|When he surfaces again, singed and smoldering from his own fire, he finds himself upon a broad platform confronting a new type of walking plant – a trio of Mandrakes.|
These creatures were developed by Druids from the root of the Mandragore, and enhanced in size and animation until they were able to walk like men. Now the Mandrakes stand as tall as a man and walk on root-legs. They possess the ability to unleash the same unearthly wail as their inanimate cousins, which serves to further disorient Perilous Jack. He hacks with his sword at the tough woody bodies, which even the magic of the Rune Sword is hard-pressed to damage. Only when the creatures are upon him, when it is nearly too late, does he dimly recall the Fire Flower. He burns his way out of the trap and falls again . . .
. . . a thicket of Beanstalks cushions his fall. A slight hill of soft earth gives way to a low depression, the whole covered in Beanstalks. There are few carnivorous or intoxicating blossoms among the Beanstalk trunks, and Jack seeks refuge here for a moment to regain his senses. He hears and smells water ahead, and with visions of cold water to splash on his hot, aching, befuddled head, he sets forward. A massive shape moving among the Beanstalks brings him up short. For an instant he imagines it is a tree lumbering toward him, and when the Beanstalks part a few yards away, he sees that he is not far wrong. It is a Wood Golem, a towering giant with bark skin and splintered teeth.
The Golem sees Jack and lumbers forward, groaning like a toppling tree, stout wooden fingers reaching for him. Jack flings his last fireball at the Golem, but the magic is all but spent. A weak detonation rocks the creature back on its heels, but little more. Instead Jack readies his sword and dances forward, stepping inside the lumbering monster’s reach to slash at its belly.
The sword, for all its magical sharpness, inflicts only a minor wound, slicing away a strip of barkskin and biting into the solid heartwood beneath. A thin line of red sap oozes from the wound. What would have disemboweled a creature of flesh and blood proves little more than a scratch to the Wood Golem.
Perhaps it is better this way, he reflects. If there is a way to get what he wants from the Druid without fighting for it, then so much the better – but killing the Druid’s pet will almost certainly enrage him.
Jack leaps away and takes to the Beanstalks, relying on his superior climbing ability to escape the Wood Golem. In moments he has regained the sanctuary of the earthen shelves, far from the Golem’s reach.
At last Perilous Jack feels a bit of clarity returning to his mind. He has come for Magic Beans, he recalls – not to fight and slay the Druid’s creatures. Below him the gurgle of water sounds and he peers into the darkness to make out what, if any, creatures may guard the pool. Indeed, there is movement on the banks of the water – a young Neochu, an animate water plant that resembles a vegetative crustacean, twines its tendrils near the water verge. Jack will not be drinking from this pool today.
The earthen shelf ahead of him is empty; he makes to leap forward, when suddenly the earth shudders and plants erupt. They are Stinging Asters, perhaps the most dangerous of the walking plants, for every one of their thousand stinging petals is tipped with a deadly poison. The center of the blossom is a gaping maw studded with hundreds of razor fangs. A pair of the horrors have emerged from the soil of the platform, and behind them another Neochu detaches itself from the wall and joins the Stinging Asters on the shelf. This is a perilous trio, indeed – and beyond them, from the soil of a small hill on the floor, he sees another pair of Stinging Asters emerge. There is nowhere safe; at any moment he expects the earth under his feet to begin heaving, disgorging its own horrors.
He strains his eyes in the darkness, searching for the source of this sudden change of events – for surely the plants did not simply appear of their own accord? There, on a shelf projecting from the opposite wall, gapes an open GreenShaft containing a Warp Portal. And in the mouth of the GreenShaft stands the Druid, leaning on a staff of gnarled ash.
Jack considers a moment, meeting the Druid’s eyes, and then puts up his sword. “I come to bargain, not to fight,” he says. The Druid’s eyes narrow.
“You have slain my pets.”
Jack’s hand hovers near the hilt of his sword. “No more than necessary. You don’t exactly have a doorbell at the entrance.”
The Druid’s hand clenches on the shaft of his magic staff, and Jack tenses. “For what do you bargain?” he asks.
“For Magic Beans. An innocent girl languishes in captivity in the castle of a Cloud Giant; I require a Beanstalk to reach her.”
The Druid snorts. “More likely it is the Giant’s treasure which languishes without you to console it.” He pauses and strokes his beard, considering. “Still . . . there is a specific type of radiation I require to cultivate certain types of plants. It is difficult to describe; it is created by an Orb-creature, and exhibits the properties of both light and mist. It has a unique effect upon vegetative growth.”
Suddenly Jack remembers the extraordinary vigor of the carnivorous plants growing in the vicinity of the Pit of the Red Orb. He draws the Red Bead from his pouch.
“Is this what you seek?” the Druid peers into the gloom, and with a gesture of irritation sends his Stinging Asters shuffling away. He leaps across the gap to join Jack on his earthen shelf and examines the Red Bead more closely.
“That is the concentrated source, yes, but I also require a solvent to release the essence. If you had a vial of Universal Solvent, I would gladly trade you a pouch of Magic Beans for the pair.”
“I do not have Universal Solvent,” Jack says.
“A pity,” the Druid says. “Although, I may know of a place where you could obtain one and bring it back to me.”
Perilous Jack frowns, considering his options.