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Mizuki woke up early, or at least early for her. Hannah, Alfric, and Isra were already awake, and Hannah had made a quick breakfast, which Mizuki ate and made some never-to-be-given notes on. She had found, with Hannah doing the cooking, that there were certain things that Hannah just didn’t have the deftness for, and there were other things that Hannah did differently because of a difference in opinion about food, much of which stemmed from her being raised in Cairbre. Mizuki liked things thin and crispy, at least when that was an option, but Hannah tended to go thicker, and it was one of those things that didn’t seem like it was all that important, but was actually pretty critical. The textures came out all wrong, at least in Mizuki’s opinion. And to Hannah’s way of thinking, salt was a wonderful thing, but to be added by whomever was eating after the food was cooked, which Mizuki didn’t like at all.

The minor quibbles about food preparation weren’t doing anything to make her less anxious about going to Dondrian. She found herself checking in on the herb dragon far too much, which didn’t actually help much, because so far it was quite a lazy little baby.

“It’s two days, right?” asked Mizuki.

“With an option for three,” said Alfric. He was regarding her with a calm expression. “It’s going to depend on how much there is to get done, and whether our schedules spill over enough that we want to go another day. We’ll get our ‘disguises’ sorted away before we go anywhere. My mom thinks it’s a hilarious idea, she’s all on board. Dad will pick us up and drop us off.”

“And he’s not here yet?” asked Mizuki.

“What?” asked Hannah. “You think that he’d sneak in, full silent, without us knowin’?”

“Do I look okay?” asked Mizuki. She was wearing her temple best, which felt a little ridiculous, and apparently wasn’t fancy enough for the opera, meaning that they were all going to get new clothes of some kind.

“You look fine,” said Alfric. “My dad isn’t one to judge on looks, and he knows that you’re all just starting out.” The ‘just starting out’ bit was not reassuring.

There was a knock on the door, and Mizuki moved first. She was out of the kitchen in a flash, and had the door open before anyone could say a word.

“Hello, is Alfric home?” Alfric’s father was surprisingly short. Mizuki had been expecting someone that was taller and stronger than Alfric, Alfric but moreso, but his father was a few inches shorter instead. They looked more or less alike, though Alfric’s father had slightly lighter skin, and their noses were quite different from one another, Alfric’s being somewhat wider. Their eyes were the same though, brown and alert. He didn’t have anything like adventuring gear, just a simple, down-to-earth shirt and jacket in earth tones with some well-worn boots, which made Mizuki feel better about what she was wearing.

“He’s home,” said Mizuki. She held out her hand. “I’m Mizuki, you must be Harmon?”

“That’s me,” he said, smiling. “You’re all ready to go to the opera?”

“Of course,” said Mizuki.

“Well, it will take just a bit, the entad I’ve got for group travel is … unconventional and slow.” He gave a sheepish smile.

“Well, come in,” said Mizuki, opening the door wider for him. “We spend a lot of time in the kitchen together. Verity isn’t up yet, I don’t think.”

There was a round of introductions, with Harmon giving each of them a genial smile. Alfric had written about them, but not very much, which Mizuki thought was probably because he was worried about things leaking back to Lola, or maybe just because he took personal information pretty seriously.

“I’ll go wake Verity up,” said Isra.

“Looking forward to meeting the last of the party,” nodded Harmon. He turned to Alfric. “I have bad news, which is that we’re using the carver.”

Alfric groaned. “Dad, I know you think that it’s cool, but please can we not?”

“It was the only thing that was available for such a distance,” said Harmon. “Your mother is busy today and you do have five siblings. And my personal travel entad doesn’t allow for ‘live’ transfer through layered storage, so this is what it is.”

“What’s the carver?” asked Mizuki.

“You’ll see,” smiled Harmon. “I think it is, in fact, rather cool. We’ll need to go outside for it though.”

“I have a question,” said Mizuki. “You don’t seem to be wearing any entads.”

“Mmm,” said Harmon. “Your eyes deceive you.” He reached under the collar of his shirt and pulled out a chain necklace with a little twelve-sided copper pendant.

“Okay,” said Mizuki. She hadn’t caught it, but it was possible she could have, if she’d been looking very closely. “But … that’s just one?”

“I suppose I can let you in on a little secret,” he said with a smile. “This one is half of an entad pair. The person who wears it gets all the benefits of wearing whatever you put on a mannequin. That mannequin is loaded with, oh, around forty entads, but because of it, I can go around without carrying lots of mismatched metal or spending a small fortune on getting it all to look right. In a dungeon, I wear heavy armor and carry things with me, but day-to-day, I can just wear this.” He let the pendant fall back down beneath his shirt.

“Dad claims to be a minimalist,” said Alfric.

“Sometimes minimalism just means hiding all the maximalism,” said Harmon.

Not long after that, Verity came down the stairs, looking a little rumpled, and said hello.

“I must confess, I actually saw you perform once,” said Harmon. “When you played at the Ellusifé.”

“Oh, I played there twice,” said Verity. “Which time, if you recall?”

“It was Song of the Tiger Moon,” said Harmon. “Three years back, I think, I can’t remember the event.”

Verity nodded. “The first time I played there then. I remember being quite nervous to be playing for more than a thousand people.”

Harmon nodded. “Well, you’re in a different line of work now.” He smiled, and Verity gave a thin smile that faded quickly. “If everyone is ready, we should go outside so I can get the carver ready. It should take about ten minutes per person, and then we’ll go all at once.”

They went into the back, setting their bags down, not knowing what to expect, except for Alfric, who seemed a little bit annoyed that they weren’t using some other method.

Harmon held out his hand and summoned a thick, tall log from nowhere. Mizuki took a step back when it warped into existence. It was quite sizable, as tall as her, and quite a bit thicker around, probably taken from a very tall, very old tree. There were relatively few of those in the woods around Mizuki’s house, and she thought of them as the ‘old ladies’ of the forest.

“Mizuki, if you’d care to go first?” asked Harmon. “All I need from you is for you to stand facing me and hold still.”

“Okay?” asked Mizuki.

“Dad has a flair for the dramatic,” said Alfric.

“Certain things in life are interesting,” said Harmon. “I believe it is our solemn duty to make them more interesting. Otherwise, it’s a waste.”

“Or you could let the magic speak for itself,” said Alfric.

“Well now you’ve ruined it,” said Mizuki. “Because I know there’s going to be magic involved.”

Harmon smiled. He held out his hand, and a wooden case appeared in it, about as wide as his chest. He set it on the ground and cracked it open, then stood up and looked at Mizuki. “Do you want to make a pose?” he asked.

“A pose?” asked Mizuki.

“For the carving,” he said.

“Oh,” said Mizuki, looking at the block of wood. “Um … sure.” She spread her feet apart slightly and held her hand out in front of her, as though she was going to throw a fireball. It took her a few moments to get something she thought was worthy of being captured in wood.

Harmon pulled a sword from nowhere and with a flash, sliced straight through the upright log. One stroke followed the next, and soon he had something that was … well, not even close to resembling Mizuki, except maybe in the very basic shape. He’d removed huge chunks of wood, but it didn’t look like a person, let alone like Mizuki.

“Roughing is done,” said Harmon. “Now for the more impressive bit.”

The wooden box he’d taken out was filled with tools, hundreds of them, metal bits with wooden handles, and they rose up into the air all at once, swarming around the cut log like bees to sugar water. Wood began to be shaved away with great speed, and the carving began to take shape. Mizuki stepped forward to look at it, and Harmon held up a hand.

“Keep the pose, please,” said Harmon. “I could probably finish without it, but I do better work when I can look at my subject.”

Mizuki stayed where she was. “You’re actually doing the carving?”

Harmon waggled a hand. “There’s heavy entad assistance. I use three entads that boost my skill as a woodworker, and they mostly play well together. The case of tools offers its own boost, as well as multitasking. But on top of that, I spent a few months picking up woodworking, which helped enormously.”

“The logs are special,” said Isra.

“They are!” said Harmon. “Good eye.” It occurred to Mizuki that they hadn’t actually introduced her as a druid. “The logs are from our property, planted beneath some enormous growthstones, about three years old. The wood cuts easily until after it’s been treated, when it becomes as hard as stone, and doesn’t splinter unless you’re doing something very wrong. I wouldn’t be able to ignore the grain as much as I am if I were using normal wood.”

“It’s a very long way to go in order to get long-distance travel,” said Alfric.

“We have about half a dozen entads that could get you there faster, easier, and with less fuss,” said Harmon. “But they’re all in use at the moment, or bound to people who aren’t me, and the carver is, as I’ve said, interesting, and you’ll have something to remember the trip by.”

“There is no way that they’d want these carvings,” said Alfric.

“I want mine,” said Mizuki. It looked quite a bit like her, and wasn’t done, though the tools were making smaller and smaller changes. “Though I don’t know where I would keep it.”

“We have a warehouse full of the things,” said Alfric.

“Alfric exaggerates,” said Harmon.

“No he doesn’t,” said Mizuki.

“Well, fine, he doesn’t,” said Harmon. “I think this one is done, who’s next?”

Harmon must have taken a few liberties with the wooden statue, because Mizuki looked like a totally awesome stone-cold killer, a sorcerer with the aether at the tips of her fingertips and a will to use every scrap of it. “It’s amazing,” breathed Mizuki.

“Well, you can’t have a statue of yourself in your house,” said Verity. “I’m sorry, a painting might be acceptable, but a full-sized statue of yourself — you live with other people, it’s not something that I think we can accept.”

Mizuki pouted.

“Maybe out in the garden?” asked Verity.

“That would be a bit tricky,” said Harmon. “Mostly in that it wouldn’t last terribly long. Even with a good sealant, you’d have bugs, rot, and inclement weather. The wood will set up incredibly hard, but it’s not immune to damage.”

“I could deal with most of that,” said Isra.

“Oh?” asked Harmon.

Isra nodded.

Harmon looked at Alfric, and Alfric nodded too. “Fine, fine, keep your secrets. Who’s next?”

Hannah stepped forward. “As symmetrical as you can, please.”

“Oh, of course,” said Harmon. “It’s not my forte, but I’ve done a bit of studying the art styles of Garos. Now, before we start, can you tell me whether you’re of the Arcross or Perinth school?”

“Arcross,” said Hannah. “I’m surprised you’d know the difference.”

“Oh, I’ve made an effort to have a bit of learning,” he said. “When you get to be my age, you have to occupy your mind with something, and my best dungeoneering days are behind me.”

“Um, what’s this about schools?” asked Mizuki.

“Dominant art styles of Garos,” said Harmon. “The Arcross school argues, in short, for complexity across the plane of symmetry, while the Perinth school goes for a more reserved approach. That’s over-simplifying it, but you can think of Arcross as being baroque and Perinth as being minimalist.”

“And you’d favor Perinth then?” Mizuki asked him, frowning. She was very worried that this little trip was going to result in her having to ask an enormous number of questions that would both make her look dumb and annoy the others.

“Well,” said Harmon. “What I want, in my life, is a few simple, practical tools, well-made and functional. I don’t want individual things, my sword, my armor, my home, to be works of art by themselves. But from my art, I want whatever does the best at evoking something in me, some emotion, some revelation, and I don’t particularly care whether it does that in a simple way or a complicated one.”

“This pose then, I think,” said Hannah. She had been moving around, trying to figure something out, and had settled for having her hands on her hips with her chin slightly raised. She had also done something to her hair using her clerical powers, removing some of the messiness and making it perfectly symmetrical.

It was very Hannah, in Mizuki’s opinion, with a bit of appealing superiority and sureness to it.

“Your dad seems nice,” Mizuki said to Alfric. They were standing over to one side, and Mizuki was speaking low and also making sure it was something she didn’t mind being overhead. The others had their own side conversations while she was mostly just standing there.

“He’s gotten more artsy as time goes on,” said Alfric. “He’s always been on the verge of dipping his toes into the Society, but I’m a little worried he’s going to go all the way.”

“The Society?” asked Mizuki.

“Rich people,” said Alfric. “Verity’s people, essentially, people who have been rich for ages, to within the extent of the law, and have their own little incestuous society built up that excludes other people.”

“But hasn't your family been rich for ages?” asked Mizuki. “And don’t they have their own, er, well, not incest, but bloodline thing?”

“We’ve got different cultures,” said Alfric. “Different media, different mores, different hobbies. The Overguards don’t attend the society balls, we obviously don’t marry into them, we might know them, but we keep ourselves separate from them. Somewhat deliberately, actually. These are people who spend most of their time holding onto generational wealth as best they’re able, and when they’re not doing that, they’re engaged in politics to attempt to stop the government from taking even more from them.”

“Which … your family doesn’t like?” asked Mizuki.

“Not in the least, but as with anything, it’s complicated,” said Alfric. He bit his lip. “It’s one of those political things that I don’t think you need to care about, since it probably won’t affect you.”

“Because you think that I won’t be rich?” asked Mizuki.

“Not to the level that you’ll have to care,” said Alfric. “If we’re reliably doing a dungeon a week, we could live pretty comfortably, especially if we can keep using your house and mostly eating meals that we — you — cook. By the time we’re too old for dungeons, and arguably before that, we’d have enough to live off of. That’s … not really what I wanted, but it would be doable, maybe, to go that slow and still be quite comfortable.” He hesitated. “If you want a very quick overview of the law and the politics around it, I can give it to you.”

“Nah,” said Mizuki. “Your family has a lot of money and they don’t really mix with some other people who have a lot of money. Got it.”

“More or less,” said Alfric.

“It’s actually very complicated,” said Verity. “But I think my turn is coming up.”

“Please don’t talk politics with my dad,” said Alfric. “He can get heated about it. More now than when he was younger.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” said Verity. “Let’s hope our fathers never meet.”

When it was finished, Hannah’s statue, like Mizuki’s, was whisked away into extradimensional space, and Harmon twisted his wrist, which did something to cause all the wood chips to fly up in the air and coalesce before winking out of existence.

“Do you have a preference?” Harmon asked Verity.

“No,” said Verity. “Though, could I be sitting? Or does it need to be standing?”

“You can sit,” said Harmon. “Would you like your lute to be part of it?”

“If that’s possible, yes,” said Verity. She sat next to the plants and struck a pose with her lute, a serene look on her face. The look she was going for, Mizuki suspected, was poise.

“Well, Isra, I’ve a request,” said Hannah. “Could you be sittin’ as well?”

“Yes,” nodded Isra. “Though I don’t sit often.”

“Eh,” said Mizuki. “I get that you want her to sit so that there will be some symmetry, but she’s right, she doesn’t sit often. We want her to be in the most ‘Isra’ possible pose, right? If these are going to end up being garden sculptures, anyway.”

“And what would that be?” asked Isra. “What is the most ‘me’?”

“Bow drawn?” asked Hannah. “But that would ruin the symmetry. Och, I s’pose that’s fine, I can’t hope to dictate how people pose for their statues, can I?”

“Mmm,” said Isra. “But I don’t think I can keep a bow at full draw for so many minutes.”

“It’s fine, do it once and I’ll work with it,” said Harmon.

They milled about. It was quite a bit of waiting, and Mizuki was eager to see Dondrian. Eventually, Harmon stepped back from the statue, looking it over. “Verity's almost done, which means that we’re just a few minutes away from all four being done.”

“You still haven’t said what you’re going to do with them,” said Mizuki.

“Oh, well,” said Harmon, smiling as his dozens of tools attacked the log. “I have an entad that interacts with statues of people. When I press the wand to them, they’ll swap places with you. I can’t take people at range, but I can take statues.”

“Like I said,” replied Alfric. “It’s a very long way to go for the intended result of getting everyone to Dondrian.”

“The statues only need to be made once,” said Harmon. “And it gives me some time to speak to your party before you go off through the city like wild animals.” He gave one last look at Verity’s statue, then declared it done. Mizuki was impressed by how much he’d heightened the poise and grace Verity had presented, because to her, it had already felt heightened when Verity was doing it.

Isra went last, and Mizuki was curious how the bow and string would be carved, but as it turned out, after a few minutes and some conversation, Harmon simply used different pieces of wood, some of them taken from what had been carved from the other logs. The bow string was thicker in the sculpture than in real life, presumably for the sake of having it stay in place.

“Alright!” said Harmon, clapping his hands together. “On the way back, we won’t have to do this. Now then, I’ll get the statues over to our house and you’ll find yourself replaced, one by one, with statues, so get into the position where you’d like your statues to be. Maybe inside, for now, until we can seal them.”

He went walking off to find some grass, maybe to meet some unknown requirement, then disappeared in a blink, and they all moved inside.

“Like I said,” sighed Alfric. “It’s a very long process, but it’s the kind that dad likes. Five or six entads just to do what a better entad would do by itself. You noticed how he just left without needing to make a big deal out of it?”

“The whole time he was making the carvings, I was thinking that it was exactly the sort of thing you’d enjoy doing,” said Mizuki.

“Well,” said Alfric. “It’s just a bit embarrassing, that’s all.”

“I enjoyed it,” said Isra.

“I did too,” nodded Verity. “I’ve never had a carving done of me.”

“Well, so long as no one thought it was too much of a bother,” said Alfric. “If my mom had been picking me up, we’d have —”

Alfric was gone, replaced by a wooden statue of himself, one which was a little bit shorter and maybe younger, though clad in heavy armor and holding his helmet at his side.

“Well that’s disconcerting,” said Mizuki. She turned to Verity, only to see that their bard was a statue too, one that was sitting on a block of wood. “Yup, not liking this.”

“It was explained what was going to happen, ay?” asked Hannah. “If you ask me, it would be terrifyin’ if you didn’t know what was goin’ on, but since we do —” and then she was gone as well, her perfectly symmetrical statue in her place.

“Just you and me now,” said Mizuki. “I really shouldn’t be so nervous.”

Isra turned into a statue before she had a chance to say anything, not that it would have been necessary.

For just a moment, Mizuki felt empty and alone, with nothing but four wooden statues around her. She wished that she’d been first to go.

And then she was in a large building that had nearly two dozen wooden statues, along with her friends. It was a big room, with timber beams held in place by iron braces, and there appeared to be a fair amount of junk piled up, some of it in boxes, other things covered by tarps, and in general, a nice pleasant mess all around.

“It is a warehouse,” she said.

“When I think of a warehouse, I think of something bigger,” said Harmon. “But yes, unfortunately, we’re starting a tour of the house with the least interesting room in it.”

“Oooh, a tour,” said Mizuki.

“A short tour, unfortunately,” said Harmon. “I have business to attend to elsewhere.” He clapped his hands together. “But I can show you around, certainly, especially to your rooms.”

He began to move, and they followed behind, with Alfric bringing up the rear. He seemed at ease, happy even, and Mizuki smiled at him, gratified that he smiled back.

The warehouse opened up into a long hallway with many doors and a large staircase that spiraled down to a lower floor. The walls were wooden up to Mizuki’s waist, then a rich red with a pattern of tiny golden diamonds every now and then. The most interesting thing to Mizuki was the ceiling, which was slanted and had a number of windows at regular intervals. The corkscrew staircase had a glass dome over it with a number of metal struts connecting the panes. It let in a huge amount of light. The other thing that Mizuki zeroed in on was the doors, which were all different from each other.

“The upper floor is for sleeping and privacy,” said Harmon. “We won’t be showing off any of the kids’ rooms, unless Alfric wants to show you his?”

“I suppose,” said Alfric. “It’s this one.”

The door was a light wood stained blue, nearly teal, which made Mizuki smile, because it seemed entirely unlike Alfric. He opened it and stepped inside, ushering them in. On the wall next to the door was a chart, which Alfric had glanced at: it seemed to be a chart of the tides.

Mizuki was surprised by the size of the room, given that the doors were somewhat close together in the hallway. Looking at the wall, it seemed like the room was bigger on the inside than it was in the hallway, and Mizuki frowned at that. It seemed to imply some kind of entad magic, which also made sense of why the doors were all so different from each other.

“We’re somewhere different,” said Isra. “The air is different.”

“It’s a fishing town about thirteen miles or so from downtown Dondrian,” said Alfric. “I had really wanted to be a sailor when I was little.” He pointed to a door set into the opposite wall, which was flanked by windows that looked out onto docks filled with sailing ships and hundreds of white birds. With a start, Mizuki realized that she was looking at the ocean for the first time. It wasn’t all that different from the Proten Lakes, but she still found it surprising that they really had traveled so far.

“All the rooms … are in different places?” asked Isra.

“They’re spread out around a twelve hex area,” said Harmon. “Doors as portals are common enough that we have a bit of a collection. They’re all a bit different from each other though, and some have more restrictions than others.”

“My sister Kyrie’s room can only be passed through if you sacrifice a bone of a native species of the place you’re going to,” said Alfric. “She’s got a jar of them.” He nodded to the door they’d come in through. “That one will lock you out depending on the tides, and doesn’t have terribly many more uses now that you’ve all come in.”

Mizuki looked around the room. It was fairly large, which wasn’t a surprise given the family’s wealth, but there were many more books than she’d expected there to be, and rather than a bed, Alfric had a hammock. He also had a desk sitting by the window, with a number of papers strewn about it. She had thought he’d keep a tidier room than that, but then again, she hadn’t ventured into his third floor room in her house, so it was just an informed guess. There were a few bits of training kit, a blunt sword and a spear with no tip, and a dresser of clothes. There wasn’t anything terribly sentimental, no old toys or stuffed animals or mementos or anything like that. That was about what Mizuki expected of Alfric, but it still made her a bit sad. There was a tiny little bathroom off to one side, nothing more than a shower, toilet, and a sink, all right next to each other, separated from the bedroom by a curtain.

“So you could just go out into the ocean?” asked Isra.

“When I was old enough, yes,” said Alfric. “Before that, the door wasn’t there.”

“All the kids are at an age where they’re free to come and go,” said Harmon. “The house is becoming less like a house, and more like a set of houses, which was what we’d always hoped for.”

“These doors seem like they’d be expensive,” said Mizuki.

“Oh,” said Harmon, waving a hand. “Most of them we found. Eight out of a dozen, maybe?”

Alfric seemed uncomfortable that Mizuki had mentioned money, so Mizuki kept her mouth shut. The idea of having a door that went straight from Pucklechurch to Liberfell … well, her grandfather had an entad that allowed him to make the trip, but it was a prized possession that he’d said many times was priceless, and it came with some severe restrictions.

“Moving on, and sorry for the rush,” said Harmon. He went out of Alfric’s room and down the hallway, and they followed him. “Now this door is a special one, and leads into the guest rooms.” He turned a dial, which had a number of colors on it, and opened up the door when it was on red. “You’ll have to remember your colors.”

The room was small but well-furnished, and the bed was big. Everything was red, from the pillows, to the walls, to the sheets, with only a few spots of whites and pinks to break it up.

“Sorry about the color scheme,” said Alfric. “The door does it. This was all one room, and sometimes is all one room, but the door makes color copies. Perfectly safe to sleep in, or keep your things in, so long as no one collapses it, and even then, it’s just a mess, not actually dangerous. There are seventeen colors. They each have a small bathroom too, but you’ll have to content yourself with a shower.”

“The horror,” said Hannah. “I thought we were going to have real accommodations.”

“I want something a little less vibrant,” said Verity. “Seems like it would be hard to sleep with all the red.”

“One caution,” said Harmon. “And that’s that the door won’t open if someone else has it opened on the outside, so if you turn the handle and it won’t budge, just wait a bit. We’ve only had seventeen in the guest rooms once, and traffic was a bit of a nightmare. Oh, and close the door as soon as you’re done so others can get out. And don’t try to take any of the colored things out, they’re stuck in there until we collapse again.”

“So this house is very magical, is what you’re saying?” asked Mizuki.

Harmon nodded. “Now for the downstairs, and I’m sorry, but it’ll have to be quick.”

They went down the corkscrew staircase together. It was wide enough around that it barely made a full rotation before bringing them to the ground floor, where they came out into a foyer whose doors split the house off in five different directions, one of which was a set of double doors that Mizuki assumed led outside. As for the other four, each of them seemed to have different lighting, and she frowned, trying to make sense of what was clearly magic. Most of the doors were open.

“Alright,” said Harmon. “Alfric can give you the rest of the tour, if need be, but the green door leads out into nature, the blue door leads to the cozy rooms, the red door is toward the workshop and study, and the yellow door is the dining room, kitchen, laundry, and other drudgery.” He turned to Alfric. “Good to go?”

“Mom’s helping with dresses later?” asked Alfric.

“She has all kinds of plans, yes,” nodded Harmon. He stepped forward and wrapped Alfric in a hug. “Good to see you, and I’m glad you’ve found some people who suit you.” He pulled back once Alfric had hugged him back. Alfric seemed quite embarrassed about the whole thing. “Everyone else, it was a pleasure to meet you, our goal is to stay out of your way. If you’d like dinner or any other meal, it’s all provided by entads, so no need to say you’ll be joining us ahead of time. We are planning to eat together though, and have a bit of a — game, I guess you’d call it. Now I’m afraid I have to run, because I think I might be late.”

He disappeared before Mizuki could even say goodbye.

“I think this house might give me a headache,” said Isra. “I can feel each of these places.”

“Oh,” said Alfric. “I didn’t even think about that.”

“I feel fine now,” said Isra. “I’m not sure I will later. It’s more than I’m used to, I may need to readjust or close myself off.”

“The whole house is spread out over Dondrian,” said Alfric. “Or places that are close to Dondrian. The doorways on this level can all be used as much as we want, so we leave them open.”

“But they’re all different?” asked Mizuki.

“Two of them are the same, actually,” said Alfric. “A pretty rare entad set, and with the bonus of being straightforward, limited by weight but not so much that it ever shuts down. The workshop area — well, you won’t have to worry about it. The other one,” he pointed at the one termed the ‘nature’ area, “requires a blood sacrifice, but dad does that every month, and we eat the goat afterward.”

Hannah moved over, peeking through into the workshop and study area. It was a hallway of some length, with more doors. “Bit of a draft?”

“Oh,” said Alfric. “Uh, yeah, that section of the house is actually in far southern Cairbre.”

Hannah raised an eyebrow. “You can just go to Cairbre whenever you’d like?”

“Um, no,” said Alfric. “You’ll end up insubstantial. But everything in the study and workshops is also equally insubstantial, so … like I said, you won’t have to worry about it, it’s well-insulated. And mostly you wouldn’t be able to tell that you were ghostly. I don’t actually think we’re planning to spend all that much time in the house.”

“And why would you have your workshop in such a cold place?” asked Hannah. “You’re talking far south?”

“Beyond the tip of Lathaigh,” said Alfric. “And it’s mostly so that you can crack a window in case you work up a sweat. You have to remember that Dondrian is actually pretty far north, quite a bit hotter, so it’s good for us to have a refuge from the heat. Again, I don’t really think that it matters much.”

They were standing by the workshop hallway when a dog poked its head out from one of the doors, then trotted over to them. It was bigger than any dog Mizuki had ever seen, by quite a large margin. The top of its head came up to just below her collar bone. Aside from being absolutely massive, it was quite furry, like people said arctic animals were, with floppy ears and large eyes.

“You have a dog?” asked Isra.

“Family dog, yeah,” said Alfric. “He’s a dungeon dog, actually.” He frowned. The dog was sniffing each of them in turn. Mizuki held out a hand, and the dog gave it a casual lick. “This is Emperor.”

Isra was staring at the dog with wide eyes. “He’s smart.”

The dog sat down in the hallway, his sniffing complete, and looked at each of them in turn.

“Yeah,” said Alfric.

“And old,” said Isra.

“Yup,” said Alfric.

“How old?” asked Mizuki.

“Four hundred and thirty-eight years old,” said Alfric. “Like I said, he’s a family dog.”

“And is he a good boy?” asked Mizuki. She smiled at Alfric.

“He thinks he’s smaller than he is,” said Alfric. He was frowning at the dog. “We never really got along that well.”

“You didn’t get along well with a dog?” asked Mizuki. She reached a tentative hand forward, and the dog, Emperor, bowed down and moved his head beneath where her fingers were. He shook his head from side to side, getting his pets one way or another.

“He bowled me over a few times,” said Alfric. “Gave me attention when I didn’t really want it. And I fell off him and broke my arm, which I realize now wasn’t his fault, but … still left an impact when I was little. I would describe our relationship now as cordial.” This struck Mizuki as frankly ridiculous.

“What were you doing on top of him?” asked Mizuki. She was petting Emperor in earnest, and his head was lolling, clearly loving it.

“When we’re little, we take him for rides,” said Alfric. “Family tradition.”

“Does no one pet you boy? Huh?” asked Mizuki. She kneeled down and began using both hands to scratch behind the dog’s ears.

“Don’t believe his lies,” said Alfric. “He gets petted all the time. But we’re really not here for the dog.”

“Aren’t we?” asked Hannah, who had joined Mizuki in petting the dog.

“Well, personally, I’m ready for some time in the city,” said Alfric. “There are a few things that I have the rings for now that I wasn’t able to get when I left. Verity, if you want a disguise, we can do that now.”

“Where are your brothers and sisters?” asked Mizuki.

“My brothers are older,” said Alfric. “They still have rooms in the house, like me, but they’re building up their own lives. Same for my oldest sister. The two younger ones are around, probably in their rooms or the study or something. If I knew, I would find them and make introductions, but we’re not here to meet my whole family.”

“Aren’t we?” asked Mizuki, grinning at him.

Alfric sighed. “Okay, well while you pet the dog and seek out my sisters, I think I’ll take Verity down to the family vault.”

Mizuki stood up, quick as a flash. “I’m coming with.” She clicked her tongue. “Come on Emperor.”

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Alexander Wales

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