Chapter 3: The Gathering

Viola glanced at the steaming plate next to her. The smells of roasted meat caused her stomach to rumble and her mouth to water. She knew Mudd had ordered it for her but a stubborn part of her didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of eating it.

She listened to Mudd finishing his long-winded rant about one of the articles in the latest Emerging Wizardry.

“… though I’m not sure about the claims that using a layering method for creating the spell would be any different than the normal matrix. Energy leaks out of the frame no matter how you put it in there, the very fact the stasis spell is arresting decay means it has to leak.”

Mudd sighed and tapped on the table twice. “Naturally, we’re going to see grifters going around the victim’s families saying their way will keep the evidence clean as long as they hand over a few thousand marks.”

She let herself be pulled into the conversation. “Don’t you love Emerging Wizardry? A new crisis every other month. Unfounded theories in the issues.”

“I almost wish they would go back to their monthly drooling over those damnable steam engines.”

Viola smiled. “You hate those things.”

“I hate that everyone seems to think wrapping a rune in a ton of metal is going to prevent feedback. We have felony feedback laws for a reason.”

An itch crawled down Viola’s left arm. She scratched but it burrowed deeper into her bones. With a squirm, she twisted her hand a little to ease the discomfort.

Someone walked behind her and the itching grew more intense.

Viola didn’t have to look up. “Good afternoon, Able.”

Able sat down heavily in the chair next to her. His tall, lanky body seemed to slither underneath the table until his shoulders rested on the top of the chair. “How are you doing, Viola?”

“Mudd dragged me out of the house.”

Able chuckled. “I heard.”

“How?”

He shrugged but didn’t answer her question. His large eyes rotated down. “Are you going to eat that? You should.”

Then it registered. Viola turned to Mudd who looked at her impassively. “Is that your game? Peer pressure to eat?”

“Yes.” Mudd didn’t even smile.

“Fine,” she muttered as she rolled her eyes. Making a big deal of dragging the plate over, she finally allowed herself to eat the first hot food in days, at least the first that didn’t come delivered in a box.

Able pulled out his pocket watch and a small notebook. Opening the cover on both, he peered at the time and then noted something in the book.

Viola leaned over to butt him with her shoulder. “You still don’t have to write down everything we eat. None of us are working today.”

“My coworkers are the best control group I have access to. You have to eat, you are willing to do so in my presence, and you understand why I record it.” It was a long argument between them, which also made it comforting to bring it up.

“True,” said Mudd. “However, despite city guard being the sixth most dangerous job in this city, we have pretty good chance of surviving.”

Able sighed. “It just takes one.”

All three of them bowed their heads in silence. He was right. None of them knew when they were going to die. As city guards, there was always a chance that someone had a personal grudge, or a trap spell was missed, or a violent prison escape.

Viola’s scalp began to crawl. Next to her, Able groaned and twisted in his chair. On the other side, Mudd tensed and closed his eyes. Another mage was approaching, Wathin.

Neither Mudd or Able looked up. “Afternoon, Wathin.”

Wathin planted his weapon, a spear crackling with spells, against the fence and used it to step over the points of the railing. On their side, he sank neatly into a chair while flipping his spear around to nestle it against his shoulder. It was a flashy maneuver that brought the bitter taste of his magic rolling over all three of the mages.

The newcomer wore his heavy red cloak and bracelet that identified him as a Mage-Captain of the city guard. They all had the same rank.

The waiter came back, jumping with surprise at the new people at the table. “May I take your order?”

Wathin straightened his back. “Yeah, Honey, why don’t you throw some big hunk of dripping meat on a plate, add some thick potatoes next to it, drizzle the whole thing in cream, and then feed it to me? I like it rare.” He had a southern accent from his parents. It was just a hint of sounding exotic despite being born and raised in the city.

The waiter’s mouth opened in surprise and probably an unexpected interest. It also meant that Wathin picked up on at least a curious interest in the other man.

The armed mage winked with a smile.

“I’d like one half piece of every pie you have on the menu,” Able added.

The waiter looked confused. Slowly, he turned around and headed back to the kitchen.

Viola leaned closer to Mudd. “Intervention?”

“No, just some friends,” he said with a smile. “Though if you resisted me much longer, they were related to a contingency plan I had in mind.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“Yes, I did. I don’t have many associations in my life and the ones I do have are precious to me. Friendship is difficult to establish, as you know. I am also concerned with your well-being but I’m afraid I’m poorly equipped to handle in a more effective methods in providing comfort or empathy.”

The waiter came back with a platter. He handed a large plate with seven pieces of pie in front of Able. When he sat down the food in front of Wathin, he lingered for a moment.

Wathin smiled but said nothing.

Viola watched with amusement. Wathin was somewhat of a slut when it came to erotic partners. She wondered how long it would be until one of them was on their knees in the back room.

When the waiter pulled himself away, he stared at a cup of coffee still on his platter. He picked it up and held it out. “Did one of you order this?”

An older woman came up and held out her hand.

Without looking, the waiter handed it gently to her and then left without a word and a quizzical look on his face.

The woman sat down next to Wathin. “You shouldn’t tease that poor boy.”

Wathin shrugged. “Who says I’m teasing? I’m planning on heading right in there as soon as I’m done eating.”

“Hello, Eulen,” said Mudd.

Eulen favored him with a beaming smile. She was about his age, late forties or early fifties. She had blonde hair with white-tips, an easy smile, and eyes that looked like crystals. When she turned to Viola, her gaze seemed to pierce her. “How are you doing, Love?”

Viola was speaking before she realized it. “We had a fight and he tossed me aside.”

Able and Wathin froze mid-bite.

Mudd cleared his throat in a warning.

Eulen looked apologetic. “I didn’t mean to push. You don’t have to answer, you know that.”

Viola nodded. “Just… just not right now.”

Mudd cleared his throat again. “What did you think about this month’s Emerging?”