Chapter 1: Getting Up

There were some days when getting out of bed was a trial. Viola cracked open her eyes and contemplated the distance to the bathroom, trying to decide if relieving the pressure in her bladder was worth the discomfort of leaving her blankets.

A pounding in her head made it impossible to drift back to sleep. Her body twinged and her skin crawled, increasing the pressure on her senses until she felt herself being dragged into wakefulness.

With a groan, she opened her eyes and threw back her covers. It was cold. She shivered and grabbed her blankets again. She could hold it in a little longer, at least until she could no longer ignore it.

The pounding continued steadily.

She rolled over. Her own smell, days without a shower, wafted over her and she pulled a face.

When the beating moved to the other side of her head, she realized it wasn’t inside her. Someone was pounding at the door. The steady beat filled the room. It could almost be a metronome from the consistent rhythm and force. There was only one person who knocked like that.

Viola took a deep breath. “Go away, Mudd!”

Her partner continued to knock on the door, never varying from his beat. There were times when his consistency saved them from spoiling a crime scene or defending the evidence, but there were other times when it was just annoying.

“Mudd! Go away.”

The pounding stopped. “I cannot, I need your assistance.” He always spoke in an even tone. She was impressed he raised his voice enough to be heard through her door.

“No,” she muttered and shoved her face into her pillow. It felt oily but she couldn’t find the energy to find a cleaner section.

The pounding resumed.

After what felt like years, she finally forced herself out of bed. She started for the door but then decided to handle a more pressing need in her bathroom before answering it.

He stopped knocking only when she turned the doorknob. When she looked outside, he stood with his hands at his side staring directly at her.

Mudd was not imposing or impressive. He stood almost exactly five feet tall. The top of his head was bald with neatly trimmed fringe on the sides. His outfit was impeccable, neatly pressed and only had a few wrinkles around the shoulders. She could have sworn he was dressed for work. Reflexively, she looked down but didn’t see his guard bracelet around his wrist. She breathed as sigh of relief, if he wasn’t working, that meant he wasn’t there to pull her into a forensics case.

“It’s still the weekend,” he said in a low, almost monotone voice. After years of working with him, she was always surprised when he raised it.

“Then why are you here?” She yawned and leaned against the door frame. Her sleeping shirt clung to her skin and she caught another whiff of her scent. Afraid he would notice, she struggled to keep her nose from wrinkling. She desperately needed to bathe and his look of disapproval would be too much for her at the moment.

Mudd shrugged and looked down the hall toward the rest of the doors in the apartment. “I have work-adjacent tasks that need your attention.”

“Work… adjacent?”

“Yes, related to work but not directly toward a case.” He reached up toward her neighbor’s door. His eyes were focused, he had noticed something. He stopped in mid-motion before he returned his attention to her. She could see the tension in his face and wondered what he saw. “Please?” he asked.

The idea of leaving left her cold. She shook her head and grabbed the door to shut it. “Not today.”

“You have called in sick for four days.”

“Well, I’m sick.”

“No, you aren’t.”

Viola almost denied it. She wasn’t sick, or at least she wasn’t ill. She just wasn’t ready to face the world after what happened with her date.

She turned away. “Don’t do that. Just let me be… report being sick.”

“As you wish, but I still would like your company. Please? Just an hour and then you can return.”

She looked at her living room. Empty boxes were stacked up on the tables. She could see flies buzzing over a few and mold growing on the older dishes. Each one had been delivered over the last few days but she didn’t realize how tall the piles were getting. Or the smell. She frowned and shook her head. “Mudd, I’m not ready.”

“I know. But you need to get out.”

A tear threatened to form. “I just need to sleep a little longer.”

“Yes, but first, come out. You need to get away from… that.” She could almost hear the disgust in his voice. She didn’t blame him, it looked horrible.

Viola considered Mudd’s request. He would have never come if he wasn’t worried. She wasn’t even sure he knew where she lived. He found out somewhere and felt the need to show up? She turned to him. “Who told you?”

The faintest of smiles cross his face. “I deduced, nothing more.”

“I don’t want to talk about what happened.”

“Of course,” he said holding up his hands. “You don’t have to say a single word. I just ask that you come out with me for one hour.” He waved his hand and a spectral timepiece appeared over his shoulder. “I’ll even set the clock.”

Viola couldn’t handle it. She shook her head. “No, maybe later.”

Closing the door, she shuffled back to her bed. The mess pressed against her senses, a disorder from her normally clean house. She liked order, that is what made magic possible. Taking a deep breath, she winced at the smells that assaulted her.

The idea of crawling into her blankets suddenly seemed just as undesirable. She flipped back the blankets and stared at the cozy spot that she had enjoyed for days. Well, enjoyment wasn’t the right term.

She shook her head. “Damn him.”

Turning on her bare feet, she returned to the door. Maybe she could catch up with him. Opening it, saw him standing in the same place and jumped.

Mudd looked at her. “Please?”

“Fine, just an hour.”

He sniffed. “An hour after your shower.”

For a moment, she almost slammed the door on his face but she knew it wouldn’t perturb him. He would be standing there until she came with him. If there was one thing about her partner, he was patient. “Fine, I’m going to take a long hot shower and then—”

“Get some clean clothes.”

Her jaw tightened. “… then I’m going to get some clean clothes and join you for an hour. Then I’m coming home.”

He nodded. “Thank you.”

“Come inside?”

He shook his head. “No, thank you, I’d rather wait right here.”

“The mess?” she asked a little apologetically.

“No, one mage should never enter the home of another.” There was no hint that he was lying, none of the tell-tale signs she had picked up in years of being a city guard. He was being honest and, somehow, that made her feel a little better.