A gentle breeze blew a clump of matted tumbleweed between the decayed ruins. Poysenberry watched it roll to the base of a large statue of a creature he had never seen before in his life. Intrigued, he strayed a little from his new group to take a better look.
Half of the statue was missing, split right down the middle, and had vanished to goodness knows where. Beyond it, Poysenberry saw a fractured pyramid with a shiny item glistening on its peak. He moved closer and placed his paw over his eyes to block off the reflective light that was beaming in his face. It was a golden item with a curl that rose from its base, and the curl was wrapped around a diamond-shaped feature that seemed oddly familiar.
He got distracted by a rustling sound that was coming from a shattered building nearby. Poysenberry peered around its side, but found nothing where the noise came. He started to return to the group when he heard a thumping sound from the same area. He tip-toed around the corner of the building and bumped into the back of a green Toady who was hopping up and down in the sands.
The gooey creature slowly turned itself to face Poysenberry. Its lone yellow eye moved upward, measuring up the Axie, fury evident in its gaze. The Toady glared at him for a second more and then bounced after him, crashing into Poysenberry’s side.
Poysenberry got knocked over onto his side and his entire body felt numb for a moment. The Toady jumped at him again, this time landing hard onto Poysenberry’s head. When it stumbled back to regain its energy, Poysenberry took this opportunity to strike — only he couldn’t move. His entire body was paralysed. He tried wiggling his paws but found them unresponsive. As the Toady started to pump itself up for another attack, Poysenberry instinctively activated his hermit shell which seemed to break the spell and allowed him to regain his stance.
Before the Toady could jump at him again, he lunged first at the green creature and used his Piranha teeth to rip into its gooey body. His bite seemed to have randomly increased in power, and he managed to disintegrate the Toady in a single blow. Its yellow eye popped out from its green body and rolled onto the ground where it faded into the sands, leaving behind six blue glistening shard fragments instead of SLP vials. As Poysenberry inched closer to them, he suddenly remembered where he had seen them before. They were similar to the pieces that Woodman used to pay the Dawn at the mobile diner.
‘You’ve already gotten your first hit for the day?’ said Shelly. ‘Look at all that AXS it spilt!’
She hurried over to the pile and counted the pieces with a smile on her face. With a nudge, she brought the shard fragments closer to each other, causing them to magnetically bind into a bigger piece.
‘Woah, is that the Axie Shards Smalls was talking about?’
‘Pieces of them,’ she said. ‘You’ll need a lot more to make a full AXS though.’
Poysenberry then scratched his head. ‘I’m confused, where’s the SLP?’
‘We’re not earning Love Potions today,’ she said. ‘Trust me, this’ll make Smalls happier than a couple of pink vials.’
‘But I don’t understand what I did?’
‘Shh, don’t talk,’ she said. ‘Just go to the pyramid over there and say thanks to the golden Dao on top of it.’
‘Don’t jinx us,’ Shelly said. ‘Go!’
Poysenberry heeded her orders and walked over to the pyramid where he stared upward at the golden piece at the top. His mouth hung open as he scratched the back of his head, wondering what he should do exactly. Finn appeared at his side and gave him a nudge. He opened his paw to reveal a few Axie Shard pieces he had collected as well.
‘Thank you gracious powers that be,’ said Finn, ‘for this blessing you have bestowed upon me.’
Finn closed his eyes and bowed his head to the golden item on the pyramid, then indicated for Poysenberry to do the same. With slight reluctance, he mimicked Finn’s earlier gestures and said the same prayer to the statue as he was told.
The day was more than prosperous in Posyenberry’s mind. He couldn’t believe how much AXS was dropped by the Toadies and Red Jams skulking in the old ruin town. The place was practically a magical gold mine. Every Toady he popped made him want to chase down another, and another, until he collected every single piece of AXS in the area.
It was invigorating — being able to earn so many shards and piecing them together. How proud Nightshade and Woodman would be, he thought. He could already see himself meeting them back at the Fish Farm, opening his satchel, and getting a grin from the old plant and possibly a kiss on the cheek from Nightshade.
As the sun lowered in the sky, the broken ruins started to cast long shadows over the grounds.
Poysenberry stopped in the middle of chasing a group of Toadies, realising at that moment that he’d spent the entire day fighting non-stop. His bones were aching and his muscles tense. Still, he felt good inside, knowing he and his friends were going to be one step closer to Sand City.
‘Done for the day?’ said Shelly from somewhere in the ruins.
He turned round searching for her, only to find the place empty.
‘Up here,’ she said.
Poysenberry titled his head up towards the peak of the pyramid, where he saw Shelly sitting at the top near the golden statue.
‘You’re a real grinder aren’t you?’ Shelly said.
Poysenberry laughed nervously.
‘I like watching you fight,’ she said. ‘You really know how to use those teeth.’
Poysenberry scratched the back of his head, blushing.
‘Let’s eat,’ she said. ‘You’ve earned it.’
Shelly slid herself down the pyramid and landed beside him. ‘Come on,’ she said. ‘Let me take you somewhere special.’
‘What about Finn?’
‘Oh, he’ll catch up.’
Poysenberry took her for her word and allowed Shelly to guide him out from the ruins and to a lone giant tree in the desert.
‘Are you hungry?’ she said.
‘I am now.’
‘Have you ever eaten a hanging melon?’
His face contorted. ‘Have I eaten what?’
‘Hanging melons,’ she said. ‘The desert fruit.’
With his lips curled downward, he shook his head.
She pointed at the tree where several vines were dangling from the branches, and on their ends were melons glowing gently. She grabbed his paw and yanked him around the tree. They walked among the vines, dodging the fruit hanging near their faces.
‘Not many Axies eat these,’ she said. ‘Because most think they’re too bitter.’
Poysenberry ducked his head to avoid a melon dangling in his path.
‘But they’re wrong,’ she said, coming to a halt. ‘Only the melons that touch the ground are sweet. The others are unripe, and do indeed taste bitter.’
Poysenberry saw a large melon resting on the floor still attached to its vine. He glanced at Shelly, who smiled at him.
‘Go bite the vine,’ she said. ‘You must be hungry.’
His stomach gurgled. He needed little persuasion. Poysenberry grabbed the vine, held it taut, then chomped his piranha teeth on it, severing the connection. Sap poured from the cut vine and dripped generously onto the sands. He moved back, holding the melon in both hands while keeping an eye on the pouring liquid.
‘Go ahead and break into it,’ she said. ‘You deserve a treat.’
The melon was soft to the touch. Holding both ends, he quickly ripped the fruit into half, revealing bright orange flesh inside. Poysenberry’s eyes moved between the two separate pieces as he studied the fruit, trying to decide if he should eat it.
‘Don’t be shy,’ Shelly said. ‘Have a bite!’
Poysenberry lifted one half to his mouth and dug into the fruit. It was sweet with a soft creamy texture. As soon as the fruit touched his lips, his cheeks began to tingle and the pain in his body eased.
He wanted to say yes but instead started eating more. Before he knew it, the first half was entirely gone. He raised the next half to his mouth and was about to take a bite when he stopped and remembered Shelly. He slowly extended his arm to offer her the other one but she declined.
‘You’re the champion tonight. Unlike that snobby Dusk you travel with.’
In no time, he gobbled up the next half and began searching the ground for more melons. While walking around the tree, he caught sight of a red figure standing in the distance staring at him.
Poysenberry wasn’t sure what to do other than to stare right back.
The longer he stood there the clearer the object became. It was a Bug Axie with spotted wings on its back and a third eye protruding out its forehead.
They both watched each other for some time, observing one another the way an animal observes a potential threat.
‘Eww gross,’ said Shelly. ‘Nasty Bug.’
Poysenberry titled his head as he kept his eyes on the red Axie in the distance.
‘I hate those stupid Bugs.’
‘What’s it doing out there?’
‘Being foolish,’ she said. ‘It shouldn’t be this close.’
‘What do you mean?’ said Poysenberry, curious about the Axie.
‘It’s from a nearby farm,’ she said. ‘But they’re not supposed to wander this far. They know the rules.’
The Bug’s wings flickered and its tiny pincers opened and shut.
‘Yet they keep pushing their boundaries,’ said Shelly. ‘They’ll get what’s coming to them one day though, if they don’t learn their place.’
Poysenberry jumped as the Bug scurried away. It frightened him for a second.
‘Are you full?’
‘Good,’ she said. ‘Why don’t we head back to the farm then?’
Poysenberry looked over his shoulder. ‘What about Finn?’
‘He can take care of himself,’ said Shelly. ‘Also, we’re pretty close from here.’
‘Oh, okay then.’
Shelly tapped her shell on his, making a small clinking sound, then motioned for him to join her.
To be continued…