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“A survivor. Most people don’t survive long in the Fungi Forest. But some do, usually peasants or hermits. He was probably chasing you out of his territory.”

“I don’t think it was a person. It moved really weirdly and was really hot and burnt everything.”

“Survivors are strange – you’d have to be to live out here – and the forest can get hot at times. Did he say anything?”

It said it wanted to help me, kept talking about ‘others’, like it had friends or something. It wanted me to meet them.”

“Definitely a survivor, and definitely crazy. His friends are probably a collection of unusually shaped rocks.”

“So you don’t live in the forest?”

“No chance. We’re just travelling through. You’re lucky Louis smelt you.”

“Smelt me?”

“Relax. Louis has an amazing sense of smell; you aren’t smelly. Well, you are smelly but probably in a pretty sweet-smelling way.” He flushed red and cleared his throat. “Anyway. What I mean is Louis smelt that you were all alone so we took a detour to come and rescue you. There’s probably not another human being within six hundred stadia.”

“Six hundred stadia? Is that like a really long way or something?”

“It’s a good two days’ travel for Louis and that’s if he keeps a steady pace going without too many breaks. Not easy with a cottage on your back as you can imagine.”

“And you live in there?” Sammy stared up at the golden eggs shimmering in the mushroom light.

“Of course.” Mehrak paused. “Come with us. I can’t have you dying alone in the forest on my conscience.”

“What if my mum comes after me?”

“You’re sticking with that story, are you?”

Sammy glowered at him.

Mehrak sighed. “It’s too risky to hang around here. Louis and I only passed this way because it’s the quickest way to the Keep.”

Sammy said nothing.

“The forest’s huge. Even if your mother followed you in, you’d never find each other again. Platoons of soldiers have entered the Fungi Forest and never been seen again. You’re lucky to still be alive. Your best bet is to head to the closest big city and hope your mother makes it there too. Honton Keep is the nearest and biggest. And you’re in luck because that’s where we’re heading.”

Sammy looked up at Louis and the shell caravan. What other choice did she have?


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