“I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned just yet, but I’m not a fan of all this walking,” said Beel, who had said the exact same, word for word, an hour prior.

“We know, Beel,” said Root.

“It’s just that, see, just today we walked across the troll bridge, got to Grelga’s, then to Gropply’s, then we walked from there to Flagollet and the Wurst Mart, then across town from there to the packaging facility, then back across town to the shop, then out to the cave, then back to Flagollet, then back to the cave, and now we are headed back to Gropply’s. And I presume after that we will be returning to Grelga, and then—”

“We know,” said Root.

“As long as you’ve noticed, that’s all.”

“We’re just as thrilled about it as you.”

“I’m not thrilled, that’s sort of the issue.”

“We have the beans,” said Azriah. “That will get us all the way back to Rette to trade for the cream.”

“And then there are two more potion ingredients to go,” said Vit.

Root groaned. “This is fucking stupid.”

“It’s…” Azriah rubbed his head, “It’s pretty ridiculous, yeah. I’m afraid it’s my fault. Maybe it’s just the custom of the region, but I didn’t think things would get so complicated.”

“It’s all right, it’s not your fault,” said Vit. “None of us expected to be trading a can of beans for a box of cookies when we agreed to Syrus’s deal.”

Azriah huffed a dry, curt laugh. “That’s for sure.”

“Do you think this is worth it?” asked Root.

Vit looked over at her as they walked. “What do you mean?”

“Like, for the information Syrus is offering. A lead on a mote periapt. Is it worth delivering mail for a dragon and fixing a witch’s roof?”

They were quiet for a minute. “I don’t know. It’s like we said—we don’t have any other leads right now.”

“But it all just feels like we’re getting sidetracked, you know? We set out to find these stupid artifacts, and now we’re grocery shopping for some guy who won’t eat the food literally growing on trees all around him.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

“We’re doing so much for probably so little. For fuck’s sake, forget the potion ingredients, how many of these things are there?” She jostled her backpack. “We still don’t know.”

“Maybe Syrus does.”

“That could be bad for us. I don’t like the idea that he knows something we don’t. Like Ophylla.”

“Yeah. You know, I was thinking about it. Kind of funny, right, the way Ophylla found us in a restaurant and then came after us with a job proposal; Syrus saw us in a restaurant, then did the same when we ran into him again later. Weird that it happened twice.”

“More reason to be suspicious,” said Beel.

“We’re all suspicious,” said Azriah. “At least a bit.”

“It’s just going to suck if we put in all the leg work for something bad again,” said Root. “Especially after all of this running around.”

“I’m with you,” agreed Azriah. “The more difficult the job becomes, the more time we waste, the more we want to safeguard our time and energy—and the two periapts we’ve managed to get, certainly—but it doesn’t change anything. At the first sign of Syrus trying to pull the wool over our eyes, we’re out of there. But just as easily, he could have good intentions. Surely not everyone who knows about the periapts is bad. We aren’t.”

“Anyone would say that,” said Beel. Root looked at her feet.

“It does make you wonder, though,” said Vit. “If Syrus has a lead on a periapt, why isn’t he going after it himself? Or at least checking our motives before agreeing to give us a lead.”

“That is a good question,” said Azriah, “and one to keep in mind, but unfortunately not one we can get an answer to for the time being. If he’s willing to pass it along to us, that’s his problem.”

“Could become ours,” mumbled Beel.

“At the end of the day, there is a difference here: Ophylla knew something about a periapt and wanted us to get it for her. Syrus, for whatever his reasons and motives may be, is not after whatever periapt he knows something about. That counts for something.”

“You’re right,” said Vit. They were silent for a moment. “And he wasn’t as intimidating.”

“That’s for sure.”

“We get it, you could beat him up,” said Root.

Azriah rolled his eyes.

Beel sighed. “Could one of you just carry me?”

“We’re almost back at Gropply’s hut.”

“I don’t think so. How do you know?”

“Because that puddle back there smelled like hot chocolate.”

“I didn’t smell anything.”

“It had marshmallows in it.”


“Come on.”

From the rank sludge festering in a gutter in Flagollet, something sprouted.

This was one of those rare instances in which an action carried out by a plant was one that could be conveyed in a narrative sense without letting days go by in the background. Something sprouted, and it sprouted quick, but no one noticed when it did so. Many of the street’s usual patrons slept, and those who didn’t kept their eyes focused on their feet for fear of looking up into the face of someone trying to sell them something.

The little green coil stretched and pushed upwards with a hunched back like a reanimated corpse cursing the necromantic lottery that had selected it from among the brood to be standing upright again. (Generally, those things that died permanently felt just fine to remain that way after the fact; sure, it seemed like a “second chance” at first, but what good was a second go at things when your limbs fell off at the slightest provocation and the smell of rotting skin was so putrid that not even a year’s salary could buy enough perfume to make you worth taking home from the bar at the end of the night? You didn’t get to really live when you were dead.)

The sprout continued to grow at an alarming pace. The sewage of Flagollet wasn’t the best in the worlds, but this seemed a bit much, even for it. How the little mound of slop could provide such an influx of nutrients would be a feat worth studying for decades to come.

By the time the stalk reached the height of the rooftops, some folks had started to notice. None of them looked on with more surprise and horror than Bembultin the Bean Man. His horror was the horror of someone learning that they had not swindled their customers for nearly as much as they could’ve, and who had, in a complete reversal of all intentions, sold perfectly bad merchandise for less than it was worth. It took a special sort of con artist to be the only one mistaken about what, exactly, they were selling, but Bembultin was a special sort of guy.

He watched the stalk grow alongside his seller’s remorse.

Roots cracked the street; leaves like awnings unfurled, casting deep shadows across the rooftops. Great big pods sagged from the curling vine, doubling and tripling around itself to remain sturdy and upright. Bembultin watched the pods grow, swollen with beans. That was food up there—a whole feast—not to mention the means to grow more of these plants. And no one properly owned it just yet. That would have to change, and quick.

He thought for sure he’d picked up everything spilled by that rude girl in the sausage store—counted them all twice to be sure of it. How had he missed any?

He’d also thought for sure that they’d been rocks. Picking them up in the gravel beds down by the stream and slathering them with a coat of Zesty Lime Green had convinced him of that much.

He made a beanline for the stalk. Already, folks congregated around the bottom, albeit at a distance.

Bembultin elbowed his way through the circle and approached the base of the stalk. A mass of roots and leaves had all but enveloped the street and nearby buildings.

“A demonstration!” he called to the people all around. “Just to show what my magic beans can really do! Ten mantles—no, a helix—no, two helixes per bean!” He waved a pouch in the air. A clattering sound came from within, a sound like rocks, but greener.

“Hey! You’re responsible for all this?” cried a spirit standing in a doorway mostly eaten by bean foliage.

“Ah, er, a tricky question!” said Bembultin. “If you mean to ask if this is my beanstalk, the answer is certainly yes, I have every legal right to it!” He backed up closer to the stalk; it continued to writhe and grow. “If you’re asking if I’m responsible for any damages caused by the beanstalk that may or may not be mine in the liability sense, per se, the answer is definitely not.”

“What I’m askin’ is if you’re gonna be paying to fix my wall here!”

“Ah, that seems to fall into the second category, so the answer is no.”

“Come ’ere so I can wring your little stem of a neck!”

“I’m afraid you’re not seeming to understand,” said Bembultin, backing up all the way to the stalk. “I own the profits, see, and you own the expenses. It’s just business.”

The angry shopkeeper stomped towards Bembultin. Bembultin’s lifelong fear of bodily harm took over and propelled him at impressive speed up the side of the stalk. He climbed until he could no longer make out the words of the shopkeeper shouting below him. In Bembultin’s estimation of the law, he had committed no wrongdoing if he couldn’t hear about what he’d done wrong. He certainly wasn’t seeing the issue.

Except for the new issue, which was that the ground was awfully far away, and far away in the downwards direction, which was a bad direction for the ground to be. Any reanimated corpse will agree with that.

“Begging your pardon, but can I help you with something?”

Bembultin nearly stumbled off the beanstalk in fright. A wide green face looked down at him from up on a leaf above.

“Now what are you? And why are you on my beanstalk? You’d better not be eating any beans up there or you’ll be compensating me for the losses, you hear? And careful on that leaf! I have a firm ‘you break it, you buy it’ policy, you understand?”

The face just watched him sputter. Bembultin slowed to a stop. He looked at the face again.

“Did I… grow you?”

“Well I don’t know about that…”

“Assuming I did, I’ll have you know that makes you my property by law.”

“And what about my turkey?”

“Assuming it’s yours, and assuming I own you—well, rather, let’s cut to the chase and say I do—I’d say that’s mine, too.”

“And the golden eggs it lays?”

Way up here, looking down at the cobblestones below, Bembultin had developed a poor distribution of bodily fluids—it seemed they’d all been sucked from his mouth and now coated his hands and also maybe a little bit the inside of his pants. Somehow, the green-faced spirit had opened the floodgates and gotten things moving rightly again, at least as far as his mouth was concerned.

“G… Golden eggs it lays? In the sense of the color or the metal?”

“Seems to be both.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’d stake my broken tooth on it.”

“Well I’d say those’d be mine too. You know how it is with the law and all.”

“Not really.”

The beanstalk shuddered. Bembultin looked over the edge.

“Now what are they getting up to down there? They can’t be touching my beanstalk!”

“Doesn’t look like they’re touching it, mostly just hitting it a lot with sharp stuff.”

“There’s no reason to be going on about all of that—they haven’t even got any profit incentive!”

“Maybe they don’t need one.”

“Nonsense! They’ll owe me big time, oh they will! You! Help me back down there!”

“I think they’re already doing that.”

“I don’t like their methods, now help me down!”

The bean spirit looked past Bembultin at the ground. “It’s a long way.”

“I know that!”

“How’d you get up here, anyhow?”

“I climbed.”

“Why can’t you just climb back down?”

“Well, I… I might need backup when I get down there!”

“Why go down if you’re just coming back up?”

“No, no, backup!”

“Ya, that’s what I said.”

Backup. Backup. Someone to back me up.”

“So I gotta carry you down and back up?”

This went on for so long that the angry townspeople below had ample time to hack through the massive coils of the beanstalk until, with one final shudder, the whole mess careened sideways and toppled into the woods to the northleft-east. Ginormous beans bounced and skidded through the woods, scattering in all directions. This was very good for the locals, who now had an abundant supply of food or carriage hulls or whatever else they might need.

It was not very good for Bembultin, who found himself crushed beneath the giant stalk and swiftly whisked away to the shallows of Yg Balta—and even worse, owing to his part in distributing food to the region free of charge, lauded as charitable.