The Axies spent the entire day out at the oasis bursting Red Jams, disintegrating Toadies, and they even took down a Big Fang near the still lake. The sun was already touching the horizon by the time they finished and started walking back towards the farm.
‘I can’t believe we managed,’ said Poysenberry. ‘I’ve never earned so much SLP in one day.’
‘Don’t get complacent,’ said Woodman. ‘We still have two more days before we pay off our debts.’
The sun dipped beneath the mountain ridge as night took over the lands.
‘It was exciting though,’ said Poysenberry. ‘I’ve never felt so alive while harvesting SLP.’
‘You were a natural out there,’ said Hook. ‘Those teeth of yours are a prize among our kind.’
‘For good reason too,’ said Gill.
The two Aquas were walking alongside Poysenberry, and for once he felt accepted as part of a group, and felt proud of his teeth. The group was slowly approaching an old ruin site where six pillars were stacked in a rectangular formation around a tiny hole in the ground.
Poysenberry lingered outside the site, peering beyond the stone pillars at the hole which had a wooden walkway that led down into its abyss. A soft fish tail tapped at his hermit shell. He turned around to see Hook with a look of concern on her face.
‘You should’t get too close to this area,’ she said. ‘The last Axie that went down there never returned.’
Creeping backwards, Poysenberry felt his skin grow cold as he put some distance between himself and the ancient ruin.
‘There’s a lot of odd things that happen near this place,’ said Gill. ‘We try to avoid it as best as we can, but seeing how late it is, we thought it might be alright to take a shortcut back to the farm.’
Poysenberry could hear whispering voices coming from the site, as if they were calling to him. Asking him to go past the stone pillars and climb down the wooden steps into the darkness. To forever join them.
A loud growl echoed across the land behind them. The sound grabbed Poysenberry’s attention and he slowly turned his head back to glance over his shoulder. The rest of the group were squinting into the darkness, trying to make sense of the noise as well.
This was the first time since he had met the Aqua siblings that he found them completely silent. Poysenberry inched closer towards them and saw their expressions had changed. Both Gill and Hook had their eyes fixed into the darkness from where the sound came. If he was not mistaken, Poysenberry thought they looked extremely fearful.
Hook whipped around quickly and knocked into Poysenberry, unaware the Plant was standing beside her. Poysenberry slid a little but maintained his balance. Hook met his gaze. Her eyes were wider than usual and her hook was being tugged as she chewed on her lower lip.
‘Whatsa’matter?’ Poysenberry said.
A creature growled once more within the darkness.
Gill whispered to the group as he swept alongside them. ‘Time to move,’ he said. ‘Right now.’ He pushed both Hook and Poysenberry ahead, then scurried behind Woodman and Nightshade to give them both a shove towards a different direction.
‘Move your asses!’
The group broke into a mad dash across the plains as three red glowing orbs appeared amongst the darkness. Poysenberry moved his legs as fast as he could, sprinting behind the speedy Aquas.
An old ruin stood out in the desolate plains up ahead. It was the largest object in the area for miles. The growls sounded much closer and the ground began to tremble under their paws. The old ruin was in the shape of a massive head — it had an open laughing mouth and its eyes were pinched shut. The two siblings hopped into the creature’s mouth, followed closely by Poysenberry, Woodman, and lastly Nightshade.
When they entered the head, they were met by another group of Aqua’s huddled at the back. Poysenberry saw among the other trio an Axie he recognised: the Aqua who had the same Hermit shell as himself.
‘Is that you Shelly?’ said Hook.
The Aqua with the hermit shell nodded. ‘It’s me.’ She turned her gaze onto Poysenberry, smiling at him with her thick pouty lips.
‘Who else is with you?’ said Hook.
‘Minnow and Finn.’
As if on cue, everyone went silent. A loud rumble vibrated through the earth. Large thin legs walked along the lands, circling the old ruin.
Poysenberry bit his lips shut as he huddled beside the other Aquas at the back. Unintentionally, he settled beside Shelly, who gave him a side glance. She had pretty Babylonian shells on her forehead and a tadpole tail that he almost sat on.
‘Clumsy plant,’ she said.
He tried to reply but his words only jumbled in his mouth.
‘Shut up,’ said Nightshade.
‘Sorry,’ mouthed Shelly, a smirk on her face.
Rolling her eyes, Nightshade twisted away from the Aqua then ignored Poysenberry as she turned to face the opening of the ruin. Poysenberry’s stomach sank lower in his gut as Nightside did this, but only for a second, as the tall thin legs walked past the ruin’s opening.
Reflexively, he put his hand over his mouth as he saw a monster like he had never seen before. It was a giant creature with three red eyes in its round body and several feet holding itself up.
The Axies inside went dead silent.
The feet moved around at the opening. Then two thin hands grasped at the ruin’s mouth. Long, sharp fingers gripped the inside of the mouth, where they remained at the top for a long, unbearable minute.
The fingers tapped rhythmically on the ruin while the creature’s feet shuffled outside. One of its legs managed to make its way into the open mouth, but the rest of its body was unable to squeeze in. The creature released its hands from the ruin, removed its leg, then took several steps back.
Poysenberry froze at the sight of the creature. He could not move any part of his body, and deep down inside his bones, he felt a genuine dread for his life and that of his friends.
The creature lowered itself enough to stare into the ruin. Three massive red eyes glared at them. Unblinking, they shone a red tint across the cowering Axies and within the weathered ruin. It reached a long thin arm inside, scraping its needle fingers at the ground, trying its best to swipe at the Axies.
Minnow shuddered while Gill yelped.
The creature became more anxious to snatch them up. Its hand moved wildly inside the ruin, scraping up clumps of sand and raking its claws at their tiny bodies. Growing more frustrated at its failed attempts, the creature snarled and roared with fury, waving its hand at them even faster with less precision.
The ruin swayed a little against the weight of the creature. Dust fell from the ceiling and peppered the top of the Axies’ heads. The fingers drew closer and closer to them as the creature roared its complaints.
Poysenberry saw the fingers tip-toeing closer to Nightshade’s carrot tail. The sharp digit was now mere inches away, hovering over her tail, when Poysenberry grabbed her tail with his paw and it pushed away. The finger landed right where her carrot lay moments ago and its attempt to catch one of the Axies failed once more. The arm retracted and in its place the three unblinking eyes returned. They stared at the Axies for a long time, and tiny black dots in the centre rotated as they focused on the different Axies.
Nightshade peeked an eye at Poysenberry. She saw his paw on her carrot and the mark left in the ground from where the finger had almost got her.
The creature growled and slowly left the ruin.
Silence radiated inside for several minutes. No one moved. No one seemed to be breathing. They were all cloistered close together, too fearful to make a move.
After several more minutes, Hook gingerly moved apart from the huddled group and tiptoed to the entrance. She peered outside then let out a loud sigh.
At those words, a chill ran down Poysenberry’s back, from his horn down to the tip of his tail. The creature was gone, yes, he thought, but for how long?
To be continued…