Felix pushed his way into a forest of chef hats barricading a Chrysler-sized cauldron. Spoons as big as paddles roused bursts of steam from simmering liquid. A burley arm holding a clipboard yanked him from the fray.

 

“Hold onto your hat. No one goes in there until I say so. Name?”

 

“Felix.”

 

“Culinary specialty?”

 

“Mycology.”

 

The burley arm smacked Felix with the clipboard. “College boy, eh? What’s wrong with ‘mushrooms’?”

 

“Nothing’s wrong with mushrooms. Fancy them quite a bit, myself. Wouldn’t dedicate my whole career to mushrooms if I thought there was something wrong with them.”

 

The burley arm’s eyelids narrowed to toothpicks. “College boy, and a wise ass. Dump your mushrooms in the broth, and beat it. We’ve got too many jackasses working here as it is.” Shouting bubbled up from the chef hats. Three separate fistfights sprouted, and merged to fashion a mid-sized brawl peppered with gunshots..

 

“What’s in the broth? I have to match flavors.”

 

The burlet arm flipped pages on the clipboard. “Ostrich bones, cow brain, sheep spleen, tapioca, fresh thyme, dried thyme, whole mustard seed, ground mustard seed, whole allspice, ground allspice.” The arm rattled off ingredients at side-effects-at-the-end-of-a-drug-ad speed. “Come to think of it, we’ve pretty much got all the spices.”

 

“Sweet mother of god, that sounds horrible,” Felix said. “Better use cremini.” Felix’s head swiveled toward a balcony overlooking the chaos. A stark naked man stroked his chin while nodding. “What’s up with the naked guy?”

 

“That’s the emperor. This whole broth thing was his idea. Scour the empire for the best cooks in every specialty, and make the finest broth the world has ever seen.”

 

“And why are the cooks only wearing chef hats?”

 

“Required imperial uniform. Now strip down so we can get a look at your cremini.”

 

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