Root, Azriah, and Beel ran outside. Or rather, Root and Azriah ran. Beel didn’t so much run as hover reluctantly by the others for fear of what might befall him if he found himself all alone in the same place where they’d last seen the two spirits most likely to kill, maim, steal from, or (in Beel’s assessment of their relationship) eat them. At least, Ajis and Ophylla currently topped the list. Sometimes others took a crack at earning the superlative.

They stepped out into the forested space that spanned the distance from The Waterhills Inn to the Kindolunk and the gravel road running alongside it that connected the inn to the rest of the village down the hill. Trees dotted the barren yard, as well as mushrooms and no small amount of spider silk strung this way and that.

Root spotted Harnn first. He was hard to miss, due to his size and bright blue skin and apparent inability to conduct himself in any manner that didn’t make him immediately noticeable. The guy seemed like a great pick for a solid wall of muscle, but if a task called for brains or stealth he’d be better left at home with a snack and something to occupy his time, like a tangled bit of string or a drifting light reflected onto the floor.

A mess of webbing glued Harnn’s boot to the ground. His other three feet moved him clockwise, then counterclockwise, then back again as he struggled to free himself.

Root found Kurg only moments after. As Harnn started on his counterclockwise pass, the sad little imp spirit came into view. Webs kept him stuck to Harnn’s backside, upside-down so his floppy ears hung free and swayed with each of Harnn’s steps. He didn’t struggle, and Root couldn’t say whether Harnn knew he was there at all, but she hoped he did, or at the very least that he didn’t try to sit down.

Spaghetti and Not were each stuck in globs that looked hardly any different from their bodies, aside from color. One wriggled against the side of the building where it looked like he’d tried to climb the siding, and the other was pinned to a rock that stuck up out of the dirt.

Last was Golvy, who hung cocooned from the bough of a lemon-yellow tree heavy with rigid, bulbous fruit. A wad of web covered his mouth. He thrashed more than the others.

“Oh, hey guys,” said Vit. Root looked up. They crouched at the crest of the gable overseeing the front door. “What’s up?”

“We came to see if you needed any help…” said Azriah. He took in the state of Ajis’s henchmen strewn around the inn.

“Oh, I’ve got all these guys taken care of.” They jumped and swung effortlessly to the ground with the aid of a web fired into the heights of a nearby tree. They landed beside Root. “You take care of Ajis and Ophylla?”

“They fled through Ajis’s portals after we got them cornered,” said Root. “Fucking cowards.”

“Here.” Azriah handed Vit the old book he’d retrieved from Ophylla.

“Oh, phew. Thanks.” They took it and flipped through a couple of pages as if to make sure everything that hadn’t been there was still missing. “Here, I’ll trade you. It’s time to rotate anyway.” They held out the webbed mass containing Affodell’s mirror. Azriah took it. It stuck to his hands.

Root slid the amulet from her wrist. The black eyes of the twin snakes watched her as she placed the periapt back into the bundle of cloth and rewrapped it. She handed it to Vit, and then helped Azriah get the mirror into something a little less adhesive. He retreated back into the inn’s common room to collect his and Vit’s scattered things that Ajis had so rudely dumped all across the floor. He reemerged a minute later.

“Guess we won’t be spending the night here after all, huh?” said Vit.

Root shrugged. “How long will all of this last?” She gestured to the spirits bound in spider silk all across the inn’s grounds.

“Only until Ajis regroups and comes back to help them search,” said Azriah.

“Hey, worth a shot,” said Root. “I was really looking forward to that bed.”

“You really think we can just leave them like this?” asked Vit. They looked apologetically at Golvy, who didn’t seem to be losing steam or ideas for new curse words, though they were all spared from hearing them.

“I can’t imagine they’ll be here for long,” said Azriah. “So unless you want to kill them…”

“Tied up it is, then.”

“In that case, we should get as much of a head start as we can,” said Root. “I’m sure it’ll take a while, but sooner or later the big guy’s gonna remember how to untie his shoe.”

They started their path moving southeast away from Uppon/Sulp, then once they were out of sight of Ajis’s crew, they turned north.

The woods welcomed them back from civilization with the howls of something big and toothy in the distance, likely doing big and toothy things like eating someone’s poor, bedridden grandmother. Exhausted and mourning the loss of a night with beds, the four of them couldn’t be bothered to care too much. As long as it wasn’t doing big and toothy things to them, it was welcome to go about its big, toothy business undisturbed.

More concerning on Root’s mind was Ajis, who was neither big nor particularly toothy, and wouldn’t announce his pursuit with a howl unless it doubled in purpose as abuse to his underlings. Man, that guy was a dick.

As they walked, Root kept catching Vit looking at her funny. On the third or fourth glance, she sighed and spread her arms.

“What is it?”


“You just keep looking at me like that.”

Vit lowered their eyes. “Sorry, just thinking.”

“Yeah? What about?”

They thought for another two dozen paces. “It’s just… the way you used the amulet on Ophylla. Why did you do that?”

Azriah glanced over. He said nothing, but by the way he stuck closer beside them Root could tell he was equally keen on an answer.

Root let out a long breath. “I… I don’t know, really. I mean, I panicked. She was trying to take the amulet, and then she’d have had both. It probably would’ve been a real fight to get them back. If we could. If we… if they didn’t kill us. Do you think they actually would’ve even after they got both periapts?”

“Ophylla, no,” said Azriah. “Ajis… I don’t know. I think it’s possible.”

Vit nodded solemnly. “That makes sense, Root. I’m sorry, you know I trust you. It just didn’t sit right, I guess, the way you used it first. Like you threw the first punch.”

“Well, I had to.” Root’s voice hardened. “If I hadn’t, Ophylla and Ajis would’ve walked out of there with both periapts.”

“Maybe. Maybe we would’ve come up with something.”

“Or we could’ve died. They could’ve used the periapts to turn us on one another and then left.”

Vit was quiet for a long moment. “But that’s exactly what you did, right? You turned Ophylla on Ajis. I guess I just want us to be better than that. Better than using these things on people.”

“Listen, Vit, it’s not like it was my first choice, okay? I didn’t want to use the amulet at all, but I don’t regret it, either. Sure, it would be great to have the moral high ground or whatever, but y’know what makes it really hard to do that? When you’re dead. Being nice or ‘good’ or whatever to the bad guys is a luxury, and it’s not one we have. They’ve got this insane power to puppet people around, blow up buildings—who knows what else. We can’t contest them forever by hiding behind shirt racks and running away and getting ridiculously lucky. If we have a way to level the field, we have to take it, or we’re gonna get ourselves killed. Fuck, we might anyway. At the very least, it seems like using a periapt makes it harder for someone else to control you with another. Even if they’re not a weapon, they’re a shield. We have to use the tools available to us.”

Insects and other critters chirped in the trees. They walked in silence until Azriah spoke.

“I agree with Root. We’re in a fight of huge powers we don’t even fully understand yet. As long as we’re in the fray, we have to play the game, even if we don’t like the rules. I don’t like it either. The way it felt when Ophylla used that thing on me in the mountains…” A few seconds passed before he continued. “These things are frightening. But if we want to keep them away from Ophylla and Ajis, we might have to use them. But only with the utmost need.”

“I suppose,” said Vit. “Well, at least we got them both back. As long as we can hold onto them—at least until we figure out something better—we don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Ajis has a periapt,” said Root.

Vit looked at her, surprised. “What? A third one?”

“Yes. At least, I’m pretty sure. I saw it during the fight.”

Azriah scratched the scruff on his chin. “I guess it makes sense. If he’s seeking more, it’s not a huge surprise that he might hold one already.”

“What did it look like? How do you know it’s another mote periapt?” asked Vit.

“It’s the ring he wears. I don’t know for sure, but it’s got a round, teal gem like a marble, just like the green gem in the amulet or the yellow one in the mirror’s handle.”

“Hmm. You’re right, I hadn’t noticed they both had a round gem like that. But you really think it’s a periapt?”

“I think if anyone we’ve met has one, it’s him. And it would explain the weird feelings I’ve had during our fights with him. It’s like holding one of them, like feeling a pure, distilled emotion. Remember at the manor when we were running across the lawn and I stopped? I didn’t know why, but I think I might’ve been under the influence of his ring. I got a similar feeling back there at the inn.”

“Well, if Ajis has a periapt, that’s bad,” said Azriah. “I hope you’re wrong, for our sakes. We’ll see what we can learn next time we run into him.”

“Next time?” said Beel. “Let’s hope that’s an if.”

“It’s not an if, I’m afraid. But we can hope, at least, that it isn’t tonight.”

They walked nearly another hour before weariness threatened to push them to their knees. They found a small glade in a ditch rimmed with stone outcroppings, tall, fuzzy fungal spires, and trees of a deep red foliage so dense that all together they nearly formed walls and a domed roof. From the outside it looked like a pustule bursting from the dirt, but the steep slope to the floor and the natural walls kept the interior hidden from prying eyes. Warm and spongy inside, it felt like the den of something, but that something wasn’t home, so they took their chances and opted to squat for the night.

The night passed without sign of Ajis or Ophylla or their employed eyes, ears, and, in Golvy’s case, mouth, nor the return of anything asserting its territorial rights over the glade. They made sure to leave it as neat as they’d found it on the chance it did belong to someone (and rather hoping not to acquire any additional angry pursuers) and set out moving generally north as before but seldom taking the straightest path.

They had three of the four ingredients for Pag’s potion—the salacious sage, dallywill-shembulgart cream, and now toe of trout. That left only the smock as damp as tears yet to be found, and in a way that they were growing begrudgingly used to, they hadn’t the faintest idea where to start their search.

“I still think a regular old smock that we dip in a puddle has got to work just fine,” said Beel as they ambled through the woods.

Vit looked halfheartedly behind a log. It wasn’t the least likely place to find a boutique of damp garments. “But what about the tears part?”

“That’s just witch parlance. Part of the way they rhyme.”

Vit thought for a second. “But it didn’t rhyme. It was just a list.”

“Maybe she was just having an off day.”

“I think the tears have to be important in some way, otherwise she could’ve just said ‘a damp smock.’ Or just ‘smock.’ How’s the potion going to know any different anyway? If the smock goes in it, it’s going to get damp regardless, right?”

“Again, I’d like to know who in the worlds puts clothes in a potion,” said Azriah.

“Pag,” said Vit.

Azriah paused. “Right.”

“Maybe she has to wear it while she makes the potion,” suggested Root.

“You’d think she’d just have one around, then.”

Their wandering path dumped them abruptly onto a rutted road. Just ahead, the road split. A wooden sign cut into the rough shape of a toad with one arm outstretched leaned in a dilapidated heave towards the ground. On the arm were the words: “Wunksfeld’s 2 Miles.”

“Why’s it written like that?” asked Beel.

Root read the sign, then read it again just to make sure she wasn’t missing anything. “Written like what?”

“With the apostrophe S. It should say: ‘Wunksfeld: 2 miles.’”

Vit read it. “No, that makes sense, right? Like, ‘Wunksfeld is 2 Miles.’ Except instead of ‘is’ they wrote it like that.”

“No, it just shouldn’t be written that way at all.”

“Whatever,” said Root. “Being a sign maker doesn’t require straight A’s and a university degree.”


“Well, we can try Wunksfeld for the smock,” offered Vit.

Root sighed. “You know, I was hoping to find another town we could get laughed out of.”

A little girl hustled through the door of a lonely cabin in the woods, and another howl followed her in. Huffing and heaving, she slammed the thick door, bolted the lock, and pressed her back against it as she caught her breath. She’d run the final half of a mile in terror drawn in equal parts from what she feared pursued her and what she feared waited here at her destination. Realistically, it couldn’t have been both, but fear made all things possible.

“Grandmother?” she called into the single bedroom.

“In here, dear,” came a frail voice, the only part of the old woman that still left the bed on these rare occasions.

“Oh, grandmother, I was afraid I’d arrive too late,” said the girl, entering the room. She set her basket on the floor and gave the old woman a hug.

“Too late for what, dear?”

“I saw…” the girl cast an uneasy look back at the locked door. “I saw a terrible spirit out in the woods. I feared it might come along and eat you.”

“Oh, nonsense!” said the old woman.

“Yeah, nonsense!” said a nasally voice at the window. The girl looked up in fright. A long snout leaned over the sill. Two eyes peered in, so far apart they had to go cross-eyed just to see through the opening.

“There! That’s the spirit!”

“Well, dear, that spirit doesn’t look hungry at all!”

“Yeah, I’m not!” said the spirit, and then added, “Anymore.”


“Mmhmm. Don’t go leaping to such outrageous conclusions. I was going to come and eat your granny, but on the way here I—and you’ll never believe this—I found this huge bean just lying out in the woods. Filled me right up.”


“But now you listen here: living all alone in an isolated cabin miles from the nearest town or neighbors is no life for an old lady. I mean, honestly! What if she fell? Or got eaten?”

“Oh, I don’t fall, dear, I’d have to get up for that.”

“Here, girl, you take this back to your mum,” The spirit withdrew his muzzle from the window to pass the girl a rumpled pamphlet. “That there is a lovely little home out in Lasting. I volunteer there on the weekends. You show that to your folks and talk some sense into them, you hear? And don’t dawdle around, all right? There’s not much of that bean left.”