He awoke, fingers clutching the soft mattress—a pillow cushioning his head. He sat up. Sunlight was trickling through an oval window at the far wall, revealing a sunrise. Trees were silhouetted in its orange rays.
He looked at himself, covers slipping off his chest. He was wearing a blue tunic. Why would he wear a tunic to sleep?
He jumped out of bed, nausea building in his stomach. Something was wrong. He didn’t know where he was—he didn’t recognize anything. His heart was beating much faster than it should’ve been.
Okay. Gather information. That was a good plan.
He slowed his breathing, holding his hands out to steady himself. Two doorways stood at opposite ends of the room. He checked the one on his right first. He edged up to the frame, then peeked inside.
An empty bathroom.
He stepped in and came to the mirror. A blonde man with pointed ears and blue eyes looked back at him, confusion wrinkling his face. He reached up and fingered his pointed ears, then touched his blue headband. This seemed familiar…it seemed so familiar…
He turned on the faucet. Water streamed out, and he splashed it on his face, letting it drip down his cheeks. He turned off the faucet, hanging his head as droplets pooled on his nose. Somehow this made him feel better—he remembered that. The rest, he was not so sure.
Wait. Somewhere beyond the other doorway, he could hear something.
He perked his ears. Yes…a deep, whistling breath, like an elderly man inhaling through his nose. Rhythmic, like he’d dozed off.
He crept out of the bathroom, bare feet silent on the cold, porous floor. Reaching the other doorway, he nudged it open with a creak.
There. On what looked like a leather couch…something was sitting.
What was it? A tangle of vines covered the creature’s head and chin like hair, complementing its leathery green skin. Robes of fern were draped over it, and a gnarly staff leaned against the coffee table at arm’s reach. Its fingers were like hyacinths, a column of tiny purple buds laced on its lap. Its eyes were closed, its chest heaving and falling with each slow, whistling breath.
What should he do? Why was someone else in this house? Whose house was it?
He stepped out, swallowing loudly. There was a bigger door at the far wall of this room, and a kitchenette beside it. Two more doors beside that. But which way led to the outside?
Maybe he could exit through a window instead. He turned back to the bedroom—
“I see you’re up.”
He gave a start. Spinning to the couch, he saw the creature’s head turn to him. Large amber irises fixed on him—and a smile broke across the creature’s face like cracks along barren ground. “About time.”
His lips parted, but he said nothing.
The creature patted a spot on the couch, beckoning with his head. “Sit down.”
He backed up, hand clutching the doorframe. “Who—who are you?”
The creature continued smiling, tapping its hyacinth fingers against its lap. “The question you should be asking is, who are you?”
What? Reisor’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“Please have a seat.” The creature patted a spot on the couch beside him, his voice smooth and low. “You will not be harmed here.”
A tension at the back of Reisor’s mind loosened. Something about this figure seemed familiar. He’d heard that voice many times…but where?
“Unless you prefer to stand.”
“Um, uh…” He licked his lips. “I um, I guess I could…”
“Stand uncomfortably at the doorway?”
Reisor’s grip on the frame eased. He ran his thumb along the porous frame, considering. He had no real reason to trust or distrust this creature. And what else could he do? He stepped over to the couch warily, eyes darting across the main room. It looked like a very cozy place.
“Much better,” the creature said, smiling more brightly. “Now, I’m sure you have many questions.”
He sat awkwardly, studying the staff. Vines spiraled upwards, flowering at the top.
“I’m L’Hwon.” The creature leaned back, putting an elbow on the couch back. “Nice to meet you.” L’Hwon extended a hand with those hyacinth fingers. “Don’t be afraid.”
Reisor didn’t move. “What are you?”
L’Hwon kept smiling. “Do you know who you are?”
Of course he did. “I’m—”
Wait. He blinked rapidly, looking at his lap. Nothing was coming to his mind. Name. He needed a name.
“You don’t know, do you?”
He nodded, his throat very tight. He felt that nausea again. “No.”
“You are a regalite named Reisor.”
Reisor. Instantly he knew it was true. How? Somehow his name had been unlocked to him with those simple words. The name had flashed through his brain.
“Your sister’s name is Feselea. Your brother’s name is Dane.”
Feselea. Dane. He knew this—or at least he knew this now. “Where am I?”
L’Hwon smiled again, but his eyes were troubled. “You are in Ayphae,” he began, “your new home.”
This was his home? Reisor stared at the wall, trying to remember. What had his previous home looked like?
He heard a whistling breath and turned back to L’Hwon. The creature was running a finger over his mouth in thought, studying Reisor with narrowed eyes. “I think,” he began, leaning in, “you would make an excellent caterer.”
Caterer? That sounded familiar. “Someone who cooks?”
L’Hwon did not answer, amber eyes glowing as he studied him. “Yes, yes,” he murmured, stroking his beard, “you’ll enjoy all the combinations…”
Was L’Hwon assigning him a job? “You think I should be a caterer?”
L’Hwon gave a small cough, lowering his hand. “For now, Reisor.” He hesitated—then nodded and repeated, “For now.”
“And your job…?”
L’Hwon took another deep, whistling breath through his nose. “I am the Sage of Ayphae.”
Reisor narrowed his eyes, leaning forward. “What’s a sage?”
“Someone whose power is limited to the realm he protects,” L’Hwon answered, raising a finger. “I protect Ayphae—so I have power in Ayphae.” His eyebrows—lines of moss—rose slightly. “To protect it from outsiders only. Understand?”
Protect it from outsiders… “Sort of.”
L’Hwon sighed, stroking the vines of his beard. “You will one day.”
One day? “What do you mean?”
A musical twang in the distance. Reisor’s eyes darted to the window, but L’Hwon ignored the noise.
“Reisor, the house we are in is called an obosa. It is a living part of Ayphae, like everything else here—and you must treat it well.” L’Hwon hesitated. “I am entrusting this particular obosa, as well as your siblings, to your care.”
Obosas? Living? Siblings? Reisor opened his mouth—
“There will come a day,” L’Hwon continued, leaning in, “when your life will become much more difficult. I do not know how this will happen, but it will happen. You are too unique an individual to remain hidden forever.”
Another musical twang. It seemed to be closer than the last—but still L’Hwon ignored it.
“In those days your memory will begin awakening. You will not see me again until that time has come.”
His memory—“But wait. How did I lose my memory? Why am I here? Why—”
L’Hwon raised his finger. “No further questions. What I know I cannot tell.”
“What!” Reisor raised his hands, outstretched fingers trembling. “Why not?”
“It is too much for you.” L’Hwon put his hand on Reisor’s shoulder. “Tell your siblings who you are and who they are. Fulfill your responsibilities to care for them. Catering will work.”
A loud twang jolted him from his seat. He spun and, now that he was paying more attention, noticed two ultra-thin cords stretching from floor to ceiling. They vibrated hard, their twang still buzzing in his ears.
“Ah yes, I should warn you about the tonal cords.” L’Hwon reached for his staff, grunting as he stood. “Every obosa has one. They will go off at the same time every morning—whether you and your siblings appreciate their vigilance or not.”
The sage was leaving? “Wait! I need to know!”
“Know what?” L’Hwon gave him a mildly amused smile. “What particularly bothers you? That you have no idea who you are? What you’re doing here?”
Reisor licked his lips. “Th—that! Any of that!”
L’Hwon studied him, amber eyes glowing. A soft sigh escaped his lips. “If only I could tell you. But there is nothing I can say, Reisor.”
Reisor spread his hands. “Nothing? Could you at least—” his eyes darted around the room, as if they could help him find the words, “—at least tell me why I’m here!”
“You’re here because your parents wanted a perfect life for you. Ayphae was their chosen destination.”
“And where are they now?”
L’Hwon gave him what looked like a sad smile. “I know this is truly disorienting. But there is nothing more that can be done for you.” He turned to the big door, letting his staff tap the floor ahead of him. “Make a life for yourself here.”
Reisor stood in shock, watching L’Hwon open the door. “That’s it then?”
“Goodbye, Reisor. May you live the life your parents always wished for you.” L’Hwon exited onto the grass outside, yellow dots swirling around him. “Until the time comes for your destiny to begin its fulfillment.”
“Wait!” Reisor knew it was no use—but he lunged toward L’Hwon, hands outstretched. “Don’t go!”
Yellow lights covered L’Hwon as Reisor burst from the doorway, cold grass crunching under his bare feet. The lights scattered—and L’Hwon was gone. Reisor scanned the clearing, pulse pounding in his temple. Where had the sage gone? “L’Hwon!”
No reply. Another twang in the distance.
He turned back to his house—and only then did he notice.
His whole house was a mushroom. A giant mushroom with windows and doors.
He turned to survey the clearing, lips parted. A small meadow—stream on one side, forest on the other. In the growing light, he could just make out mist rising from the river. Little yellow lights danced along the bank, zooming along like fireflies. Trickling water mingled with the chirping of birds and crickets—but otherwise the world was silent.
“What’s all the shouting about?”
A male voice—from inside the obosa! Would that be Dane? Reisor ran back inside, skidding to a stop as two younger—regalites, L’Hwon had said? If Reisor was one, so were they—emerged from their rooms. The girl had long red hair and brown eyes, which closed as she yawned. “What’s going on?”
“I um, I—” Reisor needed to regain control. He swallowed, putting his arms flat against his sides. “Dane and Feselea.”
They looked at him, nonplussed. Then Reisor pointed at the boy. “Dane.”
His brow furrowed—but he nodded, ruffling his mahogany hair. “Yeah. How’d you know?”
“I’m Reisor. Your brother.”
Dane’s jaw dropped. “Oh—oh yeah. I knew that.”
“Reisor?” Feselea narrowed her eyes, her lips moving silently. She was probably trying to remember her own name. “I—”
“Feselea.” Reisor pointed at her. “You’re Feselea. My sister.”
She lifted a finger to her lips, tilting her head. “Hm…yeah. I am.” She looked as clueless as he felt. “What are we doing here?”
“I’m hungry.” Dane looked past Reisor, and his eyes widened. “Whoa! What’s out there?”
Too late. Dane ran past Reisor.
“Is that a stove?” Feselea pointed toward the kitchenette, where something sort of like a stove sat. It was circular, like a fat mushroom with an upside-down cap. “It’s very unusual.”
Reisor made up his mind. “I’m going to make you both breakfast,” he said, strolling over to the kitchenette. “You just stay here—”
“But what about Dane?”
“Um…” Reisor stopped, resting his hand on the counter. “Go bring him in.”
At least she was listening to him. Reisor approached the stove, wondering how he could get it to work. It had some dials on it—some of them were shaped like mushrooms—and he wasn’t sure if just spinning them around was a wise idea. He could light something on fire.
He rubbed his chin. The stove grills themselves were odd too. Beneath each sat puffers of some kind. Did they spout flames?
Reisor reached out for one dial—then shook his head, closing his eyes. How was he supposed to do this? How was he supposed to do anything?
He balled his fists, gritting his teeth. “Come on!” Why had this happened to them? Did they deserve it somehow?
He let out his breath, looking at the ceiling. Had to try, right? He gingerly turned a dial—tiny flames sprouted from the puffers beneath the nearest grill, and he let his shoulders relax. Easy enough.
He glanced over his shoulder, where the door still hung open. Now to provide for his siblings.
Grass crunched beneath Feselea’s bare feet as she stepped outside. She shivered, rubbing the sleeves of her green turtleneck tunic. It was colder than she’d expected.
Dane was exploring the riverbank maybe ten yards ahead of her. Mist seemed to be rising from the stream, twinkling lavender in the rising sun’s light.
That was odd. When was river mist lavender?
She took a few steps forward—and waist-high mushrooms glowed beside her. Pure white mushrooms, with frills hanging like fangs from their caps. The frills sparkled as she approached, as if warning her.
Interesting. Feselea touched one with her finger, and it gleamed so bright she had to squint. “So you’re touchy,” she whispered, withdrawing her finger. Its glow faded just a bit.
“Feselea! This stuff is crazy!”
She refocused on Dane. He was blowing on the mist, making it roll and swirl. “You can make it go places!”
Was that safe? Who knew? She shook her head, rolling her eyes. “Dane, Reisor wants us to come in.”
“In a second! This place is so cool!”
It was pretty unique. She walked past the glowing mushrooms, electing to do a little exploration. By the trees a few yards away, a cluster of smaller mushrooms were nestled. They also had frills—but these were spread out like a feather duster. As she approached, they took flight—caps spinning as they gusted her. She flinched, her hair flying in her face.
So some of these mushrooms flew. Interesting.
She pushed strands of hair from her eyes, watching the flying mushrooms retreat over the forest. Only a few stars were left in the dark blue expanse above them, and none of them seemed right to her. Not that she was an expert on constellations—but shouldn’t something here be familiar? After all, her own name had been familiar—after Reisor had reminded her of it. Shouldn’t everything else here be jogging her memory too?
No…Feselea put a finger to her lips. If they’d been moved here, all of this would be new. But who would have done that—and why?
She took a seat beside a tree, and a leaf fell beside her. Plucking it from the grass, she noticed it was bright red. Glancing up, she spotted fall foliage decorating the trees around her. “So it’s autumn,” she whispered, running her thumb along the dry leaf. Still nothing stirred in her mind.
“Feselea, you’ve got to see this!” Dane came running over to her. “Fes—can I call you Fes?”
“Hm. Fes.” It seemed familiar…she tugged at a tangle in her hair, tilting her head. “I guess so.”
“Sweet. Fes, I found some huge mushrooms that put out that weird mist.”
“What?” Feselea got to her feet. That sounded important. “How did you find them?”
“By following the stream. I wanted to know why the river had pink mist, so I checked it out.”
Not bad. Feselea hoped Dane would be a good brother. So far he seemed okay. “Show me.”
“Follow me.” Dane ran along the grass—he was also barefoot—and Feselea followed, keeping her eyes peeled. Nothing but crickets stirred along the meadow as they ran, but those yellow dots were still zooming around. One circled her face as she ran, and she waved it aside.
“Okay. Here.” He stopped beside the bridge, where a group of mushrooms as tall as Feselea grew. Mist poured from beneath their lavender speckled caps, glittering even where the sun wasn’t shining. The mist poured into the river, floating along the water.
“That is neat.” Feselea poked a lavender cap. “What do you think they’re doing that for?”
“Who knows.” Dane punched one, and leapt back as it frothed more mist. “It’s ridiculously cool, though.”
“It is.” She watched the mist flow for a few seconds, shivering as a breeze passed through. “Dane, doesn’t it bug you?”
“That we’re here for no reason, with no memory of who we are.”
“Yeah.” He kicked at a pebble, sending it into the stream. Mist poofed with its splash, rolling away into the brightening blue sky. “But what can I do about it?”
“I don’t know…ask questions?”
“To who?” He pointed around the meadow, which was clearly empty. “We’re alone, Fes. Unless our parents are waiting for us somewhere.”
Was that a possibility? Feselea touched her chin. “If they were, what happened to our memories?”
“I dunno. Can’t do anything about it, though.” He took a seat on the slope of the bank, letting his feet touch the water’s edge. “Hey, that’s kinda cold.”
It would be. She glanced back at the mushroom of a house they lived in, where Reisor was undoubtedly still waiting for them. “Isn’t there anything we can do?”
Dane leaned back, letting his hands support him. “Um…we can explore and stuff.”
Obviously. Feselea took a seat beside him, even though the grass here was a little wet. She brought her knees to her chest, then wrapped her arms around them. “I guess we could do that.”
“Don’t freak out, Fes.” He gave her what seemed like a weak smile. “Someone will figure this out, right?”
Feselea had a sneaking suspicion that she was usually that “someone.” Dane was probably the laid-back one in the family. Still, he had a point—there was really nothing they could do. She tilted her head back, letting out her breath as stars disappeared overhead. “Maybe.”
Dane didn’t seem convinced either. He tossed another pebble into the stream, then mumbled, “I hope our parents find us though.”
Feselea nodded, rocking back and forth. “I hope so too.”
Reisor’s voice, echoing from inside the mushroom house. She figured they had another minute or two before he’d come out—but just in case, she shouted, “Coming soon!”
“I hope he’s not pushy.” Dane squeezed a clump of grass. “I don’t like being bossed around.”
Feselea tucked a strand of hair behind one ear. “M-hm.”
Paprika, garlic salt, pepper…Reisor fumbled through the upper cabinet, looking for ingredients. Was this all they had?
He glanced at a giant flowerbud growing on the floor. It rose to his waist and was as wide as the stove. Above it a sign read “The Fridge.” Maybe that held something?
He tapped it—then leapt back as icy mist poofed out. Its petals unfolded, hissing as more mist crept toward him. Chill bumps rose along his legs.
What was this? It had a multi-tiered, circular set of rotating shelves inside, with the piston serving as a central column—and they were stacked with eggs, milk and other goods! So that was something.
He pulled out a basket of eggs, hoping they were still good. Maybe L’Hwon had stocked the place?
His basket brushed against the piston’s head—and with a shrill hiss the petals closed up. Reisor started as a pale blue mist shot out. The petals twisted shut—and now it was just a flowerbud again.
He set the eggs on the counter, letting out his breath. So far so good. But what came next?
Spices. Did they have spices? He went back to searching the cabinets, just trying to figure out what they had available.
He knocked a jar of brown sugar over—and it smashed against the counter’s edge, glass and sugar scattering across the floor.
Reisor froze, hand outstretched. Why would he do that? Was he usually so clumsy? He didn’t know. He didn’t know anything.
He clutched at the air, gritting his teeth. What was he supposed to do?
Make a life for yourself here.
How? How was he supposed to do that? He had no idea how anything worked. L’Hwon had told him to become a caterer—but what about his siblings? Were they supposed to twiddle their thumbs all day?
He set his hands on the counter, expelling a breath. Maybe the neighbors would know something. Maybe they knew more about him and his siblings. And he could always ask them for help, right?
An image of swords clashing flashed in his brain. He jerked his head back, blinking. What was that?
He squeezed his eyes shut again—there it was. Like a dream replaying in his head. Rain, chainmail, soldiers yelling…and a dark fortress. Definitely nothing he’d seen in Ayphae so far.
Yeah, that’s all he needed—hallucinations. What had happened to him? Had L’Hwon found him and his siblings unconscious in the forest or something and taken them here? What was the deal?
“Argh!” He smashed the stove with his fist, making the pan rattle on the grill. This was so unfair!
Reisor pulled his fist away, noticing a tiny cut on his pinky. Some of the glass shards had made it to the stove. His pinky was stinging just a bit—but he would be fine. His pulse was still pounding in his temples, and he wondered if these outbursts were unusual. Something told him he was usually the calm one.
He closed his eyes, slowing his breathing. Okay. He had to cool it. He could do this. He could be the responsible one in the family. He held out his hands, steadying himself. Just breathe in…breathe out. It was a technique for relaxing. He couldn’t remember where he’d learned it—but the idea that he could remember something was encouraging.
“Reisor! You wouldn’t believe what’s out there!”
Great. Now his siblings were bursting through the door, shouting about some weird mushrooms they’d seen. There would be time for that later. Right now he was focusing on making food. “Guys, could you just wait for a second? I need to make these eggs.”
“Eggs? I don’t—wait.” Dane put a fist to his mouth, thinking. “Do I like eggs? I don’t remember.”
“Seems like they’d be neat to try out.” Feselea glanced at the floor by Reisor, where shards of glass glittered in the dim morning light. “That’s unfortunate.”
Reisor bit his lip. “Yeah.”
“Need help cleaning it up?” Dane ran over to the kitchenette, then flinched. “Oo! Man. Forgot I had no shoes.”
Reisor ran a hand through his hair. “M-hm. We forgot everything.”
“Yep. But I’m good. Just a small cut.”
Feselea pointed at a slatted door Reisor hadn’t noticed. “Maybe there are shoes in the closet?”
This was a circus. Reisor needed to get things under control. “Okay. Guys—nobody move until I clean this up. Understood?”
Feselea glanced at his feet. “But you have bare feet too. And we don’t know where a broom is.”
That was true. “Okay, then find a broom. And Dane—” Reisor sighed. “Put some water on that cut—or something. Maybe there’s a bandage.”
“It’ll be fine.”
“No. You—just put a bandage on it.”
“Why?” Dane put his fists on his hips. “Don’t tell us what to do.”
“I’m in charge of you.”
“Says—” of course. They didn’t know about L’Hwon. Reisor licked his lips, glancing at the ceiling. “Okay, sit down. I need to tell you something.”
“About ourselves?” Feselea took a seat on the couch immediately, hands clasped on her lap. “Go ahead.”
Dane looked between them. His shoulders relaxed, and he strode over to the couch. “Fine.”
Reisor inhaled deeply—then began to tell them about the curious sage who had refused to even tell him their last name.
“So he just left then? That’s rude.”
“Yeah, Dane. It’s rude.” Reisor looked very stressed. Dane couldn’t blame him, really. His brother was now in charge of two people, and had no idea how to do anything. “At least you can cook, right?”
“Yes. Yes, I can cook.” Reisor bit his lip, eyes wandering toward the closet. “L’Hwon seemed to think I would make a good caterer.”
“What’s a caterer? Someone who makes food for a living, right?”
Reisor nodded. “Yeah. That’s a caterer.”
This was all pretty confusing. Dane would let it bounce around in his head for a bit. “So what do we do?”
“I know.” Feselea tapped her lips, then pointed at Reisor. “We can help him.”
That didn’t sound very exciting. Dane crossed his arms. “Yeah right.”
“Well, we’ve got nothing better to do.”
“We could explore.”
“No.” Reisor shook his head, making a barring motion with one hand. “We don’t know what’s out there. Exploration is absolutely out of the question.”
“So we’re just supposed to sit here?” Dane cocked his head. “Good luck, bro.”
Reisor sighed, rubbing his forehead with one hand. “You want some freedom, don’t you.”
Reisor shook his head, looking up at the ceiling. “Fine. You get to do some wandering. But never alone, okay? Maybe you and Feselea can explore together.”
“Sounds good.” Feselea gave a weak smile. “I mean, we need to know what’s out there, right?”
“Exactly!” Dane was liking this more and more. “We’ll go on scouting missions!”
“Yes.” Reisor looked between them, and Dane could tell he was regretting this. “Yes, you can do that.”
“Can we do one today?” Feselea clasped her hands, leaning forward. “Please?”
“Sure.” Reisor turned back to the stove, shaking his head. “Why not. This is a good time to explore our new world.”
“Yup.” Dane hopped up from the couch, moving to the closet. “Hope there’s a broom in here.”