Verity got going, leaving Hannah and Mizuki alone. Mizuki did the dishes for a bit, finishing up fairly quickly, and dried her hands on a towel hanging on the stove handle.

“Odd girl,” said Mizuki, after checking to make sure that Verity was actually gone.

“How so?” asked Hannah, quirking an eyebrow.

“She’s upper crust, I’m pretty sure,” said Mizuki. “And upper crust in Dondrian is very upper crust, so that’s saying something. But her room was kind of a mess, when Alfric and I went to go visit her, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what she’s doing here in Pucklechurch. We talked about it some last night, but … I don’t know. You ever have that feeling like someone is saying a bunch of words that you’re sure make sense, but they just don’t go together right in your head?”

“Can’t say I have,” replied Hannah. “Sometimes there’ll be a thing that takes me some time to get, but it never lasts, ay? And there are deep unknowable mysteries, questions without any answers to them, but those’re different.”

“I don’t know,” said Mizuki. “She’s just a mystery to me, that’s all. I like her, I think, but don’t get her.”

“They’re all odd ones, if you ask me,” said Hannah. “Nothin’ wrong with that.”

“Even Alfric?” asked Mizuki. “I think he’s stupidly straightforward.”

“Oh, he’s got depths to him, and bends in the road,” sighed Hannah. “Loads of plans and he ends up out here?”

“Then how’d you end up out here?” asked Mizuki.

“Church of Garos,” said Hannah, shrugging. “I’m not too popular with the superiors. My guess, and only a guess, is that they wanted to get rid of me and didn’t care too much if I left. Maybe they were hopin’ I would, which is why Pucklechurch. But there was also a need for a cleric here, someone to take over for Lemmel, so it suited them either way.”

“And what did you do to upset the apple cart?” asked Mizuki. “If anything?”

“I’m a true believer,” said Hannah, standing up straight. “The thing you gotta understand about the Church of Garos, and all the others, is that none of the gods actually care about the church itself, they care about the clerics. The churches are more like … well, let’s say you’ve got a guild of cobblers, right? Just a whole bunch of people who cobble shoes or whatnot. They’re a guild because they all do the same thing and want to work together, and so they can talk to each other over the guild channel, and have apprenticeships and everything. But there’s nothing to say that you can’t learn to cobble without the guild, it would just be harder, especially because if all the cobblers are in the guild, they control the apprenticeships, don’t they? So it’s a bit like that, I s’pose, but different, because it’s like … well, imagine that some people are cobblers because they’re mercenaries, they don’t really care about cobblin’, they just want the money, it’s a trade to them, and then there are others, people who are devotees, true believers.”

“In cobbling?” asked Mizuki.

“Well, I’m just tryin’ to make sense of it for you,” said Hannah. “You can imagine someone who was a good, devoted cobbler, who’d have learned cobblin’ even without bein’ taught, and you can imagine her bein’ a part of the guild because they wanted to keep a thumb on her and make sure she was stickin’ to what they wanted from cobblers.”

“And are you a part of the guild?” asked Mizuki. “I mean, there is a guild, right?”

“There are loads of guilds,” said Hannah. “There are enough clerics of Garos that if we were all in a guild together, nothin’ would ever get done. Every mornin’ you’d wake up to a novel’s worth of discussion, I’d wager.”

“Are you not in a guild then?” asked Mizuki.

“Are you?” asked Hannah.

“I am,” said Mizuki. “Greater Plenarch Sorcerer’s Association. Nothing to write home about, really, it’s just some local mages. I mostly ignore the guild, but they help with getting some odd jobs in the area, or early warning if there’s going to be some magical crisis or something, not that it’s been an issue so far. We’re all technically in competition with each other, so I can’t say that I get too much from it. Mostly it keeps us out of each other’s hair.”

“Ah,” said Hannah. “I was in the proper local guild for a bit, but there were some tensions with a few of the others, some disagreements, let’s say, about the nature of Garos and the best way to worship him and live by his symmetry. Some of it was on my end, naturally, but I don’t take all the blame. Easier for me to leave than them, since it was a few of the higher-ups in the guild that were talkin’ with me in the first place.”

“Huh,” said Mizuki. “So you argued with the guild leaders and were forced out?”

“I wouldn’t put it like that,” sighed Hannah. “It was more the feelin’ of comin’ into a room and realizin’ that there’s no one that wants you there.” She frowned. “I’d reply to the mornin’ messages, and when I got replies back it was like … well, either like bein’ ignored, or like they were rollin’ their eyes when they’d reply to me.”

“Ouch,” winced Mizuki.

“It hurt, sure,” said Hannah, though the pain wasn’t as sharp as it had once been. “All these people who’re supposed to be as devout as I was, who’re supposed to be scholars and fanatics of the same god we all worshiped and devoted our lives to, and it felt like I was the only one who really believed it. I don’t believe that’s true, but it’s how it felt.” She sighed again. It had been months since she’d left the guild, but she still sometimes felt down about it. She’d enjoyed waking up to read messages in the morning, but not when it felt like she’d be berated for trying to join in the discussion or make her points. Some day, she would probably join a guild again, and she’d resolved to talk a bit less and not feel the need to chime in so much.

“How about we go outside,” said Mizuki. “We can practice some while we wait for Verity.”

“Of course,” nodded Hannah, grateful for something else to think about.

The backyard was a huge, overgrown space, and it seemed that Mizuki, or at least her grandfather, owned a lot of land around it. There were a few flowers growing wild, but it was largely tall, leafy weeds, even in the raised beds at the back. Grass had grown between all the cracks in the stone path, and there was a fountain filled with an unpleasant-smelling muck.

“Sorry,” said Mizuki, shrinking back slightly as she looked at what must have once been a garden. “I just really don’t have the time to deal with a garden, or know what I’m doing when it comes to plants, so. I should probably just fireball the whole place.”

“Nah, trees and nature,” said Hannah. “Reminds me of the prairies, which are kind of like home.”

“Alright,” said Mizuki, turning away from the overgrown backyard and toward Hannah. “Show me what you’ve got.”

“You’ve already seen most of it, haven’t you?” asked Hannah. “In the dungeon?”

“Well,” said Mizuki. “I guess, but not under controlled conditions.”

“Sure,” said Hannah. “You should just know that I can’t do ‘magic’ all day, not like you can. Simple healing, usually I don’t run out of that, but anythin’ more, there are some limits.” Hannah hated the feeling of Garos leaving her, but it came with the territory if you were pushing things.

“Start simple then,” said Mizuki. She was bouncing from foot to foot, limbering up and getting ready, as though her magic was something that needed flexibility.

“Basic symmetry repair,” said Hannah. She held up her hands. “My hands are perfectly identical, aren’t they, just flipped versions of each other?”

“Sure,” said Mizuki. “Hey, wait.” She moved closer and peered at Hannah’s hands. “The freckles are mirror images.”

“My whole body is like that,” nodded Hannah, grinning. “It’s called symmetricalization, it’s somethin’ loads of clerics of Garos go through. I can do it for you too, if you want, but it takes about a day, and it’s a bit,” she paused, “Intimate.”

Mizuki squirmed slightly. “So you mean your whole body.”

“I’m a healer, first and foremost,” said Hannah. “I’ve got familiarity with bodies. But I can also limit it, if you’d like, to just your face, your arms, your legs. It would make healin’ easier.”

“It would?” asked Mizuki. She was looking at Hannah’s face a little closer, scanning its features, and Hannah stood there, letting her look. It was a perfectly symmetrical face, which allowed easy removal of blemishes and things like that. Clerics of Garos were known for their beauty, and in the larger cities, it was a rare member of the upper class that didn’t have some kind of symmetricalization done to them. A symmetrical face was beautiful, as a general rule, but symmetricalization had to be done carefully, and sometimes the results could be odd, or represent so fundamental a change that the person wouldn’t be recognized by their friends and family. Verity was upper crust, as Mizuki had said, but didn’t seem to have had symmetricalization done. That might have been because she was pretty enough without it.

“Basic symmetry repair needs the two halves to be very close to the same,” said Hannah. “So, somethin’ like an oak shield, the grain of the wood means it’s harder, ay, because the two halves of the shield are so different from one another. That’d be mixed symmetry repair. Unless, of course, you have a shield made from the same piece of wood, butterflied apart.” She made a motion with her hands.

“Okay,” said Mizuki slowly. “Hey, why do you think that Alfric was trying to rush us in without training and stuff?”

“No idea,” said Hannah. It felt a bit like Mizuki wasn’t paying attention, which Hannah had found somewhat the norm when she talked about religion with the laypeople.

“I was thinking it was just big city energy, but the more I think about it, the less it feels right,” said Mizuki. “Feels … fishy.”

“Are you ready?” asked Hannah. She took a pen knife from her pocket, then held it above the back of her hand.

“Blegh,” said Mizuki. “Blood.”

Hannah hesitated. “Well, I could symmetricalize somethin’, I suppose, but this is faster, ay.”

“Fine,” said Mizuki as she took in a breath.

Hannah cut herself, a long stinging cut across the back of her hand, then lined everything up in her mind and connected to the wonder and majesty of Garos, God of Symmetry and Order. People described the feeling differently, but for Hannah it always came with a tingling at her extremities as a mark of success. She let the heightened sense of her own symmetry fade away once the cut was healed.

“See?” asked Hannah. The wound had vanished, and the pain with it. Her hands were once again perfectly symmetrical.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” asked Mizuki.

“A bit, ay,” said Hannah. She shrugged. In the course of her time at seminary, she’d hurt herself so many times that she was used to the pain. “Did you see it though? The … magic?” The word she’d grown up with was ‘miracle’, but in the seminary they used ‘manifestation’, which had never quite sat right for Hannah.

Mizuki nodded. “It’s still there. It’s got a kind of … energetic flavor to it.”

“Flavor?” asked Hannah.

Mizuki waved a hand. “You know sorcs don’t go to school, right?” she asked. “Or at least not most of them. It’s a very personal magic. We end up making up our own words for things a lot of the time.”

Mizuki raised one hand into a fist, then opened it with force while thrusting out. There was a single licking arc of electricity, which was barely visible in the sunlight.

“Disappointing,” said Mizuki. “But … stronger than I’d thought it would be?”

“We’re in a party, ay?” asked Hannah.

“Does that … help?” asked Mizuki, blinking.

Hannah nodded. “I suppose maybe there are things a school for sorcs woulda taught you, ay?”

“But why would it help?” asked Mizuki. “The aether is the aether, I’m using your cast off, it shouldn’t matter that we’re in a party together.”

“Parties help anyone,” replied Hannah. “All my spells work better on party members, and a bit less so on guild members. It’s a matter of connection.”

“The aether is the aether,” Mizuki muttered, as though she was willing to match her ignorance against Hannah’s knowledge. Her confidence crumpled quickly though. “I just don’t get why it would work, since being a sorc isn’t about connection, it’s about the aether. Your cast offs are, I guess, connected to you, and being a party member means they’re connected to me, but it shouldn’t matter, that’s all I’m confused about.”

“You didn’t feel it when we were in the dungeon?” asked Hannah.

“Maybe,” said Mizuki, frowning. “To be honest, my heart was in my throat most of the time and I was just trying to fight down the panic. I thought I was just doing a good job.”

“And you did!” said Hannah. “But also probably bein’ in a party helped you out.”

Before they could move on to the next biggest piece of Hannah’s healing arsenal, Verity returned. She’d tied back her hair and put on a different dress, this one white with lavender highlights, and she was carrying her lute, which she carefully set down.

“What happened here?” asked Verity, looking around at the overgrown garden. She seemed taken aback.

“It used to be a garden,” said Mizuki with a shrug. “Grandpa was really into gardening, it was how he relaxed. I never really took to it though.”

“This is horrible,” said Verity, still looking at the plants. She didn’t see the sour look on Mizuki’s face. Verity drifted over to one of them, a bushy plant with broad leaves and a single drooping flower. She reached down and stuck a finger in the soil, then looked at the base of the plant. “You poor thing.”

“I said I never really took to it,” said Mizuki. “Can we leave it at that?”

“Oh,” said Verity, standing up. “Oh, I didn’t mean — I didn’t mean it like that. I just — in Dondrian it’s one of the womanly arts, and it was my favorite.”

“Gardening is … womanly?” asked Mizuki.

“I don’t know what it’s like in Kiromo, or even in Pucklechurch,” said Verity. “But there are five womanly arts in Dondrian. Gardening, needlework, reading, music, and languages. I was always terrible at languages.”

“Well, I do know how to read,” said Mizuki. “So one out of five isn’t bad.”

“You don’t speak Kiromon?” asked Hannah.

“Two out of five isn’t bad,” said Mizuki, nodding.

“Well, reading is more, ah,” said Verity, measuring her words. “There are quite a few books you’re expected to have read, along with keeping up with more current works, and being a proper woman means being able to allude to all these books you’ve read when in conversation with others, and to understand the references that everyone else makes.” She shrugged.

“That sounds horrible,” said Mizuki.

“Ah, I think I have a better understandin’,” said Hannah. “It’s not ‘womanly arts’, it’s stuff for rich women to do.”

“Well,” said Verity, frowning. “I’m not sure I would say that.”

“Did you have maids, growin’ up?” asked Hannah.

“A few,” said Verity, folding her arms. “But the success of my family isn’t — I mean, it’s not like those things are — needlework is a plainly useful skill, and gardening is too.”

“Hey,” said Mizuki. “Why isn’t cooking a womanly art?”

“Well I have no idea,” said Verity. “It’s not like I made them up.” She shrugged, then looked at Mizuki. “I’m sorry if I insulted your garden, I just,” she looked around again. “I like gardening.”

“Well,” said Mizuki. “Like I said, it’s my grandfather’s garden. He wasn’t able to take it to Kiromo with him.”

Hannah looked at the two of them. “I think it’s always better, when you get an apology, to make it clear you accept it?”

Mizuki rolled her eyes, then looked at Verity. “Verity, I fully and earnestly accept your apology.” She looked back at Hannah. “Better?”

“Much better,” replied Hannah, beaming at her. They both looked a bit happier too.

“If I do end up coming around,” said Verity.

"Coming around?" asked Mizuki.

"Well, this is the obvious place for us to meet, if we're in a party," said Verity. She shifted. "I didn't mean to presume."

"I kind of thought that you'd end up staying here more than just the one night," said Mizuki, shrugging. "If you wanted to."

"Oh," said Verity, eyes widening slightly. "Well, that's kind."

"You can think on it," said Mizuki. "No rush."

“Well, if I did end up coming around here, would you mind if I,” she looked around the garden. “Did something with this? Rescued a few plants, watered a few others, pruned out the worst of the weeds and the dead stems, things like that?”

“No, not at all,” said Mizuki. She looked at the garden. “If I had known how, and I’d had the time, I might not have let it get like this. But it’s pretty clear that I haven’t put in any effort here.” She clapped her hands. “We were supposed to be doing some magic, weren’t we?”

Verity burst into song almost immediately, picking up her lute from where she’d laid it and strumming a melody about a beautiful garden that she must have made up on the spot. The effects seemed largely emotional to Hannah, lightening whatever scraps of bad mood remained, but Mizuki was looking all around, so perhaps it was layered.

“Okay,” said Mizuki as Verity played on. “Now this is the stuff. If I just gather it up and hold it …” She picked up a stick that was laying on the ground and threw it as hard as she could, and Hannah was mildly surprised to see it zip off into the woods. “Bam.”

“Some kind of … force?” asked Hannah.

Mizuki nodded. “It’s always opposite from what the base magic was, and there are different axes to work from, but mental or emotional stuff has physical as its opposite. Telekinesis is the most obvious application.”

“But you were holding it?” asked Hannah.

“Yeah, because it’s easier that way,” said Mizuki. “But if we’re in a dungeon, I’m not going to be tossing things at the monsters, and I think it will take some time and effort to build up the concentration in the aether, so … I don’t know how useful it is in practice, especially since most fights are short.”

“Ready for the interference?” asked Hannah. Verity was still singing, and while she could go on for quite some time, as demonstrated in the dungeon and during her regular sets at the Fig and Gristle, Hannah didn’t want to tax her too much.

“Ready,” said Mizuki.

Again, Hannah cut her hand and healed it, quick and simple work that Mizuki turned away from. Once it was done though, Mizuki was looking into the air and trying to make something of what she saw there.

Hannah had been taught a bit about sorcs in the seminary. The analogy they’d used had been to that of a pond, which seemed to be a common view of it. The sorc, at her base, dealt in the ripples in the pond, the stuff left in the aether by other casters, or magical phenomena, or what have you. If there were two sources of magic, powerful enough to make ripples, those ripples would hit each other, and the sorc could do something more. It was probably one of those helpful but horrible analogies that Mizuki would explain was dead wrong, but Hannah found it enlightening.

Mizuki had two fingers extended with her right hand, and with her left, she leaned down to pick up a rock. She was muttering under her breath, and with a slight grunt, she tossed the rock into the air. She took the two fingers, which she’d been spinning, and pointed them at the rock that was sailing through the air. With a terrifying thunderclap, the rock exploded, sending bits of sharp rock crashing to the ground and leaving an afterimage of a bolt of lightning in Hannah’s eyes.

Verity’s song stopped at once. “Ouch,” she said, voice mild.

“Sorry!” yelped Mizuki. “I thought it would be, I don’t know.”

“Here,” said Hannah, stepping toward Verity. “You’ve got a small cut.” She had healed Verity before Verity had even noticed. It was probably from a bit of rock tumbling in just the wrong way so that it got her in the cheek.

“Seems good though,” said Verity.

“We’re lucky Hannah is here,” said Mizuki. She’d come forward to look at Verity’s cheek, and there was a nervous motion to her. “I have a new rule, which is that I don’t practice without Hannah.” She picked a bit of rock from her hair.

“Is that what you were trying to do?” asked Verity.

“It was supposed to be explosive lightning,” said Mizuki.

“Well it was, in a way,” nodded Hannah. “Just needs to be a bit more … directed.”

“Less splashback,” said Verity. She touched her cheek where the healing had been done.

“I’ll be more careful,” said Mizuki. “I’m so, so sorry, I really didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Verity smiled. “I fully and earnestly accept your apology. Besides, if Alfric is going to take so much punishment for us, then I should be able to take a little scratch.”

“You’re really okay?” asked Mizuki.

“Fine,” said Verity. She looked at Hannah. “Like new. Thank you, by the way.”

“We all have our roles,” said Hannah. “Before the day is through, if it’s alright with both of you, I’ll have a bit of a look at your bodies, though with the power of Garos, not anything to do with my eyes.” That was the kind of assurance that Mizuki seemed to need, and Verity very much didn’t. “Mostly so that if I need to heal either of you, if Alfric doesn’t do enough, I won’t have to be figurin’ things out while we’re in the thick of it.”

Mizuki looked down at her hands. “I’m already pretty symmetrical,” she said.

“Well,” said Hannah. “You are, in the broad strokes, but things don’t always lie the same on both sides. Blood vessels are one of them, and important, because we’d like to keep your blood in you.”

“Hmm,” said Mizuki, tapping her lip. “I am a fan of my own blood.”

“And there are asymmetries of the guts, the liver, and the heart, and a cleric of Garos is forbidden from touching the brain except in dire circumstances where it’s that or death,” said Hannah. Mizuki blanched. “Just so you know,” she said, holding up a hand. “As a matter of, well, precaution.”

“Seems reasonable,” said Verity. “I would hate to be blindsided by some strangeness of Garos — no offense — while we’re in the middle of the next dungeon, if it turns out that one is also more difficult than fighting three raccoons.”

“We’ll have helms for it,” said Hannah. “Less to worry about, especially when it comes to the head.”

“Well,” said Mizuki, stretching her fingers out. “Does anyone want to go again and see what magic we can make together?”

“Of course,” said Verity. “I’m going to have to learn to hold through the blasts. There’s no use for a bard who drops a song at the crucial moments.”

“I’ll call them out, so you can prepare yourself,” said Mizuki.

Verity nodded. “Very well, shall we go again? With some actual targets this time, please, and some warning about what kind of calamity you’re going to cause.”

“You better be saying ‘calamity’ in an affectionate way,” said Mizuki, pointing a finger at Verity.

“Obviously,” Verity smiled. “You’re the one bringing calamity down on our enemies.”

Hannah beamed. Whatever else was true about her, it seemed that Verity had a good work ethic, and she already seemed to be orienting it toward the dungeons. For a moment, Hannah listened to Verity’s song, a jaunty tune about a mighty sorcerer throwing thunderbolts around, and then she went for a more advanced miracle, something that would give Mizuki as much to play with as possible.


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Alexander Wales


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