The Garos Duomo had been a bit of a disappointment to Hannah. It was a pretty building, and yes, very symmetrical, but aside from the stunning feeling of vertigo that the floor induced, and the extremely large and rather long artwork, whoever had made the building concerned themselves more with history than actual practice. They seem to care about veneration of the Church rather than their god.
Hannah had often felt a sense of alienation from the Church of Garos, and it was exactly for that reason. There was so much in the seminary — and beyond — that was about the built up cruft of religion and society. Hannah had hoped that the artwork would be intensely symmetrical, like the Painting of Twenty Symmetries in the seminary that had hung in her dormitory.
She’d come back to the cathedral not because she was hoping that it would have some hidden insights, but because Dondrian was large enough to support all kinds of businesses that related to Garos in some way. There were thousands of clerics of Garos, which meant there were seamstresses that specialized in outfits of the highest symmetry. Hannah wasn’t much interested in a souvenir, but while they were in Dondrian, it seemed like a good time to buy things that couldn’t be had in Pucklechurch.
She was in a bakery near the cathedral when the marble in her pocket began to grow warm. For a moment, she thought about not answering it, but there was no point taking the thing if she wasn’t going to answer the call. She pulled it out, squeezed it as she’d been shown, then held it in her palm.
The image of Marsh appeared, quite small on the surface of her forearm, like a tattoo of incredible fidelity, but moving of its own accord.
“Hannah!” grinned Marsh. “This thing is working, good.”
“Ay, it’s working, but you seem a bit ugly on my end.” She grinned at him.
“You wound me,” said Marsh, clutching his chest. “Where are you? I rolled into Pucklechurch looking for you, but you were out yesterday, and today too.”
“So much attention for me?” asked Hannah. “I’m honored.”
“After the dungeon escape we decided to take a breather,” said Marsh. “I’m bored out of my skull. I thought maybe we could pick up where we left off?”
“Well, ay, there’s a good chance we will, next time we meet, but I’m out of town,” said Hannah. “I’ll be back tonight, but will want some rest, so it will have to be tomorrow.”
“Did you end up telling your party about us?” asked Marsh.
“I haven’t yet, but I don’t see it as much of their business,” Hannah replied. “Have you told your party?”
“Nah,” said Marsh. “I was going to, but Grig got unusually drunk and there was some fighting about whether or not Lola was the one that let the monster loose. The party is being a drag, and you’re the only highlight of my life right now, and I just know they’d do their best to wreck it.”
“Fair enough,” said Hannah. “And better to keep it from Lola, I’d think.”
“Maybe,” he shrugged, shoulders momentarily obscuring a freckle. “So, tomorrow?” He had a winsome grin that was nearly hidden by his voluminous beard.
“Ay, tomorrow,” said Hannah. “Use the marble, we’ll find a place to meet up.”
“See you then,” he smiled.
The tattoo faded away, and the marble, which had been sitting in her hand, quite warm, began to cool down.
Marsh was, in Hannah’s opinion, not the sort of man that you ended up with, but he was fun enough, with a swagger and charm, very straightforward. Hannah would settle down, eventually, and it wouldn’t be with anyone remotely like Marsh, but she’d met up with him after the dungeon escape, and they’d ended up kissing behind the temple for quite a bit. He’d given her the marble, which was bound to him, and it seemed like for a time, they’d be something like partners.
Kissing him had been a touch impulsive, but she’d been riding high off a good day’s work and the thought that perhaps all this would be undone. She didn’t regret it, but a part of her thought that it might have been better to go in with a level head rather than letting the passion take her. Of course, with a man like Marsh, the point was to have fun and not worry about it too much, and the kissing had been fun — she was a fan of long moments of kissing.
He’d tried to go further, but she’d moved his hand with a firm grip, and when he’d tried to convince her that the day might be undone, she’d laughed him off as though it wasn’t a bit enticing. He’d been gracious about it, and given her the marble, which she thought was to his credit. She’d had a partner in seminary that had whined and begged for physical intimacy, and it had left a very negative impression on her. Once she was done with Marsh, she’d gone back to the house, and had enjoyed having a bit of a secret from the others. There was a nice warm feeling to kissing someone for the first time, and she imagined that it might go away if Alfric knew, given that he’d probably have Opinions.
She hadn’t told Marsh where she was, or been exact about when she’d be back, for fear that Lola was listening in on the conversation, or had otherwise induced it to happen. Alfric had been fairly certain that Lola didn’t have the ability to quickly dart from one end of Inter to the other, and Hannah trusted his judgment, but there was still the worry that she might be snooping around in the house, even with it locked up tight, or that she might otherwise be working on some surprise for them when she got back.
Something would have to be done, and ideally, that would mean some kind of truce, but given the animosity Alfric felt and the fact that almost all the aggression, if you could call it that, was coming from Lola, a truce seemed like it would take a lot of work. On the one hand, Hannah thought that she could help them, but on the other hand, it seemed that Alfric didn’t particularly want her help.
She bought some bread from the bakery and talked to the baker there about the plaits they used, particularly the rotational symmetry in one of their loaves, a triple helix that had, somehow, been created so that it had different levels of symmetry and no apparent contact with the stove. There was a trick to it, which was that a cleric helped to even out all of the problems that gravity created during the baking process, but they were happy to share their secrets with Hannah, including the recipe, which was quickly written down on a notecard and passed over. People often said that big city folk were rude or curt, but the baker, at least, had shown that this was a matter of who you met and how you approached them.
Once she was done at the bakery, a bag with two loaves in hand, Hannah went over to a relatively small entad shop. She had no real notion of buying anything there, but it seemed specialized in things that were of importance to Garos, which meant that it was worth a look. With her armor now sorted away, the only thing that Hannah really had any need for was a proper weapon, and even then, the armor could help with that as well, in a pinch. Other things, like a personal travel and storage entad, would likely have to wait until they found a suitable one in the dungeon. Specialized entads, like those that would allow her to touch things from far away, would take even more time, and according to Alfric, were horrendously expensive.
“Looking for anything in particular?” asked a man in a crisp uniform. Uniforms seemed to be a big thing in Dondrian, as Hannah had seen quite a few of them, or at least clothes that seemed tailored and washed for the purposes of a professional appearance. It was the sort of thing that they mostly didn’t bother with in Pucklechurch, with only a few exceptions — clerics putting on their formal outfits on temple days being one of them. His hair was closely cropped, with straight lines that made it seem like he’d been to the barber in the past few days. He was older, maybe forty, with a refined sense to him.
“Nothin’ particular, no,” said Hannah. “I’m a dungeoneer, so — if you have it, I s’pose, I’d like somethin’ that I’d not be likely to eventually pick up myself.”
“Hmm,” said the man, tapping his lips. “What do you get for the woman who might find anything?”
“I’m a cleric of Garos, if that helps,” said Hannah.
“Oh, I had imagined,” he replied. “You seem the sort. You can’t always tell by the symmetricalization of the face, but the hair is usually a dead giveaway, especially yours, with as much volume as it has.”
Hannah felt herself blushing, not that it was so great a compliment. Normally she wouldn’t have bothered to make sure that each strand was laying symmetrical, but she was in the Garos quarter, such as it was, and she had made the effort, the same as she’d done in the seminary.
“Well,” he said. “If you’re looking for something that will be a minor help, we have plenty of that, and if you’re looking for a major help, we can have a discussion.”
“A minor help,” said Hannah. “I’m not lookin’ to spend too much, and I don’t have too much to spend, mostly hopin’ for somethin’ that will help me and mine out when we’re in the thick of it. We’re sorted for storage and travel, but it seems there are all sorts of edge cases in the dungeons.”
He snapped his fingers. “I think I have just the thing, unless you’re also sorted for mapping?”
“We are not,” Hannah replied.
“I’ll need to grab it from the back,” he said. “In the meantime, there’s a catalog you can look through, if you’d like, it’s a new wortier design, listing every entad from every shop that’s part of our cooperative.” He gestured at a relatively thin tome sitting on top of the counter.
“Seems a nightmare to keep track of it all,” said Hannah.
“It still is, even with a very clever group of wortiers having worked on it,” he nodded. “But the sorting is quite ingenious, and it’s linked with dozens of other books of its kind. It’s quite new, we’ve had it only a month.” He left, going back into the bowels of the shop, and Hannah, for lack of anything better to do, decided to idly leaf through the catalog, though a catalog seemed a poor replacement for actually getting her hands on something.
Though the book was thin, it was immediately obvious why: the thing was infused with a very heavy wortier magic, such that the relatively few pages would reconfigure themselves to the touch of the reader, or in this case, shopper. There were manifold divisions of the entads, and they could be sorted by their form, their general magic, their specific magic, the store they belonged to, or their price. The prices seemed quite steep to Hannah, but she’d been warned that things were more expensive in the city, at least in some respects.
The possibilities were overwhelming, naturally, and the prices, at least at the upper end, were astonishing. Out of curiosity, Hannah sought the most expensive of them, and it seemed to be a jug that could make milk in great quantities, which was a bit of a boring answer, if you asked her. There was a note saying that it was currently in ownership but ‘underutilized’, and an explanation of the pricing, which factored in potential profits for whomever could make it work at scale, all of which made Hannah’s eyes glaze over.
And then there were the entads whose prices were not listed, which obviously might have a much higher value. In fact, looking through the book, it seemed that most things didn’t have a listed price. Hannah didn’t know what the city’s stance on haggling was — she hadn’t haggled for the bread — but it was a mainstay of entad sales, she knew, given how unique they each were.
After not too long, the man came back, holding a copper amulet in his hand, encrusted with verdigris. He handed this to Hannah, smiling.
“It creates a dynamic map,” he said. “Anything it’s been within ten feet of will show up, though only for two days, and from what Qymmos says, if you’re in a dungeon, it will show only the dungeon. A mental push will call the map up. Visible to you and you alone.”
Hannah handled it, turning it over and looking at it, then gave the mental push and looked at the map.
She could see the flaws right away, but felt like she was uncovering more with every passing moment. Ten feet was too short a range, and left the ‘map’ with gaping holes all over the place. The map didn’t distinguish between walls, people, or things, meaning that it was all one singular color, seemingly melded together given the low fidelity. And it didn’t show where it was, nor did it update quickly enough that you could tell just by moving your hands, you had to try to find where in the map you were by finding the shape of a person who was standing still and looking at an amulet.
Still though, it was useful, and the flaws seemed like they might be helpful insofar as they might lower the price.
“How much?” asked Hannah.
“One hundred rings,” he replied.
“How flexible are you on price?” asked Hannah.
“Not terribly,” he replied. “Though for a cleric of Garos, I do occasionally offer a better deal.”
“Ninety-five?” asked Hannah.
“I could do that,” he nodded.
They shook on it, and Hannah took out her rings. It was, she thought, a fairly good deal, though she was sure that Isra would have haggled for longer, and that Alfric would have told her it was better to wait until they found something of their own that could fulfill the same function. Still, she had been saving her money from that first big and as-yet-unmatched haul, and it didn’t hurt to buy something just because she wanted it, especially not when it could be justified as dungeoneering equipment.
She did spend a bit more time looking around after that, and apologized to the man at the counter for being a lookie-loo, but he didn’t mind, and she imagined that if you had a shop selling entads, it came with the territory.
Once she was finished there, she was feeling a bit lost. She could go back to the cathedral, of course, but what she had a real hankering for was a deep theological discussion, and that seemed the sort of thing that would be hard to get unless you knew the right people, especially as someone being a cleric of Garos wasn’t sufficient for them to actually care about Garos.
By coincidence, it was precisely as she was having this thought that she heard someone shout “Hannah!” from down the street. She turned, and saw that it was Prudence.
“Hannah, I thought that was you,” smiled Prudence as she came over. “I’d have recognized that hair anywhere.”
“Prudy?” asked Hannah. “What are you doin’ in Dondrian?”
“Well I should ask you the same thing!” exclaimed Prudence. “I came here after seminary, selected for the Garos Duomo. I’ve been in Dondrian this whole time. And you were sent to … somewhere? I’m sorry, I can’t recall.”
From someone else, Hannah might have thought that was a slight, but Prudence was sweet and earnest, without a mean bone in her body, even when that would have suited her well. They had been part of the same class in the seminary, though never terribly close friends. Still, there was some closeness that came with going through the same program at the same time, living in the same place, eating meals in the same rooms, and all that, even if they didn’t have terribly much in common beyond being clerics of the same god.
“I was sent to Pucklechurch, a small town in Greater Plenarch, east of the capital,” said Hannah. “Though I’m independent now, a dungeoneer.”
“Oh,” said Prudence. “That’s — you were always so talented, so knowledgeable.”
“Still am,” nodded Hannah.
“Sorry, I didn’t — I just thought that you would end up … well, high up within the Church, that’s all, possibly working at the seminary in Plenarch yourself.” She frowned. “Sorry, I meant no offense, I just didn’t imagine that you’d end up, um, in the dungeons. So to speak.”
“No offense taken,” said Hannah, though she might have taken offense if it had been someone else. Prudence was a kindly girl. “I’m not sure that the administration would have suited me, nor the academic side, small though it is. Poring over tomes at the age of twenty, immersin’ myself in mathematics — there’s an appeal there, I’ll admit, but it seems a waste of youth.”
“I can see that,” nodded Prudence. “For myself, I’ve been having a bit of struggle with all the newness of the city, even if it’s been, what, almost a year now? I suppose I came here in spring, so a bit more than a year now. I keep feeling like I don’t belong, or like I’m never going to get to the level that everyone else already seems to be at.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll get there, you were always diligent,” said Hannah.
“Would you have time for a bit of tea, if you’re just visiting?” asked Prudence.
“I’m afraid I have business with the party,” said Hannah, which wasn’t strictly true. “And we’ll be off today, otherwise I’d schedule something.”
“Oh, no worries,” said Prudence. “It was just a flight of fancy. Say, would you mind a letter sometime? I keep in touch with a few people from our class.”
“I’d take a letter, ay,” said Hannah. “And send one back in turn, as befits a cleric of Garos.”
Prudence gave a laugh, and Hannah smiled, but once Prudence had said her goodbyes, the smile was quick to fade.
Prudence hadn’t been the only one who’d thought that Hannah was destined for great things after the seminary. She didn’t think so highly of herself, not when it came to matters as high as the level of the province, but she had thought that perhaps she might rise to a position of prominence within whatever church she was placed in.
That was an impossibility in Pucklechurch, naturally. There, she was meant to be a replacement for Lemmel, and once he was retired, she would have a good forty years or so before she started training in her own replacement, who would in turn be stuck there.
Why they had decided on Pucklechurch for her was, to Hannah, a mystery. Placement was a complicated process, one with many people involved, and there was no doubt in her mind that she’d butted heads with a few of them during her time at seminary, for one reason or another. She had complained when her assignment to Pucklechurch had come in, but nothing she’d said had done anything to sway anyone, and in fact, it felt like it was quite the opposite. Someone needed to go to Pucklechurch, that much was true, but she saw no good reason that it should be her.
She’d put in the effort, and tried her best, despite her disappointment. It became clear relatively quickly that Pucklechurch was not the place for her though, not in the long term, and her application to be moved elsewhere was quietly ignored until a follow-up letter made it clear that Pucklechurch was, in the view of the church, where she was most needed. She didn’t agree, and perhaps that disagreement had left her disagreeable with the other clerics in general, which had led to her leaving the local guild.
She had known for some time that she was going to go independent, but it was a step that wasn’t to be taken too lightly. The Church had quite a bit of control, and leaving — leaving for good — meant that she wouldn’t be able to put into practice quite a few of the skills that she’d been taught. There was a bit of stigma that came from leaving the Church, and even if there hadn’t been, who would want to take advice from someone who didn’t have the support of their Church? The obvious question people would ask, even if only in their own heads, was ‘what’s wrong with her?’
It was a question that Hannah didn’t normally give all that much serious consideration. The obvious conclusion was that it was the world that was wrong, that the Church was a place of politics and performative symmetry, where doing your best to not cause offense was more important than whether your opinions could be backed up by theory and fact. The laity cared about healing and repairs, rather than Garos, and most of the clerics had come up from the laity, never having true devotion. They treated what should have been a calling like it was a profession, and prayer like it was a cost that profession incurred.
There was a bundle of sour feelings that Hannah tried not to poke at too much, for fear her thoughts would be sour for the rest of the day.
<Who is closest to me?> asked Hannah. <I’m at the Garos Duomo, but finishing up here, lookin’ for somethin’ else to do to fill out the day.>
<The museum isn’t far,> said Verity. <Half a mile’s walk due west. We’d welcome your company, though I have to warn you that we’re going slow.>
<Sorry,> said Isra.
<No, it’s fine,> said Verity. <I’m enjoying it.>
<Well, I’ll be there in a bit,> said Hannah.
She hurried off, wanting to be with other people, rather than alone with her thoughts.