Despite their differences, the two wizards had always agreed that the mushroom soup at Ko’s was a superior dish amid a wasteland of mediocre suburban cuisine. It contained seven distinct species of exotic fungi in a clear, fragrant broth speckled with bits of cabbage and scallion. Fusulla sighed as she breathed in the bowl’s aroma, knowing that she wouldn’t be partaking today. The soup was poisoned.
Veng had arrived early and ordered for them; both he and the soup were waiting when she walked in. They were a study in contrasts. Veng was slim and short, with sharp angular features. His triangular nose seemed eager to meet his upturned, pointed beard. Fusulla, on the other hand, didn’t possess a single angle or straight line. She towered over Veng and was practically as wide as he was tall. Though she wouldn’t have described herself as corpulent, her billowing white blouse, floor-length white skirt, and rounded figure gave a strong snowman-like impression.
Contradicting his dainty appearance, Veng’s voice boomed like a gruff thunderclap.
“Fusulla! So nice to see you! Come, sit! I’ve ordered our usual!”
She sat and requested a pot of tea from a passing waitress to keep up appearances. Her voice floated towards Veng, an ethereal cloud.
“Good day, Veng. Thank you for the invitation. You mentioned you had something rather pressing to discuss?”
Veng raised a manicured eyebrow, suddenly wary. The two had always exchanged pleasantries before getting to business; he didn’t much care for the departure from norms.
“Well, I… err, yes, I suppose I did.” A bead of perspiration glistened on Veng’s forehead. “It’s rather embarrassing. I recently procured a rare book of spells, and hoped you could help me decipher an arcane passage…”
A half-truth. He’d stolen the book for Iltrix, but it certainly wasn’t meant for her eyes. She picked up her spoon and started toying with him, dipping the utensil towards the soup only to withdraw at the last second. She enjoyed watching him squirm. After several awkward moments, Fusulla mercifully cut him short.
“I know you poisoned the soup.”
Veng blanched, then started to protest his innocence. She interrupted him again.
“Don’t bother. I’ve known for some time that you’ve been working with Iltrix; I’ve been intercepting his cyphers for weeks. I didn’t think you’d ever resort to so lowbrow a poison as dragon’s tooth. Now give me the book and come along; I’ll put in a good word with the Inquisitors.”
Fusulla was an immensely powerful mage, vastly outstripping her counterpart in every measurable way. And so she was taken aback when, instead of surrendering, Veng’s pupils expanded and his ji ascended to the battle plane. The electricity in the air made the hairs on her arms stand at attention; the little fiend was already forming an attack spell!
An alarm bell sounded in her mind; had Iltrix taught Veng some new invocations? She hadn’t been truly challenged in years. Frowning, Fusulla joined Veng on the battle plane.
In that alternate realm, Veng had transformed into a ten-foot tall knight, standing before a formidable army of black-clad warriors. Typical Napoleon-complex stuff.
Fusulla chose the form of a turtle, but hid atop the head of a gargantuan sentinel she crafted to look particularly menacing. Her giant dwarfed Veng’s knight; she could just make out his crestfallen face from her perch.
In the restaurant, the waitress paused, wondering why the two unusual-looking patrons were locked in a staring contest. She didn’t notice that their eyes were dilated, that their knuckles had turned white as they gripped the edge of the table, or that the table itself was faintly but rapidly vibrating as if shaken by a thousand tiny tremors. The waitress did see that they hadn’t touched their food. She scowled in expectation of a lousy tip and walked on.
As Veng reluctantly commanded his army forward, Fusulla used the greater part of her strength to subtly change the shape of the battle plane into a bowl. Veng didn’t notice as the land gently dipped beneath his soldiers’ feet; all his attention was focused on the impossibly large sentinel.
The man should have known that even her substantial powers couldn’t have created a fully formed titan the size of a fifteen-story building, but Veng had never been one for thinking before acting. His over-compensating knight led the horde of warriors onward, magical arrows and blasts of lightning shooting from their various weapons.
The sentinel didn’t charge to meet the attack, because it couldn’t. As soon as the projectiles struck her giant, it popped; she’d created a big, scary-looking water balloon. In an instant, millions of gallons of water exploded forth and submerged Veng’s mighty army.
Back in the restaurant, a child at an adjoining table gawked as the broth in the mushroom soup spontaneously spilled over its rim and flooded the table.
In her turtle form, Fusulla waded about happily until she found an abandoned crossbow to bask upon. A few moments later, the last of Veng’s army had drowned, and the battle ended.
Opening her eyes in Ko’s Grille, she casually removed a small leather tome from Veng’s coat pocket and put it into her purse. A faint odor of decay issued forth from the man as the last of his ji dissipated. Fusulla shook her head mournfully, sad to have lost so familiar an adversary. She glanced about the restaurant once more to make sure no one was watching, then quickly chanted a few incantations. Veng’s lifeless husk, black clothing and all, vanished.
She tottered to her feet and left a generous tip on the table for the waitress, embarrassed at having made such a mess of the soup. It was a tasty dish, and she didn’t want to risk the staff’s ire. In Fusulla’s experience, cosmic victories over traitorous wizards were commonplace, but a good bowl of mushroom soup was truly magical.
Keith Downey is a federal bureaucrat and aspiring author. He has previously been published in 365 Tomorrows, and has won two annual Halloween story contests run by a regional news site.