As anticipated, and much to the fault of her own traitorous tongue, Root awoke with a headache. She muttered a long string of expletives ranging from the blunt, common, and repetitive to unprecedented and uniquely creative combinations as she rolled to the edge of the bed and waited for the room to settle down.

(The day wasn’t going to do her any favors in this regard. She’d gotten herself into this predicament, and now she had to face the noisy, bright, annoying consequences.)

Once she’d dragged herself from the bed, dressed, eaten, and complained, she joined Vit, Azriah, and Beel as they milled around the safe house door getting ready to leave.

“Heading out?” asked Syrus, looking up from his assorted notes and books and watching them over the rim of his glasses.

“Just a brief errand,” said Azriah. “Last week we were given the address of someone in the city, a potential buyer of some old coins we came across.”

“Sure. Be careful out there. Take the cloaks, if you’d like.”

They thanked him and put on their cloaks. Root helped Beel with his; his tiny arms made it difficult for him to manage clasps around his neck area. With the cloak on, he looked like a frantic animal trapped under a blanket but unable to find the exit—that, or a shambling and horizontal black sheet ghost.

They descended the stairs and walked the length of the tunnel. As they stepped out of the door, two small spirits ran by playing what looked to be some sort of musical tag, one chasing the other as they both blew hard into the mouths of wooden flutes and laughed. Hamlick merchandise—cheap replicas of his signature instrument.

Root clamped her hands over her ears. “Fuck. Ugh, damn it.”

“You all right?” asked Vit.

“Fine. You know, if Hamlick is guilty of one thing, it’s putting annoying shit like that into the hands of every annoying kid and… other in the city.”

“That, or coercing the city’s leaders into a hole in the woods,” said Vit with a shrug.

“Yeah, but honestly, which is worse?”

“It’s not Hamlick’s fault you drank too much last night,” said Azriah.

“Yeah it is,” grumbled Root.

(The city of Midden breathed out a sigh of gratitude. Things really were looking like they just might be getting back to normal, with blame being assigned right where it didn’t belong.)

“But the problem right now,” continued Root, “is that I haven’t drank enough, really.” She rubbed her temple. “I bet dolschnipp makes one hell of a hair of the dog.”

“No way, I’m done with potion ingredients,” said Vit.

They crossed the city. People all but yelled in Root’s ears at every turn, on every street. She groaned and pulled her hood tighter around her face, making her look like a large sack with a nose stitched on. Soon, they found the address on the note from Wirlem—a basement door at the bottom of a narrow flight of steps. They descended to the threshold and knocked.

A smell answered, followed by a face. According to the address, both collectively were probably named Acoda. He was a big, grey spirit with a head that looked far, far too small for his body, like a snowman whose builders had used up too much of the available snow on the lowest segment and then come up short for the middle, called it the head, and went home for hot cocoa. He had tiny eyes and a pinched-in face, like his nose was trying to retreat from his own smell. His arms—two on each side—and legs looked like they’d been lopped short, and the way he moved furthered the case that he might’ve been missing quite a few joints.

“Uh, hello?”

“Hi there.” Azriah went through introductions, and Acoda confirmed he was, in fact, Acoda. “We got your address from a shop owner here in the city—Wirlem Halson. He said you might be willing to buy crypt currency.”

“Oh. Okay, ya, come on in.”

On the bright side, the interior of Acoda’s dwelling was not. Root’s eyes appreciated that. On the dark side, the floor was carpeted in a layer of discarded food containers, laundry, mail, and other junk. The room’s elevated surfaces, too, held their fair share of the mess—half-finished beverages seated on sticky rings that would’ve made even Rette jealous and other belongings piled together without rhyme or reason. On the dim side, the room smelled smoky. Root had a complicated relationship with smoke. Unfortunately, it also smelled like sweat and other nameless odors, which she felt surer in her standing with.

“So you’ve got crypt currency?” asked Acoda. “How much are we talking?”

“Uh, several,” said Azriah. He fished around in his bag. Acoda rolled his tiny eyes.

Together, they had seven of the odd coins from Affodell’s crypt. They pulled them all out and showed them to Acoda, who looked at them in surprise, then confusion.

“I thought you guys were just bagholders or something, but these…” Acoda took one and looked at it in the low light.

“Well, Beel’s not,” said Root. “We’ve been carrying his cut of these stupid things for him.”

“So do you buy this stuff or…?” asked Azriah.

“Yeah, I do. Where did you come by so many?”

“Grandma’s attic,” said Azriah automatically.

“Hell yeah, granny,” said Acoda in a weird voice that made Root grimace. “You got a whale lookin’ out for you, dude.”

“…” said Azriah.

“Seven helixes,” said Acoda.

Root sucked in a breath. It stank like moldy food boxes and socks. She coughed, and nearly dumped her breakfast all over Acoda’s floor. It would’ve been the freshest thing in the mess.

“One each?” asked Vit in surprise.

“No, seven apiece,” said Acoda.

“I mean, yeah, one each. Seven total,” said Acoda, faster.

“Whoa, no,” said Azriah. “Nice try. Nine apiece.”

Root opened her mouth—slowly, just to make sure nothing was trying to escape. Azriah put up a hand and gave her a hard look.

Acoda sighed. “They’re not worth nine yet. But I’ll do eight.”

“Fine. Deal.”

Acoda kicked some trash away from a safe bolted to the floor in the corner of the room and fiddled with the dial.

“What—” started Root.

“Eh—” said Azriah. He gave her another look.



Acoda got his safe open around the odorous blockades. Inside, Root spotted a stack of the same oversized coins—a dozen, perhaps, or just shy. Alongside them sat rolls of familiar coins—helixes and mantles and even some smaller values. Acoda took a roll of helixes and brought it to Azriah.

“Fifty-six helixes,” he said, counting them out. Azriah gave Acoda the crypt coins, then doled out the helixes into pouches of fourteen and passed them around. Root stared down into the open pouch, cupping in her hands more money than she’d ever seen—possibly in her entire lifetime, collectively, aside from when she’d been looking at it moments prior alongside three other portions, of course. She’d been breaking that record regularly, lately. She was more than happy to keep it going.

“All right,” said Azriah, gesturing again to Root.

“How the hell are those lumps of metal worth eight fucking helixes?”

Acoda rolled his eyes again. “No-coiners, eh? Should’ve known.”

“Well, we did have some coins,” said Vit. “And we still do, you know. Just different coins.”

“Better coins, by the sound of it,” said Root. “What now? Can you, like, use those to buy stuff around the city?”

“No, not really,” said Acoda.

“Then what do you do with them?”

“What do you mean? I have them.”

“Yeah, great, you have them, but what do you do with them?”

Acoda shrugged. “I just want to have them. It’s complicated stuff; you guys wouldn’t understand, clearly.”

“Clearly,” said Root. “Well, have fun looking at them, or whatever.”

They left Acoda’s apartment not a moment too soon. Root breathed the clean, outside air with relief. She’d come to a newfound reconciliation with the sludge in the city gutters.

“That was insane,” said Root, hardly even waiting for Acoda to shut the door. “That guy was a complete moron. Fifty-six h—” She looked around. It was no Lallslatt, but they were still in the middle of a secluded city street.

“It’s…” Azriah thought. “It’s a lot, certainly. And it was definitely unexpected.”

“I’ve gotta go mail this home before Ajis dumps it on the floor of an inn somewhere for some mangy kid to scoop up.”

“Do you want us to go with you?” asked Vit.

“No, that’s all right. I think there’s a post office back near the safe house. I should sit down and put together a letter, too; I’ll duck in there for a bit and then meet back up with you.”

They turned and started their walk back across the city. The smell of Acoda’s apartment lingered in Root’s nose; or, a more horrifying notion, it lingered on her.

Root stood at a countertop in the Midden post office and scratched out a series of lies. Her dad deserved something longer after weeks of complete silence on her end, but something longer would’ve left more opportunities to accidentally tell the truth, which would’ve been disastrous, so she kept it short and to the point. There was also the matter of Ajis, who may or may not have been prowling the city. The last thing she wanted was for him to bust down the building’s door and make off with the amulet in her bag or the small fortune she’d packaged up for transport. She doubted he’d sit by and twiddle his thumbs if she asked for a minute of amnesty to finish dotting her I’s in a letter to her dad. She could always try to leverage her hangover for an excused absence, though that one had never gone over well in her school days.


Here’s more money that I earned at my job. Work is good, but pretty boring. I’m learning a lot and making good money. My coworkers are nice. Some of them are kind of annoying. I think I might get a promotion.

Did you get a new clew of worms with the money I sent last? Are they behaving? I hope Malie is having fun naming them all. Name one “Ungulorsh” for me.

I’m doing well. I hope you are doing well. I miss you. I hope Malie and Aunt Gundis are well, too. Tell them “hi” for me.

Endure. I love you.

– Root

It had been a while since she’d last written a letter—since she’d punctuated one with their signature sign-off. Weeks had passed, and it felt like longer—half an immortal lifetime, and then some. It lodged the slightest lump of homesickness in her throat.

She wrapped up her fourteen helixes from Acoda. She’d considered adding the fifteenth she’d received as payment from Syrus, but opted to keep it as pocket change—a very solid sum of pocket change. It was hard to know what the future held, and she’d hate to look like the broke one in a group of broke people desperate enough to take a dangerous treasure-hunting job because they were strapped for cash, plus Beel.

With the parcel and letter en route to her father, Root left the post office and made her way back to the safe house to meet up with the others for some lunch and planning. She breathed an anticipatory sigh as she crossed the street.

They had a big day tomorrow.

Sareh Stoundle sorted stamps. She was a good sorter; she sorted a lot of things at her job at the Unn city post office.

“Eh, Sareh,” said her boss. He dropped a crate on the counter with a cruh-ruhnd. The counter shook. “Fresh batch off the ship.”

Yippee! thought Sareh, but she didn’t say that, because it was apparently “not very professional.” But no one knew if she thought it. She stuck her hands into the crate and pulled out thick stacks of envelopes, varied in size, shape, color, and crinklability (a sorting metric of her own devising, defined by how satisfying the paper was to crumple up into a ball and then smoothen back out afterwards). They were not, however, varied in dampness. All of them were quite damp.

“Why are they all wet?” she asked, her skin crawling at the sensation.

“They came off a ship.”

“Mhm. But why are they wet?”

“Ah. Well, this ship wasn’t really all right-way-round anymore, see.”

Sareh nodded. Nothing that would get in the way of a little sorting.

“Another one for Hashells comma Root,” said Sareh.

Her boss shook his head. “She hasn’t been in to pick up her mail for weeks. Just put it with the others.”

Sareh looked at the return address: the same last name, a relative. They all came from the same person. Relatives could be like that.

She approached a wall of cubbies. “Hardlin, Harsy, Hasasasas… Hashells.” Sareh found the cubby marked with the same name as the letter. Fantastic sorting system!

She pushed the pile of prior inhabitants left, then right, trying to make room, but they hardly budged, crammed in there from top to bottom. They didn’t have bigger cubbies, only a fire pit out back and a FIFO policy.

Sareh looked down at the letter. Though, come to think of it, this one did look like it had a pretty good crinklability rating…

She left the cubby and returned to the crate of unsorted mail. The Hashells cubby had room to spare.