Tales of Ayphae is a series of short stories leading up to the events in Ayphae. You can read it before or after you read Ayphae—both books stand alone! It gives backstory information on three crucial characters and provides you with a timeline leading up to Ayphae. I’d also like to think it’s an entertaining read.
You know, I’ve never really cared for introductions, so…enjoy!
The watchman stopped chewing his marvel croissant. Was that—?
Ears perked, he slowly tucked the marvel croissant in his fanny pack. It was coming from deeper in the forest…
It sounded just like a drum…and if it was…
Alarm. Where was the alarm flower? He dashed through the forest, twigs snapping beneath his feet. Seven trees over from the matchstick fungi…
He saw the matchstick fungi… Running beside the trees, he scanned roots for an alarm flower—
Boom! A massive mushroom hopped into his path. He skidded to a stop. It towered over him, glaring with empty white eyes.
He froze. That upside-down red cap, shaped like a drum…those stems that split at the base to form clubbed legs…and right where the stem and upside-down cap met, thorns protruded—like someone had taken the cap and stem apart and put a spiky ball of thorns between them. Its eyes, pupil-less windows into white space, appeared just above the ball of thorns, still well below the cap’s rim. Glaring at him.
No doubt about it. This was a beat mushroom.
“Drums!” He stumbled back, nearly tripping over a root. “We have a drum!”
He needed to trigger the alarm…where was it? There—just beyond the drum. If he could get around it—
The drum raised its clubbed stem toward him. It was going to stomp-kick him! He dodged as its leg hit the ground—boom!—and sprinted around it. The alarm mushroom was just within reach—
He tripped over a root, rolling to a stop by the alarm. He squeezed its bud—and it burst into bloom, petals throbbing orange. Far from here, across the tranquil farms, the alarm would sound.
He glanced back. The drum was bounding toward him! Springing to his feet, he circled around a tree. No one could outrun beat mushrooms…but maybe this tree would stop it…
The tree cracked and fell over with the drum’s stomp-kick. He leapt aside as it hit the ground. Now the drum towered over him, glaring.
“I…please don’t hurt me…” His palms were shaking as he backed into another tree. Closing his eyes, he sank to his knees. There was nowhere to hide…
Boom, boom-boom, boom-boom boom.
He was supposed to match the beat. But he had no sense of rhythm…
Boom, boom-boom, boom-boom boom!
“Please,” he whispered, clasping his hands, “I can’t match that beat…”
More booms in the distance—coming from behind him. What?
He opened his eyes as the drum bounded off. Getting to his feet, he started climbing a tree. Shaking hands grasped unsteady branches, and he slipped a little before he finally pulled himself to the top. Gasping for breath, he looked out over the forest.
Oh no. More drums.
All marching in a massive herd—like a sea of lily pads jostling each other, scores of drums migrating. Headed straight for the plantations.
No, no…closing his eyes, he put his knuckle in his teeth. He had to warn the others!
He climbed—or slipped—down the tree, scraping his hands and knees. Scrambling over to the alarm flower, he jabbed its petals four more times. They throbbed orange, and he stepped back. That would do it.
Every farmer in Bloomtier would know—the drums were coming.
A deep bellow erupted across the plantation. Three more bellows followed.
Joe yanked on his coat, sprinting outside. The night air greeted him, nipping at his nose. Two bellows was nothing—six was bad news.
“What’s going on, honey?”
He turned to Marna. “Get the kids and put them in the cellar,” he whispered, straightening his coat. “We have drums.”
“A herd.” He studied his lunar plantation. Caps of what looked like blue sky grew from the ground—lunar mushrooms. A little fog tonight…
“Will you need any help?”
“You’re the last line of defense,” Joe said, pulling out his pipe, “so we need you guarding the kids.”
Marna shoved the pipe from his face. “You already smoked it today. You’re trying to quit, remember?”
“I know.” He tucked it inside his jacket. “You’re always looking out for me.”
“That’s right.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll guard the kids, honey.”
He nodded as she ran into their giant mushroom of a house—an obosa.
“Joe! It’s good you’re up!”
He turned as a farmer ran up to him. “Where are we with puffers, Ebert?”
“We’ve got a fair batch of frost puffers,” he said, holding up a bag, “so I hope you have your slingshot.”
Joe opened his coat to reveal a slingshot. “For what good it will do.”
“Jerry has the firebuds.” He tapped a slingshot on his belt. “And these will slow them down.”
“Barely,” Joe murmured, shaking his head. “How long do we have?”
“The earphone’s down, so we’re not sure.” Ebert looked into the forest past the fences lining Joe’s plantation. “We know from the alarm they’re headed for this plantation…”
“Sure are.” Joe rolled his shoulders. “Where are the pathfinders when you need them.”
“Joe! Ebert!” Joe turned to see Pa limping toward them, cane in hand. “What’re you doing standing there like a bunch of misties? You don’t know where the drums will come from!” He waved furiously. “Fan out! Fan out!”
“Pa, this isn’t our first time.” Joe was an adult now. Married, kids…but some things never changed. “You should be in bed asleep, like most everyone else.”
“Not with that racket.” Pa waved his cane. “Those alarms could wake the dead.”
“Joe! I have the flyers!” Jerry came sprinting in with a large backpack, a teenager trailing him. “My son Harvey brought the firebuds.”
Harvey held up a large bag, trying to smile. “As requested.”
“You’re not a bellhop.” Jerry took the bag from him, scowling. Just like his Pa, Garvel. “Let’s get set up.”
“Still finding the spinners,” Jerry answered, unwinding basidiothread from his belt. “He’ll be here soon enough.”
“Alright everyone! We need basidiothread, alter spores, puffers—”
“Pa!” Joe put a hand on his shoulder. “I can do this. Let me do this.”
Pa narrowed his eyes at him. “I suppose it is your job now,” he mumbled, nodding. As he ambled into the obosa, he added, “Don’t let me down.”
Joe cleared his throat. That went about as well as expected. “Let’s get some basidiothread, puffers, alter spores—Jerry and Harvey, I’ll help you out with the flyers—when Torren gets here, Ebert, I want you to get the spinners ready—”
They stopped. That sounded distant…but if they could hear it already…
“Okay, we need to hurry.” Joe began unwinding basidiothread from around his belt. “I don’t know how, but they moved faster than expected—or the watchman didn’t catch them until they were closer to us than he was—”
“Move! Move!” Jerry motioned furiously, spit flying from his mouth. “You heard Joe! Move your stems!”
Farmers began undoing latches, opening compartments, pulling out vials, unwinding basidiothread from their belts, hammering pegs into the ground—everyone was doing something. But Ebert was looking into the forest, ears perked. “You hear that?”
There were a few distant booms. Some drums marched louder than others.
“Yeah. It’s the drums. That’s why we’re working.” Jerry scoffed. “Come on, Ebert.”
“It’s not coming from the west.” Ebert pointed toward the forest. “It’s coming from the northern glade.”
Joe stopped hammering his peg. “They must’ve circled around,” he murmured, scratching his beard. “Good ears, Ebert.”
Ebert’s pointed ears went down—that always happened when he took a compliment. “Part of being a regalite.”
Joe turned to the forest. Definitely the north side. “Alright, let’s go.” He picked up his supplies and jogged toward Ebert’s obosa, farmers in tow. Drums could be tricky.
“Quickly!” They began hammering pegs in the ground, tying basidiothreads around the pegs—“Harvey, put some arm into it!”—dumping puffers into buckets and handing them out, then assigning positions.
“What do you suppose is drawing them?”
“Wet season. Been raining petals and pistons lately. Makes them more restless.”
More booms in the distance. They were coming too fast!
“Joe! Ebert! Jerry!” They turned to see Torren running up to them with a large backpack. “Got the spinners. Sorry it took so long. My old man held me up—tried to come along.”
Joe nodded. “I understand.”
“Let’s get them tied.” Jerry opened the backpack and pulled out a spinning mushroom. It whizzed feebly as he tied some basidiothread to its stem. “How many spinners did you get?”
“Just twelve.” Torren started tying basidiothreads to spinners. “Let’s leave them in the backpack until we’re ready to use them.”
They turned to the forest. That one was too close…
“They’ll be here any minute!” Jerry reached into the other backpack. “We need to get the flyers tied!”
“There’s no time!” Joe pointed at the forest. “Positions! Ebert! Torren! You take the spinners and move over there!”
“Where do I go?”
He glanced at Harvey. “You’re with me and your Pa. We’re handling the flyers.”
He pulled out a small mushroom with feathery frills underneath its cap. A flying mushroom. These things were so finicky. It started trying to take off in his hand, gusting his face. “How many flyers?”
“Just eight,” Jerry answered, tying one with basidiothread. “It should be enough with the spinners.”
A flyer tried to escape the backpack. Joe snatched it and tied it. “Should be.”
Harvey finished tying the last flyer. “Got it.”
“As ready as we’ll ever be,” Jerry said, patting his son’s shoulder. “Now let’s do this.”
More booms in the distance. Joe motioned to Ebert and Torren, who were about twenty meters away. They gave him a thumbs-up, and he nodded. Good to go.
Looking ahead, he ran a hand through his hair. Spores…it’d been years since an entire herd came their way…
So far nothing but forest and fog. The lunar mushrooms twinkled along the acre separating them from the forest. Like pools of blue sky arranged in rows along the dirt.
A breeze stirred Joe’s hair. He licked his lips, narrowing his eyes at the forest.
Pulling out his slingshot, he loaded it with a frost puffer from the bucket. Any second now…
There they were. Slowly emerging through the fog, drum caps gleaming under the moonlight, eyes glowing, thorns glistening—boom. Boom. Boom. Advancing on the plantation, white fence splintering.
“Not yet,” Jerry whispered, aiming his slingshot. “Wait till they’re within range.”
“Okay.” Harvey bit his lip. This was his first time fighting off drums. “What if I hit the lunars instead?”
“They’ll explode,” Jerry explained, adjusting his position. “Which is fine, long as they explode on a drum’s stem. Their goo paralyzes, remember.”
Harvey nodded, swallowing. “I remember.”
“Ready…” Joe stretched back his slingshot, taking aim. “Just a little more…”
Boom. Boom. Boom.
They were halfway through the plantation. He could see their purple upside-down caps clearly…
“Now!” Joe released the puffer. Crunch! It nailed a drum as the other farmers fired, and frost crawled across the drum’s cap. It shook its head—then began charging.
More crunches. The puffers were connecting. Drums were charging, lunar mushrooms exploding around them. Deafening booms filled his ears.
Joe reloaded and fired again. Crunch! Frost spread across another drum’s stem. Lunars exploded under its legs, bright blue goo clinging to them. It stumbled and fell.
“We got one!” Joe whistled. “At least thirty to go!”
Balls of fire flew through the air. Firebuds, courtesy of Ebert and Torren. They bounced off other drums, who only got angrier. About as effective as the frost puffers.
“They’re ruining Ebert’s lunar plantation!”
“Never you mind that, Harvey,” Jerry snapped, firing off frost puffers rapidly. “It’s worth it if it slows them down.”
That was the plan. Joe started aiming for the lunar mushrooms, exploding them as drums would charge by. Blue goo erupted with each shot, tripping up the drums.
“They’re coming too fast!”
He could barely hear Ebert’s words over the din of booms. “Release the flyers!”
A fizzing sound. Harvey and Jerry were uncorking the vials of alter spores. “Now steady,” Jerry said, pulling out the flyers. They started taking off—then jerked back, tethered to a peg he’d hammered in the ground earlier. The basidiothreads were working.
“How do I apply the spores?”
“Like this.” Joe dropped his slingshot and pulled out his own vial. Popping the cork with his thumb, he snatched a tethered flyer. He flipped it upside-down—then dumped a healthy load of spores on it. “Now let it go and duck!”
Screeching static filled the air. Bolts of electricity shot from flyer to flyer, like a connect-the-dots puzzle made of electricity. The flying mushrooms jerked and twitched, panicking.
“Alright, I’ll take this peg!” Joe yanked his peg from the ground, and the four flyers connected to it jerked him ahead. He gripped the peg like it was the handle of a kite, feet skidding through the dirt. “Easy, easy flyers.”
“Harvey, keep firing puffers,” Jerry said, jerking his own peg out of the dirt. The four flyers began pulling him forward, but he dug in with his feet. “Ready?”
“Let’s go.” Joe sprinted into the plantation, avoiding lunars. Jerry ran beside him so their flyers would form an electric fence—just enough to shock the drums. The keys on their basidiothreads were working—Joe didn’t even feel a tingle.
Bzzt! They ran between a drum, electricity streaking through it. It twitched—then started stomping after them. They shifted directions, zapping more drums. Weaving between the herd, they dodged as drums tackled each other.
“Not bad!” Joe broke through the back of the herd, circling around with Jerry. “Ready for round two?”
“Sure!” Jerry hopped away as a drum stomped the ground—boom! “If we can keep this up, they might—”
A drum stomped-kicked him in the chest. He skidded through the dirt, dropping his flyer peg. The flyers tried to escape but got caught on their strings, which were wound around another drum. It panicked and began stampeding across the plantation, shaking its cap.
Spores. It was heading right for—
“Harvey!” Joe ran for the boy, but it was too late. The drum stomped kicked as Harvey dodged—the frost puffer bucket went flying—and the drum stomped again. Joe could hear the crunch as Harvey’s leg shattered.
“No!” Firebuds pelted the flyers over the drum. The flyers descended on the drum, trying to escape the barrage. It jerked and twitched with static electricity, stumbling back—then it fell over as Joe reached it. “Spinners! We need the spinners!”
More fizzing as Ebert and Torren dumped alter spores on the spinners. Static electricity screeched as spinners whizzed across the plantation, dodging lunars. Scent spores were fired ahead of them so they would go where the farmers wanted—and strings connected them so they would form a trip line.
“Joe…” Harvey was gasping for breath, clutching his leg. “I’m sorry…”
“Don’t apologize,” Joe gasped, standing over Harvey. The flyers jerked his peg, and his moccashoes slid in the dirt. “Can you move?”
“Yeah…” He grimaced. “What about Pa? He’s still out there.”
“Jerry’s out for now.” Joe turned and scanned the plantation. “But he got kicked behind the herd, so they won’t stomp on him.”
He could see Jerry’s body flat against the dirt, lunar goo sticking to his shoulders. Probably a few broken ribs and temporary paralysis from the lunars. “Your Pa will recover before you do.”
“What do I—”
“Go inside.” Joe jerked his chin toward Ebert’s obosa. “The basement. Crawl if you need to.” He bit his lip as the flyers jerked him. “You’ve done all you can do.”
“He’ll be fine!” Joe needed to get back in the fray. “Now go!”
Joe turned and ran into the plantation. The spinners were tripping drums, electricity streaking between them. The booms were getting fiercer as drums stomped harder. A spinner got stomped, squashed into pulp.
And now the drums were really angry. The fifteen or so still standing gathered together and charged for Ebert and Torren. The farmers fired scent spores at the drums, and spinners whizzed back. The drums began tripping.
But it wasn’t enough. Joe picked up speed.
Loud booms behind him. Joe spun to see a large herd of red drums emerging from the forest behind his plantation. What?
“Joe! There’s more!”
How could this be? A second alarm never went off—
“Joe!” Ebert and Torren dove aside as a drum charged between them. The other drums skidded to a halt as the newcomers stomped louder.
The first group had purple caps…the second had red caps…
His eyes went wide. “They’re going to fight!”
The drums charged, lunar mushrooms exploding beneath their stems. They clashed at the dividing line between plantations, bashing caps fiercely. Red drums fell to the ground as purples stomp-kicked them. But reds attacked in pairs, and other reds tackled the purples immediately. Purple drums were larger—but reds were fiercer.
“We’ve already downed some of the purples!” Ebert ran up to Joe’s side. “And there are way more reds anyway!”
Purple drums were strewn across the plantation on their sides, wriggling furiously to get up. But once a drum fell over, it could stay down for hours before figuring out how to get up. That meant there were only fifteen or so purples against at least thirty or forty reds…
“Send the spinners!” Joe was still clinging to his peg of flyers. “And retrieve the flyers wrapped around the fallen drum by your obosa!”
Ebert complied, running over to the fallen drum. “It’s wrapped pretty good. Can’t take it off without getting shocked.”
“Don’t bother then!”
Torren fired scent spores into the red herd. The electrified spinners whizzed into the melee, tripping reds and purples.
But reds were faster, and now they were stomping spinners into pulp as they bashed caps with purples.
“This is a disaster!” Ebert backed away from the fallen drum as a flyer gusted his face. “Joe, our plantations…”
Joe watched the drum herds bash caps. “I know.”
Joe spun to see a watchman run in from the other side. “Where’ve you been, Gred? Your brother got his leg shattered.”
“I had to circle around the herd,” he gasped, skidding to a stop. “Another herd chased me—”
“There’s another herd?”
“Purples,” he choked, pointing at the forest behind him. “They split into two groups—the first one went south, but this one wandered a little west first.”
Purples did that often. No one knew why. “You mean there’s more?”
“Sure as sprinklers.” He was still gasping for breath. “I see you got most of these purples.”
“What happened with the alarm system?” Joe clenched his fists, waving the peg. “What are all these mold-ridden defense measures for?”
“I couldn’t reach an alarm! There were too many drums!” He sank to his knees. “I’m sorry…” He was whimpering. “I’m so sorry…”
Joe loosened his fists. It wasn’t the boy’s fault. “Help us fire the scent spores,” he ordered, pointing with his free hand. “Torren will give you Ebert’s bucket.”
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Joe looked past Gred—and saw purple drums emerging from the fog laden forest behind him. Stomping slowly, methodically. White eyes glaring as they crossed the plantation’s threshold.
“Joe—Joe, the first group of purples is down.”
Joe barely registered. This group was much bigger. Second by second, purple drums emerged from the fog. There were at least forty…maybe fifty…and they were slowly crossing the plantation. Boom. Boom. Boom.
“Aren’t…” Gred swallowed. “Aren’t purples the most vengeful of the drums?”
Joe plunged his flyer peg into the ground. “Stay here, Gred.” He scanned the plantation and spotted Jerry’s unconscious body. “I’m getting your father out of here.”
“But…but the plantations…”
“The plantations are doomed,” Joe said, looking off toward the red herd. The reds were eyeing the purples, glowing eyes narrowing. They stomped fiercely—boom-boom boom!—and bounded over fallen purples, taunting the reinforcements.
“We need to get everyone off the plantation now!” Joe pointed at Ebert’s obosa. “Into the basement!”
“What about you?”
“I’m getting Jerry! Into the basement now!”
He sprinted for Jerry without looking back. They would obey. The drums were still stomping, working up fervor. Eyeing each other, taunting each other. He reached Jerry and hoisted him over his shoulders. The sky blue goo on Jerry seeped onto Joe a little—sharp tingles shot down his spine. He turned back to the obosa—
The herds charged.
He was between both herds—and they were stampeding for each other, booming fiercely. He sprinted for the obosa—they wouldn’t go there if they were focused on each other—and tried not to step on lunars.
The drums collided with Joe in the middle. He leapt past reds and purples, twisting and hopping as stomp-kicks connected and caps bashed. Booms filled his ears. He could barely see what was happening—
Goo from an exploding lunar hit his leg. A feeling like sharp needles hit his muscles, and he felt them seizing up. No! He limp-hopped between drums, swerving to dodge a purple stomp-kick. Just a few more yards—
He tripped, rolling through dirt as he dropped Jerry. Getting to his elbows, he grunted as needles shot up his arm. More goo.
That was odd. He smelled something—
A scent spore. Next to him. He saw Torren standing by the obosa with a slingshot.
Whiz! Spinners shot past his face. He felt electricity course through his body as another spinner hit him. Drums around him were tripping.
“Jerry!” He crawled over to Jerry, grasped his arm, and tugged. Putting his friend back over his shoulders, he gave a mighty roar—and stood. His left leg was numb.
More scent spores erupted by him. Spinners were being squashed now, and Joe took off in a limp-run. Dodging another drum, he broke from the mass and reached Torren.
“I’ll take him,” Torren said, bending over.
“Fine,” Joe gasped, heaving Jerry onto Torren’s shoulders. Then Joe collapsed with a groan. That lunar goo… He couldn’t move his leg anymore…
Torren moved into the obosa, Jerry on his shoulders.
He had to move…Joe scraped himself forward with his unparalyzed arm, his right knee pushing him along. The pegged flyers were battering any drums that came close—and behind him the spinners were doing their job. He only had a few more feet…
There. Made it. Pushing himself up against the doorway, he expelled a breath. “Spores,” he gasped, watching the chaos. “What a mess.”
Now if he could get inside. He felt an arm around his shoulder—then someone pulled him in. The door clicked shut behind him, and he closed his eyes.
He nodded, swallowing. “Yeah,” he gasped, keeping his eyes closed. “Yeah, I think I’m fine.”
“The plantation’s had it.”
A pause. “At least we’re safe.”
He opened his eyes, chest heaving as he caught his breath. “At least.”