Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Wolves Bite

Darla looked again at the note in her hand.

"You will know him by the band of his hat."

She scanned the faces of the patrons coming into Jack's place, looking at everyone's headgear.  She resented having to spend her time on this errand, but someone had to negotiate a turf deal with the with the upstart Male Witches' Guild and as the newest initiate to the Damsels' Guild Council, she got all the shit jobs.  

The three existing protective guilds (the Grannies, the Matrons, and the Damsels) had allowed the male witches to build a client base in the unclaimed and contested areas of Wayward Township.  This was partly because the eager young men were well-suited to rural areas and hilltops where the need for protection from magic usually tended toward brute force work.  A few less clients here or there to protect from the magic that seeped into everything was a welcome break; setting and maintaining all those individual wards around the buildings was tiring and tedious.  However, fewer wards meant less coin coming into the coffers.  Darla had heard from a notoriously unreliable source that the Grannies had resorted to shakedowns to keep the funds coming in.   

A flourish of color distracted her.  She had almost overlooked him, only catching his hat as he set it on the table.  His grey fedora had a band of swirling, ever-changing pinks, yellows, and blues.  Only a fellow magician would be able to make that.  

She took her coffee to his table, sat without his invitation.  "The silver moon waits for no man."

"No man is an island." He replied.  He was surprisingly handsome.  Darla gritted her teeth, hoping they'd sent someone with enough brains for the task.  But he had the proper countersign, there was no doubt he was supposed to be the representative for his Guild.  

He slipped a piece of paper into his pocket.  She wondered what description he'd been given of her.  From the same pocket, he pulled a map that, when unrolled, covered the entire table.  

Darla moved her cup to the seat next to her.  "There's no need to show off that much, Tiger, you could have just brought a valise."

He was even cuter when he blushed.  "Tyler."

"Sure.  Sorry, handsome." 

It's impossible to have an accurate map of Wayward Township.  The last several people who tried either went mad and were never seen again, or, worse, went mad and stayed around.  Tyler's map was as accurate as anything could be, with the river and main streets roughed out and some shading to indicate a general sense of most of the neighborhoods.  Tyler traced with his finger the line where the red-shaded section abutted the purple-shaded section.  

"This is the area in question.  I believe this boundary is set at Whatahill Street and then tapers into the area immediately surrounding the museum." He tapped one of the small white areas on the map.  "With everything so unclear, though, Avery is worried we'll both try to hit up the same marks."

"We call them clients in public."  

"Oops, sorry."  

Despite his slip-up, Darla had to grudgingly admit that he sounded like he knew what he was doing.  Or his Guild Leader knew what the problem was, at any rate.  

"You can't have the entire spot, though, the north-north side of the square is already held by the Grannies and Ethyl won't let anyone take it from them."

"Sure, but it's only north-north on Tuesdays and Sundays."

She shook her head pityingly.  "And can you prove that toady is not a Tuesday over there?"

Temporal anomalies were the main reason the township was unmappable.  Tyler blinked like an ox, then blushed again.  

Darla re-revised her opinion of him.  "This is why we have the fuzzy boundaries we do.  You're a smaller guild than we are, why can't you be content with what you have?"

"We'd like a contiguous area."

"You'd what?  Listen, handsom- Tyler, We let you guys have all the outer edges and the rest of the mechanical work, why can't you stick to what you're good at and leave the delicate work to those of us who know what we're doing?"  Darla lowered her voice with effort.  "You're going to have to either politely start asking clients whether they've already got protection, or learn to see when our wards are up.  If we find you double-charging our people again, it won't go well for you."

Tyler smirked.  Darla was not expecting this.  He pulled from his pocket a wooden crate the size of a shoebox.  "I came prepared to be persuasive."  Between the slats, Darla spied the bristly fur and bright eyes of a stoat. 

"You wouldn't dare." She hissed.  

Much of the anti-magic wards depended on fist-sized creatures called imis, native only to the valley. Imis ate magic which made them extremely valuable to the Guilds. Stoats were just about the only animal that ate imis and thus illegal within Wayward Township.   

He continued to smirk.  Darla drew herself up to her full impressive two-meter height and towered over the still-seated Tyler.

"You won't do that, because all *our* time, money, and magic would be wasted on catching or breeding new imis.” She leaned in further.  His smirk slipped.  "And because all your time, money, and magic would be too.  Plus the cost of dead, contraband, stoats."  She draped her hand on his shoulder.  "And who has more time and money to get back up and running faster?" She gave his shoulder a squeeze.

He looked like a lost boy as he thought through the implications of his actions.  

She took pity on him, resumed her seat.  "Was that Avery's plan?"  He slowly shook his head.  "What was the real proposal?"

Tyler slipped the stoat crate back into his pocket.  "We trade the museum area for the section of the river by the chandleries." He said, subdued.  

She mused.  "You can have your territory, in exchange for giving us what is already ours, but you will find that Alma's chandlery will not be swayed by threats or promises.  If I find you've been harassing her, I will come for you personally."  She finished her coffee.  "I am not authorized to speak for the Grannies or the Matrons.  Try not to threaten them with stoats, they won't be as soft on you as I am."  Darla paused.  "Why did you think it was a good idea to smuggle a stoat into town?"

He shrugged, tried to act nonchalant, though he was still pale.  "If you want a puppy, start out asking for a wolf."

"Wolves bite, little boy." Darla left him with his map and his illegal stoat.

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