v) “Well, mushroom man, we’re listening”

“Well, mushroom man, we’re listening,” Shyan says, her face a flat mask.

“But not for much longer,” Cang adds.

The full weight of the threat seems to crash down upon Mr. Jashenzizok. He swallows.

“The compound most commonly known as dipyetrodranhar can be found in the tear duct,” he exclaims. Involuntarily, he throws his hands up.

“Of ugobok,” Abia says.

“That’s right,” Mr. Jashenzizok says, stammering. “That’s right, the tear duct of the ugobok.”

“Gods, what is that?” Shyan asks.

“Big snake,” says Abia.

“Let us take the mushrooms themselves and move on,” Cang says.

Shyan wipes her hand across her filthy brow, suddenly feeling the weight of exhaustion. “So we get the ugobok tear duct, you get the chemical, we get the gold?”

The alchemist, Burbaloo, nods hurriedly along, as though Shyan were purposely including her.

“It’s just that easy,” says Mr. Jashenzizok.

iv) “Scarcely as valuable, my impetuous friend”

“Scarcely as valuable, my impetuous friend,” says Mr. Jashenzizok, making a calming gesture.

Shyan lowers her weapon by a degree. “You’ve offered us nothing of value at all, mushroom.”

“Indeed,” Cang adds. “First, we are accosted and robbed by your rakish, if attractive, alchemist, here. Next we aid in your transfiguration, to resounding success. Last, we are to walk away, our pockets emptied by your nervous stooge, Burbaloo?”

A note of paternal authority creeps into Mr. Jashenzizok’s voice. “Burbaloo, did you really rob these fine people?”

“Of course not,” Burbaloo says. “I bought these crates of them, willingly.”

“Willing,” Fassn spits. “We were under tasty magic. Anybody else’s teeth feel loose?”

“Friends,” Mr. Jashenzizok begins. “If only I had enough dipyetrodranhar, I could transmute this entire field of puffball mushrooms into hard, gold coins.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Shyan says, her weapon raised anew, held steady, with purpose.

“But friends, take pause, for I know where to get it.”

iii) “Safe to eat?” Abia asks

“Safe to eat?” Abia asks, plucking one of the puffballs from the marshy ground. Its flat white exterior seems to shine in her dark fingers.

Fassn, from his place on the ground amidst the mushrooms, murmurs, “My teeth feel funny.”

“Sure,” says Mr. Jashenzizok. “But that’s one less gold coin for you and your lot. Once you get the dipyetrodranhar, of course.”

“Once we get it?” Shyan asks. She runs a hand across her dirt-streaked brow. “Look, Mr. Mushroom, this has been a long day already,” she begins, but Mr. Jashenzizok casually cuts in.

“A long day for us all, indeed,” he says. “I needn’t take any more of your time.” He offers a dismissive wave and turns to Burbaloo. She snaps to attention. “Burbaloo,” he says, “If you want your reward–” here he gestures expansively to the puffballs poking up amidst the crabgrass, “then I’ll need the dipyetrodranhar, to transmute our fungal friends to fungible currency.”

Burbaloo begins to raise an objection but Mr. Jashenzizok carries on. “Yes, yes, you’ve done fine work, freeing me from my captivity, but alas, without dipyetrodranhar as the central catalyst, I’m unable to work my alchemical wonders on your behalf. You’re welcome to take the mushrooms as they are.”

Shyan says, “How about we take the mushroom that’s growing from your neck?”

ii) Burbaloo’s confident grin disappears

Burbaloo’s confident grin disappears. Shyan and Cang share a look of concern, while Fassn, laying in the grass, wiggles his incisors. “I think these are coming loose,” he says to no one in particular. Abia, meanwhile, is a few paces away, examining a sprawling patch of regular-sized puffball mushrooms that populates the clearing.

“Miss Burbaloo,” Mr. Jashenzizok says. “The dipyetrodranhar, please. Let us get your friends squared away. Then we shall discuss next steps.”

Burbaloo the alchemist’s lips work but the sound that emerges is a breathless wheeze, at best. Shyan leans in to hear. A wash of rage comes over her face before she regains her composure: the work of an instant.

“She says we don’t have any.”

“Don’t have any?” Cang blurts. He smacks a crate with his open palm. “All this, still, we don’t have any?” He storms over to the complicated alembic and gives it a petulant kick. “We don’t have any?”

Suddenly a tiny knife appears in his hand. “Oh well,” he continues. “I suppose we’d best be compensated. Then we’ll be on our way.”

“Well, my minuscule friend,” Mr. Jashenzizok says. “Were that it were so simple. You see, dipyetrodranhar is the critical ingredient in one of my most popular transfigurations.”

Abia looks up, suddenly interested.

“The transfiguration,” Mr. Jashenzizok goes on, “of mushrooms to gold.”

i) “Well,” says Mr. Jashenzizok. “That ought to just about do it.”

“Well,” says Mr. Jashenzizok. “That ought to just about do it.”

“But,” Shyan says, faltering. “Your head.”

Abianarin gently touches Mr. Jashenzizok’s mushroomy head.

“I would thank you not to insult my form,” he says. “I have always been a puffball boy.”

“Eh, all right,” Cang says. “So now that you’re mobile, how about our reward?”

“Certainly,” says Mr. Jashenzizok. He claps his hands, and a smile of genuine mirth blooms upon his puffball mushroom face. From his pocket, he withdraws a weighty gold sovereign; a chunk of solid metal valuable to many in the realm. He hands it to Burbaloo.

“Gonna cut that coin up five ways?” asks Shyan, brandishing a blade as though to do just that.

“No, no,” says Burbaloo. “Mr. Jashenzizok can make more. Lots more! Just watch.”

Mr. Jashenzizok grins. “Of course.” His teeth are mushroom also. “Bring me the dipyetrodranhar.”