“You’ve never played Illusions?” Lyle asked me.
“Jim studied overseas,” Dimitri said before I’d even processed the question. I knew better than to contradict him. “We’ll grab the watch, and I’ll explain the rules to him.”
“Ask Gwen to send another round while you’re up there,” Lyle said. He and Virginia didn’t question his explanation, and we stood before they could change their minds.
“Sorry about that. Most of us learn to play Illusions in school,” Dimitri explained. “I figured that would be the safest thing to say.”
“It’s okay. I’m glad you’re so quick on your feet,” I told him. He smiled, and I noticed his right canine didn’t match the left. How had I missed that before? It added a certain charm that made me grin right back.
“The game is pretty easy. The watch projects an illusion for about ten seconds. Then it disappears. The players have to manipulate the light back into the original shape. Whoever can match the same fastest and most accurately wins that round,” he described.
“Who judges for accuracy?” I asked.
“The enchantment on the watch does,” he said. “Trust me, you’ll pick it up quickly.”
“Another round Dimitri?” the woman behind the bar asked.
“Yes, please, and can we rent a game watch?” Dimitri requested.
“Sure thing.” She reached under the bar and pulled out a bronze pocket watch with a pawn engraving. “I’ll bring the drinks in a minute.”
“Thanks, Gwen,” Dimitri said, taking the watch carefully.
He took my hand to lead me back to the table. Our magic sparked to life at the touch. The spiraling pattern traced from our joined hands up my arm. By the time we reached the table, it felt like the warm circles had reached my chest. Dimitri let go before his friends looked up. Part of me wanted to take his hand back. Had he let go because he didn’t want them to see, though? I didn’t know him well enough to answer that and knew his friends even less. It was safer to follow his lead. Still, it took a few minutes for that temptation to fade.
“Drinks?” Lyle asked.
“On their way,” Dimitri said.
“Shall we?” Virginia asked.
Dimitri set the pocket watch on the table and opened its lid. He spun the casting hand to the number five and activated the enchantment. A translucent cat with a stump tail and notch in its left ear appeared above the watch’s face. The cat spun in place for a count of ten and then vanished. Four pillars of light appear, one in front of each of us. Lyle, Virginia, and Dimitri started manipulating their lights immediately. They didn’t speak or trace sigils like they did at work. They simply focused their will, and their illusions formed a little at a time.
I concentrated on the cat as I remembered it, and my pillar of light stretched and twisted. This didn’t feel any different from how I normally used my magic. I quickly caught up to them. Soon, four very similar cats stood on our table. The pocket watch brought back its original image. This time, instead of spinning in place, the translucent cat walked around our illusions. After examining each, the cat returned to Virginia’s illusion, marking her as the winner. The cats vanished, and the watch waited for us to start the next round.
“Not bad for your first time, Jim,” Lyle said. He nudged me playfully, and I bumped into Dimitri on my other side. Dimitri’s blush told me that Lyle meant for us to touch.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Heads up,” Gwen said behind me. I turned, and she held a glass out for me. I accepted it with a nod. She passed the others their drinks and moved on to deliver the rest of her tray to the other Shaw’s employees.
“Ready for round two?” Lyle asked. He didn’t wait for an answer before activating the spell again.
This time, a bud rose from the watch’s face. As it grew, leaves sprouted along its stem. Once it stopped its progress, the flower bloomed. The petals unfolded until they revealed a butterfly. The insect flapped its wings a few times before lifting off from the flower. Once it got a couple of inches from the flower, the scene froze. Ten seconds later, the illusion vanished, and the watch presented us with our pillars.
I wasn’t sure if we needed to replicate the whole display or the finished product, so I erred on the side of caution. My light melted into a puddle before pulling into the shape of the bud. I did my best to remember where each leaf sprouted as it rose. I noticed the others replicating the flowers’ growth as well rather than skipping to the final image. My bud stopped first and opened. My butterfly flexed its wings, flapping them three times before taking flight. I froze the picture when it reached a height I thought looked right. Virginia finished hers a second after mine. Dimitri’s butterfly stopped two seconds later. And Lyle completed his in three more seconds. I imagined that accuracy mattered more than speed. But I couldn’t tell who had the best representation. The watch’s illusion reappeared. The butterfly flew from one illusion to the next before landing on Dimitri’s flower.
His smile infected the rest of us before the illusions vanished. I wondered if Dimitri had connected this game to my lessons in wild magic. I doubted that Virginia or Lyle could make the connection. Did any of these trained casters realize they were practicing wild magic on a small scale? I couldn’t ask without giving myself away. It didn’t matter, though. The question faded from my mind when Dimitri rested his hand over mine. I looked at him and saw the question in his eyes: is this okay? I turned my hand over and laced my fingers through his.
We sipped our drinks and talked about Dimitri’s plan to open his custom watch shop for a few minutes before letting go and starting another round of Illusions. This time, the circling sensation spread over my torso, around my back, and down my other arm before we broke the connection. It left behind a stronger craving each time. Did Dimitri feel the same craving for it I did? If he did, how did he find the strength to let go? We played three more rounds of Illusions before last call. Virginia, Lyle, and I split the tab. Dimitri tried to put in some coin for it, but they refused to let him. They said their goodnights and left Dimitri and me on our own. I caught Lyle winking at Dimitri on his way out. He’d never heard of subtlety, or if he had, he didn’t care for the concept. Dimitri and I lingered until closing.