Al hadn’t had a Chapman’s Water since May and realized he hadn’t been missing very much. There had been too many other kinds of drink over the last few months to really enjoy the tastes of home. Not that he could admit he had enjoyed it much to being with.

He was pondering whether it was thick enough to write with when Aggie walked through the door. He scooted to the other side of the booth Al was sitting in and immediately chugged half the mug Al had ordered for him. “Thanks,” he said after wiping the foam away from his upper lip.

“No problem. How have you been?”

“Good! Nothing really too new, though you did miss the adventures with Micent back in August. Gorgeous, great under the sheets…loonier than a northern lake in fall.”

“Aw, sorry to hear that. I’ve been touring Gheny with…”

“I really tried to break it off gently with her, but as soon as I mentioned seeing other people, she got really quiet and told me that there was no way I was going to leave her.”

“Hey, I understand that!” he said, laughing at his own joke referencing the chalice spell, which Aggie obviously didn’t get.

“I mean, remember Astinia? She was…five times worse than her.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, burying his head into the beer.

Aggie went into detail for about twenty minutes, which used to feel like two to Al, but there felt like an hour. Al had finished his beer, then started a second one, drinking because what else was he going to do?

“So, now that you’re caught up, what have you been up to? Why did you leave?”

Al brightened and moved his mug aside. “I’ve been on an adventure of sorts.”

“Yeah, I gathered, but you were the last person I’d ever expect to just vanish.” Aggie frowned. “You didn’t even say goodbye to me.”

“I know, and I’m sorry. I would have if I’d had the time, but I had to leave quickly.” He leaned in and lowered his voice. “I couldn’t tell you before, but Ember had me do three tasks or else she was going to get my license revoked. That’s why I started that fight with you, then went out drinking; that was one and two. The third was to steal something, only I didn’t bring it to her. I left instead.”

“Wow,” he said, laughing a little. “Al, you should have said something. I would have helped you out.” He took a few more sips of his beer, then furrowed his eyebrows. “Why was she going to get your license revoked?”

“Remember that really bad day I was having at the end of April?” Aggie showed no signs of remembering, so Al continued. “Well, I punched a wall in Milxner’s and almost set the place on fire.”

“What does that have to do with your license? It might have gotten you fired, if there were damage but…” He straightened his neck and raised his eyebrows. “You’re a switcher. Oh…that explains some things. Why didn’t you tell me? How come you didn’t do hard stuff with me, then? Ember could have gotten you a good job making a lot of money.”

“And how long would I have to enjoy it? I know hard wizards make good money, but I’d rather have a long, poor life than a short, rich one.” He didn’t bother to mention how often he’d been using the Unease since he’d left Whitney.

“Al, it’s not that bad. It all depends on how you live your life when you’re not using your magic. You have to blow off some steam, have your little trysts, and enjoy things. I mean, you, yes, you’d probably die quickly because you bottle things up, but I would have been there to show you how to have a good time.”

Al realized in that moment that Aggie’s idea of a good time and his were far different. Drinking at a bar and living vicariously through his friend just didn’t cut it anymore. Had it ever?

“Do you still have the thing you stole?” he asked.

“Yeah, why?”

“Ember was snippy for a while after you left, but she’s a reasonable woman. I bet you could return it to her, sit down, have a nice talk, and come work for Milxner’s. She’d smooth things out with the bosses and pay you well. In time I bet everything will be forgiven and forgotten.”

“I can’t,” Al said.

“Sure you can. She’s not that scary.”

“No, I mean…it’s complicated.” How was he going to explain the spell, Anla, Tel, and Raulin to Aggie?

“I’m sure you can work it out. It can’t be easy, being on the lam, running from city to city, sleeping in alleys and stealing meals.”

Al blinked a few times. “Aggie, I’ve had more money in the last three months than I did in the last three years. I own nice clothes, I’ve been invited by a count to their castle, I’ve seen a creveir performance…Aggie, I’ve eaten at Vedroir. Vedroir.”

“Suuure,” he said, finishing off his pint. “Look, I’m just saying that you can have your old life again, even better than before. I’ll help.”

“I’ll…think about it,” was the best Al could give him.

“I’ll give you some time. Let’s meet tomorrow night.”

“I have some things to do.”

“Saturday, then. You should be able to get your ducks in a row tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” he said, unenthusiastically.

“You got this, right, since you’ve made so much money?”

“Sure,” he said, standing to pay the tab. By the time he was done, Aggie was gone.

He walked back to his hotel that was just a few blocks away. Already most of the snow was gone, merely piles that melted into the drains, if the streets even had them. If not, then giant puddles formed, highlighting the areas that needed re-cobbling next spring.

He took his boots off at the doorway and was about to walk to his room when Raulin cleared his throat. He sat up from the armchair he had been sitting in, putting the newspaper on the coffee table. “Good evening, Wizard.”

“Good evening,” he returned, a little confused.

“Did you forget that I asked to speak with you about Whitney and its geography? After dinner, and you said that was fine.”

“Sorry,” he said. “I…it slipped my mind.”

“Hmm. So, what were you doing?”

“I went shopping for clothes”

“Oh. I thought you did that yesterday. What did you get?”

“Nothing. I didn’t find any…there was a scarf that I liked, but it was too expensive.”

“If you didn’t want to help me, or if you changed your mind, you could have just said so.”

“I do want to help, well at least with directions and…well, you can look that stuff up in a library if you wanted to.”

“Looks a little suspicious, a trirec in a library. I actually almost got caught once by a nosy librarian who threatened to tell the constable what I had been studying.”

“What did you do?”

“Well, thankfully libraries are run by priests and priests like me a lot. I just had a chat with the Cyurinin head librarian and he dealt with it. Also gave me additional information about what I needed.”

“You could have done the same thing tonight.”

“Priests and wizards have different ideas about the same things. I’d rather listen to the wizard this time, especially one who’s lived in the city.”

Raulin led him to his room, a cramped space not much larger than a closet, and closed the door behind them. “Now, do you know anything about a…” he pulled out his notebook, “…Mayick Herodoti?”

“I don’t…wait. Herodoti?” He closed his eyes. Like he normally did to remember things, he took what he could see and put it against a black background. He saw the name against a star, no a circle…a ribbon. On a man’s chest. “He’s a politician. He ran for…Commons Representative three years ago and won.”

“Good. Now, which neighborhood would I likely find him?”

“Commons Rep. is the closest equivalent to the viscount Gheny has for non-nobility. He’s below the viscount, but still works at an almost partnership with him.”

“So…where are the government buildings located?”

“Oh, uh, mostly along the Everken, in Bridledale and Herrow. The official buildings fly the colors of Eerie, navy and yellow.”

“Excellent,” he said after he finished writing down the instructions. “Anything you can tell me about Herodoti? I was given a cask of thin air on this one.”

“If I remember correctly, he was young, at least for the position. Thirty-five, maybe forty? Brunette, light-skinned, had a smile I remember some of my clients said was very dashing.”

“I’m sure he’ll be surrounded by the normal goons and sycophants.”

“Yeah…oh. One of his secretaries was unusual looking. White hair, very pale, pink eyes.”

“An albino?”

“I don’t think anyone mentioned that, but that’s what I would guess.”

“That’s great information, thank you, Wizard. See, I wouldn’t have gotten this from a library.”

“Need anything else?”

“Not right now. I’ll call on you if I do.”

Al left for his own quarters and Raulin clicked his tongue in thought. “Hmm,” he said aloud.

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