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Isra moved through the woods, following a path the deer normally took. The world was looking different to her, and she didn’t know how much of that was in her head. Did normal people follow deer paths? Could they even find them? She would have to ask, and there was a chance that they would give her odd looks, and ask her what a deer path was, as though that wasn’t completely obvious. Of course, most people were oblivious, but she was having to reckon with the fact that they weren’t just oblivious. They didn’t have the same experience of the world as she did.

Other people couldn’t talk to animals, or if they did, the animals didn’t listen very well. She had seen them talk to animals though, like the old woman who yelled at the crows to stop pooping on her roof, or the way that someone like Mizuki talked to her pet. She had thought that some of this was simply performance, a way to do the same pretending that they did for so many other things, but it was clear now that it was something else. A handful of confusing conversations about talking to animals had been cleared up.

Other people couldn’t predict the next day’s weather. What else did other people not know? What else couldn’t they do? There were so many things about her life that Isra was now realizing she took for granted. Could normal people identify a bird by its song? It seemed equally plausible that they could or they could not. Could they see through a bird’s eyes? The more she thought about it, the more she thought that perhaps they couldn’t. She thought back to all the times her father had seemed oblivious or unaware, and in retrospect perhaps that was simply because he couldn’t see the woods like she did. She was always better at setting traps, always faster to find the deer, always more capable of tending to their garden or finding forage.

Could normal people coax a plant to grow? Isra thought that perhaps they couldn’t. She wondered what would happen if they tried. Other people had gardens though, so why was that? Were they just planting seeds and hoping for the best? Weeding and watering, and that was it?

She stopped for a moment as another thought occurred to her, one that was frightening. Did normal people know which plants were good to eat? She relaxed slightly as she thought about it, because of course they must know. They ate plants. How could they eat the right plants without knowing which ones were good to eat? She tried to imagine it, and her imagination failed, because the only thing she could think was that perhaps they got sick and learned that way. It was how most animals did it, after all, if they weren’t born with the right instincts about which to go after. But if it were true for people, then that meant everyone in Pucklechurch had gotten sick from plants at some point, or … they told each other which plants were safe to eat and which weren’t. Isra contemplated that as she moved past the birch trees that marked the start of her territory.

“How do you know which plants are good to eat?” Isra imagined herself asking Mizuki, who seemed to cook.

“My parents taught me,” Mizuki might answer.

“How did they know?” Isra might ask.

“Their parents taught them,” Mizuki might reply, and Isra could imagine a confused or possibly troubled look on the other girl’s face. Or worse, an embarrassed ‘why are you saying that, what is wrong with you’ smile.

“Someone must have firsthand knowledge, at some point,” Isra would have said.

It was difficult to imagine what the answer would be. Perhaps Mizuki wouldn’t know, or had never thought about it, or perhaps she would say, “oh, we pray to the gods about it” or “every year we have someone test all of the plants in the area by eating them” or “we eat what the pigs like” or something like that.

Isra was within sight of her house when she stumbled upon the obvious: people could just have a woods witch tell them.

Of course, it was entirely possible that Isra was wrong, and people knew which plants were good in the same way that she knew. There were a few conversations with her father that would make more sense if it was a skill unique to her though, times when she had been little and eating berries, only to be stopped by her father. Her father had been, perhaps, confused about whether the berries were good to eat, rather than worried she would spoil her appetite. She had thought that he was just playing at the game of lies, telling her the berries were bad because it was easier than explaining the real reason he didn’t want her to eat them. She had simply accepted that: people told obvious lies sometimes because that was just how things were done.

Isra’s home was relatively small, with a low-slung roof that was covered with sod. Whoever had originally owned it, they had dug into the ground quite a bit, leaving the narrow windows sitting just a few inches above the forest floor. When she was little, Isra’s father had complained that this let mice and bugs have an easy way in, so Isra had politely requested that they stay away, and that had done the trick. Bugs were barely thinking things, always ready to obey a plainly stated request, and mice were intelligent and had a skittish courteousness. It was clear now that Isra’s father had complained because he had no recourse against the bugs.

There were three birds perched on the roof above the door. She had asked them to guard her house while she was gone, and though it would have been fine for them to spend their time in the trees, inconspicuous, they were ravens, and liked to make a show of things. She hadn’t, as Alfric put it, ‘told them to’. Birds needed negotiation and requests, not instructions. Perhaps, thinking about it, he hadn’t meant to make such a distinction.

“Thank you,” she said, giving a bow. “I’ll bring out some food in just a bit.” The ravens didn’t do it for the food, they did it because they knew each other, but they had given up a fair amount of forage to keep watch over her house, and getting food for them was just basic manners. She went into the house for just long enough to take out three hard boiled eggs, which she kept in the smaller chiller for just such a purpose, and placed them on the ground, where the ravens began picking them apart.

With that matter settled, Isra returned to the house and put her pack down, then began shrugging out of her clothes. Twenty-four miles over two days hadn’t been particularly easy, and it had left her worse for the wear. Her skin had built up oils and dried sweat, and there was a smell she didn’t particularly like. The clothes would have to be washed, that much was clear, but for the first things first, she would have to wash herself.

The same tank fed both the kitchen and the bathroom, and was filled with a single waterstone. Because she’d been gone for two days, the tank was filled up, and she was thankful that the waterstones had stopped themselves from flooding her house. They were designed so that they would stop creating water from just the pressure of water in the tank, but Isra didn’t fully trust it. It was odd to think that the pipes they had sold off to the ectad merchant would be used to make something as vital as a waterstone.

Showers were a bit of a process, and when possible, Isra would make a trek out to the nearby river and wash herself there. The thought of walking another mile really didn’t appeal to her though, and so the process needed to be followed. The first step was to take the married heating and chilling elements from the stove and bring them to the tank of water, then unmarry them and put the heating element into the tank. It would take some time to heat, and Isra busied herself with a quick lunch while she waited.

There was quite a bit in the way of food, even though she’d been gone for two days and done no hunting in that time. She quickly ate one of the hardboiled eggs from the chiller, then opened a jar of pickled carrots that she’d bartered for a few market days prior. Isra loved pickles, perhaps more than any other food. After that, it was a piece of hard, crusty bread, the kind that kept for a fair amount of time, a piece of smoked venison, and a hunk of sharp cheddar, which, like the pickles, had been bought from the market.

She wished that she had stayed for stew at Mizuki’s, but there had been too much on her mind, and she did her best thinking away from people. Isra was a barely passable cook, though she was good at smoking and salting meat, and could do enough to get by. She made pickles and jams, and other ferments, but hadn’t been able to get the marriage of flavors right, not like the pickle woman at the market.

With her quick, cold meal concluded, Isra pressed a hand against the side of the tank to feel the temperature. Finding it adequate, she began her shower.

The amount of money she’d made from the dungeon was astonishing. There were certain things she’d been saving up for, aside from the nebulous plans for a trip, and now it seemed possible that she would be able to buy them all in a single fell swoop. A second water tank for the house would be ideal, though she had no idea where she would put it. Many houses had two tanks, one with hot water and the other with cold, and Isra had always thought that was an extravagance. Now, it was something she could rather easily afford, and without feeling as though the money needed to be saved for other purposes.

There were all kinds of things to replace, as well. She had no practical knowledge of woodworking, and needed a new chair for the table, since one of the two she’d had broke in the spring, and the other had a wobble. The simple stove had only a single element pair, and it had degraded slightly, making it cool to the touch even when the elements were married. The loss of power to the heating element meant that it took longer to get hot water as well. Her savings had bought her a large chiller for meat, which was sitting outside and had taken quite some time and effort to lug toward the house, but it was already full, and she had been thinking about getting another. Beyond that, she had three outfits she wore, and might like another, and there were certainly implements she didn’t have. What she wanted most of all, now that she’d seen the inside of an entad shop, was more entads. Each one was magical and unique, and there was something of a collector in her, as attested to by the shelves that were filled with rocks, branches, feathers, and all other manner of natural materials. The plants she collected had a home in a little side garden, one of each of the major and minor species, but she had begun to run out of room for them even there, especially since she liked to let them expand and grow where they pleased. When she picked up the colored rocks from Alfric, she would have to figure out a proper place of display.

The house was in need of repairs as well. Pieces of wood had begun to rot, and there was a leak into the bathroom, which was not the worst place for it, but still inconvenient. One of the window panes had been broken, and Isra had tried her best to replace it with a piece of glass she’d bought from in town, but she’d gotten frustrated after spending what felt like half a day on it, and eventually just patched it with a thick piece of birch bark and some sap. Her father had taught her many valuable things, and valuable skills, but home repair had never been his forte, and some of the damage that time and the elements had done, Isra had no way to undo. She had asked the water not to leak into her bathroom, and it had replied that it was incapable of doing otherwise, which was typical for water. That, too, she had patched, but it was a poor patch, not in fitting with the rest of the house, and it was clear that she would need someone’s help.

The house was a secret, which was a bit of a problem. People from the hex had come on three separate occasions, all when she was younger, but she had known they were coming from quite some distance away, and left with as much as she could handle, obscuring her tracks. From what Alfric had said, they probably knew that she lived there, and given it had been two years, they had probably given up trying to catch her. One of her father’s friends had taken her in on a temporary basis after her father had passed, and had told her that a girl of thirteen wouldn’t be allowed to live out in the woods on her own. She had already dodged the local school, with her father’s help, but if the hexmaster found out about her, then it was likely she would, at best, be forced to live with some well-meaning couple in Pucklechurch. The hex beastmaster had found Isra once, but only by going to her hunting grounds, and she had told her to take less from the woods, then inquired as to where she lived. She had lied, and thought that it was probably an obvious lie. She’d avoided the town for a month after that, living off the land instead of trading things in, and when she returned, it was with great caution. She was worried that someone would spring out of an alley and arrest her. That hadn’t happened. From what Alfric had said, they knew who she was, and where she was living, but had given up on her, which was a bit of a relief.

Now she was eighteen, but not quite willing to give up the secret of the house. There were a few that knew, her father’s old friends, but she spoke with them little, and they never came to visit. If she needed work done on the house, which she did, she supposed that she could see if one of them was interested, but her father had been secretive and mistrustful. They were friends in a weak sense, people who could be leaned on from time to time, but with whom no great secrets had been shared. And Isra had never forgotten the theft, which had been by one of those same friends. It had made it hard to trust. And if the house was no secret to the powers of the hex, if she was known and tracked, perhaps she could simply hire someone who she would watch carefully.

Isra’s father had loved Tarbin, and often mourned it. He hadn’t said why they couldn’t go back, only that it was impossible. Tarbin was quite some ways away to the east, and Isra had only seen it through some of the books her father had brought over. It was a place of tall towers and baking sun, lush jungles that hugged the banks of rivers and deserts beyond them. Pucklechurch was far different, in very many ways, which perhaps accounted for some of the alienation that Isra felt when she went into town. The other part of it, apparently, was that she was a woods witch and the others were not.

The water from the tank drained through a grate and into the basin below, where an evaporator was sitting and working at removing the water. As the basin filled, dried out muck was rehydrated, and the smell of it was strong enough that Isra decided it was time to once again remove the grate and scrape the basin clean of the accumulated oil, hair, and general gunk. It would have to be the next day though, once the dehydrator had plugged away at the moisture and dried everything. It was one of Isra’s least favorite jobs in the entire house, but it was at least one that she knew how to do, and once it was done, it wouldn’t need to be done again for half a year at least, more if she was diligent about bathing in the stream as often as she could. She had often contemplated cutting her hair, to make the mucking out easier, since the Tarbin headscarf meant that no one saw it anyway, but she liked having long hair.

When the shower concluded, the water was getting overly hot. She had drained the tank too much, and the heating element was having too easy a time of it. She used tongs to fish it out, and remarried it to the cooling element, then toweled herself off and laid in her bed for a moment, resting and thinking, before getting dressed.

A party. She had never been in a party before. It had always been her and her father, until it was just her. She wasn’t sure what to think of these people. Already, she felt that they fit together in a way that excluded her. But even if that were the case, the money and entads were too enticing. Before Alfric had come along, she hadn’t even really known that was what she wanted. Before the dungeon, she’d still had reservations. A dungeon was like hunting, she thought, but without any of the regret of having to kill an innocent animal who only wanted to survive.

With the water still quite hot, she decided to make herself a cup of spiced tea, one made from various herbs that she’d foraged in the weeks prior. Dried herbs weren’t nearly as good as fresh ones, but she kept long braids as a matter of habit so that she could get through the winter months and still have something warm to drink. The kettle took only a moment on the stove to get hot, and she used a combination of dandelion and chicory root, which together had a nicely earthly, burnt flavor to them.

She was excited for the second dungeon, and hoped that they would go soon.

~~~

The next day, Isra had a cup of morning tea, this time using actual tea leaves from a bush that sat outside her house, and got properly dressed to warp to the center of the hex. She checked herself over twice, making sure that she had everything. She’d had a constant fear, with the warp, that she would somehow go through naked and end up in the center of town with no clothes on. It had been a nightmare of hers for quite some time, sometimes in lesser versions, like going in without her headscarf or her pack. She had gone into town without her headscarf before, but that had been on purpose. She’d felt too naked without it, and also like she was disrespecting her father, who had seemed to place great importance on it, especially once she came of age.

When Isra arrived at Mizuki’s house, it was bustling with activity. All four members of the team were there, with Mizuki preparing lunch for them.

“Isra!” called Mizuki. “You made it!”

“I did,” said Isra.

“And have you thought about it?” asked Mizuki. “Do you think you’re a woods witch?”

“I do,” said Isra. “It will be important to go find the other. I have questions.”

“We can probably answer some questions too,” said Alfric, who had come in from the living room. The couch and chairs there had been covered the day before, but now the covers had been removed, revealing soft cushions of rich leather. Hannah and Verity stayed there, in low conversation with one another.

“I was reading a book last night,” said Isra. “A book from Tarbin. It was about a boy who discovered he had magical powers.”

“Oh?” asked Alfric. “And … you think it’s like that?”

“It’s a book my father read to me,” said Isra. “I don’t think it’s like that though. I think it’s like discovering that everyone else doesn’t have magical powers.”

“Well, technically, everyone but Alfric has magical powers,” said Mizuki.

“We understand what you mean though,” said Alfric. “And we’ll help you in any way that we can. Having a druid in the dungeon might be a powerful thing, it’s just not something that I had planned for. If I had, I’d have read more books on druids in Dondrian. From what I know, the animals and plants in the dungeons are unlikely to respond well to you, but you’ll still have diagnostic powers that will be virtually invaluable.”

“Diagnostic?” asked Isra. “The word is unfamiliar.”

“It means figuring things out,” said Mizuki. She was making a type of lunch that Isra had had once before, with thinly sliced cold meats between two slices of bread, called a sandwich. The way that Mizuki was doing it seemed alien though, because she was using far more ingredients than seemed reasonable, two types of meat, a layer of greens, slices of tomato, cheese, two sauces … it seemed extravagant, for a lunchtime meal.

“You want me to tell you about the animals after we’ve killed them?” asked Isra.

“That’s one of the applications, I think,” said Alfric. “Dungeon eggs or newborns can also be fairly profitable, though you have to keep them sealed, and … I’m not so sure about where we would sell them. There are markets, in Dondrian. I suppose I don’t know how they get the dungeon animals in the first place.”

“Are they really dungeon animals if you take them out of the dungeon?” asked Mizuki.

“They are,” nodded Alfric. “They’re considered a bastle until the first viable breeding generation. After that, the terms for them are different, but it’s not very important for us, since we won’t be the ones breeding them.”

“We won’t?” asked Isra.

“Well,” said Alfric. “We could raise bastles, or clandes if we find plants, but we’ll be away from any potential farm for most of our time, so we would need someone involved in plant and animal husbandry, and we would need to be able to pay them.”

“Why are those sandwiches so big?” asked Verity, looking at what Mizuki was preparing. The sandwiches had grown in complexity and height as Isra watched, and were now in the final stages of assembly.

“Are they too big?” asked Mizuki, lowering herself until the sandwiches were at eye level. “I don’t think they’re too big.”

“How are we meant to fit them in our mouths?” asked Verity.

“We’ll cut them in half,” said Mizuki, making a chopping motion with her hand, then taking down one of the knives from the wall.

“Is that actually going to help anything?” asked Verity.

“Personally, I like a sandwich that you need a strategy to eat,” said Alfric.

“Can you add some egg to mine, or is it too late?” asked Hannah.

“I’m not making you a fried egg,” said Mizuki as she cut the sandwiches.

“Och,” said Hannah. “Not fried, a hard boiled one, sliced thin.”

Mizuki stopped cutting and blinked at her. “Are you serious?”

“It’s traditional,” said Hannah. “Don’t look at me as though I have a second head, ay.”

“Traditional to Cairbre?” asked Alfric.

“Where else?” asked Hannah.

“I don’t know,” said Alfric. “The seminary?”

“They don’t eat eggs there,” said Hannah, rolling her eyes. “Too oblong.”

“What?” asked Verity. “You’re making that up.”

“‘s’true,” nodded Hannah. “In the seminary, there are much pains taken to eat only that which brings us closer to Garos. It’s silly, of course, but the thought is that it might help with a better awareness of what it means to be a cleric, for it is said in the Book of Garam Ashar, ‘The studious man spends his life in devotion to his subject of study, lest he split from his path.’ The only real way to be an expert is to devote yourself, mind, body, and soul, to live, breathe, eat, and dream the object of your obsession.”

Isra was watching Hannah as she spoke. It wasn’t the first time she’d quoted the Book of Garam Ashar. When she did, her voice changed somewhat, with her accent becoming less thick, as though she was mimicking a teacher. Isra’s bookshelf was quite short, but she had all six of the holy books. She had read them all at least once. She’d hated the Qymr Mos, but the Book of Garam Ashar was inoffensive, if a bit strange.

“Wait,” said Mizuki. “Was it just hard-boiled eggs, or were fried eggs fine?”

“Just hard-boiled, ay,” said Hannah. “Take a form with asymmetry and give some symmetry to it, and that would be no problem.”

“Are we ready to eat?” asked Alfric. He’d been eyeing the sandwiches.

“I don’t keep hard-boiled eggs in the house, so we’re good to go,” said Mizuki. “Keep in mind the dining room hasn’t been used in a few years, and I didn’t have time to dust.”

“I dusted,” said Hannah.

“Oh,” said Mizuki as she scooped up the plates. “Well, thank you.”

The dining room was just off the kitchen, and was dominated by a large wooden table. It was, curiously, square, and set in the middle of a square room. There was seating for eight, and Hannah shared a side with Mizuki.

“Whoever built this place liked symmetry,” said Hannah. “It’s refreshin’. Reminds me of the seminary.”

“The worship of the gods is a little different in Kiromo,” said Mizuki. “They have a philosophy of ‘living by the gods’, and one of Garos’ domains there is buildings. So buildings, according to Kiromo philosophy, have to be really in line with Garos, if they’re going to be places of importance. When my grandfather came to Pucklechurch, he was a powerful, important guy, and he wanted a place that would serve as a kind of … well, temple, which is why the house is the way it is. The timbers of the house are actually all from a single tree, and the stones are all from a single block.”

Hannah had been eating her sandwich, but stopped as Mizuki talked. “They are?”

Mizuki nodded. “All imported from Kiromo by my grandfather when he came. The tree was, ah, a giant cherrywood, I think, a huge tree almost as thick as this entire house. They don’t cut them down often, but he had a thick part of it or something.”

“Well then I can’t work on the house now, can I?” asked Hannah.

“You can’t?” asked Mizuki.

“It’s a religious rite,” said Hannah. “A split tree or stone like that is probably testament to Kesbin.”

“God of Nothing?” asked Alfric. His sandwich was halfway gone, and Isra had hardly touched hers. “Why?”

“Division and subtraction are aspects of Kesbin’s will,” said Verity. “A divided tree or divided stone is a powerful invocation.”

“I should have thought of it,” said Hannah. “I saw the testimony to Garos in the design of this place, but failed to see the others.” She clucked her tongue. “This will need some thinkin’ on.”

“Can’t you just do it anyway?” asked Mizuki. “You’re not a cleric of Kesbin, right?”

“Already I’ve done too much,” said Hannah. “An invocation like this, strong as it is, is nothing to be trifled with.”

“But what happens if you do?” asked Mizuki. “Like, how would it be bad?”

“Oh, probably nothin’ much,” nodded Hannah. “Most likely we’d get a visit from a cleric of Kesbin, if it was noticed. They can levy fines through the hexmaster, same as any church.”

Mizuki relaxed. “And that’s it? We wouldn’t be,” she hesitated. “Hexed?”

Hannah laughed. “Imagine that!” she said. “Imagine thinkin’ in this day and age that you’d be hexed of all things for makin’ changes to a house!”

Mizuki scowled. “Well I don’t know, do I?” she asked. “I’ve never run afoul of the churches.”

“Yes you have!” said Hannah, still laughing. “You have loads of times.”

“Yeah,” said Mizuki. “But not like … sacrilege.”

“Well,” said Hannah. “It’s fine.”

“What’s a hex?” asked Isra. These were decidedly not in the holy books.

“It means six,” said Alfric. Isra had known this. “But in this context, a ‘hex’ is a godly curse of some kind, administered by a cleric of the six gods.”

“What does it do?” asked Isra. She had been eating away at her sandwich as the others talked, and was now almost finished.

“Varies by the gods,” said Hannah. “They’re not really used anymore, except in dungeons, and Garos has the weakest of the lot, aside from Qymmos. Might be better to think of a hex as the opposite of a miracle, or blessin’, or whatever you want to call the things that a cleric like me can do.”

“A spell,” said Mizuki, nodding. Hannah gave her a look that suggested disagreement, but said nothing.

“You deal in healing though,” said Isra, feeling confused. “What harm could you do?”

“Oh, well, not much as yet, but I’m still just a journeyman,” said Hannah. “And there’s not much ability to practice the sorts of things I’d need to call on. But if a cleric of Garos wants to hurt a person, she’ll lay hands on him. There are two general methods, one easy and clean, the other hard and brutal. The first one, the easy one —” she hesitated. “Does anyone mind me sharin’ this over lunch?”

“I think I’m done anyway,” said Verity, pushing her plate forward. She’d eaten only half of what Mizuki had prepared. “It was delicious, but there was simply way too much of it.”

“I’m done too,” said Alfric. He looked at Verity’s plate. “Unless you mind me taking that other half?”

“Be my guest,” Verity replied. Alfric reached over and plucked the half sandwich up.

“I don’t mind,” said Mizuki. “Unless it involves guts.”

“And if it does involve guts?” asked Hannah.

Mizuki had taken a bite of her sandwich, and took a moment to chew and swallow it before answering. “I don’t like guts.”

“Well,” said Hannah. “The first method of attack, for a cleric of Garos, and again, I can’t say that I’d fare too well if I tried, not in combat, but I s’pose it’s somethin’ that’ll get tested sooner than later — the first method is easy and clean. It’s just the reverse of symmetrical healin’, isn’t it? You find a wound on their body, and mirror it on the other side. One slash across their skin becomes two, a puncture gets doubled and they bleed out twice as fast. Now, obviously it’s not great, because you have to be touchin’ them, and they have to already be hurt, but I could manage it, if I had to.”

“And the second?” asked Isra.

Hannah eyed Mizuki, who was wolfing down her sandwich like she was worried someone was about to say something that would make her lose her appetite. When she’d swallowed the last bite, she gave a thumbs up to Hannah.

“Well, the body isn’t all symmetrical, as a sad matter of fact,” said Hannah. “Even leavin’ aside the ways that arms, legs, skin, and so on are different if you’re not symmetricalized, there are places where we’re just plain squiggly.” She patted her stomach. “And yes, that includes the guts. The guts weave back and forth inside the body like a drunkard on his way home. And since the body is so otherwise symmetrical, a cleric like me could lay hands on someone and make the guts suddenly mirror themselves.” She shook her head. “Nasty way to die, because it’s not fast. Usually with symmetrical guts you bleed out before you can starve. And there’s no way to fix it, because that kind of thing is beyond even the highest cleric of Oeyr.”

“Welp,” said Mizuki. “Definitely glad I finished before you said that.”

“The heart isn’t symmetrical either,” said Isra.

“No, it’s not,” said Hannah. “And you could kill someone that way too, it would just be a smaller target, harder to do, and a killin’ hex from Garos, well, the point isn’t just in the killin’, if you catch me.”

“You’re talking about traditionally though,” said Alfirc. “It’s not something that clerics do now, because they’re not in the business of hexing.” This was directed at Isra, and she appreciated it.

“Oh, ay,” said Hannah. “And shame on me if I made anyone feel different.” She looked around the table at the other four. “It’s part of the old ways, the very old ways. You’d get in a lot of trouble if you did any of that on a person.”

“What are the other hexes?” asked Isra, mostly out of morbid curiosity.

“Ay,” said Hannah, thinking for a moment. “Let me think for a moment and remember.” She drummed her fingers on the table, then looked around. “Is this too much?”

“I’m done eating, so I’m going to take a walk,” said Mizuki. “I’d rather not get into the gruesomeness of it.”

“I’ll accompany you, if that’s alright,” said Alfric, getting up from his seat and taking his plate. “Can I clear anyone else’s plates?”

“I should actually probably do dishes first,” said Mizuki.

The plates were cleared away, and then it was just Hannah, Isra, and Verity.

“You want to hear, ay?” asked Hannah.

“Yes,” said Verity. “I’m interested.”

“Well,” said Hannah. “The hex of Oeyr, God of Emergence, is usually through breakin’ somethin’. Sometimes bones, sometimes makin’ rips in your muscles, especially your heart.” Hannah tapped her chest. There were two full sections of the Oeya Ashar devoted to ‘defects’, but in Isra’s opinion, it was a relatively small area of what the holy text focused on. Oeyr was not the God of Disorder or God of Asymmetry, but the God of Emergence, how things followed rules with sometimes surprising consequences. And yes, chaos and defects were often a result.

“The hex of Bixzotl, God of Copies,” said Hannah, “Is in copyin’ somethin’ internal to you, like growin’ you a new heart, which kills you before the copy can fade. The worse one is copyin’ all your blood, which also kills you.” She rubbed her chin. “I don’t think that Qymmos, God of Sets, has a hex, but to tell you the truth, I may be wrong and shouldn’t have spoken with such authority earlier. Handy people, but not so good at the physical. Then there’s Kesbin, God of Nothing, and Xuphin, God of Infinity. Kesbin is easy, you just get somethin’ removed, and at its worst, from an archbishop or the like, the whole of you just vanishes. For Xuphin, it’s usually cancer.”

Isra frowned. “You gave their titles.”

“Well,” said Hannah. “I did. I … wasn’t sure you knew your gods, ay? Meant no offense by it.”

Isra kept frowning. She didn’t know what to say in response.

“Thank you for going through that,” said Verity. “It was informative.”

“Like I said,” Hannah shrugged. “Hexes aren’t really used against people anymore, and shame that they ever were.” She looked at Verity. “Kept your lunch?”

“Why wouldn’t I have?” asked Verity. “The dead things we saw in the dungeon were far worse than any description you could have given.”

“Good,” nodded Hannah.

“We have the gods in Tarbin,” said Isra. “I have the six holy books in my home. I’ve read them.”

Hannah nodded. “I meant no offense,” she said again. “I only thought there were things you didn’t know, and it might be a way to say for you so you didn’t have to sit and wonder, or feel like a dunce by askin’ about it.”

“Not that you’d be a dunce just because you didn’t know something,” said Verity, rushing to follow Hannah.

“It was a kind gesture,” said Isra, making an effort to relax. Sometimes with the animals, they realized that they had made a mistake and took some time to calm down. She endeavored to be better than them. “Thank you for the thought.”

“No problem,” said Hannah. “Now, since you’re here and all, can we finally see what you can do?”

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Alexander Wales

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