Poysenberry entered the dormitory for the night, feeling glum for a reason he could not exactly pinpoint. He started to go to his usual spot when he saw Poo-head, Antenna and Specs near his mat. Having second thoughts about his normal resting place, he decided to find another mat for the night. As he was doing so, he spotted Nightshade leaning up against a corner in the hut, almost blending in with the blue painted walls.
He inched his way over, feeling shy about approaching his new friend. But before he could turn back or avert his gaze, she levelled her eyes upon him and smiled. Poysenberry couldn’t help but smile back. He remembered his teeth and was about to cover his mouth to hide them when he noticed the smile still on her face.
Nightshade pat her paw gently on the mat beside her own. His spirits lifted. The world didn’t feel as heavy anymore as he walked over to join her.
‘I heard about your little battle today,’ she said. ‘Who knew plants could be so brave?’
Poysenberry blushed as he shrugged.
‘Maybe it’s the Aqua genes in you that made you so quick to rush to her aid?’
‘Nah,’ he said, settling beside her. ‘I just kinda got in the way. Stupid shell of mine.’
She reached out her front paw and placed it on top of his. The chlorophyll pulsed through his veins while his ticker thrashed wildly in his chest.
‘What a brave Plant,’ she said. ‘The breeder doesn’t realise what gems he’s left in here.’
‘More like fool’s gold.’
She removed her paw from his and started to inspect the room.
Poysenberry wanted to retract his words after seeing her reaction. But as he was about to try and cover his tracks, she stood up and nudged his shell.
‘Follow me,’ she said. ‘I want to show you something.’
‘Just get up and follow me, but be discreet.’
Without needing any more prompting, he got to his feet and tailed her as she went to the adjacent side of the hut. She took him to a mat that was laying crumpled in the sand and partially on the wall.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Shh,’ she said, as she moved the mat off the wall to reveal a small hole in the ground, burrowed underneath the hut.
‘What is this?’
She didn’t respond but instead dove into the hole and crawled out of sight. Poysenberry turned to look over his shoulder. Seeing that most of the Plants were asleep, he took a big gulp and followed her down the rabbit trail.
Absolute darkness consumed them in the narrow passageway. Poysenberry wanted to turn back several times, but kept pushing ahead, only for the lone reason that he wasn’t certain he could turn himself around or crawl backwards to the exit.
‘This is crazy, Nightshade. We should be back at the hut getting our rest for the next day! Are you sure you even know where you’re going? What if we get lost and die down here?’
‘You’re speaking like a non-Lunacian now,’ she said, from somewhere in front of him. ‘Aren’t you a plant? An Axie born from these lands?’
He paused, feeling unsure for a moment.
‘Perhaps you’d be better suited to owning a plot of land and starting your own farm?’
‘What are you talking about? Axies can’t be breeders!’
‘You’re right in a sense,’ she said. ‘We aren’t breeders. But we do breed. We don’t own the lands, but we were birthed out from their soils. So how can we own a part of ourselves?’
Poysenberry started crawling again in silence.
‘Did you believe you that you were simply born from an egg?’ she said. ‘That you don’t share a connection to this world other than just being an inhabitant?’
He kept his thoughts to himself, afraid he might say something stupid.
‘We’re close,’ she said. ‘Be quiet when exiting okay?’
A soft bluish glow emanated from the end of the passageway. His eyes stung when they met the light after being in complete darkness for so long. And yet the light felt warm, comforting, like an old familiar embrace.
As they crawled closer toward it, he felt himself in a state of deja-vu, thinking everything about this experience had been done before. Even time and time again. But when Nightshade exited and he followed her out of the tunnel, he saw a blue-green lightbulb dangling inside a hut, and the magic he had felt vanished. His spirits deflated as he soon realised where he was. On the inside of the pure breeds’ hut.
‘Oh. . . ‘
Poysenberry looked around the hut, seeing rows and rows of cages stacked on top of each other. Inside were the Axies he used to gaze at from his side of the fence. Their daily lives out in the sun or basking on the small patches of trimmed grass now seemed like it was an incomplete picture.
A Plant Axie with a Watermelon on its head kept shooting seeds at the bars of his cage, while another Axie beside him kept walking in circles inside his cage. Many of the Plants were howling or shouting to one another from within their cells.
‘Come on this way,’ said Nightshade.
Poysenberry couldn’t take his sights off the trapped Axies near him. In particular, the Plant that kept circling round and round in his cage.
Nightshade nudged him, breaking his focus. He nodded to her and started walking down a row of cages, listening to the Plants either testing their bars or shouting back and forth between each other.
‘Hey Fishy,’ said one with a Strawberry on his head. ‘Fishy boy! Give me a hand here?’
Poysenberry drifted away from the calling Axie. He lost sight of Nightshade and wandered down the next intersection between the row of cages.
‘Come on Fishy,’ shouted the Axie. ‘Give your fellow kin a hand!’
As Poysenberry backed out of sight, he heard the Plant laughing like a wild animal. He kept his eyes on the intersection, afraid of the irrational thoughts in his head. That somehow that crazy Axie might escape from his cage and come chasing after him.
As he was not looking at where he was going, he bumped his shell into another stack of cages behind him. He swiftly turned around to see what he’d hit, only to find a lone cage with an extra padlock holding the gate shut.
‘How’s it going stud?’
He raised his eyes to see the Axie he referred to as Yaki inside. She smiled at him and lowered herself onto the cage’s floor to keep their eyes level.
‘Look at you,’ she said. ‘A big strong plant. With a nice shell on his back.’
Yaki reached her paw out and motioned for him to come closer. He looked around the area first to make sure he was safe, and in a way hoped that Nightshade was standing behind him, ready to tell him what to do.
‘I can’t reach you from there.’
Slowly, he moved himself towards her cage. When he was within reach, she started to glide her paw across his hermit shell.
‘What a beautiful shell you have,’ she whispered. ‘So smooth, so pretty, and yet hard.’
‘What do you say about getting me out of this cage,’ she said. ‘Then we could go take a stroll outside and lay on the trimmed grass patch?’
‘I, uh, I’m not really even sure – ‘
‘Do you have any love potion on you?’
He closed his mouth and shook his head.
‘You and I could share a few bottles tonight if you want?’
Poysenberry searched once more for Nightshade.
‘As long as you promise not to bite me.’ She giggled. ‘Unless you really want to.’
‘Why are you talking to me?’ he said. ‘You don’t want anything to do with me. I’ll only screw up your genes.’
She grabbed him with both paws, holding him fiercely against her cage, mashing his face into the bars.
‘Listen here Fishy,’ she said. ‘I’m not asking you to get me out anymore. I’m telling you. Get me the hell out of this cage and go harvest us some SLP for the night. You got it?’
Yaki squeezed his face tighter.
‘It’s rare to find myself so close to one of you mutts,’ she said. ‘And I’m not going to miss this chance at hatching a new egg.’
She tossed him away. ‘What’s a’matter big guy?’ she said. ‘Can’t play rough?’
‘What’s wrong with you?’ he said. ‘I’m telling you that mixing genes is no good!’
A wry grin came over her face. She started to crack up.
‘What’s your problem?’
‘Are you kidding me?’ she whispered. ‘Don’t you get it? Are you so dense underneath that shell?’
Poysenberry raised an eyebrow at her.
She leaned back in her cage and sat herself down, soothing out her mushrooms on their skewer stick. Yaki was preoccupied with her shrooms for some time, paying him little to no attention. As he started to back away, she broke her silence.
‘There was another Plant in here some time ago,’ she said. ‘Nice looking Plant. Good genes. Only she got sold. Any guess why?’
He slowly shook his head.
‘On her second egg, she hatched a mutt with a hermit shell on its back and a mouth full of piranha teeth. The owner was pissed. Snatched her right up by the throat and threw her into the front hut, where all the travelers come to buy his used Axies.’
Poysenberry felt a coldness burning inside himself.
‘Nobody wanted the baby,’ she said. ‘So he chucked the mutt into the farm and sold the mom off to the first person willing to take her.’
The icy sensation in his gut began to overtake his senses. Before he knew it, he was retracting from her cage. Floating away without any idea of where he was going. So many thoughts were pouring through his mind, zipping by too fast for him to catch them. He closed his eyes and started to run, when he crashed into another Axie.
‘What’s gotten into you?’ said Nightshade. ‘And why did you wander off?’
He opened his eyes to see her laying on the ground.
‘Get me out of here,’ he said. ‘Now, I need to leave.’
‘Okay, okay,’ she said. ‘We’ll go then.’
Without saying much more, she got to her feet and started walking them back to the exit. In time, they crawled back through the tunnel and entered the harvester’s hut, making little noise, and catching no one’s attention.
They both laid down side by side, Nightshade falling asleep within minutes, while Poysenberry stayed up, feeling wide awake among his restless thoughts.
To be continued…