A cookpot full of liquid gold bubbles and churns, wafting harsh, metallic vapours up through the vale. It simmers like a pot of viscous soup. Its roiling contents are the hue of a late summer sunset in one’s home village.
“Can we have it now?” Fassn asks. “I can’t chew so soup is perfect.” He winces and rubs at his gums. He feels a small, hard point, emerging from the soft tissue. “There’s something in here.”
“Is it done?” Shyan looks to Abia first, who nods once, nearly imperceptible.
Mr. Jashenzizok bobs his mushroom head with obvious glee. “The transmogrification is complete! Friends, this has been an utmost joy. For too long was I trapped in that detestable mushroomy body, away from my spells and alembics. Working on this project — what a treat. Give yourselves a hand.” He claps, and Burbaloo joins in a minute later.
Blood flushes Shyan’s face. “Listen, she robbed us, remember? This pot of gold is the least you can do.”
“When can we move it?” Cang asks. He licks his lips.
Fassn kicks the shredded remains of the ugobok tear duct. “Can I eat this, at least?”
“Move it? Where do you want to move it?” Burbaloo asks, her confusion evident.
Cang blinks. “To a town? To sell? So we can retire and be done with this nonsense?”
Fassn’s boot has become stuck in the duct. He struggles to remove it. “One is never done with nonsense!”
“Well of course you’re free to move it,” Burbaloo says. “But how will you move the fire?”
Shyan stares daggers at Burbaloo from behind purposefully calm, half-lidded eyes. “What?”
“The fire. The transmogrification will reverse if the soup gets cold.”
Fassn perks up. “So it’ll be mushroom again?”
Mr. Jashenzizok proves useless at gathering kindling. For a while the gang watches him and Burbaloo, just beyond the treeline, bent and muttering. Eventually Shyan begins to pity them, and joins in. Abia gently stirs the soup, as Cang re-packs his oversized backpack, and Fassn communes with Old Ajralan.
Deep, indigo night creeps over the vale. By the time the mushroom man declares they’ve enough kindling, the moon rises from the trees. He and Shyan stoke a might blaze. Burbaloo describes the alchemical process to Cang as he makes furious notes on a scrap of vellum. Abia listens.
The mushroom soup boils. Its earthy aroma floats up and out of the vale, sending the stomachs of our heroes to grumbling.
“Now,” Mr. Jashenzizok says. “Now is the time for alchemical mayhem.”
“Mayhem?” Fassn says. “You can’t eat mayhem.”
Mr. Jashenzizok works his hands in an obscure pattern, likely derived from some old book. He wiggles his fingers and swirls his arms over the cookpot, says some magic words. Abia hears a note of power in his voice, a peculiar doubling effect to the sound of the spell. Burbaloo mouths along with him, trying her best to replicate the gestures.
Sure enough, the brown mushroom soup begins to shift its hue and turn gold.
“The many magical properties of urine notwithstanding, no, my toothless friend. With the reagents you have brought me, together, we shall make this pot of soup a pot of gold.”
Fassn, despite his joy, winces at the pain in his gums. The short stalks on his shoulder blades — all that’s left of his gauzy wings — twitch involuntarily.
“Well get too it already,” Shyan says.
“Yes,” Cang adds. “I have many debts.”
Mr. Jashenzizok signals Burbaloo, who with a start scoops a spoonful of simmering liquid from the cookpot and holds it to his lips. Eyes closed, he tastes it, tongue smacking. “Alas, new friends,” he says. “The soup is not yet hot enough! Quickly, to the underbrush. Gather up kindling, go!”
Burbaloo shoots Mr. Jashenzizok a questioning glance. Shyan, Cang, Abia, and Fassn all stare daggers at him. Shyan conspicuously folds her arms.
“Or, er, perhaps I can do it,” he continues, chest deflated.
“What’s in the soup?” Cang calls out. There’s a note of panic in his voice. Burbaloo and Mr. Jashenzizok look up in surprise.
“Wow, you’re back,” the alchemist says.
“And it appears you’ve acquired the duct?” Mr. Jashenzizok adds.
“Yes, we got the forsaken duct,” Shyan says, dumping it in the dirt. “Looks like we needn’t have bothered.”
“Anger,” Abia says, in a patient, matronly tone.
Shyan rolls her eyes. “Of course I’m angry. We were supposed to get a field of gold, not a bowl of soup.” She notices several of the crates she and her friends had brought, now disassembled and fuelling the cookpot’s fire. “And look at this,” she says, gesturing impertinently.
“Fear not, my friends,” Mr. Jashenzizok calls, his arms up to signal peace and serenity. “Just because you came back from an impossible errand on which I was sure you would die doesn’t mean we cannot celebrate! Come, have a bowl of soup.”
“We did not come in search of soup,” Cang says.
“But–” Fassn begins.
“Friends, friends,” continues the mushroom man wizard. “The transmogrification is by no means out of the question. For before your very eyes, I shall transmute this pot of soup to liquid gold!”
Fassn says, “Tell me you’re not gonna pee in it.”
The hike from the ugobok’s spire is a slog. Carefully balancing the snake’s massive tear duct in her arms, Shyan struggles to keep her boots from getting sucked into the muck. After a few days of Fassn complaining that his gums hurt — an unbearable pressure drives from within them — the gang arrives in the clearing of Mr. Jashenzizok.
He and Burbaloo, the alchemist, gather around an iron cookpot the size of a bath tub. The bubbling cocoction within smells of mushrooms and herbs. They chatter quietly to one another in excited tones, unaware of the party’s arrival. Shyan lets the tear duct fall to the ground, and the sudden movement attracts Burbaloo and Mr. Jashenzizok’s attention. Shyan notices the field of puffball mushrooms — the ones Mr. Jashenzizok promised to transmute to gold — is empty, stripped away of all but a few tiny white puffs.
She looks to the simmering soup, then back to the empty field.
Fassn takes a deep whiff of the pot. “Yum,” he says. “Mushroom.”
Mr. Jashenzizok, the mushroom man, struggles in his fungoid form, but most of his body is still enveloped by spongy puffball. He clears his throat and adopts a moderately more conciliatory tone. “Let’s just take a look at what you’ve brought me, hmm?”
“Not so fast,” Shyan says. She steps up to Mr. Jashenzizok to square her eyes with his.
“Have you goods or coin to exchange for these wares?” Cang asks. “We do not accept spores.”
The mushroom man laughs. “Fear not, foolish child. I possess many riches.”
“Do not call me child, mushrump.”
Fassn lays at the base of the puffball, idly poking his pitted, yellow teeth. “Not feeling so great, you guys,” he says.
“Enough. We have chemicals and compounds such that surely a cure for your condition can be found,” Shyan says. “Show us the loot.”
Burbaloo, the alchemist, looks at Shyan in awe. “We’re splitting it five ways, right?”