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Episode 6: The Land of Mush-mush

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“Oh come on, Mike, we are always climbing trees. Why can’t we get up there?!” Steven lamented.

“It’s not as easy as it looks!” Mike said.

They could see something that looked like a nest in the large tree just outside of Steven’s home. Steven thought it would be cool if they could get up there and look inside. Unfortunately, the lowest branches were too high for either of them to jump on to.

“I want to be the first to see what is inside,” Steven whined.

“Well I want to be the first one to see what’s inside,” Mike complained.

“We just both need to get up there at the same time, and that’s that,” Steven declared.

“We could always just get a ladder,” Mike said, shrugging.

“No way, Mike. My dad isn’t home, and if my mom found out that I got the ladder out without asking him, she’d be really mad at me.”

“Well, what do you think we should do?”

Steven looked up at the tree in thought. There wasn’t much else that they could do.

“I’ll have to think about it some more; maybe we can try again tomorrow. I bet it’s almost time for dinner at your house. You always have dinner really early.”

Mike nodded. “Yeah, I’d better get going. If you think of anything call me!”

His friend turned and ran down to the road and turned left to go home.

Steven stood there for just a moment longer before he decided to head inside. He could play outside by himself, but he didn’t really know what to do out there. So he went into his room and closed the door, still wondering how they could both get up there to see the bird nest. At length, he decided to head to Tirran. Maybe Amethyst would have some ideas of how they could do it.

Steven reached under the bed and pulled out the wooden chest. He opened it, ready for the yellow light to pull him into the box. The moment he saw the light he was tugged into it. By now he was getting used to the feeling, though his stomach still lurched just a bit because of how fast he fell.

When he landed on the grass in Tirran, he was on his bum. He looked around and noticed that it was actually getting dark.

“Weird, I’ve never been here when it was night before.”

Steven looked up to see that it wasn’t completely dark, just getting there. The trees were still visible around him, but it was clear that the sun was disappearing above the trees.H e noticed that it was actually pretty challenging to see. He remembered that he still had his fire powers, so he held up his hand and created a fireball.

Seeing the flame still made him a little uncomfortable, but the flickering fire lit up the trees around him, and Steven felt a lot less nervous about being in the dimming forest. He walked toward where Amethyst’s house was, hoping that it wasn’t too late to play.

When he got there, he knocked on the door. It swung open pretty quickly, and he saw Pearl standing there.

“Well hello, Steven. It’s nice to see you today! It’s a little later than normal for you to be here.”

Steven looked around. “Oh, is it too late? What time is it?”

Pearl shook her head. “No it’s not too late, don’t worry about that. It’s end-season, the time of the year when the days are just really short. We only get to see the sun for six or so hours a day, but it’s still early enough. Amethyst will be happy to see you!”

Steven entered their home and saw that Amethyst was reading a book on the couch.

“Oh thank goodness, someone to play with! All of my other friends couldn’t play today, and I was not excited to have to sit and read a book.”

Steven eyed her. “I like reading; I think it’s fun,” he said.

She shrugged. “I do sometimes, but today I just feel like doing something else.”

Steven could understand that.

“Mom, is it ok if Steven and I go exploring in the forest?”

Pearl turned, looking a little worried.

“It is getting dark, dear. Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

Amethyst nodded.

“Yeah! I can even take an orb with me,” Amethyst said.

Steven realized that everything in the room looked kind of pink. He looked up to see brackets near the top of the ceiling holding what looked like glass balls that glowed with pink light. He stared at them in awe.

“How are those working? Is there electricity?” Steven asked.

Amethyst looked at him funny. “Electra-what? What is that?”

Steven shook his head. “It’s the stuff that powers our light bulbs and stuff on earth. If you don’t have electricity how do those work?”

Even as he asked it, he saw Amethyst’s face and shook his head. “Ok, magic, magic yeah. Sorry.”

Amethyst giggled and ran up the stairs. When she came back, she was holding an orb of pink light about the size of her palm.

“We’ll be back later, Mom! We won’t go far.”

Pearl was in the kitchen working on something but she said nothing, she just raised her hand to say ‘ok’, then kept working.

The two kids went out into the forest. It still wasn’t completely dark yet, but it was getting there.

“Can I hold the orb?” Steven asked.

Amethyst looked at him skeptically. “I don’t know, I don’t want it to break, you know?”

Steven shrugged and created a fireball. The blazing light flickered on the trees, just a bit stronger than the steady pink light of the orb.

“That’s so lucky. I still wish that I had a power,” Amethyst said, pouting.

Steven didn’t know what to say, so he just changed the subject.

“Where do we go?” he asked.

“Hmm, let’s just start walking! Just remember to leave a trail on the trees. Here, use this.”

Amethyst pulled out a stick from her pocket and handed it to him.

“Just put a little scratch on the trees as we walk. They won’t love it, but they will heal up soon enough.”

So the two just started walking away from Amethyst’s house. They walked straight toward Hubert and passed by. Steven made sure to wave and say hello as they did. The branches and leaves that had fallen on the ground around them crunched as they walked. Steven made sure to put little scratches on the trees as they walked. Each of the kwiloo trees changed to different colors as he did. Most changed to red or orange, showing that they were upset by what he was doing.

Suddenly, Steven froze. “What is that?” he asked.

Amethyst held up the small pink orb, and they could see a medium wooden sign that had some words scratched in the surface.

“It looks like a boring old sign. What’s it say?” Amethyst asked.

Steven moved a little closer with his fireball until he could read the words, or single word, rather, written above two arrows pointing in opposite directions

“It just says ‘pull’,” Steven said, tilting his head to the side in wonder.

“Pull what?” Amethyst asked before she looked around.

Steven shook his head and was about to say “I don’t know” when he saw a wooden lever to his right sticking out of a regular brown tree.

“I guess you just pull this,” he said, moving to the lever. Steven reached up and pulled hard on the lever. It came down, like levers should, but nothing happened.

“I guess it doesn’t do anything,” Amethyst said, sounding disappointed.

“Wait! There is an arrow on the sign, look!” Steven exclaimed, moving over to the sign. There was another arrow pointing the other way, and he saw that there was another lever there.

“What if we pull this one?” he said, moving to the lever. He firmly pulled down, but nothing happened.

“Oh, maybe you aren’t doing it right,” she said, pushing him aside. With a grunt, Amethyst pulled down hard on the lever. But even then, nothing happened.

“Maybe they have to be pulled at the same time, or really fast,” Steven suggested.

He moved over to the lever on the right, then pulled down before rushing over to the other one and pulling that.

Still nothing happened.

“Well, how are we supposed to make that work? You can’t pull both at the same time,” Amethyst said, furrowing her brows.

“What if we work together?” Steven said, “Here, you stand by that one, and I’ll stand here. When we count to three, we each pull down on one.”

Amethyst nodded, looking thoughtful.

They each moved to a lever and grabbed it in their hands. Steven counted to three, and they each pulled down. The moment they did, they heard a loud thud in the tree just behind the sign.

“Woah, it did something when we worked together!” Steven exclaimed.

“What is it?” Amethyst asked.

They moved to where the sound came from and saw a large hole in the bottom of the tree trunk. A door had opened inward, leaving a black space. Steven moved his fire closer, the flames flickering brightly. He could see that the ground just inside the door was smooth wood.

“Well, are you going in?” Amethyst said.

“You want me to go in alone? What if there is something scary in there?”

“No, let’s go together,” Amethyst suggested.

So, the two kids held hands and counted to three before they stepped forward and squished through the small door in the bottom of the tree. Just as they made it inside, Steven felt his feet slip out from underneath him, and he screamed in surprise. As he fell backward, he pulled on Amethyst’s hand, and she yelped as she was pulled down. Steven’s fire went out and the space around them got darker. Amethyst’s orb still glowed brightly, but she’d dropped it, and it rolled down the hidden slide in front of them.

They screamed as they slid down a steep slide, darkness all around them except for the pink orb that rolled down the slide before them. The slide twisted and turned, making them slide even faster.

Finally, the slide disappeared from under Steven and he landed hard on the ground. The small, pink light orb rolled to a stop a number of paces away. It was dark all around them.

“That was kind of scary, and kind of fun at the same time,” Amethyst said from the dark next to him.

“Yeah, it was. Where are we anyway?”

“I don’t know, I can’t see anything!” Amethyst replied.

Steven stood and went to pick up the orb, when all of a sudden it disappeared. Panicked that the space around them got completely dark instantly, Steven held up his hand and created a fireball. The room lit up with a blaze and tons of tiny screams ran through the air. The sound made Steven jump and back away toward Amethyst.

Inside the room were hundreds of creatures, short and stout, about up to his knees. They looked like giant mushrooms, though there were faces on the stem, just below the cap.

“Whoa, what are they?” Steven asked, now back to where Amethyst stood.

“Oh! I’ve heard of these! They are little toadstool people,” Amethyst said, looking around.

“Why have you fire?! Fire is ouchy,” a scratchy voice said. Steven turned to see one of the mushroom men staring grumpily at him.

“Umm, our light went away. We can’t see without it,” Steven replied.

“Fire is ouchy, put fire away, we no like,” the mushroom said. It’s eyes were black and beady, and it’s mouth giant, stretching from edge to edge on the mushroom stem.

“Look, sir, give us the orb, and we’ll put the fire away,” Amethyst said, putting her hands on her hips.

The mushroom looked at her grumpily, but pulled a short arm out from behind him. He gestured backward to the group of other mushrooms cowering behind him. Another one, this one brown in color, opened its mouth wide, a pink glow appearing from inside. The orb fell out and rolled on the floor, clinking slightly.

Amethyst rushed forward and picked it up. Remembering the promise, Steven let the fireball disappear. The room got darker around them, but the pink light from the orb helped them see enough. Steven looked around and saw that they were in a cavern with a high ceiling. There were lots of little houses and bridges built all over the place. There were mushroom men on the bridges, staring at them with their beady eyes.

“Where are we?” he asked, looking at the little mushroom man who told him to put the fire away.

The creature in front of him grunted. “You in Mush-mush, our home. We no like fire. Fire hurts.”

Steven nodded. “Yes, I know, I won’t make it come back,” Steven put his hand out, trying to reassure them. “How many of you are there?”

The mushroom blinked at him. “Many, thousands, many indeed.”

Amethyst gaped at all the houses and bridges around them. “How did you build these houses and bridges? They look like they are made out of gray mush.”

And they did. They looked like they were made out of spongy gray clay.

“We work hard. Work as team. Work long to build,” the mushroom said, “Fire burn houses. Fire no good.”

Steven understood. He guessed that if fire touched one of the gray houses it would burn away.

“See? Work hard,” the mushroom said. It turned and walked to a wall next to one of the structures. The mushroom made some strange sounds, then a few others came over and gathered in. They each opened their mouths and gobs of the squishy gray clay came out into their hands.

Steven’s stomach turned. Gross! It comes out of their mouths?! he thought.

Despite how odd and gross it was, the ten or so mushrooms began quickly squishing the gray stuff together. Before long, the leader mushroom man called another dozen or so to come into the group, and the first ones left. They also spit out some of the gray clay and squished it down into the pile.

They two elf kids watched in wonder as, after three more groups, a small structure was built. It was about four times the size of one of the mushrooms and had a dark opening for the door in the front. They’d built it in only a few minutes!

“Wow! That was so fast! I thought this would have taken a long time, but you worked together, and it got built so quickly,” Steven exclaimed.

“Yes, yes. Work together. Fast work,” the mushroom said in its gravelly voice, “Bridge harder. Cannot do alone.”

They all looked up to where the small mushroom leader pointed his little brown hand. Steven’s eyes widened when he saw that the creature only had three fingers. Just beyond the odd shaped hand he could see two houses stuck higher on the walls across from each other. A mushroom stood in each of the doorways. Each of them opened their mouths and spit out some of the grey clay. They began rolling it between their three fingered hands until they had long strands of the squishy matter.

The two mushroom people, one of them grey, the other light brown, looked at each other and made some synchronized sounds that sounded like counting. Then they threw one end of the long strings to each other. They caught the other mushroom’s strand and stuck both ends to the house walls. All at once, more mushrooms came from the two houses and started sliding across the strands. They spit out gray clay, formed it into strings, and started weaving them back and forth on the two long strings that were connecting the houses. In just moments, the hundreds of creatures had built a bridge between the two houses.

Steven and Amethyst gaped, eyes wide.

“Can not do alone. Must work together,” the leader mushroom said.

Steven thought back to the tree with the nest at his house. He and Mike didn’t think about working together! With each other’s help, they could probably climb the tree. Then Steven thought back to when he and Amethyst accidentally came down here to Mush-mush. They had needed to work together to pull both levers. It would have been impossible if they hadn’t worked together.

Steven and Amethyst watched the odd mushroom people build more houses. It seemed the creatures were getting more comfortable with the elf kids being in their space. After what seemed like hours, Steven’s stomach growled.

“Oh man, we’ve been here for so long, we’d better get going,” he said to Amethyst.

She looked up. “But how do we get back up there? The slide brought us so far down,” she said, looking worried.

“Use lift. Help you rise,” the leader mushroom said. He waddled on his two short stubby legs to the side of the cavern where a flat platform made of the same spongy gray clay sat on the ground. “Step on. Pull the string. You rise up to top.”

They kids could see that there was a string attached to the platform at each corner and also attached to the ceiling high above them. There were also two ropes in the center, right next to each other. One was connected to the middle, the other was coiled on the ground, the loose end sitting there.

“Umm, gross,” Amethyst said, wrinkling her nose.

Steven made a face, and nodded. “I guess if it’s all we can do to get up we better do it.”

The little mushroom man shook his capped head, “No way but here. Go go. Now now.”

Amethyst stepped onto the platform first, then Steven. He reached up and grabbed the gray rope and pulled hard. They moved up only a few inches. He grunted and pulled hard again.

“Ugh, this is hard! I can’t get us to move very far!” Steven complained.

Amethyst rolled her eyes, “Let me try.”

She did, but with little success. “Oh man, that is really hard. I can’t do that for very long at all!”

“Work together. Fast work. Much better,” the mushroom said, tapping his cap.

The elf kids brightened up at the idea. Amethyst put the orb on the ground between her feet so it wouldn’t roll away. They each grabbed the rope with both hands and counted to three before they both tugged hard. This time, though it was still challenging, they shot up a few feet with each pull.

“This is so much easier!” Steven exclaimed. Hand over hand, the two kids pulled the rope heavily. They rose higher and higher until the little houses and bridges disappeared below them. Soon enough, they made it to where they could see the door to the tree they’d come in before. They cheered and stepped from the lift to the door and exited to the forest.

The moment they did, the door magically swung shut, closing off the entrance.

“Ok, that was really gross and weird,” Amethyst said, shivering, “but I’m glad we worked together. We would have been stuck down there!”

Steven nodded. “I’ve got to get going. I didn’t realize how important it is to work together! Mike and I can finally climb the tree to see the bird’s nest!”

Amethyst looked at him funny. “I have no idea what you are talking about, but yes, we should get home.”

They followed the scratches on the trees home, Steven creating his fireball again so that they could see. When he got to Hubert, he said goodbye to Amethyst and jumped through the tree portal.

The moment he got home, he called Mike and said he should come over after dinner. So, after Mike finished his meal, he came over once more.

“We just have to work together, see? I will boost you up so you can get the branch, then you reach down and help me up. It will work!”

Mike beamed. “I didn’t even think of that! Let’s do it!”

It wasn’t easy, but by working together they were able to get into the tree and see the little baby birds chirping in the nest. Steven was sure glad the weird mushroom men helped him see how important it was to work together.

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