The morning bell rang for the Axies to rise and grind. Another month had passed and not a single day stood out from the next. Poysenberry struggled to his feet and slowly made his way outside the hut. As he passed through the exit, he paused, looking at the pure breeds’ hut on the other side of the gate.
He caught a brief glimpse into their dwelling just as a Plant with a big turnip on its back walked out the door. Poysenberry peered through the temporary crack, seeing lush beds at the front and nice basins to drink from in the night.
But that was it. Nothing more than a glimpse before it was gone.
‘It’s not much better over there,’ said a female worker beside him. ‘You start thinking the grass is always greener, when in reality they have their own struggles to endure as well.’
Poysenberry turned to face his co-worker. The fellow plant had blue skin, tiny leaves on her head, a lone flower on her back and carrot for a tail. He stared at her for a moment, wondering why he had not seen this type of plant before. Or her specifically, for that matter.
‘Who are you?’ he said.
‘Nightshade,’ she said. ‘And you?’
He tried to keep his lips over his mouth, and for a second he almost responded: Fish Face. But thankfully he caught himself before he accidentally blurted it out.
‘That’s a nice name.’
‘Thanks. . . ‘
She chuckled at him.
‘I think you have a nice name too,’ he said.
Nightshade walked away from the hut and toward the outer edge where a small garden lay. Poysenberry often avoided the sunflower patch, mainly because Poo-head and his gang often hung around that area. But making a new friend pried him from his shell and pushed him onward to follow her.
‘Are you new?’ said Poysenberry.
‘New to grinding,’ she said. ‘But not new to the farm.’
Poysenberry followed her without thinking. All the while, he kept staring at her blue skin wondering if she were part aqua like him.
‘Are you. . . do you have any, umm, well, you see, you’re a little different from the others here and uh. . . ?’
Nightshade stopped and stared at him. ‘Am I what?’
He shook his head.
‘I believe Dusk is the word you’re looking for,’ she said. ‘Mixed plant and reptile.’
‘Ahh, I see now.’
‘I was brought here as an experiment,’ she said. ‘But I guess I didn’t quite make the breeding cut.’
Poysenberry nodded, not sure what she meant, but not wanting her to know that.
They continued to walk to the outer edge of the land where a sunflower patch grew. Without saying anything more, they started to harvest SLP from the small garden.
For some reason, he found it easier to harvest in the flower patch. That, or his mind was on his new friend. He wanted to ask her a million more questions. But also wanted to hold his tongue, so as not to seem too intrusive.
Time seemed to pass a little more naturally in the flower patch. At one point, Nightshade was on the other side of the sunflower rows from him. Without realising it, he’d been following her, going from flower to flower, just on the opposite side. He only realised this when she let out a little laugh. They both stopped their work for a moment and looked at each other.
‘When you told me earlier that it’s not that much better over there, what did you mean by that?’
She walked through the sunflower row to his side, extracting love potions from a flower along the way. ‘Well, it’s just that,’ she said. ‘You’d have pressures there too. Expectations to meet. Appearances to keep up with.’ She went over and stood beside him.
‘It looks nice over there though.’
‘In a way, it is,’ she said. ‘There’s plenty of niceties. But the soul is lacking.’
‘You don’t make friends over there,’ she said. ‘You make alliances.’
‘That sounds the same as here though.’
‘True. Maybe that’s why we’re not meant to be caged up in these gates. Instead we should be out there, travelling the lands, fighting our way to the mystic lands.’
‘They don’t exist,’ said Poysenberry. ‘All that stuff is made up you know?’
Nightshade seemed to not hear him as she carried on around the flowers.
‘It’s made up.’
She walked to a drooping sunflower and extracted the pink love potion from its stalk. The wispy pink clouds drew from the flower and slowly filled up her bottles, hanging from twine at her sides.
‘There’s no such place as the mystic lands.’
Nightshade preoccupied herself with another sunflower, extracting the loving essence from the plant. All the while, Poysenberry inched closer to her.
‘The chimera,’ he said. ‘The ancient ruins. It’s hogwash right?’
Before he could start his next sentence, a bird swooped by him into the row of sunflowers, speeding right through them untouched. A strong wake fluttered the sunflowers moments after she had reached the other end.
Both Poysenberry and Nightshade peered down the open row between the sunflowers. On the other end, they saw the pink bird soothing out its blonde, almost wig-like hair atop its head. Beside the bird was a group of three familiar Axies – Poo-head, Specs, and Antenna.
‘How’d you do that?’ said Specs. ‘Swooping right through the sunflowers, like some sneak attack!’
She continued to pat her hair with her stumpy wing. ‘That’s because I’m the best,’ she said. ‘Every bird out there wishes they have the skills I have. Trust me. People tell this to me all the time.’
Nightshade moved into the sunflowers to get closer and Poysenberry followed hesitantly.
‘That’s just because you’re a Bird,’ said Poo-head. ‘I bet there are loads of other birds that can do the same exact thing. Heck we’ve got, or well we used to have, a plant in here with a lobster tail who could do a quick sneak attack himself.’
‘Blah, blah, blah,’ said the bird. ‘Yawn. It was good visiting you all but if you want to split feathers here, I’ll be on my merry way. I’m an incredibly busy bird, you realise? Tons of Axies want my help. If I want to have an idle chat, then I’ll go talk with my mom. Oh wait, that’s right she dead.’
‘Sheesh,’ said Poo-head. ‘What’s eating you?’
‘Time is money boys,’ she said. ‘Where’s my SLP?’
With some reluctance, the three plants started to take down a couple vials and then slowly passed them her way.
‘Are you kidding me?’
Antenna looked confused. ‘Twenty-three bottles like you asked,’ he said.
‘No, I said thirty-three,’ said the bird. ‘Th-ir-ty-th-ree. You want to pay twenty-three a day then go find yourself some common broad out there. But you want the best? Then you need to cough it up. And quick.’
The three grumbled amongst themselves. Then they huddled to talk for a short time. The three of them seemed to be in an argument for a while until they finally came to a consensus with some hurt feelings, and slid along ten more vials.
‘Good doing business with you,’ she said. ‘I’ll be back tomorrow for the next instalment. Ciao.’
With that, the bird shot into the air, looping backwards then straight ahead, soaring over the fence and out onto the horizon. Everyone stood motionless, watching her disappear.
Then the three Plants began moving.
‘You know, I think that Puff lady is a fraud,’ said Antenna. ‘How many more instalments are we going to have to pay this bird until she actually flies us over these fences?’
‘Shut up,’ said Poo-head. ‘She may be a fraud but she’s our best bet out of this dump.’
‘Exactly,’ said Specs. ‘Stroke her ego and eventually she’ll do what we want.’
‘I don’t get it,’ said Antenna. ‘Every day she comes here and it seems like the price keeps increasing.’
Eventually, the group of three moved elsewhere, and their conversation faded from earshot. Poysenberry turned to say something to Nightshade, only to find her missing. He turned around in circles searching for her, but the Dusk was gone.
Hurrying out from the sunflower patch, he emerged into the open savannah, scanning the place for any trace of his new friend. But same as the bird, she’d vanished from sight, leaving Poysenberry near the flowers, alone and feeling like a clown.
To be continued…