|Perilous Jack eyes the Druid, but sees no duplicity, only ruinous fear and the desperate need to find safety.|
He nods and leaps to the GreenShaft, catching the ladder built into the inner wall. He hacks away enough vegetation to expose the Warp Portal, and then sheathes his sword and extends a hand to the Druid, helping him up and through the Portal. Perilous Jack draws his sword again and follows, a fireball quivering under the skin of his palm – just in case.
He emerges from the Warp Portal and falls a short distance to a wooden platform where the Druid waits, still coughing from smoke inhalation. Compared to the roar of flames and the hiss and pop of burning plant-creatures, the silence in this chamber is deafening. Jack rises quickly and displays his sword and burning palm, but the Druid simply waves his hand and shakes his head wearily.
“No, don’t bother. You’ve already destroyed half a lifetime’s work. I won’t fight anymore. I can’t risk losing the rest.”
Only now does Jack look around and begin to gather the Druid’s meaning. They are in a tiny chamber with cold stone walls, deep in the earth. Two GreenShafts and the wooden platform on which they stand are the principal features of the room. The floor is carpeted with stout old Beanstalks, among which stalk a pair of Wood Golems.
Over the Druid’s shoulder Jack sees a small alcove in the wall, occupied by a huge Shambling Mound – and it must be ancient indeed, to judge by the greyness of its hummock-like body. As Jack peers into the dimness of the alcove, he thinks he can make out the corner of a wooden box projecting from beneath the body of the Shambling Mound.
Suddenly a detail he had not acknowledged registers on his mind, and Jack turns to examine the Beanstalks again.
“Yes,” the Druid says, following his gaze. “They are flowering. This is their hundredth year in this cavern. I planted the Beans myself, when I was a little boy. My brother and I grew up in the TowaShroom Forest and used to amuse ourselves swimming in Foldoron Lake. That’s when we discovered the GreenShaft in the floor of the lake that led to my future home. Later I discovered a dying Beanstalk deep in the TowaShroom Forest and harvested the last of its beans. I planted them here, and brought down a yearling Mound to tend them. Oh, we have grown old together, haven’t we, Maloko?” This latter remark he addresses to the hoary Mound, which blinks at him with myopic complacence.
“You understand, Jack, this is where I keep all my treasure. All the seeds I have so carefully bred, I store in the chests Maloko rests his woody old bones upon. And my firstlings, my baby Beanstalks, are about to bear their fruit. So you see I am quite at your mercy. There is treasure aplenty in those chests – what you would call treasure anyway – and you may take what you wish, and a pouch of Magic Beans as well. Only leave me my seeds, my life’s work, and leave my dearest children unharmed. Old Maloko there wouldn’t harm you if he could, and the Golems obey no instinct but to keep intruders away. Will you have mercy, warrior?”
Suddenly Jack remembers another choice he was offered not too many days past – a dark labyrinth, a bull’s horn. “What power do you serve, Druid?” he asks.
The Druid shrugs marginally as if the answer should be obvious. “Malkat, the Green Lady.”
At this Jack knows his instinct is true. He sheathes his sword and lets the heat of the Fire Flower bleed from him. “What fools we mortals are,” he murmurs, and looks away from the beaten old man who stands beside him.
The Druid straightens, relieved to see that the fire magic no longer threatens his creations, and turns to the Shambling Mound. “Up, up, Maloko. Show us the treasure you call your bed.”