“We did it!”
She opened her eyes at the sound of scattering leaves—Dane performed a victory leap—and smiled. “Yes we did.” She released her hair, snapping the flexiband back on her wrist.
She caught her breath. Her eyes darted around the forest as she got to her feet. “Did you hear that?”
Dane was scanning the forest, eyes wide. “Yeah.” He swallowed. “Sounds like murmuring mushrooms.”
Feselea’s ears perked. “It does.”
Caution-danger stayaway murmur-mumble.
Definitely murmuring mushrooms. Feselea swung around, searching the forest.
There they were. Glowing dots like wide eyes staring at them, grouped together in a horde. Murmuring.
She felt Dane back into her. “They’re all around us.”
She glanced over her shoulder and found murmuring mushrooms a couple meters from Dane. And suddenly they were only feet away, on their right and left. Hordes of them, maroon caps reflecting the moon. “Eyes” glaring at them.
They were surrounded.
Go-away don’t-come-near danger mumble-murmur DANGER—
“I don’t think they like us,” Dane whispered. He huddled closer to Feselea, eyes darting back and forth. “They’re nice mushrooms, right?”
Feselea touched his arm, scanning the horde. “Usually.”
Don’t-die flee-runaway FLEE don’t-die—
“They’re getting louder!” Dane tried putting his hands to his ears, but Feselea knew that wouldn’t help. She stepped forward, raising a hand in peace. “We don’t want to hurt you!”
You’ll-die runaway RUNAWAY—
“Please stop!” Feselea screamed, squeezing her eyes shut.
She opened her eyes, looking around warily. The murmuring mushrooms had all turned away from her. The moonlight still glinted off their maroon caps, but the eyes were hidden.
She gave a start. One of the murmuring mushrooms had turned back to her. Swallowing, she stumbled forward. “Why?”
The white eyes seemed to narrow. Leave—for your safety.
Feselea pleaded with her hands. “Why?”
That wasn’t good enough. Feselea shuffled closer to the murmurer, licking her lips. “But where’s the danger?”
Where? The mushroom’s eyes glowed.Everywhere.
That didn’t make sense. “Is it the aiethepa spore?”
It wobbled slightly in a breeze—almost like an irritated twitch. You’re not listening. You have no idea what’s going on.
“Then why don’t you answer my question?”
The question is irrelevant. You need to care.
Stop-talking it’s-a-waste-of-time let’s-go.
Her eyes darted to the other murmuring mushrooms. Some seemed to be leaning toward the one facing her. Their backs were still to her.
Eat me. The murmuring mushroom’s eyes seemed to widen. Now.
Feselea swallowed, trembling fingers reaching for it. If this was the only way to get answers…
“You’re going to eat that? Really?”
Feselea grabbed the edge of the cap before she could change her mind, took a deep breath—and twisted. A crumb-sized piece came off in her hand, fibrous and pliant. There were some indiscernible murmurs among the other mushrooms, but she tried to ignore them.
“Okay,” she whispered, raising it to her mouth with unsteady fingers, “here I go.”
The maroon cap fragment bounced between her teeth, sweet as honey—but with a bitter aftertaste. “Okay,” she began, voice trembling, “I’ve eaten you. Now—”
Tick, tick, tick—
Feselea jumped. Where’d that come from? She peered into the surrounding trees, but the murmuring mushrooms remained silent. Her heart was beating fast now. “What is that?”
“What is what?”
She clapped her hands over her ears—Dane’s voice was thundering in her head, as if he’d eaten a trumpet mushroom. “The ticking. What is that?”
The murmuring mushroom didn’t move. Time running out.
“Fes,” Dane whispered, tapping her shoulder, “Fes, they’re moving.”
Feselea turned to find the murmurers behind them all but buried. Only their maroon caps remained, twisting in the soil as they sped away. “I’ve never seen them move,” she breathed, combing a hand through her hair. “I didn’t even know they could move…” She grabbed Dane’s arm, eyes following the retreating mushrooms. “Like that, I mean. Of course they can twist and turn and—”
“Why are they all heading that direction?”
Feselea followed Dane’s finger. Murmuring mushrooms plowed through the soil, leaving no grooves in their wake. Maybe they were twisting to make the soil recover, or…no, that made no sense. There was probably some scientific explanation no one knew. “I don’t think anyone has ever seen them move like that.”
Dane pulled away, dragging the tips of his feet through the leaves. “Maybe they’re migrating and we got in their way.”
“No.” Feselea didn’t want to raise her voice above a whisper. It was too weird. “They’re not migrating. Not that quickly.”
Dane shrugged. “Maybe they’re desperate.”Feselea swallowed, watching the horde disappear. “They’re fleeing.”
Who do you think the murmuring mushrooms are … and what are they up to?
Don’t know the answer? That’s ok. You’ll discover what they are and what they’re up to when you read Ayphae (Coming out August 15, pre-order you copy now.). But go ahead and give it your best guess. Leave me a note in the comments below and I’ll let you know how close you are.