They arrived in Wunksfeld much sooner than expected. It hadn’t felt like two miles, as the sign declared. In Root’s estimation, judging by the degree of increased discomfort in her blisters, the positioning of Enyn (which still meant very little to her), and the number of complaints from Beel, it had hardly even been one.

They made their way to the middle of the small, sprawling village and came to a pause.

“Maybe this isn’t Wunksfeld,” suggested Vit. “Maybe this is just a little hamlet outside of town. Do villages have suburbs?”

Azriah turned to a spirit making their way down the road hitched to their cart. “Excuse me,” he said. “Is this Wunksfeld? Or is it still ahead that way?”

“Nor, this’s Wunksfeld.”

“Ah, all right. Thank you. We were just confused, see, because of the sign down that way that said Wunksfeld was two miles in this direction, but it didn’t seem that long at all.”

“Aye, I’m one o’ them.”

“Pardon me?”

The spirit split a wide, toothy grin. “I’m one o’ them! The other one lives that way.”

“I’m not sure I—”

“I’m Miles! Real wonder havin’ two’v us in a place so small. People come from all over just to meet us!”

Azriah puzzled his way through the words.

“Here, I got-ta run, but I’m sure you’ll be wanting this.” In one hand, Azriah held the sheet of paper with Syrus’s directions, Pag’s ingredient list, and every other bit of mismatched scrawl that had ended up there. The spirit—Miles—took it and added a line to a bit of open real estate, then passed it back. “There you go. Genu-whine auto-graph. See there? Says ‘Miles.’ You’ll be wantin’ the set, I’d bet. I won’ spoil it for you, what the other ’ne says. Aright, got-ta run!”

Miles ambled off with his cart.

“That was ridiculous,” said Azriah.

“I told you,” said Beel.

“Actually, you said the sign was wrong,” said Root. “But it wasn’t. You were.”


Vit looked down the street. “Should we go get the other autograph?”

“Here, just look at this one twice,” said Azriah, holding out the paper.

“So,” said Root, looking around at the meager assortment of buildings. “Where do we want to start?”

They did a loop around the village, which didn’t take long. On the far end, one of the larger buildings housed a second-hand clothing shop. Figuring it was as bad a place to start as any, they went inside.

Handwritten signs indicated racks and large trunks sorted by garment type, but none of them indicated where the wet clothes might be found. Root tripped over a hopeful couple of seconds when she spotted an old claw-foot bathtub in the corner, but the sign hanging over the rim advertised the contents as lingerie. Unless the owner had a special thing for artists, cooks, farmers, or some other class of laborers, it didn’t seem like a bin she needed to rifle through. The contents were dry and rather dusty besides.

She found a rack of old work gear and started shuffling through it.

“Hey, did you see the tub?” asked Vit, coming to stand by Root and watch the worn, stained aprons and heavy pants flick by.

“Yeah, I saw it. It’s just lingerie.”

“Did you dig through it?”


“What if there’s a smock?”

“I don’t think anything in there will be damp.”

“Maybe the dampness is represented by the fact that we found it in a tub.”

Root shrugged.

“I’ll go look.” They wandered off to do so.

Root finished prodding at the work clothes. No smocks, nothing damp—not even anything of halfway passable quality. They were all more stain than whatever color they’d originated as, like a slow burn natural tie-dye. The stains had holes and the holes had stains.

She moved on to a wide trough heaped with heavy garments that she thought at first were coats, but on closer inspection she realized were… not coats. Probably. A sign on the floor near the section labeled them as “wairm shirts.” Root could hardly pick out one article from the next.

“What’s a wairm shirt?” she asked Beel as he padded over. She lifted one from the pile; it looked big enough to dress a horse, and accommodating for the chance that horse had two heads and a dozen extra legs.

“It’s for spirits with extra heads or arms,” said Beel. Root looked it over again. Turned out she had a real knack for matching garment holes to unanticipated limbs.

“Is it like a smock?”

“Eh.” Beel wobbled one hand. “A wairm is dressier. Also warmer. Not as open, see, because you can button up any holes you don’t need. More customizable. Did you see the bathtub?”

Root lowered the wairm. “Yeah, I saw it. But it’s full of lingerie.”

“Did you look through it, though?”

“No, it’s dry lingerie.”

“What if the tub represents dampness?”

“Go look, then,” said Root flatly.

Beel disappeared in the direction of the tub.

Root rifled through the pile of wairms. None struck her as particularly smock-like, even those with so many arm holes that they might as well have not even bothered and just left the sides open for the limbs to figure themselves out without all the fuss. Vit had it right, the way their shirt just left room for their extra arms to come and go as they pleased.

She left the wairms and found Azriah in an alcove by a collection of cloaks hanging from pegs and racks all around. He held a dark grey cloak, nicer than the rest—or at least less chewed on by moths and stained with a myriad of mystery splotches. Red and gold trim circled the edges. Fur padding lined the interior of the cowl and around the neckline. Azriah assessed the cloak awkwardly as Root poked behind and between the others in the collection.

“You going to buy that?” she asked after a moment.

“Oh, uh, maybe. Should I?”

“Do you like it?”

“Yeah. What do you think?” He pulled it around his shoulders and clasped it.

“It looks good.”

“It’s really soft. And it’s warm, too.” He took it off and looked at it some more. “It’s a really nice one.”

Root rolled her eyes. What was it about men shopping for clothes? “So get it.”

“Yeah, okay. I will.” Azriah folded the cloak and tucked it over one arm. “You find anything?”

“A whole lot of wairms. And lingerie. And enough old grease stains to send that rack of aprons up in a blaze if anyone gets too close with a cigar.”

“Ah.” Azriah shifted a few cloaks around. “Did you see that bathtub back there?”

Yes I saw the tub!”

“Whoa. Okay. Well, did you look through it?”

“It’s just lingerie.”

Azriah shrugged. “Could be other stuff at the bottom.”

“So you’re gonna go look through it? Just in case the fact that it’s in a tub represents the stuff being damp?”

“I hadn’t thought about it like that. That’s a really good point. I’ll go look.”

Root abandoned the cloaks when she’d thoroughly checked the alcove for smocks. She did another lap around the store, lifting a garment here or checking the depths of a pile there. No smocks, and no dampness. As Azriah stood at the counter paying for his cloak, she found herself again beside the tub of lingerie. It looked thoroughly rifled through at least thrice over. She sized it up again.

It could represent dampness, right? These sorts of things weren’t always entirely literal. What if they left and all along there’d been a smock hidden beneath it all, the last piece of their puzzle?

She lifted some of the lacy things at the far end of the tub until the polished white bottom came into view.

“I already checked in there,” said Vit, coming up behind her and making her jump. “We’re heading out, come on.”

“Ugh, yeah I’m coming.”

“Are you looking in the tub?” asked Beel, peeking around a shelf. “I looked in there already.”

“Ugh, I know.”

“You guys ready?” asked Azriah, stepping over to join them. “Oh, you’re looking in the tub? I checked it.”

Ugh, I know!”

Vit and Beel exchanged a glance. Beel mouthed the words “tone problem.”

They left the store and stepped back out into the road. Azriah fixed his new cloak around his neck and took a few exploratory paces.

“That’s nice,” said Vit, feeling the material.

Azriah smiled as he swept it aside. “Thanks, I really like it.”

Fast footsteps approached, crunching on the dirt road. Root looked up just in time to watch as a young human woman ran by, her head lowered and hand raised to her face. The four of them watched her speed by and then shared a look.

The woman wore a smock. And better yet, she was sobbing uncontrollably.

“Come on,” said Azriah, and then he hurried off at a jog in the direction the woman had gone.

It didn’t take long to find her again, listening for the jagged sound of heartfelt sobs. They followed her at a distance for hardly more than a minute before she reached a small, quaint home on the edge of the village with a thatched roof and a creaky door. She ran inside; the door shrieked and then thudded behind her.

“You think this is what we’re looking for?” asked Vit as the four of them came to a stop just down the road.

“It has to be, right?” said Azriah.

“I don’t know. How would Pag know about this?” asked Root.

“Maybe these woods have a lot of crying people in smocks,” offered Vit. “Sort of like a… native species?”

“Well don’t call her a species while we’re talking to her,” said Azriah. “She seems distraught as it is.”

“Hold on,” said Beel. “You want to go knock on the sobbing woman’s door and ask for her clothes? Right now? During the sobbing?”

Azriah opened his mouth to speak, but his words seemed to take Beel’s side and hang back in protest. He shrugged apologetically. “What else are we supposed to do? If she’s not crying…”

“We’ll be nice about it,” said Root.

Beel rolled his eyes. “Well, you probably won’t.”

“You want to do the talking?”

“I don’t want to do this at all!”

“I’ll do it,” said Azriah. “Come on.”

As they approached the door, the muffled sounds of sobbing came from within. Azriah knocked softly.

A long, quiet moment passed. As it lengthened, Root began to wonder if the woman intended to pretend no one was home and wait until they left to continue her crying in peace. Then, finally, the door opened.


She was a young, blonde woman somewhere approaching the cusp of her thirtieth year. Her clothes were worn and simple but clean. She wiped her tears with the heel of her hand as she stood in the doorway.

“Hi. My name is Azriah. These are my associates, Vit, Root, and Beel. What’s your name?”

“Eliondra Lark.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Lark. Um, I just had a quick question for you, if that’s all right? Don’t want to intrude…”

As Azriah spoke, tears welled in Eliondra’s eyes anew. The first few dripped down her cheeks as silent sobs wracked her body.

“Oh, uh…” Azriah paused. He scratched his head. “I’m sorry, this is going to sound pretty funny. Uh, I mean, not funny, I guess. Just… odd…”

Eliondra leaned against the doorframe and took a shaky breath. “Yes, okay, go on.”

“Yes, of course. Uh, so, we have to— that is, we were given this list of ingredients by a witch. It’s a lot of really ridiculous stuff, and, well, you see…”

Another couple of sobs squeezed past Eliondra’s hand as she clutched it over her mouth. She watched Azriah tearfully.

“I believe we need your smock. If that’s quite all right. We can pay for it, of course.”

A louder sob escaped Eliondra’s mouth. She squeezed her eyes closed as it gripped her.

“Or—or replace it? There are some lovely wairms at a shop just that way.”

“No, no, it’s quite all right. Here, take it.” She pulled the smock over her head and handed it to Azriah. He blinked down at it in her outstretched arm for a moment before accepting it.

“Oh. Wow. Thank you.” He turned and looked at the others with relieved incredulity.

Eliondra continued to cry in the doorway.

“Excuse me?” said Vit, stepping forward. “Is something the matter?”

“Obviously something is the matter,” Root muttered through her teeth.

“Yes,” said Eliondra between panicky breaths. “It’s my children. They’ve gone missing. I’ve talked to everyone all over the village, but no one has seen them, and no one will go out into the woods to search for them. And I…” Eliondra gestured to her stomach. Root hadn’t noticed before thanks to the baggy smock, but her stomach swelled in visible pregnancy.

The four of them exchanged a series of looks. Azriah glanced down at the smock in his hand and hefted it an inch higher. His expression said, “We’ve got the smock, so…?

Vit cocked their head and made a visual approximation of the words, “Yeah, and she gave it to us freely. We should repay the favor and go look for her kids.

Azriah glanced at Eliondra’s stomach with a vague shrug as if to say, “She’s got another one coming along, right?

Beel raised an eyebrow, which conveyed the words: “You’re kidding, right? What a horrible thing to say. You bother a sobbing, pregnant mother for her smock and then you just leave her with nothing, when you could do this to help?

I’m just kidding!” said Azriah with a widening of his eyes.

Root inclined her head towards Beel’s feet to say, “You’re signing up for extra walking?

Beel glanced at the ground. His averted eyes were hard to read, but Root caught something along the lines of, “I was rather hoping you all could go and I’d just stick around here and go find some supper.

Unreal,” Root expressed with a tug of her lip.

Vit raised their brows and nodded their head back towards Eliondra as if to recenter the conversation with the unwords: “So, are we going to go look for her kids, or…?

Root nodded, which worked just fine as an answer on its own, but if she were to speak, she would’ve said, “She’s pregnant, we have to.”

Azriah also nodded, and if he were to speak, he would’ve said, “We’ll help. But let’s take care of this quick. We’ve got what we need for the potion, so we can stop wasting time.

“Let us go and look for your children,” said Vit. “As a thank you for giving us this wet smock.”

“Oh, thank you! Thank you. I’m sorry, is it wet?”

Vit waved a hand. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Now pull at that end there,” said Kurg, or at least he thought he did. All of his blood was pooling in his head. It made him delirious.

“Dis one?” said Harnn, pointing to the wrong one.

“No, that one there. Nope. No. Not quite. Yes! No.”

Ten minutes later, Kurg moved on to his next instruction.

“Now loosen that loop in the laces. No, the one around the left.”

(This direction was executed seamlessly, not because Harnn knew his right from his left, which he didn’t, and not because Kurg was lucid enough to remember that being stuck upside down and backwards meant taking an extra moment to mentally orient himself in Harnn’s webby shoe and ensure that his lefts and rights were corresponding to the way that Harnn would be seeing them, which he wasn’t, but since both of these facts were untrue, they butted heads like two burly rams short on living brain tissue and canceled one another out, resulting in the most cooperative moment the pair had had in several hours.)

“Perfect! Now just pull there…”

“Too tired. Gonna sit down for break.”

“No! Harnn, no! No, Harnn! Harnn, don’t—!”

Glued to a nearby rock, Spaghetti looked over at Not and shrugged. For him, this was more like doing the worm. “A break indeed,” he hissed.