The Fates chose the violet mushroom.
Ah, Violet Alert, is it? Feeling insecure? Bah, stop booing. I’m just teasing you. It’s a perfectly logical choice. You’re doing fine so far. A little trusting perhaps, but no one’s died yet-
Well, one person is dead. I’m sure it was a fluke. We should take comfort knowing that humans rarely die that easily. Right?
To some, this might seem like an arbitrary choice, but Ren weighs his options carefully: Yellow Sun has nothing ordinary fire couldn’t provide; if misused Blue Mist could end up being as detrimental to him as it would be to the attacker; which leaves him with Violet Alert. The Eternal Knight is not a coward, but one can never be too cautious. He says as much to the mushroom king, who nods gravely and prompts a group of servants to bring forth the violet mushroom.
“What do I do?” the knight asks.
“Place its stem wherever it most suits you. It will lend its warning glow to the bonded object.”
As instructed, Ren lifts the mushroom and places it on top of his helmet. Instantly, he feels it attach itself to his head, like a net of tiny veins permeating his steel skull — and then the sensation is gone.
Dawn giggles. The mushroom audience ooh’s and bows.
“You are now ready to face the dangers of Ferax,” the mushroom king declares. “Go! May the symbiote serve you well, as you will serve your new king.”
With Compie tucked in his bag, mushrooms filling his armor, and Dawn close at his heels, Ren backtracks to the long corridor where they were ambushed and resumes their journey through the tower cellar.
This time there are green, glowing mushrooms scattered across the ceiling, star-like, casting a soft light around them, making the dank underground maze seem less menacing. Even Dawn doesn’t look frightened anymore. The lantern in her hand doesn’t tremble, and she keeps glancing at the knight’s head, amused.
“It’s the safest place I could think of,” the knight answers, anticipating her question.
“I love it,” is all she says.
Compie makes a high, scoffing sound inside Ren’s bag. “Master Turcifa never made the mistake of humoring those maggoty sponges and that ridiculous king of theirs. And these symbiotes sound more like defunct experiments than powerful ancestors.”
“What’s done is done,” the knight says, the mushroom warriors’ irritated grumbling inside him echoed in his tone of voice. “However, you could tell us more about this tormented soul we’re going to face.”
“There’s not much to say. The spirit waits behind the door at the end of the corridor. Only singing at a certain frequency can put it to sleep and I’m the key to getting past it. Brilliant master Turcifa built the musical mechanism himself. You’ll slot me in the door, I’ll sing to activate the device, the spirit will fall asleep, the door will open, and you’ll continue without me. All I ask is that you’ll come back for me once you’re done.”
“You want us to leave you?” The knight asks, the box’s dismissive tone surprising him.
“It’s the only way. I have done this for my great master Turcifa many times.”
The knight pats the bag Compie is in. “You’re a good box, Compie.”
Before long, they stand facing a door framed in tarnished silver. It doesn’t have a handle or a keyhole. Instead, in its center, there’s a Compie-sized opening surrounded by an intricate silver mechanism.
A shiver runs through the mushrooms inside Ren’s armor as he pulls Compie out of his bag. He hesitates for a moment.
Dawn looks worried as well. “Not to be rude, but I have a bad feeling about this, prince knight sir,” she whispers.
“I’m a loyal box,” Compie says, a whine of hurt in his tone.
Ren agrees that the box’s loyalty for Turcifa can hardly be disputed, but trust and devotion are never given freely. He considers. Compie may not like them, yet surely it craves the death of the monster in the tower as much as they did. For now, their goals align. “So do I,” the Knight answers Dawn. “But I have made a vow to the Mushroom King. And this is our best bet for getting inside the tower and retrieving that oar.” Somehow, he feels that is intrinsically true. As though the hands of fate bring him here.
The Knight faces the door, lifts Compie into the opening and slides it in. The mechanism clasps the box and clicks into place with a satisfying metallic sound.
Dawn clasps the lantern with both hands to stop its violent shaking and holds her head high. Good girl, Ren thinks. Fearful she might be, but she’s not as frail as she looks.
Compie begins singing, its screeching wail augmented by the door itself. The short, wordless melody repeats itself seamlessly, monotonously.
“Oh, are you sure this will put the spirit to sleep?” Dawn whispers. “It seems highly unlikely that anyone could relax in this noise. If anything, I imagine it would be better primed to kill us now than before. Cato used to say, never poke a beehive unless you’re ready to go down along with your enemies. Maybe we should just turn around and-”
The door clicks, its deadbolts retract with a drum-like thump, and its hinges creak as it swings open on pure, impenetrable darkness, filled with Compie’s unnerving song.
“Hold on to me so we aren’t separated,” Ren says. He feels Dawn’s small hand grab onto his. She looks up, her expression determined.
“I’m ready,” she says.
Darkness envelops them on all sides, dampening the lantern light into a small sphere that illuminates only two steps ahead of them. Ren closes the door. He reaches his hand out to find the wall which he then follows as they move onward one slow step at a time. A ninety-degree bend confirms his suspicion that they’re circling a large room, probably the size of a small cathedral hall. So somewhere at its center is this… tormented soul.
His armored feet clang against the tiled floor. When he finds the next bend in the wall, he suppresses a sigh of relief — almost there.
The music stops.
For a hopeful, stupid moment the knight waits, expecting Compie to simply have run out of breath and resume its singing. But Compie is a box. It doesn’t need to breathe. And the music doesn’t resume. Instead, behind them in the distance, the door opens once more. In the dim, green light of the passageway they see Compie jump down onto two thin, long legs extending from its open lid.
“This is for letting my dear master Turcifa die!” It cackles maliciously as it turns on its heel and bolts back the way they came.
“Curses,” the knight growls. He yanks Dawn’s arm and hastens their pace. He can feel the mushrooms inside him stir, bracing for a fight, their tiny spears scraping against the interior of the plates.
Then he hears a snore and a grumble and something large moves. Dawn, running beside him, suppresses a scream and drops the lantern which extinguishes and plunges them into the blackest darkness. He keeps his hold on Dawn’s arm as she bends to retrieve it. He pulls her along, quicker, almost running.
Then Ren can see again: a blue light burns in the center of the room. The light emanates from a black dragon’s eyes and open mouth, illuminating the space between them.
He notices the exit only a short distance away. “Dawn, get to the door. Try opening it,” he commands. “I’ll hold its attention.”
Dawn nods and scrambles away on shaky legs. The dragon, groggy, hasn’t noticed them yet.
“It won’t open!” the girl whispers urgently, pulling at the door.
Not surprised, Ren nods, eyes fixed on the waking beast before him. “Don’t panic. I’ll keep this thing occupied while you open it. Take your time. Use your head.”
“We help!” The mushrooms inside him squeak in a disorganized unison. “We defend Metal Man!”
Every epic tale should have a dragon, don’t you think? This one came a little earlier than I expected, but I suppose that speaks to my excellent choice of location. Ferax is a delightfully perilous place, rife with monsters, magic, and despair. So, now that our hero is in another pickle, what do you think he should do next?
Option 1: The Eternal Knight fights alone. He only needs to hold the dragon off until Dawn opens the door. No one else should get hurt in the meantime.
Option 2: The Eternal Knight tries to sing the same tune Compie was singing. He’s made of metal too, after all. It’s a gamble with high risks and high rewards.
Option 3: The Eternal Knight lets the mushrooms out to fight the monster alongside him. He’ll take any help he can get.
The chapter voting closes every Monday at 8:00 AM WEST (Lisbon, Portugal time).