iii) “Now this I’ve gotta try,”

“Now this I’ve gotta try,” says Fassn. He catches the mushroom shavings on his tongue. Between gulps, he cries, “Old Ajralan, may you have your fill!”

“That’s probably not good for you,” Shyan says.

“Mushroom man,” Abia says.

The alchemist shoots her a glare, then continues delicately carving away the mushroom man’s mouth.

“I’m not a mushroom,” he says, sputtering through the last of the spongy puffball. “I’m a wizard. What have you brought me, Burbaloo?”

“Her name’s Burbaloo?” Fassn asks.

“What happened to you, wizard?” Shyan asks. She touches the mushroom. “Can you feel this?”

“Go you by the moniker Eric Wagon?” Cang asks.

“Enough questions,” shouts the mushroom man. “Burbaloo, what have you brought me?”

“A great debt,” Shyan says.

ii) The alchemist gestures frantically

The alchemist gestures frantically at it, such that Shyan removes her gag. “Here he is,” she says. “This is Eric.”

“This mushroom is Eric?” Cang asks. “And he’s your buyer of valuable tinctures and tonics?”

“Yeah,” the alchemist says. “But I haven’t been here in a while, looks like he’s mostly grown over again. Loosen my bonds, and I’ll show you.”

Shyan and Cang share a skeptical look, but she stands close, weapon drawn, as Cang removes the alchemist’s bonds.

She flexes her joints and lets out a prodigious grunt. “It’s good to be free.” Approaching the enormous mushroom, the alchemist produces a dagger and begins flaking away some of the fibrous flesh. “Come on, Eric, where are you?”

The gang crowds in to observe the alchemist’s work. Soon, her cutting and carving reveals a humanoid face, its eyeline a few centimetres above the alchemist’s own.

The eyes blink.