The Flowers Are Ugly
The next thing she felt was a tapping on her head.
It wasn’t like the walls. It was soft and gentle.
And it wasn’t like her mother’s. It was honest.
An unknown amount of time later, Yuki opened her eyes to see light again. The light of a cloud of glowing green spores against the ceiling of a massive room as dozens of Maitake surrounded her.
“You are not Sengen.”
Staring at the pale, naked creature, the little men knew it was safe. Not even bugs dare fly this far into their domain.
“I remember this one.” A large Maitake spoke, almost as tall as her. “Sengen brought it to us once, at the very entrance of the Tainai.”
Yuki looked at her body to see the wounds on it healed. Instead it was covered in spores and mushroom dust.
“It came far enough.” A Maitake said from above. As Yuki swing her head, she saw he was walking on the ceiling of the room along with a few others. “It is a true friend.”
“Welcome.” The Maitake greeted her as their equal and immediately dispersed. Not retreating into the ground, but rather returning to whatever they were doing before, just as they would have if another one of their own had appeared. Some made art. Some tended to each other with the magic of their healing spores. And others still just sat and imagined things as they looked into the darkness.
“Excuse me…” Yuki greeted nervously, approaching one of the artists inscribing familiar symbols on the cave walls. “Are you… do you remember me?”
The Maitake turned to her. Identical to the others, she prayed the one she saw those years ago had somehow returned. The Maitake shook his head.
“Oh… I apologize. It’s just… your drawings are the same as another’s I once saw.”
She looked again at the copied inscriptions of a great mushroom king.
“Many draw the image of the seven-flower. It is our faith.”
“So you do not truly worship mothe…” she stopped herself. “Lady Sengen.”
“Sengen is our ruler. We respect it like a rabbit would respect a fox.”
She touched the markings on the wall.
“So this… this is your true ruler?”
The Maitake nodded.
“Ruler, and god. Lord Matsutake.”
“He is a strong ruler…” she admired the image. “Where is he?”
“Lord Matsutake… has yet to arrive. We all yearn for the day in which he will bring us our salvation… and save us from the clutches of Sengen.”
Yuki allowed herself to imagine something for once. It was a powerful fantasy, indeed.
“I too… am ensnared by Sengen. I would love such a hero to arrive.”
The Maitake showed its joy with the strumming of its stubby fingers. “Then you are a true friend indeed. Are you not a Maitake?”
“Er…” the girl couldn’t help but laugh a little. Her mother would be insulted by such words, but she found them warmly humorous. “I’m Yuki.”
“What is… a Yuki?”
Yuki blinked at the eyeless, honest fungus, wondering how best to answer him. It was not often she was truly asked something instead of told.
“I… wouldn’t be one to say.” Yuki suggested, a humble blush growing across her cheeks. It wouldn’t be fair to make such claims.
“You are strange indeed.” The Maitake complimented. “Why is it that your hair protrudes in such a way? It is unlike Sengen’s.”
Yuki felt the bump on her head, shrouded in dark hair. It was so massive from bagging her skull into walls that it gave her the appearance of a bun on her head. Funnily, it did not sting to touch, even though her sense of feeling had returned.
“Just what is… that bump?” The Maitake questioned.
Yuki parted her hair, and felt not a bump, but something soft underneath.
The Maitake froze.
“What is it?” Yuki uttered fearfully. “What- what’s on my head?” Looking at the creature, she knew she would be punished somehow. In fact, they were all surrounding her. The evil things would soon come to harm her. She had done something wrong. Yuki was unforgivable. Yuki was the very spawn of Sengen. Of course they wished to hurt her-
Then all the Maitake bowed.
“The seven-flower has come…”
“Hero-King, Lord Matsutake…”
Two Maitake expelled spores from their heads, shaping them with their hands into a glowing, reflective pool.
In it, Yuki saw it- the fungal growth extending from her skull.