Sticky with sweat and sugar, they climbed off the roof and back down the ladder.

Root stepped back to assess the patched corner of the roof. In the process, she nearly tripped over something. That something was named Beel.

“Watch where you’re going,” he said as her heel collided with one of his gold rings. She was always surprised by how solid they felt. “I just knew you were going to trip over me when I saw you coming.”

“And you just stayed put?”

“Well, yes.”

“What do you think?” she asked, turning back to the roof.

“It doesn’t look the same. I can tell it’s been patched.”

“Of course you can, the wafers aren’t even the same color as the gingerbread.”

Vit looked up at the sky. “Maybe a dusting of powdered sugar will come through and cover it up.”

They went back around the house and made their way inside, taking care to wipe the crumbs from their shoes on the mat.

“All done out there?” asked Grelga, turning away from the kitchen and cleaning her hands on a towel.

“As good as… uh, fresh?” said Vit.

“Oh, that’s just marvelous. Thank you, sweeties, it really is such a much-appreciated chore you’ve done for me.”

“You’re welcome,” said Azriah. “Now—our payment, as agreed?”

“Of course; you can just keep the leftovers.” Grelga gestured one bony finger at the bowl Root held containing the remainder of the frosting from their roof patching work. Root looked down at it, then back up.

“Oh, uh…?”

“Is something the matter, sweetie?”

“Uh, no, I just… the edible kind is the same as the… industrial kind?”

“Well of course. I’m not going to go around making two different batches of frosting for different purposes, now am I?” The four of them blinked. “No—that would be ridiculous,” she added, answering the question for them. “Here, I’ll pack it into something to go.” She took the bowl from Root and started rifling around in her kitchen.

Perhaps as a rebellion against their impending departure from a house made of food, Root’s stomach quavered out a note not too far removed from the dialect it shared with Azriah’s sword. She hadn’t thought it was that loud, but perhaps Grelga had some hunger-based spirit sense.

“Are you hungry, sweetie? Oh, you all must stay for supper! Consider it an extra payment—a gesture of thanks. It’s nearly finished cooking—won’t be much longer at all.”

Root got a feeling in the pit of her stomach. She was mostly certain it wasn’t hunger—not all hunger, at least.

“We would love—” started Vit.

“To-But!” said Root, a little too forcefully. “We can’t, unfortunately. We really really have to get going. More potion ingredients to find, and it’s getting late…”

Vit looked back and forth between Root and Azriah.

“We also picked up some sausages already, actually. Don’t want those to go bad. Gotta eat ‘em.”

“They’ll last. Definitely a few days, at least,” said Azriah.

“Bummer we got so many, then. And that it’ll take us days to eat them all…”

“What a shame,” said Grelga. “I hardly ever have people for supper these days.”

“You know, I think Gropply is free tonight. And he’s just down the lane—five minutes, you know. Well, we really had better be going.”

“Yes, all right. Good luck on your trip, sweeties. Tell Rette I say hello, would you?”

“Of course,” said Root. She got the door and held it open for the others. Then with a wave, they left.

“What was that about?” asked Vit as Grelga’s gingerbread house disappeared behind them.

“You didn’t get a weird feeling?”

“Always,” said Beel.


“I don’t know. I just can’t put my finger on it. But something felt… eerily familiar, maybe.”

“Well, hope you’re fine with mushrooms again,” said Azriah.

“And sausages.”

“And this,” said Vit, producing a swollen and oversized gumdrop. It glittered with a crust of sugar.

Azriah stared at it. “Where did you get that?”

“It was just lying around outside.”

“You don’t think it might’ve been part of the house?”

“Oh. I don’t know. Should I not have taken it?”

“Well, we’re not turning back around to admit to vandalism.” He shrugged. “I’ll take a piece.”

As the hour grew late and they began to consider spots to camp for the night, they came before a familiar sight. The gully lay just ahead, as well as the bridge spanning it, crowned at its apex by a very glum and very confused looking troll spirit.

“Who approach bridge?” said the troll as they reached it.

“Us again,” said Root.

“Oh, Us, you back.”

“So, can we cross again—like do we get a round trip out of the deal, or was it just the one-time crossing?”

The troll grunted. “Used to offer commuter bundle deals but better profits in charging by the crossing.”

“But you don’t even charge money.”

“No. Riddle.”

“What’s the riddle this time?” asked Vit.

“Only got one riddle.”

“But we already answered it when we crossed before. So we know the answer.”


“What? Oh.”

“Hmm. I don’t know more riddles.”

“You could ask your old riddle,” suggested Root. “What was it? ‘What is more useful when it’s broken?’”

“You know my old riddle?”

“Um… No.”

“Hmm. No. Need a new riddle. Ummmm…”

The troll’s humming shook the whole bridge with its deep vibrations. Pebbles rattled on the stones as if trying to flee.

Root cleared her throat. “What about this: ‘What goes through towns and forests but never moves?’”

The troll considered this. He shook his head. “But I don’t know answer.”

“Ah, but that doesn’t matter, because you’re the one asking the riddle, and we are the ones who have to figure out the answer. You see?”


“Sorry. I mean do you understand?”

“Oh. Ya, okay.”

“So we’ll agree to that riddle, then?”


“Great. The answer is—”

“Wait. I didn’t ask the riddle yet.”

“Oh. Right, of course.”

The four of them waited a moment, and then several. The troll never spoke quickly, so nothing seemed amiss until around the two-minute mark, at which point Root spoke again.

“What, uh, what’s the riddle, then?”

“Um, I don’t remember. What was it, again?”

“‘What goes through towns and forests but never moves?’”

“What goes through towns… and forests. But never moves?”

“A very good and perplexing riddle. I’m not sure. What about you, Azriah?”

“Uh…” Azriah leaned closer and whispered, “I thought you gave him that one because you knew the answer.”

“I do you idiot, I’m just making it look like we had to take a minute to think about it. This guy’s self-esteem is in the fucking river.”

“What do you mean it’s in the river?” asked Vit, also whispering.

“Just—like—metaphorically, like it’s so low—fuck, never mind.”

“Since when are we doing troll charity?” asked Azriah.

“Charity? Or therapy?” muttered Beel.

“The answer,” said Root, loudly now, “is a dead body on a cart.”

The troll opened his mouth, then paused with a look of confusion that was deeper than his usual look of confusion.

“Are we correct?” asked Root.

“Um…” The troll scratched himself. “Um, are you correct?”

“We are,” said Root.

“Okay. You cross now.” He stepped aside and let them go by.

“Was that the real answer?” asked Azriah once they’d descended the bridge to the other side of the gully.

“Real enough.”

They made camp for the night not far from the previous night’s site. The day’s path lay as a loop of frustration behind them, and they’d come into the possession of no more potion ingredients than they started with, but they had industrial-strength frosting now, and that had to count for something—even if that something was an emergency laxative. If Root’s appetite for sweets hadn’t been spoiled by listening to them squelch underfoot all day, she could’ve used a bit of the stuff to make one of those gravity-defying cakes. She didn’t have any other ingredients, of course, but if she’d wanted to, she felt confident she could’ve found them by overturning a few rocks and logs on their walk south.

They set off again the next morning and soon arrived back in Lasting. As they entered Rette’s shop, Root stuck two wads of wax into her ears.

“Hiiii!” said Rette, looking up from her work as they entered. A spirit lay across her sticky table looking worse for wear—or perhaps his eyes just always moved like that and his left arm contained one or two more joints than the right. Hard to tell with spirits. “I started to think you weren’t coming back at alllll! It’s not tomorrow like you said—we’ve moved on to an addiiitional tomorrow! I assumed it was the caaaave!”

“We got a bit delayed,” said Azriah. Root handed him the frosting, and he set it down on a nearby countertop. “Don’t let us interrupt if this is…” he gestured to the spirit, who in turn appeared to be gesturing simultaneously at the ceiling and floor. “…Urgent.”

“Ohhh, he will live!” said Rette.

“Well, I guess he’d come back anyway.”

“His wiiife said if he died and left her with aaalll the housework until he got back, she’d leeeave him!”

Vit nudged Root with their elbow. They pointed to her ear and discreetly put out a hand. Root passed them a bit of wax.

“Don’t let us get in the way of a happy marriage, then.”

“Oh, but I could use some more dallywill-shembulgart cream! It will haaaardly take a moment!” Rette flapped her oversized ears and landed on a nearby counter. She pushed aside a couple glass bottles, poking at labels and sloshing the contents. Uncorking a brown bottle, she took a whiff, then brought it and a large bowl to where Azriah had left the frosting.

“So what is this stuff, exactly?” asked Vit—talking just a bit too loudly but in good company—as Rette began to add the frosting to the bowl.


“Right. What else?”

“It’s my own speeecial recipe!” She finished adding the frosting and dumped a healthy pour from the bottle in on top of it. The amber liquid turned the frosting a light caramel color as Rette stirred. She dipped the tip of her eye stalk into the mixture, licked it, and smacked thoughtfully for a moment.

“Just the two ingredients?” asked Azriah.

Vit picked up the bottle and read the label. “This is just whisky.”

“It’s dooone!” said Rette. She shuddered. “And this batch is pooootent!”

“A painkiller, you said?” asked Root.

“That’s right!”

Root shrugged. “Fair enough.”

Rette portioned out some of the cream and gave it to Azriah, who tucked it carefully away with the salacious sage.

“Thank you,” he said. “Now, I also just wanted to ask before we head out—it’s not about healing, necessarily, but, well, perhaps… anatomy? And I suppose owing to the fact that you seem like…” He looked her up and down. “Like the eccentric sort. Do you happen to know anything about trout toes? Or, ‘toe of trout’ I should say. That’s our next ingredient.”

“I have neeeeever heard of a trout with toes!” said Rette.

“Well, that makes five of us.”

“Six,” moaned a sticky voice from the table.

“Oh!” Rette hurried over to her patient. “You should nooot be waking! Here!” she scooped a mouthful of dallywill-shembulgart cream in alongside his lolling tongue, using the same methods as her taste test from before. Root grimaced. Did they make gloves for something of her sort? Or would it be goggles…

“We’ll be going, then,” said Azriah. “Good luck. Uh, to both of you.”

“Oh, and Grelga says ‘hello,’ by the way,” said Vit.

“Grelga! Tell her I say ‘helloooo’ back!”

“Uh… yeah, if we see her again…”

“And if we’re sending messages, tell my wife—” started the spirit on the table.

The door closed behind them before he could finish.

“Impreeessive bunch, don’t you think?” said Rette to her half-lucid patient. “I didn’t think they’d come back at allll!”

“Mm grurf?” said the patient around a mouthful of dallywill-shembulgart cream. He swallowed. “Tha… Grelgalady… nont too mice?”

“Oh, no, Grelga is a sweeeeet old spirit! I’m talking about the caaave!”

“Uhc. Ave?”

“The cave! It took me several journeys out that way to build the resolve neeever to go in there again! I kept dyyying on every errand, and then dying agaaaain when I went back to get more frosting in replacement!”

“Cu-. Uho.”

“It just smelled sooooo good! Oh, I want to take a trip that way just thiiiinking about it!”


“Now don’t you go getting aany ideas! You heard what your wife said!”

“Uh uh. Ohhh…”

“Ah! More cream?”