There were two appetizer options on the Oubliette Steakhouse menu. The first was a type of larva raised in and harvested from fish carcasses, brined, breaded, seared in a pan over high heat and seasoned with a mix of salt, pepper, beach sand, and rosemary, drizzled with lemon, and sprinkled with parsley. Apparently, they wanted to bring a “seaside flavor” to the dish every step of the way. The second option was garlic fries.

They were all out of garlic fries.

Unfortunately, the waiter seemingly forgot to mention this fact until after they had spent considerable time in a back-and-forth that, in Root’s opinion, was far from necessary. But after the waiter mentioned that the first dish was quite popular among the city natives, especially the local politicians, Vit put in a bid for “trying the local cuisine” and “being adventurous.” Root tried every single day to make sure she wasn’t stereotyping Vit as a spider, but they truly did not give her an easy time of it.

When the appetizer arrived, it didn’t smell all that horrible, but by that point Root wasn’t going to touch the stuff as a matter of principle.

“Anything else I can get you folks? Any drink refills, entrees…?”

“I had a question, actually,” said Azriah. He pointed to a line on the menu. “The ‘three-meats burger.’ What is it, exactly?”

“Oh, well, it’s a burger.”


“Yes, sorry, I got that part,” said Azriah after a moment. “I just meant—what are the meats?”

“I’m not sure I understand, sir. There are three of them.”

“Oh, as in three burger patties?”

“No, just one patty.”

“… With three meats used to make it, then, yes?”

“Yes, three meats.”

“Okay, right, so what are the three meats?”

“I’m sorry?”

“What three meats are used to make the patty?”

“They’re all mammals, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“That… that wasn’t what I was asking, no.”

“I think that raises even more questions,” muttered Root.

“I’d call them ‘concerns,’” responded Beel.

“I—” started the waiter.

“The ingredients,” said Azriah, “what are the ingredients?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’d imagine there’s a whole long list. I can go ask the cooks, if you’d like.”


The waiter left. Azriah turned at once to the rest of them.

“Why in the worlds would I be asking if they were all mammals?”

“Maybe he saw the face you made when he brought out the bugs,” suggested Root.

“They’re not bad, actually,” said Vit, popping another into their mouth. “A bit of a crunch.”

“Probably the sand.”

The waiter returned with a greasy slip of paper and handed it to Azriah. Azriah read for a moment before furrowing his brow.

“You have an allergy, then?” asked the waiter.

“No, just a case of reactive prudence. I’ll take a burger.”

“And I’ll take a veggie wrap, please,” said Root. “Hold the mammals.”

The waiter stared at her blankly. “There are no mammals. It’s a veggie wrap.”

“Just checking.”

“And you, little guy?”

“Oh, he’s all set,” said Root. “He had one too many scorpions on the way in and spoiled his lunch.”

When the waiter was gone again, Azriah passed her the paper and pointed to a line of the scrawl.

“In what world is turkey a mammal?”

“Does that say ‘moose’? … Or ‘mouse’?”

“I was done asking questions.”

“Mousse?” asked Vit. “I hope not. Gross.”

Root bunched up her brow. “Why is moose gross? Weird, sure.”

“Mousse? In a burger?” Vit made a disgusted face.

“Maybe kind of gamey, I guess.”


Root shrugged, annoyed.

Azriah took the list back. “Onion, orange peel… Or maybe that says orange beel.” Root shot Beel a look.

“I am not orange.”

“But you’re not not orange enough for comfort,” said Root.

Beel hmphed. “I’m red. Or maybe slightly salmonish.”

“If I see them coming with a grater, I’ll give you a heads-up.”

The four of them fell to silence. Root tapped a finger on the table. Vit poked at their appetizer. Beel eyed the kitchen door. Azriah studied the decor.

“So, we kinda fucked this one up, huh?” said Root at last.

“Good afternoon, everyone!” said a loud voice in the corner of the room, not loud enough. Not quite half of the patrons turned to look as a lone performer stepped onto the low stage, previously inhabited only by an assortment of instruments and a foreboding stool. “My name is Pal Hemburt, the traveling juggler. I’ve got quite the act for you all today!”

Any eyes that still lingered on Pal turned back to their associated food or conversations. Even those with neither found renewed interest in the scuffed tabletops or tufts of stuffing that leaked from holes in the upholstery.

“Guess so,” said Azriah.

“I’m sorry, guys, I really thought this seemed like a lead,” said Vit.

“It’s not your fault. I think we all thought this would be easier. I mean, hey, we couldn’t honestly expect to find another of… y’know, after…” Azriah did a quick tally on his fingers, “a week and a half or so.”

In that time, they’d done a lot, certainly—a lot of walking, mostly in the northernly direction, and a lot of listening to Beel complain—mostly about the walking, but also about having joined a “dangerous, foolish quest” as he called it. They’d offered, with mixed intentions among them, to part ways from him in Jobog several days ago before turning their sights on the city of Midden. But Beel stuck around, in much the same way as a stubborn pimple or a heavy meal.

Up on the stage, Pal juggled a paltry three beanbags. No one looked at him. He did enough looking back at them to make up for it.

“I suppose,” said Vit finally, clearly unconvinced. They pushed aside their plate. “What’s next, then? We’ve come a long way for nothing.”

Azriah shrugged. “A week and some change. Hardly worth worrying about. And speaking of change, we have plenty after the Affodell gig. A little running around to get our bearings isn’t going to put us in a bad position.”

Vit smiled slightly. They put a hand on Azriah’s shoulder. “Thanks. I appreciate you trying to cheer me up. We’ll find something else to go on—something better than a travel brochure for some tourist trap.” Mostly it sounded like they were trying to convince themself.

“Alllll right, who had the three-meats burger?” rumbled a server who they hadn’t seen before, adhering to the universal law that, for some reason, it was always a different server who brought over the meal, and then you never saw them again.

“Right here,” said Azriah. “Thank you.”

“And the veggie wrap?”

“Mine. Thanks.”

“You folks let me know if you need anything else, y’hear?” said the server, and then vanished without waiting for a reply. They wouldn’t let him know, of course—they’d never see him again. Perhaps the management kept a surplus of servers wrangled in the back just for this occasion. Root wouldn’t put it past Bereth’t’ka.

Pal picked up another beanbag with a suggestive look of pursed lips and waggled brows cast towards the crowd. He began to juggle all four; no one paid him any mind. With furrowed brow, he plucked up a fifth beanbag.

Root took a bite of her food, then took the opportunity to share some thoughts. Her mother would’ve chastised her for performing these actions in the wrong order, but that was just the order they flowed naturally in her mind.

“You know,” Root said around a bit of cucumber, “while we are here in the city…” she chewed, “and now that we aren’t in a rush thinking we’re trying to beat Ajis and probably even worse people here to the dungeon’s treasure…” she chewed, “we should see if we can get any info about those coins from Affodell’s crypt.” She swallowed, then took another bite before continuing. “Y’know, the weird ones we didn’t recognize. With the big C on them.”

“Yes, right,” said Azriah. “I’m sure someone will know something about them. About their value.”

“Worst case, we sell them as monogrammed paperweights. Our market is narrow, but we still have a twenty-sixth of the population.”

Vit gave her a quizzical look. “Are you suggesting the number of people whose names start with C is equal to those whose names start with X?”

Root ignored them. She also ignored Pal, who was up to nine beanbags and handling them masterfully.

“We’ll look around for something after lunch,” said Azriah.

“And after that?” asked Vit. “Maybe… a library? Or a museum? We could try to follow the story of the periapt that was here in this dungeon, see if we can’t track down where it has gotten off to. Or we could cast a wider net again. See if we can get leads on any of them.”

“Might be better to take the wider approach,” said Root. “I mean, we can see if there’s anything that will point us in the direction of this one, but it has probably changed hands several times. Who knows what it’s been through; Bereth’t’ka said the dungeon was looted a long time ago. It’s probably been stolen, traded, thrown off a boat, fished out of a river. If anyone has been able to keep track of it this long and write all that down, it would be impressive, to say the least.”

“That’s a good point,” said Azriah. “Better not to narrow in our sights too much and end up at another dead end.” Vit pursed their lips. Azriah hastily continued. “No offense, of course—just don’t want to spend weeks and weeks researching only for it all to go to waste.”

“I think what Azriah is saying is that the week and a half we wasted down this avenue is no biggie. Now, if we wasted two or more weeks, then that would be bad.”

While Azriah and Root dueled over how just how in his mouth Azriah’s foot was going to be, Pal set aside his beanbags with a dejected sigh. Not a single eye in the whole venue was paying him any attention, and plenty of the patrons had eyes to spare. No amount of behind-the-back or under-the-leg moves had been worth more than a passing glance. And most of those glances had been purely coincidental, if not outright accidents. Pal’s shoulders fell as he turned his eyes to a case of knives behind him on the stage. He reached for the latch.

“You know, for all we know, Ophylla’s pendant could be the treasure from this dungeon,” suggested Vit. “Or even the mirror. We don’t know the story behind it prior to Affodell, but she was human, so she couldn’t have had it all that long.”

“Hmm.” Azriah chewed thoughtfully. He swallowed. “You’re right. We really don’t know much of anything about any of these old artifacts. Including how many there are. What if there are only four?”

“What’s left of the book seems to mention at least more than four,” said Vit, gesturing to their bag. “But beyond that, it’s hard to tell.”

“Maybe our best bet is to get some foundational knowledge,” said Root. “I mean, shit, we don’t really understand these things at all.”

Vit shrugged. “But information has been so scarce. The Jobog library had nothing but scattered mentions that only made any sense at all thanks to the context we already had. I don’t know if there’s anywhere to get foundational knowledge.”

“Maybe we should’ve kept Ophylla talking a little longer.”

“Or Ajis.”

“I don’t think we should be hanging around their sort,” said Beel.

“Not without a weapon drawn, at least,” suggested Azriah. There was a disgruntled croaking noise from the direction of his sword.

And speaking of weapons, there were several of them airborne in the corner, though not a soul in the room was aware of them, save one who was very, very, pointedly aware of them.

“Well, we will be seeing them again, I’m sure,” said Vit. “Both of them. And others. But if we can get some answers from a friendlier source, I’m all for it.”

“Sure,” said Azriah. “But tactfully. We can’t be letting on… you know.” He leaned a bit closer over the table. “It’d be like walking through a dark alley with our pockets jingling. Anyone who has the answers we’re after is likely also going to be after what we’ve got.”

Vit nodded. “We are carrying quite a bit of money after the Affodell job,” they said, just a bit louder than was advisable in a crowded public space. Azriah put out a hand as if to grab Vit’s words and send them back in the direction they’d come. He closed his eyes and pressed his thumb and forefinger to his eyebrows.

“That’s… not even what I meant. But given the circumstances, I think I’m glad for the miscommunication.”

“Oh. Oh. Yes, I see,” said Vit with an incline of their head.

Azriah gave a single, pointed nod as he returned to the last of his burger.

When they’d all finished their lunch, they left the money and a tip on the table and headed for the door. It was a normal door, which opened to a short and normal stairwell that led up to the normal streets of Midden—a normal way into a restaurant. It was, most assuredly, the more common option patrons picked for their comings to and goings from Oubliette Steakhouse. But for the extra daring, and those in search of a free appetizer, there was always another option.

Pal watched them leave without even a glance over their shoulders or a coin tossed into the hat on the stage in front of him. In fairness, that was not an advisable zone to enter at this particular moment, but what else was one to do? Well, he had a small canister of oil and a book of matches in his case for these sorts of dire occasions. With a sigh and a moment of appreciation for all of his extremities, he reached for them.

Vernge was a no-nonsense sort of florist, which worked out very well for him, since floristry is a no-nonsense sort of industry, at least insofar as he categorized things. In fact, there was a rather convenient tendency others noticed about Vernge’s categorization whereby the things important to him were of the no-nonsense variety while the things he didn’t care for at all were all full of nonsense. This was very convenient for Vernge and very inconvenient for anyone with any ideas of getting him to “expand his horizons” or change his mind about… well, anything at all, in either direction.

This human boy looking to purchase two dozen potted petunia plants, however, was full of nonsense.

“They’re very particular, you know,” said Vernge, his words running short and temper running shorter.

“Yes, I’m sure,” said Orshon in a way that made it clear to Vernge that his mouth was working itself as a buffer while his mind focused on something else.

“Full sun. Do you hear?”

“Mhm, yes sir.”

“I take it you’ll need one of these, eh?” asked Vernge, gesturing to the Portable Suns (patent soon to be pending, so don’t go getting any funny ideas!) on the other table of his market stall. Cultivating a garden of native Setoterran plants in the low light of Atnaterra came with its own set of unique challenges, most of them light related (the rest were all temperament related).

“Maybe.” Orshon thumbed a bloom on one of the plants. “Do you have any of a different color? Something sort of… oh, I don’t know, more… menacing?”


“Yes. Black, maybe. Or crimson. A blood hue.”

“These are petunias, boy.”

Orshon sighed. “Yes, I know.” He prodded another of the plants while swaying slightly on his feet. Under his breath, he muttered, “Might’ve said ‘iguanas.’”

“You on something, boy?”


“You had a little too much of something?”

“Oh, yes. Too much antidote. Sorry, still a little fuzzy.” He shook his head.


“Do you have any other pots, maybe? Ones with spikes or a skull and crossbones?”

Petunias, boy.”


Orshon continued to peruse the petunias. Vernge watched him with narrowed eyes and narrower patience.

“Hello? I said ‘excuse me.’”

Vernge looked up. There was another customer, a human in a frilled performer’s outfit lugging a heavy case. He smelled faintly of smoke.

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t see you there.”

Pal lowered his head and sighed. “I was just wondering if you had anything sort of, uh, dangerous and exciting?”

“You’re in the wrong place, pal,” muttered Orshon.

Pal looked sidelong at the younger man, shocked. “How did you know my name?”

“Huh?” Orshon looked at Pal; his eyes glazed over, and then he shook his head and resumed his shopping.

“I said how did you know my name?”

“What? Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you there.”

Pal sighed.

“Nothing dangerous,” said Vernge. “Just flowers.”

“No? No poison ivy? Or something with a lot of thorns?” Pal looked down at the table. “What are all these, then?”


“Petunias?” Pal took a step back. “I’m terribly allergic.”

Orshon looked up brightly. “Yeah?” He turned back to Vernge. “I’ll take the two dozen. And one of those glowing orb things too, I guess,” he added, seeing the way Vernge eyed him.

Pal still stood several paces away, but now he eyed the potted petunias with a look of reluctant admission.

“I suppose… if I announce first that I’m allergic…” he muttered. He sighed. “I’ll take six,” he said dejectedly.

Vernge packed up Orshon’s order, took his money, and sent him on his way. He sat back down on his stool and picked up his book.

“I said I’ll take six!”

“What? Oh, no need to shout,” said Vernge climbing back to his feet. “Didn’t see you there, that’s all.”