Salutations, deep dwellers! And a mighty hello again to the surface folk as well.

     Considering that we’re again talking about the land far under our feet, I assume these storytimes may draw the interest of our neighbors who dwell below. Whether any new readers are deep gnomes, derro, mind flayers, duergar, or something more unimaginable, consider yourselves welcome as you read this intriguing tale.

     I was in hot pursuit of my stolen treasure but had come to a small impasse. A huge cavern, dominated by an unimaginable host of mushrooms and mushroom-people barred my way, and I had swallowed my pride for just a moment as I realized that asking for directions would behoove me. Polymorphing into the shape of one of these fungus folk, I attempted to ask them for directions, only to be met with blank, beady-eyed stares. Quickly I retreated, realizing the need for a quick reassessment of the situation.

     I focused on the staff, pinpointing it a few miles through the stones, still traveling steadily away. As I focused, though, I could swear it seemed to be finally slowing down. It was still moving, but only in the same area. Maybe the thief had arrived at its lair and was stashing my staff somewhere supposedly hidden, with no idea what a dragon was in hot pursuit! The image of me bursting into the thief’s den, flames pouring from my mouth as I devoured the terrified burglar gifted me with a renewed sense of resolve. I had to catch up and quickly!

     These mushroom folk didn’t seem to be of any help. They didn’t even respond to my pleasant requests for directions! I pondered just eating them quickly to teach them a lesson on manners, though I’m sure they would taste like moldy feet. In observing them again, however, I noticed something very odd; none of them were speaking verbally to each other! I could tell by their movements and mannerisms that they were communicating somehow, but no noise passed through their lips. In fact, it seemed as though they possessed no mouths at all! Aha! But then how were they conversing? Telepathy? Subtle body language? Moldy feet or no, I knew that in order to find out more about these fungi, I would have to consume one.

     I snuck through the fungus forest, creeping along once again in my giant lizard form until I came upon a tiny, shriveled mushroom man sitting alone on a toadstool. He was playing some sort of small set of moldy looking drums and was so absorbed in his strange music that he did not notice my approach. A nauseatingly whimsical scene to be sure, but one that was quickly interrupted by a giant lizard eating the little thing in a few violent bites. I was correct—it tasted like weeks-old bread and rot, but there were hints of… wisdom? Leadership? Very odd. But the most poignant bit of information that immediately passed into my incredibly intellectual mind was that of how these beings communicated—spores!

     I shifted my form into that of the shriveled one and was immediately hit with a wave of informational spores drifting through the air. Faintly I could “hear” the large mushrooms around me. Many of them were spreading base-level thoughts—more like instinctual feelings—but among this noise were tiny motes of more intelligent spores. They seemed to be drifting from far off, almost like an old echo still bouncing off a cave wall minutes after a goose squawked. I followed these echoes through the forest until my tiny, shriveled mushroom feet came back upon the earlier group of fungus-folk. They were all gathered, excitedly conversing by spraying invisible spores everywhere about some recent goings-on. At the sight of me in my new form, they quickly rushed over.

     “Elder!” one of the larger ones said. “There you are! Did your communication with the Great Moldy One reveal what we should do?”

     Surprisingly, I could very easily interpret what was being said to me through the absorption of this fungus man’s spores. To say it was an odd experience would be putting it lightly. I attempted to respond. Though I could understand what was said easily, I hardly had a clue what spores would mean what, or even how to release them. Regardless, I focused on my response and let out a burst of spores.

     The mushroom folk all took a step back, looking at each other with beady-eyed confusion. After a moment of uncertainty, another one spored again.

     “Umm… sir… my apologies. Maybe Kevin was not clear enough. We aren’t asking anything about the migration of the purple worms. We were wondering if yourinstrumental communication with the Great Mushroom produced any significant results. Also, we must tell you! A STRANGER was just here only moments ago! And the weirdest part? He spoke not but had a wound under his eyes that kept blowing air at us! AIR! What could this mean, elder?!”

     Drat. At this rate, I wouldn’t get my directions and worse yet, my treasure could be lost! I focused my brilliant mind and delved far, far down into this new mushroomy mind. There! Those must be the spores I’m looking for. I released them, attempting to tell them to ignore the newcomer and focus on matters more dire. Quietly, I waited for a response.

     “A staff, elder? You’re asking about a staff passing through here? Yes, you saw it just a few hours ago. Being carried through our home by those evil elves. That was why you went off to communicate with the Moldiest of Funguses, remember? To see what we should do.”

     “Ah… yes. Correct,” I tried to say. Or at least I thought I said. I have no idea what spores I released, but I’m pretty sure I received a few “poor, old elder” looks from some of the mushroom folk in the back of the crowd. Though looking around, I realized that more and more fungus-folk were gathering around to hear the words of their faux elder. Maybe I could use these moldy mortals for more than just directions!

     “Big… mushroom say… we need FIGHT! Elves. Now!” I spored out. At this, the entire crowd reacted with absolute pandemonium. A thousand bits of mushroom messages all met my mind at once, surely the quietest mob outcry in history, as the crowd bellowed out in panic and outrage.

     “FIGHT?! BUT WE ARE PACIFISTS!” one said.

     Surely you must have misinterpreted the Great Mushroom, elder!” said another.

     “How would we even fight? We are so, so soft, and they are the meanest elves to ever live!” said yet another.

     I raised my tiny, spongey arms in silence, and slowly the flood of protesting spores slowed.

     As best I could, I gave a silent rallying speech addressing to what I hoped would to be my new, soft army. If the elves who stole my staff were as mean as these mushrooms said, I wouldn’t mind a few expendable pawns to go before me.

     “Big mushroom say. MUSHROOMS. Need. Go get staff. Or else DIE!! NOW!!!” I cried through my final burst of spores, raising my little arms in as dramatic of a fashion that a little shriveled mushroom man could muster.

     Silently, grim determination spread across the tiny eyes of the fungus folk. Slowly, they all began taking knee after spongey knee, until they were all bowing in reverence to their supposed elder. Then, at once, they all released a well-rehearsed and uniform expulsion of spores that I heard as:

     “If is the will of the Great Mushroom, it is the will of his people.”

And with that, I had an army of no less than two hundred pawns at my back, all headed toward some “mean elves” that apparently dwelled underground. Still in my fungus elder form, I shifted my attention from mushroom translation to focusing on my stolen staff, and to my horror, I couldn’t pinpoint it! The thieves must have sealed it in some dragon-proof container to prevent my reclaiming it! The absolute FOOLS! Little did they know what was coming for them, and fortunately these mushroom men knew exactlywhere the mean elves laired!

     But we will once again need to leave this story for now. I encourage you all, dear readers, to continue to season your delicious minds with knowledge, but maybe not with dried mushrooms… for no one likes a moldy mind! Until next time!