The five of them continued to work on their plans through the afternoon—or rather, four of them did, while Beel sat by the window and whined anytime something flew a little too close to the rooftop. Root tried not to pay too much attention to Syrus, but he seemed to have recovered swiftly from his earlier stumble and didn’t regard her differently or stew in red-faced discomfort. By the look and height and general impression of him, Root assumed he faced rejection often. Perhaps, for him, it was just like any old day—clammy and lonely.

As evening approached and they wrapped up their work for the day, Syrus made an announcement.

“Dinner tonight, on me, as promised,” he said. “There’s a fine restaurant down the way. Uh, consider it a celebration, too, of all we’ve gotten done.”

“Are you sure it’s safe to go out?” asked Beel from the window. “What if we run into…” he turned and peered back through the pane at the street below.

“Yes, certainly. Just leave that to me.”

“It’s a fancy place?” asked Vit. They looked down at their plain clothes, seasoned only with dirt and a mystery myriad of other stains that alluded to all of the places they’d been. Unfortunately, that list included—in the not-too-distant past—the Midden sewers, and on the opposite end of the aromatic spectrum, Grelga’s roof.

“Oh, we have plenty of extra clothes around,” said Syrus. “I’ll find you each something a bit more elegant to wear. You just, uh, get cleaned up.”

When Root got out of the bath, she found new clothes set out on her bed: a red dress with gold trim wrapping the waist and encircling the neckline, as well as a pair of heeled shoes to match. She’d never worn heels before; she’d never owned any, nor had her mother, or—as far as she was aware—anyone stretching back into the distant echelons of her ancestry. A sense of vertigo made her head swim just looking at them, more toppling than any she’d felt on the safe house roof the night before. Toppling, she’d have to get used to, she quite expected; her boots had so much dirt pressed into them they were practically fossils, and they’d never match the dress besides.

She had half a mind to simply reject the outfit and put on her own familiar, comfortable clothing. She’d never much liked these haughty venues that barred entry to anyone who didn’t look and act and think a certain way, just so everyone inside could pretend they were important and sophisticated and elite. They acted as though everyone outside peered through the windows and gaps in the walls with admiration and lust, dreams of working hard and being like them one day, as if their coterie wasn’t so thick with generational membership that it was teetering dangerously close to incestuous with every new singles’ mixer.

But, then again, she’d never had the chance to dress up like this. The dress looked like something that someone back home would have to drop a year’s salary on—assuming, that is, that any store in a hundred-mile radius would ever even stock such a thing alongside the work boots and pants that reached for the armpits. Back home, it would cost so much to travel far enough to find a store selling a dress like this that by the time one arrived, it would come down to the price tag or the fare for the return journey. What a sightseeing trip that would be.

Root slipped on the dress. It fit, which was a terrible thing.

The tightness of the fabric made her midsection itch; immediately she suspected Syrus of digging the clothes from the depths of some flea-ridden closet somewhere in the old church. The way that the strap pulled along the back of her neck, too, made her unceasingly aware of its presence, and when she turned her head and moved her shoulders, it pulled the fabric along her shoulder blades in just such a way—

She pried the fabric away from her skin for a moment’s reprieve. This was precisely why she kept an expertly assembled wardrobe of her own—a collection of shirts and a collection of pants, varied in color but alike in every other way, and socks with even less diversity. She didn’t need anything else, because everything else was just like the dress: itchy, too tight or loose, filled with uncomfortable seams and always a tag made from sandpaper. What was it about clothing tags that necessitated using the worst material known to the worlds?

Plus, it made putting together outfits a breeze, and she never had to spend time matching up socks.

Root sat on the bed and simmered in her discomfort until she felt capable of moving again, at which point she addressed the next hurdle: the shoes. She looked at them for about ten seconds before moving on to the third hurdle. Better to handle hurdles without adding extra distance to fall.

She removed the fabric-bound mirror from its bath time hiding place within the wad of her discarded clothes. She wouldn’t be able to make her heavily-worn backpack go with the dress and heels, and she had no pockets nor enough give under the dress to hide the bundle without fabricating a story about some grotesque ailment, like an enormous tumor or pregnancy. That left her with only one, truly detestable option.

She stepped out into the common room.

“Whoa,” said Vit. “Root, you look great.” They wore a frilled white blouse and pressed maroon pants with a silky luster.

“Thanks. You too,” said Root, tugging at her waistline again as the walking flared up all of her previous complaints with the garment and added several new ones to the pile. “Syrus. Uh, do you have a… handbag? Or something?”

“Oh, um,” Syrus looked up from a book. “Yes, I think so. Let me see…” He wandered off down the hall.

“You want a handbag?” asked Azriah. There was a look of distant amusement in his eye.

Root rolled her eyes and shook her head. She mouthed the words: “For the mirror.”

“Ah,” said Azriah. He patted the pocket of his new black pants, a match for the black collared button-down he’d donned with only a vague regard for the buttons. “I guess it’s easier for me.”

“Yeah, it’s also smaller. What am I supposed to do with—”

“Here you are,” said Syrus. He handed Root a leather purse. “Sorry, we didn’t have many.”

“This is fine, thanks.” She took it and returned to her room where she packed away the mirror and then, with a great degree of care and courage, put on her shoes. She made her way back out into the common room, slowly.

Syrus reemerged from his own room a few minutes later, dressed in a button-down similar to Azriah’s but with a pinstripe red and black pattern and his familiar golden pendant on full display. He’d slicked back his black hair, and he’d either washed it or he hadn’t. He carried a small wooden chest.

“Here,” he said, opening the box. “A couple of accessories.” Inside was a heap of golden jewelry that made Root’s head spin. He handed Azriah a pair of bracelets set with rubies. For Vit, he selected a similar bracelet of interlocking rings. Vit waved it away.

“Sorry, I’m more of a silver person,” they said, tapping the earrings that lined the edge of their ear.

“Suit yourself.”

He found a necklace of rubies and diamonds for Root, which he so generously offered to help her put on. Root handed it to Vit and let them do the honors.

“Would you like something, Beel?” asked Syrus. “I may have a bracelet or ring that will fit you.”

“No thank you,” said Beel. “What if I get mugged? Just look at Root—she’ll be dead by the end of the night wearing a necklace like that.”

“Thanks, Beel.”

When they were ready, Syrus led them to the door. Azriah grabbed a maroon blazer he’d left draped over the back of a chair. While the others filed out the door, Root paused.

“You coming, Root?” asked Vit.

“Hang on,” said Root. “There’s no way I’m going down all those stairs in these fucking shoes.”

“Well, there’s one way,” said Beel.

After leading them down the spiral staircase, past the landing that would’ve dumped them back out into the church’s main chamber and further into the building’s depths, Syrus showed them another secret of the old building: a short system of tunnels. They followed one that led them a block north, putting them—they hoped—beyond any prying eyes of Ajis’s. When they stepped out through an unmarked cellar door, a carriage waited on the street. They climbed in and the carriage set off.

They arrived before too much longer at the restaurant, a posh stone building with trimmed greenery guiding them to the doors under a sign that read, in overly pompous cursive, “The Cavalier.”

“I hope they have more than just that,” said Vit, reading the sign as they stepped out of the carriage. “I’m not too keen on fish.”

They entered the dimly lit restaurant and were seated by a spirit in neatly trimmed clothes. Root couldn’t help but stare as they made their way to the table—from the fountain in the entryway, the art, the crisp white tablecloths, and the suit-dressed pianist, to the way every patron in the room dangled with just as much weight as the chandeliers above, and one bite of steak lodged in a windpipe could’ve spurred a transaction of an inherited sum large enough to rival an entire city’s GDP.

Root half expected Syrus to bring business back onto the table, but he didn’t even flirt with the topic—and that’s not to say he’d be able to make any headway there anyhow. They sat and chatted casually as the waiter poured a bottle of red wine. Root had heard that places like these never ran out of wine; she intended to do some field research on the matter.

She managed three glasses before the first of their food arrived. Root stared down at it.

“What… is this?” she asked. It was somehow the largest number of ingredients on the smallest bite of food she could imagine, and yet seated on a plate that seemed to have hit a growth spurt on the way from the kitchen and graduated to a platter. The colorful mound of stuff sat off-center to make room for an arc of mystery goo smeared in its proximity.

Syrus answered Root’s question with a long string of nonsense words.

“Is this all we get?”

“Um, well just for this course, yes.”

“How many courses are there?”


“Eleven?” said Root in what was, apparently, a tone just slightly louder than the other patrons’ acceptable threshold. She got a round of looks. “That’s a lot of breaks for wine.” She popped the contents of her plate into her mouth in their entirety. That, too, was apparently a no-no. As far as she was concerned, if they didn’t want people eating the dishes in one bite, they shouldn’t’ve made them bite-sized. She feared she was surrounded by the worlds’ largest gathering of nibbling enthusiasts.

Vit downed the last of their first glass of wine. Beel inspected his food.

“Uh, so,” said Syrus, fidgeting with one of his shirt buttons, which ended the ordeal in the unbuttoned position. “I have a question for you all.” They all looked at him expectantly as he took another quick sip of wine. He smiled. “So, we’re uh, all headed back to my bedroom after this, I presume?”

Azriah looked confused. Vit looked surprised. Beel looked like Beel. Root said, “What?”

“Ha-ha, oh, uh, just kidding—just a joke. Ha-ha.” He grinned with his mouth but not with his eyes. He dabbed his perspiring forehead with his cloth napkin. “That wasn’t the question,” he said unconvincingly. “My actual question… uh, are you familiar with the Children of Endkiu?”

Azriah and Vit shook their heads. Root paused. She could’ve sworn she’d heard the name before… but where?

“It’s a religion,” said Beel. “Right?”

“Yes, among other things. Do you know much about them?”

“The name is all,” said Beel as he returned his focus to his yet-untouched food.

“Is that the religion of the church the safe house is in?” asked Vit.

Syrus nodded. “That’s right.”

“And you’re part of it?” asked Azriah.

“Right again.”

“So, what, do you want us to say a word of thanks over our food?” asked Root. “Not a lot there to thank a god for—I think one sentence should be sufficient. Or were you thinking a bit with each course…?”

Syrus waved the notion away. “No, nothing like that. I don’t mean to start peddling spirituality. There’s, uh, another sort of facet to the Children, lesser known. Something that I believe will pique your interest.”

“I think we’re all set,” said Azriah. “I’m not looking for some kind of system to subscribe to.”

“Oh, no, but this—I think you are. Just… here, so… so, alongside the church there’s the… more active sect. It’s called the Order of Seekers. I think you’d all be interested. I think you’d all be very valued members.”

“Seeking what?” asked Root. “Some flavor of religious ‘truth’?”

“No,” said Syrus with a shake of his head. “Seeking the mote periapts.”

He said it so casually—so out in the open—that it made the skin on the back of Root’s neck prickle (or maybe that was just the damn dress strap). The words plunked down onto the table, right in plain view. Root glanced around anxiously. They’d been so cautious with those words.

“The church is…” started Vit.

“Oh, yes. Now, usually it’s a very elite group—people who have been in the church for years and years—but with my endorsement, I’m sure I could get you all fast-tracked in. It would be just like this—what we’ve been doing today. The five of us, working together as a team. We would keep the mote periapts out of the hands of folks like Ajis… and Hamlick.” Now he lowered his voice. Talk of artifacts with life-shattering power? Might as well make that a group discussion with everyone else in the dining room. A political coup? Now that was something to whisper about.

Maybe Root had just been desensitized to certain topics by her upbringing. Cultural differences, perhaps.

“Consider this an offer,” said Syrus. “And a tremendous honor, at that. I see real promise in you four.”

Vit looked up. They glanced restlessly between Syrus and the others. Azriah looked to be mulling over the words.

“Interesting,” he said after a moment. “Well, listen, contrary to what it looks like, I am accustomed to working alone. I sort of… ended up with the others here.”

Root spread her arms. “Hey!”

“Not a bad thing, just a fact. In any case, I can’t help but wonder what an organization wants with these things.”

“Well, most of our members—uh, that is, among the Seekers—are humans.”

Azriah stared, waiting for more. There wasn’t any, clearly.

“Uh, yes, and?”

“Well, you are all humans. Mostly.”

“Also true…”

Syrus looked incredulously at Azriah, like he couldn’t understand why Azriah looked at him with anything less than full comprehension. “So I’d assume your ambitions are the same.”

Azriah looked from the others to Syrus. “I’m afraid I don’t follow. What does the Children of Endkiu want them for?”

Syrus still looked confused, as if Azriah was merely pulling his leg, but he decided to play along. “To find them all. For immortality.”

If Root had still had any food to choke on, she might’ve—assuming the portion wasn’t too small for such activities, of course. She stared at Syrus for a moment in disbelief, then turned to the others. Azriah looked guarded, eyes narrowing. Vit looked pale. Beel looked like Beel.

“Immortality?” asked Azriah levelly.

“Uh, well, yes. For humans, obviously.” He looked around at their reactions. “Did… did you not know?”

“I was not aware.”

“Huh. Well, that’s the only reason I’ve ever heard for a human seeking out the mote periapts. Complete control over life and death… it’s an astronomical power to wield.”

“Too great, some might say,” said Azriah.

“Sure, but isn’t that just more reason to help put them into the hands of a collective? Not some lone tyrant inflicting their whims onto the world. Who knows what would happen if someone like Ajis had that power unchecked.”


“And another reason to join forces, too: we’ve got a head start.”

Root put a protective hand on her purse; she could still feel the dull, gagged thrum of the mirror within. “What do you mean?” she asked.

Syrus smiled. “The Children of Endkiu already have one of the mote periapts in our possession.”

Mrs. Jerasine Tullensworth had a very long and very proper name, and that meant she was better than most other people, matter of fact.

By birth—very, very long ago—she’d been simply Jerasine. Spirits didn’t have last names like humans because they didn’t have family ties, but some spirits adopted them so that they could make others address them as Mr./Ms./Mx. Surname, which made them look quite a good deal more important.

(And, now, don’t go asking about how spirits got their first names if none of them had parents to give them out. That’s a very complicated matter and not worth wondering about.)

Mrs. Tullensworth looked over the top of her glasses—a way of looking that made sure she felt superior to whatever she looked at and made sure whatever she looked at felt, too, that she was superior to it. Across the dining room sat a girl talking much too loudly and moving her arms much too muchly and… was she using her dinner fork for her hors d’oeuvres? Pah! Mrs. Tullensworth tutted to herself, but she continued to let her attention float over to the table of barbarians at least once every minute to chastise them again in her mind and be sure that she allowed them ample opportunity to thoroughly ruin her evening.

The Cavalier seemed to be letting commoners in these days. Time to find somewhere more befitting of a lady like her, then, where she could complain instead about the sommelier’s rumpled shirt or the lack of seasonal centerpieces like decent folk. No doubt it was all the fault of…

No, the mayor had gone missing. Then certainly…! No, him too. Or… no.

Pah! What did it matter? All this foolishness would cease as soon as Hamlick became mayor, anyhow.