“So there are giant mushrooms living under our library?”
“Yep! They’re great!” Cyd enthuses. “And I think they can read thoughts!” She pauses, considering. “Or at least, other people can read theirs.”
“So there are giant, telepathic mushrooms living under our library?”
“Fungi, really. I think. Ooh!” Cyd’s eyes sparkle as another factoid occurs to her. “They were the ones controlling the zombies all this time, by the way.”
“Giant, telepathic, undead-animating fungi,” Brem mutters, adding this to his mental list. He takes a deep breath. “And how would they feel about restoring our access to our books?”
“They like reading them too, but I think they’d be happy to share. Come on down and say hello!”
Brem hesitates at the entrance to the crypt, peering warily into the darkness. Seeing no sign of the zombies that have plagued the place for the best part of a month, he climbs down.
“They’re at the back,” Cyd says, “through a big hole in the floor. I can help you down—it only hurts if you fall. There’s one REALLY big one, maybe twice as tall as me, who looks like the leader, but there are dozens of smaller ones! It’s amazing! Also, don’t tell people about them if you can avoid it.”
Brem has been nodding quietly in response to Cyd’s chatter, but this last point brings him up short. “Wait. There’s a hole in our crypt?”
Cyd flaps a hand. “Never mind—it’s not important.”
“It sounds rather important to me!”
They have reached the hole in question by this time, a yawning, jagged-edged window into a faintly luminescent space below. Cyd gestures to it. “See? Not important!”
Brem says a quick prayer to Chauntea before lowering himself through the large hole in the floor, into the dim green light below.
Cyd leans over the hole as he lowers himself, “Oh and also don’t lick them or eat the mushrooms, they make you trip balls.”
Brem is caught by Aleph and finds his feet amongst the rubble of the floor above.
“Why would I…?” He is interrupted by a deep voice in his head.
Yes. Please stop licking our children. They do not like it.
There’s a second, smaller cave just beyond the central chamber in which Brem has landed. As he watches, Minerva stumbles out from the low entrance, mumbling something about tiny mushroom friends and floating spores, and staggers away. Brother Brem watches her leave before turning back to Cyd, unsure of how to respond. Gerard bows apologetically.
“Sorry about her: she is investigative by nature and to our eyes it can be difficult to distinguish between you sentient fungi and the mushrooms you farm for food. No offense intended,” he adds quickly.
No offense is taken. We do not claim to understand your customs.
“No, that wasn’t—”
But we are pleased to see that you are as good as your word. Does this human speak for the temple above?
Nubbins nudges Brem forward and smiles reassuringly. “It’s ok! He releases a fungal dust that lets him talk into your brain, so he must be friendly!”
Brem steps forward awkwardly and addresses the giant fungus.
“Erm, yes. I am from the temple above. It is an…honour?” He casts around helplessly for any indication of what the etiquette is in this situation. Nubbins grins and gives him a cheery wave; Gerard catches his eye and shrugs. Brem continues. “It is an honour to meet you. I am Brem, brother of the Temple of Chauntea.”
We are Myconid.
Brem loses track of the conversation for a moment. “No individual names? How interesting!”
Gerard nods. “I know—they are fascinating creatures! I’ve been making notes. They seem to farm hallucinogenic mushrooms for sustenance, and they release these spores—”
“Oh yes. Sorry. Right,” Brem continues. “I gather that you are responsible for the undead infesting our temple?”
There is no expression in Myconid’s great, grey eyes, but the deep voice sounds apologetic. We were forced to flee our home, many years past. Humanoids attacked us; we killed them to defend ourselves. Now we use our spores to puppet them, and they defend us.
Brem blanches. “You… your spores can animate the dead?”
As you say.
He holds Myconid’s steady gaze, fighting the urge to shudder. “You have no need to defend yourselves against us; we are not your enemies. On the contrary, we’d like to treat with you. We were hoping to regain access to our library, if you’d care to discuss terms?”
Myconid shuffles for a moment, sending more spores across the room.
We have enjoyed the books. They have made our dreams more interesting and some have provided amusement to our young. We would like to continue reading. Above that, we seek refuge and safety. If you can promise us safe harbour where we are, we would willingly share the space above. In return, we can offer knowledge of our own, gathered on our travels and shared between a thousand minds.
Brem’s eyes widen as his enthusiasm overcomes his reservations. “That would be most exciting! I mean, that is to say,” he continues, bowing stiffly, “I think those terms would be acceptable.”
Cyd yawns. “Acceptable terms, sharing the crypt, yadda yadda yadda, job well done, right? Let’s move out—I want to find those fey creatures in the forest and it’s going to be dark soon!”
Aleph nods. He has been standing immobile throughout the exchange between Brem and Myconid, the fires of his eyes dim. “I concur. I am keen to be gone from this place, Cydonie. Whatever has passed between the rest of you and this being, I am not privy to it.”
“Oh, Alf! You can’t hear him?”
“But the spores—”
“Do not affect me, apparently.” The banked fires of the Warforged’s eyes flicker uncertainly. “Perhaps, as a constructed being, I lack the capacity to commune with him.”
“I’m sure that’s not it,” Cyd says kindly. But Aleph does not look convinced.
“Whatever the cause, this is the effect. Let us move on. I, too, would like to investigate the forest before nightfall.”
Nubbins points up at the hole. “How do we get out?”
A coil of rope lands on the top of Nubbins head. He looks up at it. “Oh, never mind. I think the zombies threw down a rope for us!”
Aleph gives Nubbins a boost up. “I believe that was brother Dwali, Nubbins.”
“I don’t know—I’ve seen weirder things happen today.”
Aleph shoots Myconid a last, searching glance. “I suppose that is true.”
As the group emerge from the temple, a middle-aged man with long, dark hair and a blue robe approaches them.
“Governor Nighthill,” he says, extending a hand. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. I was hoping to thank you personally for the assistance you have rendered to our town in its time of need. I hear you have been assisting the temple here, and one of you—” he turns to Aleph “—has wasted no time in helping to build up some barricades along the main roads. I thank you, sir, hope that you will accept this small payment on behalf of a grateful citizenry. I hear you carried the work of ten men.”
Aleph takes the coins but does not pocket them. “I appreciate the gift, Governor, and am happy to have been of service, but I believe these coins could continue to serve Greenest and I am loathe to take them from you in light of your more pressing concerns.”
He places the coins into a donation bowl beside the temple entrance. Cyd winces.
“Some of us have to make a living at this, you know, Alf,” she says reproachfully. “You even worked for those!”
Nubbins watches this exchange in puzzlement. “Why are you leaving those there, Aleph?” he asks.
“The town’s need is greater than our own, Nubbins,” the Warforged explains. “The temple could use this coin to repair the hole in their floor.”
Nubbins’ brow furrows. “But gold would make a terrible floor,” he points out, “and it would be so expensive! Would the mushroom men even like it?”
Governor Nighthill looks confused. “Mushroom men?”
Cyd quickly pushes in front of Nubbins. “Oh, don’t worry about him,” she says, flashing the Governor a charming smile. “He has an overactive imagination. It was great to meet you, Mr Nighthill, but we should really be getting on. This problem you have with the fey won’t resolve itself, after all!”
Governor Nighthill smiles and bows. “Do not let me slow you down! Thank you again for all you have done. And if you need anything,” he adds, “or have any questions with which I can assist, you will be able to find me in the keep.”
“I have a question,” Keothi cuts in. “I seek a mage. He goes by the name Glassstaff. Have you seen him?”
“Alas, I do not know of any mage by that name. My magic advisor, Jardar, may be able to help you further. She has been in my employ this past month, advising me on the Cult of the Dragon.”
Keothi nods and turns to leave. The rest of the party follow, Aleph pausing to shake Nighthill’s hand. “Thank you again, Governor. We will return here as soon as we have established the state of the accord between Greenest and the fey.”
The group set off in the direction of the woods. After they have been walking for an hour, Aleph breaks the silence.
“You could say,” he announces solemnly, “that a floor made of gold would be… flawed.”
No one answers him. Nearby, a cricket chirps.
“That was a joke. A play on words, I believe. I understand they are amusing.”
After another minute, Nubbins laughs. “Oh! I see! Because it’s a floor!”
Cyd rolls her eyes. “Keep practicing, Alf. You’ll get there eventually.”
“It seems as though I have practised enough for Nubbins—perhaps he understands the joke better?”
“Sure, tin man. Whatever helps you sleep at night.”
“I do not sleep.”
This draws a far louder laugh from everyone, a fact which puzzles the Warforged long after the party has left the town limits and are well on their way to the dark, quiet expanse of the fey wood.
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