Salutations once again, curious colleagues!

            Apologies to any of you who prefer shorter stories, as this is by far our longest storytime. I was recalling a time when I had pursued an item that had been stolen from me. While traveling through a vast underground network of tunnels in pursuit of it, I convinced an army of mushroom-men to sacrifice themselves for me. Eventually, I found my way into a subterranean elf’s garden disguised as a moldy old mushroom. If any of this sounds unfamiliar, then please refer to the previous storytimes for a refresher!

     There I was, surrounded by odd-looking, gas-filled mushrooms. Communication spores flooded the air, carrying the exclamation of “Intruder! Intruder!” with them. No less than twenty of these perforated fungi surrounded me, and though I knew not what would happen when they expelled their contained gas, I knew it wouldn’t be good. Not that I was scared, mind you. Even in my barrel-sized mushroom man form, I still possessed the might and fortitude of an ancient dragon. Even if these alarm-fungi exploded with the might of a thousand fireballs, I would not be harmed in the least!

     I was mostly worried about this because I did not yet know the location of my staff and was hoping for a bit of stealth to aid me in my search for it. If these mushrooms blew up, the mean elves would surely take note. Thus, I needed to quell the mushroom’s concern over my presence, and as quickly as possible! If you are saying to yourself “Dearest immortal, amazing, and omniscient Grendel, you had justlearned how to communicate with mushroom men in the previous storytime! Surely you can send out your own spores and calm these funguses!” then to you I will say that you are correct, and I had the exact same idea myself. Also, it’s “fungi.”

     As quickly as I could, I found the spore-words to calm these mushrooms, mere seconds before they let out their withheld gasses.

“CALM! I AM FRIEND!” I spored at them, or at least that’s what I meantto say.

Maybe it is the same with mortals. I assume it is, but do ye readers know of the phenomena where you hear something so many times that it essentially infects your own mind, causing you to become an echo of the repeated phrase? This is what happened here. So many base-level spores were filling the air with the thought of “INTRUDER!!” within them that it must have crossed a few mold-stalks in my fungus brain, resulting in me raising my stubby little mushroom arms and shouting spores back a hearty “YES! INTRUDER!!”

      What followed was an ear-piercing expulsion of gas as these odd, purple mushrooms shrieked away every ounce of withheld alarm. Even I, a being nearly immune to any and all physical threats, still had to plug my little ear holes with my spongey nubs. Once the horrible screaming ceased, and the ringing in my ears subsided, I could make out elven voices nearing my position.

     “…could be one of those mushroom men,” one said.

     “I thought we cut them all down. Would they even set off the shriekers?”

     “No clue, but we’d better check it out just in case.”

     I don’t know if it was the leftover ringing in my ears, or the spongey state of my brain at that time, but instead of turning into a moth or mouse and scurrying away I quickly opted for a much worse plan. I could see the elves coming toward the shrieking garden, swords in hand, and was surprised to see they were a pair of twins. Or at least I assumed they were twins.

     To be honest, most mortals of the same species look fairly similar to me. These elves were no exception. With their angry, red-pupiled eyes, white hair, pointed ears, and spiderweb-adorned armor, they looked like two copies of the same irritated elf. Thus, in my haste, I transformed myself into an image of  them and stood quickly at attention, popping up out of the deflated mushrooms in a sort of awkward manner.

     The elves stopped in their tracks, looked at each other with confusion on their sour faces, and turned back to me.

     “Hail and well met, fellow elves!” I stated in the most cordial manner. “I must have fallen in these mushrooms after those fungus men attacked us. Silly me! I think I lost my sword as well. Whoops!”

     The elves simply listened though not a word left their mouths. They took a few cautious steps forward as I continued, still doing an amazing job at imitating them.

     “Anyway, no matter! Though, I heard a rumor that those mushroom men were after a mithril staff that passed through here not long ago. Foolish of them to go after it, those foolish… fools…”

     The elves continued their advance, still not bothering to reply.

     “I… uh… wouldn’t want them to get it, though! That staff belongs to us, right? Surely! Say… speaking of this staff… anyone have a guess on where they’re keeping it? Maybe somewhere dragon proof?”

     I know mortals are easily manipulated by infinitely intelligent beings such as myself, as it appeared as though these grumpy knife-ears were no exception. They looked at each other, gave the faintest of nods in some sort of unspoken agreement, and turned their twin faces back toward me, sheathing their swords.

     “Yes, brother, we know of this staff,” one twin said.

     “And we can show you directly to it, if you’d like,” said the other.

     “Great!” I said, stepping over the deflated mushroom. “Please, lead the way!”

     We walked away from the garden, past the piles of sliced-up mushroom men. Servants were already gathering their neatly chopped bodies for what I assume would be some hearty stew in the coming days (“Fed the hungry” is yet another thing I can add to the list of my benevolent acts!). I followed the elven twins further into the city, past towers, mansions, and markets, with even more spider-themed accents on nearly everyfacet of their architecture. It was at this point that I was surprised to see that the two in front of me were NOT the only twins, but that every single elf, both adult and child appeared to be a copy of the next.

     Though it was then I realized my folly. These elves did not all look the same, but I simply could not tell them apart. Narrowing my eyes as we walked through the city, I finally began to notice slight differences; some elves were tall, short, thin, large, muscular, emaciated… The list goes on. Most of all, the faces of these elves did actually look completely different! I just had never taken the time to notice. Mortal species had never piqued my interest enough to perceive these little details. If they tasted good, that was good enough for me.

     Catching up with my guides, I finally saw that they were, in fact, not twins at all! To my surprise, one of them was missing an eye, and they had completely different hair styles! I had shifted to look like the one who had a mullet, not the one missing an eye, though, so that was something.

     To prevent any suspicion from these elves, I quickly threw my long-fingered hand up to my face, and when I pulled it back down I had polymorphed a thick, white mustache upon my elven lip. There! My disguise was now flawless.

     Eventually we came upon a large, deep pit in the center of the city. Platforms had been suspended over the seemingly bottomless chasm. Turning to me, the one-eyed one said, “So, you want that staff?”

     “Yes, of course! Or… I mean… I’m just curious of where it’s gotten to!” I flashed him a beautiful, mustachioed smile.

     “Well, I believe they took it into the web pits,” he said, pointing into the darkness below.

     “Oh, are you sure? Seems like an odd place to keep a dragon’s treasure.”

     “Yes… brother. See for yourself!” He gestured toward the edge of the platform.

     Though this was certainly odd, I figured I knew very little of these subterranean elves’ society, and if nothing else, I could take a quick peek. I cautiously walked toward the edge, hoping to see at least a glimpse of my stolen treasure. I still could not sense it, but to be sure I took a second to focus, the world around me fading away as I tried to pinpoint where it had gone.

     Moments later, after a swift, traitorous, and disrespectful (and in hindsight, unsurprising) kick from one mulleted elf, I was careening toward the bottom of the fathomless depths, my fate left only to gravity and any quick plan I could come up with in the next few moments!

     Though this story has already gone on much too long, I will have to leave the exciting conclusion for next time! Until then, continue to season your delicious minds with knowledge, lest a nest of spiders take up residence in your skull instead!