The ambush defeated, the Kamorro elder advises that they should all move on, unsure how long the shambling mounds will stay pacified. (Akos is reluctant to leave; his flame-thrower having had little effect on them, he is curious to try using focused heat to rot them from within.) Achu drags Javelin to his feet, who stumbles along in a daze at first, and they haven’t gone far when they come upon Ellara sitting in the middle of the path. She looks up at them with a dreamy smile. “I'm hiding,” she says. “But the grass, it really understands.”
“Hallucinatory spores,” the Kamorro elder informs them. “She’ll be all right in a few hours.” Mabruk hoists her onto his shoulder, and they continue on their way.
The group hikes on, into the evening. The sun has set beyond a veil of clouds and the light is waning when the elder calls a halt. Mabruk sets down Ellara to find her just sleeping now, and on waking she is lucid once more. “The elder I was chasing”—she reports—“it was panicked, repeating ‘can’t be king, can’t be king,’ over and over like that. What happened?” They explain that she was tripping out, and the elder explains that they have nearly reached the Garden of the King.
“Kings live longer than us, of course, but she has grown older than any before her, because none have been chosen to take her place,” it tells them. “She is so old now that she has grown roots again, like an infant, and cannot move. But she is very wise, and still holds all the power of the Great Fungus. Show her all respect.” The elder, with its attendant workers and vegepygmies, prefers to wait there and let them proceed alone.
The Garden of the King looks much like the Kamorro village fungus-farms, but in its midst a rocky hill rises up out of the jungle. Skirting this, they come at last to the King: a ten-foot-tall pale beige mushroom with a wide cap, rooted in place and swaying to some internal music. It bids them approach in an eerily distant voice (which of course only Kyler, Ellara, and Javelin understand), offering the friendship of the Kamorro if they mean peace and the curses of the Great Fungus if they mean harm.
At first, they question it about trade, but it is rather obsessed by its lack of an heir, saying there will be no trade again if a new King is not found. Seeing it is hung up on this, they finally give in and question it along those lines, learning that 8 days before, the elders had gathered to meld and agree on an heir—which has never failed—but this time each of the elders chosen refused. Nobody know how to handle this, and most returned home, confused and anxious. Now a few roam about, trying to seize other elders and force them to enter the Garden and become the new King.
The humans aren’t eager to get involved in this mess, but Kyler is compelled both by his new-found love of the tribe, and a desire to profit from their alchemical knowledge, and convinces the others it will be worth their while. From the King, they also learn of the three acceptable candidates to be the new King, and via hallucinatory spores receive a map of the island and the location of each “village.”
They head south first, despite night coming on, using Kyler's light to follow the trail. Coming into the southern village around midnight, they are surrounded by some sort of creeping ground cover that surrounds them and herds them toward the natives; there they are shocked to find the olive green elder with red shoulder plates who ambushed them and fled from Ellara that afternoon! Now that they are not protecting another elder, however, it is quite courteous; it explains that it simply has no intention of being exiled from its melding circle to the miserable existence of the Kingship. It cares about the welfare of the Kamorro, but, it says, “I don’t deserve that punishment. Let some lesser elder do the job.”
The party is baffled—this is the first they’ve heard a Kamorro use the term “I.” Even the King used “we” to refer to itself… something is definitely up.
Kyler, however, has one of his occasional bursts of mischievous insight. “What if there was a threat to all the Kamorro? Would you act to protect them?”
“Of course,” is the elder’s answer. “I would die for the Kamorro!”
“Well,” Kyler bluffs, “there is a large group of dangerous humans landing on the island tomorrow night. We have been sent by the King to warn the elders, since she no longer can move about. You must come by the next sundown, and leave the other elders in peace until the threat is past.”
The elder agrees, swearing that while its circle is reduced in number, it will be there with as many shambling mounds as it can command. Shid Na, Ellara, and Kyler form a plan: if they can instigate the pirates anchored to the north of the island, perhaps one of the elders will unthinkingly prove itself to be the natural leader, and can be persuaded to become King. Javelin is dispatched back to the original elder, to bring them north, and the group splits in two, one led by Ellara and the other by Kyler, to persuade as many elders as possible to join forces, focused especially on getting the other two most powerful elders the King mentioned to gather on the northern shore.