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Mizuki was so incredibly bored, and it was only the first day alone.

On a normal day, the full house allowed Mizuki to bounce around and see what other people were doing. Sometimes she helped (or ‘helped’) with Hannah’s baking, or with Verity’s gardening, or she sat down for yet another impromptu lesson on dungeons with Alfric. When no one was up for anything interesting, she would usually have a meal to work on, or a book to read, or there would be cause to warp into town.

Her books were boring and she was all alone. She didn’t need to cook because there was a huge pot of stew meant for five people. The dragons were kenneled, and they occupied her for a bit, but not nearly long enough. Tabbins had made himself scarce.

She could hardly remember how she’d made it through four years alone. There were will o’ wisps to chase, she supposed, though that was more suited for the evenings, and she could go talk to people in town, but Bethany would want to go on about the wedding, and everyone else would want to talk about how surely Mizuki was going to move away soon, and neither of those were conversations that she wanted to have again.

The worst part was that they’d kept the helmet of flight. On a logical level, she understood that Alfric needed it to strip out the chandelier and the lights and the other stuff. On an illogical level, flying with the helmet was the best thing she’d ever done, and the novelty hadn’t worn off, if it ever would. She wanted to fly again. The last time she’d been out, she’d gone as high up as she could, so high that the air got thin and she started to get really cold. The world had at once seemed so large and so small, and she wanted that feeling again, but perhaps with warmer clothes on.

Late in the day, around dinner time, there was a knock on the door. Mizuki got excited wondering who it could be and hoping that it was for her, but it was just Marsh.

“I tried Hannah yesterday and got no response, and then twice again today,” he said. “I’m probably worried over nothing, but is there a reason? Is she okay?”

“She’s fine, just in a long dungeon looting some stuff,” said Mizuki. “Have you eaten?”

“Not yet,” said Marsh. “What was the loot?”

“Here, come in,” said Mizuki. “I have some stew that needs eating.”

Marsh hesitated, just for a moment, but accepted the offer, and not long after that, he was sitting at the dining room table with her eating some stew. She had gussied the stew up a bit, putting on a quenelle of sour cream and sprinkling some fresh herbs on top. It was Mizuki’s second time eating stew, third if she included the bite she’d had with eggs that morning, and she was already a little sick of it.

“A recreation of a Dondrian theater?” asked Marsh when Mizuki had explained. “That’s … not something that I’ve heard of before.”

“It’s something Alfric hadn’t heard about before,” said Mizuki. “And there’s hardly anything he doesn’t know about dungeons.”

“I’m familiar,” said Marsh with a laugh. “But everyone is fine?”

“All fine,” said Mizuki. “But the stew was going to burn if we didn’t get out in time, and I guess it made the most sense for it to be me to leave.” She still didn’t feel like that was true. She didn’t even feel like it was true that the choice should have been between her and Verity: it should have been Verity. Verity was physically weaker, Mizuki was pretty sure, and more than that, Verity had a series of concerts coming up that she needed to practice for.

“This stew is amazing, by the way,” said Marsh as he took another big bite. “Hannah is always going on about your cooking.”

“Oh, good,” said Mizuki. “I do try.”

“And thanks for feeding me,” said Marsh. “You really didn’t have to.”

“Nah,” said Mizuki, waving a hand. “You’re Hannah’s boyfriend, that means you’re practically family.”

Marsh hesitated. “Is that what she says?”

“She doesn’t call you her boyfriend, no,” said Mizuki. “But come on, she spends so much time with you, talking about you, sighing wistfully while looking at her forearm — I mean, that could mean anything, maybe she’s wishing that she had larger forearms, but it seems like she’s wishing she’d hear from you.”

Marsh smiled. “Nice of you to say.”

“Well, don’t tell her I told you,” said Mizuki. “And I don’t know, she does say that this isn’t what she planned for. I think in her mind there were maybe going to be a lot of brief flings, and then she accidentally found you and you’re perfect. Might just take her a bit to realize.”

Marsh was blushing. “How much longer will they be in the dungeon, do you think?”

“I’ve got no idea,” said Mizuki. “I’m already going stir crazy. I don’t know how people live like this, not knowing if their friends are alive or dead.”

“It happened with my mom and dad sometimes,” said Marsh. “They went out to respond to some kind of calamity out on the eastern edge of Inter when I was nine, both of them together, and my uncle watched after me, but he refused to say that they’d be alright. I was terrified.”

“Why would he do that?” asked Mizuki, raising an eyebrow. “They were alright, weren’t they?”

“Oh, they were fine,” said Marsh. “As for my uncle, I don’t know, I think he just wanted to be straight with me. He explained that they were probably fine, but he kept saying that there was a chance for things to go sour. Which is true, don’t get me wrong, it’s always true for that kind of thing, but … I don’t know. I do wish he’d just said that it was going to be okay, that there was nothing to worry about.”

“Yeah,” said Mizuki. “I mean, they have Alfric with them, they’ll be fine, but a part of me just wants them back.”

“I do want her back,” said Marsh with a surprisingly wistful sigh for a guy that big. He caught himself and gave Mizuki a look. “Can you keep a secret?”

“Of course,” Mizuki lied.

Mizuki was terrible about keeping secrets. This wasn’t out of any malice, nor because she was a gossip, but because she had trouble keeping track of what she was supposed to say and what she wasn’t. Secrets introduced too many moving parts to a conversation. And sometimes if she caught herself before she let a secret slip, it would hang there in her mind, crowding out other thoughts. Sometimes, the other person in the conversation would notice this and ask about it, and then the secret would come out, or at best, it would be known that she was hiding something. Isra, by contrast, seemed like she’d be great at secrets, because Isra spoke little and only with what seemed like a lot of deliberation.

“I’ve fallen badly for her,” said Marsh. He sighed. “For Hannah, in case that wasn’t obvious.”

“It was,” said Mizuki.

“I keep trying to play it cool, but …” He shook his head. “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“You seem like you’re doing a good job so far,” said Mizuki.

“I feel like it’s going to fall apart and I’m going to have no idea why, or maybe I’ll know exactly why,” said Marsh. “And I can’t talk to my party about it, because they don’t care at all, and I don’t have other friends.”

“We can be friends,” said Mizuki. “I’ve never had a real guy friend.”

Marsh stared at her. “What, never?”

“Well, some guy friends who became boyfriends,” said Mizuki. “Or who were only friends because one or both of us wanted something more.” She shrugged. “I don’t know if you’ve met the Pedder boys?”

“They roasted a pig, right?” asked Marsh. “After the dungeon escape?”

“Yeah,” said Mizuki. “I kind of thought I would end up marrying one of them. But there was a time when we were just friends … only maybe none of us thought that we would stay friends. I don’t know, it’s so hard to look back.”

“Ah,” said Marsh. “But … Alfric?”

Mizuki’s brain did that thing where there was the obvious answer which needed to be censored, but trying to censor that answer took up all her ability to think, so she just sat there with her mouth open.

“None of my business,” nodded Marsh.

“No, it’s not that, it’s — I don’t know,” said Mizuki.

She had seen Alfric training shirtless and felt something inside her give way. The thought had been ‘Oh shoot, I’m in love with Alfric’. It had been like an epiphany, one that had recontextualized their entire relationship and every interaction they’d had up until that point. The feeling had lasted for half an hour, and then began to fade away, but it still hadn’t faded completely, and Mizuki wasn’t sure that it would.

There was a whole long list of reasons why Alfric would be the best boyfriend ever, and even if Mizuki was very ungenerous, the list of reasons why he’d be terrible had only two or three things on it. That wasn’t their relationship though, and he’d been quite clear that he didn’t want that kind of complication in his life, which she thought was pretty fair after all the Lola stuff.

She’d already decided that her feelings were stupid and she wasn’t going to pursue him, and this wasn’t going to be one of those times where she said ‘oh this is a horrible idea’ and then she did it anyway.

“Yeah,” said Marsh into the silence. “Sometimes these things can be hard to figure out.”

“You know I’m four years older than you, right?” asked Mizuki.

“You are?” asked Marsh. “I guess you read as younger.”

“I haven’t lost that youthful glow just yet,” smiled Mizuki.

“Well, let me know if I can … help?” asked Marsh. “It’s really more Hannah’s department, and I think Alfric still has a ways to go to forgive me.”

“Of course,” said Mizuki. “And let Hannah know you’re invited over for dinner whenever you want.”

Marsh eventually took off, and Mizuki was left alone again. For a moment she felt recharged, but it didn’t last very long, and the books she was reading didn’t seem to hold her interest.

It was entirely possible that the party would come back at virtually any moment. She didn’t know how long it would take for them to gut the theater, but it had been an entire day and then some already. When they finally left the dungeon, they would probably contact her through the party channel, and then she could rest easy, knowing that nothing horrible had happened.

<Hey, are you guys there?> she tried.

There was no response. It was good to know the party channel still worked, but also a little frightening. Alfric had said that there wasn’t supposed to be communication in or out of the dungeon, but did that mean that if they all died in there, she’d just have a ghost channel, a place she could talk where no one would hear her words?

She felt alone in her big house, more alone than she’d felt in years.

~~~~

There was still no message from the party in the morning of the second day, and Mizuki tried to go about her day. She’d resolved to go to Liberfell, or possibly even further afield, just to give her something to do, but she’d broken off things with Rolaj, and there wasn’t a lot to do in Liberfell aside from some shopping and food.

She had just finished with breakfast when Kell showed up at the door.

“Kell!” she said. She was surprised to see him. Since the dungeon escape, she’d seen him a few times around, and on temple days he would make an effort to seek her out and say hi. “What brings you around?”

“Is Alfric home?” he asked.

“Oh, er, no,” said Mizuki. “He’s in a dungeon at the moment, won’t be back until later today, or … possibly tomorrow.”

“Ah,” he said. He shifted from foot to foot. It might have been her imagination, but he seemed more magical than he had before. He had his staff with him, soaked in magic, and had a necklace and bracers that she didn’t remember him having. He was, actually, pretty well-armed, assuming that it wasn’t all utility, which it might be. “Well, I guess I’ll come back, unless you have time to talk?”

“I do,” said Mizuki, though she had her bag over her shoulder and her boots on. “Backyard or dining room?”

“Backyard is fine with me,” said Kell. “It’s the kind of day that no one would want to be indoors for.”

They got themselves settled in the backyard, which involved a lot of oohing and aahing at the garden. Mizuki hoped that it would be fine for a few days without Verity and Isra.

“So what’s up?” asked Mizuki as she sat on one of the benches.

“I’m thinking about joining Vertex,” he said.

Mizuki blinked at him. “Did they try to recruit you?”

“I came to them, we had an interview, and then they extended an offer to me,” said Kell.

“They already have a wizard,” said Mizuki.

“You can run a dungeon with two wizards,” said Kell. “Even as many as three is probably fine, though it’s ill-advised to go in without a healer and someone who can guard or block. The plan, if I’m going to be a part of their party, is to have Mardin and Marsh take on half-fighter roles. They’re both bigger guys, more comfortable up front.”

“You’re only first elevation,” said Mizuki.

“Fifth, actually,” said Kell.

“What?” asked Mizuki. “You were on the shortlist for this group. Did you just somehow jump up elevation?”

“Well, yeah,” said Kell, rubbing the back of his head. “I, uh, did some dungeons solo.”

Mizuki stared at him. “That’s really dangerous.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know. The first one, I figured that I would just go in with a build that was heavy on defense and high on burst damage, and if I ran into something I couldn’t handle, I would leave as fast as I possibly could. And … it went alright, so then I did another, and another.” He shrugged.

“How many?” asked Mizuki.

“Six,” he replied. “Apparently elevation goes up faster when you’re the only one in there.”

“Six is as many as I’ve done,” said Mizuki. “How?”

“I didn’t grab everything,” said Kell. “Mostly just the entads. And it wasn’t a full clear every time. I saw a monster who’d have a hard time fitting in your kitchen and just left rather than trying to kill it. But I didn’t really come to talk about that, I came to talk about your feelings on Vertex and whether they’re worth joining up with. Actually, I came to talk to Alfric about that, but if he’s not here, and won’t be for a bit … I guess I’d like your opinion.”

“On them?” asked Mizuki.

“How they work as a team, whether or not they’re professionals, that kind of thing,” he said. “We dealt with the dungeon escape alongside them, and aside from Lola, who’s out of the picture, they seemed functional and strong. They’ve had a downgrade by having their best entads repossessed, but they’ve taken a lot from the dungeons already. The interview was okay. So … ?”

“Uh, Grig and Marsh seem nice,” said Mizuki. “I think every time I talked to Josen or heard him speak, he was an ass. And Mardin I don’t really know, aside from one conversation where he was trying to downplay everything Lola had been doing. Not like he was trying to cover for her, but like he just didn’t think it was a big deal.” She shifted in her seat on the bench. “You know, it’s really hard for me to say, and you should talk to Alfric, though I’m worried that he’ll talk your ear off about proper party configuration instead of the personalities involved.”

“And he’s not going to be out of the dungeon for a bit?” asked Kell.

“Unfortunately, no,” said Mizuki. “And I was the one who got kicked out.”

“Why?” asked Kell. He immediately seemed defensive on her behalf, which she appreciated.

“Oh, someone needed to take the stew out of the oven so it didn’t burn,” said Mizuki. “And we’ve got some tiny dragons that need taking care of. And I’m the weakest person there, with no power to my magic, so … whatever.”

“Sorry that happened to you,” said Kell. He fidgeted with some of his magical gear. “Do you enjoy it, dungeoneering?”

“Mostly,” said Mizuki. “I like the entads, and sometimes I like seeing all the cool weird stuff, but it’s scary, and I don’t think I would do it without Alfric.”

Kell nodded. “That sixth dungeon I did, I almost died. It made me re-evaluate. And Vertex has paid for Alfric’s help, which is worth something to me.”

“You were doing a dungeon a day or something?” asked Mizuki.

“I was just … I don’t know,” said Kell. He shrugged. “Coming home was a lot different from what I thought it would be. But when I went to Kiromo, that was different from what I thought it would be too, so maybe I’m just bad at knowing how things will be.”

“You really shouldn’t go into dungeons alone,” said Mizuki. “The stuff will be more than five times stronger. I’m told.”

“When you kill most things in the dungeon, you do it many times over, right?” asked Kell. “You don’t just barely kill them?”

“I mean, I guess,” said Mizuki. “Most things will die to one burst of whatever’s handy, and if their guts fall out onto the floor because I scrambled them, that’s just, uh, death, you know? Doesn’t really matter what else they have going on unless they can fight while they lose all their blood.”

“It’s like that for a wizard too,” nodded Kell. “Most things will die to a single beam of concentrated power, or a blast, or whatever else I have configured. And it’s less dangerous for wizards, because the elevation metric doesn’t take into account our mana load.”

“I don’t even know what that is,” said Mizuki.

“It’s, ah, sort of the basic unit of wizardry?” he asked. “Our overall ability to have a large pool and good constructions? Though there are elements of personal skill that limit it too.”

Mizuki shook her head.

“Mana is like … a currency,” said Kell. “There are large stones that are pulled up from the ground and given out to wizards, or in some cases purchased, which is where we get our power from. We can spend that currency on either constructions, which do things on their own, or on power for the pool of available mana, which is the, or a, reservoir. So the currency ends up having ah, two sections, I guess.”

“But it doesn’t matter how much you bring into a dungeon?” asked Mizuki. “It doesn’t affect elevation?”

“You’d have to ask Alfric,” said Kell. “He’s the dungeon guy, right? Even Vertex seems to think so.”

“He would know, yeah,” said Mizuki. “You know, I never really knew all that much about wizards. We’re supposed to be mortal enemies.”

“I don’t take any of that old stuff seriously,” Kell replied with a laugh. “They did talk about it in school though, how a sorcerer could absolutely wreck a wizard without even giving it that much thought.”

“Yeah,” said Mizuki. She pointed at his necklace, which was half-hidden by his long shirt. “Right there, I could undo that and force the energy — the pool — out into your chest. Pow. Through the heart.”

“Mmm,” said Kell. “That’s why if you ever need to fight a sorc, you do it from a distance. See, what I should have done was knock on the door and then snipe you from behind a tree.”

Mizuki smiled and crossed her legs. “Are you busy today?”

“No,” he replied. “I have some constructions to work on, but I’m still on the business planning end of things, seeing what will work out for me. Most of my plan for today was coming here and figuring out what I wanted to do about Vertex.”

“I was going to Liberfell. Are you interested in coming with me?” asked Mizuki. “I don’t know how you’re settling in, but —”

“Sure, absolutely, I’m up for an adventure,” said Kell. “What are we doing?”

“Killing time until my party gets back,” said Mizuki. “But with that said, we can use the wardrobe, so it’s really not so much walking. And … shoot, I was going to say we could use the dagger, but I guess it’s keyed to Alfric.”

“I don’t know what those are,” said Kell. “Wardrobe? Dagger? These are entads?”

It took Mizuki some time to explain, but that was okay, because she liked to talk about entads and Kell was an attentive listener. She eventually explained the other things too, their full travel suite, the stone and the chest for putting people in, and the helmet for flying.

“I can actually just take us, if we’re going to Liberfell,” said Kell. “How much do you weigh?”

“Um, hundred and ten?” she asked. “I think? Why?”

Kell went into his pocket and fished out an amulet with the pattern of a sun on it, and Mizuki looked at it. It was an entad. “It lets me go to it twice a day,” he said. “I can carry my own bodyweight plus a hundred and twenty-five pounds of organics and another fifty of inorganics.”

“Okay,” Mizuki said slowly. “And you have a way to get this to Liberfell?”

Kell smiled and pulled out a slingshot from his back pocket. The fork was made of metal and the band was some stretchy material, with a little pouch in the middle. This was also an entad.

“You’re going to slingshot the amulet twelve miles?” she asked. “That’s insane.”

“It’ll be more like twenty-four miles,” said Kell. “But yes. The maximum range is about fifty miles.”

Mizuki’s eyes were wide. “How fast is that thing? You could punch a hole through a tree!”

“It’s magic, not brute force,” said Kell. He handed it to her. “Did you want to try it?”

Mizuki took the slingshot from him, grinning at it, then went searching through the garden to pick a good stone. Many of the stones had come from the nearby stream, some of them placed in the garden by Mizuki herself, and she found a good one, nice and rounded, river-smoothed. She set it into the slingshot’s thong and pulled back, aiming toward the woods.

“Oh wow,” she said. The entad didn’t just launch things, it came with some sense of where they would go. When she aimed at the tree with the slingshot drawn, she could tell exactly where it would hit, a spot that changed as she wasn’t able to keep her hand steady. “This is nuts.” She stopped and then pulled back again, aiming it up. She couldn’t see in her mind’s eye where it would land, but she had some sense of how far it would travel. She released the stone and it flew up into the air, quickly out of sight into the forest. It hadn’t actually been moving that fast though.

“Nice,” said Kell, plucking the slingshot from her. “That sense of where it will land isn’t perfect, by the way, and gets worse the further you’re sending it. What I think is happening is that it imparts some kind of weird physics on whatever you’re firing, maybe allowing it to partially ignore gravity and friction, but … not entirely? So when it flies through the air, it’s affected by wind, just a smidge, and when you know where it’s going to land, that’s a prediction, but it’s based on current conditions rather than whatever the conditions will be when it’s in flight.” He shrugged. “It’s incredibly hard to test though.”

“Take it to Filera?” asked Mizuki.

“Er, that would be kind of a waste,” said Kell. “I’ve already tested it enough on my own, and with the time it takes to get identification, there’s no way the amount I’d have to pay would be worth it.”

“Oh, right,” said Mizuki. “I forgot that we have a special deal with her. She does the idents on undone days.”

“Wow, must be nice,” said Kell. “I think I’ve spent more time figuring out entads than I have in dungeons. Hey, check this out.” He stood up and held out his arm, which promptly vanished, leaving an empty sleeve that fell down. “It’s from a small bottle I got.” His arm reappeared in his sleeve. “I can do more than that, but it’s kind of worthless. The arm is still, uh, ‘there’, it’s just … also not there? Works for the legs as well.”

“Weird,” said Mizuki. “You know, I like the entads because they’re little puzzles, tiny mysteries, but I like identification because sometimes you get stuck on a puzzle and you stay stuck there, which I’ve never liked.”

“You might have made a good wizard,” said Kell. “There are a lot of puzzles.”

“I don’t think they’d be the kind of puzzle that I like,” said Mizuki.

“Maybe,” shrugged Kell. He looked up at the sky, judging the position of the sun. “Well, shall we?”

“Sure,” said Mizuki. “Let’s see how this amulet of yours works.”

Kell took the amulet in hand, loaded it into the slingshot, and aimed carefully with a half draw. He released, and they watched it sail off into the distance. There was something weird about the way it moved, as it was clearly under magical influence.

“What if it hits someone?” asked Mizuki.

“It’s never happened,” said Kell.

“Or breaks a window?” asked Mizuki.

“Then I’ll pay for a window and make my apologies,” shrugged Kell. “It’s going to land somewhere in the Liberfell hex, most of that area isn’t windows. It’ll be fine.” He gave her a look. “This isn’t the kind of thing I’d think you’d worry about.”

“No?” asked Mizuki. They didn’t really know each other, aside from maybe stuff when they were kids.

“Do you remember throwing a rock through that window?” asked Kell, pointing over at the house.

“Oh,” said Mizuki. “Yeah, I do, but I was — I wasn’t trying to throw it into the window, the window was open and I was trying to get a rock to land on my bed.”

“And you don’t remember me being there at all?” asked Kell.

“No, I do,” said Mizuki. “But that had to have been like ten years ago, right? Mostly what I remember was getting in trouble.”

“The amulet should have landed by now,” said Kell. “Ready?”

“I suppose,” said Mizuki. She took his offered hand and stood on his shoes, something that they did with the dagger from time to time. “I don’t know why I’m nervous.”

“It’ll be fine,” said Kell.

The world smeared around them, and it was loud in a way that Mizuki hadn’t expected, but a moment later they were standing on a rooftop in the middle of downtown Liberfell. It thankfully didn’t have a slope to it, though if it did, the amulet probably would have fallen off. Instead, they were on a flat roof, the kind that was probably heated in the winter to keep the snow from building up, and there was a nice little garden there with flowering bushes and a line of herbs. Mizuki went to the edge and looked down. They were three stories up.

“Wow,” she said. “This is great.”

“I don’t think we’re supposed to be here,” said Kell, looking around. “Sorry.”

“Do you think whoever owns this place would really mind?” asked Mizuki. She picked up the amulet and handed it to him. “Most people are understanding when magic does something a little unexpected.” She looked over the edge again. “Nice shot, by the way, we’re basically right in the center of the city.”

“The entad assists,” said Kell. “Come on, we should go.”

Mizuki stopped and sniffed at a flower, then cast the warp. It wasn’t until they had met up again that Kell seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Being in places I shouldn’t be makes me nervous,” Kell replied. “It’s the kind of thing you can really get in trouble for in Kiromo.”

“Really?” asked Mizuki. They walked out of the warp building together, into the city streets. “Just for accidentally being on someone’s rooftop?”

“Part of it was that I was an outsider,” said Kell. “I — I don’t know how much you know about Kiromo, what it’s actually like as opposed to what our grandparents and parents said. They care a lot about where you’re from.”

“And being half-Kiromon means that you get called out on things?” asked Mizuki. “That kind of makes me worry for my little sisters.”

“It’s not so bad,” said Kell. “And apparently better than it used to be, which is the whole reason our families went back.”

“Well, I don’t know much,” said Mizuki. “My grandpa used to talk a lot about it, and got into politics, but mostly what I got from that was there was a lot of stuff about different ethnicities?”

Kell nodded. “The nation of Kiromo as it stands now is a collection of three to seven historical nations, depending on how you count, a result of the pressure towards consolidation from some of the things that Editors have been implementing over the centuries, and as a response to Inter’s sheer size. But Kiromo has done things a lot less successfully than either Inter or Tarbin, at least when it comes to being a single coherent nation, and — I’m boring you.”

“Nah,” said Mizuki. “I mean, I’m used to Alfric going on about a bunch of stuff that, maybe, I don’t actually need to know. There’s something comfortable about it. My grandpa did it too.”

“Mmm,” said Kell. It seemed like maybe he didn’t appreciate the comparison, but that didn’t stop him from going on. “In Inter, you can go from province to province and not really know that it’s happening, but it’s not like that in Kiromo. You go into a different province and they wear different clothes, have different customs, different buildings, different food, and different history. I didn’t really go outside of that one province, but there’s some — I don’t want to call it animosity — but some suspicion of outsiders, even people from within the same nation.”

“Sounds horrible,” said Mizuki. “I thought things were different under the new Emperor?”

“They are, a bit, but it’s better, not good.” He shrugged. “Anyway, I’m happy to be back in Inter, even if it’s not quite what I had remembered.”

They walked through Liberfell without all that much on their schedule, which was being driven by Mizuki anyhow. Mizuki had been making what felt like pretty regular trips to Liberfell, but normally she had some destination in mind, and this was a good opportunity to freely explore.

Kell liked to talk, and he also liked to listen, and Mizuki felt some of the tension that had been building up in her slowly release. There was something very normal about Kell, stable and steady, in a way that really did remind her of Alfric. She ended up talking about Alfric, maybe too much.

They had lunch together, and later, dinner. Mizuki was a bit surprised that Kell had nothing else to do with his day, but apparently he was shopping around for a job as a dungeoneer. They did do a few things that he’d wanted to do, like stopping by the local wizard’s hall, where he spoke with a few wizards while Mizuki milled about and tried not to look like a sorc. There were plenty of constructions there, machines that the wizards had built for various purposes, and Mizuki was very careful not to touch anything, or even look at it too hard.

“Thanks for spending the day with me,” said Mizuki as the sun began to set. “You really didn’t have to. I’ve been told that I can be a bit much.”

“Not at all,” said Kell. “We should get going though, so you don’t have to walk home in the dark.” He got out his slingshot and amulet, and aimed carefully at the horizon. The amulet sailed off into the distance. “You’ll let me know when Alfric comes back, so I can talk to him about Vertex?”

“Sure,” said Mizuki. “I’ve been expecting something over party chat all day, but I guess they’ll be there two nights.” Another night at home alone stung.

She stepped on his feet and he whisked them home, into the woods this time, and once the amulet was collected, they warped together.

“I guess I’ll see you around,” said Mizuki.

Despite basically spending the whole day together, she almost wanted to extend it, especially knowing that she was going back to an empty house. There was a part of her that wanted to invite him to her house, but she worried that would send him the wrong signal. Their day had been perfectly platonic, and there had been a few points when she’d worried that he’d place his hand on her thigh, or casually wrap his arm around her, or where touch would linger — but he’d kept his distance, and nothing she’d been worried about had come to pass.

Then they’d parted, and Mizuki walked home as the sun set. She talked into the party channel as she went, though of course there was no response. There was hope for tomorrow.

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Alexander Wales

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WarLadle ago

Poor Kell, dealing with feeling out of place, alone and having rushed into a new profession, all while still trying to work through a long latent crush on Mizuki, which I think he knows she doesn't and likely won't ever reciprocate.

Hopefully Vertex is good for the guy, get him a bit of permanence and belonging.

The Aimless Passerby ago

We need more Kell, he feels like an errant MC all on his lonesome (for now)

sorabird ago

I'm looking forward to seeing Alfric and Kell's conversation. Especially when Alfric hears about him soloing dungeons.

Mizuki doesn't seem to have gotten into much trouble, which is interesting considering the expectation we all had at the end of the last chapter.

megameh ago

Kell is a great foil for Alfric, honestly! I look forward to having them sit down and talk shop. Maybe pressure from Kell will awaken Alfric to his own latent feelings?

    Okonkwok ago

    Alric is already aware of his feelings and Mizuki's. He experienced Mizuki's fliritng in undone days. He just feels weird with main timeline Mizuki being weird about it.

    Also Alfric has a very strong sense of responsibility. He knows later in his life he would need to make Chrononaut babies with a Chrononaut wife, and raise those babies in a Chrononaut family. Duties that he will most likely fulfill. Any other non-chrononaut partner would at most be a concubine, Mizuki included.

TenThousandSuns ago

Poor Kell. Mizuki out here absolutely crushing all the boys under her feet. Very tropey that the guy she will potentially end up with isn't impacted by her in that way. Right off of TVTropes really.

Actually I kinda want Wales to subvert this and not make Mizuki and Alfric end up together or perhaps even have a thing at all. But she can't get with Kell obviously, childhood "friend" is way overdone, even one sided.

Fred ago

Thanks for the chapter.

Well, what do you know, Mizuki didn’t get into any trouble (yet). I was surprised the thing with her hiding at the window a few chapters back was actually her realizing the intensity of her feelings for Alfric. I wonder if it’ll take until their next undone day together for her to start dropping some bigger hints that’s she’s no longer “just flirting”.

    Xenteko ago

    It would be a breath of fresh air if she didn't, tbh.

    Something terrible having to happen just because they're separated doesn't really fit the realistic slice-of-life feel of the story. Plus, it's cliched as fuck.

    FaqSands ago

    I can see the tip off to Alfric being her NOT flirting on an undone day, her trying to overcorrect to not spill the beans, and him being more willing to flirt on an undone day making him start it and her being hesitant, which starts an actual conversation? Maybe Alrfric would then quickly, prematurely end the day to have the real conversation with Mizuki realising how serious it is. Oh wait, or just decide that the undone day is no longer going to be undone, that works too I guess.

    tarkalak ago

    If they are in that dungeon for a whole week, she has another 5 days at least to find herself some trouble.

ravell ago

thanks for the chapter

One day in she is already bored and taking risks

She's told two people with links to her enemies that she is alone and vulnerable .
How long before Lola's parents find out that the shameless hussy that stole their daughter's fiancé and put her jail, is unprotected?
For that matter is everyone in Vertex okay with their meal ticket being taken away?

    Vlad Spellbinder ago

    From everything that was said about that whole thing Lola was the only outlier from the family and everyone just wants things hushed up and forgotten. The Underhills have every reason to leave Alfric and his acquaintances alone. They fully admit that Lola was at fault for her actions and that her parientd have some blame for letting her take things as far as she did. There is no "revenge plot" in thr works. It would be totally counterproductive to them getting their reputation back.

    Oceanflex ago

    Most of the people in Vertex were unhappy Lola anyway, only working with her because of the free safety net. But they all know Lola isn't willing to keep being in their dungeon party anymore, since she's getting tired of it and already "made good on" her threat.

      CoyoteLaughing ago

      The shoe can still drop any time that Alric is still in the dungeon. But I forgot about the instant communication entad with Ria, so I guess the outcome won't be as bad as attempted murder or kidnapping. Probably something super socially awkward that Ria can't help with.

GanguroGal ago

Tftc! I really liked this line. It's a great insight into Mizuki - ‘oh this is a horrible idea’ and then she did it anyway.

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