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The Guildpact's Clinic

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Kamigawa, the next day

Things were going as well as could be expected. Over the last few evenings, Tamiyo had gotten back into the habit of meditating, and Esther had begun to teach her exercises that would help her redirect her thoughts away from her trauma. In the mornings, Esther studied with Narset, discussing theories of magic and the histories of Tarkir and other planes Narset had visited.

In between, Esther combed Tamiyo’s library for books Narset recommended and read them in a sunny parlor overlooking the Shrine to the Elements. It was slow going in Kamigawa’s complicated writing system, but Narset had taught Esther a more efficient formula for Make Sense, so while it wasn’t as relaxing as reading Ravnican books, it wasn’t nearly as exhausting as Esther expected.

She was in that parlor, lying on her back on a futon in a robe embroidered with flowers that had come from the depths of Tamiyo’s closet, spelunking through a treatise on ancient planeswalkers and artificial planes, when a mote of light she hadn’t noticed before grew to a blinding glow and a sudden breeze rustled the pages.

As the glow faded, she shielded her eyes with one hand and peered up at a very large cat. Its fur was white, and it appeared to be standing on two legs and wearing armor.

And it was surprised to see her. “...hello,” it said in a deep purring voice. “Do you know where Tamiyo is?”

They, then, or possibly he or she. Esther scrambled to close the book and sit up. “Hi,” she said. “I’m not sure, but I can check.” She closed her eyes and mentally reached out. Narset was in range. Hey, um, there’s a big cat looking for Tamiyo—

White fur, one eye?

Esther opened her eyes briefly. Yes, the cat person had a big scar across one eye. Yeah, sounds right. She sent an image.

Narset’s response was almost immediate. I’ll get her.

“Narset’s going to look for her now,” Esther said. “You’re a friend of hers?”

“That I am,” the cat person said. “My name is Ajani.”

“I’m Esther. She pronouns. What are yours, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Pronouns?” Ajani rumbled. “He, I suppose.” He looked down at Esther with one piercingly blue eye. “That’s not a question I’ve ever been asked before.”

“No? It’s not so strange where I come from.”

“Where does that happen to be?”

“Ravnica,” Esther said proudly as the door opened behind Ajani. He turned, and was out of Esther’s line of sight for long enough to see Narset holding the door for Tamiyo, who embraced Ajani and was almost lost in his fur.

We should go, Narset thought at Esther.

Really? What don’t I get to know here?

I’ll explain. There’s nothing you don’t get to know, but it’s going to be very loud in here.

Esther gathered her stack of books and slipped out the door around Ajani. As Narset led her toward the kitchen, Esther thought she heard, “I told them not to go to—“ The rest was a word Esther had never heard before.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“Let’s make tea first,” said Narset.

***
Once the tea was poured, Esther tried again. “So what’s going on here?”

“I imagine he’s looking for his team,” Narset said.

“What, like for the plainsball league?” Esther’s sister’s children played after-school plainsball. Though she supposed for planeswalkers it must be planesball. She wondered how that worked.

“What’s that? No,” Narset went on before Esther could explain. “He’s joined a group called the Gatewatch. They travel together and solve people’s problems. Your Gideon is a member.”

“He’s not my—“ Esther began, as she had several times over the last half-week. Then she realized what Narset was telling her. “Oh. I should go tell him.”

“Tell him what, exactly?” Narset gave Esther a look she remembered from her lessons.

“Not sure yet.” Esther gulped her tea (ow, too hot, bad choice) and pushed her chair back. “If they’re done shouting out there, I’ll go ask.”

It was quiet out in the hall. Esther cast a wayfinder, set it to Big fluffy cat guy, and followed it back to the parlor, where Ajani and Tamiyo now sat on opposite sides of the table, deep in conversation.

Esther cleared her throat. They looked up. “Sorry. I know where Gideon Jura is.”

Ajani sat up. "Where?"

"Ravnica. I run a medical clinic in the Tenth District. He showed up there, badly wounded, most of a week ago."

Ajani growled. Esther felt the noise through the floor "I told them not to--"

"Ravnica." Tamiyo sounded thoughtful, and unperturbed by Ajani's frustration. "They have good healers there. When might he be discharged?"

"He's probably ready by now. I can make sure when I get home. What's going on?"

Ajani reined himself in, made an effort to raise his ears and speak more calmly. "The Gatewatch were meant to meet me on Dominaria to gather reinforcements. Instead, they ran off to fight Bolas on a plane he controls."

Tamiyo held up a hand to interrupt, and continued the story more gracefully. "Needless to say, challenging the last Elder Dragon in his own domain went very badly. My sources suggest they survived, either by some miracle or, more likely, because he wanted witnesses. Beleren is now the only one unaccounted for."

"Jace Beleren?" Esther echoed. The Living Guildpact. Missing. On another plane. The Living Guildpact could planeswalk. "...I need to sit down." There was an empty armchair. Esther sank into it and began watching her breathing. The stomach-churning realization that she knew exactly why Ravnica was fucked rattled in her brain, resisting her attempts to file it away for later.

Tamiyo and Ajani exchanged significant glances. Esther closed her eyes and tried to recall the most complex Ojutai poem she could, the Great Teacher's Litany. She pictured every glyph in turn, recalling the meanings and pronunciations she had labored to learn as Narset's student, and the dire fact that Jace Beleren had abandoned his duty to Ravnica began to recede. At the end of the first line she paused to assemble the glyphs into a phrase--The Great Teacher shelters his loyal students under his wings--and smelled tea.

When she opened her eyes, Tamiyo had returned with a tea tray. Narset, frowning, handed her a cup of tea. Were you studying the Litany?

It helps, Esther thought back, inhaling the gently scented steam. You made me read it enough times.

Narset's face relaxed, but she still looked sad. It doesn't help me anymore. Too much has happened.

"Are you all right?" Tamiyo sounded concerned.

"Yeah." Esther shook her head to clear it a little. "Just needed to process. Jace Beleren is... kind of important on my plane." I'm sure there's something equivalent in Tamiyo's library? she asked Narset.

I'm still looking. She has so many books.

"Understandable," Ajani rumbled. "Can you send Gideon Jura to meet his companions on Dominaria?"

"Once I've got my feet under me," Esther replied. "I'm going to drink my tea first." If she wasn't mistaken, Tamiyo was smiling.

***

Ravnica, Tenth District

Esther glanced around the end of the alley. The half block to the clinic was clear enough. She took a deep breath, cultivating nonchalance, and strolled across the street, the blue and white of her old Lyev uniform attracting studied inattention from food vendors who were just minding their own business.

She slipped into the clinic and looked around with all six senses. Nothing was on fire; the floor had been cleaned recently; and Zofia and Gideon were in the break room with what smelled like fresh coffee.

She nudged Zofia’s thoughts half a second before she opened the break room door, and was greeted by an enthusiastic kiss from her wife. Let me breathe, she thought, holding Zofia close nonetheless. We’ve got a whole day to get through first.

We can kiss now and later, Zofia protested, half joking, and let Esther go. “How was your client?” she asked aloud for the benefit of any eavesdroppers.

“Much better than when I arrived. Did I miss the Simic interview?”

“That was yesterday. Their credentials check out, and they say they can work with Selesnyans, so I told them to come back at the start of next week.”

“Excellent. I’ll be glad to have more guilds represented here. Oh—“ Esther made eye contact with Gideon over Zofia’s shoulder. His shoulder was no longer bandaged, but he seemed nervous. “Your friends are looking for you.”

Gideon frowned. “What friends?”

Esther sat down across the table from Gideon and rested her elbows on the table. “Big one-eyed cat guy. Thinks you’ve endangered yourself.”

That got an uneasy chuckle from Gideon. “Yeah, he did tell us it was a bad idea.” Zofia moved to stand behind Esther and look pointedly at Gideon, who avoided her eyes.

“What was a bad idea?” Esther asked.

“Let’s...let’s talk upstairs. Uh, patient to doctor, I think.”

***

Gideon and Esther sat in the chairs in his room, Zofia perched at the foot of the bed. Esther had asked what she knew on the way upstairs, but all Zofia had said was This is something he needs to tell you himself.

“Okay, so what happened?” Esther asked.

Gideon avoided looking at her. “What did Ajani tell you?”

Esther shook her head. “You start talking, and I’ll tell you what sounds familiar.”

“All right…” Gideon hesitated, considered, and finally looked Esther in the eye. “I think it’ll make more sense if I let you look at my memories.

Esther raised an eyebrow. Did you help him with that? she thought at Zofia.

I may have planted a seed, Zofia thought back.

All right. Spot me. “Are you sure you’re ready?” she asked. “I’m going to have to sort through your memories, and rearrange them so we both understand what we’re looking at. It’s a complicated process, and painful sometimes, and you may not like where we end up. I want to be sure you know what you’re getting into.”

Gideon nodded, looking uncharacteristically close to losing his nerve. “Do it.”

“Okay. We’re going to start breathing like I taught you last time. And I’m going to have to touch you. Give me your hand?” Esther rested her arm on the table, and after another long moment Gideon laid his hand on hers. Esther began to count breaths, and Gideon’s pulse slowed from anxious flutter, through merely alert, to not-quite-meditative. On the next exhale, Esther began to extend herself into Gideon’s thoughts.

His mind was just as tangled as it had been in surgery. The pain from his injury still flickered along tangled branching paths, and that same clump of memories clung to the pain, preventing it from dissipating completely. This time Esther poked at them with an imaginary finger to get a better look at how they fit together.

The most recent memory in that tangle was of pain, and mocking laughter from somewhere above, and the sudden realization that there was a way out, somewhere to go that hadn’t been there before.

Before that, terror, betrayal, and increasing pressure to stay calm. The river ran red, and monsters made of blue stone killed without mercy.

Before that, a motherly goddess towered over Gideon, her cat-faced mask radiating kindness and hope he’d only felt in two places before.

Before that, and before that, and before that. Esther teased apart strands of memory, and as they fell from her mind’s hands they collected into a new shape, one that held less pain between its fibers than the old one. Sometimes she would turn her mind’s eye and look at that new shape, and each time she understood Gideon a little better.

She no longer loved him, but she was ready to forgive him. As that occurred to her, the tangle relaxed a little more.

Time must have been passing somewhere else. Eventually she felt a tug on her thoughts, a reminder from Zofia that there was a world outside her patient’s head, and she let go of a hazy vision of the Tenth District in the rain and collected herself back into her own impatient body. She sat back in her chair and stretched out her legs to a silent chorus of protest.

“Well,” she said, testing her voice to make sure she still sounded like herself. “That was. Edifying.” She glanced at Gideon, who looked as tired as she felt. “You know, you really should have told me about all that.”

His mouth opened and closed a few times. He cleared his throat. “I didn’t want to burden you with my past.”

Zofia laughed.

Esther covered her eyes with one hand and thought calm at the tabletop. “You burdened me more by not telling me. By keeping secrets, by not letting me help you. You would not be in your current predicament if you hadn’t decided you needed to be strong and stoic and…” Esther stopped herself a breath away from starting to babble. Zofia came over and gave her a hug from behind.

“Yeah,” said Gideon. “You know what? That makes sense now. It wouldn’t have, before you did...whatever you did.”

“She's untangled your memories,” Zofia explained. Esther relaxed backward into the hug. “Sometimes when a patient is ready to be helped, they still don’t know how to explain what's wrong. What Esther did was help both of you understand what’s going on.”

“Normally, I save some time to talk to the client about what memories are relevant to their treatment goals. But in your case, so much was important that…” Esther ran out of words and gestured at the both of them, slumped in chairs, eyes struggling to stay open. “We’re both gonna need to sleep this one off.” Gideon nodded.

Zofia offered Esther an arm to lean on. She leaned heavily and stood slowly. “We’ll check on you this evening, and discharge you when you’re ready to planeswalk. Gonna want to meet again after you’re done with your business on...Dominaria, I think he said...and figure out where you go from there.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to keep him company?” Zofia teased. Esther glared up at Zofia. “Right. Gideon?”

“Don’t think I need company,” Gideon sighed. “But Esther? Thank you. For being patient with me. I wish I’d let you help before.”

Esther nodded.

“You're not wrong,” Zofia answered on her behalf. “Anyway. Sleep well, Mr. Jura.” She shepherded Esther into the hallway and closed the door behind them.