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Chapter 3

The pair followed a singular, wide path, with nothing remarkable about it but a few twists and turns. There we no markings on the walls, no torches and no creatures or creature bones. They walked in silence with nothing but their torches to fend off the darkness. Anchovy broke that silence with a hiccup.

 "Excuse me," she said. "I hiccup when I’m hungry." 

 "That’s true," Mushroom mused, "we didn’t end up eating before we came out here.” Anchovy nodded. "I’m starving," she admitted. "Now we have to wait it out until we can get some of our provisions, and I hate wasting those.” 

Mushroom paused a moment. "Here," he said, "I took one of these at lunch." He dug into his vest pocket and produced a cloth napkin that looked suspiciously similar to the ones found in the dining room, and he unwrapped it to reveal one of the dinner rolls. Anchovy laughed. 

 "A thief, too," she said. "Those napkins aren’t free, you know!" Mushroom winked and handed her the roll. 

 “Might as well be, with the cost of the hotel,” he said with a wave of his hand and a smirk. Anchovy happily accepted the roll and held it with her free hand, biting into it. The two continued on in silence for a time, and Anchovy devoured the roll. Little was said between them. 

 "So," said Anchovy after awhile, when the silence became too much to bear, "I’m Patricia. Patricia Finnigan. That’s my real name. Thought you should know." She glanced at Mushroom, who raised an eyebrow very slightly. 

 "Why do you think I should know?" he asked. 

 "Well, in case we’re partners again or something," Anchovy replied, slightly unnerved. “It’s nice to know real names. I mean, I’ll call you by your agent name of course, but, well, it feels like we actually know each other if we know our real names." Mushroom shrugged, which further unnerved Anchovy. 

"Well, I suppose so," he replied. "All right, then. I’m Vladimir Kalkov." Anchovy nodded. 

 "That’s a nice enough name," she mused. 

 "I like it," he said. That was all the conversation that went on for some time. Anchovy found the silence more aggravating than Mushroom’s attitude had been, so she spoke up again.

 "What are your hobbies?" she asked. Mushroom frowned. 

 "It sounds to me like you’re fishing for information," he said rather suddenly. Anchovy blinked. 

 "Fishing for - fishing for information! What a notion!" she snapped. "I’m trying to make polite conversation! We’re here all alone in this boring cave and there’s nothing to do but walk until we find something interesting! Why would I be fishing for information?" She threw her hands up, causing some sparks to fly from her torch. Mushroom shrugged. 

 "Why not?" he said. "You could be the murderer." Anchovy stared at him.

 "Are you daft?" she sputtered when she found her words again. "I was sitting there with you the entire time the explosion and murder were taking place!" Mushroom shrugged again. 

 "Perhaps you were an accomplice," he suggested. Anchovy stopped walking altogether and stood there a moment until Mushroom stopped to look at her. "What?" he asked. 

 "All right, just what is your problem?" she asked. "We’re partners! There’s supposed to be some trust involved here! If you can’t trust me then we’d might as well split up. You were more than friendly on the train and in the restaurant. What makes now so different?" Mushroom smiled.

 "Well, to start, we are alone in large dark cave, we have weapons and if you have motive, you could easily kill me now," he replied. Mushroom stopped walking as well and turned to meet Anchovy’s eye. Anchovy felt her annoyance bubbling into anger. Mushroom, on the other hand, was mildly amused by it all.

 "I have been in the Panzerotti Group for six years and I have never killed any of my partners. And I can’t believe that’s a sentence I just had to say,“ Anchovy scoffed. "Your accusations are absolutely ridiculous and completely unfounded." 

 "If they were without merit then I don’t think you would be angry," Mushroom replied with an absolutely infuriating wink. Anchovy screamed in frustration and kicked a nearby rock soundly across the cave. She heard a grunt and blinked.

 "...Was that you?" she asked Mushroom. Mushroom glanced at her. 

 "No..." he said quietly. 

 "Ohhh boy," Anchovy murmured. Within a few moments, a large and unidentified creature came into view. Neither could see its face, but it smelled like sour milk and appeared to be completely covered in coarse hair, and it sounded angry. Mushroom went to grab his pistol, but Anchovy darted ahead of him, dagger in hand. 

 "What are you doing?!" Mushroom cried. "You’ll get yourself killed!" 

 "That’s what you think," Anchovy snapped back. She rushed up to the monster and began the encounter with a well-placed kick, which landed squarely in the creature’s face. Mushroom blinked and watched as Anchovy made quick work of the creature, gashing it across the chest and then proceeding to stab it in the head. In a matter of moments, the beast fell down, dead. Mushroom’s jaw dropped as Anchovy looted its corpse. 

 "Hey, nice!" said Anchovy, holding up a satchel and jingling it. She spilled the contents into her palm and revealed many coins and a few small jewels. Mushroom had nothing to say about this, but he did peer, somewhat enviously, Anchovy noted, into her hand. Anchovy grinned and put the items back in the pouch, then attached the pouch to her belt. 

 "How did you learn how to fight like that?" asked Mushroom. “I’m impressed." Anchovy smirked. 

 "What, surprised the little lady’s an ass-kicker?" she said, her tone oozing sarcasm. Mushroom shook his head with haste. 

 “No no, I—ahhh. Point taken," he said, quickly and quietly. He hadn’t quite meant it that way, but he wasn’t about to get defensive. Anchovy smirked again, then picked up her torch where she had left it and resumed her walk down the hallway. Mushroom gazed after her, thinking to himself what an interesting lady she was. He hastened to catch up. "So, ah," he said awkwardly, "do you do any other kind of physical arts?" Anchovy blinked and glanced back. 

 "I beg your pardon?" she asked flatly, giving Mushroom a very specific look that suggested she had misinterpreted the question entirely. Mushroom blinked several times. His blush was visible, even in the thick darkness. 

 "I ah... meant combat. Apologies,” he murmured. Hah. Cowed him, Anchovy thought, satisfied. The two continued on, and Anchovy purposely didn’t answer his question. 

 After nearly two hours of walking in a straight line, the pair was starting to grow weary. They were certainly making progress on their journey through the cave, but “adventure” wasn’t a word Anchovy would have used to describe the experience. 

 "I wonder why people couldn’t come in here on their own," Anchovy muttered. "We’ve run into one measly creature so far. It’s just been a boring hike.” Just then, Anchovy saw what appeared to be the dull light of a fire ahead. "Hey," she said, tugging Mushroom’s arm and pointing down the way. "Look. Is that another group at camp?" They sped up and ran ahead, and sure enough, they came across what looked like a campfire. Interestingly enough, the smoke wasn’t collecting in the air about them. This led Anchovy to believe that either the ceiling was high up, or the air was escaping through a hole in the ceiling somewhere—perhaps both. Whatever the case, Anchovy was finding it surprisingly easy to breathe. There was a woody smell of smoke, but that was merely pleasant and somewhat comforting. 

 The glow of the fire allowed the pair to see their surroundings. The cave walls were generally unremarkable, but Anchovy noticed something strange. Before entering the general glow of the fire, where she saw Banana Pepper keeping watch as Pepperoni slept, she snuck off to the side of the wall to examine it. Mushroom raised an eyebrow and followed after her. 

 Anchovy ran a hand over the wall’s rock face, then removed one of her gloves, closed her eyes, and repeated the action. She felt a notch sticking out of the stone and gave it a little tug. She heard rumbling for a moment, causing Banana Pepper to jump and look around. He froze when his eyes landed on Mushroom and Anchovy. 

 "No!" he screamed. "Don’t touch that! What have you do-" Banana Pepper was cut off as his head was similarly cut off by a low-swinging axe, which came down from the ceiling and swept sideways. Anchovy screamed and averted her eyes, clinging to Mushroom, who winced visibly, not really knowing how else to react. Pepperoni was awakened by this scream, and she sat upright. 

 "What’s happened?!" she cried. She stood up, then saw Banana Pepper’s lifeless body, and she screamed herself. She stood up to do something, but down came the axe again, and off went Pepperoni’s head. 

 "Gods above!" Mushroom bellowed. "Anchovy! Why did you pull that notch?!" He put his hands firmly on Anchovy’s shoulders and shook her. "Anchovy!" Her only response was to wail into her hands in horror. “Answer me, Anchovy, please. Why did you pull that? If you’re so seasoned, why did you pull notch?" Mushroom said, a little more calmly, and with a soothing tone. Anchovy swallowed audibly. 

 "I saw cracks in the walls... I thought it might open a passage..." she shuddered and swallowed the lump in her throat. “I was hoping we’d get the upper hand. Instead I—I killed them.” She screamed again, and Mushroom felt himself holding onto her tightly, rubbing her back. 

 "It’s all right, Anchovy, it’s not your fault," Mushroom said, much calmer now. Despite everything, he had to keep his head, for Anchovy’s sake. "Look, let’s turn back. We will go back to your home and you can rest there. This is too much. Three peers dead in one day? Let’s go home." He held her back at arm’s length, but he saw a surprising look in Anchovy’s eye. 

 "No," she said firmly, despite the tears that streaked her face. She had a fire in her eyes that shocked Mushroom. "Now that they’re dead, and Artichoke is dead, and everyone’s gone, this means we have to try harder." Mushroom blinked. "We need to go and find those jewels and take them to the benefactors. We need to scour every cranny in this cave until we find just what we’re looking for. We will not let these people die in vain. We will find those jewels, and dying is not an option." 

 "Don’t be so hasty!" Mushroom hissed. "There’s still another group!" "Then they need to work just as hard as we will," Anchovy replied. Mushroom shook Anchovy’s shoulders again. 

 "Listen to yourself; you are talking crazy!" he said. "You are acting crazy!"

 "Then so be it!" Anchovy yelled. "Let’s give these people a proper burial like they deserve and then get on with our jobs! It’s my fault these two are dead so I owe them that much!" She shoved Mushroom’s hands off her shoulders. "I need your help. Banana Pepper’s a big man and I can’t move him on my own." Mushroom pressed a hand to his forehead. He could scarcely believe this discussion was taking place. 

 “Absolutely not,” he said. “I can accept moving on, but we can’t waste energy burying them.” Anchovy stared at him. 

 “Then what do you suggest we do?” she snapped, gesturing with frustration to the headless bodies, who contributed nothing to the argument. “We can’t just leave them here.” 

 “That is precisely what we’re going to do,” Mushroom said, the calm in his voice cracking enough to let some impatience sneak through. “If we’re going to keep going, we’re not wasting all our energy burying them. That is final.” 

“Who are you, my father? If you won’t help, I’ll bury them myself.” She moved to the bodies and took a folding shovel from her pack, then started to dig through the cave’s floor. 

 “Stop, now,” Mushroom said. 

 “Or what? You’ll carry me off?” 

“Don’t make me,” Mushroom warned. “I will.” 

 Two minutes and one rather sore shoulder later, Mushroom was helping Anchovy dig graves. 

 "After we bury them, you need a rest," he said. "I will not take no for an answer." Anchovy gazed at him. 

 "You promise you won’t take me away while I sleep?" she asked suspiciously. Mushroom shook his head, rubbing his shoulder absently. 

 "On my honour, you may do to me what you did to the beast you slew back there if I do," he said. Anchovy searched his eyes a moment, then wiped her tears away with the back of her fists. 

 "Fine. I’ll rest awhile after," she said. Mushroom nodded. 

 "Let us bury them as best we can." 

 The floor of the cave was mostly loose gravel and compacted mud. They managed to dig a shallow hole, as the ground did thicken up not far down, and they buried the bodies - and their heads - solemnly. They had taken some of their provisions and such from the packs they left behind, as they would not be needing them anymore. On the bright side, this gave Mushroom and Anchovy some extra food and utilities. On the down side, well, Pepperoni and Banana Pepper were still quite dead. 

 Mushroom and Anchovy made use of the fire that had been started for them. Mushroom set up both his bedroll and Anchovy’s. He sat beside her as she lay down to rest. She couldn’t readily bring herself to sleep, as the horrible visions of what had just passed danced behind her eyes even as they were closed. She was angry at herself beyond measure for what happened, and she couldn’t believe she had made so foolish a mistake. She squeezed her eyes shut and felt tears come out. 

 Mushroom glanced at Anchovy and saw her tears. He sighed and closed his eyes, then started to sing in what must have been his native tongue. Anchovy strived to figure out what he was singing, and this distracted her just enough from her misery. She found her thoughts swimming a little too much, and the next thing she knew, she was fast into a dreamless sleep.

Next Chapter: Chapter 4