According to the late questologist Tud Walrop’s leading theory on the condensation of mundane quest travel, a five-minute journey is an impossibility. He detailed this hypothesis mostly in the margins of a book on the altered mating patterns of permanently transfigured creatures, which he checked out from the library in his home city of Finth in the Setoterran country of Glunch. The notes were compiled by Walrop’s assistant after his untimely death, who had to check the book out three non-consecutive times in order to transcribe all of the scrawlings over the course of nearly two months, made longer by the hiatus in which a young man with a sudden feather problem and an even suddener libido problem checked out the book before Walrop’s assistant could pick it up for a third time.

The finished paper was characterized by running ink and pages difficult to turn without tearing them, but Walrop’s assistant had urged him not to use the word “condensation” for fear of scientific misunderstanding, all to Walrop’s repeated dismissal.

The short explanation of Walrop’s theory—or Walrop’s Law—is that any journey can only take as little time as is required to recount the events of that travel. The long explanation…

Say a group of adventurers—oh, let’s call them Root, Beel, Azriah, and Vit—went on a mundane journey that took two months to complete from point A to point B. Not much befell them over the course of the two months, but a few things were of note: they crossed paths with a party of bandits but walked away unscathed; there was a terrible storm that kept them stuck in place for the better part of a day; they met an odd traveler along the road who sold them a mysterious treasure, but uncovering its secrets became a job for later. Recounting each of these in full would, ultimately, take less than two months—perhaps to listen to the tale or read it from a page would take all of ten minutes. This is because most of the already mundane travel gets lost—there’s no reason to recount all of the meals, all of the hours spent in uninterrupted, silent walking, or any of the bathroom breaks, however harrowing indigestion in the wilderness might be. Thus, those two months could be condensed in this way.

Say instead the same group took a mundane journey of two weeks. In that time, the highlights included a particularly tasty dinner, a conversation about whose parents were the worst of the bunch, and an afternoon spent swimming (swimming is always notable, for some reason). These events, all recounted as they occurred, wouldn’t amount to a story of two weeks any more than the previous example reached the two-month mark—again, a tale of this sort would likely take around ten minutes, give or take. While that’s a good bit shy of two weeks, it’s important to note that ten minutes is a larger chunk of two weeks than it is of two months, you see?

So say instead, then, that the journey wasn’t two months, or two weeks, but two hours. In this time, the group lived a new sequence of highlights—say they passed a strange creature muttering the names of every person stretching back through each adventurer’s lineage. Later, they heard some singing somewhere north and out of sight but decided not to investigate. Then, just before reaching their destination, one of them suffered a harrowing bout of indigestion. I think you see the trend now; these events don’t amount to two hours of recap, rather the same ten minutes or so—and still only the highlights are worth a mention; although, as the last of the bunch might’ve let on, the bar for “interesting highlights” gets lower and lower as the time gets shorter, leaving a smaller window to be struck down or done to by the vicious forces of time, hunger, zeal, a big thing with teeth and claws, lust, malice, digestion, or weird little plants with psychedelic properties. With less competition, some of those things passed over before start to make the cut.

Now, another important detail to note: one simply must include the highlights. What would your everyday mundane travel be without a spark here and there? And to ignore it completely, just hop from good stuff to good stuff—now that would just take all the payoff out of hearing a really good story. At least according to Walrop, that is. No matter how low that bar gets, no matter how far one has to push to find something notable, those random encounters and happenings must be recounted.

(Again, says Walrop.)

So a mundane journey of five minutes clashed with Walrop’s Law as an impossibility, insofar as no journey’s highlights could be recounted in only five minutes, so even if the walk itself took only a brisk five, the tale of those five would still take somewhere in the ballpark of the average ten.

As an example, say the same adventuring party from the previous examples undertook a journey of five minutes, just down the lane to a neighbor’s home. They set out along a path paved in peppermints, listening to the sticky clicks of every boot ripped from the sugary film underfoot and wondering if they’d track ants everywhere they stepped for the next several weeks.

As they reached the one-minute mark of their trek, Root looked up to the treetops and sighed. This was a highlight, in comparison.

They passed the vicinity of the cave moments later, to the ambience of roarous sniffing amplified and echoing off the cave walls, followed by an abrupt and less powerful yelp that was smothered before it even left the mouth of the thing, so they didn’t hear that part at all.

The adventurer Vit would say, “Whatever that is must think all the candy smells nice.” An astute and necessary remark to voice.

Followed, of course, by the Beel one saying, “Or maybe it’s looking for the next course.” Classic Beel, always thinking ahead to the next meal.

They continued until about two minutes and ten seconds, or maybe fifteen, when they trod unknowingly over the hill of a colony of spirit ants. Ants were an enormous problem in this corner of the woods, in the smallest way possible. Root’s right heel in particular lay waste to hours’ worth of construction; the ants scurried in panicked circles, not doing much of anything but surely doing it in a frenzy. A dozen or so got a boot-shaped ticket to Yg Balta, which was a real shame. For spirit ants—or other things similarly tiny or slow—Yg Balta was a long way off. The glittering winds of their spirit wills sped off unnoticed, and that signature hot milk and seaweed smell of a slain spirit didn’t reach the nose of even Beel, despite the size of the protuberance or its proximity to the ground, and even if it had it would have been written off as something sugary spoiling in a ditch off the path. Really, the fact that the whole area wasn’t inundated with even more ants was a miracle—or just the silver lining of the distance to Yg Balta, at least as far as anyone besides the ants and one local pilosan spirit were concerned.

A new sect of the ant colony split off in the wake of the sticky shoes, hot in pursuit but rapidly losing ground in the chase. Thanks to their sharp tracking senses, they’d follow the trail those shoes made for weeks to come, until the last of the sugar residue washed away in the mud. Until then, they’d be considered an order of fanatics back home until their eventual defeated return—that is, unless the pilosan had anything to say about it.

The next creature the four of them passed on their walk was a sort of squirrely thing up on a branch. It hissed and flared its tail, which unraveled and split into half a dozen barbed segments like a bloom of razor petals lined with teeth. They passed one of those as well, actually, although it was some hundred miles north. Still sort of a “passing” though, right?

Speaking of passing things: just after the halfway point in their short journey, another traveler came around the bend ahead. It shambled and shifted, a wisp of a thing cloaked in shadow and murk. It whispered to itself. Had they stopped to listen, they would have learned that—


—but without—

—for fear of—


Thankfully, due to the consuming darkness of the stranger’s face, they couldn’t see any eyes, and therefore couldn’t make eye contact, and therefore considered themselves exempt from the game of passersby whereby if the thing had looked at them, they’d have to acknowledge it with a smile and a pleasantry of their choosing, but if not, they could pass by with eyes carefully averted. Which in this instance actually saved them from years of sleepless nights and a slowly dissolving sense of a grounded self in their day-to-day reality, as well as from sharing an awkward exchange with a stranger.

They did not give this exchange—or lack thereof—a second thought.

Right near the end of their walk, Azriah let out a half-stifled belch in memory of Grelga’s generously offered cookie. He did not follow it up with the proper “excuse me” that most people used in civilized corners of the world, because his view on the matter was that he wasn’t in the civilized part of the world, and stomping around in the wilds of the spirit world allowed an exclusion of certain “should”s. Vit said the words for him.

They arrived then within sight of Gropply’s house. “House” was a luxurious term that had a lot more room and a lot fewer drafts in it than the structure before them. It looked like the evolution of a child’s fort tucked in the woods behind their home, like the sort of thing an adult might make if they followed the same general principles and eye for design but with an upgraded lifting capacity, supply of tools, and mind for weight distribution and proper construction of things like windows and cabinets—if adults still cared about anything of the sort and liked to play outside in the woods with the other neighborhood adults rather than sit inside complaining about the month’s adding-up and about children as a general breed.

The walls had a lot of angles to them, some more worrisome than others. Inside, despite the closed door and curtain pulled over the window, they could see a spirit moving to and fro across the floor thanks to the gaps in the slat walls. He seemed to stagger every few steps, as if the floor wanted to fit in with the rest of the shack and had adopted an angle or two to raise on its own.

Something croaked in the marshy goop beyond the hut; the reeds rustled in the breeze; the four of them stepped up to the door. Root scratched her head—it had certainly felt a bit longer than five minutes. Closer to ten.

A journey of five minutes has a very low bar for its highlights—sighs and burps and shambling things, hardly a step above pissing behind a tree. This was, however, only for those who subscribed to the thought of Walrop’s Law, which many didn’t bother with. General consensus said Walrop was a quack, his writings nothing but the musings of a man desperate for a sense of importance. Walrop, really, was only as important as the mundane travel he theorized about. He feared to be written away from history with the stroke of a pen, just like a piss in the woods. There was a kinship between the two—between Walrop and pissing—that went deeper than the niche they held in the great tales of history.

Certainly, Walrop would have met the very fate he feared if not for the dutiful work of his assistant. But if it had truly been of such importance to Walrop, perhaps thinking up a law that could hold water would’ve been a better pastime than sitting around reading the sort of literature that he did or carrying it off to his bedchamber every so often.

That is to say, any of Walrop’s thoughts and work can be safely and simply discarded.