Whatever had happened during the time he’d been stone, it seemed to have rattled the team a bit. Alfric wasn’t sure whether it was just because he’d ‘nearly’ died or if it had been more about their topic of discussion, or perhaps the way he’d handled the tower, but things were a bit off, and he was hoping that they would run into something simple that would help them to course correct.

He’d been taught by his parents that it was a universal good to give people credit for what they’d done. It made them feel good about their accomplishments, and helped to highlight the fact that you’d been paying attention to the good things they were doing. This wasn’t just about dungeons, but about work relationships, and being part of a family together: his parents always thanked each other for doing routine chores around the house and for taking care of things for their family unit. It was something that he’d noticed and liked, and he’d tried to keep it up with this party, in part because it was polite, and in part because it was a good way to highlight what was working for them.

<Verity, good work with the song on the way up,> said Alfric. <I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you.> They walked through the large open room, with its ceilings so high the light didn’t seem to reach. It was the sort of place that Alfric had dreamed about, impossible and unreal, and he felt elated to be walking through it. He took his time, taking it in.

<I’m not sure that’s true,> said Verity.

They had decided to follow the perimeter of the room’s wall, hoping that they would find something else of note. There had been good loot in the ‘tower’, enough that Alfric thought they were unlikely to find another cache of that sort, but so far they hadn’t spied any ectad materials, which Alfric was also eager for, if only because he needed to make a trip back to Liberfell to return the floatstones to Besc, and it was better to do two things at once.

<It’s useful to have internal orientation, in a situation like this,> said Alfric. <We can call the exit north, the tower east, and we’re going south right now. The framing might help us to keep from getting too lost.>

<I can still see the light we left behind,> said Mizuki. Alfric could too; it was small and distant, but still there, a comforting sign. <I’m not sure we need a system.>

<Seems like there might be problems, if we’re not square,> said Hannah. <There’s a good chance this large room isn’t square, and that means we’d be off some degrees. Maybe enough to matter.>

<We’re not anywhere near that level of accuracy. Usually you pick a system to match the terrain,> said Alfric. <And as we accumulate equipment, we’ll have ways of marking our path. In a dark place like this, it would be good to have a stack of small lanterns, maybe with colored lenses.>

<Expensive,> said Isra.

<Yes and no,> said Alfric. <Reusable and resellable. Besides, if we’re going to Dondrian anyway, we can swing by specialty shops and get tiny lanterns that are purpose built, small, from one of the dungeon supply shops.> He had invested quite a bit of his earnings back into the gear, and was planning to do even more, especially if it helped them to extract value from the dungeons. Their early windfall was going to help them accelerate.

<There’s something ahead,> said Isra. <An opening in the wall, and something inside it. Alive.>

<Verity, could you — thank you,> said Alfric as the music began to play.

Alfric moved quickly, keeping low to the ground and watching his steps. His sword had stayed drawn, and his shield up, but he moved them into fighting position, ready for anything to come out from the barely visible opening, or as ready for anything as he could be.

Stealth, as a general approach to dungeons, was ill-advised. Moving silently was difficult, and you didn’t know ahead of time what kind of thing you were facing or what kind of senses it had. Alfric had still practiced stealth for the sake of completeness, but it was mostly in service of getting a first strike, rather than moving unseen. As he moved, he was doing a passable job, and Verity was keeping her fingers from her lute, which meant that the song was going on through the party channel. It made the song weaker, harder to maintain, and as soon as the fighting started, Verity would start using the lute as well. Still, Alfric could feel the strength flow through him. It was already, he noticed, a marked improvement from the second dungeon, which in turn had been a marked improvement from the first dungeon.

The thing must have heard them coming, because as difficult as moving stealthily was, moving stealthily with five people was much harder. It lurched out from the opening it had been sitting in, red and gelatinous, wobbling with little gel feelers spreading out across the ground. The light was poor, only coming from their lanterns, but the material it was made of could be seen through, showing a skeleton in the middle of it, as big as a bear but shaped more like a wolf. The ooze extended down around the bones, like a solid dome of material. It wasn’t clear, from a first look at it, how such a thing would be killed, but Alfric was going to do his best.

Isra began firing her arrows as the thing came closer to them. They went into the ooze but didn’t seem to hurt the creature all that much, until one of them struck bone, which seemed to do something. Verity started up her lute, adding body and fullness to her song, like battle music starting as the creature bore down.

And then it was to them, and Alfric was trying his best to slice through the ooze. Jellyfish, which this thing somewhat resembled, typically had some internal structure to them, and Alfric went with wide swings, hoping to cut through some invisible membrane or strut within the ooze. He backed up as it moved at him, not wanting to see what would happen if the ooze touched him, but the creature wasn’t all that fast.

The fifth slice managed to hit something, just a hint of resistance, and a chunk of the ooze fell to the ground, separated from the rest of it and seemingly inert. But it was then that another aspect of the battle revealed itself, because with that chunk slopped onto the floor, the creature was moving even faster. The texture of the fight, the emergent rules of it were beginning to take shape, that it would be about the bones, perhaps, or the skull that might have something important inside it. To slice off more and more of the creature was, perhaps, the way to go, but it would be a battle that got more difficult the closer to completion it was, and that was a problem.

<Going to try something,> said Mizuki. She stepped forward and thrust her hands out in front of her in a way that Alfric was skeptical was necessary, and a hole briefly appeared in the ooze. Then, the skull inside exploded, blasting apart into large fragments that were stopped from going anywhere by the ooze that surrounded them.

The whole creature slumped over and the skeleton inside settled to the bottom of the bubble of ooze, which was slowly leaking out and deflating.

<Huh,> said Alfric. He told his heart to slow down, now that the moment had passed. <Good work Mizuki, what was that?>

<Um, just a combination of things,> said Mizuki. <A very impressive and technical display of competence.> She smiled at him. <I’m actually a little surprised it worked. It was like three effects together, along with a bit of cast off from Verity’s song.> She turned to Verity. <Don’t get more efficient at singing, please.>

Verity was still singing, but she gave Mizuki a dirty ‘what’s that supposed to mean’ look.

<Come on,> said Alfric. <Verity is going, so we’re up against time.> He moved around the ooze, keeping an eye on it just in case there was a death rattle. Up close, he could see the holes that Isra had put into it, because it was leaking fluid from them in its death.

This opening was more organic, rocky and harsh, but with the flat wall it was set in, there was a discontinuity, reminding Alfric of a very precisely cut geode with its flat, polished face leading into a craggy pit.

<Are those eggs?> asked Mizuki. Her hand had gone to the lantern around her neck and she was shining it down the cave. The rocks were sharp, but back where she’d shown the light, there were hundreds of small translucent crimson orbs stuck to the walls, floor, and ceiling. <Um, what?>

<Likely the same thing,> said Alfric. <It might be better to eliminate them.> He turned to Isra. <Unless you think there’s some kind of use?>

<The gel would give you indigestion,> said Isra. <There’s probably some use, but … nothing that stands out.> She pursed her lips. <I don’t think.>

<Then it’s a question of whether to destroy the eggs or leave them be,> said Alfric. <We’re not equipped for a swarm.>

<The eggs aren’t close to hatching,> said Isra. <I think.>

<And there might be something in there, right?> asked Mizuki.

<I suppose,> said Alfric. They couldn’t properly see the back of the cave. <I’ll go in, it’s unlikely they’re close to hatching.>

He made his way through the cave as quickly as he could, trying not to disturb the eggs. There was something about eggs that had always creeped him out, perhaps because of a story his mother had once told him about a time her team had been wading through waist-deep water when hundreds of watermelon-sized eggs had started floating up from the ground and then started to hatch around them. It had been a bedtime story, because he’d asked for a scary one, and maybe he’d have felt differently about it if his brave and fearsome mother had vanquished the things with her party, but instead, she’d told him how she’d died and done the day over, which didn’t offer the kind of catharsis that a young Alfric had been seeking.

There was nothing in the back of the cave anyhow, at least, not that Alfric could see. It was possible there was something beneath the hundreds of globular eggs, but he thought it was unlikely, and he’d been taught not to be too exhaustive in searching out entads, because it was hardly ever worth it.

When he came back out of the cave, Mizuki was holding a spear, which on closer inspection was actually a bident with two sharp prongs.

<Where did you get that?> asked Alfric.

<Over there, just now,> said Mizuki, pointing toward a pillar. <Verity was boosting my magic sight, for lack of anything better to do, I think.>

<Could you tell me next time?> asked Alfric. <Over the party channel, please.>

<Sure, sorry,> said Mizuki. <But here, it’s for you, you were wanting a spear, and this is close enough.>

Alfric took the bident from her and turned it over in his hands. It was metal, which was good, but it didn’t look particularly sturdy. He would do a scratch test before actually using it. With entads, you never really knew: something that looked like it was made of wood, or that was made of wood, could be impenetrable, and contrarily, there were occasional metal entads that would dent as easily as plaster. The bident had a gentle curve that separated the main shaft into the two prongs, and the tips of them were sharp points, rather than barbed, which was good. It was relatively unadorned, with little in the way of embellishment, aside from rings around the length of it to help with grip.

<Good job finding this,> said Alfric. <We’ll test it later.> Verity was still singing, though she’d said she was working on singing slower to drain herself a bit less in the times when the magic wasn’t needed.

They continued on, with Mizuki holding her balance staff in one hand and the bident in the other.

Frankly, Alfric was hoping that there wasn’t much more to the dungeon. They had a lot of work ahead of them with the tower, and carrying things up and down nine flights of stairs was going to take a fair bit of their labor, but on top of that, they had this giant room to cross, and because of how he was handling their storage entads, keeping them away from the fighting, it meant that there would be significant amounts of hauling things from one end of this huge room to the other. Beyond that, there was so much open empty space that it would be very easy for them to miss a monster and end up in an unexpected battle while they were hauling things.

Toward what he’d defined as the ‘west’ end of the room, the walls started getting close to each other, forming a canyon above them with none of the thick and too-long pillars. Eventually it was so narrow that they had to walk single-file, which Alfric didn’t particularly like, since it meant the effectiveness of their artillery was reduced to almost nothing.

In the end, the narrow but tall corridor came to a door, which was equally tall, towering so high up that if there hadn’t been a hundred hinges, it would have been so heavy that it would have fallen down, and even then, Alfric wasn’t certain that the physics of it would really work, not under normal circumstances.

<Do we knock?> asked Mizuki.

<There’s nothing good that would answer,> said Alfric. He moved forward and used his shield hand to crack the door open. The shield was strapped to his arm, with a handle to hold it with. The door took quite a bit of effort to open, and once it was, Alfric got into a fighting position.

Beyond it was a wide room, though nothing as big as the one they’d come from. It had tiered seating leading down to a central area, like a classroom, but where an instructor would have stood, there was instead a tree, one with a few sparse leaves and a gnarled appearance, lacking bark.

<I can’t sense any danger,> said Alfric. <Move in slowly.>

This room, unlike the others, had some light beside what they’d brought in. Above where the tree was, far above where it was, a shaft of light was coming down from some unseen part of the ceiling, hitting the tree almost exactly. It was the kind of picturesque thing you sometimes saw in a dungeon, eerie because you’d never expect the lighting to work out like that in real life.

<I don’t think the tree is dangerous,> said Isra.

<Can you know that?> asked Mizuki.

<If it had volition it would be affected by dungeon madness,> said Alfric. <And if it were affected by dungeon madness, I think Isra would have a harder time with it. Right?>

<I think so,> said Isra. <I feel … ease.>

Alfric moved into the room, still moving slowly, watching his footwork, sword at the ready. He was half-tempted to just use the bident for its extra reach, but after the incident with being briefly turned to stone, he was much more of the opinion that he should be following protocol and waiting until the proper time and place for experimentation.

Eventually though, he relaxed, though the room had another door at the back, this one of less comically large proportions. <Isra, Mizuki, anything of value?>

<The tree has seed pods,> said Isra, who had come to stand beside him. <Value is hard to determine.>

<Nothing magic in the room,> said Mizuki.

<We can take some of the seed pods,> said Alfric. <There’s no harm in growing a novel tree, usually, and we can do more examination outside. Traditionally you’d grab some samples, leaves, bark, wood, and so on, to see if it’s something exploitable. Quite a bit of it depends on growing conditions and speed though.> Taking living things from the dungeons involved a lot of luck, but having a druid gave them a bit of an edge.

They moved forward, with Verity’s song still going slow, just an occasional note now and then to let them know it was going. Alfric was impressed that she’d been able to make so much progress in such a little amount of time, but then again, she was a prodigy and Chosen by the God of Increase.

The door led into a hewn stone passageway that turned at odd angles and eventually ended in a dark field of rather small proportions, with a fire pit smouldering in the middle of it. Alfric was on guard, because that implied some kind of creature that had made the fire, but as he circled around the room, casting his light up at what seemed to be the night sky, he saw nothing.

<Below,> said Isra. She had bent to press her hand against the ground. <Some kind of creature.>

The fire pit exploded upward, sending embers all around, which Alfric was able to block with his shield, and a centipede as thick as a barrel roared up from the ground, unfolding legs that were long enough to be a real threat, each of them tipped with sharp points. Again, Verity’s song picked up volume and tempo, and the music felt like an introduction to the monster.

<Firing,> said Mizuki.

Very suddenly, the centipede had a hole through its head, and the careful articulation of those razor tips went haywire. It was still living, though barely, moving as though it was drunk, with the many arms knocking against each other. Alfric stepped forward and put the full lightning into his sword, first slashing through arms, which gave way with resistance, and then through the belly, which split like a poorly made waterskin. He leaped back as the thing slumped over to see whether he’d done enough and could get out of the way of the spasming arms.

<Huh,> said Mizuki after a moment had passed. <That was easy.>

Alfric moved in and stabbed it again, wanting to be sure, and the oversized centipede made one last shuddering movement before it started leaking viscous golden fluid from the wound.

Isra stepped forward and touched the fluid with two fingers, then before Alfric could stop her, she brought it to her mouth.

<Honey,> she said. <Or something like it.>

<I am absolutely not eating that,> said Mizuki.

<We don’t have a jar to collect it with,> said Isra.

<There are about twenty large jars in the book,> said Alfric.

<How much money did you spend stockin’ the thing?> asked Hannah.

<Quite a bit,> said Alfric. <The book is good, if slow, and there’s no need for us to miss out on value.> He paused and looked around. <No more rooms, it seems. Verity, you might be able to break, if you need to.>

Verity brought her song to a conclusion, a lovely little song about a winding river, perhaps inspired by the canyon hallway they’d moved through. It wasn’t necessary for a bard to bring their songs to a close, just as it wasn’t necessary for a bard to come up with new songs for every occasion, nor invent their own lyrics, but Verity seemed to put quite a bit of focus on the craft. If she weren’t so proficient, Alfric might have tried to talk to her about it, but she was leagues beyond his understanding of her field.

<Good song,> said Mizuki. <Though you know, I keep trying to find meaning in the songs, and sometimes I wonder if you’re composing them without any meaning.>

<Oh, not usually,> said Verity. <I’m just singing. Quite a bit of what comes out is just about where I can find a rhyme. True songs are always better than what I sing, because someone can put hours of their life into three minutes of song, each bar worked and massaged until it’s perfected. This is just improvisation.> She hummed a bit. <The young girl would shiver / and pull her legs close / but the call of the river / was louder than most. That bit there, the slant rhyme, I think you can tell.>

<How are you doing for stamina?> asked Alfric.

<I have another two in me,> said Verity. <Or one long one. I’d prefer to do just one more though, I’m starting to feel it.>

<I don’t think we have all that much more to do,> said Alfric. <If any, actually. Just the northeast and northwest corners.> The other two corners had nothing, just expanses of wall crudely running into each other.

<This dungeon has been weird, right?> asked Mizuki. <More random than a normal dungeon. And a bunch of rooms that come off some central room, rather than, you know, a real structure or something. Yes, yes, I know that all dungeons are random, all are unique, but this one seemed, um, more random?>

<Well, none of us are seasoned now, are we?> asked Hannah. <We’ll be able to say in another ten dungeons or so.>

<We’re not done yet,> said Alfric. <And even once we think the dungeon is clear, we have to deal with taking things out of the tower.>

They searched the field, or what passed for a field, but found nothing of note, which meant that the entire room had been a fight without any real reward, not that it had been much of a fight to begin with. While Mizuki had essentially killed it in a single hit, the ease with which Alfric had been able to pierce it made him feel like it could have been handled fairly well without her.

Alfric carried a sack with him, and they stopped by the tree for long enough that he could take some samples of it, as well as collect quite a few seed pods, each of which was packed with hundreds of seeds. With ectad help, they could have an orchard in a matter of years, but they’d need some kind of expert opinion to know whether growing conditions would be right for it, and more importantly, if it was worth anything.

Once they’d gone out of the ‘canyon’, they continued to follow the perimeter of the immense room, but it just brought them back to the entrance, where their things were still sitting there.

<So, dungeon done?> asked Hannah.

<Yes, it seems like that,> said Alfric.

<Okay, I’m not saying that I liked it better that way, but it seems more appropriate to finish with one last big battle,> said Mizuki. <And this dungeon was a bit easy.>

<Easy is good,> said Alfric. <No ectad material, which is a shame, but we did fairly minimal work and got good rewards for it. That’s how our first dungeon was supposed to go.>

It had still been work, pain, and gore, but he was happy she was coming around, especially given that he hadn’t been able to prevent her from being grabbed around the leg. She was saying it was easy as … well, like she’d wished that it wasn’t, which was a bit how Alfric was feeling. The last two fights hadn’t been what he’d hoped, and he knew it was foolish to want them to be large, dramatic, skin-of-his-teeth battles, but it was still a feeling that was there, just a bit.

<I’m not complaining,> said Mizuki. <It’s just a matter of, I don’t know.>

<Structure or rhythm,> said Verity. <And I agree.>

<You don’t really go into dungeons because the experience of it is pretty,> said Alfric. This was a repetition of common wisdom rather than his personal thoughts. He didn’t want to say anything that would give Mizuki the idea that she shouldn’t be killing things in one shot if she could.

<Speak for yourself,> snorted Hannah. <That’s why I go into dungeons.>

Alfric put on his pack with the heavy book inside it and they made their way back toward the same place they’d come in, following the room’s edge. There was still a chance that they were missing a bit of the dungeon, since they hadn’t properly followed the edge of the northeast corner of the room, and after a bit of deliberation, they did so, taking a longer route to get to the tower and finding nothing.

From there, it was an exercise in loading things into the book. The corpses had begun to smell a bit, and Mizuki made a show of plugging her nose. The stairs had to be cleared, with the corpses stacked up in one room, then Alfric put down some sand on them to give some traction when they moved through the blood. The work went fairly fast, especially with many hands. Verity was tasked with managing the pages and putting things in, and the rest of them brought things to her, or at least those things that were small enough to fit in a page of the book. They were still nowhere near filling the storage book up, and Alfric could see that it would probably be with them for quite a while, simply because it had a high capacity.

The maps on the ground floor were a good find, in Alfric’s opinion, the kind of thing that went for a surprising amount at a henling shop. Most of them were impressive displays of craftsmanship in their own right, and for some, maps of imaginary places were good at firing the imagination, or at least giving guests something to look at when they were using the bathroom.

The entad table was a special problem, namely because there was no way to fit it down the stairway, and eventually Alfric settled for using the new wand on it, given that they seemed to have no other options. It came back out easily enough, but the style of it had changed. It was still rather simple, but with more tapering to the legs and a sharper curve to the lip of it. Whether the magic was still intact was a question that they couldn’t investigate until they actually knew what the table did, but Mizuki had opined that it was, at least, still an entad. Still, they were able to take the table out, which Alfric considered a victory.

By the end of it, they were all getting tired. It was moving day, in a way, except that the stairs were very steep and there were nine floors stacked on top of each other. They took a bit of a break halfway through, eating the egg buns that he’d helped Hannah make the day before, and then plugged on. Isra seemed fascinated by the museum, and insisted that all the cards went with all the curios, during which it was revealed that she’d never been to a museum before, which wasn’t terribly surprising.

<There’s a museum in Liberfell,> said Mizuki. <Just one big room, but it’s got a lot of stuff from the early history of the place, historical things and some samples of plants and animals.>

<Like a zoo?> asked Isra.

<No,> said Mizuki. <Stuffed animals in poses, so you know what’s native to the area.>

<You know, if we’re going to Dondrian with my parents’ assistance anyway, you could go see the museum there,> said Alfric. <It’s supposed to take a day for each of the four wings, so you wouldn’t be able to see the whole thing, but it’s one of the attractions.>

<There are a few museums in Dondrian,> said Verity. <The wizard’s college has one, there are two art museums, there’s a large botanical garden, lots of things to see and do. Visiting everything in Dondrian would take a month and a fair amount of rings.>

<Well, the Metropolitan Museum of Qymmos is free,> said Alfric. <I was just thinking that no one is all that interested in the opera itself, so it might be best for us to line up a few things, especially if we’re going our separate ways.>

<Are we?> asked Mizuki. <I was thinking that we’d stick together for all of it. We are a team, after all.>

<You’ll come with me to see the Garos Duomo?> asked Hannah.

<Absolutely,> said Mizuki. <I like fancy buildings.>

<It’s a holy building,> said Hannah, for whom the distinction seemed important. <But if you come with me, I can point out a few things. I’ve never been to Dondrian, but I’ve read about the place, and always wanted to visit.>

<It’s very symmetrical,> said Alfric. He looked for the next thing to go into the book, and it seemed as though they were finished. <Alright, I think we’re done here.>

<Great!> said Mizuki. <But I should warn everyone that I’m not cooking tonight, the dungeon put me a bit too much on edge.>

They left the dungeon behind, with all the usual checks to make sure that they weren’t carrying out anything that they didn’t want to, and to be sure that they weren’t leaving anything behind. Something left in the dungeon would be gone forever with no possible method of return.

They returned to the surface and did the same thing they’d done in Liberfell, taking off all of their armor and going into the stone, which left Alfric to then load up the book and hang onto all that armor. There was quite a bit more armor, with more pieces having been purchased in the intervening days, and the entire entad suit from the dungeon, but it only took a moment for the dagger to work its magic, and then Alfric was in the temple, unloading everything again as the girls popped out of the stone.

Everything seemed like it had gone well, even if a bit understated. Tomorrow, the plan was that they do it again.

They checked the bindings in the temple. The armor had bound to Hannah, which she seemed pleased by, and the blanket and table were both bound to the party. These were decent outcomes, depending on what the blanket and table did.

Filera looked at the haul when Alfric brought it in and told him straight away that their agreement didn’t extend to so many things, not at the level of depth she’d used on the wardrobe. He hadn’t expected that it would: a normal adventuring party would get either complete unknowns or a few hopefuls identified by a cleric of Qymmos, not every single item they pulled out. There were eight items taken from the dungeon, and together they would have taken her nearly a day.

Alfric set the ring and wand aside, since those had properties that were generally known and just needed a bit of additional testing. The blanket, which Hannah had repaired, seemed to remove the weight of everything completely enclosed in it, something they discovered while talking, which was useful but underwhelming, and didn’t need further investigation. Alfric was almost assuredly going to wrap the book in it, once they cleaned off the blood. That left the map, table, card, armor, and bident, and Filera offered to do two of them, requiring payment for anything beyond that.

“I can test the armor myself,” said Hannah. “I’ve yet to put it on, and can do that in my room in the temple.”

“Table we can figure out,” said Mizuki. “I’ll put it into the wand, and we can test it, should let us know whether it’s screwing up the entads or not.”

“I’ll give it a day with the bident to see if I can work it out,” said Alfric. “So that leaves the map and card, I suppose.”

It took Filera some time, and this time Alfric went to look in on Hannah rather than staying there the whole time.

“Any progress?” he asked when he was outside her door. It felt somewhat uncomfortable to be in the private part of the temple reserved for clerics, but he supposed things were a bit different in a small town, and it was certainly allowed.

“Still gettin’ dressed,” said Hannah. “There are all sorts of things I’ve never worn before, and I’m tryin’ to find somethin’ for underneath. Not much for clothes here, since I moved over.”

“Anything should do for now,” said Alfric, speaking through the door. “We’re just trying to figure it out.”

“Well,” said Hannah. “I’ll wear it no matter what, ay? It’s a complete set, resized to me, even if it did nothin’ at all I’d keep it. So better to figure out what goes beneath it.”

“A gambeson would be traditional,” said Alfric.

“Och, stop standin’ outside, you can come in, it’s just a body,” said Hannah.

Alfric hesitated, then came inside. Hannah was partly undressed, her legs bare, but she had finished with the top portion, putting on the gauntlets, the three pieces that went on her torso, the pauldrons, and other bits. It was largely conventional, though typically there would be two pieces for the torso instead.

Alfric kept his eyes off her bare legs and went to help her. Putting on armor was, traditionally, a two person job, and he suspected that he was the only one of the party who knew how to do it, so the duty would likely fall to him. Even with what he knew about the process, there were some straps and things that he didn’t recognize, and might have been dungeon inventions for all they knew. It took some figuring out for both of them. He helped her with the cuisses, without making a fuss about it.

“Should have done the bottom first,” said Alfric. “Mobility is going to be the big concern when putting it on, so better to leave your arms free until the end.”

“The arms I knew how to do, so I did them first,” said Hannah. “I feel like a chicken gettin’ trussed up for the oven.”

“Well, if you want to go out in this, you’ll be doing this process for every dungeon,” said Alfric. “It looks like it wouldn’t be too hard to use the bathroom in it, at least.”

“I’d been thinkin’ that I would get full armor eventually,” said Hannah. “I’ll be a bit sad not to come ‘round the smith’s so much.”

“Even with Micah there?” asked Alfric.

“He’s a pleasant sort, it’s just the moonin’ over me I could do without,” Hannah replied. “And even then, there’s a part of me that finds some flattery in it.”

“Done, I think,” said Alfric, standing up. The last boot had gone into place.

“Well, it’s mobile enough,” said Hannah, moving around the room. She picked up the helm and put it into place. It was handsome armor, a full suit with very few places for a blade to slip in, not with any filigree, but with good craftsmanship and a light color to the metal that reminded Alfric of silver. “Now let’s see what it can do, I s’pose. Would you care to hit me?”

“No,” said Alfric, shaking his head. “Defensive entads have too high a risk of adverse reaction. We could try tomorrow and then have a ‘safe’ reset in our back pocket, but I don’t want to risk a dungeon run that I think came out as a relative success.”

“Well, let me see,” said Hannah. She moved around more, muttering under her breath, thrusting her hands out in front of her, and doing a few punches and kicks for good measure. Alfric might have had a few comments on best practices for figuring an entad out, but he kept them to himself.

She finally got it when she picked up her hammer. Almost at once, the armor shimmered and moved like metallic water over her, encasing the hammer in a thin layer of the silvery metal.

“Hmm,” said Hannah. “An armored hammer? I’m underwhelmed, I must say.”

“Most entads underwhelm,” said Alfric.

Holding the silvered hammer, Hannah was able to move the armor around, adding more of it, until the hammer she’d started with was unrecognizable, and she was using two hands to hold a warhammer instead. As she’d grown it, the armor had lost pieces of itself, mostly from the extremities, but it was clear that if she’d kept going, she would have ended up without armor at all.

“Seems a good weapon,” said Hannah. “Though I’m not sure that I would want one so large. Though —” she hefted it. “The armor felt lighter than I’d have expected, and I s’pose the weapon does too.” She did a test swing of the warhammer, which was perhaps not that wise in such a small room, but managed not to break anything. “I think it’s all the benefits of weight with none of the drawbacks,” said Hannah. “Easy to swing, hard to stop.”

“So a better weapon than armor?” asked Alfric.

“I don’t know I’d say that,” said Hannah. “I’ll need to spar with you to see what the full abilities are, perhaps once we’re home. I’d like to wear this in the dungeon tomorrow, and it’s my hope that I can get used to it before we’re facin’ down monsters.”

Alfric nodded. “Well, hopefully I was a help. I’ll see you at home?”

“Ay,” said Hannah.

When he got back, Filera still wasn’t done, but he waited for a bit, trying his best to process the dungeon and what had happened there, readying himself for a post mortem that would eventually happen. The ring was the biggest thing, something that could have gone horribly wrong, but he wasn’t sure that he would have done any differently. Entads were quite unlikely to kill a person who put them on, so unlikely that entad testing was largely considered safe, incidents like the mythical flowerpot aside. Perhaps next time he wouldn’t offer to test entads himself, instead allowing one of the girls to do it … but he liked entad testing, and was willing to take a little more risk to be able to not have that duty done by someone else.

“The card will take a translation entad,” said Filera, rousing him from his thoughts. “It gives a brief description of the provenance of an item, including only the most relevant information, but the language it uses is unique to the item. I don’t think it’s terribly valuable, but entads that can give information are sometimes in demand, if it’s information that can’t be gotten any other way.” She handed the card to him.

“I think it might sell for something,” said Alfric. “But it’s not something we would use.”

“The map is a bit better,” said Filera. “You were having trouble changing it?”

Alfric nodded. It had just shown the same imaginary map that it had started with.

“Tap the compass rose three times,” said Filera. “That gives you a map of the area that you’re in.”

“But that’s it?” asked Alfric. “It’s just a map?” He took the map from her and looked it over. He could immediately see that it wasn’t just a map, because there were colored dots on it.

“It doesn’t update on its own,” said Filera. “You need to tap the compass rose three times. But the dots represent active parties, each color to a party, which means that you have some rudimentary ability to track people, so long as they’re in a party, and if you adjust the scale of it — finger on the scale marker there, back and forth — you could potentially have it be granular enough to see the movement of a single person.”

“Hrm,” said Alfric. “Good, but … well.”

“Intrusive,” she said.

“Yes,” said Alfric. “But this is useful, thank you.”

“I’ll write some documentation for both,” said Filera. “If they’re both sold, that will help you get a few more rings for them.”

“I appreciate it,” said Alfric. “And I’ll let you know how it went, when I have the time. Right now, I need to rest up.”

He said his goodbyes, taking his winnings, and went back to Mizuki’s house, which he did think of as home. The double dungeon was something he was surprised everyone was going along with, but he was happy for it, and if the fourth dungeon went as smoothly as the third, he was hopeful that they could increase their pace, if only a little bit. They had goat ribs for dinner in a heavy marinade that masked most of the flavor, something that he didn’t think was terribly necessary, and they talked about lighter fare than dungeons and monsters, taking the time to relax and rejoice in a job well done. They were, after all, doing it all again the next day.

But the next morning, after they had gotten ready for the second dungeon, they heard a call going up: there had been a dungeon escape, and it was all hands on deck.


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Alexander Wales


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