Of Monsters and Mushrooms
by Lesley Herron
Chapter 4, Galerina
“But think of all the stuff it could carry for us!,” Attila called out from somewhere inside the cockpit of his mech. Aptly named, Trash-bot clamped between scrap piles with difficulty. It’s top heavy form teetered unsteadily with each step. It also kept flinging loose components, important bits of its own wiring, and a few lug nuts in its wake. Attila shifted a lever and the mech came to an abrupt stop before Vel, hinges, and pistons hissing angrily.
“No! No, absolutely not! You can -not- bring this…,” Vel started, his hand motioning angrily at the mechanical monstrosity. “This walking pile of garbage!” Much of the morning had ticked by, slowly, as the two of them argued back and forth over the mech’s traveling worth. And Vel was on his final nerve, his patience running thin. He set down his duffel bag, and pressed his fingers hard against his temples, trying to squash the beginnings of a migraine.
“But I made all these extra defenses!,” Attila whined. He plopped back into the seat of the cockpit. Pouting, he angrily kicked a different lever on the dash, and Trash-Bot flourished a kind of circular saw that had been attached to one of its small raptor-like arms. Except. It wasn’t -really- a saw blade. It was an old decrepit ceiling fan that had shards of metal duct taped to each blade. There were still broken bulbs in the light fixture, and a pull change still hanging from the motor.
Vel watched as the mech gave an unsteady wobble at it’s new lopsided addition. The saw blade caught the top end of his radio antenna and ripped it from the roof of his house. He sidestepped the shower of debris and felt the rush of air as the cable whipped passed him, dangerously close. Certain he wouldn’t be able to rid himself of the growing migraine, he grumbled in frustration, “It doesn’t matter how much weight it can carry, or how -well- you’ve made the defenses. It’s not going to make the journey! Trash-Bot stays here!”
Attila, still pouting, was no longer listening and had disappeared into the lower reaches of the cockpit.
Vel clenched his fists and turned to his brother, who was absentmindedly gazing up at the sky. “You wanna lend me a hand here!?”
Errik blinked a few times before he realized he was being spoken to. He looked down at his brother. There was a slack smile on his face, and he lazily pointed his plaster cast hand at him. “That’s funny.,” Errik replied with a toothy grin, before returning his attention to the sky. It’s amazing what a dose of painkillers could do for your mood.
Vel tugged at his hair in frustration. He grumbled and turned around to face the crumbling mech suit once more.
Attila flung open the door to the cockpit and dropped to the ground. “It won’t be a hassle at all! I promise!” he pleaded, as he fished something out of his boot. “Big T here is all terrain! And look!” He pushed a button on the small remote.
-TRASH-BOT 4000: SENTRY MODE ACTIVATED- The mech lumbered away, aimlessly.
“I gave it an A.I.!!,” Attila added, beaming with unabashed pride.
“Oh for Christ’s sake.,” Vel grunted as he walked over to a hidden manhole cover that had been buried beneath a thick layer of dirt and rust. He dug his mechanical fingers into an exposed opening and wrenched it from the ground. He turned and dropped the manhole cover where it landed at Attila’s feet with a tumultuous metal clang. “It can’t come…,” He pointed at Trash-Bot. “Because it can’t fit!” He pointed into the hole. “I tried to tell you the path to the Under Well is sub-ter-ran-ean!”
“Oh! Well. Why didn’t you say so!?,” Attila scoffed, shoving the remote back into his boot. He bent over to pick up his duffel bag off the ground and narrowly avoided having Vel’s hands around his neck. He straightened up, surprised to see Errik standing before him instead. He shrugged and gave Trash-Bot one last wistful glance. “Do you think he’ll be safe here without me?”
Errik watched as Trash-Bot, who had been harmlessly patrolling between scrap piles before now, suddenly veered off course and collided into Vel’s house. It collapsed in a pile of splintered wood and brick before it up-righted itself. The mech reset it’s patrolling protocol before it lumbered off once more. “I certainly hope not.,” Errik replied.
The tunnel passage was dark and damp, filled with tangles of roots and brambles of moss. The only light, from a small lantern, was barely strong enough to illuminate the pathway more than a few feet. Errik and Attila lagged behind Vel, who didn’t need the dim glow of the lantern to navigate the twists and turns.
“What happened to your brother to make him like that?,” Attila asked, pulling off his hat as the tunnel began to narrow.
“What, cranky?,” Errik asked, stumbling through an overgrown spider web. He made a frantic dance of attempting to rid himself of the invisible strings.
Attila stifled a chuckle. “Oh. Well. I meant all…robot-y. But yeah, I guess cranky too.”
He pulled a pill bottle from his coat pocket and swallowed another pain killer. “Oh well, he’s always been a pain in the ass. But. As far as the cybernetics go, it’s kind of my fault.”
“Kind of.,” Vel called out, his voice thick with sarcasm.
Errik shook his head a little and the two of them fell further behind. “You know a little history of the war, right? How the bombs destroyed pretty much everything? Well, not long before that happened, a gateway appeared. Right in the middle of downtown Harmony Valley.,” Errik began. He pulled off his cracked spectacles to peel off a stray thread of spider web, before continuing. “That’s the name the city had before the mushrooms took over. The Council of Harmony did everything they could to determine the nature of the Gate. But then the Unseen arrived, and they decided the best course of action, to keep their residents safe, was to bomb it and the area around it. But all that did was unleash hell and fire. So much fire. My brother and I were caught up in the chaos, and Vel nearly died. I saved his life, but I guess he doesn’t see it that way.”
“Wait. Did…did you say -before- the war? How old are you guys?,” Attila ask, sweeping a spider from the brim of his hat before tugging it back on.
Errik shuddered at the sight of the spider and popped another painkiller in his mouth. “Uh, thirty? No…No that can’t be right. Three hundred? Eh, there’s definitely a three in there somewhere.” He gave an offhanded shrug.
Attila carefully lifted the bottle of pills from Errik’s coat pocket. “…Uh huh.” He looked at the label on the pill bottle before asking, “ And his mechanical arm? Is he part of the Kubukimono?” He lowered his voice. “Is that why he lives alone? Is he on the run from them?”
“What?,” Errik chuckled. “Pff. No. He ripped that off some dead guy to replace his clunker.” He tried to contain his laughter. “But I can see where you thought that. Those Kabuki guys can be-”
The two of them broke into laughter but stopped abruptly when a rock flew out of the darkness and smacked right into Errik’s forehead. He fell to the ground in shock, unsure of what just happened.
Vel didn’t even avoid either of their looks, unashamed of what he had just done. “ If you two idiots are finished screwing around…” He had stopped in front of a large circular grate, with thick bars forming a crossed pattern. He pushed against it with his mechanical hand, and light poured in, illuminating the passageway with a welcoming glow.
The tunnel, which was little more than an old storm drain, had finally opened up at the bend and disappeared somewhere above them. But as the doorway swung open, Attila saw they were some twenty feet high, looking out of a massive cavern that housed the most incredible city Attila had ever seen. And given all that he -had- seen, that was saying something.
The sheer rock walls had been carved away at intervals to make room for homes and buildings of all sizes and shapes. There were stalactites and stalagmites that looked like they were made from pure diamond, and pools of glowing blue water fed by tiny creeks in the cave walls. The rock buildings faded into narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways. There was even a park made from many types of shining colorful crystals, filled with gleaming white trees and glowing green fruits. The entire city was illuminated by thousands of tiny hanging bulbs strung throughout. They glittered and glistened off every surface, making everything sparkle and twinkle with life.
The streets all led to the city center, where the cobblestones gave way to shining glass tiles, that had been laid out in the shape of a great sun. Most of the intricacies of the mosaic had been hidden beneath the swarms of tents and stalls all crammed together, some spilling into the shadowy alleyways. Vendors filled each hut and were peddling their wares to passersby. Some were selling fruits and vegetables, some selling grains and breads, others were selling fish and other seafood. There were even a few merchants selling the most unlikely of objects, from rugs and keys to cages of albino cave bats.
At the heart of it all rose a massive column of pure white stone, veins of gold and crystal snaking their way throughout its surface. It rose to the domed ceiling as though it was holding up the very world itself. Attila could just make out the stairways and doors carved into its face, guards posted at every entrance. Presumably, the home of whatever leader presided over this subterranean metropolis.
Attila could hardly believe his eyes as he stepped off the ladder and out into the bazaar. He didn’t know where to look first, feeling overwhelmed at the abundance of things to gaze upon. He could tell the novelty of it had worn off from the brothers, as they appeared unimpressed by the bustle of people around them.
The stalls and tents were packed together so tightly, the ceiling of the cavern was no longer visible. Just the lights twinkling above them, and the bright fabric canopies of each vendor’s stall. Attila couldn’t decide which he found more intriguing. The fact that the entire city functioned this deep underground or the myriad of lifeforms. He expected to just see some form of subterranean human, changed from centuries underground. But there were all manner of other types of people pushing through the bar.
A man grumbled angrily as he shoved passed them, two of his four arms heaving large heavy bags of dirt over his shoulder. He had a head shaped like a wolf and digitigrade feet shoved into thick rubber boots. He snapped at Attila for staring and disappeared down an alleyway. Attila stared down the alley after him until the wails of a sullen child distracted him, and he turned to see a small grayish child with a pair of leathery wings and four horns on her head fling herself into her mother’s arms. A woman of pale lavish beauty, with long golden hair and pale blue eyes, stepped in front of him and tried to sell him a jeweled necklace, each stone of which was the size of a golf ball.
“Keep an eye on your wallet.,” Vel growled, snapping at any vendor who dared to approach him.
“This. Place. Is. AMAZING!,” Attila cried out, unable to keep his enjoyment contained any longer. He ran over to a stall that was selling jeweled mirrors and crystal encrusted snails. He moved to a stall selling fruit and looked over the vendor’s wares. They were glowing, like those in the trees. But in addition to fruit, they were also selling tubers and roots. There was even some shriveled fig looking fruits that Attila swore were giant dried ants. “What makes them glow?” Attila lifted a pulsating tomato like fruit and inspected it closer. “This kind of bioluminescence is rare at best, especially in tomatoes!” He lifted it to his nose and recoiled. “Oh God!”
A cranky squat man, who looked remarkably like a smaller, and no less friendly, version of the mushroom gorilla, whipped around and barked, “ Hey, you sniff it you buy it! Five credits, m’friend. Or I’ll have your hands for ashtrays.”
Attila balked at the man’s threat and began digging through the various pockets of his poncho. He pulled out a sock, two aces, and a staple remover. “Uh…”
Vel rolled his eyes, gave an angry snort, and slammed two credits on the table.
“I said five!”
Vel didn’t say anything but met the man’s glare with one of his own. The man relented and accepted the credits. Vel turned to Attila, handing him the glowing tomato. “You’d better eat that.”
Attila chuckled nervously and tucked it into a pocket inside his poncho. “I…uh…I’m still full from breakfast. I’ll save it for later.”
Vel turned to his brother, who had been awfully quiet since they entered the city, to see him staring at himself in the reflective surface of a six-foot quartz crystal near a vendor’s tent. He raised his eyebrows when he saw Errik start giggling. He tapped him lightly on the face. “Hey. Hey! Snap out of it!”
“Huh. Oh. Sorry.,” Errik snorted, shaking his head a little. “I just…I feel like I know this guy from somewhere.” He gestured at the crystal.
“Listen. I have to go find us a rat to get us through the Sewers. Keep an eye on the idiot, and make sure he doesn’t break anything.”
Errik nodded sleepily and joined an over excited Attila at one of the fish vendors. There were tanks of live fish, from glittering minnows to a three-foot cave shark with glowing stripes and forked fins. Attila started explaining, a little too boisterously, about the last time he had caught a fish. For some reason, it involved a two-headed bear and a group of street urchins called the Forty Thieves.
Vel sighed, and shook his head. He pushed his way through crowds and peddlers to turn down one of the less busy streets. He passed darkened doorways and empty shops until he came upon the one he was looking for. It was a short, dilapidated building as if it had been squeezed in between two full-size buildings as an afterthought. The doorway was hidden behind an array of dried roots, gourds, and blanched skulls of small rodents and bats.
He stepped inside and was greeted by a warm, friendly looking hovel. Moth-eaten rugs covered the floor, and faded tapestries were hung to hide the windows and cracks in the walls. Several candles and incense were burning away, giving the room a stuff and overly aromatic feel. It could have been a soothsaying shop with all it’s various skulls and crystals, divining orbs, and decks of cards littering every surface. The only thing that punctured the air of friendliness was the shop’s proprietors, sitting just behind the main counter, looking very interested in Vel.
One was a short squat woman, almost completely buried beneath several shawls. Her square face was beaming up at him with one eye, the other hidden behind a jeweled eye patch. Her black hair was piled into a tight bun on her head, and her smile was toothless. Her hands folded in front of her on the counter top, apparently ready to do business.
The other was a tall man, thin as death himself. He wore a black business suit, with a red tie. White gloved hands were folded before him, just the same as the woman. Save for the giant saber-toothed skull he wore over his face, there wasn’t much out of the ordinary with him. Although, Vel wasn’t sure if the skull was a mask or the man’s actual face. He had never been brave enough to ask but suspected the latter.
“Oh. It’s just you.,” the woman croaked as her smile faded. She rolled her one good eye and hopped down from behind the counter. She scuttled up to Vel, staring up at him.
Vel looked down at the old woman, trying to contain the flicker of delight in his face. She barely reached his knee caps. “Now now, Sadi. There’s no need to be rude.”
Sadi made a gruff mocking noise and swatted at Vel’s shins with a knobbly cane. “I’m trying to run a business here. Go on, get out.”
“Well, funny you should mention that. Because -business- is exactly what I’m here for.”
Sadi raised one of her thick black caterpillar eyebrows.
“I need to hire a rat to get me through the Sewers.”
“The sewers, eh? What are you up to, boy?,” Sadi asked, peering up at him with her scrutinizing gaze.
“Nothing more than an errand for my fool of a brother and the new stray he took in. I need to get up to the Gate, but I need to get through the Sewers in order to do that.”
Sadi stroked her chin. “Tricky business that, being illegal and all.”
“Hence why I’ve come to visit my dear old friend who, shall we say, has a way with the guards.,” Vel replied in a thick cough syrup voice.
“Hah! You’ve been away too long. The Madam got rid of the crooked ones.” Sadi spit on the ground, shifting her weight on her cane. “Made our lives a living hell!”
Vel hesitated a moment, unsure of how to proceed. “So, I assume you found new ones?”
Sadi laughed, and swat at Vel’s shins again. “Of course we did! Everyone has a price. It’s just riskier now. Everyone’s eager to shove a dagger in your back for a reward.” Sadi considered for a moment, before turning back to her companion. “What do you say, Mr. Black?”
The man in the skull mask slowly got up from his seat, towering over the two of them. He walked over to Vel, staring through him with those empty eye sockets. He lifted his fingers in front of Vel’s face and rubbed them together in the unmistakable, universal language for ‘payment’.
Vel smiled. Now it was just down to a matter of price. “What do you want.,” he asked, cautious to give anything away.
Sadi laughed, and swat at Vel again. “You know what I like.” She flashed him a toothless grin and winked.
Vel stifled the shudder of repulsion rippling through him and reached into his pack and pulled out a sleek metal sphere no bigger than a baseball.
Sadi snatched it from his outstretched hands. “Where did you get a military eye drone!?”
Vel shrugged. “You know, I just can’t remember. Certainly, it wasn’t off the charred remains of a Dominium Scout.”
Clearly impressed, Sadi nodded. “Good good. Okay, what else?”
Vel sighed and retrieved a crudely welded cylinder. He spun it around to display a series of small keys and an LCD display on one side. “A signal hacker, of my own design. Simplified interface with a multi-band receiver and over a mile of range.”
Sadi inspected it and seemed satisfied. She nodded, however, and added, “ What else?”
Vel looked at her in exasperation. “What do you mean, ‘what else’? That’s way more than a single rat is worth.”
Sadi grinned at him again. “Like I said, it’s a bigger risk. So…what else?”
Vel thought fast. He hadn’t brought any other tech, and Sadi didn’t take credits. He could offer a favor, but that was never a good idea. His migraine flared up again, pulsating angrily against his skull. And then a satisfied smile crept across his lips. “I have -just- the thing for you. If you remember the way to my home, that is. It’s wandering around out front, fully functioning.”
Sadi’s face lit up like it was Christmas morning. “You mean to tell me-”
“Oh yes. A mech suit. And it comes with a customized A.I. And one hell of a scary defense mechanism. Not sure how you’ll get it down here, but that’s your problem I suppose.”
Nodding furiously, Sadi extended her hand to complete the deal. But before Vel even had the chance to shake her hand in return, Mr. Black slammed his hand down on the counter top, knocking several crystals from their plinths. He began chattering away in a dialect that Vel didn’t understand, berating the old woman with a series of growls, clicks, and whistles until she relented. She sighed and turned back to Vel. “Mr. Black says he would like something shiny.”
“Oh. You thought I forgot, did you?,” Vel replied, grinning up at Mr. Black. He pulled a long fragile thread of gold from his coat pocket. He dropped it into the proprietor’s open hand. It was a lengthy earring with a square of hammered gold attached at the end. Mr. Black nodded happily, and attached it to his ear, another in a long line of shimmering metal earrings.
Sadi clapped her hands together triumphantly. “Good. We’ll have a rat waiting for you at the entrance of the East Sewers. Tell the guard ‘The moon is bright tonight’. He’ll either let you pass or think you’re nuts.”
“Tell your rat if he tries to run, I’ll break off one of his legs and beat him to death with it.,” Vel commented, his metal hand grasping Sadi’s in a firm handshake.
Sadi only laughed again and shooed him from her store before he could offer any more threats. Vel stumbled out into the dark alleyway once more and made his way back to the bustling crowds of the bazaar. He was feeling quite pleased with himself. Sadi might be a bit upset when she found Trash-Bot, but that was a problem for next time.
He scanned through the throngs of people, trying to find his brother. But the only familiar sight he could see was that stupid flat top cowboy hat of Attila’s. He sighed and reluctantly made his way over to the kid. “Where’s Errik?,” Vel grumbled, jabbing him in the side to let him know he was being spoken to.
“Who?,” Attila asked, turning around to see who poked him.
“What do you mean…wait. What’s that?,” Vel asked, nodding at the package Attila was holding.
“It’s a fully calibrated, completely optimized bio-splicer! Complete with owner’s manual!” He flourished, with pride, a small golden contraption with several cybernetic receptor ports, a tissue sampler, a computer interface, and a cylindrical tube with bolts of electricity darting between the ends that nobody had ever really deciphered the purpose of. It was the crowning pinnacle of prewar tech, able to splice multiple incompatible operating systems with cybernetic connector ports.
“What?! No way! I’ve been looking for one of those for a decade! Look at how perfect it is! It’s almost brand new! It even has that weird sparky bit at the end there!”
“I KNOW RIGHT!?”
“Think of all the possibilities! You could wire up the flame Gatling to your mech suit! Or you could even…wait.,” Vel paused, shaking his head as if to remind himself that he was talking to someone he hated. “How…did you pay for this?”
Attila beamed at him. “I traded my tomato for it!”
“Your…tomato?” Vel scratched his head. “And that’s it? I gotta admit, that’s one hell of a deal. That or you lost out on a pretty amazing tomato.”
“Well, the tomato AND Trash-Bot.” Attila slumped a little. “I’ll miss him. But the vendor promised to let me visit, so, you know. Win-win, I guess.”
As Vel felt a little alarm of panic go off in his head, he did the only logical thing. He kept his mouth shut. If word got out that the two of them had promised the same merchandise to multiple people, they would be dead, if lucky, or sold into slavery. Trying to explain was pointless, a deal was a deal down here. No returns. He could only hope that Sadi would assume the other vendor was a criminal, and deal with it herself.
Vel cleared his throat, changing the subject. “Where’s Errik?” Perhaps he asked it a little more aggressively than he wanted to, but you can only hold back so much.
Attila looked around him, behind him, above him, around the lady at the used hat stand, before finally he gripped Vel by the shoulder and spun him around. “Oh! There he is!,” Attila said, pointing at the crowd milling around a scene some thirty feet away.
Errik was right in the middle of the chaos, kicking and fighting as two large armored guards pulled him out from beneath a mess of broken merchandise and ruined tents. The giant mirrored crystal was on its side, crushing its owner.
“It wasn’t my fault! He started it!” Was all Vel could hear his brother screaming, his plaster hand gesturing vigorously at the crystal before the guards dragged him from sight. He sighed heavily and placed his fingers against his temples again. He gathered himself before he turned around to face Attila. “Da-”
“Dammit!,” Attila grumbled, stomping his feet in a huff. Now how were they going to get the bugs home?
This was part three of a piece written by Lesley Herron. It’s part of a crossover fan fiction for a book series in the works by Author J.D. Wiley. It’s her subtle way to encourage him to hurry it up, dammit. She tossed together this piece using a couple of his characters with some of her own.
Lesley Herron would prefer to remain unlisted. If you wish to contact her you can do so through me. Simply leave a comment down below or send me a message.
J.D. Wiley can be found at http://www.BitterBullet.com
If you liked this piece, keep an eye out for the next chapter coming soon!