Night Out

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Roland glanced at the bottom of his glass and groaned. "Is anyone else running on empty?"

Maxwell drained his mug and grinned. Twirling it in his hands, he replied, "Well, it would seem that you've broken the rule about asking about dry cups. It looks like you're buying us some food."

"Ugh..." Roland grunted as he emptied the remnants of his drink. He slammed the glass down and waved down their waitress.

With a smile, Darren finished his and placed the cup next to the other two. "Perfect timing for an appetizer."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Rolland muttered as the waitress approached the table.

With a wink at Roland, Rianna leaned against the booth. "What can I do for three of my favorite customers?"

Roland rolled his eyes and waved at the empty glasses. "Rianna, we need some refills, as quickly as possible."

"Certainly," Rianna replied. "I'll be right back."

Darren clutched his cup before she could claim it. He ran his finger along its rim and grinned. "I believe you planned on asking Rianna for another thing." He looked over at Maxwell and mused. "I'm sure he's supposed to inquire about something for us."

With a snap, Maxwell agreed, "You know, I think you're right, Darren."

"Ugh," Roland grunted. "Rianna, will you please bring some chips and dip?"

"I can do that," she replied and gathered the empty cups and hurried off to place the order.

"Didn't you two have enough to eat for dinner?" Roland grumbled.

Maxwell shoved his back against the wall of the booth and glanced at the clock. "We finished the meal more than an hour ago."

Darren inched closer to the table as he rubbed his mouth. He looked around the restaurant for any curious ears and urged his friends to follow suit. When they obliged, he asked, "Do the teachers always fall back to introductory courses when new students arrive?"

"I've not paid enough attention to answer that," Maxwell replied, rapping the table.

Roland dragged a finger across his chin and huffed. "It's more of a guideline than a rule."

"What do you mean?"

"It depends on the teacher," Roland explained. "But Leodar prefers having the more educated develop the skills of the newer pupils, just like we did for you."

"I suppose that makes sense," Maxwell commented. "However, Volodar does his own thing."

"He never liked me, though," Darren mused.

"True, but he likes to keep his advanced students busy developing their talents. He thinks helping the newest arrivals to be detrimental."

"Why does that not surprise me," Darren muttered.

Rianna placed three cups in the center of the table, saying, "Your drinks." And before they could react, she deposited a basket of chips between them "And your food. I'll be back to check on you guys later."

"Thanks," Maxwell said, grabbing his full mug.

Rianna nodded and squeezed Darren's shoulder before hustling off to another group of customers.

Roland clutched his fresh cup and raised it. "Well, you'll get to experience the joys of a new student here shortly."

Darren sighed and grabbed his glass. "Then, the rumors are true."

"What stories have been circulating?" Maxwell asked, lowering his mug to the table.

Roland smirked as he took a chip off the platter. He waved it like a baton as he answered. "During my most recent class with Volodar, I heard him complaining about having to deal with another new student."

Darren inched his glass closer and re-examined the remaining patrons. He snatched a chip from the basket and popped it into his maw. Darren covered his mouth while chewing and asked, "Does Leodar threaten all his new students with the Hunters?"

"Shush," Maxwell hissed as his head whipped around.

Roland pulled Darren over the table and whispered, "Why would you ask that kind of question here?"

Darren tugged his friend's hands off and leaned away. He took a gulp from his drink and cleared his throat. An eyebrow rose as he asked, "Are they part of the world?"

Both boys nodded.

With a smirk, Darren rolled his eyes. "Then, does it matter? More importantly, does Leodar threaten each student with them?"

Roland clicked his tongue and drummed his fingers on the table. He emptied his glass and waved it over his head. "The question, while unpleasant, isn't a terrible one."

"He wanted to ensure that I stayed on the straight and narrow," Maxwell commented. "But I think he makes that determination on a case-by-case basis."

Darren stared into his cup and asked, "Have either of you ever had a run-in with the hunters?"

"No," Maxwell answered. "And that's something I'm thankful for every day."

"Are they real or just a story to frighten people?" Darren inquired.

"They exist," Randal replied. He took several stilted breaths and added, "I've encountered them."

"You have?" Maxwell questioned.

Roland peered throughout the room and got his friends to lean in. "Certain talents run-in families, right?"

"Sure," Darren answered.

Rolland nodded and scooped some dip with a chip. He munched it down and released a long sigh. "Well, when I was younger, hunters came to my house and collected my brother since he exhibited the talent."

"Rolland, I'm sorry," Maxwell said, scooting forward in the booth. "Did they test you?"

"My brother did every year till my parents sent me to the Academy," Rolland answered while he grabbed another chip. "To answer your question, Leodar didn't have to threaten me with the hunters. But he reiterated the threat they pose to each of us."

Maxwell bumped Darren's shoulder. "Why did you ask about them, anyway?"

"The new student," Darren muttered as he popped a laden chip into his mouth. "I wanted to know the precedent." He made quick work of the morsel and ran his tongue over his teeth. "I remember my introduction to the Academy, and I wondered if it was typical."

Rolland tapped a finger against the table. "Yeah, he's stuck in a routine, and he doesn't like to let go of those."

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