Hey you kids! (Attn: William and Margot)
"When you swear to perform and do something, you should do it. Not because it's good to keep your word or that it builds character, but the word "Consequences" doesn't have a chance to be or do anything if you do."

~Simone De Sulva, Choirister repentant~

The messages would go out sometime tonight. 

It began with a text message that just said 


Followed by another with a period. 

Then an hour later, both would get a phonecall with a muttering old man on the other end.

"I hate these new phone things. Can never sort out what the bloody hell texting is. I'm adding that to your list of things. Teaching me how to text properly-" It's Arturo, if the voice wasn't any indicator before this point. He clears his throat over the phone, loudly (for both of them no less). 

"It would seem in the last few months I've neglected to see to my gardens and lawns. You two are going to come by and mow the lawn then weed the gardens and we'll have us a nice lesson about the nature of the individual within a spiritual measurement. Saturday. 1pm. Bring some shears if you have them, if not, go and buy some. I have a lawn mower and you two can decide among yourselves who gets to do what..."

The old man's bulldozing through the conversation (which is more of an elderly lecture delivered via phonecall) spends itself out and as or before either could hope to muster a response (if the man's lecture had actually caught either of them in person rather than over voicemail) he has hung up with a last lingering

"How the hell do I hang this thing up now. Hmmm...red button...let's give that a tr-...* "
"You know, you can use the voice-to-text feature in your phone and just talk into it-- it'll type for you."

Margot's tone of voice was know-it-all in a classroom sense. Yes, teacher, she knows the solution to the problem, and in fact she could even improve upon the project given the leeway to deviate from the lesson plan. The voice-to-text would no doubt be one of the numerous knowledges she exchanged with the old man. She said she didn't have shears but would see if she could find any (she didn't outright say that she couldn't spend the money on them but it could probably be deduced given her willingness to ask around and do legwork for them). And she said, simply, that she would be there.

Soon after the phone call she'd end up texting with Will.

Hey, did you talk to Nihm?
Guess we ought to go. Carpool? I'll pick you up.

Come Saturday the weather was overcast and cool, but at least it had stopped raining. Over the course of the week thunderstorms had pushed through the region and the tops of the mountains had received their first snows. The rain had been gone for a good 48 hour cycle by now, though, and while the jungle that was Arturo Nihm's yard was probably still a little damp it would still be fine for yardwork. Besides, they were wizards. They could just speed up the drying process if they particularly wanted to.

Margot's inconspicuous little dark-green sedan pulled along the grandiose driveway and up to the front of the house and parked wherever looked and felt natural and simultaneously out of the way (even though she was pretty sure the man never drove away from his sanctuary himself). She and Will would climb out of the car and immediately move around back to the trunk to carry the two heavy totes of collected garden tools together. Margot had dressed in a black long-sleeved shirt and pushed the sleeves up during the drive, with a pair of jeans that had the cuffs rolled up a few times so she wouldn't trod upon them, and a pair of battered but intact tennis shoes. Her hair was back in a ponytail (dark brown with glints of ruby peppered in at the temples, making thin fingers along her scalp reaching backward), and she had sunglasses pushed up onto the top of her head as well. She and Will had become engaged in pleasant enough conversation on the drive over, so to peer down upon them through a window (or other spying mechanism) would be to find the young Witchling with a smile on her face and chatting in good enough spirits.

"We had a big rhubarb plant behind my house. I tried to make pie once and failed, so we just ended up pickling and snacking on most of it. Radishes, too, though those are terrible for pie."

The tote carrying shears and gloves and bugspray and trowels was shouldered, and together they approached the front door. There was a brief debate on the way there as to whether they should just go around back or not and ultimately figured it was unwise to run the risk of springing any booby traps by walking through unescorted. They would knock first.

She left the knocking (or doorbell ringing, whatever) to William. When they had settled on the front stoop to wait for an answer the pleasantness faded from her features, leaving a more serious cast in its wake. Alert and cautious, but present all the same.
He got a voicemail. 

He listened to the whole voicemail, too. Then listened to it again while eating his third bowl of cereal today. William wasn't up to cooking as of late, and like a young man in his early twenties he sees no actual problem in eating cereal for all eternity. Like a young man who was capable of rending the universe to his will and was in his early twenties, he decided to use this ability to make his cereal box conspicuously full of Lucky Charms at all times. 

The bottom layer was starting to get stale, though. He could probably use the bands of cereal freshness as a means of determining how long ago he did some magickal endeavor. 

He's contemplating cereal when he gets the text from Margot, replies: I'll get gas if you drive. Smile

It had stopped raining and it was time to actually get some work done. Truth be told he was pretty excited about the work he could do. He came legitimately prepared to do lawn work. He's got on a tool belt- shears in one portion. Hand cultivator. The type of loppers that come for taking off a larger branch. He looks at the door, looks in Margot's direction. He's wearing shorts and a tee shirt. Tennis shoes and socks. 

Nope. Not dressed for fashion. Dressed for getting shit done. 

"You want the lawn mower?"

He knocks on the door. Three hard, sharp knocks.
The archaic molding and simplified elegance of the estate remains in place; a bunker like suggestion of opulence hidden from the rest of the world half way up a mountain. Gardens stretch around either side, many of which house dozens of various flower types, many of which appear to be drooping slightly as the onset of Autumn begins the cycle toward Winter.

The lawn is...grown. Thick enough that one might get their heels tangled around the blades of grass, while the massive tree that dominates the Eastern half of the lawn (segregated by pathway that led to the overhanging front porch) seems full and rich, green enough and thick in it's resplendence that one has to question whether autumn could ever threaten it, let alone winter.

The House's windows are shuttered, closed off by blackened sheets on the inside, while the gate they had arrived at was closed and needed to be pushed open and shut for them to gain entry.

They knock, nattering amongst themselves and it is a full half a minute before the vague sounds of someone approaching the door's other side arrives.


Arturo comes to the door after the knocking. It peels open on well oiled hinges, well oiled enough that the old man doesn't bother struggling with it's solidity. He is standing there in a simple pair of grey slacks and a thick white sweater made from fraying wool, that depict a polar bear on the front. His mustache droops slightly, the goatee downturned to give him a slightly soured expression and yet his eyes stare out from an aging face with a clarity and brilliance that make him seem a touch younger.

"Oh. Right. That was today." He gives the pair a once over, each, murmuring something unintelligible under his breath before waving them both back from the door so he can step out. He glances past them out into the clouded sky and shivers slightly, rubbing his hands up and along his arms and shoulders. "Getting there, eh old girl?" He smiles sadly out at the world, before turning and walking off the steps and out beyond the lawn. He doesn't glance back to see if the pair follow, merely folds his hands behind his back and shuffles out onto the grass without pause.

"The Garden plots go around the house. Thirty-six in total. You're to pull the weeds, deadhead the flowers and prune any vines that look to be getting out of control. Once you're finished that, we'll look into mowing the lawn a touch." He pauses to turn back to the pair, even as the enormity of the task ahead of them looms...each flower 'plot' looks to be a solid 30x20 patch hugging the house walls. "Don't go near the tree."

Arturo points at the near hundred foot green centralizing the eastern lawn.

"I'll give you ten minutes to familiarize yourselves with the first plot. I'm going to go get us some beverages and myself some warmer digs. When I get back, you're going to provide me the answers you've come up with."

And with that he waves at the first of the plots, just off the front porch housing and then shuffles his way back into the House.
There was a bit of a wait before the door was answered.  During that time Margot had shrugged at William when he offered the lawnmower and leaned back to survey as much of the yard as she could see from the front door.  When the door swung open with a What?, Margot twisted back around to greet the reclusive old man with the clear smart eyes.  In answer to the question, she'd bent down to gather up the tote bag that had some to rest at her feet, and held it up in front of her in indication.  "Gardening?"

Oh yes, that was today.  He gestured them aside so he could lead them to their instructions, and Margot carried her bag of tools back along with her.  When Arturo greeted the outside world like an old friend, Margot exchanged a glance with William and raised one eyebrow behind the old man's back, but followed along after him all the same.

The side yard they were led along into was impressive, to say the least.  She'd peered over the property with William once before and noted the massive tree, the dense yards and tangled green grass.  Standing within the yard was another story, though, and being on ground level in full sight of that monstrously large tree left her feeling smaller than the ocean ever did, somehow.

Arturo warned them not to go near the tree, and she stared suspiciously at the wood-grown monolith a moment longer.  "Glad to," she agreed with a small dark bite to her voice (that distrust shining through, for the tree now as it had been for the chessboard in the study), and shifted her attention along with the indication toward the side plots of gardens that lined the estate.  It was as Nihm was explaining what he wanted done that she was counting the plots, and when he explained that they would move on to the lawn when they were finished she looked at him sharp-snap-quick with her eyes wide with muted disbelief.  <i>Really?</i>, that look said.  <i>You want two people to do ALL of this in one afternoon?</i>

As Nihm took his leave with the explanation that he was seeking warmer clothes and would return expecting an answer, Margot gaped after him for a second, then let the tote she was carrying drop to the ground by her feet.  She looked to Will and stared at him for a second too, then shook her head and bent her knees to crouch and start digging in the bag.  "So he wants us to garden with Magick, apparently, because we'll be here for four days straight without it."  Pink-and-purple flower-print gardening gloves appeared from the bottom of the bag, and Margot tugged them on brusquely.  When she rose again she planted her hands on her hips and frowned at the plots in front of her.  Her tone was flat and matter-of-fact when she presented her suggestion.  William had never met Ned to know this, but the stance and tone both echoed strong a learned pragmatistic manner from the Orphan Carver.

"I know enough Life to make things wither, but... I don't know if I can make the impact wide-spread enough to do more than a plot at a time.  Maybe I could try speaking with a spirit for help?  I don't know how much I trust the spirits lurking around here, though..."
Autumn had just rolled in, not so much in word now as it was by deed, and wasn't it the deeds that really mattered? The action, the moving towards a goal to show that you were committed, that you were serious about what was going to happen, serious about a potential future with you in it and that you that is in it is going to be better than the you that stands there today? Autumn was not as unreliable as humans.

He stands, but not so much with stillness as restraint. William Holmes, you see, is a fidgetter. He can't stand still, not entirely anyway; his is a nature that is born of restlessness. Unrest, which is funny because he (as a human being and not a metaphysical concept) can sleep through hurricanes. Stillness is banished for adjusting his hold on equipment- "Oh thank god, you don't want us to make a hedge-giraffe or something," he sounds genuinely relieved. Looks genuinely relieved, too, because... well... Wouldn't you be relieved if you found out that an eccentric old man didn't want you to sculpt lawn ornaments?

Dead heading and vine control is e..aa...oh sweet jesus, he did say thirty six plots, didn't he?

Bravado falters, he gives Margot a look when Nihm's back is turned that mirrors her own. It's a look he wears often: oh holy shit (with delight and horror and exasperation, because this is William and they are not easily untangled, these three feelings).

Perked up and brushed away and replaced quickly by determination, by a feeling of challenge being accepted. Half of him is an upheaval, but the rest is that feeling of pressing forward, striving to be more than you are. A dissatisfaction in good enough- no stopping, no resting, nothing beyond except the everything beyond.

Once they're alone, he listens, and then takes a second before replying.

"We don't necessarily have to get it done in one afternoon, I'd think, but we could always just keep working. You can convince your body not to quit on you, magickally or otherwise," said like he isn't completely overwhelmed by the task, "I've heard horror stories about other people's apprenticeships. Apparently, sometimes people in the Order go all Mister Miyagi on you and there's fence painting and dead headding and library arranging and So. God. Damn. Much. Cleaning."

A second before continuing, "if you think withered weeds are going to be easier to pull, go for it, but be sure you can act in a controlled fashion? Can't do it with the vines, flowers are already spent on what they do and don't need. You can sense what needs to be done and what doesn't, which should cut out a lot of the guess work and save some time.

"Hell we might be able to talk him into quick made compost. Bonus points."
Arturo Nihm had said Ten minutes. It turns out to be more like an Hour.

The pair of youngsters are left out in the gardens, to putter, put and go to work doing what youngsters are made to do. Whether it is with Magical effects, meant to bolster their endurance or to make the job go quicker is probably something for them to hash out and decide for themselves. What does occur, nearly an hour later, is Arturo Nihm emerging from the front door of his estate manor once again, slipping it shut with a slight grunt.

He wanders down the steps, a patio chair tucked under one arm, his attire that of a thick rain jacket, all dark green trim surrounding bright yellow glare, hat included. The skies are promising some use of the outfit and he seems prepared. The other hand is clutched a small carton of juice boxes, a variety pack of flavours, the front of which is decorated in a half dozen different cartoon animals, attempting to break out of a zoo.

Arturo measures out several steps over the lawn, a pair of galoshes covering his feet covering half of his pant legs alongside. He walks past the two youngsters, who have no doubt gotten onto the second plot by this point and begins to setup the patio chair on the grass near the third plot, with a vantage directed toward the pair, the back of the chair aimed squarely at the rather magnificent tree close by.

"There is a bit of a symmetry in this moment, with that of what you came looking for the first time we met. A sense of scope and perspective that is terribly important to keep in mind because the majority of people out there, are not capable of recognizing that factor. Scope. Many would fall apart at the thought of being out here, doing 36 plots of gardening weeds, thorns, bushes-...I'm fairly sure plot six has some stinging nettle in it, but lord knows I can't recall at this point...Most would look at all of that, take into consideration their willingness to go through with it and compromise knowing that it was going to be impossible. Or at least highly improbable, but you two-"

He chuckles. Huffs really, in mirth, bending down to adjust the chair and set the juice boxes beside it with a gingerly and careful gesture. Then he is clambering into the patio piece, rain gear squeaking gently in the process, all the while continuing to speak.

"-You two took to it, no doubt eager to deliver some level of recognition for why you're here and an earnestness that comes with youth." The goatee furrows, flutters as he clears his throat, finally easing back into the chair with a contented sigh. "36 plots is an eventual, to the pair of you which is good. Hope, promise, conviction all necessary components when it comes to understanding the vastness of what's ahead of you..."

A pause, he slips his eyes shut and begins to breathe. Deeply. Calmly. One might be tempted to think he is sleeping-

"...Finishing this garden work in comparison to understanding the Spirit World....is about equivalent to knowing that there is a Spirit World and that you're comfortable with that concept without going insane. Seeing as how the both of you have expressed some interest in it already, I think it important you complete and work while we go over the details of what you may or may not know, so-"

And he claps. Loudly. Once, over his body.

"I asked of you Three things. Three answers...You've had plenty of time to figure those out for yourselves. Let's hear it, kids..."
It was an hour later when Nihm finally arrived, and he'd find Will and Margot hard at work with a system in place-- Margot up on high with a short ladder they'd brought in the backseat of her car, trimming and pulling tangled vines and debris free from the house and fences of the plots, for with deft little fingers she was able to find and tug the knots and snarls so they would all fall loose without much struggle. They'd gotten to work not long after the old man had left them, and were on the third plot by now. Margot had sweat at her forehead and back and was thankful for the breeze when it kicked up.

There had been talk of magick, sure, but ultimately no rotes were carried out to make easier work of the monstrous lawnkeeping task ahead. Life ran the risk of killing everything or not spreading far enough to be worth it, and Margot did not want to summon spirits to do such menial work for her-- especially not ones that lived on Nihm's turf. Will had thoughts of his own but Margot then expressed worry about attracting the wrong attention with their resonances-- again, more concerned about the spirits that may come sniffing than anything else.

Ultimately they'd found themselves working with the hands they were born into the pattern with and little more. Margot was climbing down from the ladder while Nihm set up his lawn chair to survey them. She squinted at the juice boxes he'd brought along with him while wiping her forehead with the back of her hand, then shook her head and leaned down to pick up the water bottle she'd brought along with.

"Well," she said as she drizzled some of the water on her hand and then smoothed it over the top of her head. "We can only get done what we can in one day. If the work carries over, so be it." The hand then moved to gesture to the plots they'd cleared already. "Unless you were planning on planting all of them in one afternoon, there's at least some space to get started in the meantime while we finish."

Then the old recluse was clapping his hands and demanding answers. Three questions had been presented once upon a time ago, and now he was calling to collect the debt of knowledge. Pop quiz, kids, homework's due. Margot's heavy eyebrows hopped up on her forehead; her surprise reflected that of a student who'd forgotten to study for her test.

"Uhh," she said, and dropped her hands to pat at her pockets. "Shit," the curse muttered quietly, but then realization dawned and she crouched suddenly to start riffling around in her tote bag. "I've got it here," she explained, and after a few moments of rifling and rummaging she stood back up again with a piece of notebook paper that was torn loose from its rings and folded over into eighths. She unfolded and shook the paper out to read her penmenship and recall the train of thought she'd had when researching the evening following her first visit out to this place.

Her furrow of concentration and manner of holding the paper up near her face with both hands was a loud yet silent plea for William to take up the floor during the pause.
Uho. Will has to go.

He doesn't have any notes on him. Doesn't have anything that is readily prepared and though he's done his homework he's having the moment that every orator has when they get in front of the podium and suddenly suspect that their speech wasn't good enough, that it isn't going to land, that you're going to get booed off stage and never asked to come back. There is that fear that you might not be good enough, that your pursuits and perceptions weren't good enough to make anything count. The fear that in the one area he believes himself competent that he knew nothing.

"We totally should have talked to the tree before you came back, but that tree probably doesn't want upstarts bothering them- especially since those upstarts are strangers. Especially if those strangers are asking about the primary resident of the house," he half laments, "I don't think we could have had anything to offer anyway, seems like the type who you do favors for, not the other way around. Can't make a deal if you don't have any ground to stand on."

"You walk onto the premises and there is life and there is order. Everything is neat, but not <i>tidy</i>. Despite the plots being a little overgrown, needing some care, having some vines that need some work- the tree? Is thriving. They're probably one hundred years old, or older than that. This tree looks like they've been here longer than most houses, and instead of the tree bowing to the landscaping, the landscaping bows to the tree."

Exhales, hard and long like he's trying to get his thoughts back together and that ping pong ball attention span continues to bounce until he reins it back in with the kind of muscle that William very rarely has available to him, "have you ever been to New Orleans? I mean, this kind of only applies if you've been there, or at least are familiar with the landscape... Before Katrina, it was a place that was loud and alive. You could feel it, you could tell that there was history and presence. There were layers. Then the hurricane went through, flooded everything uprooted the dead, destroyed the cities, made the entirety of it all a screaming mass? Years later, the city and the government cleaned up what they could and people are living but you can still feel the disaster. It's been a decade and you can still feel it. It's like the other side is the world's true self."

A beat. A second.

"... I think I answered the question."

He hopes he answered the question. On to the second one.

"Second question: if you go up in this theoretical model you reach the high umbra- which is either the high umbra or the astral plane. You find the abstractions and what some consider to be high umbrood... but you could also argue that, really, when you go up you just go up. I would think that there is up and there is in and in would be a lot more interesting."

"Third question: a Summerland special is where you take one part ideal natural realm, mix with three ounces of water untouched by man, two flowers that no longer exist on this plane of existence, and four ounces of hibiscus vodka. Shake. Serve in a rocks glass over ice.

"An alternate version exists for people who go wiccanate neopagam afterlife, where you take three cubes of diced melons, four fresh basil leaves, some apricot juice, peach liqueur, and vodka. Crush the melon and the basil with a shaker, add the liquids, shake and strain twice. Put it over ice and serve. Best served cold."
While William presented, Margot stood quiet and still and small. Her shoulders and neck hunched down over the paper that she was reading close enough that you'd think her near-sighted (though nobody's ever seen her wear a pair of glasses). Partway through the tall blond Mage's answers, between Answer 1 and Answer 2, Margot abruptly pulled the paper from her face to look over at him and blink. Maybe he looked at her and blinked back, maybe not. Either way, he continued on and Margot remained quiet, only now with the paper held lowered, half-forgotten, while she listened to the rest of what he'd had to say.

Concluded on a recipe of whimsy, one which sounded like it packed a hell of a punch, Will's time under pressure ended and the little witch had her turn under the heat of the metaphorical spotlight. Her heavy brow furrowed together, uncomfortable with the attention, but with a determined set to lip and chin (insolent to her own reaction simultaneous with it) she folded the paper into eighths and tucked it away into a pocket. Took a breath to fill her lungs, and began.

"I've never believed anything I couldn't sense firsthand, so if you ask me you can't prove something verbally. Preachermen think they can, but were that true the world wouldn't be full of skeptics."

That line might seem ironic later in Margot's life, but not today. With that half-scowl of concentration still riding her face, she carried right on. "What I could try to do is show you, but you already know what's Beyond, I'm pretty sure, and anyone who's eyes are already milk-blind to the truth is likely to choke on their own denial sooner than accept what I'm shaking in front of their faces. But I could-- I could make weak the wall between Us and There and see what's beyond. I could call through and beckon something through to tell us stories of what it's seen in its god-knows-how-long life."

She paused here, cast a cautious look of her own to the massive tree that dominated the landscape, and with a face full of distrust she added: "I won't, though. Not here." She didn't think she'd be able to hold her feet solid if something decided to pull her through and keep her here forever.

"When you go up in the Umbra, you're going to where the Planets and the Moon and the Sun all live. It's not too unlike if you go up here, except there's a huge power and consciousness to everything out there." She gave a vague upward-and-outward wave of her hand to indicate the cosmos above.

When she came upon Answer 3, a blush rose to Margot's cheeks that had nothing to do with the exertion of the yardwork done up to that point. Her eyes and head ducked a little and she gestured toward Will with a thumb. "I'm going with what he said; I couldn't think of who to ask about drink recipes from the Summerlands..."

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