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There was a language to entads, though Alfric spoke it only poorly. They were unique, always, but there were commonalities to them, some of that just because they drew from the hexes, which had commonalities of their own. There were effects you’d expect to find on boots rather than knives, or chairs rather than towels. Chairs were for sitting and knives were for stabbing, and function typically followed form. But beyond all that, there was commonality of definitions, a shared understanding the entads had of what was what.

The example that Alfric had been taught involved rabbits. Let’s say that there was an entad wand which made rabbits explode when you pointed the wand at them and said a word. Well, rabbit was just a word that people attached to a concept, and there were loads of different breeds of rabbit, along with strange creatures that were only a bit like a rabbit. The dungeons could produce all kinds of things, and they pulled on what was in a hex, so given the prevalence of rabbits, it wasn’t uncommon for dungeons to spawn something similar to them, or a monster that might take the same general shape. What, then, counted as a rabbit? Well, it didn’t really matter, since nothing in the world hinged on rabbits in any way, but the point was that entads would always give you the same answer, even if they’d been pulled from dungeons on opposite sides of the world. A wand that exploded rabbits would affect all the same things as a wand that made rabbits double in size. There were thick tomes, which Alfric had never read in full, which went into the minutiae of all these ‘entad definitions’, the most important of which weren’t about what entads considered to be a snake or entads considered to be a rabbit. No, the truly important bits were underlying principles like what a portal was, and what an extradimensional space was, what a memory was, what an emotion was. There were hundreds of concepts like that, and Alfric knew most of it, either through lessons from his parents, from tutors, or simply from reading. There was, still, an enormous variance between entads, what they could do, and how they could do it, but the commonalities were invaluable to any adventurer or merchant looking for a quick identification without having to pay a cleric of Qymmos.

Hexes were a concept that entads ‘understood’ quite well, which made sense, because early Editors had plastered the concept over the known world to lay the groundwork for warp points and dungeons and all manner of other things.

He was not, therefore, particularly surprised when the wardrobe, once carried outside the dungeon, began to work as he’d predicted. Six was an auspicious number, after all, and travel entads never worked inside the dungeons unless they were like his boots, local in nature. Still, he was particularly pleased that it allowed travel of any kind, and beyond that, that it hadn’t immediately bound to any of them. When the door was closed, the dial could be turned, and once it was, the door would open up to elsewhere. It didn’t take particularly much tinkering with it to figure out the orientation of the dial, not with Isra looking through and making judgments about the hexes that could be seen beyond. Not fifteen minutes after Alfric had removed it from the dungeon, he could look through the wardrobe to either the Liberfell or Pucklechurch hexes, though every time the dial moved, it seemed to show a different (and possibly random) part of the hex it was pointed at.

“Very, very, very good,” said Alfric, nodding.

“Can you get back if you go through?” asked Mizuki, peering through the wardrobe’s open doors at the grassland beyond. Isra seemed to know, just from looking, what direction that was from them, even though she’d never been in most of those hexes.

“We’ll have to test,” said Alfric.

“But we could get stranded, yes?” asked Mizuki.

“If you go through, you can just use the warp,” said Alfric, shrugging. “So you’d be stranded in the sense that you’d be in Liberfell without having to walk six or seven miles, yes.”

“But we’ve no reason to think the wardrobe comes with, ay?” asked Hannah.

“This is true,” said Alfric. He looked the wardrobe over. “My guess is that it’s one-way travel to the hex of your choice. We don’t know how repeatable it is, whether it might have daily limits on use or weight or some other parameter … this will almost certainly have to be looked over by a cleric of Qymmos, because each test sends us a minimum of six miles away.”

“Less than that, I’d think,” said Hannah. “Take it to the hex border, fiddle with the dial, and try to end up with the portal in view, ay? In theory, you have a hundred feet to walk from wardrobe to portal.”

“Right,” said Alfric, feeling slightly embarrassed at the correction. “So, I think what we’ll do, if we are all planning to end up in Liberfell, is to have Isra and Mizuki go through, talk with us over party chat about what it was like, then warp into town. Then Hannah and I can carry the wardrobe to the hex edge with Verity’s help, and hopefully we can warp it in.” He was somewhat unsure of this part, but it seemed like the only way to deal with it.

“It’s over the weight limit, ay?” asked Hannah. “Even if you stripped down to nothing.”

Alfric thought about this for a moment. He hated to admit it, but she was right, and by a fair margin. “Okay,” he said. “Well, there are public rooms back near the warp at Traeg’s Knob, and houses. We can,” he paused. “Well, we don’t have a way to lock it up, which is a problem.”

“Lock it up?” asked Hannah. “Who’s going to steal it, ay, when it’s so much a pain to move?”

“I’m in favor of the plan where I leave right now,” said Verity. “I need a proper meal, something hot. Could I possibly go do that while the two of you figure out logistics, or would that be horribly rude?”

Alfric bit his lip. “If we’re carrying it uphill to the top of Traeg’s Knob, would you think you had it in you to give us a song of strength? I’ll leave it to your discretion, because you know your own needs.”

Verity grimaced. “I suppose, but that means that I have to sing and walk.”

“Well, I’m out of here,” said Mizuki. “Isra? You too? Because I don’t want to walk back up a hill that I’ve already walked down, and someone needs to get us some rooms at Liberfell.”

Isra hesitated. “Yes,” she said. “I’ve never been.”

“You’ll love it,” said Mizuki. “I’ll make sure they don’t hurt you.”

“Hurt me?” asked Isra.

“It’s a joke,” said Mizuki. “No one is going to hurt you in Liberfell, and if they do, I will personally set fire to every single house.”

“And that’s another joke,” said Isra.

“See?” asked Mizuki. “This is going to be fun. Portal boy, one portal please.”

“Portal man,” said Alfric, giving her a smile. “Coming right up.” He spun the dial, then opened the door again.

It wasn’t the city of Liberfell, but rather, a field that must have been somewhere near it. Mizuki stepped through, then immediately tried to go back, just for the sake of testing, and hands went through an invisible plane, exposing red meat and bone. Alfric knew enough to know this was just visual, seeing into her body, but it was still horrifying. Her mouth moved, but there was no sound.

<Use party chat,> said Alfric. <We can’t hear you.>

<I can see the doorway, but can’t come back,> said Mizuki. <Hands go straight through.>

<Coming,> said Isra, who stepped in as Mizuki stood off to the side.

<Let us know your plans, we’ll be getting some rooms,> said Mizuki. <And figuring out what to do with the eggs.>

<The local League office might have rooms, but they’re usually in poor condition. You can check there, or just go to a hotel. Let us know over chat if you have problems,> said Alfric. <We can be in the center of Liberfell in an instant.>

<No need to worry,> said Mizuki. And with that, she cast the warp, disappearing to the center of her hex, where Liberfell was. Isra quickly followed, and Alfric shut the wardrobe after them.

“This is a really good entad,” said Alfric. “It’ll save us an enormous amount of travel time. Even if it’s hard to move, if we center it in whatever hex we’re basing out of, that’s thirty-six miles we don’t have to walk. And if we can get it to work with something else, we could cut out travel time altogether.”

“You’re excited about this,” said Hannah.

“And getting ahead of yourself,” said Verity.

“Well, sure,” said Alfric, shrugging. “But it’s one of the vitals, or at least a good piece of the puzzle.”

“And an absolute pain to move,” said Hannah, sighing.

“Let me see if it’s really over the weight limit,” said Alfric. He grabbed the wardrobe and tipped it so that it was resting its weight on him, then quickly made the sign for the warp. The worst case scenario would be if he’d misjudged where the weight was, and ended up at the top of Traeg’s Knob without the wardrobe, which would mean a bit of a trek back, but no, the warp simply failed.

He tried again with most of his armor removed and his sword laying on the ground, hoping that he could squeak under the limit, but it didn’t work, and he stepped back from the wardrobe, sighing. Hannah had been right. He’d known that she’d been right.

“Ready?” asked Alfric. “It probably makes more sense for you to be at the front rather than the back, so I can take the bulk of the weight. It’s heavy, but shouldn’t be too bad for us. A hundred pounds, maybe?”

“A hundred pounds, uphill nearly a mile and a half,” said Hannah with a sigh. “And it’s more than a hundred. Plus another fifty for the book. Well, let’s get to it, ay.”

Verity elected not to use her lute, perhaps because they were moving uphill, or because she was tired, but that left only her voice, which turned out to be quite sufficient for something as simple as granting Alfric and Hannah strength. The song she chose was one about a pair of squirrels attempting to bring a large apple home, wrestling it between themselves to get it to their tree. It was a jaunty little tune, but also slightly mocking in a way that reminded Alfric of Mizuki’s preferred mode of humor.

The climb was a tough one, even with the help, and what had been a nice ramble down the hill was a slog going up. It was all made far worse by the fact that they’d done a dungeon in between. Alfric was sure that his muscles would be killing him the next day, and the prospect of simply leaving the wardrobe behind in Traeg’s Knob became more attractive with every step he took.

They took frequent breaks, and halfway up, took a longer one.

“Not sure I appreciate the lyrics of these songs you’ve been singin’,” said Hannah. “Two squirrels trying to wrestle an apple up to their tree? A man who can’t get his hand from a jar because he’s grabbed a hold of too many pickles?”

“All in good fun,” said Verity. “If it really bothers you, I can find something else to sing. It’s a pleasant day, and my work, as I see it, is done. A warm meal, a hot bath, and a soft bed, those are the three things left today.” She took a long drink from her waterskin. Almost everything she was able to put into the book had been put in there, save for her bag. Alfric was carrying the book, but wishing that he’d sent it with Isra.

“Nah,” said Hannah. “Silly songs for a silly trip. I’ll let you know if it rankles. I’m not shy.”

“The silliness is a part of it,” said Alfric. “It’ll make a good story some day, even if my legs have turned to jelly by the end of it.”

“And that’s what you’re in it for?” asked Verity. “The stories?”

“Some,” shrugged Alfric. “The stories, the glory, the money, the adventure, the way we’ve got a chance to play our role in the history of the world. Something new and interesting around every corner, things that no one has ever before set eyes on, items that are absolutely unique. Camaraderie, and the close-knit relationship of a dungeoneering party, like brothers.” He hesitated, then looked at the two of them. “Or sisters, I suppose.”

“It does sound nice, when you put it like that,” said Verity. “But it’s a very rosy view of something which, as we experienced not too long ago, can be very dangerous and scary, not to mention, well … brutal. Gory.”

“Ay, but I’d prefer Alfric’s view,” said Hannah. “Seems a better way to look at it. And there’s a feelin’ of accomplishment, ay.”

“There is that,” nodded Verity. “I felt awful after Mizuki stole the song from me, not that she meant to, but seeing what we could accomplish together, there was a part of me that considered doing this for a longer time might not be such a bad thing. It was the first time I ever felt … I don’t know. Powerful.”

“Really?” asked Hannah. “You’re a first class bard, so far as I know such things.”

“Well, thank you,” said Verity. “But being a bard … it’s always about others.”

“You know you’re speaking to a healing cleric, ay?” asked Hannah.

“Yes, but you ripped the arm off that one monster, and killed the bear outright,” said Verity.

“There’s nothing wrong with a life lived for others,” said Hannah. “That’s what a cleric does, more or less, between the healin’ and the fixin’ and the talkin’ to people about their problems and how the perspective of the gods can help them.”

“I suppose,” said Verity. “For me, it was always about the different ways the music could make people feel. I wanted to create, and have others revel in that creation. But being a bard means that the effects come first, over and above the melodies and the lyrics. The term we use is dissonance.” She shrugged. “That’s why I ran away, if I’m allowed such melodramatic framing. There was a horrible tension that I couldn’t figure out how to deal with.”

Alfric wondered whether she really did believe that. She had said nothing about being a chosen of Xuphin, and how that was a struggle in and of itself, or how the terrible weight of expectation had pressed down on her. It was hard, hearing her talk, to know how much was left unsaid because of Hannah, and how much was left unsaid because the godly imprint on her was something she refused to think about. It was hard for Alfric to know, and harder still to know how he could ever broach that subject with Verity.

“Alright,” said Hannah, slapping her thighs. “Time to get a move on, if we’ve gotten our rest in. I’d like to hit Liberfell by nightfall.”

They continued on up the hill, carrying the heavy wardrobe while Verity followed behind them, singing. This time the songs were a bit less jovial, and Alfric, having nothing better to think about beside where his next step was going to be, thought about what she might be trying to say with it. That first song was one of a king going into battle against his enemies, which was either a very old song, from the time of kings, or something of Verity’s own invention. By the second song it was obvious that she was speaking of power, and how it felt to use it. Verity sang about wizards who brought down lightning bolts and knights who slew dragons, and there was something very old, but also very strong about it. It was also rousing in a way, something about the melody that brought forth the feeling of battle, and Alfric found himself moving faster because of it.

They reached the top of Traeg’s Knob, then rested for a bit more, before finally moving it into one of the public rooms, which was thankfully unlocked.

“Do you think we could get someone to lock this place up?” asked Alfric, looking around.

“Why?” asked Hannah. “No one is going to steal a wardrobe, we’ll have trouble enough getting it out of here on our own. Besides, this isn’t like Dondrian, where people don’t know each other. There are, as we said when we got here, probably not more than a hundred people in the whole hex.”

“I suppose,” said Alfric. “But it’s valuable.”

“I do have to say,” said Hannah, “That I don’t fancy the thought of lugging this thing another twelve miles back home. It’s closer to two hundred pounds than it is to one hundred. I don’t know that I could get it delivered before my arms gave out.”

“Well, I’m going through, if that’s alright with you,” said Verity. “Hot meal, hot bath, warm bed. Also, I need to pee.”

“Ay, should have gone in the dungeon,” said Hannah. “That’s what I did.”

“Gross,” said Verity.

“You’re the one who mentioned it,” said Alfric, though it was common practice to evacuate in the dungeon, which would essentially vanish as soon as everyone had left. It was a part of the overall checklist for a dungeon exit, along with double checking that you had everything you needed, and making sure that you weren’t carrying out anything that you didn’t mean to.

“Well, through we go,” said Hannah, once she’d made a note. <Through we go,> she said for the benefit of Isra and Mizuki. <How are you finding the city of Liberfell?>

<Very interesting,> Mizuki replied. <And a bit intimidating.>

<We’ll be there soon enough,> said Alfric. <Can you warp so we can meet up? Or give us a location?>

<We’re in the middle of business,> said Mizuki. <We’ve got rooms at the Dragon’s Arm Hotel. I told them to expect you if we were out.>

<Thank you,> said Alfric. <We should meet soon though. We’re leaving the wardrobe in Traeg’s Knob with a note and hoping that no one does anything with it. The rest of today can be for selling what we have. I’m hoping that I can find a floatstone so we have less trouble bringing it back to Pucklechurch. Talk to you later.>

“Somethin’ odd about that, wasn’t there?” asked Hannah. “The way she spoke.”

“It’s Mizuki,” said Alfric. “But we’ll see her in a bit, and if it was odd, then she’ll get a chance to explain very soon.”

“Hot food, hot bath, warm bed,” said Verity, repeating it like a mantra. “There are entads that get a person clean in a hurry, aren’t there? Add that to my wishlist.”

The three of them went through together, and Alfric was thankful that he’d had the foresight to do some testing on whether the wardrobe’s orientation with respect to what direction it faced mattered (it did not) and had the further foresight to etch into his mind which of the notches would take them to Pucklechurch and which would take them to Liberfell.

They came out in farmland, then immediately used the warp to go to the warp point. Alfric went last after making sure that neither of them had any problems. This at least, was a proper warp point, one that had a building around it, though there was no attendant to make sure that the area was clear, nor any security of any kind. There was a chair for an attendant though, which was something. Alfric stepped off quickly, his legs aching from carrying the wardrobe, and moved to the door once he’d made sure that Verity and Hannah were both safe and sound.

The Dragon’s Arm Hotel was one of the larger buildings in Liberfell, and easy to find given that it had a sculpted dragon sticking out from the side of the building.

“Hot food, hot bath, warm bed,” said Alfric. He had almost all his money with him, and kept his hand at his side, something he hadn’t felt compelled to do in Pucklechurch. Liberfell was perhaps half again as large as Tarchwood, but it had much more than twice the feeling of being in an actual city. There had been other reasons to go to Tarchwood, mostly to scope it out as a location for a future dungeon run, and its location on the huge lake, but Liberfell was the bigger of the two, and Alfric wondered whether he’d find better or worse prices on both the entads and ectads. It was a city built on a hill, with a river winding its way in the valley below, and a portion of the city down there where river shipping took place, grains and textiles sent on rafts and flat-bottomed boats to elsewhere, eventually ending up at another city on the coast of the ocean, more than two hundred miles away. The streets were brickwork, mostly flat and easy to walk on when compared to the roots and ruts of Traeg’s Knob, and the air had a different smell to it, that of industries and cooking fires. It was still nothing like Dondrian, but it was closer than Alfric had been in quite a while.

Once they’d gotten into the hotel, it was easy enough to identify themselves and get their keys from the man behind the front desk. Verity requested food be brought up, and paid immediately. They were on the fourth floor, as Mizuki had apparently sprung for a suite, one that the five of them were going to share for the night. It seemed a bit extravagant to Alfric, and he hoped that he wouldn’t have to pay out too much, even if they weren’t terribly worried about money at the moment. The stairs were murder on his aching legs, and he collapsed into one of the beds before reluctantly removing his equipment and the pieces of armor he’d still been wearing. Verity was running a bath in one of the suite’s two bathrooms, and Hannah was busy in the other, taking a quick shower.

It had been a good day, if a long one, and not quite done. The team was coming together. There was a good chance they’d at least stay together for the next five dungeons, the ones surrounding Pucklechurch, and they just needed to be a bit lucky in what they found for it to be easy to make the case for what came next. Travel time was the biggest barrier, but the wardrobe would help with that, especially if Alfric could find something that would let them transport it.

There was a bit of party chat over the course of all this, reporting of locations and things like that, and Alfric mostly ignored it. You couldn’t turn party chat off, but you could sleep through it, if you trained yourself in it, and Alfric nearly napped while he waited for his turn in one of the bathrooms.

But then Isra and Mizuki returned to the hotel, with their own things to report, and Mizuki had news about what they’d been up to.

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Alexander Wales

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