Sunlight poked through the entrance of the ruin, washing over Poysenberry and gently nudging him awake. The warmth from the light comforted him and banished most of the fear he had from the night prior. He turned onto his side and rose to his feet with a groan. Most of the others inside were still asleep, while Woodman was busy cooking a meal on a stick over some hot coals remaining in the ash. Poysenberry rubbed his eyes and began scanning the area for Nightshade. He turned around in circles but could not find her anywhere.
‘Ha,’ said Woodman. ‘Young plants.’
Screwing up his face, Poysenberry quietly mocked Woodman behind his back.
‘At least Miss Blue is more mature than the rest of you.’
‘Huh? What are you even talking about?’
Woodman roasted his food over the coals.
‘Whatever.’ Poysenberry went to the ruin’s entrance to spy outside. ‘And who the heck is Miss Blue?’
‘That poor girl out there.’
Shaking his head, Poysenberry let the old plant’s words fade into the winds while he continued gazing outside. He spotted Nightshade near the river and decided to go out and join her. As he walked across the plains, he kept peeking over his shoulder to make sure that no giant Chimeras were hot on his trail.
Nightshade was sitting at the riverbank with her back paw in the river, twirling it in circles. Suddenly feeling shy, Poysenberry stopped himself from approaching. Nightshade did not make any indication that she knew he was standing nearby. He started feeling unsure of himself, not knowing why he felt that way. Poysenberry wished she would turn around and tell him to come sit beside her or ask him to go away. Anything to help him make his decision. But he was not given any sign.
After another moment longer, he decided to sit himself down beside her. ‘What are you doing out here?’ he said.
‘I slept on and off throughout the night,’ she said. ‘And when I saw the sun rising I thought the river would be a better place to spend my time, rather than inside that old ruin.’
Poysenberry chewed on his lower lip, thinking about how close she came to being taken by the monster last night — an image in his mind that made him shudder.
‘The water is cool this morning,’ she said. ‘I like it nice and crisp.’
He nodded and stuck his paw in the water as well.
‘My old trainer used to swim in the river every morning,’ she said. ‘No matter the weather — even in a cold forest stream or even a partially frozen lake, nothing would stop her from having her morning dip.’
A small fish latched onto Poysenberry’s paw, then a second, and third. He shooed them away, then looked over at Nightshade’s paw and noticed several fish cleaning away at her paw.
‘I was too chicken back then to join her,’ she said. ‘It’s one thing I regret from the past. That I didn’t at least try and swim every morning. Instead, I just watched from the shore.’
Poysenberry dipped his paw back into the water, allowing the small fish to return. They gathered quickly and latched to the bottom of his paw, making him squirm as they cleaned his skin.
‘Ah, moments,’ she said. ‘We never know when we’re in a moment until it’s already gone.’
‘Sounds like you had a nice time with your trainer?’
‘Oh Poy,’ she said. ‘You have no clue how nice it was back then.’
He titled his head aside, feeling inadequate and a little insecure.
‘If only you knew.’
‘Well, I don’t,’ said Poysenberry. ‘All I know is the farm.’
‘Grinding is nothing,’ she said. ‘That’s a mere drop of water compared to the oceans out there.’
Poysenberry rubbed his paws together, feeling small, and considered leaving her alone for a while.
‘When I was taken to my first farm,’ she said. ‘I looked down on the rest of the Axies there. I thought they were just a bunch of senseless grinders.’
His shoulder drooped and his mouth tilted downward.
‘That is, until I experienced their pain.’
Nightshade became motionless, as if she were stuck inside an old memory.
‘You don’t have to say.’
‘One of the first nights I was there, my owner spiked my drinking water with some Love Potions,’ she said. ‘Everything went blank afterwards and I woke up in the morning on a patch of grass outside the hut.’
Poysenberry turned to see her lost in her memory — caught in the past, unable to see the present. He continued to rub his paws together, occasionally glancing at her, wanting to break the spell and resume a normal conversation. She stirred her paw in the waters again.
‘Do you still look down on untravelled Axies?’ he said.
Nightshade drew her toe out from the river and scooted back. She grimaced, as if she was not sure how to respond to his question.
Her reaction was a shock to him. He wanted to say something, anything, but was unable to gather his thoughts. When he finally started to open his mouth, he felt a small rock hit his hermit shell. Poysenberry whipped around to see Shelly and the others throwing pebbles at them.
‘Hey you two,’ said Shelly. ‘We’ve got some work to do today.’
Poysenberry reined in his emotions as he looked at the group. The last thing he wanted was to seem like a fool in front of their new friends.
‘Trust me, neither of you want to see Smalls when he gets angry,’ she said. ‘He’s got a nasty bite. Kinda like you, hermit.’
Poysenberry tightened his lips over his mouth, keeping his teeth out of sight.
‘Anyhow,’ said Shelly. ‘We were discussing in the ruin earlier about our strategy for the day. And we were thinking of making new teams.’
‘What’s wrong with our layout now?’ said Nightshade. ‘We did fine yesterday.’
Shelly bobbed her head, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.
‘I think we’re fine,’ said Nightshade.
‘Well, it’s not a big change,’ said Shelly. ‘We were wondering if Hermit boy wouldn’t mind doing a switch for Minnow. But if he prefers to stay there, then so be it.’
Nightshade scoffed, while Poysenberry mulled over the offer. He glanced at Shelly for a brief second, noting her aura of confidence. She did not appear to be the type to stick up her nose to farm work.
‘Maybe we could earn more if we mixed things up,’ said Poysenberry. ‘I mean why not? Especially if it helps us pay off our debts?’
‘Huh?’ said Nightshade. ‘What’s wrong with our teams now?’
‘Nothing,’ Poysenberry said. ‘Everyone wants the same thing right? To earn enough SLP.’
‘Yes, but I don’t think we should split up.’
‘What’s the difference?’ said Poysenberry. ‘We’ll both be doing mindless grinding anyway right?’
A look of hurt came over Nightshade’s face.
‘Acting like simpletons for the day?’
‘Poy – ‘
‘You two!’ interrupted Shelly. ‘Can you make up your minds quickly?’
Nightshade slowly nodded at Poysenberry with sorrow clearly in her eyes. ‘Right,’ she said. ‘Happy hunting then.’
With that, Posyenberry walked over to join Shelly and Finn while Nightshade remained at the riverside.
The two groups diverged from one another. It took Poysenberry almost fifteen minutes before he realised they were not returning to the same oasis they had gone to the day before. In fact, Poysenberry could not recognise anything familiar in the area. It was full of partially-buried ruins and long-forgotten weathered statues. Shelly led them along a stone pathway under a broken archway and to a fractured town of ruins.
‘Wow,’ said Poysenberry. ‘What is this place?’
‘It used to be the Temple of the Seven Moons,’ she said. ‘But that was a long, long time ago. Probably before the great floods.’
‘As you can see,’ said Finn, ‘there’s not that much temple left.’
Poysenberry walked to the nearest ruin that must’ve been an old building at one time. He rubbed his paw across its surface, feeling the ancient symbols carved into its side.
‘How do you two know this was a temple?’
Shelly held the back of his paw, then placed it on the engraving on the ruin. ‘Do you see these symbols here?’ She moved his hand along a row of circles. ‘There are seven of them. Each representing a different moon of Lunacia.’ Then she let his hand go.
‘But how do you know for sure?’
‘Because Smalls told us,’ she said. ‘It’s what he does for his family.’
Poysenberry studied the moons a little longer. Beneath them, he saw other engravings but could not figure them out due to weathering and a large fissure cutting through the symbols.
‘Anyhow, this is a good place to harvest,’ she said. ‘I don’t know why, but we seem to get lucky every time we fight here.’
He turned from the ruin and nodded at what she said.
‘Plus, it’ll be fun this time round,’ she said. ‘Now that we have a Piranha boy to help us out.’
Poysenberry blushed, then scratched the back of his neck.
‘You have a beautiful set of teeth, just like Smalls,’ she whispered. ‘A girl would kill to have those genes passed down.’
Feeling feverish, Poysenberry tried to change the subject. ‘But you already have those Genes don’t you?’ he said. ‘If an Axie like Smalls is part of your family.’
Finn laughed along with Shelly.
‘What?’ he said. ‘What’s so funny?’
‘You’re cute,’ she said. ‘But I mean a tribe family. Not by blood. But by bonds through our sacred passage.’
‘Oh. . .’
Shelly then bumped playfully into him. ‘Let’s stop chatting,’ she said, ‘and go collect some money for the day.’
Poysenberry agreed, then followed her and Finn through the old ruin town.
To be continued…