After finishing the dungeon, Hannah was left feeling a bit rootless. She hadn’t quit the temple, because she’d said that she would still help out from time to time when the dungeons weren’t calling, and Lemmel, the older cleric of the Church of Symmetry, had graciously allowed her to keep her room until she found some other lodging. So after an exciting time in a dungeon with a promising party, she found herself right back where she’d started the day before. There was nothing to show for the adventure, because she was waiting on Alfric to sell it all, and she hadn’t gotten an entad out of the dungeon, which was a bit of a disappointment. It would be another six days before the party channel opened up, so she couldn’t even talk to the others, not without physically tracking them down, and both Alfric and Isra would be gone for at least a day, maybe two. The one thing she had, the sole proof that she’d been in that dungeon, was the key with a raccoon on it, but that could hold her attention for only so long.

“Alfric seems a good sort,” she said to Lemmel. “Hard-headed, but that’s what you need sometimes, and a bit of a goof when it comes to people, or at least these people, ay? Too rigid, is my thinking, where what he should be is generous and friendly. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is if you treat people like friends then friends is what they’ll end up being. What he should of done, when we finished, was to take us to the tavern and buy a round of drinks, and I know you’re thinkin’ that if I thought that was somethin’ that needed doing, it’s somethin’ I shoulda done myself, but a party can’t have two leaders, ay, the math doesn’t work, and I never fancied leadin’ anyway, I just wish that he were better at it.”

“I hope that it works out for you,” said Lemmel, which was the kind of empty-headed nothing he was always saying. It was kind and polite, but it wasn’t helpful, if it was meant to be. Words always seemed to come out of his head like mud from a pipe, which wasn’t to say that he was a bad sort, just that he was quite dull.

“There was a sermon I was plannin’, which I guess I won’t do now, about reflection, ay?” asked Hannah. “There’s a line in the Book of Garam Ashar, ‘We find ourselves reflected in others, and reflect them into ourselves’, section two, verse seven. My thinkin’ is that how we should look at people, the best way of it, is to stick ourselves in their shoes to see how things would look from their perspective, and then stick them in our shoes to see how they’d do things different, ay? So I was thinkin’ on Alfric, and what it might be like if we reflected into each others shoes, and I think I’d do a better job than he’s done so far, no offense to him, because I have a better handle on what the others want, what helps keep a party together, ay?”

“Perhaps,” nodded Lemmel.

“I think most people don’t really like being solitary,” said Hannah. “From the Book of Garam Ashar, ‘A person has only one symmetry of his own, the left reflecting the right, which leaves asymmetry of the front and back that can only be rectified by the addition of others’, section one, verse three. Alfric selected solitary people, picked those not in a party and young enough that we might be without any connections, so my thinkin’ is that the best thing to bind us together as a party is the fact that mostly we don’t want to be alone. Bein’ without a party can be rough in a lot of ways, not havin’ someone to talk to whenever you want, bein’ cut out of conversations, things like that. So if I were him, I’d be tryin’ to knit us together without even talkin’ about the dungeons at all, tryin’ to make sure that we all knew we could rely on each other, that we would be friends, and support each other more than just in the dungeons. Now, I can’t speak for them, and can barely speak about them, but Verity seems like she came here runnin’ from somethin’, same as Alfric. Mizuki and Isra, if I had to say, were both abandoned, which is altogether a different sort of thing, and that’s just me sayin’ that, but it’s probably close to the truth. I’ve seen Isra a few times, healed her leg once, and when she comes into market she’s always alone. The leg injury? My guess is if she had someone, they’d have come with her, though I might be wrong. And Mizuki’s not so much abandoned, I s’pose, since she chose to stay behind, but I have to imagine it gets lonely in that big house. She’s friendly, but I don’t know that she has many friends.”

“You should learn more about them before judging,” said Lemmel.

“Oh, ay,” said Hannah. “I mean, of course, I’m just talkin’ first impressions and that, or what I know from what I’ve heard. Might be I’m wrong about the lot of them, or more likely, it’s one or two I’m a little off on. I have half a mind to go bother the censusmaster and see what I can find about the four of them, just to have some background, but some people take it the wrong way, even if it’s all just freely there.” She clucked her tongue. “But if I don’t go see the censusmaster, then that means I’m just sittin’ here on my hands, doin’ as much as a bear in winter.” She huffed a sigh and looked at Lemmel expectantly. “So what is there for me to be doin’?”

“Nothing,” he replied. “Same as when you asked an hour ago. If you want my advice, we have an hour until bed. Take the time to get yourself cleaned up and ready to rest. Were you planning to follow Alfric and Isra?”

“I was, hopin’ to mediate in case he puts his foot in his mouth or she decides she’s better off without us, but the more I think about it, the more I figure I need to trust him,” said Hannah. “If they can’t spend a day or two together without blowin’ up, then the whole thing is doomed, and maybe they’ll get to know each other on their own terms, for in the book of Garam Ashar it is said, ‘The simplest reflection is the one that is made by nature, not through the hands of man’, section one, verse eight.” Lemmel knew the book backward and forward, same as Hannah, but it was habit for both of them to give section and verse, especially when in the church. “So I was thinkin’ that tomorrow morning I would stop by to see Mizuki and her house, and maybe help her with cleanin’ it up, because it looked like it was in poor shape last time I passed by, and of course it would all be just to get us talkin’. She’s a sorc, so she can use some of what I put off, and maybe we can have a chat about that. At some point I’ll ask her if I can bed down in her house, but I don’t need to be told it’s a bit soon for that.”

“I would temper your expectations,” said Lemmel. “You have a way of coming on strong.”

“People like it,” said Hannah. “And anyway, I said I would wait, didn’t I?” Lemmel nodded. “I’m off to take a bath, thank you again for lettin’ me stay, you have my word I’ll help when it’s needed, but in my time here so far it’s felt slow as sap.”

“I’ve told you before that it’s more about the community than the healing,” said Lemmel.

“And I listened, truly, but the point about slowness stands, I think you’ll agree,” she replied. She got up from her seat and went into the back room of the temple, which had the bathroom the two of them shared, a living space that they sometimes brought people into, their small bedrooms, and a kitchenette. It was somewhat cramped, but much more than a cleric normally got in a place like Pucklechurch.

Perhaps it was because she’d grown up in a big family, but the bathroom had always been her favorite place in almost any house. The old place, back in Cairbre, had a small tank, and they had to ration water, either sharing baths when she was little, or sticking to short showers when she was older.

Sharing a bathroom with just one other person was, in comparison, a delight. The temple had two large tanks, one for hot water and the other for cold, put in place before it became clear that the temple was never going to have the twelve full-time clerics that it had originally been planned to have. Even two clerics in the Church of Symmetry was one and a half clerics too many, but they’d been hoping that Hannah would replace Lemmel. She was the fourth in six years, and there would be a fifth, which she knew was a disappointment to the church, but one she was comfortable with.

Hannah ran the water through both pipes, mixing the hot and cold, and undressed as she allowed the bathtub to fill up to a line she’d marked out early on in her time at Pucklechurch. It was just the right point so that once she was in, the bathtub would be as full as it could be without running the risk of overflowing. She added in a sachet, one of several she kept in a small tin, this one rosemary and lavender. She’d often joked that she liked baths because she was making a tea of herself.

While bath time was Hannah’s most treasured of times, on this particular occasion, it wasn’t doing much to stop her mind from racing. Some of it was undeniably the excitement of the dungeon, not just the battles, but the newness and mystery of it, the entads, the henlings, the things to see and touch. The key was a good memento, but Hannah found herself wishing that she had taken more. Mostly, she wished that the not-dragon hadn’t destroyed so much of the room in the battle, because there were things of glass and wood that had been completely smashed as it spun and thrashed.

Her mind went to her new party members and what she knew about them, which admittedly wasn’t much. She found herself daydreaming about what the future might be like, how they would all fit together in six months time, all living together in Mizuki’s large house, eating meals together, and every so often, maybe two or three times a week, going down into the depths of a new dungeon together.

The daydreaming helped to calm her down and get her thoughts in order, and after an hour long bath, which required several injections of hot water and a bit of draining to compensate, Hannah got out of the tub, brushed her teeth, and went to bed, falling asleep before her brain could perk back up again.

She woke up early in the morning, as she usually did, and got dressed in a hurry, trying her best to pick something sensible for a day around the town. It was hard to know when or if they were going to another dungeon, but it certainly wasn’t going to be right away. She picked one of her heavier dresses, dark blue with white embroidery around the bust. She tended to like trousers, most of the time, but she’d found that trousers on a woman sometimes sent the wrong message, especially if you were a cleric of Garos.

Breakfast was a hard-boiled egg from the chiller and a fruit pastry that she kept in a small bag. Hannah’s mother had always made breakfast into a production, but Hannah had never seen the point. Breakfast was a meal to be enjoyed quick and cold.

She walked by Mizuki’s house twice, looking inside to see whether there were signs of life, which required going down the little path to it in a way that felt conspicuous. She didn’t want to knock on the door unless Mizuki was awake, but it was hard to tell, and someone like Mizuki, who didn’t have gainful employment, might wait until the third bell to rise. That left Hannah wandering back and forth, pretending to have business somewhere, which very quickly made her feel foolish. This was a prime example of what made a party channel so valuable, but it would be a while before they had it available to them.

Finally, after hemming and hawing about it, Hannah knocked sharply on the door not too long after first bell. She resolved to not knock too hard, or more than once, just in case Mizuki was sleeping, and if that meant going to the temple to twiddle her thumbs, then that was that.

Mizuki did come to the door though, eventually. She was looking disheveled and had a robe clutched around her, and when she looked at Hannah, it was as though for the first time.

“Hannah?” she asked as she opened the door. “What is it?”

“Oh, sorry to bother,” said Hannah. “I’d only thought … well, that we’re party members now, and — with how things are, I’m not obligated to work at the temple anymore, so I have my day free, and was wonderin’ if you needed anythin’.”

“No,” said Mizuki, frowning. “But come in, come in, it’s cold out.”

“Well, I don’t particularly think so,” said Hannah. “But my family is from far to the south, ay? It’s the summers here that I can’t handle, those two weeks when it’s so hot that you feel like sittin’ in front of the chiller.”

“Shoes off,” said Mizuki as she disappeared into the house.

Hannah took her boots off, which was a bit of a process, then followed, looking around as she did. She’d seen the house a few times, and it was one of the nicer ones in Pucklechurch, though it was definitely in need of some care. The kitchen was resplendent though.

“Do you eat breakfast?” asked Mizuki.

“Already did,” said Hannah. “Egg and a pastry.”

“Pastry?” asked Mizuki, perking up slightly.

“Apricot jam in the middle, egg wash on top,” said Hannah. “I baked them myself, and I can deliver some for you tomorrow, if you’d like.”

“That sounds amazing,” said Mizuki. “My mouth is already watering.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “Well, I’m going to make myself breakfast, and it’s about as easy to cook for two as for one, so if you’d like something, now’s the time.”

“What’s on the menu?” asked Hannah.

“Thin-sliced venison, mushrooms, eggs,” said Mizuki. “Maybe some potatoes, if you can handle eating leftovers. Oh, and how do you feel about, um, sobyu? It’s a Kiromo thing. Fermented vegetables?”

“I’ve never heard of it,” said Hannah. “But we have the same thing, fermented vegetables, back in Cairbre, and from the book of Garam Ashar, section seven, verse six, ‘There are reflections across every society of righteous behavior and cunning intellect.’”

Mizuki blinked. “Do you have the whole book of Garam Ashar memorized?” she asked.

“I’m a cleric,” said Hannah. “And none of the books are very long, a hundred pages at most, ay.” The books discussing and dissecting those hundred pages, however, filled an entire library.

“And did you want food?” asked Mizuki.

“I suppose I could see fit,” replied Hannah. “I’ll need less than you make for yourself.”

Mizuki unlatched the burners on her stove, then began getting things out before pausing. “Do you think Verity will want some?”

“The bard?” asked Hannah, momentarily bewildered. “Didn’t she say she rises quite late?”

“I suppose,” said Mizuki. “But sleeping in an unfamiliar place, I’d thought maybe she wouldn’t want to.” She had gotten everything ready, it seemed, including a small crock of something that smelled quite intriguing, perhaps the sobyu.

“She slept here last night?” asked Hannah, raising an eyebrow.

Mizuki nodded. “She was just going to come over for a bit, to eat, and then we got to talking. She should be upstairs now, but I guess she might have slipped out in the night.”

“Well,” said Hannah. “It’s very kind of you to offer a bed.” A liaison between the two of them wouldn’t be the strangest thing, though it would be a poor start to the party.

“No kindness at all,” said Mizuki as she added the first things to the pan. “Or not more than I’d hope anyone else would offer. I’ve got beds, people need to sleep.” She looked up. “Do you?”

“Do I?” asked Hannah. “Need a place to sleep?”

Mizuki nodded. “If you’re done at the temple, which you said you were.”

“Well,” said Hannah. “I do need a place to sleep, but we’ve only just met, and I wouldn’t want to —”

“It’s just an offer,” said Mizuki, shrugging. “What do you like to drink? I have all kinds of things that can be steeped in boiling water.”

“There’s a tuber tea I’m fond of, but I’d be surprised if you had it,” said Hannah. “Mint?”

“I’ve got mint,” said Mizuki. Almost everything had been put into the pan, and it was starting to smell good. A kettle joined the pan on another burner. “Now then, you came by to see if I wanted help?”

“But really just to see you,” said Hannah, thankful to feel like she could drop the pretense. “We’re in a party now, and that doesn’t mean too much at the moment, but as time goes on, we’ll be in each other’s lives one way or another, and if we end up travelin’ together, that’s more time to talk to each other. ‘Symmetry is found through close inspection, with precision coming in the examination of details’, so it is said in the book of Garam Ashar, and I thought that I wanted to get to know you better, and you to know me, so we can find those symmetries, places where we match, or reflect, and have things be a little easier. The same goes for the opposite, naturally, the places where we don’t match up well, which you need to know so you can skirt some things that shouldn’t be talked of.”

“Like what?” asked Mizuki. She set a plate in front of Hannah, then sat down with her own plate.

It seemed to Hannah like it was too much food, but it all looked and smelled delicious. There was more food sitting in the pan, which had been put off to one side, but she didn’t think much of it.

“Well,” said Hannah. “If we’re talkin’ of things that perhaps shouldn’t be talked of — do you have a favorite of the gods?”

“Qymmos or,” she faltered. “Oeyr, I guess. I know he’s the nemesis of Garos though, so.” She ate a bite of food.

“Oh, it’s not like that,” said Hannah, her own mouth half full of food. “Garos and Oeyr are opposites in many ways, but I think there’s hardly a cleric of Garos that would want Oeyr dead. Oeyr’s necessary, they all are, it’s just a matter of where we put our focus. I think symmetry and order are beautiful, but in the Church there’s somethin’ called the Meditation on Dichotomy, and it starts with the first and biggest of them, the separation of man and woman, largely Oeyr’s domain.”

“Huh,” said Mizuki. “I’d kind of thought … Garos has a reputation for,” she waved a hand. “I don’t want to be crude, but I don’t know how to say it.”

“Men laying with men, and women with women,” said Hannah, nodding. “It’s one of the old sacred rites, not so common anymore, at least as rites, but the Church of Garos has always been a place for that kind of thing.” She raised an eyebrow. “And did you and Verity … ?” Best to be direct about it.

“Did we what?” asked Mizuki. It was still early, and it took her a moment. “Oh, no. No. No no no, it wasn’t,” she paused. “Not that she isn’t pretty, she is, I just … no.”

Hannah was a bit thankful for that, because it was a source of tension the party didn’t need. “And is talkin’ about such things, women with women, somethin’ I should avoid with you? Because if so, that’s fine, I’d just want to know. You’re half Kiromom, and I don’t know what the thinkin’ is there.” No one would bat an eye in the Interim, though it was a quite large country.

“I don’t really know,” said Mizuki with a shrug. “I’ve never been, so all I have are stories. I think … there was something my father said, off-hand, when he was drunk once, that it was fine for a man to be with a man, but not a woman with a woman? He was drunk though. Personally, I don’t, um — it’s not relevant to my life.”

Hannah nodded, and she was thankful that Mizuki seemed befuddled. Some people cared, and thought that it was the ‘business of Garos’, to be confined within the church in one way or another, but it was a minority opinion throughout Inter, typically held by those more skeptical of religion. She’d met a few in the seminary that had come because their families thought that it was a matter of religion, but it was like tall people becoming clerics of Xuphin, or short ones clerics of Kesbin, a poor reason to become a cleric, and likely to result in a poor cleric if they had no real godly fire in them.

“And you care about the things close to you?” she asked.

“Isn’t that how everyone is?” asked Mizuki.

“Oh, not at all,” said Hannah. “Some people care the most about things far away from them.” She took another bite of the fermented vegetables, then the perfect example occurred to her. “Henlings!” she said around the mouth of food. “Some people obsess over them, collect them, things like that, spend their time and effort lookin’ at them, tryin’ to figure them out. Some of these people never stepped foot inside a dungeon. But it’s the same for everythin’ else, isn’t it, kittens and bobbins and what have you, they bring all this into their lives, make it their focus, but it’s not close to them, necessarily. So of course I wouldn’t be surprised if what you care about was far away from you, some distant thing that didn’t touch you personally, ay?” She returned to quickly eating her food. She had a bad habit of talking too much at mealtimes and lagging behind. Mizuki had very little left on her plate.

“Like you with Garos?” asked Mizuki. “Because he’s something you bring into your life, isn’t he?”

“Well,” said Hannah, swallowing a mouthful of venison. “This is amazin’, by the way.”

“Thanks!” said Mizuki, beaming. “The sobyu, yes or no?”

“Yes, I think,” replied Hannah. The taste wasn’t quite reminiscent of a pickled cucumber, nor the pickled cabbage she was used to, but there was a similarity there.

“In Kiromo they eat it with every meal,” said Mizuki. “I only do that in the winter, when there’s less that’s fresh.”

“Mmm,” said Hannah, gulping down an egg. She took up a cloth napkin and wiped her mouth, trying to remember decorum, which she’d never been too good at. “Well, as I was sayin’, with Garos, it’s not quite the same, is it? Because the nature of symmetry is all around us, isn’t it, and even if you don’t think much about Garos, you can’t escape him, just like you can’t escape Oeyr. All the more in Pucklechurch, where there’s this grand temple that looms over the town.”

“Is that for me?” asked a voice from the doorway into the kitchen. Verity was looking much worse for the wear, with rumpled clothes and disheveled hair. Her eyes were bleary and she was blinking slowly, but her attention was fixed on the pan, which had a serving of food still in it, though Mizuki had closed the burner.

“Of course,” said Mizuki. “I didn’t know when you’d be up, but it should still be warm. Hope we didn’t wake you.”

“Mmm,” said Verity. She sat down at the counter, which was slightly crowded with three people. Hannah looked at the straightness of her back and the poise with which she picked up a fork and began eating tiny little bird bites of venison and egg. “Thank you, it’s very gracious of you.”

“Common courtesy,” replied Mizuki with a shrug. “How’d you sleep?”

“Like the dead,” said Verity. “I cannot say enough how much music takes it out of me.”

“Well,” said Hannah. “No cause to be singin’ today, I’d think, or for a few more days after, since it’ll take some time for Alfric and Isra to come back. There’s a question of what we’re doin’ with ourselves until then, I s’pose.”

“I was still planning to go to the Fig and Gristle,” said Verity. “I have a standing offer from Cynthia, and I’d like to keep from paying room and board for as long as possible.”

“Mmm,” said Mizuki. Hannah looked at her. The offer of a room had been made quickly, and Hannah was still mulling it over. She was wondering whether that same offer was going to be tossed to Verity, and how many bedrooms this place had.

Verity dabbed at her mouth after another small bite. “And as I’ve said, I’m not entirely sold on dungeoneering.”

Hannah and Mizuki were both silent, but just for a moment, and then they began talking at the same time.

“I don’t think —” began Hannah.

“In terms of —” started Mizuki.

They looked at each other.

“Go ahead,” said Hannah.

“It’s not actually that dangerous,” said Mizuki. She looked at Hannah. “We talked about this last night some, but I think drink affects Verity more than me.”

“I remember,” nodded Verity. “And I said maybe, I recall.”

“There are all sorts of reasons to do it,” said Hannah. “You could get a higher elevation.”

“Frankly, elevation has always been a bit murky to me,” said Verity.

“It’s bunk,” said Mizuki. “Magic items, now there’s something valuable, and hard to get any other way unless you’re willing to shell out a lot of money, which you would also probably have to get by going into dungeons, unless you can score yourself a sweet gig playing music.”

“I probably could,” said Verity. “Though my skill has been rotting away here, and the people I was up against in the conservatory have probably blown past me. Not that my relationship to the profession hasn’t markedly improved.”

“You think elevation isn’t … true?” asked Hannah, looking at Mizuki. She wasn’t sure she could let that pass. “I don’t see how that could be.”

“I mean, it was all made up by the Editors long ago, right?” asked Mizuki. “At some point, hundreds of years ago or whatever, they decided they needed a number for every man, woman, and child on the planet, and they figured out a bunch of complicated rules that no one gets to see.”

“Is that all it is?” asked Verity. “I mean, I knew we had an elevation, but it was never really relevant to my life.”

“It’s a measure of power,” said Hannah. “And the exact metrics are secret, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work.”

“They go up the more dungeons you do,” said Mizuki, frowning at Hannah. “How can you explain that?”

“Well, I don’t know,” said Hannah. “Perhaps the people who go into the dungeon grow more powerful more quickly?” She wrinkled her nose. That didn’t seem quite right. The other obvious option was that dungeons changed a person, in either natural or unnatural ways. “Well, they never put too much effort into explainin’ it in the seminary.”

“Because no one knows,” said Mizuki. “But people use it for things anyway. It’s nuts.”

“Anyway,” said Verity, who clearly had no enthusiasm for the conversation.

“Right,” said Mizuki. “Anyway, at least one more dungeon?”

Verity nodded as she chewed, then cleared her mouth before answering. “At least one more. Probably.”

“Wonderful,” said Hannah, with real enthusiasm. “Let’s hope that Alfric is doin’ well with Isra, but I wouldn’t count on it, so we might have to find one of the others. Wouldn’t be bad to know who they were anyway, ay? If Verity’s out, we’d need to bring them in, and better to get them on board before we need them.”

“Others?” asked Verity. She had paused with a forkful of food in mid-air.

“He went to the censusmaster,” said Mizuki. “Found everyone of the right age and elevation and not in a party, and then I’d guess he weeded out people who weren’t going to be suitable. I can’t make any good guesses about who the alternates would be.” She shrugged. “Maybe one of the Pedder boys?”

“Well, either way, better to know who Alfric was thinkin’ of,” said Hannah. “Isra got the bow, and seems a bit skittish, not like a rabbit, all afraid of things, but like a cat ready to scratch anyone the least bit threatenin’.”

“She’s got skills,” said Mizuki. “Though I don’t know how much hunting translates into going into dungeons. She certainly seemed to handle herself well.”

“We’ll see if Alfric drives her off,” said Hannah. “And if Verity is out for the third dungeon, then better to have someone lined up anyhow.”

“I didn’t say I was out for the third dungeon,” said Verity. “Just that I wouldn’t be signing up for it right away.”

“Wasn’t that what I said?” asked Hannah. She was feeling some glee at this plan working as well as it had. Alfric probably would have been upfront about things and made a nice and logical case that wouldn’t have moved Verity at all. Hannah was touching something deeper, the fear of missing out, just not being so crude as to say it outright.

“Well, we’ll see when the time comes,” said Verity, setting her fork down. She’d eaten almost everything, even if she’d done it a tiny bit at a time. “For the second dungeon — I had said to Alfric that it was better to practice, do you think we’ll be doing any of that? I ask because I want to be able to let Cynthia know.”

“We could do some now, if you’d like,” said Hannah. “We’re the three most important, in terms of teamwork, ay?”

“Why?” asked Verity, looking between the two of them.

“Magic,” said Mizuki. “Or, not magic, but the ability to affect the aether. The more I see your spells, the more I know what I can do with them, the better we’ll fare in the dungeons. Or, not spells, but … affections.”

“I don’t mind if you call the works of Garos spells,” said Hannah.

“Okay, good, thanks, because I was definitely going to keep forgetting,” said Mizuki. “To me, anything that affects the aether is a spell.”

“Songs aren’t spells,” said Verity, frowning.

“Well,” said Hannah. “True.”

“Not spells,” said Mizuki. “But they’re constructs that affect the aether, so … from my perspective, spells, yes.”

“Meaning that you can knock them down to make fireballs?” asked Verity.

“That is extraordinarily wrong,” said Mizuki, folding her arms across her chest. “A sorcerer doesn’t knock things down, she uses ambient patterns to create and fuel her own magic, and someone who goes about just wily-nily knocking down the magic of others doesn’t deserve the name.”

“Sorry,” shrugged Verity. “In the conservatory I was mostly around other bards.”

“Sorcs are the most hated of all magic casters,” said Mizuki. “And it’s entirely because people think that we’re some kind of anti-magic gang that breaks things other people have spent time on.”

“But you can, can’t you?” asked Hannah.

“We can, sure,” said Mizuki.

“I’d have thought people hated warlocks or alienists more,” said Verity, frowning. “Or chrononauts. Maybe you see more people who don’t like sorcerers because …” and then she trailed off.

“You hear about it more,” said Hannah. “And it happens to you more, and you care about it more. How many times does someone talk down the alienists and it just passes you by?”

“Well,” grumbled Mizuki. “Alright, fair, but I don’t want either of you to think of me as a leech or a spell-wrecker, because that’s not what it is.”

“Should we go outside and practice then?” asked Hannah. “If Verity’s not familiar, it might be a good chance for her to see and you to explain.”

“I need a change of clothes,” said Verity, looking down at her rumpled dress.

“Well, go back to the tavern, then come back here?” asked Mizuki. “I own five acres or so behind the house, it’s a good place to spread out.” It was, Hannah knew, her grandfather who owned the land, but the old man had been gone for quite some time, and Mizuki had a loose way of speaking.

“I suppose,” said Verity. She sighed. “Alright, but I’m putting limits on how long I go on for. I’d still like to have the energy left to play at the tavern tonight, at least for one set.”

“Of course,” replied Hannah.

Hannah was looking forward to it. Hopefully, they were going to produce something neat. And if things went well, perhaps one or both of them would consent to symmetricalization.


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Alexander Wales


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