's ever seen.

So, there was that; and the bathroom window is stuck open so he was shivering when he came back to bed, warming up slowly next to me. And I think he got up for some water around five in the morning; I remember waking up just for a moment, that instant's shiver before sleep.

The first thing I knew about it, though, was when I woke up and he wasn't there.

*

Will was pragmatic but not dismissive, and I was grateful. "I'm not," he said, slowly and carefully, "going to ask you all the stupid things like are you sure he hasn't gone out without telling you, and could it have been a work emergency, and maybe if you go back you'll see he's left you a note. You seem sure. So I'm going to ask you why you're sure."

I nodded, and didn’t say anything. I was finding it hard to speak; there had been an odd tightness in my chest from the moment I woke up to a bed that was cold on the other side, and it hadn't gone away as I walked around the house saying Rupert's name, softly, and even here in Thule, with the sunlight a little more treacly than on Earth and everything that those perfect shades of pastoral green, the panicky feeling lingered.

I breathed out, and thought about it. Will was making tea, in a very ordinary way, looking for milk and muttering to himself when the teabags weren't in the cupboard he thought they were in, and that in itself was a little calming. To stall for time, I asked, "Where are Carina and the girls?"

"She's taken them Christmas shopping," Will said, blandly. "No, really. I claimed someone had to stay here and keep an eye on things, and they all very nicely pretended to believe me."

I smiled a little, and took a deep breath. Will's eyes were on me. "Why are you sure?" he asked, and the tight feeling in my chest was back.

"Because," I said finally, "I feel that he's not just missing, he's… gone. As though he isn't anywhere."

"You're a Magid," Will said sharply. "You know how much anywhere there is. Do you mean…"

"Yes," I said, suddenly sure. "I mean anywhere."

After that, it was only a matter of time before Zinka arrived in a flurry of perfume and concern, kissing my cheek and settling in Will's pretty stripped-pine kitchen like a rainforest orchid on a British beach. "You poor darling," she said, entirely sincere. "Will, what are our possibilities?"

Will was pacing up and down. The sun had moved during the time we'd been sitting here, the pinkish sunset coming in at an angle and making patterns on the opposite wall. "I think we have a few of those," he said slowly. "Firstly, Rupert could have disappeared of his own accord. Got up, packed a few clothes in a bag, set out into the wide blue yonder." Off my sceptical look, he smiled a little. "Magids have been known to do it, you know. They're under a lot of pressure at the best of times. They get up and disconnect whatever it is they use for communication, and the next you hear of them they've been found horizontal in a bar in Buenos Aires."

"Will," I said, doing my best not to stamp my foot.

"Admittedly," Will said in a hurry, "it's unlikely in Rupert's case. Firstly he wouldn't have the imagination, and secondly, Maree, I think I know better than not believing you when you're sure about things."

I smiled at that; he can be so nice when he wants to be.

"Other options," Will went on. "Rupert could have been abducted by any number of things from an Ayewards world to Earth. There are magical forces, there are other things, there are… Zinka, what is it?"

Zinka was standing by the window, looking out at the garden path. "Carina and the girls will be back soon," she said, a little dreamily. "If you don't mind us staying, we could cook dinner."

"I have a bag of the last of the orchard apples," Will said, getting up to join her. "I'll get them and start slicing, we could make a pie, with cardamom and cloves…"

This time I did stamp my foot. "What about Rupert?"

Zinka looked up at me and said, with honest confusion, "Rupert…"

Will didn't turn, looking for apples.

I said, very quietly, "Will, tell me about magic that affects people's memory."

"Memory," Will repeated, and I wanted to hear something strange in his voice, something drugged or dreamy, but there was just Will being Will, offering a quiet discourse on the theory of magical currents, the ways of the Ayewards worlds, as he does every day standing up in his kitchen bathed in the evening sun. "Lots of things can affect memory. Some workings can be done to affect it deliberately, but often you see it as a side-effect: big changes in the magical potential of an area, large workings in general, they quite often make people's memories of a particular event quite fuzzy. Sometimes it's not an event, or an object, something in particular…"

"Right," Zinka said, and she was looking straight at me. "Will, how many brothers do you have?"

There was an awful pause then, even in that beautiful setting with the sunset and the smell of apples: something awful and laced with dread.

"Two!" Will shouted, suddenly. "Two, God. I have two brothers. Simon, and, and Rupert. I was going to say…" – and another pause, less direful this time – "something else, I was going to, I don't know why I was going to say something else."

"Workings that affect memory," Zinka said, giving me an appraising, approving look. "Maree, you'll be the last to forget. That's always the way. Will, sit down and listen."

Will sat down the wrong way round on a chair. Zinka said, "I've seen this happen before, once."

She was looking at me as she said it: I shivered, and noticed for the first time that there were leaves drifting in through the open window, and the start of the night's chill.

*

We set up the working in one of Will's upper fields, in the eerie moonlight gleaming off the frosted grass in shades of silver and green. Zinka had been out there all afternoon, preparing; Will and I joined her after nightfall, each carrying a stack of items we'd need in blankets tied to sticks, as though we were setting out to seek our fortune.

"Let me get this straight," I said, as we left the house and started on the long walk up. "There is a creature, encountered by only a few Magids, with a totally ridiculous name…"

"Vitharr," Will said. "Yes. It's more of an entity, rather than a creature – and I believe it has been influential on Earth mythologies, particularly Norse… but you don't care about that right now."

I stopped glaring at him. "And it has the power to change the past," I said, and then paused. "No, Will, this doesn't make sense, I'm sorry. If I had the power to go back in time and kill Rupert soon after birth, or stop his parents meeting…"

"If you did that, you'd wipe out me and Simon, too," Will said, mildly.

"Well, that's my point," I said, feeling warmed by my own annoyance; it was so cold that the ground was crunching beneath my boots. "It's not that easy! If I removed Rupert from existence that way, if someone has done that – well, I still remember him. I live in the house that he bought. And I know you're starting to forget…"

Will looked pained; he was starting to forget more often, now. Zinka had had a few blank moments during the day, revolving on the spot and looking up at the sky as though expecting it to remind her what she was doing. Will had had three more lapses, even beginning to look at me suspiciously, as if he were wondering who I was, what I was doing on his land.

"But I haven't yet," I finished. "So how is this possible?"

"It takes time," Will said, simply. "It takes time to remove a person from existence. It'll happen bit by bit. I'll… forget. Zinka, too. Simon. Our parents. Eventually…"

"No," I said.

"Eventually you'll wake up back in Bristol," Will said, mercilessly. "The world will creep in and fill the empty space. That's how it is, Maree."

"It's not how it's going to be," I said, and then we were at the edge of the field, stopping to get ourselves and our burdens over the stile, and Zinka was waiting expectantly in the middle of the field, surrounded by a spiral of candles. Her eyes were glowing like stars in the clear night.

"Ready?" Zinka called. She was subdued, for her, and looking at me, she was all concern. "This is your show, Maree. It's all up to you now."

"I'm not sure," I said slowly. "I'm not sure if I'm ready."

Zinka shook her head and laughed. "You should spend time with other Magids, Maree," she said, gently. "Away from them" – she pointed at Will and managed to indicate Simon and Rupert too, with her tone – "you'll find there are a hundred ways of being a Magid, maybe a thousand, and a good many of them don't require you to be utterly self-possessed or a bolshie idiot all the time."

Will smiled and said nothing; I took a deep breath. "I'm ready."

*

The working was simpler than I'd thought it would be. Zinka and Will were holding it in place with candles, murmuring words to themselves to hold the currents of the multiverse in place – I'd understand that much at least in my training: the way Magids use the artefacts of reality, candles and herbs and rubber ducks and anything else that comes to hand, to hold in check those things you can't see – and they were the last thing I was aware of, after the frosty air and starlight had disappeared.

And then – I was somewhere else.

"Are you all right, miss?"

I stepped back, blinking, suddenly aware of bright sunlight, blue water. A little old lady with a push-along trolley was staring at me curiously. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," I said, automatically, putting up my hand to shade my eyes. "Wait – what date is this?"

"Sixteenth of July, duck," she said, and began trundling off.

"Wait!" I called. "What year?"

"1990," she said, but without the smile this time, and moved off faster.

I sat down on a nearby bench and took stock. The clear water in front of me wasn't deep, the river narrow but fast-flowing. On the other side were boathouses, painted in cheerful colours and displaying flags, and behind me, a stretch of green, mostly unbroken by trees, giving way to traffic and buildings in the distance. I took a deep breath, took in the mown grass, of river water, their fresh, summery, outsdoorsy smells, and said, "Cambridge."

Once I'd made that leap, the rest fell into place. Midsummer Common, 1990, the boats on the water, the curve of the bank and towpath. Will had said that the working wasn't precise: that I should do what felt right. When it felt right to sit on a bench alongside a man with a hat pulled over his eyes and a newspaper folded over his feet, I knew it was him.

Have you ever tried to strike up a natural-sounding conversation with a complete stranger? It's not easy. I started a half-dozen sentences, opening my mouth and closing it before I could say have you got the time? and what lovely weather we're having and what are you doing here, I thought you were erased from existence.

In the end, I leaned back on the bench, took a deep breath and said, "It's hot, isn't it?

There was one of those dead silences, where I was afraid he was ignoring me and that I'd failed before I'd even started. And then he pushed the hat off his eyes, and it was him – it was Rupert Venables, the man I'd woken up next to two nights before, no matter what the Vitharr were having the world believe, and I breathed in and out and stopped myself from shaking.

And he said, "Yes, it's very hot."

"Have you been here long?" I asked, idiotically – I think I meant, have you been sitting here in the sun long, but sometimes the multiverse is kind.

"About a year," he said. There was a looseness I wasn't used to about him; a kind of louche youthfulness. "I'm from the area, but this is my first year of undergrad. You as well? Which college are you at?"

"Newnham," I invented out of whole cloth, and that's the wonder of being a student: whole conversations can evolve out of standard starting-points. "What about you?"

"Peterhouse," he said thoughtfully, and I had a brief, giddying moment of familiarity; until then it was just like talking to a stranger on a park bench by a river, but Rupert did go to Peterhouse. He'd taken me there once or twice, shown me creaking rafters and ancient stones with the glitter of reminiscence in his eyes. For a moment I was seeing two of him: the floppy-haired undergraduate in front of me, and the man he'd grow to be.

"My brother went there," I said, and to forestall the obvious: "Years ago. Before your time, I'm sure."

"My brothers didn't, thank God," he said, and I smiled inwardly, and went for the kill.

"How many have you got?"

"Two. Will and Simon. Simon's a bit of a twit and Will always thinks he knows best. They're all right, though." He was looking directly at me, a quizzical look settling on his features. "I'm sorry, here I am talking about my family to a complete stranger. It's just… you remind me of someone."

"Lots of people say that," I told him glibly, and went for it. "What do they do, your brothers?"

"Family business," he said, and the look he gave me was so familiar, so knowing, that it took real effort of will not to kiss him.

"Planning to join them after university?" I said, lightly.

"I wouldn't count on it," he said, sharp and quick, and I abruptly decided that if I stayed here any longer I'd give myself away. There was something too strange about this, something about the unfamiliarity of him that hurt me close to the bone.

Shortly afterwards I remembered an urgent appointment; shortly after that I was running down the edge of the water, scattering ducks and pigeons, and then I was in Will's upper field, surrounded by candles. They had burnt down, but there was a good inch of wax left on the tallest of them. "We were just beginning to worry," Zinka said, as Will said: "Well?"

I shook my head.

*

Will said, "This is worse than I thought."

"What is?" I asked.

It was morning, just; the sun was peering over the apple trees and I was feeling exhaustion in layers beneath my skin. Carina was in the kitchen as we stumbled in from being up all night, looking enviably fresh with a dishtowel over her arm. "Would you like some eggs, Maree?" she asked, without asking what I was doing, red-eyed and sodden with dew, in her house, and I nodded gratefully.

"Will, what is?" I said again, after a moment.

"What?" Will said, confusedly.

"You said, this is worse than I thought."

"Did I?" Will looked at me blankly, and then at Carina. "Was I talking about breakfast, maybe? Are we out of eggs?"

"Will." I reached up and put my hands on either side of his face. "How many brothers do you have?"

He didn't say anything for a moment, but the parade of expressions over his face told me all I needed to know. He threw himself down in the chair beside me, looking as desperate and drawn as I felt. I put a gentle hand on his arm, and he smiled at me wanly. We'd eaten our plates of eggs, and Zinka had emerged from the bathroom, towelling her hair, before anyone spoke again.

"Here it is," Will said, and we were all listening, including Carina. "Our original plan was simple. Send Maree back in time, to any time. Let the working itself do the work. Magic pulls on magic, fatelines entangle with fatelines."

"Not ours," Zinka objected. "A Magid's fateline is free from the multiverse."

"Rupert hasn't always been a Magid," Will argued. "My thought was, if the Vitharr really did take Rupert out of time, then trying to find the interference in his fateline would be the first step in discovering where he was taken from. But this worries me. Maree said she met Rupert as an undergraduate…"

"He was nineteen," I said, with a sudden image of Rupert under the hat.

"But why?" Will said. "Why not kill him at birth? Why not, as Maree suggested originally, make it so our parents didn't meet?"

"It seems messy," Zinka said thoughtfully, "in terms of time and entropy expended. The longer Rupert lives, the longer he exerts an influence on a world the Vitharr want free of him."

"Something happens in between," Will said decisively, and I was jealous, momentarily, of their experience, their ease in bringing what they knew to the task at hand. I was still junior Magid for Earth, and feeling it. "What happens between Rupert being born and Rupert being disappeared?" Will asked.

"Lots of things," Zinka was saying, "lots of things, like his meeting Maree, the affair with Koryfos, his childhood, the first record he bought, the time he lost his virginity…"

"Wait," I said. "I've just thought of something."

I felt more junior than ever as I explained it, even stumbling over my words in a way I hadn't since I'd started the training. But as I finished, to my surprise it was Carina who spoke first.

"I don't pretend to know much about it," she said, clearly, "but sometimes, you need that slice from Occam's Razor."

I smiled properly for the first time all morning.

*

Zinka promised she and Will would do the hard part. All I had to do, she said, was go back to the house and pick up the right artefacts to engineer the magic of finding. She made it sound easy, so I went back to Weavers End, walking with my mind on other things as though I weren't moving through the latticework of worlds but daydreaming around the supermarket, and I went around the house picking up things and discarding them: books, shirts, a half-finished carton of orange juice. Too impersonal, too intimate, too ridiculous. Something that belonged to Rupert, Zinka had said, but there was everything and nothing that fit that description in the house. In the end I stopped by the front door and picked up Rupert's gloves, leather, well-worn, softened and shiny on the knuckles, and I went back to that strange field in Thule all without thinking too hard about anything.

I walked up to take my place beside Zinka and Will just as someone appeared in the circle. It was another frosty night, and the stranger blew puffs and gasps of steam as he appeared, staggering, at the centre of the ring of candles, but it seemed to me that he had plenty of warmth inside him, regardless.

"Can you smell that?" Zinka wrinkled her pretty nose. "I forgot that he's always on a bender."

Will chuckled. "Doesn't seem like the worst idea."

"I'm not" – he was wobbling quite significantly – "drunk. Well, I am. It's, an, an" – he waved a confused hand – "occupational hazard."

Having enunciated it carefully, he smiled a beatific smile of self-satisfaction, and toppled over. Without ceremony, Zinka pulled him back up. "Will, Maree," she said, "this is Maxwell Hyde. Believe it or not, he's an old friend and a Magid. He has something of a handicap when attempting to move between worlds."

"Let me guess, he can only do it when drunk," Will said, and stepped forwards to give Zinka a hand.

"Hundred pounds' worth of it," Maxwell Hyde agreed, and consented to being dragged.

Somehow or other we got him down to the farmhouse, and I made cup after cup of tar-like coffee, the sort I make for Nick, and persuaded our guest to drink it, and then to swallow a slice of Carina's apple pie. After that he still hiccupped periodically, but seemed able to focus on one thing for whole minutes at a time. I let Will do the explaining.

"All right," Hyde said at last. "Let me get this straight. A Magid has gone missing. You've brought me here to do a working to find him, and look" – he nodded at me – "we even have the supplies we need. Forgive me for" – a hiccup – "asking a stupid question, but why can't one of you do it? Aren't you all three Magids yourselves?"

"Yes," Zinka said slowly. "But Will is Rupert's brother. He's Maree's… well, he's Maree's. And Rupert and I, once upon a time…"

Hyde nodded. "You three, you know him too well."

"I think he's still out there, but changed," I burst out. "I think he's not the Rupert we know. And we know him so well, in such detail…"

"Right." Hyde reached out and picked up Rupert's gloves, holding them to the light and inclining his head in interest. "And then there's me. As I've never met the man. I won't get trapped in changes in the particulars. I'll find you the general shape of him. Is that it?"

"I'll owe you a favour, Maxwell," Zinka said, and he grimaced.

"Enough Scotch to get me home again will suffice, thank you. Now clear off, you three. I'll let you know when I've found him."

I think I would have stayed, peering over his shoulder and asking questions, if Hyde hadn't chivvied the three of us out bodily. We left him the kitchen to work in and ended up in the garden, drinking some of Zinka's Scotch. "I always lay some in for Maxwell," she said, "but he can't drink all of it. I hope."

I took my share and tossed it back, letting the fire of it cruise down and settle in my stomach. Somewhere far above, birds called in the distance, and clouds started to move in over the face of the moon. We could have been on Earth on a frosty winter's evening, if it weren't for the texture of the silence.

"Funny chap, that," Will said. "Zinka, I don't know where you find them."

"He's a good man and a respected Magid," Zinka said, with faux-outrage. "What do you think, Maree?"

"What will we do," I asked, quietly, "if we never find him?"

Will merely looked at me. Zinka said, "Honey…" – and put her arm around my shoulder. There didn't seem much else to say, after that.

Finding magic doesn't usually take long – either you find something quickly, or it's lost forever. I had only just lost the feeling in my fingers and toes when Maxwell emerged, stamping his feet to keep them warm.

"Well?" we all said at once.

He was frowning, not looking anyone in the eye. "I think you'd all better come inside."

When we were seated around the kitchen table again, I picked up the gloves, pressed the soft leather of them to my cheek as Maxwell talked.

"Rupert Venables is a good man," he said, with an odd, dreamy quality to his voice, and I was startled by the echo of what Zinka had said about Maxwell himself. "In a quiet way, he's compassionate. He can be very, very sarcastic. He gives money to the RSPB and to Macmillan, every month without fail. He's a software engineer for a Cambridge biotechnology start-up. He lives by himself, in a small flat a little way out of the city. He's in contact with his brothers. He has never done magic."

"You know this for sure?" Will demanded.

Maxwell nodded, and pointed at the gloves I was still holding. "You asked me to find him. I found him. I can give you his address if you like."

"Yes," Will was saying, as I said: "No. Just tell me about him."

"Not much to tell," Maxwell said. "He's good at what he does. He read mathematics at Peterhouse. He is not, and has never been, a Magid."

"You said he was in contact with his brothers," Zinka said eagerly. "How can that be, if Will is right here?"

Will shook his head. "Simon and I are just shadows of his brothers, as they really are. The world is changing to fit new contours."

"Maree was right," Zinka said, and stood up. "They haven't taken away Rupert Venables, the person. They've taken away Rupert the Magid. Whatever threat he poses to them, in the sometime-maybe future – they think making a mere mortal out of him will nullify it."

"Will," I said, "when did Rupert become a Magid?"

*

After Maxwell had gone, there were two fingers of whisky left in the bottle. I drank it, put on Rupert's gloves, and walked into the centre of a circle of flame without looking back.

Somehow I wasn't surprised when it was Cambridge again: Cambridge by night, this time, with swans drifting by on the slopping black water, and Midsummer Common dimly lit and unknowable, with the wind howling over it like the sound of the sea. I walked quickly, following the path as though drawn by something, my heels tapping more and more quickly along the cobbles, into the winding streets of the old city.

I found Rupert in a café with clowns painted on the wall, alternately grotesque and cheerful, and this time it was easy to buy a drink and settle myself beside him. He didn't stand up to demand who I was; I didn't have to make up some explanation; there was an inevitability about it. Zinka or Will would have argued that it was something about magic, or deep secrets; I think it was because it was Rupert, and it was me. He looked up and said, "Do I know you?

"No," I said, "but there are no other tables" – and he accepted that. I'm sure if he'd thought, he would have realised it was nine o'clock on a weekday evening and downstairs was almost empty. He didn't. He sat there beside me, and I sat beside him. I suppose it was the light, too – the golden electric light, after the bleakness of the common, which gave a quality of unreality to it all. I think Rupert felt that, too. I was drinking coffee; he was drinking Scotch.

"You're worried about something," I said, dipping my biscotti. I'd taken off the gloves and lain them on the table between us. They sat there, innocuous, artefacts of a fading world.

"Yes," he sighed, and seemed to come to himself. "Sorry, how terribly rude of me. My name's Rupert."

He held out a hand for me to shake; I took it, and said: "Marina."

"How unusual," he said, and he sounded for a moment so much like how he did when I first met him – so utterly, ridiculously priggish – that I wanted to slap him or kiss him.

Instead I said again, "You're worried about something."

"Yes," he said, and I think it must also have been the Scotch that loosened him, made him spill secrets to a stranger. "Have you ever had to make a decision that would change the course of your entire life?"

"Yes," I said.

"How did you do it?" – and he sounded almost plaintive, then. I reached out to put a hand on his arm, then changed my mind and drew back.

"I just did it," I said, honestly. "I tried to weigh up the pros and cons, but that didn't make sense, in the end. I just made it."

Rupert looked straight at me, and for a moment I saw the uncertainty in his expression. I'd never known him when he wasn't a Magid; I'd never seen him with the cast of humanity on him. Oh, I know Magids aren't immortal, but they do live a long time, and more to the point, they live it at a distance from everyone else. Zinka wasn't wrong that a Magid's fatelines are disentangled from the multiverse. It's no wonder that she and Simon, and Rupert and I, end up tangled together.

"I wish I could," he said, frankly. "I'm afraid I'm a little over-cautious. About everything, really. It took me at least five minutes to decide which drink to have. And now this."

"What is it, this big decision you have to make?" I asked, curious about what he would say.

"A friend of mine has offered me an opportunity," he said, slowly. "A family friend. And it's a great opportunity. But it will… block out other options in my life. It will change the sort of person I am, I think."

"Maybe," I said, and I wasn't speaking from any sense of artifice, I wasn't thinking about the future or the past or the Vitharr or anything like that, "maybe you shouldn't ask yourself what you should decide, but what you should have decided."

"That doesn't make sense." He looked at me.

"I mean," I said, persisting, "maybe you should think about what you'll look back and think when you're eighty, or a hundred. What you'll regret."

When he smiled at me, with real warmth taking way the drawn look on his face, I drained my coffee, stood up and picked up my coat. "I have to go. It was nice meeting you."

"You too," he said, and he watched me go, his eyes never leaving me as I crossed the floor between the tables and chairs. "Wait," he called. "You forgot your gloves."

"You should keep them," I told him, and went out into the night.

*

When I got home, he was there. I said, "I have to send flowers to Will and Zinka" – and then started crying for no reason at all.

"Maree?" Rupert sat up in bed, looking bedraggled and so utterly, utterly familiar that I cried harder, if that were possible. "What on earth's the matter?"

"You!" I snapped. "You are what's the matter!"

And then I explained it to him, messily, occasionally pausing to blow my nose into a tea towel. It was terribly unromantic, but then, so many things in life are. He listened silently but not disbelievingly, and eventually I trailed to a halt, dropped the tea towel on the floor (Rupert hates that) and clambered back into bed fully-dressed. I wasn't sure what day it was, but it seemed quite unlikely that either of us were going to go to work.

"Not sure about the flowers," Rupert said, after a while. "Send them to Zinka. Will is off my Christmas card list for periodically forgetting that I exist."

"We all did," I said, and sniffed. "Not continuously. But at least once." I'd never forgotten him entirely, but there had been moments, out on the field in Thule, when I'd had my attention caught by the scent of the wind or the interestingly different animal life, and in those moments, he'd lifted out of my mind like a peeled transfer.

He put his arm around me. "Two questions remain."

"Two?" I repeated, sniffed, and hiccupped. "What two questions?"

"Well, the first is: why do the Vitharr want me dead, or at least non-existent?"

"Not non-existent," I said. "Not a Magid."

"Not a Magid, then," he agreed, and sank bank onto the pillows, taking me with him so we were both curled underneath the covers.

"I suppose you'll find out," I said, thinking about that. "It's not something you've done, it's something you're going to do. Bet it's epic."

"Oh, terribly epic, me," Rupert said. "Just to please you, I shall endeavour for it to involve magic swords and mythical amulets."

I elbowed him. "And what was the other question?"

"This." Rupert looked at me seriously. "You knew the Vitharr had messed with history. You knew they had gone to the one true point of divergence in my life, the moment I decided to take Stan's offer and become a Magid, and engineered it such that I chose not to. And then you drift in, you talk to me for a while, you drift away again. Why were you so sure? What made you trust that I'd make the right choice, after that?"

"Once," I said, sleepily, "I trusted you to light my way home from Babylon."

He smiled, and kissed my ear. It was morning, but we went to sleep after that, curled around each other like twin question-marks, or an infinity-symbol, going around and around and around.